God and healthcare


My typical conversations are around teens and issues they face. Issues that range from my deep conviction that they are inherently theological to looking at identity development including faith, ethnicity and their sexuality. I also spend a lot of time raising awareness about ministry in urban settings and with those with disabilities. My conversations often take the form of advocacy which I blame partly on my personality and background in social work. The last two weeks my advocacy has turned very personal and has been about my mom.

She has been in the midst of a serious turn of health. She has MS and has for several years which complicates matters but we have hit a new level. Two weeks ago she could walk (albeit slowly) and in a three day slide she went from needing the help of one person, to two to three and then no mobility in her legs at all. There have been moments of grace, the kind and lighthearted firemen who came to help us get her in the house after we were sent home exhausted from the ER. There have been moments of sheer terror and moments of just being ticked off.

The first day we took her to an ER she had a great nurse, met with a proactive social worker but it was the ER doctor who sent her home for not finding through two test what he considered a “medical” reason to admit her. No broken bones and no blood clots… head on home. Never mind that she was completely delusional at this point and non-mobile. She had a few elevated counts but “nothing to worry about”. Granted he was most likely following some policy that he did not set but still, what’s the point of a policy in a hospital if it leads to a decline in health? (or was he a coward or too jaded at this point to look beyond the initial presenting problem?)  By the next morning we literally poured her into the car and took her to a doctor we knew. After one look, he admitted her. Turns out that the elevated counts from the day before were an indication of a growing infection that was creating a serious dominoe effect in her body. Two days ago I could not have written this post as we were bedside wondering if she was going to live or not. Today she is improving, we think, but we have a long way to go.

Ironically, for this semester I am teaching two sections of a class on spirituality and health care. It is for nurses only so the students have a vested interest in the health care side. I have spent the semester pondering and discussing the concept of the healing hospitalwith nurses. I have spent the semester with nurses who were skeptical and only later admitted they thought a class on spirituality would be a waste of time but they were willing to facebook through the hours in class hoping I wouldn’t notice. We progressed to rich conversation about their own faith, the faith of patients and families and where God was and is in a world riddled with disease, brokenness and consequences for poor health choices.

I can’t help but think how differently I will approach class tonight from just one week ago. While the class was largely designed about improving care for the patients, it also includes self care and reflection. It includes the conversations for nurses who are evaluated on their ability to follow policy and current standards of care while too often losing that the reason they entered the field was out of a sense of call and natural inclination for helping in concrete ways. We talk a great deal of the times they are blown away because medically speaking, the patient should be much worse off and the God questions that arise in such situation. We talk also of the times when patients and families have done all that is right and the worst possible outcome occurs. Where is God in that?

To be honest, I have been so busy just trying to keep life afloat while running to 2 different ER’s, multiple doctors and now a third hospital that I haven’t had much time for the God questions. My prayers melt into sleep by the time I am actually slowing down. This will change. Part of the change, or at least respite will come tonight in class when I once again join with nurses and ask the question, what is holistic health care and where is God in it?

* BTW, before this class I would have thought “healing hospital” was redundant. It shouldn’t be innovative or making headlines. It should be standard and nothing new. In fact, it hearkens back to earlier times of healthcare being more holistic, more respectful and allowing healthcare providers to work out of their strengths. Oh, it turns out it offers a better bottom line too. There are more than enough articles online if you are so interested just follow the key words, Healing Hospital.

soldiers on the hill

Today I was remembering this, and I offer no compulsory happy ending and not much of an analysis. It’s just a story.

One of the first times I entered a shantytown was in South Africa, and then again in Rio de Janeiro, and since then I’ve entered many more. In those spaces blatant structural violence is like a slap in the face. To be clear, I grew up around and even played as a child in lots of American ghettos on the east coast but there was something visually different on this international level. I remember a tropically warm October day in Rio de Janeiro. I was staying in a beautiful hotel at the corner where Copacabana met Ipanema. A Brazilian friend who ran an NGO inside favelas in Rio took me on a tour to see the work he was doing. We were in his car with the windows rolled down and the sun shining brightly. We sped past pretty beaches where pretty people lay under the sun. We went down highways and up narrow roads as the scenery began to change, roads began to crumble, and the structure of homes began to look homemade.  Finally, the car slowed down and rolled toward a favela entrance. I could see off in the distance that there were two young men holding what looked like long sticks. As we drove closer I realized those long sticks were actually rifles, AK-47’s, and the young men were actually teenage boys no more than 16 years old. As the boy “soldiers” walked toward our car, my friend demanded we make sure the windows were still all rolled down because they were tinted which always looked suspicious. The boys holding the rifles needed to be able to see who was inside the vehicle. I checked my window. The two youngsters walked to each side of the car, waving their rifles, and then stuck their heads fully inside to see. “I’m taking my American friend inside to see the place” my friend said as the boys peeked inside the car windows. They smiled warmly. I was nervous. They let us enter and as we drove inside slowly and I noticed another boy about 15 years old tucking a handgun into the back of his shorts. Another boy holding a rifle started talking to a girl who held a baby in her arms. The baby’s head was uncomfortably near the nose of the rifle, as if danger was not eminent. She rocked her baby and talked to the boy soldier. I asked my friend, “they all have guns but they look like nice boys, would they really shoot us?” His firm and quick response, “you better believe it!”

You better believe it. I’ll never forget that day or his response. It was like driving through a movie, but it was all too real.

you’ve been lied to, and other truths about educating girls

Richard E. Robbins

You’ve Been Lied to, and Other Truths About Educating Girls.                           Happy International Women’s Day! 

Found at HuffingtonPost.com http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-e-robbins/girl-rising-girls-education_b_2829029.html    Posted: 03/07/2013 12:00 pm
There is a reason you keep hearing about the power of educating girls in the developing world. It’s a reason so simple that you will probably view it with suspicion, as I once did. It’s this: educating girls works. Really works.

But you’re probably like me. Skeptical. It’s an idea that seems too trendy. Or too simplistic. In truth, I was many months into working on Girl Rising, a film about educating girls in the developing world, when my producer, Martha Adams, first called me “the world’s most reluctant enthusiast.” We were at the end of a long day of interviewing girls in Cambodia. Girls who had unbelievable stories. Girls like Sokha, an orphan who had survived scavenging in the city dump, until she finally got a chance to go to school. Already in her early teens, she seized that chance like her life depended on it. She studied like a fiend. She shot to the top of her class so fast that she was moved to a better school. Now she is set to graduate from one of the top schools in the country. A child of the dump, on her way to college. It was a story that brought nearly everyone to tears. But not me. I was still skeptical. I was still reluctant to truly embrace something that was incontrovertibly true and unquestionably important.

I tell you this now not because I think you want to know about me, but because I want you to know that I came to this issue — educating girls — with no natural passion for the subject. It was not my life’s work. It was not my calling. It was just an idea floating around the vast universe of ideas, that bumped into me and stuck. I certainly didn’t ask it to stick with me. I was busy with my family, by budding career as a TV writer, my antipathy for the Los Angeles Lakers, and my general reluctance to engage in anything that might force me to leave my comfort zone. But sometimes ideas won’t let you go. For me, educating girls was like that.

There is no point in recounting the details of how and why I found myself learning about the power of educating girls. I could easily have read it in a column by Nick Kristof, or heard a TED lecture by Melinda Gates. The idea wasn’t hiding. It was getting plenty of play at conferences and in academic circles. It had made itself comfortable in the halls of the World Bank, and UNICEF. In the world of NGOs it was practically gospel.

So why did I doubt it for so long? Why do you? And that’s when I realized that I’d been lied to. And the sad truth was that I wanted to be lied to. The lie “they” told me was that nothing worked. That extreme poverty — the crippling, mind-bending deprivation that hundreds of millions of people endure — was just too big and too deep. And sure, maybe you can make a difference here and there. Maybe you could find a way to do some good. Help one deserving person. But really, at the end of the day, don’t worry yourself about it too much, because really nothing works.

In its most insidious form this lie was fed to me in an openly paternalistic, vaguely racist form from naysayers who objected to development aid and reinforced the notion that there is an “us” and a “them.” I was confidently among the people who looked upon that lie with suspicion. Scorn, even. But the less overt form of this lie somehow slipped past my skepticism and allowed me to go on living my comfortable life, equally confident that there was nothing else I should be doing. After all, what could I do, when really nothing worked?

And then, along came girls’ education — something that worked. And it wasn’t obscure or complicated or implausible. And every time I dug deeper, there was more evidence, studies, and statistics. Nobody is saying that educating girls is a cure-all for what ails the world. But it is so empirically and universally effective, that it demands we pay attention.

Of course, education does loads of things for girls that won’t surprise you at all — it provides self-esteem, teaches important life skills, and offers the kinds of choices a good education can give anyone. But it doesn’t stop there. It helps girls get married later, stay healthier, have fewer children, and have educated children of their own. So when girls get educated, economies grow, communities prosper, and poverty declines.

And this problem — the 66 million girls in the world who don’t go to school because they are too poor, or live too far away, or are too busy working — this isn’t one of those overwhelming global issues where we have to sit and hope someone smart comes along and figures out how to fix it. Not to say it’s simple, but nearly every one of us knows what a good school looks like. Or a good teacher. Or a student who is learning.

When I set about making this film, and telling everyone who would listen what I had learned about girls’ education, I discovered this other thing that is really important, too. Not about girls’ education, but about us. Many of us anyway. We are desperate to do something that will make a difference in the world. To help other people — and not because we want anything back, or because some boogey man will come get us if we don’t. But just because we can.

So I’m telling you this: You can make a difference. You can create real and meaningful change in the world. Help get girls into schools. Help them stay. Help them learn. It will work and you can do it. Your time and money can help build schools, train teachers, change laws, pay for uniforms and books. In the modern world you don’t have to send your money off into the unknown and hope it helps. You can get involved and do it on your own with some diligent research. Or you can look to one of the amazing organizations, like our partners in Girl Rising, who spend every day helping girls.

Find out more about the 10×10 Fund for Girls Education, which will help make an impact where it matters. Contributions are distributed evenly among our non-profit partners: A New Day Cambodia, CARE, Girl Up/United Nations Foundation, Partners in Health, Plan International USA, Room to Read, and World Vision. All of them operate girls’ education initiatives around the world, and the girls of the world need your help. So stop telling yourself there is nothing you can do, and do something.

Should Disability Be Included- Part 2

I just posted about the needs of parents with teens with special needs. I have another slightly more biting post here, related but I didn’t want to distract from the needs of parents.

In another meeting this past week I talked with some leaders of a large Christian organization. They have pulled together a task force on diversity and were asking my opinion. In particular the question was posed about whether to or not to include those with disabilities in the conversation of diversity. A valid question and glad they are thinking in these directions until I heard the way the conversation was posed.

I was told that sex or gender were to be included as well as ethnicity but they wondered if diversity should as the first two categories related to “what God intended” and the third did not. I asked for clarification. I was told that it was clear that God never would have intended for someone to have a disability and that in the eschaton, they (the disabilities, not the people) would not exist. In light of this, did I think those with disabilities should be included in the conversation on diversity and inclusion. I tried to respond calmly and suggested they consider their own theology of imago dei and eschatology before making such sweeping statements, certainly before they made any such statement in a public manner. I also mentioned that while there were certainly those historically and I am certain today who hold such a position, that it was widely rejected and I would consider it a poor understanding of theological anthropology.

I’m not sure if I ever answered if they should include disability in the conversation on diversity or not as I became so caught up in trying to let them know that someone with a disability is not a mistake and carries every bit of the image of God as any typical person. I’m still angry over this and even more angry that they hold such influence in the Christian world.

These are the moments when I want to have a cup of tea with God and ask what God was thinking in giving “them” a position of leadership.

Asking questions

When the nurse called my name, I hobbled painfully behind him to the examination room. My left knee was pathetically useless and my right knee did as best it could to keep me upright, except in those moments when she just simply gave out. It seemed in just a matter of days I had gone from moving at a fast pace, being active, going to the gym regularly to an abrupt stand still. My knees no longer cooperated. The pain in my joints was becoming increasingly intolerable. As the doctor looked at x-rays, and examined my knees, he looked at me ruefully and said there was nothing more he could do for me.

I am an academic. That means when my doctor tells me that my knees are shot and he can no longer keep them going, I start asking questions and researching my options. If I needed both knees replaced, I wanted to know what the risks were, what would recovery look like, and I wanted the best surgeon possible.

As with most academics, I did my research with a list of pre-suppositions that included: 1) the surgeon needs to be young, because that will mean that she/he is current on the most recent trends; 2) needs to have lots of experience in my particular surgery, and 3) has confidence in her/his abilities to do the surgery well. I did my research and selected a surgeon. That decision started me on a now four-month journey to have both my knees replaced.

Along this journey, I have had many discoveries and surprises; some pleasant, some painful and challenging, and some quite sobering. One of the most surprising to me has been my immersion into the health care system. Unsurprising to social workers and anthropologists, the world of surgical medicine is a well-developed system. Even in the fogged state of post-surgery and pain meds, it was quite startling to me to observe the hierarchy in this system and the affect the hierarchy had on my care.

At the top of this hierarchy, the surgeons, followed closely by anesthesiologists, and hospitalists (the doctors that manage a patient’s care in a hospital setting). At the bottom of this hierarchy are the CNA – certified nursing assistants, with the LPN – licensed practical nurses and RN – Registered Nurses somewhere in the middle. In my case, Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapist were heavily involved in my recovery. They seem to float in their own orbits, independent of the regular hierarchy.

One scene from my experience captures this hierarchical system rather well. About three days after my surgery, I developed serious complications and was quickly moved back from the rehabilitation center to the hospital. The nurses (RN) were compassionate and caring, ensuring that I was comfortable and that my vital signs were monitored. They hovered around as they waited for the internist – my hospitalist – to show up and assess the situation. This doctor was thorough, kind and thoughtful as he evaluated my options. His focus was evaluating the severity of the complications and developing a plan to address them. During these intense moments, the surgeon stopped by. Two things told me his arrival was imminent. First, all of the nurses around me, except for the supervisor, became anxious and began to step backwards toward the side door into my room. Secondly, I became aware of what the nurses had already heard. The sound of several pairs of footsteps emphatically marching down the hall toward my room. Within seconds, the surgeon and his entourage walked through the main door into my room. From their starched shirts to their polished dress shoes, they commanded attention when they walked in. Without any hesitation whatsoever, they took over. I don’t say that with irritation or harshness. I wanted someone in charge of my health that knew what he was doing, had the confidence and experience to make the difficult choices. And that’s what I had. Along with that package also comes a strong ego and arrogance. He’s good and he knows he’s good. He knows what it takes to accomplish the difficult tasks of surgery and recovery and makes no apology for demanding what he needs. Even as I reacted against his cocky, self-confidence, I also knew I could trust my health—my life to him.

It was the people at the bottom of this hierarchy, however, that were the true caregivers. Throughout these three days and as I returned to the rehabilitation center, there were the CNAs. They brought me my meals, they changed my sheets, my hospital gowns, they even bathed me and washed my hair. I can only speak from my own experience, but I have never felt so cared for; ever! Everyone of them in my almost three-week stay was gentle, kind and compassionate. Not one time did any one of them respond to me with harshness or lack of caring. My first shower came about a week after surgery. Maria came and picked me up from my room and helped me get my clothes together. Once she helped me to the shower, she gently helped me remove my hospital gown, putting me in the shower chair. With great tenderness she washed my body and shampooed my hair. As she carefully poured warm water over my hair to rinse it, my mind was drawn to the image of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples in John 13. She brought me to tears when she lovingly wrapped me in warm, fluffy towels. This woman didn’t know me from Eve, but she lovingly and tenderly cared for me.

As she helped me back to my room, I tried to communicate my gratefulness for the shower and for her care. We talked about the work that she does and she remarked that it was a gift to her to be able to take care of her patients. As I lay in my bed later that day, I pondered the contrasts between the different groups of people essential to my recovery. I am incredibly thankful for a surgeon that knew his job and did it really well and for people like Maria, who very caringly took care of my daily needs. One sobering part of this system, that raises a host of questions for me, is the contrast in compensation for each of these groups. The average salary for a Certified Nursing Assistant is $24,000; the average for an orthopedic surgeon; $424,000.[*] As someone that has spent decades getting an education and pursuing a profession, I get that my doctor has done the hard work of training and sacrifice to get where he is. I get that. But Maria has also made commitments and sacrifices and thousands like her. A patient’s ability to thrive and recover depends in no less part on people like Maria. Where is equity in this system?

My thoughts about this system came back full force as the system that I am most closely linked with took a hit this month. The university where I work has been hit with serious financial hard times and we are looking at layoffs, program cutbacks and other difficult financial decisions. We are a system of hierarchy too of staff, faculty and administrators. In tight times, how do we ethically make decisions about how the pie gets distributed or re-distributed. Faculty have worked long and hard to get an education, to invest their time and energies in research and scholarship. They often view themselves as the central cog in the educational system; one can’t educate without educators. But a university also cannot function without the staff to keep things going from maintaining technology, cleaning classrooms and bathrooms, scheduling classes, ordering textbooks and the list goes on. What does it mean to take care of faculty, as well as staff? How does a university do that ethically and equitably? I don’t have many answers, just lots of questions. I am, after all, an academic.

[*] Another systemic question for another day: what are the systemic frameworks that set up my doctor for becoming a surgeon and Maria for becoming a CNA? It’s safe to assume (I think) that they didn’t have the same options and choices before them.

life off the grid

Hebrews 13:10-16 I’ve been thinking a lot about this passage the past year… what does it mean and what might it look like to live life off the grid, outside of the cushion and exploitation of institutional structures, including the institutional structure of church.

“The altar from which God gives us the gift of himself is not for exploitation by insiders who grab and loot. In the old system, the animals are killed and the bodies disposed of outside the camp. The blood is then brought inside to the altar as a sacrifice for sin. It’s the same with Jesus. He was crucified outside the city gate- that is where he poured out the sacrificial blood that was brought to God’s altar to cleanse his people. So let’s go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is, not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus. This ‘insider world’ is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the city about to come. Let’s take our place outside with Jesus, no longer pouring out the sacrificial blood of animals but pouring out sacrificial praises from our lips to God’s in Jesus’ name. Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship- a different kind of sacrifice – that takes place in the kitchen and workplace and on the streets.”

Life off the grid: On the block, sidewalks, streets and alleys. Last night I attended the opening session of the Justice Conference in Philadelphia, about 4,000 evangelical types from around the country showed up. Mostly white as many had predicted. I was a little inspired, but mostly numb to the same ole same ole. Same voices, same presenters from conference to conference. Always white male organized and run, but I attend these faith based conferences as part of my work but also because I’m hoping to learn something a little bit new, or different, or challenging. I hope to hear something that speaks to other human realities. I usually don’t. My colleagues might tell me to stop complaining and do something myself. “Why not bring the new, different or challenging thing yourself?” That could be a fair retort, if I’m invited.

However, one thing I did enjoy last night was the recognition and honoring of several local, mostly unknown heroes and a shero or two, who have been laboring tirelessly in the city of Philadelphia for years. Many of them are known only in their communities. They don’t seek the limelight, they don’t write books, and they aren’t on the speaker’s circuit. Rather, they serve people where they are and nobody makes a big deal over them. They are the justice workers on the front lines doing the hard work not just talking about the hard work. I think of them and others like them, certainly many more women than were recognized last night, who take seriously the challenge in Hebrews to “go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is, not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking their share in the abuse of Jesus. This insider world is not their home, and they don’t take things for granted or go slack in working for the common good; they share what they have with others knowing that God takes particular pleasure in different acts of worship and a different kind of sacrifice – that takes place in the kitchen and workplace and on the streets.”

Orlando Costas once wrote, “Salvation lies outside the gates of the cultural, ideological, political and socio-economical walls that surround our religious compound and shape the structures of Christendom. It is not a ticket to a privileged spot in God’s universe, but rather freedom for service.”  ~Christ Outside the Gate: Mission Beyond Christendom

Let’s go and do likewise.

Lesson from an 11yo girl


What if the ordinance of washing feet wasn’t an awkward remembrance of the acts of Christ but a natural part of the rhythm of life?

I got to see that this past weekend.

We went with our church on a multigenerational mission trip to Puerto Penansco (Rocky Point). Better known to most Arizonans as the closest beach, affordable condos, and a place to hold epic parties for those in university life. We saw a different side of town.

Camping in the “yard” of a local Christian activist, Tony. (Yard is a term used loosely as the entire neighborhood was sand and soft dirt without the benefit of the beach.) My girls were giddy with this being their first time in a tent. They seemed unphased by the ramshackle housing all around with scrap wood, metal, and cardboard tied and nailed together to create homes.

In the midst of building a modest house for a single dad, “W”, and his 11yo daughter “A”, my girls became filthy. Not typical kid dirty…more like roll in the mud, sticky, wet sand in ears dirty. “A” was amazing. She held court caring for and playing not only with my children but all the kids of the neighborhood who came for the sake of curiosity and stayed for the joy and play they found while adults poured foundations, framed and stuccoed in the background.

At one point they grabbed a bucket of water and a few cups to make a sand/dirt castle. By the end they were all covered with sand and dirt and more than a little wet. The sun was strong and my girls were beginning to burn. Their newfound friend noticed the heat and sun taking a toll and decided it was time to head to the shade of a trailer. First, she carried over a chair, a fresh bucket of water, the only soap she and her father shared and a clean, dry towel. With gentleness and ease beyond her years, she placed my girls on the chair, removed their shoes and poured water over each foot followed by gentle rubbing with soap, a second rinse and careful drying as the towel was draped over her shoulder taking care to not let it hit the dirt spoiling her work of cleaning the girls. She then told them in Spanish (while pantomiming) to sit still until she could carry each to shade and the only non-sandy location on the entire lot.

It was a picture of beauty and humility. It was a picture of service she never intended for anyone to see, rather it was simply a part of the fabric of who she is. My girls were grateful and called me over to see how clean “A” had made their feet. They also talked of their new “best friend” with whom they shared many activities and few words. Later that day, my oldest remarked it was just like when Jesus washed feet. In this one small act, a relationship was solidified and a lesson lived.

The organization we partnered with is called i6eight. They live in the community and go beyond a service project of building homes. The real focus of building is on relationships and community of Christ. I can’t guarantee every experience with these amazing people will bring about a young girl being the hands of Christ, but I can promise that the experience is worth your time and will teach lessons that most of us learn in sterile settings bringing new life as they are lived.

Guest Post- To be Young, Gifted and Black… in Waco

Much could be said and I could repost all of her words but seeing Sharyl Loeung’s blog offers the impact needed. She is a former student of mine turned friend and fellow Christian longing for something better. She has worked in cross cultural settings for more than a decade and is an advocate for those often not seen nor heard. She works in a school where she sees inequality far too often and in this post she grapples mightily with the other side of knowing teens who make the nightly news and the incessant racism that accompanies this. Check it out!


a week of equality

carnivalI’ve been restless lately. Something I experience several times a year when wanderlust fills my being again. Lately I have dreams of teaching at a university in the Virgin Islands or somewhere in Brazil where the sun, beach and ocean are on constant display, the food is scrumptious and people are warm. Then I realize it’s carnival season, or carnaval Brazilian style. Carnival kicks off on February 9th and the samba schools are kicking it up with dance, floats and costumes. Samba always fills the air in Rio, but especially this time of year as it is celebrated through the annual spectacle of carnival. Carnival and samba are romantically intertwined. Samba evokes these happy narratives of equality, class and racial harmony that permeate the country of Brazil. Millions of people enjoy samba music and dance and it has this way of maintaining relative social peace in Brazil, at least for a week. During carnival people from all social classes and races mingle and talk, dance, drink, kiss and make love together. Samba is pervasive in the ways people of Rio prefer to view themselves as harmonious, peaceful, loving, non-racist people. Those ideals are embodied in Samba.

One night I met a young Afro-Brazilian rapper in Lapa who told me, “samba is a lie, rap tells the truth.” He dared to challenge Brazil’s sambastic narrative of peace and harmony as it positioned itself a truth-teller of Brazilian reality. “If you want to really know Brazil,” he said, “listen to rap.” And so I did. Rap told stories of race and class inequality, racial disharmony and state violence. It told a completely different story.

Remembering that young rapper and Rio during carnival season, and the one-week of celebration when roles and social scripts are temporarily suspended in order to imagine a world where equality, harmony, and justice reign… but only for a week.

Suffering in Silence is Not Noble

At the end of the year we are hanging out with my in-laws in Colorado. Knowing I would (hopefully) have a little space, a friend sent me with a quick read called A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards. The intent was comfort and reflection after a rather brutal year. He too has had brutal years and we share parallel ministerial experiences. In other words, we’ve both been screwed by other Christians at different points in our lives. Not just the “gee, I had a bad day and took it out on you” kind of screwed. More like the life-altering, God where are you in the midst of lies and abuse by those who are supposed to be your people kind of screwed.

Before you rush out and buy this book, please note I first and foremost would NOT recommend it. That said, I love the heart of the man who sent it with me for the holiday break and firmly believe that even the author had pure motives and intent.

In short, Edwards repeatedly suggested that those who have been abused in any way not cry out, but rather should dig deep in order to learn what manner of lesson God might want them to learn. I could go on but there are plenty of Amazon reviews that point out the flaws and extreme Calvinist positions that even most Calvinists would reject.

I was transported back to a time while I was in seminary and the Continental Singers were at our church for revival. They sang beautifully, but I walked away thinking they were crazy based solely on the preaching. In particular, the guest preacher said, out loud, that marriage needed to be shored up and those who struggle or suffer in abusive situations needed to go to their prayer closet and ask God what she should learn, how could she be more Christlike to endure the trials set before her. He warned against speaking out, talking of the enemies plan for division in the house.

Back to A Tale of Three Kings… Much was written about walking with dignity, about taking the high road, about how God does amazing things in spite of the poor treatment inflected by others. All true, and yet no accountability for the abusers. No hope for victims apart from how they have no need or option to question or cry out. Only admonishment to “not divide the house”.

This year our theme at church was “water.” I didn’t get it at first but with each passing day I find I am leaning into scripture and the advent lessons of this year. I find I am sharing passages and the hope of God with friends in ways I have been unable to do in years. I sit with those who have been screwed, sometimes by pastors, bishops or other church leaders. Sometimes by close friends or even family members. As we talk of water, we talk of being caught up in God’s current. We talk of the fear that can ensue when enveloped. We talk of the bumps and bruises in the path of the flow of water, but also of the rough places made smooth. We talk of the difficulty when we plant ourselves firmly trying to avoid God’s direction or worse when we seek our own agenda over His.

Edwards no doubt leans into scripture (2 Cor 5:17), calling for us to become new creations in Christ as the old has passed away, using David as the ideal model. He writes of Saul ruthlessly abusing David over time leaving him humiliated, deeply wounded, having his inner being mutilated, personality altered and left barely recognizable as if this were a badge of honor worn only by a select few.

God desires that we are open to become all He intended for us to be. That He is the potter and we are the clay. That we may come to Him in every state not to be told to buck up, rather to be encouraged and lifted up, that His will may come on earth as it is in heaven and this includes in our own lives.

If you have been or find yourselves suffering under someone in leadership who should know better, cry out to God. Do NOT remain silent. Do NOT absolve abusers of their abuse! Surround yourself with those who will speak truth deeply into your life, this means both praise and critique. What you don’t need is to suffer in silence and solitude. God would never blame the victim. He is on your side and will bind up the broken hearted!

Here is to no longer putting up with the old ways and looking to a new year where we seek all that God has to offer for us and through us!