Scripture- Egalitarian from the start

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I grew up in a tradition where the idea of women in ministry is still an issue. My husband grew up in a tradition where women have been in ministry for as long as the denomination has existed. When we got together, I let him know I was called to ministry. Not to be the wife of a minister but for me to be in ministry. I took great pains to spell this out for him. I told him of my calling, my experience, my training, and I had scripture to back it all up. After my soliloquy, he smiled and said “OK”. My adrenaline was going, I was ready for a fight. I was ready to verbally assault him with my passion and wit and all I got was “OK”! For him, this conversation is passé. His life story it includes not only his mother as a pastor, but a grandmother and great grandmother, not to mention countless aunties. The conversation is so passé, it bores him. Not because he isn’t supportive of women, but precisely because he knows women should be in leadership in the church, have been in leadership in the church, and, at the end of the day, it was God’s idea from the start.

And so we start at the beginning. This will be difficult for some to hear but Genesis 1 is not the beginning I mean. It is not the earliest text we have. Genesis is the first in the story as put together in the cannon but Judges 5 is arguably the oldest text in scripture. It is in this, the oldest of text that we find our earliest models of leadership. (Judges 4 was actually written after 5 and it appears to offer a retelling of the poem filled out with prose.) And so we begin in one of the oldest stories we have with a story where a woman and a man are in leadership, partnership. It is this egalitarian model that leads the people to victory. It is a model where it is Deborah and Barak are serving together. Each in a distinct role. Each leading from position of strength that impact men and women.

This passage has much to teach beyond the obvious. With it being the earliest text, Deborah was among the earliest leaders. There is no quibbling in the text as to her role. There is no debate if she can emotionally handle this or if she should have authority over the men around her. It is a fact, not a point of argument. She is a judge. She is in authority. For those who would claim that this situation was somehow a less than ideal situation or that a woman should not have been in leadership at this moment of crisis, please note that the text offers no criticism of Deborah or of the reality of a woman in a leadership role.

Here is what I love about this passage. She speaks truly and clearly without emasculating or devaluing Barak. She is so secure in who she is that she doesn’t need to belittle him as he asks for help. I have heard sermons depicting Barak as weak, as an embarrassment to men everywhere for asking the help of a woman. That is not in the text. In fact, Barak clearly respects and values Deborah. He is not threatened by her nor does he infantalize her. The mutual respect is stunning. They are aware of the task at hand, they are aware of how it may be viewed by others and still, they do what is right.

Deborah goes on in Judges 5 with a poetic telling of the defeat of Sisera. She names and credits Jael for the tactical move, the hands on interaction which led to victory. In all too many instances, a woman can rise to positions of leadership only to make it even more difficult for other women around her. Deborah does not do this. Her model of leadership shows not only respect for men but for other capable women around her. She is secure in herself and does not feel threatened when another capable woman is present.

So why do we care if this is one of the earliest accounts in scripture? It is significant that Deborah appears in a leadership role in the Bible’s oldest passage because it demonstrates that those advocating for an egalitarian position are not merely bending to their surrounding culture. They have not caved to the pressure of society. The idea of women in leadership was established in the Bible’s oldest text. It was there from the beginning.

To focus on Deborah as an exemplar of women in leadership is to acknowledge that there was a time when women and men worked together in leadership long before the monarchy was established. It is a Biblical model of who and what we are to be that comes from who and what we have always been. Christians today are not jumping on the latest cultural bandwagon trying to keep up with an increasingly egalitarian culture. Christians are in fact actually reading their Bibles. And it matters.

Multiple Choice, please

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Last week I was sharing a lunch table with Amos & Alma Yong discussing disability, parenting, food, education, committees, and a variety of other topics. We were at the Theology: Disability and Ministry conference held at Fuller Seminary SW. A small group of us having been meeting since Winter and it was an amazing time! Dr. Yong was the keynote and it would be an entirely different post to mention all of the other great people involved.

Among many thoughts still marinating for me is this…Dr. Yong came to discuss his thoughts and writings on disability. He is know for writing on Pentecostal perspectives. He is currently blogging on the Holy Spirit. He had an article come out last week regarding evangelicals and heresy. His interests are wide. He has taken the time in a variety of areas to research, reflect, live, think, and formulate thoughts as well as articulating them for the rest of us. I am struck by how human this is.

In the last several months I have read and been drawn into a few conversations with people who are singularly focused. I have even had conversations with publishers who ask/say things like “what is the ONE thing you are known for? That is the only area where you should be trying to write.” I am realizing that while there is something to say for having focus and knowing something well but, there is a danger too. It seems to be bringing out the worst in a host of people. There is an arrogance and a blind, mean spiritedness that is present. There is a further sense of who is in and who is out. There is a stifling of the beautiful complexity of humanity and simply being interested in more than one thing. There is a building up of walls around racism, sexism, ableism, violence, abuse, youth, ministry, music, and well…you name it.

I have long said that when it comes to identity, our identity in Christ, we must stop pathologizing particularities. We can celebrate diversity and name it as important and needed. It keeps us humble. It opens conversation. And quite frankly, it makes us much more interesting. My hope is that as we move forward, writers, teachers, pastors, bloggers, and all of us are afforded the space to be more holistic. To not feel the squeeze to be “that” person who has opinions on only one topic.

I’m grateful for that one lunch; For a quick introduction to someone whose writings on disability I already admired, but who as a person I appreciate more. I am encouraged that my discussion with the publisher was off… I don’t have to find my ONE thing. May we all learn that sooner than later. It’s how we can connect and learn instead of building camps that refuse to speak because your thing is not my thing. Maybe it’s because as a theologian, a mom, a teacher, a wife, a minister, and a writer I am always multitasking. Or maybe because I am finally settling into my own skin and understanding what it means to be human that I am rejecting the singular expectations from others.

Proximity and Violence

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Yesterday was the International Day of Peace. It’s been around since 1981 in case you missed it marked on your calendar. This is a day declared by the United Nations to be dedicated to world peace, in particular the absence of war and violence. International Justice Mission sent a petition around asking for signatures to urge the United Nations to protect those in poverty from violence. It’s as simple as this, those who are poor have less power and fewer resources and experience an inordinate rate of violence every day.

For Christians fighting poverty and violence should be a part of our every day existence. One way to do this is to move from proximity to embrace. I explain what I mean below in an excerpt from a paper I wrote for an upcoming conference. What it boils down to is this, we do violence to others when we think our not harming them personally is enough. We do violence to others when we refuse to listen or get to know anyone because we assume we already know their story. We do violence to others when we turn our heads and declare they don’t exist in our community because we don’t want to see them. We do violence when we settle for proximity instead of imitating Jesus and throwing our arms around others in embrace. It is difficult and it will change you. But isn’t that part of what Jesus has asked of us?

The conference is on Religion and Education in The Unmaking of Violence. While my paper focuses on disability, the principle is for everyone.

 

Embodied theology must also be lived out, requiring actual, real time interactions with one another. It must be more than creedal statements or vague declarations. The church needs more than proximity to those with disabilities for violence to be prevented. Arne Vetlesen argues, “there is no necessary correlation between human proximity and moral conduct…Proximity interacts with a number of factors; it does not by itself bring about, does not by itself account for, moral conduct or lack of it.”[1] We in the church must not only talk about including others, we must actually do so. Miroslav Volf discusses the inclusion of others at length in Exclusion and Embrace. As we seek to live an inclusive embodied theology we must understand “the will to give ourselves to others and ‘welcome’ them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity.”[2] Moving relationships from hypothetical declarations to proximity to embrace is a process but one necessary to unmake violence. Further, Volf assumes “that the struggle against deception, injustice, and violence is indispensable” as the will to embrace becomes a priority.[3]

The move from proximity to embrace establishes reciprocal relationships where those with disabilities aren’t just tolerated but truly integrated.”

[1] Arne Johan Vetlesen, Perception, Empathy, and Judgment: an inquiry into the preconditions of moral performance, (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1994), 275.

[2] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 29.

[3] Volf, 29.

Talk about discrimination

lestinnocentbloodJust because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

I talk with youth workers all the time about inclusion. Inclusion is woven into our very jargon when we speak of the gospel being for everyone. What we say officially however does not always match functionally.

As Ferguson has permeated the news, conversations of racism have risen again. A tragic reason, and long overdue, but the conversations are needed. What I am hearing from many young (african american, asian, hispanic, native american and white) leaders is that they know racism exists but that it is not their battle or that they just don’t see it. I couldn’t make this up. As I proceed to name a few places where I see it with them, it is as if a veil is being lifted. And then the floodgate is opened. Frustration or anger often follows. They begin to realize that they had be so socialized to see something as “normal” that they didn’t even see it as discrimination.

I hear this same comment when I bring up including people with disabilities. “Oh, yes, that is important but we don’t have anyone with a disability in our youth group / church / school / community”.

I hear this same comment when talking about including women in leadership. “Oh, we don’t have any women who are interested / qualified / called”.

And again when I talk about the gospel and those with different gender or sex orientations. “Oh yes, that is a huge issue in The church, but not my church. We don’t have anyone identifying / struggling / living with any of those issues.”

Inclusion demands that we talk, openly about all of these possibilities. Inclusion demands that we talk long before we know someone with a disability or can identify racism. You will do it imperfectly, do it anyway. You will make mistakes, do it anyway. You will receive pushback, do it anyway.

One of my very favorite books is “Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed” by Philip Hallie. It is the story of a small village named Le Chambon in France during the Holocaust. In this village, conversations of peace making, of the gospel’s inclusion for all had been taking place for 400 years. Long before they knew that they would be put to the test, long before they dreamed they may have a chance to extend life to anyone…Jewish refugees and Nazi soldiers…they talked about inclusion. It will blow your mind to see what a difference their deep seeded beliefs made when faced with a real life situation.

We are late to the party. We don’t have the luxury of 400 years of history shaping us to push hard for inclusion of all, to work for peace, to fight discrimination for a variety of people. To be imitators of Jesus inviting all to the table with welcoming arms.

Late to the party however still means that the party is going on. It’s not over and indeed, in this case I would argue better late than never.

What we do have is a choice of how to respond today. Our junior high and high school students see issues of discrimination every day. It is a part of the fabric of their lives. It’s time we adults figure out how to better model what God actually intended. It is time we learn to navigate the waters of discrimination on a variety of fronts so that all may know Jesus actually brought good news for everyone.

 

The Harm We Have Done

IMG_4021 AngelSome weeks seem to cut deeper than others. This past week has been a steady stream of one heartbreaking account after the other. From the continued struggles for both sides in Gaza, to the deep sorrow over the suicide of Robin Williams and the intense conversations taking place around depression and mental illness to the anguish over Michael Brown and the continued struggle in Ferguson, MO; it feels like a boiling point is occurring.

What seems rather insignificant in comparison, but highlights that Christians are not faring any better at waging peace in the world, came the announcement of Acts 29 removing Mark Driscoll and Seattle’s Mars Hill. This has been accompanied by a great deal of heated debate over the past 10 days or so. I’d love to say I am surprised but this feels like a larger version of the deep struggles that have taken place at countless churches, ministries and academic institutions where focus is lost and power distorts.

Add to this has been my own journey of Surviving Christians. Not only am I talking about what I have personally experienced but the countless stories I hear from amazing people who quietly share about their own personal horrors committed by other Christians. It is one thing when anger, hatred, and violence is taking place in the world outside of faith. We are taught as children that we cannot expect those who don’t follow Jesus to live by a standard of peace. Yet, what do we do when it is those who profess Christ who are the abusers? Even worse how do we survive when those Christians who abuse are also those who are in authority as parents, pastors, or professors?

(BTW- I am still very interested in hearing from others. How have YOU survived? Has it been with faith intact? Inside of the church? Walking away from church? Are you thriving? Still in process? Stories, even difficult stories of resilience need to be shared. There are many still thinking they are the only ones.)

With this in mind I share from my favorite prayer book. Even with it’s non-inclusive language (since it is a product of over 100 years ago), the words are so meaningful today. I both love this prayer and think My God, for how many generations do we, your people, annihilate one another? When do Christians actually follow what you modeled? Have mercy!

Prayers of the Social Awakening, by Walter Rauschenbusch (The Pilgrim Press, 1910).

On The Harm We Have Done

Our Father, we look back on the years that are gone and the shane and sorrow come upon us, for the harm we have done to others rises up in our memory to accuse us. Some we have seared with the fire of our lust, and some we have scorched by the heat of our anger. In some we helped to quench the glow of young ideals by our selfish pride and craft, and in some we have nipped the opening bloom of faith by the frost of our unbelief.

We might have followed thy blessed footsteps, O Christ, binding up the bruised hearts of our brothers and guiding the wayward passions of the young to firmer manhood. Instead, there are poor hearts now broken and darkened because they encountered us on the way, and some perhaps remember us only as the beginning of their misery or sin.

O God, we know that all our prayers can never bring back the past, and no tears can wash out the red marks with which we have scarred some life that stands before our memory with accusing eyes. Grant that at least a humble and pure life may grow out of our contrition, that in the brief days still left to us we may comfort and heal where we have scorned and crushed. Change us by the power of they saving grace from sources of evil into forces for good, that with all our strength we may fight the wrongs we have aided, and aid the right we have clogged. Grant us this boon, that for every harm we have done, we may do some brave act of salvation, and that for every soul that has stumbled or fallen through us, we may bring to thee some other weak or despairing one, whose strength has been renewed by our love, that so the face of they Christ may smile upon us and the light within us may shine undimmed.

The latest Kickstarter Bible

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I am in favor of (just about) anything that gets people reading the actual Bible. I use several interpretations in working with children, teens, special needs friends and even adults. Think The Message, The Beginners Bibleor my current favorite The Jesus Storybook Bible

So I am both excited by and a little nervous about a Kickstarter project called bibliotheca.

The blog at Sonoran Theological offers some insight from a biblical scholar with a Phd in Bible. It’s not a slam on the project, rather great food for thought.

Mr. Greene shows examples of how he will update the language from the ASV, published in 1900 (New Testament, 1901 for the Old Testament). The implication is that it is primarily the language of the ASV that requires updating. Yet, his first point in the rationale for choosing the ASV over the KJV is that the ASV is several hundred years newer, and “much had been discovered about the languages & cultures in that span of time.” (This quote was taken from the Kickstarter page.) Please note, then, that there have been 114 years of scholarship since the publication of the ASV. And, I would argue, that we have learned much much more about the languages and literature of the ancient Near East, its culture, religions, and institutions during these past 100-plus years than we learned in the 300 years between the KJV and the ASV.

So what do you think?

Talking with stranger danger

p0908 013“I just told your daughter not to talk to strangers.”

“What?” I responded.

“I just told your daughter not to talk to strangers. She was on the other side of the structure playing with my boys and she said hello to me. I told her she isn’t allowed to talk to strangers and her mother would be very upset. I reminded her strangers were dangerous and if one ever talked to her she should scream and run. You’ll need to go over that with her again as she seemed very comfortable including my grandchildren and saying hello to me.” This was all said with body language and tone of voice that assumed camaraderie, shared values while simultaneously putting me in my place.

Halfway  through her reproach my daughter walked up and stood beside me listening. At the end of her reproach I thanked her for caring enough to say something. I then let her know we do talk to strangers. I let the woman know that it was important for my daughter to know that not everyone in the world was out there to harm her and she need not live in fear, though she needed to be wise. That she was to stay where I could see her, always be polite and be intentional about including others. I looked at my daughter and told her I was proud that she was polite and friendly and she had done nothing wrong. My daughter smiled, looked at the woman and said “nice to meet you” then asked if she could go play with her new friends.

Typically playgrounds are the land of the unwritten rules of acceptance between parents. We may not agree with each others parenting styles, but it is not the place to comment. It has been a place to learn to share, to introduce yourself, to help someone you don’t even know up when they fall and in general to make new friends, even if just for the hour.

This woman was annoyed with me. She clearly did not approve of my parenting choices. Her two grandchildren kept to themselves while the rest of the playground was abuzz with interaction. How sad for them. They were being taught from the beginning that “others” are scary, to be avoided. This woman listened to me for a moment then I could see her mentally checking out. Within a minute or two, she walked away, called her grandsons and told them they needed to leave now. The youngest walked away, shoulders slumped, tears in his eyes and kept looking back. It was evident he did not want to leave.

We often talk in my home about life being like a playground. Some people effectively say, “I don’t like your choices, or the way you included others…I’m going to take my ball and go home. In fact, I’m going to take my ball, the snacks, others and leave you there with “that” person who never should have been included in the first place.” It’s a terrible way to proclaim the gospel to others and the exact opposite of what Jesus modeled but it has become the accepted norm today. In fact, it is what too many college and seminaries are implicitly teaching. Be in community with our own, cloistered and protected within our high walls, send out money and do a good deed once each quarter and quickly run back to the safety of our place.

While I allow my children a fair amount of freedom, I don’t let them roam back alleys at midnight. I don’t take them to the park, grab a latte and get engrossed in my phone. I have nicknamed my husband “Safety Sam” because I tolerate risk more than he does. BUT even he has never worried about my choices regarding our children’s safety and he, too, wants our children to care for strangers.

When did we all get so scared of each other? When did we stop talking?

As Chfile0001422462530ristians, we should know and, quite frankly, do better. Jesus commanded that we share the good news with others. This means we actually need to engage with people outside our church. It means we talk to strangers. It means that people who are different, even very different from us deserve to be treated with the same kindness, dignity, and respect as those we know. And quite frankly, everyone is a stranger at some point!

Scripture talks about entertaining angels unaware when we are kind to strangers (Heb 13:1-2). Matthew 25 declares that we will be judged for our faithfulness based on how we treat strangers. We are told through the Old and the New Testaments that we are to reach out to prisoners, widows, orphans, the blind, homeless, the lame, crippled, lonely, cheating tax collectors as well as entitled rich leaders. In short, we are to extend hospitality to ALL people and specifically to strangers.

Of course this all stems from the care and concern parents and grandparents have for the safety and well-being of their (grand)children. And for those who were influenced by all the “stranger-danger” messages of the 1970s, it is understandable that we fear child abduction despite kidnappings being both at historically low levels (http://www.freerangekids.com/crime-statistics/) and the fact that only one in four kidnappings is done by strangers (http://www.parents.com/kids/safety/stranger-safety/child-abduction-facts/). What I question here is the actions taken out of this legitimate care and concern. The response does not have to be a rejection of all strangers – “scream and run away”. Nor does it have to result in hovering helicopter parents. Attentive openness suffices.

Maybe the playground is where it all gets screwed up. Not from the children, but adults who have forgotten that we need each other. Maybe those who don’t follow Jesus will do this, but for those of us professing to follow Jesus we must talk to strangers…even when they might turn out to be very different.

Faith Feminism: on being a theotokos, insults and football

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It all began when the only bad mark on my annual review was that I was spending too much time with students instead of going to lunch with my colleagues every day. The irony is that I did go to lunch with them once a week. And once a week I sat at a table, politely welcomed with an opening hello before the conversation quickly turned to football. I’m not anti-football. I just can’t talk about it every week for a solid year! This idea of collegiality was not what I expected. I had a rather romantic notion that when one was on a theological faculty with others who are considered both brilliant and godly that at least once in while we would discuss theology, ministry, the Bible…anything that had to do with our fields. I was very naive.

My time with students was much more interesting. Not only were they fascinated by what they were reading, studying, and living, but they wanted community. They wanted to wrestle with hard questions and talk about what it meant to live an abundant life! They were curious about things that did not fit neatly into the curriculum of any particular course but mattered for them as people of faith and ministerial leaders in particular. They pushed me to think and rethink what I held dear. I was sharpened as iron sharpens iron not because they didn’t respect me, rather precisely because they did. In turn I respected them and wanted only to offer the best of what I could. This meant a great deal of work on my part. Not only was I prepping for the actual courses I was teaching, I was constantly looking at theological concepts, church history, and practical theology shaping my own faith. I also had to think through how to share this with others in ways where they may not have the same vocabulary or stamina for really long dry books that seminary students and professors have. These times with students turned to meals, ice cream social, and game nights at my house. We developed a blend of constant theological conversation with a lot of prayer, laughter, food and community was built.

Ultimately, this was part of my undoing. I have been told by faculty members on more than one occasion that students are not who should receive the lion’s share of my attention. It is not politically expedient. It is not going to get me ahead in the traditional sense. I was told I was being too maternal by going to such lengths in investing in my students. I thought I was trying to bring about something bigger than myself.

The faculty’s critique became a compliment to me. Last time I checked, this is exactly what God calls us to do. (And just to be clear, I am not talking about the mistake too of us women make in never being able to take credit for anything. This is wrong and is a post for another day!)

God calls us to be a theotokos. Female and male, we are all called to bear Christ to the world. Mary bore Jesus, literally as an infant, bringing God into the world. Her calling was not any easy one; it was painful and cost her a lot. What she was able to do, however, changed the world! For some of us, we know what childbirth is actually like. For others it is a metaphorical reality. For all, the theotokos or model of bearing God over and over and over again in the world is exactly who we are to be. We are to bear God to those whom no one else sees. We are to bear God to those who wonder if God is real. We go through the pains of carrying truth within us and labor that others may know that God is real, that God loves them, that God demands justice, that God longs for relationship, in short…that God matters in this world.

As a professor and theologian, being labeled as too maternal was intended as an insult. It was intended to tell me that I don’t fit in. It was intended to harm.

On bad days, I want to scream screw you at those who have been so ivory-towered-arrogant. But on good days, I remember that I, too, have been in that ivory tower. And what they intended for insult, God meant for good. I’ll take too maternal any day over football!

Surviving Christians

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Like a lot of Christians, I have lived through a number of rotten situations. Like a slightly smaller set of Christians, most of the rotten situations I have lived through were caused by other Christians. They have caused me to question my identity, my faith, and my calling. And because so many of the rotten things that have occurred in my life took place in the context of the church, I thought I had no choice but to tough it out. That became harder and harder to do.

The first time I heard that it was not only OK to leave a toxic situation but was actually described in scripture was after I was accused of heresy, of being a lesbian, and of being a troublemaker… The healthy scriptural advice I needed is found in Matthew 10:14, Luke 9:5 and Mark 6:11. Before I tell you how I began to survive, I need to share one situation I needed to survive. Well, one story, at least. And this story is less tragic for me than it was for several other participants in the narrative. You’ll see what I mean.

The downward spiral began when I received a call being told that one of the girls in the youth group where I served had just been “inappropriately touched” by a friend of her parents, who also happened to be a deacon at my church and the head of the finance committee. I went with her to tell her parents. Her father was understandably angry. Her mother was as well, but not in the way you might imagine. She looked straight at her daughter and said “I thought I raised you better than this! Don’t you know his wife is my best friend? How do you think she is going to feel? What good is telling anyone going to do? You should be able to handle your own business not drag others in to rescue you. You better not mess up my friendship.” I was floored.

I went with her to another family’s house that night. They listened, talked, and prayed with her. It was now my job to report the incident in order to protect her and others.

Our pastor had just retired so I went to our chair of deacons the next day to let him know I had to report the incident. I was after all a mandated reporter. He very gently told me that it was hearsay. It should be handled in-house. I asked to let the deacons know first. He told me that, as a female, I could not attend the deacon meeting but I could send a male representative. Unfortunately, as I was not married at the time, any male I told would constitute gossip so I could not tell anyone. Matter closed…for him.

I did call the police and made my report, but the young woman who was groped and fondled up her skirt recanted. She said I was making something out of nothing. It went down as an incident report and I was vilified by the finance chair and a few others in power at the church. What I found out in this process was that many girls and women had been groped by this man over the years, but all thought it was too disruptive to the community to call him out. He contributed a great deal financially and personally to the church so his indiscretions were overlooked. I was even pulled aside by a well meaning Sunday School teacher and told, “Everyone knows to avoid him, he has always groped women. Just walk on the other side of the sidewalk and you don’t get touched.” Somehow this was acceptable in this church. But not with me. Turns out he also gave porn to boys but no one seemed concerned about that either. Oh…and a year later I learned he had been molesting his own daughter for years. At the age of 13 she was stoned more often than not in order to hide the pain. Still, no one seemed willing to stand up to him.

My time in this church, after all the lies, betrayal, slander, and general angst, ended with the youth group miraculously growing…numerically and spiritually. This is why I stayed. I was witnessing an amazing ministry and believed that if this much good was present, surely something would shift and redemption would come. I had fantastic volunteer youth leaders, wonderful parents, and teens longing to grow more in their faith and put it into action. The time with teens was precious and I really thought I could withstand anything with Christ. What I didn’t see, what I couldn’t see, was that I was losing a lot of weight and getting migraines with the stress of what was happening in church leadership. I was gaunt, sickly and struggling.

After a year, I was pulled aside in the parking lot one night after youth group and told roughly, “We would like to offer you a raise if you would be willing to drop all accusations with the police. If not, we will have to let you go and we will say it is for financial reasons. Sometimes you have to look the other way in order to preserve the unity of the body of Christ.” (emphasis mine). That last part in italics is a direct quote. As if seared into my mind, that phrase surfaces on all too many occasions when I hear horrific stories that have happened in the midst of Christian communities.

And yet here I am. Years later. I am still in ministry. I still love Jesus and the church. I am not the only one to have survived Christians. In the last 20 years I have experienced terrible things. I have walked through even more with countless people. At others times, I have been a listening ear for others to share with me what they have experienced. Sometimes years after the fact; sometimes sharing their story for the first time.

There is power in story and knowing you are not the only one. There is power in hearing how others coped. There is power in learning how to move beyond surviving into thriving. Bullies, predators, and liars all count on one thing: silence by the ones they have wronged.

I want to offer hope to those who are currently struggling. To those contemplating walking away from the church, their faith or worse, their own lives, know this: there is hope.

I was taught as a kid to expect non-Christians to behave like non-Christians. In other words, if they don’t know Jesus how could they imitate Jesus (Eph 5:1). But what happens when they do know Jesus? What happens when it is a Christian or group of Christians destroying the lives of other Christians? These are the things about which we are not supposed to talk. Rapes by fathers, abuse by mothers. Pastors cheating and lying. Professors who are verbally abusive and liars. Church leadership who uses people like pawns. Ministries who dismiss long time employees for fictitious reasons. It all comes down to some form of betrayal. That which was to keep us safe, those who were supposed to be above reproach and trustworthy are too often the ones who torpedo the lives of the next generation. We need to stop the cycle. I no longer expect non-Christians to not imitate Jesus. Many imitate Jesus quite well whether they know it or not. I do, however, call those of us who are professing to follow Jesus to align our lives in such a way as to imitate Jesus intentionally, even when it costs us. Otherwise, what is the point?

What I am looking for are stories from others. Stories of Survival, even if barely. How have you coped? Where did you find hope? I’d love for those in the midst of struggle to know they are not alone. Post your story in the comments. Send it to me directly if you are not comfortable with comments. Use a pseudonym if you need. But share your story. If you know of someone who has a story to share, pass this along to them. Pass it on anyway, you never know who does have a story of survival.

I need your help to get this out there. I will be posting on this topic again. There are many stories that need to be told. We need a repository of hope.

 

Women in Ministry- CYMT style

My friends at CYMT.org have done it again! Great reads on women in ministry and I was lucky enough to be one of the people asked to write. Check out the wisdom from women who have been there, survived, still love Jesus and the church. Each has a unique story, each will leave you thinking and encouraged. Enjoy!