Jesus

Putting My Wounds Into God’s Service

This is the seventh of seven posts in the Becoming a Wounded Healer: My Story Through Abuse series. All posts available here.

I am finally coming to the point where I am more comfortable talking about what happened. I want to use it as a source of healing for others. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (MSG) sticks out to me.

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort – we get a full measure of that, too.”

As I wrote this series, I really wondered whether there is anyone else out there who has experienced something similar. I doubted, but statistically, it was likely. I have already had a number of people reach out to me with similar experiences in the past few weeks. I’m saddened by how common this is, but I also have hope that each of us can experience healing.

When I was five years old, I had my appendix taken out. I remember how painful it was at first. My activities were restricted. I couldn’t go swimming, which I loved. After some time, the butterfly closures were removed, and I could slowly go back to normal. I still had to be careful, and I often noticed the angry red mark staring at me. Months and years went by, and the scar faded. Now, I hardly remember it’s there. This experience gives me continued hope of what can happen on an emotional level with my past experiences, and those who have experienced similar things.

Going forward, I know I will face new situations that bring up old wounds in new ways. I also know that as I pursue healing and wholeness in Christ, the scars will fade. Maybe one day I will hardly notice it at all, and it will simply be a mark of the past. Whatever happens, I know that just as God has been faithful in the journey so far, God will continue to be faithful into the future. May you have the same hope in your journey.

Advertisements

Illusions and Poverty: The Best of a Life in Control

I have a confession. I am a control freak. I used to describe it as being well prepared and thorough, but let’s call it what it is. Having back-up plans for your back-up plan’s back-up plan is paranoia.

You could say it’s a lifelong illness. I remember hoarding coordinating work on group projects as a kid so everything could be done to my standards. Clearly, the other children were there to bring me down. I’d like to say I’ve been transformed, but I’ve only changed projects about polar bears to projects about policies and statistics. I’m the same, but I’ve found more politically correct ways to describe my obsessions.

I hate being out of control. It feels messy. Like I’m going to be swallowed up in the swirling vortex of chaos. Or like I’m treading water in a vast ocean with no sight of land, and if I don’t get sand under my feet soon, I’ll drown. If you know that feeling, you also know that you’ll do pretty much anything to get rid of it. You make back-up plans for your back-up plan. You stop or limit delegating. You manage deadlines. You organize until everything is in a neat little compartment. You influence others to your way of thinking. If all this fails or is impossible, and you cannot manipulate your external environment, you turn inward. For me, I convince myself I don’t care as much as I do, and that I’m not affected by another person’s actions. I withdraw and numb. I become overly serious and stoic. Empathy and care are replaced with curt replies, still civil enough to defend if needed.

Though these strategies still my immediate fear of chaos, I’ve been realizing that the apparent short-term gain is not worth the long-term loss. What seems like self-protection actually acts to impoverish. I cut myself off from the resources all around me. My numbing spreads to encompass all beauty, joy and possibility. It steals life, and the ability to love. Moreover, by trying to be in control, I live an illusion. The reality is everything is out of control. No one knows the future, and nothing we can do will ever change that. So, what’s the alternative?

In the midst of striving, I sense God asking, “do you trust me?” It’s a simple question, but my answer is fraught with complexities. To paraphrase a man who asked Jesus for healing – I trust; help my distrust (Mk. 9:24)! I’m thankful for Anne Lamott’s reminder that “the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty.” I don’t need to achieve a perfect state of trust (or control) before approaching Jesus. I need to come as I am, with all my fears, doubts, and chaos. I feel so unworthy, but I think that’s grace, right?

I’ve heard it said that you need to learn to live out of control, but I think that’s only half of the truth. You also need to learn to live knowing that God is in control. I’m still learning what that looks like, but here’s my thoughts so far. It’s delegating and accepting another right way to do things, even if it’s not your way. It’s pressing in and engaging vulnerably, even if there are no guarantees. It’s being honest with yourself and others about how much you do care, even if you’re not sure they care the same way. It’s acknowledging and experiencing pain, refusing to put up another wall. It’s praying, not my will, but yours be done (Lk. 22:42).

When I think about it, I know it’s going to cost me something. I also know it’s not going to cost near as much as attempting to maintain the illusion of control. I suppose it’s a choice. I know what I’m choosing. What about you?

Christians: Quit being the boycotting beast

I was intrigued recently as I scrolled through my Facebook news-feed. Christians were calling for a boycott of the new Beauty and the Beast film, featuring Disney’s first openly gay character. When I investigated further, it was more than a mere individual boycott. Entire theatres, such as this one in Alabama, were refusing to show the film at all. Of course, I believe everyone has the right to decide what they want to watch or not watch, but I couldn’t help but wonder: why this movie?

From what I can tell, the boycott argument is that individuals, theatres, or others, do not want to support the gay lifestyle. Okay. So, going to see a film that happens to include a gay character means supporting homosexuality? If we follow that logic through, then wouldn’t watching a violent movie support violence? Wouldn’t watching a movie with premarital or extramarital sex support promiscuity and infidelity? Wouldn’t watching a movie with abuse promote abuse? If the primary concern is what watching a movie will support, then perhaps the choice should be made to abstain from watching movies altogether.

Alternately, perhaps the outrage is not just that a movie contains a gay character, but that a Disney movie has a gay character. Disney is supposed to support wholesome family values. They’re supposed to make movies that are ‘safe’ for our children to watch. Really? If you take a critical look at the movies Disney has produced over time, you’ll see among the cute kids and fluffy animals: witchcraft, violence, war, sexual abuse (or, at the very least, unwelcome sexual advances), theft, and manipulation. Again, it does not seem that Disney is behaving inconsistently. They are creating films that people will relate to, because it makes money. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: society is not Christian and it is not society’s responsibility to create media or other paraphernalia that corresponds with Christian values.

The point is not to cocoon ourselves in a blanket of do’s and don’ts in an attempt to shut out the advancing bogeyman representing our worst fears about society going to hell in a hand-basket. Watching a movie with a gay character isn’t going to corrupt us. A more realistic approach is to realize that there are myriad of influences pushing and pulling us each day, not just one film. We need to engage and think critically about all that we are consuming.

In my mind, the inconsistency in logic of reactions to the film point to the deeper issue of a fear-based and judgmental response towards those who identify as homosexuals (never mind those who identify as transgender, queer, or something else). Christians seem to feel threatened by what they do not understand, and by what seems to challenge their deeply held value system.

The reactions also reflect the fear Christians in the West seem to have over loss of influence. They are no longer at the center of society and decision-making. Their power is marginalized and sidelined. As some have said, we live in a post-Christian world.

Fear leads us into action, yes, but it is subjective, illogical, tight-fisted, and often hurtful. Boycotts confirm what many outside the church already think of us: we are narrow-minded, irrational, prejudiced and arrogant. Boycotts make us look like the real beast. This repels people and goes against what most of us want more deeply than we feel fear: for people to know Jesus for themselves.

Instead of responding with boycotts, why not take a fresh look at how the early church operated? They, too, were a minority group in a society that did not share their values. Instead of lashing out, they sought God in prayer and relied on the power of the Holy Spirit. They proclaimed the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection in word and action, were persecuted, and saw incredible growth. Maybe today that means we go see the film. Maybe it means we bake cookies for our gay friends who experience harassment and discrimination because of who they believe themselves to be. We hear their stories. We love them. Because love isn’t predicated on agreement with someone’s lifestyle or choices. After all, God loved and loves us like that. Let’s stop acting like the beast, and show the world the true beauty of the gospel.

A Handshake and a Foreign Word

I recently went through the process of church shopping, and discovered it is not all it is cracked up to be. I have no idea why people would pursue it almost as a leisure option. It pretty much sucks, especially for an introvert.

Disregarding my introverted preferences, I drove myself to church after church. After countless handshakes and some admittedly awkward small talk, I sat alone in the pew. I was lost. Metaphorically and, not surprisingly, iChrist Church Stellartonn thought.

The songs, words, and customs displayed themselves like a play I’d never seen in a language I’d never heard. There was no explanation, just an unspoken assumption that I really should’ve known what was happening. And I should mention that I am a church veteran. I started going to church before I was even out of the womb. Yet here I was, silently crying out for a church culture guide. Someone to help me navigate these foreign practices. Then I wondered, if I were struggling, how would it be for a new churchgoer? Would they be greeted with a handshake, only to be verbally and customarily excluded?

If the answer to that question is yes, and by my own experience, I would say that too often it probably is, then I can’t help but draw the conclusion that our handshakes are deceptive. We’re pretending to welcome people when we really don’t want them there. 

At this point, many ask the question, do we even need to be accessible? And if we do, what does being accessible look like? Can’t we live out our Christian culture and just be different? How much accommodation is needed? How far do we have to go? These questions can be complicated, but I believe we can go a long way with the typical Sunday school answer: Jesus.

Yes, Jesus. John 1:14 from the Message version says, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.” The Word, aka Jesus, became a human being, completely inconveniencing himself to come in a way that we would understand. Philippians 2, also from the Message, adds that Jesus “set aside all the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human…he didn’t claim special privileges.” If that’s how important accessibility was to God, how can we even question that we need to prioritize it too?

I used to attend a church that repeatedly emphasized, “we want to be a church that non-churched people want to come to.” They showed this by explaining typical Christian words and customs, providing programs to explain the Christian faith, finding connecting points in popular culture, and removing barriers to people finding Jesus. It isn’t easy, and I think it has been a continual process for them to figure out what being accessible looks like, but they’re trying, and that’s what counts.

It is becoming more and more the case that we can no longer assume that the average person understands the Christian story and all that goes along with it. Some people call this ‘post-Christendom.’ The way I see it, we have two options. We either fight and attempt a white-knuckle grip on ‘the way it used to be,’ or we proactively find ways to make our life and message accessible. I’m not talking about compromising on core aspects of truth, but figuring out what needs to happen for it to be understood. Let’s not offer a handshake only to alienate with a foreign word. Let’s lay down our privileges, like Jesus did, and move into the neighbourhood. Are you with me?

Christmas Contempt

I heard someone say once that “familiarity breeds contempt.” It sounds a bit harsh, but it’s true isn’t it? You see or hear something enough times, and when it comes up for the umpteenth time you think, ‘This? Again? No thanks.’ It gets discarded like yesterday’s rubbish.

For many things, I suppose it doesn’t matter. Some things could use discarding anyway. But what happens when it is something that matters? What happens when it is something that needs to remain?

Earlier this year I was on a family holiday in Mexico. As I do most holidays, I try to find a useful souvenir to remember it. I saw so many things, but nothing really caught my eye. That is, until I noticed a number of figurines Made with Repix (http://repix.it)out of the corner of my eye, arranged, as it were, around a smaller figure. I looked closer and realized it was the nativity scene. You know, Mary, Joseph, wise people, shepherds and animals all crowded around baby Jesus. It was like no nativity I had seen before, and I had seen many. The colours, clothing, and nationalities represented were far from the plainly dressed, brown haired, blue-eyed Caucasian ensemble I knew so well. This was it! I had found my souvenir, but it was much more than that.

As I stare at the colourful statuettes, now displayed on my shelf in much colder Canada, I am forced to rethink what has become so familiar to me. And I confess that that familiarity has bred some level of contempt. The nativity and all it represents had lost its wonder and become simply another thing I saw at a certain time every year [I was blessed enough to see/hear it this many times]. Sometimes it takes a completely different perspective to restore the spark in the familiar. But what’s so amazing about the nativity and what it represents, anyway?

There’s one verse that sums it up well for me, and that’s Matthew 1:23. It says, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” Wait a minute. God, with us? God, the creator of all, wanting to be with us? Wow. This short verse dismantles all arguments that God is distant and unfeeling. God chose to become a vulnerable baby, needing to grow and learn in this world, in order to relate to us in a way we could understand.

As if this wasn’t awesome enough in itself, it also gives us a taste of what is to come. Revelation 21:3 says, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” Matthew 1:23 foreshadows Revelation 21:3, giving us something to remember and something to look forward to. We are not alone in this world, and we anticipate an even closer and more tangible relationship with the God of all.

Isn’t that an amazing Christmas message worth salvaging from contempt?

Why I Need Feminism, and the Church Does Too

Some time ago, I engaged in a social media comment exchange with a particular person who argued that we did not need feminism, because gender equality already existed, at least in most Western countries. The exchange was short. I could not deal with the ignorance that oozed from his words.

So, in honour of the man that will remain nameless, here is the beginning of a list of reasons as to why I need feminism.

  • Because people somehow think gender equality exists
  • Because female objectification still exists
  • Because women who have been raped are asked what they were wearing, as if somehow being raped was their fault
  • Because I’m tired of being told that I should be careful how outspoken I am for gender equality, as men don’t want to marry a woman like that. After all, women are, by nature, gentle, nice, and submissive, right?
  • Because people scoff when I speak up for gender inclusive language
  • Because feminism is treated like a joke
  • Because men who are sensitive and nurturing are thought of as less manly, and women who are strong and outspoken are thought of as bossy and aggressive

After considering why I needed feminism, I started to think about the [Christian] church. Does the church need feminism? Ultimately, I believe the church needs Jesus, not a human construct. But I still believe it’s a helpful construct to consider. Here are my reasons why the church needs feminism.

  • Because Jesus is a feminist (See my article here)
  • Because the female leaders in the Bible are said to be an exception. Or used because God couldn’t find a suitable man. Or that they were going against God’s plan. In reality, they are people who responded to God’s call and used their gifts.
  • Because we still treat the part of the curse that refers to female subordination as prescriptive and not descriptive
  • Because we treat gender roles that originate in culture as Biblical, and therefore unquestionable.
  • Because gender dictates service opportunities more than gifting and calling
  • Because women are told to endure abuse due to the need to “submit to their husbands” (See, for example, John Piper in this YouTube video)
  • Because there are double standards. For example, women doing the same role as men have a lower title or less pay just because of their gender. Or women who are allowed to preach are told they are giving a talk, not a sermon.
  • Because we still use strongly androcentric language that excludes women
  • Because people need to hear about Jesus and we need to use everyone we can to their best ability, regardless of gender

These lists, of course, are just a start. There are many more reasons why you, the church, and I need feminism. What would you add?

Is Jesus a Feminist?

Yes, it has been awhile. Yes, I have good reasons. The past two weeks I was away for work, and this week I have been packing up my life of three years in the UK to move to Canada. So, in lieu of a new blog post, here is one I wrote earlier this year for the Sophia Network called ‘Is Jesus a Feminist?’ (click to go to the blog).

The Sophia Network, based in the UK, is an excellent organization that advocates for gender equality in the church and strives to empower women in leadership. I’ve had the privilege of being a member for the past couple years and attending a training event last year with a powerful speaker, Kate Coleman. If you’d like to know more, visit their website or Facebook page. They’re also holding an online discussion in October around what the Bible says about men and women, using the study resource ‘In the Image of God’. I’ve gone through this myself and would highly recommend it. If you’re curious about the topic, or just want to know a bit more, why not join the discussion by clicking here?

That’s all for now. I’ll try to post a new blog soon!

How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership

I remember sitting across from my mentor and her telling me that she was thinking about becoming a vicar. I looked at her with a puzzled face and said, “But, doesn’t the Bible say that women can’t be pastors?” She replied, “Tami, I’ve read the same Bible and I don’t see it that way.” I was confused: how could two people read the Bible and come to such different conclusions on the same issue?

I’d grown up in a church where women in leadership wasn’t really discussed, but all I ever saw were men up on the stage. Sometimes a woman would sing a solo or do a children’s story, but that’s about it. Men led and men made the decisions. My mentor had me thinking, though, could women be in church leadership without going against Scripture?

I couldn’t get it out of my head, and so, when I went to a Christian university soon afterward, I decided to take a course on the topic to learn more. I’m not someone who is easily convinced, so I entered the class, taught jointly by a female and a male professor, as a sceptic.

I learned a lot about gender, stereotypes, the background of feminism, and how history and culture have influenced peoples’ beliefs around what it means to be female or male. I even saw how society could play a part in shaping how one reads and understands the Bible. All of this was important for me to learn, but it was studying how Jesus interacted with women that tipped the scales for me. Jesus affirmed women as his disciples (Lk. 10:39), reinterpreted laws to protect them (Mt. 5:27-28), and even compared himself to them (Mt. 23:37-39). When women were not allowed as legal witnesses in court, Jesus chose them as the first preachers of his resurrection (Jn. 20:11-18). Jesus intentionally turned cultural and religious ideals upside-down to free women from bondage. Jesus saw women as equal to, not less than, men.

As I learned in the course, studied the Bible for myself, and prayed, my eyes were opened. Scripture didn’t prohibit women from church leadership; it encouraged it! Leadership and ministry were never supposed to be about gender – they were supposed to be about giftedness.

Where is my mentor now? She became a vicar in an Anglican church in England. And me? I think she’s well gifted for the position and I support her 100%.

I firmly believe that equality of the sexes is one more step towards the actualization of the Kingdom of God. We see glimpses of it in Jesus and throughout Scripture, and we can be a part of bringing it in now by how we live out the reality of gender equality in the church, in our homes, in society, and wherever we are. Amen. Come Lord Jesus!

The title for this blog post came from a book I read recently by the same name. I highly recommend it. Check it out on Amazon here.

how i changed my miind cover

Meeting Jesus

We had baptisms in church on Sunday. Baptism Sundays are those rare Sundays that can draw tears from even me. Why? I love hearing real people’s stories of meeting Jesus. And, 10 years ago, a baptism service changed my life.

Meeting Jesus is a pretty amazing thing. It’s real and unpredictable. Extravagant and yet simple. Exciting and personal. It changes you. You meet Jesus and you’re never the same. Even if you choose not to follow him (meeting and following are not the same), you can’t shake the knowledge that there’s something more than what you knew before.

But I can’t just talk about meeting Jesus without getting personal and telling you how I met Jesus, so here goes.

I grew up hearing a lot about Jesus, and I learned a lot about him too. I went to church, Sunday school, mid-week kids club, youth group – you name it, I probably did it. I thought that I was right with Jesus because I tried to be a good person and avoid what I thought was ‘bad’. I didn’t really understand who Jesus was. I knew about him, but I didn’t know him.

When I was 16, I found myself going to church yet again for a friend’s baptism service. Everything was fine until we started singing a song called ‘How Deep the Father’s Love For Us’, and this bit hit me. Hard.

“Behold the man upon a cross, My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice, Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there, Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life – I know that it is finished.”

Somehow, it clicked. Jesus had to die because of my sin, my wrongdoing, my wanting things my way. It wasn’t just some evil people that crucified him 2000 years ago, but me. I met Jesus. A baptism service changed my life. [well, Jesus did, but he used a baptism service…]

I started to get to know Jesus, not just know about him.

I realized that it wasn’t about trying to do good things and avoid bad things, but about trusting Jesus and letting him change me from the inside out. It doesn’t mean that I’m perfect, or that my life is perfect. In fact, it’s far from that (even though I’m a perfectionist and that does sound slightly appealing). It means that as I follow Jesus, I become more like him, and that’s a good thing.

Right now, at this moment, I’m meeting and following Jesus through a massive transition. I’m moving countries and changing careers. I’m not going to lie, it’s quite scary. But I know Jesus is here with me, and that makes it not perfect, but okay.

What about you? Have you met Jesus? Are you following him?