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How to Love a Drunk: Bits of My Story are published and #FFWgr

invincible summer within

How to Love a Drunk

When you’re an alcoholic you get to tell your story  and admit to your illness at the oddest moments. There is usually no time to prepare emotionally or to get the words just right.  What comes is what comes.  I actually enjoy these unrehearsed moments.  The questions I’m asked push me to think about my sobriety in a new way.

Friday there I was outlining the basics of my recovery to a program director for a youth counselling program we’re looking at for one of the kids.It is completely unemotional task, to tell a doctor the details chronologically. Very unlike the real toll it took to write recently for Today’s Christian Woman. How to Love A Drunk, you probably know, is a story of addiction that includes healing and grace and Tom’s selfless love. This story took weeks to write. I interviewed Tom for the painful and awkward bits that I don’t remember and it was hard.  Really hard! But I’m happy with the outcome.  And I’ve already received feedback that the story is helping others.  That makes the sacrifice as well as the awkward tender feelings worth it.

“An alcoholic is one for the rest of their lives, whether they quit drinking or kill themselves abusing, so love has to prepare for the worst but never give up hope.”

If it requires a subscription to Christianity Today to read it, I apologize.  Their online subscription is $9. (This may not be worth it.)

Festival of Faith & Writing

Next week I head to the Calvin’s Festival of Faith & Writing.  I’m excited and looking forward to the alone time that will inevitably come.  If you’re headed there too feel free to FB message me or text.  There will be time to meet IRL some of the fun people I’ve connected with online.

I’m excited to hear literary heroes speak.  Anne Lamott wrote Bird by Bird and Traveling Mercies among other favorites. I hope she’s as funny IRL.  James McBride’s The Color of Water:A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother is one of my favorite books.  Other speakers I’ll seek out include Scott Cairns, poet, Okey Ndibe and Richard Foster possibly Rachel Held Evans, the popular blogger and Jeff Chu who wrote Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America.  There is always an inspiring line up.

I’m also anticipating that it will be a good experience to be a part of this Festival Circle:

Suffering and Salve: Writing and Believing in Seasons of Illness and Pain. Illness and suffering can provoke powerful questions in the creative spirit, but they can also drain a writer’s physical, emotional, and spiritual resources. This circle will discuss how a writer’s creative process and spiritual state are affected by suffering and how other writers have engaged with, or disengaged from, their craft in times of personal suffering.

I am looking forward to meeting many friends from my writing world.  So much has changed in our lives since Tom and I went together two years ago. And I’m grateful to go all, considering our circumstances. But will you pray that I wouldn’t allow my introvertedness and my current state of mind to be a liability? 

And I’ll be back to writing in a few weeks unless something powerful hits.  Thanks for being such faithful readers and friends.

Melody

Shut Up for Once and Listen! Please.

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Yesterday I read with disbelief as a flood of women replied on Tony Jones’ blog, when he asked the question “Where are the Women?”  Hundreds flooded his blog expressing how frustrated they were with not being listened to by him, by men, in the Church, in the blogosphere.

They also said they didn’t have time for blogs where they aren’t listened to carefully and respected for their ideas.  What I couldn’t believe was that he got his feelings hurt and ended up petulant, going away to lick his wounds.

I believe Tony Jones meant to ask “why aren’t women commenting on my blog?”  Which is actually quite nice of him to notice that women are silent there.  And fascinating, really, that women don’t comment though it is clear that they are reading.  Especially since women are talking to each other within the community of other blogs, like CT’s blog for women, her.meneutics and Rachel Held Evans blog and other places.

What Tony Evans got when he asked, was vitriol and anger and I heard pain from women’s experiences in the Church, but mostly I think the underlying response was would you “shut up for once and listen. Please?”  

These women are frustrated.

I don’t know your church experience, but I’m guessing if it is conservative, or evangelical, or Bible based, women don’t have much of a voice.   They may do lots of work in the church, and may even have subtle and quiet influence, but most women don’t have influence the teaching or theological grounding of the church, because women aren’t being trained theologically, encouraged into those studies, or leadership, or speaking or teaching.

Then a fellow Redbud, Jenny Rae Armstrong wrote a great article Women, Theology and the Evangelical Gender Ghetto. She  commented about how James W. McCarty III expressed concern over the lack of female voices in the theological blogosphere in Stop, Collaborate and Listen. He said:  “Listen to women. And listen in a way in which you can learn from them. Seriously… And don’t argue with them right away… Listen deeply. Meditate upon those things that don’t resonate with your experience and give them a charitable interpretation. Think about the questions that women ask which you never think to ask. Take those questions seriously and recognize your need to learn from women to answer them.”

It reminded me of something I wrote this last year:

When our Traditions and Tired Beliefs are Calcified into Orthodoxy (Brief Thoughts On Women).  

And this:  What is lost when the Church echoes with the sound of women’s silence?

And it reminded me that the work is incomplete. As Jenny said, books could be written on this topic.

The evangelical Church with a big C (not all churches) is still stuck in petty bickering and  totally useless, entrenched ideas about what women can and cannot do. (That much is clear from the response to Rachel Held Evans new book A Year Of Biblical Womanhood.)  

As one thoughtful blogger Joy asked, where are the optimistic feminists?  She said won’t you dare to hope?  

Food for thought.

Do you listen to the women in your life, truly listen, slowly, deeply, open-handed and humbly asking what their experiences and feelings have been being a woman in the church? Do you think about the things that don’t resonate with your experience? Think about the questions that women ask which you never think to ask. Do you take those questions seriously and recognize your need to learn from women in order to answer them.

When was the last time you felt heard at church? Are you a optimistic feminist?  Are you angry.  If you’re angry I’d challenge you to consider the ways, if any that you can be a voice for change.

What did Jesus say about what women can or cannot do?  What does the Bible show  women can do, as Scot McKnight asks so well in The Blue Parakeet.  Read that book it will change the way you read the Bible!!

 Tony Jones was disconcerted by the responses of women.  This disconcerts me because what I heard was women wanting to be heard.  That is all.  That is a beginning.  That idea gives me hope.  Shut up for once, and listen.

{When Did you First Believe that God is Male?} #mutuality2012

Where do we form our ideas about God?  And more importantly when?  How young does it begin to register in your head and heart, your idea of God as a masculine figure and that your daddy is also male? How did they become so mixed together, mingled and intertwined?

And I asked myself today.  How do you pull them apart, which you must for a variety of reasons but most of all because you don’t know how to pray to that God. You don’t know that God.

What if you grew up feeling that you will never measure up, never have a day in your small, inconsequential life of being good enough, no matter what you do.  What if you grew up believing that your life, whatever you become, whatever you might

Hope for, dream or wish, whatever you might be today isn’t enough? 

What if you have believed since you were a very young girl, that all your striving will make Daddy love you more and yet it doesn’t work? Did not work.  What then?

What if you learned that God isn’t male What if God isn’t just a daddy or a father but a mother, a healer, even a lover?  God is something beyond our comprehension, wild and incredible, beyond imagination.

How are we to pull those ideas apart, with their

Deep Roots that have grown up all over us, entangled

with one another, clinching our chest tighter year after year – strangling,

smothering,

killing you.

I know that I cannot separate these things.  In my human effort it’s impossible to make my shouting, critical, mean-spirited, controlling, effortlessly (it seemed) horrible and cruel daddy to stop.

I have to throw that idea away.  I have to toss that idea of human daddy being God or or God being like my daddy, toss it far into the ocean with all the other idols I have collected in my life.  I’ve got a few, but this one is a huge Monster of an idol and in my power I cannot even lift it, to toss it away into the vast murky universal ocean.

I cannot.

So I sit here, on the beach.  My feet sandy, my toes getting wet just a little, I pick up a pebble and fling it as far as I can.  I do not see how far flies, but I know that it is gone.

My hand is empty.

I imagine that I hear it fall, then swirl down into the waves, the tide pulling it out, further and further away

from me.

That’s how far I toss the idol of my human daddy being my God.

Out of my mind.

out of my heart,

out of my life,

daddy’s gone.  Human-daddy-formed-god, to be replaced with …

Something New, that I do not know yet.

“God is not limited by gender because God is Spirit.” – Mimi Haddad

I want to know that God.

So I am going to stay here on the beach a little while longer waiting, hoping, dreaming, believing that this God, who I cannot even comprehend yet, wants to know me.

Melody

“The point of the incarnation was that Christ represents your flesh and mine. Perhaps for this reason, Christ’s self-appointed name was most frequently Son of Man (anthropos—humankind) not Son of Male (aner). Gendered deities were part of the Greek dualistic system, which Jesus, as your flesh and mine, stands against.”  – Mimi Haddad, CBE

{To the Elders and leaders of X Church, fellow believers in Christ} #mutuality2012

I believe this letter to my church’s Elder Board could have been written to almost any Complementarian church’s elder board.

To the Elders and leaders of X Church, fellow believers in Christ:

If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation.  The old had passed away, behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.  2 Corinthians 5:17-18

I am writing today in response to the request for Elder submissions.  Understanding that your responsibilities as elders are to guide an enormous church made up of a diverse population, I want you to know that this letter is ten years in coming and has been written with respect for the authority of scripture and for your roles as leaders. Your responsibilities, I am certain, cause you some “fear and trembling” and I believe that you have a sincere desire to listen well to many people with unlimited perspectives.  I have utmost respect for “authority” both within the church and in life and I hope that you will consider these thoughts prayerfully, before God and one another, and with the full congregation of X, both men and women, in mind.  Young and old, educated and less knowledgeable, Conservative and liberal, Black, white, Asian, international and US citizens, we all make up the beautiful and complex church of X.  What a daunting task you have.

I am writing about the roles of women at X.  I have been in dialog with Pastor about this topic for years and always appreciate his frankness and perspective.  I respect the need to be aware of the climate in X, the Church at large, as well as within our culture.

As you know, many Christian denominations continue with the practice of male-authority.  And others are open to change.  Though a clear, Biblical viewpoint was preached recently about how men and women are to treat one another, I know there are many at X, perhaps some of you, who believe in the universal male-headship principle. Obviously if it were simple, things would have changed with cultural and societal changes.

But it is a complex thing to parse through scripture to find what is Core Truth and what is cultural truth, of a time.  There are dozens of perspectives on the place of and roles for women in the church.

I appreciate the women who do serve at X church, though support staff in the church is dominated by women and the leadership is dominated by men, which I find strange and a bit backward and tells me that things haven’t progressed as much as I would wish.  What speaks loudest is that there are no women on the teaching team.  And, though perhaps this is even more difficult to change, women are still not considered for the leadership of being an Elder (who lead, manage, govern) and Deacons (who serve, care, guide) are invisible and do what?  I don’t know.

In my conversations with pastor, it has been clear to me that some of you over the years (I realize you’re a revolving door of men) do feel empathetic to the changes in the Church at large.  Perhaps you have even studied this on your own?

The New Testament church thought that the Lord was coming in their day and therefore did not very courageously attempt to speak to the injustices of their time.  Paul backed away from it so much that he prefered to be single than complicate his life with a woman and family.

But today, more than 2,000 years later, it is quite clear that Christ is yet to come, and I find it imperative that believers in Christ individually and corporately, with the power and influence each has been given by our Lord, speak to the injustices that plague humanity — war, poverty and hunger, and sexism are just a few as well as prejudice, bigotry and racism.

I ask therefore: Do you believe that women must not teach Biblical doctrine?  Do you believe that women are unacceptable for Church governance or pastoral and preaching roles?  Because that  is the current example being set at x.  And I would press back saying, if women are not to be in teaching  and in authority over men, why are women encouraged to be missionaries and managers at x?  This inconsistency implies that women can have authority over men in certain circumstances, just not over men of their own race and in their own church.  This I do not understand and ask if you see the conflict?

I urge you to consider the message you are sending to young people in the church, men and women who are considering how they might serve God with their lives.  And this has rampant implications for the relationships between men and women, boys and girls, as they see this conflict of ideas.

Church historian Janette Hassey, in her book No Time for Silence, talks about the fact that American evangelicals before the turn of the century and after, advocated and practiced women in pastoral ministry.   My own grandmother, a missionary in the 1930s, was an evangelist and preacher in upstate New York, alongside my grandfather.  Together they were missionaries in Tibet before the war.  Returning home because of WWII, they continued their work here.  I don’t think my grandmother would have been encouraged to use that gift if she were at our church.  It is sad that the twentieth century took such steps backward for women in the church.

I would like to ask you, individually, if you prescribe to the concept of male headship – or not — as heard in the recent sermon?   Whether you think headship is a part of the created order or merely a necessity in wake of the Fall it is not good thing for women.  And perhaps you say, “So what?  The Bible says what it says. Live with it.” I would push back asking whether you knew that next to alcohol and drug abuse the most reliable predictor of wife battering is “zealous conservative religiosity?”   This is just an example of how this policy within the Church at large has hurt women.

As I said before, I believe one call for Christians is to resist chronic injustice – to speak out when it is seen.  I see women being subjugated in the church, being kept from being elders when their full gifting, experience and knowledge is toward leadership. I see no women being encouraged toward teaching, serious scholarship and study of theology even when God has given them an ability, a passion for and a call to scriptural truth and teaching.  I see women who outside of the church are being affirmed and are leading faithfully and well, within the Church not even being considered to serve with the full capacity of those God-given abilities.

It seems to me that the current perspective takes parts of scripture and holds to it as if it were a Universal or Core Truth, while rejecting many other parts of the Old Testament and New Testament, that are cultural rules and are obviously outdated.

I don’t think women’s subjugation is any part of the core Truth of scripture.

The Church has changed its stance on many important things in the last 2,000 years: like strict or flexible observing of the Sabbath, pacifism vs. a just war, Christian’s cultural involvement or separation from culture, but gender roles remains set in what has “always been” especially in denominations, especially in ours.

Change in something this important is difficult and tumultuous, I understand.  To be different than your denomination, to think for ourselves, to study Scripture openly looking at original text with a heart for all people — all this is messy and painful and even unfortunately divisive. It is much easier to ignore it until the culture and climate change so much that you don’t have to risk.  I get that.  But it breaks my heart.

I would agree that on gender roles, the Bible is less than clear.  Just like the NT church was ambiguous about slavery, but we never question that change on Biblical grounds.  It is obvious today, that slavery is an ugly and abhorrent part of the Old and New Testament times. And in the fifties it was believed in the church that women are better suited for parenting and that idea has been rejected over time ,seeing clearly that children need both parents involved in their upbringing.  There are many things that we reject, as the culture and as times change.  But though the Bible isn’t clear it isn’t silent either about gender in the church.

And Jesus was not silent, he was constantly affirming women.

As Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen so beautifully describes, it is more like an …

“… unfolding drama in which salvation is made available to more and more groups that were previously considered marginal.  Salvation and equality of access to its privileges and responsibilities, is not just for Jews, but for non-Jews;  not just for free persons, but for slaves; not just for men, but for women – and so on, in keeping with the principles of Paul found in Galatians 3:28.”

So, if the Bible is ambiguous about gender roles and headship, how can I be confident and so sure that my belief in changing the roles is sound?  For me it comes down to our hermeneutic.

Willard Swartley in Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women asks the following questions, which I most respectfully pose to you, asking you to consider, as it relates to the issue of Women in the Church:

  • How are the two Testaments related to each other?
  • How is the authority of Jesus related to all Scriptures?
  • What is the relationship between divine revelation and the culture in which the revelation is given and received?
  • Does Scripture mandate, regulate, or challenge certain practices such as those associated with slavery, war, and the subordination of women?
  • Does the Bible say only one thing on a given subject, or does it sometimes show differing, even contradictory, points of view?
  • What does it mean to take the Bible literally?  Is that a vice or a virtue?  Does “literal” signify the intended meaning of the author or a meaning that seems natural to us?
  • To what extend does an interpreter’s predetermined position, even ideology (such as patriarchy or feminism) affect the interpretive task?

I think we can all agree the Bible is the incarnate revelation but one should also be taking into serious consideration the audience, time and place to which each book is addressed. Would you not agree that the Bible tailors its message to real people in real, culturally diverse situations?  This is the strength of, the power found, in Biblical revelation.

According to Willard Swartley:

“Scriptural diversity is the natural result of the one true God’s graciously relating to humans, drawing humans into a relationship, inviting free response and full engagement … Biblical truth is concrete, shaped usually by specific contexts, needs and opportunities.  Interpretation should affirm and celebrate this feature of divine revelation, communicated through many different writers in different linguistic, cultural and political contexts.  The variety itself becomes the missionary’s textbook [for] the biblical text spoke God’s word in a variety of cultural, economic, political, and social settings.”

And then Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen whose book Gender & Grace has profoundly changed my perspective on men and women and the Gospel says this beautiful and profound statement:

“For the sake of the advancement of God’s kingdom in a given time and place, temporary compromise can and often must be made with the societal status quo.  … Therefore Scripture is accommodated to the cultural setting of its varying audience, constantly being augmented by a move toward the vision of God’s coming kingdom.  Indeed, Jesus’ elimination of the sexual double standard was so surprising to his disciples that they concluded it was safer not to marry at all! “

Van Leeuwen continues that “the basic impulse being the Fall – the wish to be independent of God – is no respecter of persons.  Feminists and patriarchalists are equally in need of redemption.”

Again, theologian Willard Swartley with a good test of the degree to which our ideologies warp our reading of Scripture.

“Our willingness to be changed by what we read, to let the Bible function as a “window” through which  we see beyond self-interested ideologies, and not a “mirror” which simply reflects back to us what we want it to show.  Biblical interpretation, if it is worthy to be so called, will challenge the ideology of the interpreter.  It can and will lead to change, because people do not come to the text thinking as God thinks, or even as the people of God thought in serving as agents of divine revelation.  Interpreters [must] listen to the text carefully enough not to like it.  [When they do so] it powerfully demonstrates that the text’s message has been heard and respected.”

This is challenging because I am full of self-interest when it comes to being a Christian woman — that is a tribe that I belong to and feel a responsibility to care for — not because I crave authority, but because I long to see women carrying out every gift from God in their lives, not just in the marketplace, but within the church!  I am hopeful that this will happen in my lifetime.

I must ask you, individually, whether God is challenging you to reconsider your thinking on women’s leadership, governance and teaching roles at X, and whether the time has come to face that the current roles are stifling more than half of the church to be heard fully and uniquely.

But even more important (to me) is that this stance just may be holding back the fullness of the Kingdom of God from being revealed in our generation.  And my heart weeps with that thought.

Gretchen Gaebelein Hull, in her book Equal to Serve sees Scripture as pointing toward equality and mutual submission between the sexes and I’ll leave you with this quote from her book:

“Today, like James and John, so many people pluck at Christ’s sleeve: dogmatists, traditionalist, egalitarians, feminists, liberationists, all sorts of activists.  They all say the equivalent of “Seat me nearest You, Lord; show those other people that my system is best.” As they pluck at Christ’s sleeve, thinking that places at His right and His left will bring them honor and power and worldly recognition, He looks at them – and at all of us – and still asks: “Can you drink my cup? Don’t you see that whoever stays nearest me must … go where I go, serve where I serve?  Don’t you see that, loving the world as I do, I must serve it to the uttermost?”

It may come down to this: Can you personally serve under a woman, at work or at Church, and why not?  Could you accept that your wife, sister, mother, friends have gifts that make her more visible, knowledgeable, or experienced than you?  Could you dare to be like Joseph, step-father of Jesus, playing a lesser role than Mary?  What prevents you from rethinking, studying anew these things?

Fear? Ambivalence?  Prejudice?

I am incessantly asking myself over the last ten years at X, would I put aside my perspective if the time isn’t right for this church?  Would I work for change in a patient and loving way, rather than sinking into anger or bitterness?  I do feel that as an active participant (not a member) at X Church I have done that, meanwhile praying for the timing, the hearts of the church members, that God’s revelation on women would come.  And asking what part I should or shouldn’t play in that.

I have participated in women’s ministry here and seen women teaching who do not have the confidence that they been given the authority to speak definitively about scripture.  This undermines their ability to open scripture and speak prophetically.   This saddens me.   I have seen many women serving in various roles and respect them and know that they are listened to, but I still am not hearing anyone speak to this central issue.

I don’t know why God has given me such a burden for this but I carry it. 

Over the years I have written and sought clarity about why this practice of male elders and teaching team continues?  And since I do not feel confident that the issue is being discussed fully, openly or seriously (being sidelined for many other important issues of the church) I send this to you, asking for you to consider it now.

Each of us must ask ourselves, male and female alike, are we living as an old person or a new creation?  In the flesh or in the Spirit?    And what are we being called to, as we serve together?

I hear God’s call as a voice for certain voiceless populations, including women in the Church. 

I am constantly clarifying, are you sure Lord?  And at times I have been unproductive, and not very Godly, allowing myself to be anxious or angry or even bitter.  I have experienced a lot of pain.

In these years, I have come to a certain amount of peace with simply speaking up from time to time, meanwhile to be in study and prayer.  And then to been in a place of seeking the rest of the time.  But as the spirit seems to speak (or as elder nominations come up) I ask God what I should do, again  — do this time.

So thank you for reading this and hopefully giving it serious consideration.  I have purposefully not tried to write a treatise for the Biblical interpretation of all the key and most controversial verses — I’m no biblical scholar and you have one on staff.  I would ask you to free him up to study this if he hasn’t already.  Listen to him.  Then give space and time for your own study and careful deliberation.

God will speak.  God has a plan.

With respect and gratitude for your sacrifice of service,

Melody Harrison Hanson

October 7, 2010

The major ideas that persuaded my thinking and inspired this are from Gender & Grace: Love, Work & Parenting in a Changing World by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, ©1990, IVP.  She did the scholarship, I just happen to agree with her.  Also, Call Me Blessed: The Emerging Christian Woman by Faith Martin.

Other things I have written on these topics search for Women in the Church or Feminism.  I have written a lot.

I have intentionally removed the name of my church, though it wouldn’t be hard to figure it out, because I think these issue are relevant to almost any Complementarian church.  

Why I am Afraid to Read the (entire) Bible

Here’s the honest and mortifying truth.

I have never read the entire Bible, whole.  I have studied various books at length, sometimes on my own but more often with a group of others.  But I have never opened the whole of the great book of God’s WORD, Old and New Testaments, and soaked it in as a grand story.  Of course, any “sheep” knows, don’t they, that the Bible wasn’t written to us but for us.  The Bible is not a handbook of do’s and don’ts, but rather a beautiful story which we can carefully apply to our lives.  And if we fear what it says, if we are unwilling to challenge and question it, we deserve to be ignorant fools (like I have been.)

I have never put my full attention, put my full brain, toward the Bible.  I have been afraid of reading the entire thing and these are my reasons.

I am afraid of my own ignorance.  I don’t know what I don’t know.  If I don’t know then I can continue stumbling in the darkness.  At least it is a familiar place, my ignorance.  Sounds dumb when you actually write it down.  But how many of us do this in the Church?  Far too many.

I am afraid of what the Bible actually says.  For too long I have simply listened to others and accepted what the “experts” say about spiritual things without really challenging any of it.

I am a frequently boiling pot, kept simmering by the cool head of Tom, my husband.1 He often keeps me from boiling over.  It seems that he will be doing this a lot as we began reading the entire Bible in one year – a challenge from our church they are calling: Eat This Book.

So I would add another point to my list of reasons that I have never the read the Bible in its entirety.

I am afraid of how I will respond to the Bible as a woman.  We all have a worldviews and as such, we read the Bible differently. I respond as a woman.  How can I not?  And that is different from my pastors (both male) and my husband, and most of the commentary I am reading.  As a woman I have different questions.  I am afraid of what  to do with those.  How do I sort out how much of my response needs to be talked about, questioned, and challenged?

On the other hand there is a lot that excites me about finally reading the entire Bible.

I look forward to diving in.  Already Genesis has perplexed me, made me extremely angry, and left me with more questions than answers when I look at it story by story.  I want to be able to see the big picture — to soar over the parts that jump out to me as problematic and see God and hear God, asking him what he wants me to focus on.   I look forward to how this Grand Story changes my life. 

Just last week, my pastor was preaching on Gen 1-3.  He was explaining a very important idea about how we look at scripture overall, which I mentioned already, that the Bible is not written to us but for us and that much of it is metaphor and poetry.

But then he highlighted the verses about man and woman becoming one.  Now I’ll acknowledge that it is beautiful, the whole picture of marriage.  But I actually thought it would have been more important (coming from my worldview, as a woman) or at least more valuable to women, if he had taught about how we are both, male and female created in God’s image.  To emphasize and thus explain what the Hebrew word ezer  (helper) actually means. These verses being misunderstood have diminished and hurt women.  He thought the other verses were more important.  We disagreed nicely by email.

I have to admit that how we interacted mattered a great deal to me and I’m learning that this is more important to me than me being right.   I shared my thoughts with him and he heard me.  I felt heard.  And this is a form of giving someone respect.

And so I would add another point to my list of reasons why I haven’t read the Bible it it’s entirely.

I am afraid of the disagreements among Christians.  I hate the way that Christians wrangle with one another over the baggage that goes into “being theological.”  Are you on the Left or are you on the Right?  Are you conservative or liberal?  Are you a feminist?  Egalitarian or a Complementaran?  A new Creationist or …. ?  I don’t even know all the camps of disagreement and I don’t want to.

I just want to read the Bible and get a little help along the way.

If you haven’t  yet, I’d encourage you to read The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight, which will help you rethink how you read the Bible.  Other resources I am finding helpful are the NIV Compact Bible Commentary and the Women’s Bible Commentary.  

The important truth is that I cannot allow my fear of my own ignorance, my fear of this faith tradition that I have followed my whole life, or my fear of disagreement keep me from the next step in my faith journey.

Being that I can be hot-headed, I just might say or do something stupid along the way.  And I would hate that but I cannot allow it to keep me silent.

A friend said to me  this week:  “I am praying that Jesus would guide you as you study His word.   May we always be in search for bringing glory to Him!”  Amen!  I suspect that I will be sharing more of this as I go along.

I wonder, have you read the entire Bible and if not, ask yourself what are you afraid of?    If we seek to follow Christ we are to live in the Bible today and every day.   The question is how?  Let us join together in our KNOWLEDGE not our ignorance.  Let us be SEEKERS together.  

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christians were known for their knowledge, agreeableness and love?

“Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant me so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that I may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reign with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen”  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.

Jesus, according to John 16:13

Melody

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1 Tom and I have an egalitarian or mutually submissive marriage. And I was challenged by Rachel Held Evans (she does this a lot) this week .  She asked the question of whether more people need to talk about the ways of egalitarian marriages, to give others an idea of what it’s like.  I never talk about mine.  It’s precious to me and I’d not want to ugly it by my bumbling attempts to describe it.  But I’ll be thinking about that and try to weave things into my blog as appropriate.

2 Blackhawk’s pastors have given us a challenge.  “By reading the Bible every day, our hope is that we’ll become a people who are shaped by the Scriptures – people who are marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  And they are taking it a step further by providing mini videos and teaching tools.  It’s quite good.   I am grateful to attend a church that doesn’t spoon feed, that helps the “sheep” figure some of these things out for ourselves, but also provide solid ways to learn.

The things to look for in reading Genesis are:

  1. The main plotline in the book: God’s desire to bless humanity consistently meets human stubbornness and sin, keeping a record of the words for “bless, blessing” as you read: God wants to pass on a blessing, but humans constantly thwart that blessing.
  2. Genesis 12, 15, 17 and the covenant with Abraham are the key to understanding the entire Bible: God is going to rescue the world from sin and corruption and restore blessing through his promises to Abraham.  The rest of the biblical story will focus on God’s relationship with Israel, because these are the people who bear the promise for the whole world.  Keep track of how the promises to Abraham keep getting repeated and passed on to the next generation and God works out his plan.
  3. Find your story in the characters: All of the characters in Genesis struggle with God, and we are meant to find our story in theirs: the characters wrestle with their own sin and failure, doubt and faith, selfishness and generosity as they try to follow God.  Use each character’s experience (for example, Adam and Eve’s temptation, Abraham’s struggle with doubt, Jacob’s journey from selfishness to trust in God) to find parallels with your own journey with God.
  4. God’s faithfulness: notice how many times God rescues people, or stays committed to blessing humanity. Allow Genesis to reshape your ideas of what it means for God to be faithful to you.

 

3 “Helper”- ezer.  Gen 2:18   According to R. David Freedman, the Hebrew word used to describe woman’s help (ezer) arises from two Hebrew roots that mean “to rescue, to save,” and “to be strong” (Archaeology Review (9 [1983]: 56–58). Ezer is found twenty-one times in the Old Testament. Of these references, fourteen are used for God and four for military rescue. Psalm 121:1–2 is an example of ezer used for God’s rescue of Israel: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”


Blessed, Is She? [Re-imagining Christian Feminism]

NOT MY IMAGE

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished! Luke 1:45 NIV

Mary learned that she was to be mother of Jesus when she was only a child herself. And all of the social implications had the potential to ruin her life.  I am sure, as she was being told by the angel that this was her destiny — doubt, disbelief, and dismay all ran through her. And yet what did she say in response?  Not, “Yes, but…”  Not, “Oh no!”  Not, “Do you have any idea what this will do to my life, for that matter my reputation?!”

She did not question it or seek clarification.  She said only, “Yes.  Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said will be accomplished.”  She believed.

Two thousand years later the Church is made uneasy by conversations about the role of women.  Today, if they could change it, I wonder who “the Church” would choose to be the first to know of the Savior’s coming?  Who would the Church choose to be caretaker of the babe?  

When Rachel Held Evans said recently on her blog, that she doesn’t really know what a feminist is, I was mildly surprised though I think she was kidding, kind of.  The truth is that in the Church we don’t talk about being a Christian feminist.  The words are laden with ancient history and pain, not blessing.  With the climate surrounding even the idea of feminism in the Church, it begs the question:  What do you mean when you say you are a Christian feminist?

I did not think of myself as a feminist for a very long time. Slowly I have gained confidence in my understanding of what I mean when I call myself a feminist, but my path of discovery has been bumpy. For years I did not really know what to call myself.  But it became clear that I needed some way to make it unequivocal what I believed.  If I was going to stay in my evangelical church, I had to figure out how live with myself and learn to defend my view that God meant women to fully use our gifts and talents in the Church. I needed language that was clear.

For years I asked everyone else to tell me what they believed. I wrote many letters to my pastor asking for his thoughts, ideas, book recommendations, and for suggestions of people to talk to.  My thoughts developed in a fractured way and I had a fearful and insecure tone.  Always being put off, I became concerned that I needed to adjust my attitude.  I “worked on my attitude” because I was being sent the clear message that I was wrong. I continued to study, but I just could not let go of the fact that there were no female teachers at my church and that eldership was restricted to men.  Coming out of a Presbyterian background this was a step backward in my mind.  I had been an elder at my last church.  Every time the elder nomination process started the pain — the wound was scratched open.

When I asked why there were no women teachers I was told that teachers will rise organically.  To me this was short sided and underestimated how important it is for anyone, but especially women, to be celebrated, mentored, cheered, invested and believed in with whatever gifts they have.  Women and girls are less likely to put themselves forward and rarely self-promote. And, when the church doesn’t have models of women teaching and there is thousands of years of church history one is going up “against” it is a rare person who is able to stand up say “I have a gift!”

When I wrote my elders (all men) and received a lengthy letter in reply, they said they really do agree with me.  But I needed to know how difficult it is to change things and it hasn’t been looked at in more than two decades.  I was told that the likely controversy that would arise out of changing this was more than they were prepared to address at this time.  Clearly they are afraid to talk about the issue of women, fearing it is too divisive. Did you catch that, they actually agreed that it was time that women were teachers and elders but it’s “too hard to change.”  What kind of a message is that sending?  That women and girls are not important.   

This apathy and fear will produce a whole new generation of ignorance and is another reason why we must talk and write about it.   It is gravely sad for me, as I raise my children in the church that so many men and women have no idea that there is any theological debate about the role of women in the church.  The these things are up for debate.  That there is more than one biblical perspective.  My own daughter looks at the status quo and listens to me and shrugs saying “Mom, why are you always on about women’s rights?”  Even with her own mother trying to teach her differently she thinks what she sees and experiences is the way it is supposed to be.

Leaving is not the answer.  My friends outside the evangelical church tradition just shake their heads at me asking: “Why are you still there? Come over here where you will be valued and appreciated.”   While it is true that most people at my church just don’t want to think about it and it would be easier to just leave, I don’t for two reasons.  Firstly, yes I am a feminist, but I am a Christ follower first and when my feminism rises above that in my life then I believe it is an idol for me.  Secondly, I continue to be spiritually challenged. This issue does not totally hamper my ability to learn and receive from my church. So I remain, believing that perhaps I am supposed to be there.

But there is no getting around people’s strange ideas about feminists.

Here are some of the generalizations I run in to:

  • Feminists all hate men and are angry!

That is just not true.  Let me give you an example of how hard it is.

We are studying attributes of God at church.  Commenting in a small group made up of ten to fifteen men and women that we meet with weekly, about my perceptions of God as Father, I tried to talk about the fact that my perceptions are skewed and harmed by my relationship to an angry and abusive human father.  As I stumbled over my words, trying to be as clear as possible (I really hate thinking out loud and find it challenging) and trying not offend anyone, the men in the room seemed to physically recoil, as if I was saying that I hate men.  “Do I want the men to all leave?” one of them joked.   I found myself saying “No, of course not. I don’t hate men.  I don’t, obviously, hate my husband for being a man.  I just don’t find it helpful that God is characterized as father/male when my experience with my father was so difficult.” 

I think it is absurd the pretzels we have to twist ourselves into trying to explain ourselves sometimes, because people think of all the negative generalizations about feminists.   But that is because of the lack of women willing to speak out about their experiences. And the current climate surrounding the role of women in the Church makes it hard for women who label themselves as feminists in the Church.

  •  Feminists are offended by any song or creed with male pronouns.  

I have been there. When I was first on this journey everything hurt, male pronouns especially.   Gratefully I have come to a place where male pronouns in ancient hymns no longer offend me but I do notice them, every time.  I find it unfortunate that we have to be distracted by this while worshiping God.  I don’t choose to be offended, I just notice it.

And scripture readings still give me a twinge – though I know (because I also read the inclusive translations) which of the verses are strictly and only written to men and which (most) are referring to people.

I do that extra work because it is meaningful, and crucial to me. 

  • Feminists are just out for power.

Questioning the Church’s ancient rules isn’t about power.  These are things that need to be questioned.

Based on a recent e-book written by Scot McKnight, I have concluded even more strongly that my desire to know scripture for myself is important.   “Sometimes it takes extra energy to get a silenced voice back.” Scot McKnight wrote in is riveting essay Junia is Not Alone.  “There is no evidence … in ancient manuscripts or translations” that Junia was a man.  “The church got into a rut and rode it out.”  A rut is kind way put it — more like a stinky hell-hole in my opinion, if a woman was completely cut out of the story in scripture and most people in the church don’t know. 

What else are they interpreting or changing?  We have an obligation to study if for ourselves.  The reality is that the Church needs women’s  voices.   It is wrong that our children growing up in the church not learning of the many incredible women in the Bible.  They are growing up to watch, and listen, and see all that isn’t there.  And yet it is there and no one told us.

Together we can re-imagine Christian Feminism.

  • Men and women, use your platform and speak!

Things are changing.  There are many and varied platforms for people to educate themselves if they choose to.  The internet has opened up the world for us.  Gratefully, one can jump on FB or twitter and instantly feel connected to others.  Blogs are another incredible resource for connecting with intelligent and inspiring women and men willing to engage in these important topics.

As society has changed and women’s opportunities have expanded, as women have gained responsibility and influence (and dare I say power) in the marketplace, sadly the Church remains static and seems to have a narrow view of women’s potential.  For a thousand years, the belief was held that women were not included with men as image bearers of God.  Though the church has mostly abandoned that idea, they have not abandoned the authority structures that perpetuate the subjugation of women.

An important part of my development as a feminist, and my spiritual maturation, was forgiving the ancient church fathers and the current ones (though this is harder for me) for this divisive and ugly interpretations of scripture that damage and harm women.  I had to take my pain to God for “allowing” these practices to exist, ones that limit, stifle and repress women in the church.

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished! – Luke 1:45

Rachel Held Evans, who I mentioned above, is a firecracker commentator on the current climate for women in the church.  She recently posted 13 Things that Make Me a Lousy Feminist.  What I like about Rachel is that she is courageous and willing to use her platform.  She stirs the pot, but her blog has respectful conversations.  Her tone is winsome and she laces her thoughts with humor, forcing us to think about our own inconsistencies.  And she receives some crap from people, but she is learning to put her opinions out there humbly and then listen to others.  That is a quality of a Godly leader.  I read with her list and reflected on what it means to me to be a Christian feminist.

These are (some of) the things I wish others understood about being a Christian Feminist.

Being a feminist is complex and is as different for every person just as is being male or female.  It cannot be summed up easily.

For me at least it means that women should have equal opportunities at home, at church, and in their professional lives.

Christian feminism is to me is the crazy belief that women and men are both created in God’s image and that each deserves a life of freedom and opportunity inside or outside the Church.  When the church’s systems keep that from happening we should speak up and challenge them with grace and aplomb knowing this may take years, even decades, to bring change.  It will certainly take patience, prayer, and perseverance.  It will take a loving yet persistent voice.  It will require us to build relationships with and trust and respect from the leadership structures. That too takes time.  I have not achieved this yet in my church and I have been there for ten years.  But I remain hopeful.

  • We all have a role to play.  We are all necessary.  We all have a voice. We must take every opportunity that we can to share a positive, healthy perspective of feminism.  Women and men have a job ahead of us to change the opinions of others who do not understand what it means to be feminists, who are Christians.
  • Being a feminist is a mindset and worldview.  Anyone can be a feminist – men and women.
  • There are feminists who are decidedly feminine and those people actually might have more access and a voice in the Church than the stereotypical hard-core militant feminists.  (While I am no princess, I sometimes wear makeup and I shave my legs, these things are not the antitheses to being a feminist.)
  • While one can be a feminist and personally opposed to abortion, taking away a woman’s right to choose is an inherently anti-feminist position.  I know that is controversial, but I would push back and say that human rights and dignity should be heralded at the beginning and end of life, each are a life and the position of many in the Church on death row executions is equally murder in my estimation.
  • Making sexist comments against men, in favor of women, is un-feminist and only enforces gender stereotypes.
  • We must respect others choices. There is nothing wrong with the choice of being a stay-at-home mom and the male in a relationship be the breadwinner.  That is what we have chosen right now and it came with a high price for me.  But those that choose this admittedly very traditional lifestyle must also respect those with both spouses working outside the home or those that choose to have the man staying at-home and a woman being the breadwinner.  These are all options that are good and different for each family.
  • Work in any area of life should be based on talent, skill and passions as well as spiritual gifting.  This goes for everything from cleaning the house and mowing the lawn at home, to leading and managing teams, to teaching or ministering to others.    That said; don’t give any woman a job or a role, because you need a token woman. Do it because she is good at it.  Always work hard to find the best person for the job but know that in order to reconcile the injustice of institutional sexism and racism, work even harder to be sure that women and minorities are represented.   Like someone said “we’re all trying to be successful within a hierarchy of privilege.”
  • I took my husband’s name, but only because I was tired of having my father’s name.  Women should be able to choose their name without feeling slammed from both ends by their choice.  I want my own name but there isn’t a way to achieve that currently and I don’t have a solution for it other than make up or choose a new name.

These are just a few of the ways that I have felt misunderstood as a Christian feminist.  What have you run into?

It’s hard to talk about injustice anywhere, but especially in the Church, without others developing a posture of fear and defensiveness and even condemnation.  I would simply ask that the next time a woman raises an issue or talks about their experiences as a woman in the church, try to remember a few things.

  1. They may be in pain.
  2. They may not have worked out exactly where they stand.
  3. They may not have a full biblical worldview developed.
  4. They may not be able to defend their position.
  5. They may just want to be heard, understood, and loved.

Let’s respect one another’s differences, ask questions, and be open to change.

Our Lord came into the world in the womb of a young girl.  This teenage child was entrusted with the care and development of God himself, in the form of a babe.  She was told “You are blessed” and she believed she was!  Her faith was huge.  Her role was incredibly important.  The church today seems so caught up in what women and girls can’t do.  Let’s enlarge our faith and ask what can we do?  What are we being called to?

Another blogger that I love to read recently said this:

“It’s always befuddled me that people could think of women’s standing in the church as some sort of unimportant secondary issue, something to be held loosely and regarded coolly. Do we not realize that this has a significant personal impact on more than half the church?  Do we not acknowledge that the limits we do or do not place on women impact ministry efforts, evangelism and world missions? Do we not consider the implications this has for women’s understanding of their standing before God?   (Not to mention men’s understanding of a woman’s standing before God–and before them.  Ideas have consequences, and the consequences of subjugation tend to be ugly, like the thistles growing up in the field, hindering the work God has for us to do in the world.)”  — Jenny Rae Armstrong

I believe it is imperative that all believers in Christ (individually and corporately with whatever power and influence each has been given) learn to speak about the injustices that plague humanity — war, poverty and hunger, and sexism and other forms of prejudice, bigotry and racism.  And the next time someone wants to talk about women in the Church how refreshing it would be if we were open, embracing and full of love.  

Ask yourself, “Blessed, is she?”

“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”  Luke 1:45 NIV

What is Lent Anyway, Besides Strange?

Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Christian o...
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Lent is strange for those that don’t follow the tradition.  Or if followed at all it may mean giving up a vice for 40 days, an addiction to technology or caffeine or sugar, but not really knowing why.

That was true for me for many years.  If you grew up in an evangelical church like I did, you may not know that much about Lent either.

It is the period of fasting leading up to Easter to remember Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness.  Like his fast, it is to be a time of sacrifice and listening.  Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends right before the evening service of Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday, depending on your tradition.  This year Lent begins on March 9 in the Western Church.

For the longest time I was attracted to the idea of giving up a vice that had persistently bothered me, but I had no theological understanding of the tradition.  I think evangelicals are remiss in not teaching about Lent, which can be a beautiful and profoundly meaningful tradition of growing closer to God.

I think we miss out because we give things up but don’t replace them with anything.

The intended purpose of Lent is a season of fasting, penitence, and self-denial, but also of spiritual growth, conversion, receiving from and embracing simplicity.

“Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. Thus it is fitting that the season of Lent begin with a symbol of repentance: placing ashes mixed with oil on one’s head or forehead.

However, we must remember that our Lenten disciplines are supposed to ultimately transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit. Our Lenten disciplines are supposed to help us become more like Christ. Eastern Christians call this process theosis, which St. Athanasius aptly describes as “becoming by grace what God is by nature.”1

The aim in observing Lenten disciplines is to be changed as a person — body, soul and spirit!

Therefore there is more to it than giving something up, which I’ll admit for the longest time I thought was fairly impressive in and of itself.  I don’t do well without caffeine which is something I habitually gave up. Or sweets.  Yikes that one is hard.

As one endeavors to grow to be more like Christ and know him better, with the grace of God the tradition says you would be focusing on Fasting, Praying, Almsgiving (Charity or service) and Scripture.

  • Fasting: The Catholic Church requires its members age 18 to 59 “to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, unless a physical condition prevents otherwise. This means only one full meal is permitted. The Fridays of Lent are days of required abstinence, meaning meat, and soups or gravies made of meat, are not permitted.”  This traditional way of fasting I have have never observed.  Giving up meat once a week or only drinking water for the 40 days is a way to remind ourselves of our abundance and to draw our attention to Christ’s sacrifice for us all.  And to be more conscious of how much we have.
  • Prayer: Lent is a good time to develop a discipline of daily prayer if you don’t have it already. Whatever it might be, the idea is to add the discipline of listening and seeking through prayer, whatever that looks like for you.
  • Almsgiving (Charity): While giving something up you are also to put something positive in its place. They say the best way to remove a vice is to cultivate virtue.  What might you do for someone else over Lent?
  • Scripture Reading: As he faced temptation in the desert, Jesus relied on Scripture to counter the trickery of the devil.  Growing up I was encouraged to memorize scripture, but today this rarely occurs in the Church. Memorize a section of scripture like the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.   Or if you are thinking of reading a whole book of the Bible promise yourself to read two chapters a day or finish a medium-sized book of the Bible by Easter.

Also, here is a wonderful compilation of books to read, rituals and fasts to consider, and meditations to read from Rachel Held Evans.

When it comes down to it, so often we don’t take the time to ask why we do a certain thing.  Why do I need to observe Lent?

I found Evan’s ten questions helpful to ask myself as I prepare for Lent.  But I winnowed and edited them down to three simple questions.

  • Is there a habit or sin in my life that repeatedly gets in the way of my loving God or loving others?

Ask God to get a hold of that habit over the next 40 days and help you have the discipline to give it to him, forever.

  • Is there anyone in my life with whom I need to pursue forgiveness or reconciliation? This is unlikely to happen in 40 days, but preparing your hearts for it — yes, that can happen if you ask!  Here is a poem that I wrote during a time of profound grieving knowing I had done and said what I thought was “unforgiveable.”  It is called Longing for Mercy.

 

Ask God to begin to work in your heart (and in the other person) to ready you both for reconciliation in God’s perfect timing.

  • What am I willing to give up to carve out extra time for daily contemplation and listening to God?  So often we allow life to press in and set our priorities and not decide for ourselves.  What is important?  Perhaps you need to get up an hour earlier during Lent to be with God? I started doing this in September and I can tell you that my life will never be the same.  I find myself craving that time and (most mornings) it is not difficult to get up.  You may need to go to bed earlier to do it.  I do!  Again a sacrifice, but well worth it in my experience.

Ask God to show you what you need to stop doing to have more time with him.

Ultimately we simply strive to live with the attitudes of humility, repentance and thankfulness.  I pray that you will be richly met as you seek to know Jesus better.

-mhh

A few things I wrote last year about Lent.

And if you’re more confused than satisfied with my post, here is a great description of Lent as described by Marcel & Sarah who have a blog named Aggie Catholics and lots of reading material.

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Other sources I used.

http://www.churchyear.net/lent.html

2 http://rachelheldevans.com/40-ideas-for-lent-2011

http://niv.scripturetext.com/matthew/5.htm

Something God has slowly wrestled away from me one finger at a time …

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

— Henry David Thoreau

For many years now Tom and I have felt like we’re playing the Game of the American Dream.

Although it looks perfectly delightful on the outside, the conspicuous consumption of our lives keeps us awake at night.  It’s no secret that we must make pretty good money, since I don’t have to work but we’re not even very careful with our money.  We know we are lucky to have a such a good income and we have our retirement funds, and because of his business we’re insured up to our eye balls.   But at the same time have no short-term savings and live month-to-month.  And we’ve gotten ourselves in trouble a few times wanting a vacation or bedroom furniture or to build out a studio and putting it on credit because we don’t save for those eventualities.

I shop compulsively — like I do so many things — with more than twenty years of bad spending choices and not living deliberately.  I confess to my own addictive spending habits which have taken years to reform and I must say I am not fully there.  It has been an area where I have had a two-fisted grip on that “need” to have things and this is something God has slowly wrestled away from me one finger at a time.

In 2008 we decided enough was enough and with the help of a family member stopped spending on credit (for good we hope) by getting a personal loan to end the endless high interest chase of debt.  And we are paying that off at low-interest over several years.   So far, as it comes to credit, we are reformed.

But we are continuously asking how do we live more deliberately?

We have begun to ask each other hard questions about cultural expectations, the influence of media on our world view and our children’s minds and souls, asking what is “life-giving, important, and meaningful?” and how should that change the way we spend our money.  A recent series at church on Generosity (aptly titled Let’s Get Fiscal) has also had interesting timing  for us.  And right in the midst of this sermon series and our personal discussion and prayer about fiscal irresponsibility and generosity we had someone in our life that really needs our financial help.   We have to face that we don’t have money on hand to help.  Because of our financial irresponsibility we cannot help someone that we love and whom we want to help.  That hurts and convicts and fits right in to what God’s doing. The timing is striking and as we have sought to listen to God, because he is clearly speaking to us.  The sermon series told us startlingly that 3.6 billion people in the world live on $2 or less a day. (Passing the Plate, by Smith, Emerson and Snell)  And I heard recently on NPR that more than half of the Egyptians now protesting for a better life live on $2 a day.

I am the “Rich Man.”

As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’e Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hardf to enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”  The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”  Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said. “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.g” (Mark 10, New Living Translation)

Now more than ever, we are thinking about living intentionally and thinking it through carefully.  What we do and how we do it impacts, or should, how we spend, how generous we are, how we are able to make choices deliberately and carefully.  A recently blog entry by Rachel Held Evans talked about our purpose and essential living in this way:

“It seems to me that there are all of these voices telling me that I need certain things—privacy, boundaries, a 3-bedroom house, a two-car garage, clean neighbors, cool friends, fashionable clothes, TV, junk food, exercise equipment, a plan, a religion, a career, certainty, approval, stacks and stacks of books, and lotion that gives my skin a healthy-looking glow.  Rarely do I stop, take stock of how I spend my money and my time, and ask myself—Do I really need this? Is this really essential? What is its purpose?

Donald Miller, in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, put this way:

The ambitions we have will become the stories we live. If you want to know what a person’s story is about, just ask them what they want. If we don’t want anything, we are living boring stories, and if we want a Roomba vacuüm cleaner, we are living stupid stories. If it won’t work in a story, it won’t work in life. 

Why do I write about this?  I believe it is a defining sin — conspicuous consumption and the love of money.  It is a lack of contentment — my pastor calls it a “cancer of discontentment.” He also reminded us of the prayer of Agur in Proverbs 30.  It says:  

Surely I am more stupid than any man,  And I do not have the understanding of a man.  Neither have I learned wisdom,  Nor do I have the knowledge of the Holy One.   Who has ascended into heaven and descended?  Who has gathered the wind in His fists?  Who has wrapped the waters in His garment?  Who has established all the ends of the earth?  What is His name or His son’s name?  Surely you know!  Every word of God is tested;  He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.  Do not add to His words  Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.

Two things I asked of You,  Do not refuse me before I die:  Keep deception and lies far from me,  Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion,  That I not be full and deny You and say, “Who is the LORD?”  Or that I not be in want and steal,  And profane the name of my God.

Tom and I begin a journey tonight, taking a Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey.  I don’t know where it will lead.  I don’t know what God is doing.  But I invite you to follow along, because surely, I believe, we are not alone. I am tired of this heavy and oppressive way of life.

Are you too suffocating from the weight of the “American Dream?”  Are you burdened by consumption without knowing what to do about it?

I invite you to follow along and see what we learn.


What Kind of Mother is She?

taken at the dane county fair

It occurs to me that I don’t write much about being a mother.  The reasons are simple.  I have no idea what I’m doing.  I use my instincts.  But I have no exact answers.  It took me years to accept that my mom and dad “did their best.”  They didn’t purposefully f*ck with me.  And now, I take all that and do the same. I do my best.  And I think that has to be enough. I will look back, when my children are gone, and know that I did my best with what I had.  No matter the outcome.

interruptions & change

My daughter just woke up, her face is red and puffy from sleep.  She’s regaling me with a play-by-play of a book she finished late last night.  She is going on, and on, and on! Step-by-integral-step of the harrowing story of a boy who escapes an earthquake.  I don’t care, but — it’ is important that I listen.  All I want to do in this moment is sip my first cup of coffee of the day and write.  But I listen.  Nodding and “Um humming” at what I hope are the right moments.  I am listening.  Sort of.  I am also distracted and hoping she doesn’t notice.  Ironically, in this moment being her mom means listening to her.

That pull of my desires against the desires of my children is one of the most complicated things about being a mother.  The choices we make, day by day, hour by hour.  We’ve all felt that tension.

Children are always “interrupting” all the other things I’m doing.  But when one comes running up the stairs in tears because they got walloped in the eye playing Wii they still run for the comforting kiss right on the spot, my ‘magic’ kiss still has power to heal.   (Mothers have magic kisses if you didn’t know.)   The day they stop wanting those kisses will mean they have moved on to the next stage of their development.  I have four very different kids so that day will be different for each of them.  I cannot prescribe it.  But I won’t stop until they push me away.

They grow.  I grow.  We keep adapting, all of us.  The whole family continues to change.

Tom declared on Wednesday that he thinks the kids are too old to sleep in our bed.  This has been a  long time in coming.  It’s really the nine-year old that likes to go to sleep in my bed.  Being a musician Tom is often up late in his studio, perhaps five nights a week.  I get up at 5 am so I go to bed when the kids do.  I savor those few minutes of reading myself to sleep.  J just likes to be with me and so we’ve developed a habit (some might say an unhealthy one, to which I say rubbish!)  of letting him “warm up” Tom’s spot by falling asleep there.  I like the companionship.

Is this a bad habit?  I don’t know whether I’ve let it go on for so long for myself or for J.  Is he too old?  Parenting is full of lots of conflicting ideas.  And when Tom says J is too old to do it anymore, I really think Tom feels too old to do the required transporting back to the boy’s room, up the ladder and back into his own bed.  And then we also have to deal with the other two who are jealous of this time.  It then becomes something “special” for which they are compelled to compete for Mom.  I’m sure plenty of expert mothers would want to tell me all the ways this is harmful.  I don’t know. Mostly, I don’t care.  But I respect Tom’s wish to fall into bed at one in the morning and not have to move a near comatose child.  So we changed.  And I must learn to go to bed alone.  And so does J.  It’s hard to grow up no matter your age.

unconditional love

I have had moments over the last seventeen years of asking myself what were you thinking becoming a parent?  I write about how I was raised and what that did to me knowing that based on what I experienced I am not qualified. I realized the other day that I don’t know what it feels like to believe you are loved unconditionally by your parents.  If that’s true, and it is, then how do I possibly convey unconditional love to my kids?  Can I?  I believe in it intellectually and even on a spiritual level.  But I don’t get it.  Tom shows it to me – for sure.  So I wrestle with what he does that helps me believe him?  And to this day, my internal voice is pure disbelief.  You surely cannot love without conditions, without criticism, without expectation, without a grumpy disapproval, without your own insecurity pushing you to love  … If you haven’t experienced it.  Then how do I know my kids are feeling it from me?

I think unconditional love is the most important quality a parent should have.  Then you can push, and you can encourage, and even disapprove.  They will know they are okay. Somehow Tom’s parents managed to show him that kind of love.  These are the things that I think make me unqualified to be a parent.

learn from others & trust your gut

Some days I think I’m just a reactionary.  I react to how I was parented.  I react to things my kids are doing.  I react to books.  I react to teachers.  I react to the culture.  I am not very good at deciding a good way of doing something and sticking with it — mostly because I don’t think there is a right way.  I really needed about five years of study on parenting before I even got started.  And that’s an absurd impossibility.  Who has the time?   So we learn as we go.

I became a mother the day we married in 1993, a year before I was a footloose single woman planning on heading to the mission field.  I didn’t think about kids.  They simply weren’t.  They didn’t exist in my worldview.   Falling in love with Tom, hard and fast meant learning to love his four and a half year old daughter.  And when we married I became an instant mother – the “extra” mom to a five-year old daughter.  Extra or Other — whatever you get called, being a step-mom was a crash course in parenting.  And like nothing I had experienced before in my life, it brought out my insecurities and need for control!  Wow!   Perhaps some day, perhaps, I will write about the years that I worked in full-time ministry while parenting a step child and having three biological kids.  I’ll call it “How I was an Ugly, Paranoid, Controlling Step-Monster.” My daughter M graciously loves me still and has forgiven me for those years.  When she moved back in recently, at 22, I realized God is gracious and gave  me a do-over.

Here’s the thing.  I believe kids just want to be loved and kids are the most forgiving of all people.  All they know is you. You are their parent.  Okay, later they will figure some things out.  Like perhaps you didn’t know anything.  That’s the risk.  That’s the fun!  And then when they become a parent, well, perhaps you won’t look quite so crazy.

Luckily we have twenty years with our kids and have time to make adjustments.

I have learned is that there are no rules.  Rules in parenting is crap. The best guide for me has been my gut.  My gut has never failed me.  My gut disagrees or sometimes agrees with parenting books.  My gut disagrees or sometimes agrees with other parents giving advice.  My gut disagrees or agrees with pediatricians, teachers, supposed experts.  If you follow your gut, your intuition, I believe you’ll be okay, eventually.

For many years I doubted my gut and my voice because I doubted myself.  My own insecurities played into who I listened to and what I believed.  I’d boomerang from one theory to another intellectually.  But in practice usually my inner voice said do this or don’t do that.  We make mistakes.  We are unusually lax in response to having strict parents or vice versa.

asian vs. any other parenting

I have not read Amy Chua’s book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother mostly because there’s a lot about the stereotypical Asian parenting style that I respect, but I know I don’t have the will power to follow through on.  So it would just make me feel bad and I am really not in to feeling bad about myself right now.  So I’ve ignored the articles, reactions and furor.

Frankly many modern parents are far too lax with their children, but I have seen this with every kind of parent  from many different cultures. I know that I could and perhaps should push my children harder.  I mean, now I wish I had been pushed academically.  In hind sight, I was a slacker, intelligent but insecure and I would have benefited from my parents lovingly pushing me just a bit more (or a lot more!)  On the other hand, I felt I never measured up to what my dad expected of me.  I lived in that limbo of that craziness.   His insecurities drove him and we were a reflection of him.  We were a mirror of his success or not.  This is a very Asian characteristic I have been told by one of my friends who is also Asian.

And so I push my intelligent but lazy daughter, but not too much I hope.  I consistently fight the internal shame that says I don’t expect enough of her and I am the thing standing between her and Harvard or Yale Law school.  Me.  And then the countering voice reminds me what I really believe.  That she needs to find the balance herself.  Know that she’s loved no matter what she chooses but also know that more opportunities will be open to her if she applies herself academically and learns to work hard.   I want each of my children to be able to ask the question what they want?  Then help them to see what they have to be willing to do, in order to get it.  By empowering my daughters especially in those moments they learn their own power.  It is a choice.  I hope I am right.  My gut tells me I am.  In the end that’s all I have.  My boys are different, completely and my approach is also different but instilling in them a sense that they control their future is important.

I have a Japanese friend and I love how she parents.  She is an incredible mother and I learn from her every time we get together.  “When I am cleaning my children are cleaning“, she tells me.  Wha?  I am so not there! To be honest my kids emulate Tom and I who hate to clean. Do I want to be more like my friend?  Hell yes!  I guess what I am saying is that there is something to be learned from a culture that promotes hard work, excellence, pride and discipline. I admire it.  I want those to be things my children learn from me.  But no, my ten year old does not know how to clean the toilet.   I find that reflexively parent like I was parented — growing up cleaning is a pain!  To be avoided or to be endured, …  If I want to change this little legacy in my family it will take effort and discipline. I don’t know if I want to make the effort.  I don’t know if I have the discipline.  Which is where I started above.  I find a lot of things are great ideas but practically speaking I am unable to maintain them.  We all have to know ourselves.

what’s your highest calling?

This morning I read something that startled me but I agree with it:

“… parenting is not our highest calling! Faithfully serving & following after Christ is our highest calling!  —  SortaCrunchy

We are going to make mistakes, perhaps even a lot of them.  You’ll compare yourself to others and wonder if perhaps their way is better.  But in the end you have to look at your kids, unique individuals that they are as well as look at yourself and your partner/spouse who are also unique people, and do your best.

Parenting is its own religion, and engenders its own faith. Debating it serves no purpose other than inciting holy war.  –@kmaezenmiller

Our calling is to follow Christ.  Behave as he did.  Emulate him.  Do our best.  And if I can let go of all of the above and relax, well then there’s hope for us all.  It’s not simple nor would I ever want to imply that.  But there is a level of trust you must have in yourself, in the person you partner with to parent and in God.

MH

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This is what got me thinking this morning.  http://rachelheldevans.com/moms-scare-me