Tag Archives: the church

Somewhere In Between

There’s been a lot to read about women in leadership, specifically in Christian circles and conference circuits, the last week or so. As I thought about the different sides and perspectives reflected on social networking sights and blogs it occurred to me that something seemed to be missing.

Somewhere in between the Beth Moores and Rachel Held Evans’ of the world there is a group of women who need to speak up.

Nothing against either of those women– I have learned quite a lot from both and I find myself agreeing with many things they have to say– however, I don’t feel like I belong in either of the core groups these women respresent. In fact, when I thought about it, none of the women I know seem to belong to either of those groups.

Don’t worry, I considered demographics…
The thing is, having been involved with an international organization I’ve gotten to know women all over the United States and some outside of it.
It’s not just the women in my area.

So these two sides are what stands as markers for women of faith…

On the one side the more traditional/conservative Christian women’s movement seems to declare, “This is how women should be…” and the example is the woman who has it all together. She’s a devoted wife and valiant mother. She balances grocery shopping, coffee dates, and bible studies all while looking fabulous and radiating joy. She’s the organizer, the Sunday school teacher, and she never misses her running group. These are beautiful, lovely things… and a lot to live up to.

The message of progressive Christian women, on the other side, almost insists, “This is how Christian women are…” and here the example is of the woman who is self-sufficient, politically active and hot-button savy. She is in the fray and society’s face. She is pushing the boundaries of theology, questioning centuries of church history, and her tenacity is unrivaled. Her dedication and determination are also beautiful and lovely, but a lot to live up to.

Both of these groups are vocal and passionate.
Both are valuable and yet… I don’t believe either represent the majority of Christian women. These are not the women I know, these are not the women who have spoken into my life. These examples don’t reflect the woman of faith I am or want to be. And that’s not a judgement against women for whom these examples make sense, but I do believe a big part of the picture the world sees of women of the church is missing and we need to give voice to it.

Somewhere in the middle there are those of us who are mothers just barely holding it together, wives fighting for their marriages, and single women who are neither relationship starved or desperate, but still value their relationships with men. These women believe in balance. They value tradition while they explore creativity, they are confident in their equality and don’t need it to be superiority. You won’t find them signing petitions, joining boycotts or holding picket signs. They are not activists, but they DO act– they find every opportunity to help those around them in need, they give the clothes off their backs, the food from their kitchens, and the time they would be spending asleep in their beds. They err on the side of grace, always, forever, for everyone, no matter what the situation. They look for where God is and they go there, they run, they are the first responders and do their best to honor Him by cultivating relationships that breathe His love and life into the world and affirm what is good and right. They create culture instead of placate, embrace, or rebel against it. They respect each other’s differences and hold each other up.

In the middle they hope, they pray, and sometimes they beg.
They see beauty and call it what it is.
They fight, they persevere and hold on with everything they’ve got.
They forgive what society says is unforgivable.
They stay, no matter what.
They are courageous and they know where they stand with our Creator even when they can’t stand at all, when the best they can do is crawl.
They know mercy, they long for justice, and they love so hard it hurts.

The core female church of today doesn’t have time to look a certain way or to belong to one camp or the other because she is too busy rolling up her sleeves and getting her hands dirty.

If you want to know why there aren’t more women speaking at Christian conferences, writing books or taking positions of leadership, I challenge you, take a look around in all of the least glamorous places, where the hard work that comes with little thanks gets done and you will find women of the church giving everything they’ve got.

These are not the Christian women I hear or read about, these are the women I know. These are the women who raised me, who have been there when I was the most broken, who have patiently stood beside me while I hurt, who have taught me what it means to be seen, heard, and loved by God.

This is my mother.
My sisters.
My friends.
My mentors.
My co-workers.
Women I have served with.

This in between group needs to find its voice– for all of the other women in the world who don’t feel like they can see themselves in the current faces representing Christian women. It’s time to step out into new water, deep water, and take a risk by being vulnerable and honest in the public square.

Women are a ferocious and exquisite part of God’s image, everyone of us. It’s on us to show up, to speak up, to be heard, to think out loud. All of us, not just the groups who are already used to getting out there. No matter what our personal beliefs are about male authority in the church, we can’t keep blaming them for our absence. We have to stop waiting for them to give us openings and start taking responsibility for ourselves, for when and where and how we speak.

My prayer and hope is that we are about to see a new age for women in the church, that together, and in all of our diversity, we begin to reflect the image of Christ in a way the world has never seen before.

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Gaming For Good

When I was seventeen I was a group leader for a youth event called 30 Hour Famine. During the Famine event youth didn’t eat for 30 hours and were involved in community service projects, parents and friends pledged money by the hour and at the end all of the funds raised were given to a foreign mission group.

People pledged without blinking an eye, this was a good thing that these kids were doing, right? Right!

What I remember most about that 30 hours is that being trapped in a room with a group of extremely hungry teenagers has to be the closest I’ve ever been to a real life Walking Dead situation.

 

sardinesThis weekend I spent 25 + hours with a group of teenagers who had gathered to support one of their peers as he gamed for 25 hours with an organization called Extra Life to raise funds for a children’s hospital.

When the young man told another leader and myself about this project I was really excited, I thought, “What a fantastic way to engage people where they are at and give greater purpose to something they are already doing and are already good at!” What came as a bit of a surprise to me was some other people’s reactions.

As we started spreading the word I heard a lot of what sounded something like this, “Oh. 25 hours of playing video games, what a HUGE sacrifice that must be!” accompanied by eye rolling and dripping with sarcasm.

The general feeling seems to be that its not really a service worth doing or perhaps not service at all if it’s not something sacrificial in a way that means we are dirty, sweaty, hungry or otherwise physically or mentally uncomfortable and I have to disagree with that way of thinking.

 

God made us and he said, “This is good work.” and then he made us good at all kinds of different things. This young man is good at gaming, it’s evidence of the way God created his brain. How he enjoys it is a part of the way God is communicating with him and I LOVE seeing him engage in opportunities to use how God made him to love other people. It was also awesome to see how his peers rallied around him to support him, to play with him, keep him company all night long.

We have to get out of this habit of compartmentalizing our lives into groups of “This is me”, “This is what I do for God”, and “This is what I do for work”. We also have to get out of the habit of looking at certain types of service and believing that they are the only real kinds of service.

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Video Tuesday : The Cure.

 

This Video Tuesday is brought to you by an amazing, life altering book called The Cure. You’ve gotta read this. From the book …

the cure“We thought we were cured. 

We thought so, but most of us unwittingly carried an old, dead outlook into our new life. We couldn’t measure up to the standard we created, so we convinced ourselves it was God’s. We read his words through our grid of shame and felt ourselves fall farther and farther behind. We took it out on each other; judging, comparing, faking, splintering. Some of us retreated from the whole charade, becoming cynical, mistrusting, jaded from hope. Our marriages, churches, families, friendships, our marketplaces, our culture… they all need the cure. 

But God’s cures rarely come in the form we expect. 

What if, indeed, God is not who we think he is… and neither are we?”

Check it out at truefaced.com

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Food For Thought: Part 3 (God Loves Me)

part3As promised, I’ll be finishing up my thoughts on Brent Bailey’s post The Crisis of Relationship with God. You can read parts 1 & 2 here and here.

I want to mention again that while I’m not trying to devalue how these issues specifically effect members of the gay community, I’m also really passionate about seeing the “us vs. them” mentality take a hike. The way to do this is find ways to relate as people without a subtitle.  I am thankful that Brent took the time to explain challenges he faced in his relationship with God and the church and for the insight it provides into what others may be going through.  I’m also thankful for the realization that what he describes is not so different from some of my own experience, even though I am female and straight.

In the second half of his post Brent moves into what I think is a really great description of two essential elements of being in relationship with God.

 Two thousand years of Christian history have taught us developing a relationship with God requires two basic components that seem to be non-negotiable. The first is spending time with God through spiritual disciplines like solitude, silence, and scripture. The second is interacting with a consistent group of other Christians through participation in a local church, an intentional faith community, a religious order, or some other body of faith. Neither of these works without the other, but in my experience, both of these can be problematic for gay people.

Brent’s suggestion for why gay people may have a difficult time with these two components has to do with a persons understanding of how they are loved by God. Brent says,

You know as well as I do that affirming, “God loves everyone” is entirely different from affirming, “God loves me,” and the reason I equivocated was that my intellectual assent to the reality of God’s unconditional love did not translate into any sort of emotional, gut-level confidence that God loved me. You’ll notice I’m not saying anything about approval or sanction of certain behaviors. Before I even had the chance to get to those questions, I struggled mightily to believe God loved me: that God was for me rather than against me, that God was interested in me and actually cared about me, and that God desired a relationship with me as an individual.

This really resonated with me because I can understand the struggle to internalize and personalize God’s love.  I’ve spent my whole life in church and my relationship with God started when I was five, but it wasn’t until the last several years that I began to understand how God sees me.  I believe that coming to this understanding is a journey every Christian makes, and I have great empathy for gay Christians because most of us don’t have to deal with picket signs declaring how God hates us on top of everything else that might be telling us we are unlovable, but even still… being loved by the Creator of the Universe is not something that comes to anyone without struggle and doubt and questions. This should unite us. This should give us reason to relate to one another.

The  difficulties in the second component, participating in a faith community, are not unexpected. Brent points out the possibility of pain associated with the church and the difficulty of being in the minority. These things are understandable and true.  I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here, but again, I feel like a lot of the solution relies on our ability to see what we all have in common. I have known many people who’ve suffered hurt from the church for a variety for reasons that mostly have nothing to do with sexuality. I know others who find themselves at odds with the church body because they don’t see where they fit because their circumstances throw them into a very small category.

These are things that happen in the church to people. None of them are things that are specific to one group, so I have to believe that part of the solution is recognizing what we have in common and letting it unite in our desire to know God instead of looking for how we are the exception to the rule, or believing that we are a special case and that no one can understand us.

At the end of the day, for any of this to get better, we have to drop the labels– the ones we have for ourselves and the ones we have for others.  Has anyone else noticed that our labels come ahead of our distinction as Follower of Christ? Gay Christian, Straight Christian, Single Christian, Married Christian, Liberal Christian, Conservative Christian… I could go on.

Perhaps these assignments speak a lot of truth about what it is we are really following, and perhaps that’s something we should put some serious thought into. Jesus is the one thing we all have in common, why not define ourselves through Him and stop there?

Young People Walking in Meadow

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Gay Parents or No Parents. What’s Better?

holding-hands-380x252Like being a hair stylist or a bar tender, when you work in retail cosmetics people tell you their stories. It’s amazing to me sometimes how compelled people seem to be to talk when I have them in my chair. I’ve had people weep, spill their deepest secrets, and talk all kinds of crap about their next door neighbor. You get used to it after a while.

Last week I had an interesting one. I say interesting for several reasons… I was working with a woman who I guessed to be nearing 60. She was a kind, soft-spoken woman who struck me as being a little overwhelmed in her surroundings. It was no surprise to me at all when a conversation about her skincare turned into a conversation about her daughter who was going through a divorce. She felt her daughter was making a bad decision and was concerned for both her child and her soon to be ex-son in-law, whom you could tell she loved very much.

After that she went on to lament how the world was changing. She took a long glance around the store I work in and then quietly asked if I work with many gay men. It’s important to understand that I live and work in a small town. This small town is pretty liberal in its views– to an extent. But at the end of the day it’s still a small town and the majority of the people here are senior citizens. I replied that yes, having been with the company for nearly six years I had worked with quite a few gay men. She commented on how places like my store and salons always had lots of gay employees, and then with a look of plain confusion admitted that the gay men who’ve cut her hair had always done the best job. I was doing my best not to chuckle and agreed that I’ve had many male co-workers who are amazing artists.

I could see in her face that she had more to say and just about the time I thought she’d decided against it she stepped closer to me and her thoughts just started pouring out. She told me that she is a social worker and deals with the placement of foster children. A lot of her job has to do with monitoring how a child is doing in their foster home and sometimes seeing to the details of adoption when the fostering goes really well. She was particularly concerned over a set of parents she would be meeting in a couple of days, gay men, who were fostering a little girl who had been removed from a heartbreaking abusive home. It was clear without her having to say the actual words that her moral compass dictated that she believe there was no way that this gay couple could be good parents for the little girl, the trouble was that all reports were to the contrary. Everyone she spoke to who had visited the couple couldn’t say enough about how much these men love that little girl and how well she was doing in their care. There was nothing but praise for their parenting.

As she spoke I could see the battle going on in her mind. Her face showed how she was weighing her genuine desire to see children safe and happy against her understanding of truth.  Right and wrong as she understood them were colliding in a way she didn’t know what to do with and were causing her to pour her heart out to a sales girl in a makeup store.

As I listened and wrestled with my own questions I felt compassion for this woman and grateful that she was wrestling too and not just making hard and fast decisions. Once she’d finished talking I asked  for myself as much as for her, “You said the little girl came out of an abusive home, can we trust God enough to believe that it’s better for her to be loved by two gay men than to be abused by a straight couple?”

In the moment I had forgotten where we were, that she was a client– we were just two people having a conversation about very real things in our world. As soon as the question was out of my mouth, however, I remembered and I was a little nervous that this was a little more than she’d bargained for out of her trip to buy cosmetics. Fortunately her response was one of gratitude, relief even. Maybe she just needed someone else to ask the question, I don’t know, but we both walked away liking one another better and with something to think about.

I’ve been thinking about it for a week now, actually I haven’t been able to get it off my mind.

It’s interesting to me that the conversation happened at all. If she’d have gotten pretty much anyone else in the store to help her and had that conversation the chances high that she would have offended them. So I just wonder why, knowing nothing about me personally, she felt safe to talk? I can only assume that it was God.

I haven’t been able to get that little girl off of my mind and a couple of nights ago as I was thinking about her and the whole situation God brought a new question to my mind.

“I can use all things for good. Can you consider that maybe I am using the love of two fathers to teach my child who I am?” 

I can’t imagine being a little girl in a world where the mother and father you are born with aren’t the anchors of love and safety they are meant to be, but instead are the cause of pain, fear, and abandonment. It is humbling and powerful for me to realize that maybe for the hurt she has suffered, the love and protection of two fathers is exactly what she needs.

I believe in a God who can use all things for good. Because He is God.

This understanding doesn’t change my ethics when it comes to sexuality, but it does change my heart for the way that we, as followers of Christ, view the bigger picture and how we relate to other people. Whether or not that gay couple adopts that little girl, they have made an impression on her life for love. What will it say to her about God as she grows if His followers are dead set on condemning the people who showed her kindness and protection when she needed it most? The answer to that question bothers me.

This is a challenging place to be in, it’s a challenging way to force myself to think, and yet, I have to. I have to believe that we can do better than we’re doing.  I’m not suggesting that we give in, or that truth doesn’t matter.

We need to be careful to focus on individual people, not categories and labels. There is no universal solution to a problem based on categories or labels, only individual solutions to individual problems based on individual people. It is a lot harder and messier, but it is the only way to be loving. In the thick of things it’s easy to lose sight of the actual lives involved. I see it happen all the time– a lot of Christians seem to want to think that because only families made from married heterosexual couples are “real” families and so all of the pseudo “families” out there can’t possibly have real bonds to one another and we become disconnected to their real human feelings, we don’t empathize with the fact that from where they’re sitting it sounds like we’re determined to tear their families apart. When we make a habit of categorizing people and giving them labels instead of relating and engaging with the people, we dehumanize them and justify treating them as though they have no feelings.

We also need to consider that if we’re going to be opposed to a solution, such as gay couples adopting and fostering when there are SO many children who need safe homes, then we have to have an alternative solution that we personally help make happen. We have no right to kick and scream when gay couples foster and adopt when we aren’t doing anything ourselves to solve the problem of parentless children. Remember, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for Me.”  The problem it’s easier to fight other people’s solutions than to find them ourselves, and I think in doing that we’re missing the entire point.

Through it all we can’t lose sight of truth, which means actually and actively seeking it. It’s hard work, it means not only investing in our relationship with God, but being invested in relationships with others and it will cost us everything we have, but it’s worth it. The problem with our culture is that people want everything to be not only black and white, but black and white all the way down the column–  If you think same-sex attraction is a sin then you’re anti-gay marriage, anti-gay fostering and you don’t want any gay people (even chaste ones) in your church. Likewise, if you think it is ok for gays to adopt then you can’t possibly believe what the bible says about sexuality and that you must completely condone homosexuality. The thing is nothing, not people, not issues fits into these black and white standards and we miss what God is actually doing when we try to force them.

What it all comes down to is that we can’t allow a desire to affirm the good in a bad situation turn into a willingness to let what is merely good not be better. We have to let what we believe speak through our actions, we have to know what we are for and then give our lives for that, rather than sitting back and raising hell about how other people have sought to meet needs in the world around us. This is where we find the balance in truth and love, when we take responsibility instead of casting blame, when we choose to find reasons to relate instead of reasons to draw a line in the sand and choose sides.

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I Am A Unique And Delicate Snowflake !!

Beautiful Snowflake The thing about really good friends is that sometimes they tell you things that you don’t want to hear and sometimes (a lot of times) they are right.

Jim often responds to my description of my feelings with something along the lines of, “… everyone feels that way.”  This used to infuriate me. It seemed harsh and as though it minimized my astronomical problems into something generic and unimportant. There was a time it just felt unkind to me for him to respond that way, however, I have come to understand it as one of the greatest kindnesses anyone has ever done for me.  What I’ve come to see is that I have this habit of trying to let my problems be the defining source of my individuality. No one understands me, no one can truly help me, because no one in the known universe has been through what I am going through as me. Maybe they have experienced something similar, but they aren’t me so they can’t possibly know what I feel and understand.

 

I AM A UNIQUE AND DELICATE SNOWFLAKE!!

Over time “everyone feels that way” stopped sounding so harsh and started making me think about something other than myself. If everyone felt the same way, even if those feelings manifest in different ways, it meant that we could relate to one another, rather than be isolated in our own snowflakey corners and that according to scripture our differences make us a part of a greater whole, not an island unto ourselves.

1 Corinthians 12: 12-26 says,

12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.
And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

I think Christians have formed a bad habit of doing exactly what I was doing with myself… catagorizing people by their problems and concluding that they have nothing to offer to people who’ve had different struggles than there own. I’ve heard church leaders suggest things like no one can minister to, say, the victim of sexual abuse the way that another victim of sexual abuse can, and at this point I have to strongly disagree with that. I don’t mean this to sound like a minimization, but pain is pain. We all have it, and what we need isn’t painkiller, what we need is relationship. What Paul is telling us is that the best relationships aren’t necessarily between things that are identical and that all of our pain boils down to broken relationships. I certainly have known the comfort that comes from relating to someone who’s pain has been similar to my own, however, a lot of the most healing relationships I’ve been in, have been with people who’s pain is completely different. And not just because their response to me is different than it would be if they had “walked a mile in my shoes”, although that certainly gives sight to some of my blind spots, but it’s been in stepping outside of myself and trying to relate to them. I get out of my own head and my own pain, and I see how they hurt and because I know what it feels like to hurt, it doesn’t so much matter that I know exactly what it feels like to be in their circumstances, so much as I know that it matters to walk beside them, to be their friend.

I don’t say this lightly, because as I’ve pointed out, I am guilty of it in my own life, but thinking this way isn’t just selfish, it’s lazy. It gives us permission to stay safely within our area of comfort, never having to really get messy.

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Exodus International closing- an open letter

You can almost not help having heard the news that Exodus International announced last Wednesday that they were shutting down. We’ve been reading a lot of “open letters” to Alan Chambers, and to Exodus, a lot of press accurate and inaccurate, a LOT of comments by people on all sides, and a lot of disclaimers.

Kristin and I felt it was important now (that we’ve had some time to rest after a very busy week last week) to add our own voices, though they may not be heard as loudly as some, to this subject.

Kristin and I are second generation (and now last) generation Exodus– the organization has played a significant role in our lives as our parents have been the directors of a member ministry for most of our lives, and as we became involved ourselves. We are deeply thankful for the ways in which Exodus has blessed our family, it’s leaders have served as role models for us in our youth and have become dear friends as we’ve grown up. In our deepest time of grief the Exodus family was a family to us who knew our parents; their hearts, their heart to minister to those in need, and their desire to love the lost, the lonely, and the broken the way that Jesus does, and stood beside us as we lost our Mom. It has been a great privilege and honor to learn from and serve beside so many fearless men and women of God and we thank each and every one of them for the years of blood, sweat and tears they have put into the ministry of Exodus.

That said, and while we grieve to see the end of an era, we also couldn’t be more excited about the road ahead. We stand beside other leaders and are hopeful for the chance to start a narrative that will build a bridge between the church and not only the gay community, but all those seeking a relationship with Jesus, no matter their walk of life. While holding firmly to biblical sexual ethic, it is our deepest desire to communicate the love of God in a way that heals instead of brings division, and that opens hearts to truth instead of leaves them defensive and alone. In all of this we are confident, in spite of the doubts some people have expressed, that the views being expressed by Alan Chambers and other leaders like him are God-inspired, and we agree with them whole-heartedly.

“Love The Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:30-31

 

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Jesus Stalkers

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

And with that, Jesus speaks what I consider to be one of the most frightening verses in the Bible.  I mean, really, how can these guys get so many things right, and yet Jesus says He never knew them?

We are terrifically modern people.  As average people, we are able to know more than at any other time in history.  We have a world of knowledge available to us.  We are able to endlessly study the Bible, read countless commentaries, even learn the original languages…

…and yet, despite all of the wonderful things we know, I wonder if any of us will be the ones saying “Lord, Lord.”  continue reading

 

 

Matt Appling is an Author, Art Teacher, Pastor and blogger ( and I’m sure many other wonderful things as well) , he started The Church of No People blog in 2008.

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Video Tuesday : Rob Bell and Andrew Wilson // Homosexuality & The Bible

Fascinating conversation/debate . Please share your thoughts in the comments.

 

If you don’t know anything about Rob Bell check out his web page here.

If you would like to read more by Andrew Wilson you can go to this page where he is a regular contributor . I must confess I don’t know much about him and had a hard time finding anything out but there ya go!

 

 

 

 

 

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