Step 2 and Sanity

Step 2: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

In Step 1, we admitted we were spiritually sick and powerless. All of our willpower and efforts to control others always had the same result: inability to change ourselves, situations, or other people. We also learned that this doesn’t just apply to a skid-row alcoholic or a porn addict, but to ALL PEOPLE who have habits that are harmful to themselves or others that they cannot stop doing despite the desire to change: overspending, overeating, resentment, worry, fear, overworking, pride. In a nutshell, SIN.

Now, in step 2, it’s time to deal with the fact that we are INSANE!! Are you excited yet? Before you click the little X at the top right corner of your browser, just humor me for a minute…

What comes to mind when you think of insanity? Maybe something like “mentally deranged” would be your first answer. You probably envision a psychiatric hospital patient wearing a straitjacket. In general, you might think of people who can’t function properly because they lack reason and good judgment, or the classic definition, people doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

All of these are legitimate views of insanity. So what does that mean for us? Maybe the first two don’t apply to you so much, but you can relate to the last two. If you’ve admitted you are powerless, then insanity goes hand-in-hand with that. Remember, the very realization that you are powerless most likely came from months or even years of trying to fix problems or people your own way, with the result always being failure.

Keith Miller, in his book A Hunger for Healing, describes his realization like this:

I began to recall many habits that hurt me and other people and that I repeated for years without even being aware I was doing so (e.g., feeling resentment and fear, procrastinating, giving advice, dumping feelings, putting myself down when I made a mistake). I recalled repeatedly experiencing the negative results of these recurring self-defeating behaviors and thought patterns and being miserable each time, but I accepted the negative response by others to my unconscious abuse as being their fault. This was all a part of my “being surrounded by unreasonable, controlling, or imperfect people.” I tried to be more thoughtful to them so they would change, but I didn’t seriously consider doing anything about my most controlling self-defeating behaviors – because I couldn’t see them for what they were: my sin, my problems. So I was living out the program’s definition of “insanity” by “doing things the same way and expecting different results.”

Mike, one of my good recovery friends, uses what he calls the “broccoli analogy” as an example of dealing with insane behavior. Let’s just say that sometimes when you eat broccoli, you develop a severe stomach issue with uncontrollable explosive diarrhea (great visual, huh). Or maybe sometimes after you eat broccoli you get a splitting headache, blurry vision, or heart palpitations. You’d probably avoid eating broccoli at all costs to avoid the unpleasant side-effects, no matter how much you enjoy eating it. It’s just not worth the risk of having a bad reaction. Seems like a no-brainer, right?

And yet we all have “broccoli” in our lives, stuff we keep doing even though we know the results will probably be negative:

-Maybe it’s having the same old conversation and giving the same old advice to someone who clearly isn’t interested and hasn’t asked for your opinion. It inevitably ends in anger and/or argument.

-Maybe it’s starting that next series on Netflix even though you know you’re going to binge-watch and neglect your other duties.

-It could be choosing the same type of person repeatedly as a romantic partner, even though every relationship has ended in heartbreak and destruction.

–  It could be spending more money than you know is in your budget, using the credit card just “one more time.” You’ll just pay it off “later.” 

– Perhaps it’s believing he will quit drinking and giving him one more chance. He said he’s “really serious” this time and he doesn’t need help, even though he’s said this before and always gone back to his addiction.

– It might be giving money or other resources to “help” your child or friend out of yet another financial jam, even though it’s clear that they aren’t doing anything to help themselves. 

See, recovery doesn’t have to always be for people with drug and alcohol addictions! All of these examples illustrate insanity in some way, doing the same thing over and over even though you know that most likely the outcome will be the same as it always was: negative. Yet you keep eating that broccoli, even though someone looking at your situation from a more objective perspective would clearly see that you are, in fact, not in your right mind!

So, what now? It seems hopeless. We keep doing these things and we are powerless. Thankfully, the other part of Step 2 recognizes the CRUCIAL element to recovery: a power greater than ourselves.

Most Christians have been aware of this power for some time, in the form of Jesus Christ, and we know on some level that He is able to help us with our sin problem. But a lot of Christians I know, including myself before recovery, see Jesus as a higher power that will take away “all their sins” in some abstract, generic form. They’ve never looked at themselves introspectively enough to realize that some of their actions are, indeed, insane!

It is so, so important that Christians start living in sanity, recognizing and naming their specific sins, coming out of denial, and believing that their higher power, Jesus, can help them with their particular patterns of insanity and restore their spiritual health, not just their “sins in general.”

Miller ends his chapter on Step 2 by giving the definition of sanity according to his dictionary: “to be free from hurt or disease; having mental faculties in such condition as to be able to anticipate and judge the effects of your actions on other people,” and “being without delusions or prejudices…wise.” This is the goal of recovery: to break those harmful, sick patterns and start acting and thinking like a wise person, able to predict probable outcomes and make good decisions based upon that knowledge.

So how can you take Step 2? You can start by identifying the actions and thoughts in your life that match up with the definitions of insanity we covered today. What is the broccoli in your life that you keep eating even though it causes pain for yourself or others? Only after you’ve done that can you truly, concretely believe that a higher power can really help you on a personal level and restore the sanity you didn’t even realize you were missing.

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East of Eden – With Apologies to Steinbeck

The Fall of Mankind: Eve’s Consequences

The place is Scotland, the year is 1591, and a woman is burning alive. Her crime? During an excruciating experience while giving birth to twins, she requested something to ease her pain. Her midwife granted her wish. Nothing more, nothing less.

Why the harsh punishment? She had violated the clear meaning of Genesis 3:16:

I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children. (NIV)

The interpretations of that day allowed no wiggle room: women were commanded to fully experience all the pain of childbirth due to the consequences of the fall. Tragically, Eufame Macalyane suffered the consequences for violating this “command,” and her twin boys were left motherless. 

Today, most of us would be horrified to witness such a severe punishment for anything, much less such a small “crime.” Most women are now allowed and even encouraged to use painkillers and life-saving medical procedures during childbirth. We don’t interpret Genesis 3:16 as a command from God, but as a curse, or at the very least a prophecy of how things will be in a fallen world that sin has entered. It’s a description of the way things will be due to the fall, not a prescription from God, and something we are free to overcome with painkillers or whatever else we choose.

And yet many of us still perpetuate another result of the fall as an eternal command from the Creator: the second part of God’s words to the woman in verse 16:

Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.

Most complementarians claim that this is just an INCREASING of an already hierarchal relationship, but remember there is nothing in the Genesis text before now that directly speaks to any sort of hierarchy, save the man and woman as caretakers over the rest of the creation. There isn’t any hint in 3:16b of an increasing of an already established rule, either.

Let’s look at the first part: “Your desire (teshuqah) will be for your husband.” Teshuqah means “desire” or “longing.” There are different interpretations as to what this statement means, exactly. Many egalitarians believe it is speaking of a longing or desire for the mutual, equal relationship the two shared before the fall. This would certainly fit the context, as the next line says the husband will, however, rule the woman in this new fallen, perverted relationship.

This also makes sense given that men are, for the most part, physically stronger than women, putting women in a more vulnerable position. And patriarchy has certainly been the prevailing culture all throughout history, true to God’s prophecy.

This leads to another interpretation of what teshuqah means in this context. Instead of the previous view where the woman will long for the once mutual, equal relationship, the man and woman will become entangled in a perpetual power struggle, where she will desire to rule her husband, but he, the physically stronger and culturally privileged, will prevail. Here is Jay Guin’s explanation of that view:

In the King James Version, this verse says that “unto thee shall be [sin’s] desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” The NIV translators have paraphrased this passage to interpret “unto thee shall be his desire” to mean “it desires to have you.” The NET Bible translates: “It desires to dominate you.” Thus, in Genesis 3:16, the virtually identical phrasing, only a few verses away, must mean that woman’s desire for her husband is her desire to rule her husband. God is saying that although the wife may want to rule her husband, under his curse, the husband will rule the wife.

A result of Adam’s and Eve’s sin is strife in marriage. Both husbands and wives will want to be in charge, but in the ordinary case, the husband will succeed in ruling over his wife. And certainly the last several thousand years have proved this to be very true indeed (p. 37).

Adam’s Consequences

Now it’s Adam’s turn. Verses 17-19 spell out God’s description of how the world will change for him after eating the forbidden fruit with his wife:

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

All of creation feels the awful consequences of what Adam and Eve have done. The earth itself is cursed. Notice that Adam and Eve themselves are not CURSED per se. God instead describes the negative changes that will occur due to their sin. For Adam, that means that the ease with which he gathered sustenance from nature will disappear. Weeds will spring up, and he will suffer in heat and sweat.

Have we taken this part of God’s prophecy as a literal command for all-time? Hardly. It is probably an accurate speculation that the very men who sentenced and killed poor Eufame Macalyane were not taking their part of the fall literally. Theologians who enforced interpretations and religious laws were certainly not earning their way through toiling the fields by the sweat of their brows. This is just another example of the unhealthy rule of men  (coming from a place of privilege and power) over women.

This is also where death itself enters the picture. The dust with which mankind was so lovingly made in the Creator’s own image will return to the ground as dust. Sin, death, and decay go hand in hand.

And on the east side of the Garden of Eden, cherubim and a flaming sword guard the tree of life. Adam is expelled from his perfect world.

Not the End of the Story

Thank God this is not where the story ends! Christians now realize that Jesus’ sacrifice enables His children to defeat death in the resurrection and to be cleansed of sin forever.

But how often do we think about the other ill effects of sin that are also reversed by Jesus? It’s not just death that is defeated, but ALL of the results of the fall. We see how all creation will be avenged in Romans 8:21-23:

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

We are caught in the middle. We still suffer some of the effects of the fall, but we are eagerly awaiting the day when His kingdom comes to power with a NEW CREATION. 

In the meantime, as we find ourselves in the tension of the “already but not yet,” shouldn’t Christians be the first to jump at the chance at making earth as close to achieving God’s will and ideal as possible?

Of course, this doesn’t explain some of the New Testament passages that seem to conflict with the Genesis account. So we will look at that issue more in-depth next time.

A Perfect World

creation

CREATION

Genesis 1.

The beginning of it all: idyllic, peaceful, and perfect. The animals, nature, and mankind, male and female, live in harmony. So far, so good. Both male and female, according to Genesis 1:27, are created equally in God’s image:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

The only mention in Genesis 1 of any sort of hierarchy is in verse 27, where God says to the humans:

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

Things are pretty direct and uncomplicated so far. The creation of water, light, animals, and plants leads up to the crowning achievement, a creation made in the very image of the Creator, man and woman, who are charged with caring for the rest.

GENESIS 2

Enter the second creation story. This one gives us more details about the creation of man and woman, and it is also where things get a little more complex. While Genesis 1 makes no mention of the order in which creation of gender occurs, chapter 2 states that adam is initially made alone, realizes he is lonely, and so God makes him what has been translated as a “HELPER” suitable for him (verse 20) out of adam’s own flesh (his rib, to be exact).

I’ll get to the word “helper” next, as I think it’s one of the most important issues within this text. But right now, there’s an interesting little side note, just food for thought. This idea is covered more thoroughly here, but here are the major ideas:

  1. We don’t see the proper noun “Adam” until Gen. 4:25. The references before then to “adam” are better translated as humanity.
  2. Many scholars believe that this “adam” or mankind was split during the creation of Eve. Before then, the two genders were literally “one flesh.”

From the linked article:

The Hebrew word used is “zela” which often means “a component, or more often, a side-wall” (alternatively, a chamber), indicating that more than simply a rib was taken.  Many scholars believe that the entire female essence was removed from man and fashioned into a woman. This would mean that the “mankind” in chapter 1 could have been an undifferentiated or androgynous person, with the blessing of male and female being a declaration in anticipation of the separation of the sexes in Genesis 2.

Strange idea, right? But I think it’s important to acknowledge the facts of the language here and take it for what it is. And it’s also pretty fascinating if you think about it. If mankind was made in God’s image, as Gen. 1 states, then it’s not so far-fetched to believe that the same oneness of the godhead would be present in adam, as well.

EVE AS HELPER

OK, now we can move on to 2:18:

 And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”

The word “helper” comes from the Hebrew “ezer kenegdo.” Many people look at verse 18 and think that because woman is a “helper” to man, that automatically makes her subservient, a step down the ladder from the male counterpart. That’s because in today’s culture we think of phrases like “Daddy’s little helper,” or see movies like The Help and view the word through that lens.

But where else do we see the same word in scripture? Surprisingly, it occurs 21 times in the Old Testament, usually referring to God Himself as a help to Israel against their enemies:

 

Clearly, the word ezer does not indicate a weaker, subservient role. Jay Guin explains this idea further in his e-book Buried Talents

In current English, “helper” carries the connotation of a subordinate – even a child. Thus, if I were drowning, I’d call out, “Help!” But I wouldn’t refer to the person who rescued me as my “helper.” My rescuer truly helped me, but calling him “helper” would be too condescending – even belittling. But these thoughts are utterly foreign to the Hebrew ‘ezer. There is no condescension in the Hebrew word at all, so that “helper” (or “help meet,” as in the KJV) is truly a clumsy translation to modern ears. In other verses, ‘ezer is used in the sense of “rescuer” or “liberator.” The word is also used in the sense of “one who fights alongside against a common foe.” “Comrade” or “ally” would come close to the sense in many contexts. Thus, the psalmist sings that God is Israel’s help, not a mere helper – but an ally so powerful that Israel must prevail.

Many scholars, then, believe that complement is a better word than helper to truly convey the idea the original language calls for. It also expresses the one flesh idea much more effectively.

SO THAT’S THAT

So far, we see no conclusive evidence from Genesis 1 and 2 that men and women are #1 and #2 in a hierarchy. Everyone seems to be straightforwardly equal and happy.

Where we DO see it is coming up next, in the tragic fall of mankind. Women’s subjection is identified as the result of sin and a curse comes into effect…

 

Let’s Start from the Very Beginning…

I used to pretend that complementarianism and biblical interpretation weren’t that complex. When I was on the complementarian side of things, I spent my time highlighting certain passages like 1 Tim. 2 and 1 Cor. 14:34 and Eph. 5. In my mind, those texts were black-and-white, and clearly meant exactly what they said. Those were my offensive (opposite of defensive) texts.

I was very literal (except when I wasn’t, but that’s coming), even to the point of never talking or expressing my point of view in front of a man in a “church setting.” It said for women to be silent right there in 1 Cor. 14:34:

Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. 

Bam! I even thought it was wrong for women to lead in any secular setting, such as being a CEO of a business, a governor, a manager, or a college professor, because 1 Tim. 2:12 plainly said a woman shouldn’t teach or have authority over a man. Period.

On the other hand, I’d have to play defense when it came to texts like:

Gal. 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

1 Cor. 14:26: Brothers and sisters, when you come together, each of you has a psalm, a teaching, a tongue, a revelation, an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

or 1 Cor. 11: 5, where women are prophesying, a gift given for edification of the church according to 1 Cor. 14:1-5.

I would have to explain subtle, not-so-obvious reasons as to why those texts DIDN’T mean exactly what they seemed to mean on the surface. And Deborah and Huldah, of course, were just anomalies in a long line of  God’s eternal plan of patriarchy.

What was really going on, though, was that I had certain verses that were “trumping” what others had to say. I was looking at Gal. 3:28, “no male and female, slave or free, Jew or Greek,” through the lens of my go-to complementarian verses, trying to make it fit, because if the Bible contradicted itself in any way, in my mind I might as well become an atheist. 1 Cor. 11 COULDN’T mean that women were praying and prophesying in public assemblies, because….. 1 Cor. 14:34. 1 Corinthians 14:26 was, of course, only talking about men because….1 Cor. 14:34. The logic was impeccable.

Except it wasn’t. I started questioning why. Why would God want to preserve an ultimately oppressive law which has made it easier for the stronger to prey on the weaker for several millenniums? Why was one gender’s voice considered “shameful” solely on the basis of not possessing a Y chromosome? Why did some scriptures seem to say one thing and some seemed to say the opposite re: gender? Why were all women punished for all-time because of what Eve did (while her husband was WITH her)? What if every single talent and calling I seemed to have pointed toward a career in higher education? Why did my entire identity have to be wrapped up in my gender instead of my basic humanity?

Still I kept quiet. Maybe I was the only one who felt a bit second-class. Maybe I was just thinking too hard about it. Did nobody else have these questions? Was I the only one?

Fortunately, I found out that far from being the only one, I was actually one of a rising number in the church who questioned the validity of our theories and practices when it came to gender.

And it all started by reading the Bible from the beginning all the way to the end, where prophecies about God’s future kingdom talk about a time when wrongs will be made right, tears will be wiped away, and sin and the curse lose all their power.

And that’s where I’ll pick up next time: right at the beginning.

 

 

Resources for Gender Series

This is a list of just some of the sources that have really helped me during my journey. I hope you find them helpful, as well. Some are primarily egalitarian, some address how to approach and interpret scripture (hermeneutics), but really, all of them are both.

BOOKS

  1. The first book I’d like to recommend is probably the one that had the most influence on me personally. It’s not written by a scholar per se, but by an elder of a church in my denomination. His name is Jay Guin, and his book is available for FREE in PDF form on his blog (pretty cool, huh?). The name of the book is Buried Talentsand it’s one that I pass along to anyone who asks me for an easy-to-understand introduction to egalitarianism.
  2. Another great resource is a newly-published book by Dr. John Stackhouse entitled Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism. This is an updated version of his previous work Finally Feminist. 
  3. Scot McKnight’s Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible is primarily about hermeneutics, as its subtitle suggests. The cool bonus is that McKnight uses the role of women as his case study.
  4. Respected theologian Gordon D. Fee’s Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy.  Fee is actually a contributing editor to this book, a collection of scholarly articles from 26 distinguished authors. This is probably not one you would want to read right off the bat, but it is an excellent egalitarian resource.
  5. I Permit Not a Woman: To Remain Shackled  by Robert H. Rowland is different from the others in that it is not entirely egalitarian. I would file it under the soft-complementarian category. It is written specifically to people in my particular denomination to point out the many inconsistencies in our practices regarding the role of women, but I think anybody from fundamentalist backgrounds could identify. Even though Rowland doesn’t argue for all-out egalitarianism, his work was an essential stepping stone in my realization that our arguments and practices regarding women in the church were untenable. Oh and it’s FREE online!
  6. Why Not Women: A Biblical Study of Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership by Loren Cunningham, David Joel Hamilton, and Janice Rogers.

ORGANIZATIONS, WEBSITES, BLOGS, BLOG POSTS

  1. Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE International). 
  2. The Junia Project
  3.  Kristen Rosser’s blog
  4. Why I Can’t Be a Complementarian — a recent blog post that expresses my thoughts completely.
  5. Mark Love’s series on gender — this one was crucial in my understanding of seeing scripture through the lens of the big picture.
  6. gal328 — Gender Justice and Churches of Christ
  7. Where the Spirit Leads

 

I could go on and on, really, but these have been the most formative for me, and I hope they will be invaluable to you as well. I would love your feedback if you decide to actually click and tackle some of these ideas head-on!

Upcoming Series on Gender Roles

Starting next week, I’ll be writing a series about a topic that is dear to my heart. I’ll still be writing about other topics, too, but I’ve had several people request the issue of women’s roles and how I became an egalitarian. It’s a long story, but hopefully I can express it as effectively as possible. I’d love to hear from you guys, too.

I’d like to post a few ground rules first:

  1. Since this can be an emotionally charged topic that affects some of us at the deepest levels, try to keep your comments as respectful and issue-focused as possible.
  2. Gender roles are NOT the gospel. Nowhere does the Bible say that being honestly mistaken about gender roles is an unforgivable sin. Let’s try not to make mountains out of molehills and at least entertain the fact that some people legitimately have different views of scripture. Extend grace.
  3. Try not to use scriptures that most people have obviously seen before unless you’re providing some unique insight. There are few things more frustrating and, frankly, insulting, than having a well-known scripture thrown at you as if you’ve never seen it before, e.g. “Have you even READ 1 Timothy 2???? Let’s assume that we’re all intelligent adults and are already reasonably Bible-literate. 
  4. If you can’t agree with or adhere to the previous 3 guidelines, then you should probably not participate.

OK. That should do it for now. I’ll be posting some resources soon, just in case you’d like to do some homework to begin with. I’m excited to get started!

Fear is a Harsh Master

quote-Franklin-D.-Roosevelt-the-only-thing-we-have-to-fear-103461

It was twilight, and my family was driving through the mountains of Arizona’s Tonto National Forest. We were approaching the end of a 22-hour road trip from Arkansas, and all I could think about was getting home, putting the kids to bed, donning my pajamas, and sleeping for a LONG time. My husband (at the wheel) and I were in the midst of casual conversation, trying not to nod off, when all of a sudden he slammed the brakes, sending the portable DVD player and various other road-trip necessities flying.

In a panicked instant, I saw it: an elk galloped into the road in front of us and froze, glancing off the side of our front bumper before making its way up the embankment into the pine forest on the opposite side of the road. I thanked God for my husband’s quick reflexes and the fact that my family (and hopefully the elk) was safe and sound.

I can think of many other instances when the God-given and intended purpose of fear has kept me or those I love safe. There are even instances in scripture about the role the fear of God plays. Verses like Matthew 10:28 come to mind: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

But fear is ultimately an immature motivation when it comes to serving God. It is a primal instinct, focused primarily on self-preservation. In fact, other Bible verses contrast fear with love (1 John 4:18) and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

I grew up in a fear-based faith tradition. Our mantra, “Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent,” developed in the early 1800s out of a sincere call for believers’ unity, but evolved (in many congregations) into a formula whereby we tried to keep ourselves out of hell. So it is no wonder that my baptism occurred because I had a dream the night before that I only had 24 hours to live. The next day, I high-tailed it to the baptistery just in case I died and God decided to kick my 14-year-old soul into the unquenchable fires.

But even then the fear didn’t go away. What if I was doing something wrong? What if, after all our meticulous following of the NT “law,” we were missing something really, REALLY important? Or (apparently worse) doing something we were REALLY not supposed to be doing? Out of this mindset grew a rigid, seemingly flawless rule. I have heard it many times in various ways over the years, but it always went something like this, “I’d rather be safe than sorry,” or, “Better to err on the side of caution,” or, “You can’t be too careful.” We meant well, but our view of God implied that He was just waiting to punish us for things so benign that I’m embarrassed to even write about them here. So we sat inside our buildings, safe, secure, saved…but for what?

I learned later there is such a thing as being TOO careful. Not just because things we need to do remain undone and God-given talents sit unused, but also because fear itself is not the motivator that God ultimately desires from us. Doing too little and being too conservative is a dangerous, fear-based move. Playing it safe is, ironically, NOT safe! 

Matthew 25:14-30, the Parable of the Talents, illustrates this idea perfectly. In the parable, a master gives three servants various amounts of gold before he embarks on a journey; the first one gets 5 bags, the second one 2, and the third one receives 1.

When the master returns, he naturally wants to see what the servants did with what he gave them. The first two doubled their allotment, but the third servant played it safe. He says, “Master, I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”

Of course, this doesn’t end well for Servant #3. His gold is given to Servant #1, and he is cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Sounds a little harsh, right? The servant didn’t even lose the gold. He wasn’t careless, and he didn’t violate any directives that we know of, but his motivation was FEAR. His harsh view of his master greatly limited how effectively he served him. And ironically, fear and the desire to play it safe turn out to be what he should have really been afraid of the whole time.

Some of us have lived in fear for far too long. Like the unfortunate elk, we freeze in fear of what might happen. Fear of other people’s opinions. Fear of stepping out in faith. Fear of using the talents God has given us. Fear of violating a rule that isn’t even there. Fear of change. Fear of a harsh master’s wrath. Whatever it is, the third servant teaches us that there is nothing scarier than letting fear dictate our lives and limit our return on God’s gifts to us. 

1 John 4:18 says that perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. God clearly desires a relationship with us where our actions are based not on instinctual self-preservation, but out of our heartfelt service to Him, freely using our talents and blessings. It is for freedom, not bondage to our imaginary obstacles, that Christ has set us free (Gal 5:1).

If the god you are serving is sending any other message, it’s time to find a new master.

 

 

 

The Rise of Authenticity

As church planters, my husband and I have been through quite a bit of training and coaching in the past few years. As I’m sure you’ve probably noticed, studying and understanding the millennial generation is kind of a big deal these days. We look at trends and polls to see just exactly what is going on with this generation that has been leaving the church in droves. My husband and I actually fall into the Millennial category (he more so than I), so it’s been really interesting delving into the thought processes of our peers.

One of the main themes we’ve seen from studying our generation is that authenticity is a HUGE deal to us. We want to be free to express our doubts, fears, and just our REAL selves without the fear of being  judged or answered with platitudes and pat answers. We are not big fans of wearing masks. I LOVE that about my generation. With all our flaws, at least we are willing to own them (sounds like a Bastille song)! We are tired of playing games.

It’s easy to sit back and blame the people who leave the church. I know because I’ve done it myself.Surely it’s not OUR fault they’re leaving. But have we really done some honest self-reflection? Are we willing to at least LISTEN to the concerns of those who have left our ranks? Are we willing to take our own masks off and admit that maybe – just MAYBE – we have been part of the problem?

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a Christian family. They did everything “right” for the most part. They went to church 3 times a week, and the dad was even the part-time preacher of the little congregation they attended. The mom was a stay-at-home mom and home-schooled their 3 girls. The dad was an educated man with a respectable secular job. Everything looked great from the outside.

But they had a secret.

The dad had a drinking problem. It was starting to get out of hand. The mom didn’t know what to do. He was still “functional” (as most alcoholics are). He held down his regular job and his supplemental preaching gig without anyone knowing what was really going on. It was agonizing sometimes, the chaos of not knowing what to do. The mom asked a few trusted friends for help. They said, “I’ll pray for you,” but they had no idea what else to do. “It’s not our sin to confess,” the mom and daughters would say. So it continued.

The oldest daughter eventually moved out and married. The second daughter went to college. Still the problem continued. One day, something miraculous happened: a  godsend by the name of Mike crossed their path. He, too, was once in the same predicament as the dad, but he had finally “hit bottom.” After he had lost almost everything,  a church had taken him in, and it was his mission to help others if he possibly could. Mike helped the family through intervention. The dad entered a 12-step program and became sober for the first time in years. The family was, of course, grateful, but still the lingering question…

Why?? Why did this awful cycle continue for so long?

I’ll tell you why: fear. Fear of being judged. Fear of taking off the mask we all wear and actually being genuine and known for who we really are. Fear of authenticity.

By now, you have probably figured out that I was one of those daughters, the oldest, in fact. We consider ourselves immeasurably blessed to be where we are today, having been in recovery for 7 years.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the same experience we did. Some people, for whatever reasons, would rather leave their church than face their congregations with the reality of who they really are and what they really think. Why??

Because they’re tired of pretending.

Because they’re afraid of rejection, having seen it firsthand.

Because they just haven’t seen the church deal with their questions in a healthy way.

Because church doesn’t feel SAFE.

Why do you think they would have that impression? It isn’t coming out of thin air.

I realize that some of those who leave do so for other reasons. But I have studied and visited with enough de-churched millennials to know that many of them are struggling with issues that their church — the very place they should be able to have authentic community — just wasn’t able to address in a healthy way. Maybe it’s having an open discussion regarding LGBT issues. Maybe it’s a secret struggle that they feel is unspeakable for “church” people. Maybe they feel that science and the church’s traditional, unwavering interpretation of the Bible is just too big of a hurdle to jump.

And so they leave.

I left out a big part of my family’s story. The part about what happened once our family secret was all laid out in the open. Guess what? The sky didn’t fall. Our little community supported us, cried with us, and helped us through the ups and downs. My dad still preaches for that little congregation where I grew up.

And that is one of the big reasons why church planting is in my blood. Because I realize that not everyone has had the same positive experience I have. I have seen the dark side of church, too, of not wanting “those people” sitting in the pews alongside us, with our airs of purity and holiness.  I want to help create a healthy community, one like I have been blessed with. A place where you can be you, where we can face reality and deal with it together, in a healthy way. No pretending, no masks. As they say in recovery, “You’re as sick as your secrets.” So, so true. 

So whether it’s doubts, secrets, resentments, or anything else, I have found that healing and understanding come through confessing those things and praying for them within a healthy community (James 5:16). For too long we have swept things that we have found too difficult to deal with under the rug. We have dismissed people for leaving the church when the reality is that it’s our perverted communities they have really rejected.

So let’s do better, church. Let’s stop being stumbling blocks and start building bridges. It starts with US, by creating a safe place to voice concerns. And that means stepping out of our own denial, and admitting that we, too, have some things to confess. Are we going to identify with the Pharisee or admit that we have more in common with the tax collector?

Luke 18:9-14: To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Step 1 and Compassion

Let me ask you a question: What do you, a preacher, a grandma, a heroin addict, an atheist, a gambler, a prostitute, a skid-row alcoholic, and yours truly all have in common? And no, I’m not about to deliver a punch line, and yes, I realize that more than one of these could apply to you. What if I told you that I could use one adjective to describe every single one of us (and I may not even KNOW you)! Here it is – we are all SICK. Okay, so maybe tact is not my strong point, but just let me explain:

I’m in the middle of my third step-study now. If you haven’t read my “About” section, 12-step recovery is one of my passions. I am an adult child of an alcoholic (my dad has been clean and sober for 7 years now, praise God!) who struggles with codependency and perfectionism issues, among other things. One of the truths that everyone in recovery learns is that it’s  a continual process, like peeling an onion. Every time is different, even with the very first step, and something I am really having to work harder on this time around with step 1 is having patience and compassion for people who should be doing better at getting their act together (because I am sooo perfect, ya know).

The book we’ve been using in this study is Keith Miller’s A Hunger for Healing which takes a Christian slant to the (actually originally biblically-based) 12 steps. Miller inserts the word “sin” into the blank that describes what we are powerless over. A lot of people, especially those new to the concepts, balk at such a statement. How could we be powerless? Willpower has to count for something, right? I mean, if someone really wanted to stop drinking or gambling or __________, they would just do it! They just need to get their act together! Turns out, it’s not so simple.

What is that one (or more) thing that you keep saying you need to do (or stop doing) that never gets done? Do you eat too much sugar or junk food? Do you not exercise like you should even though it’s negatively affecting your health? Are your road-rage outbursts enough to make a sailor blush? Or, my personal favorite, do you keep saying you’re going to stop eating out so often and start buying healthy groceries to cook at home, only to find yourself at 5 pm helplessly staring into the fridge before calling for Chinese takeout? No? Me neither…

The truth is, there is always SOMETHING. Maybe it’s sneakier or more sinister than what is listed above, but I guarantee you there is something. Let me let you in on a little secret: we’re all sick. And if you keep saying, “I can quit when I want,” or, “I don’t really have an issue,” we have a word for that: Denial. Please get help. This is not to shame you or make you feel terrible about yourself. It just IS.

There’s a biblical precedent for this concept, the classic passage from Romans 7:15-20. Paul says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” The spirit vs. flesh predicament. Realizing this struggle has made me so much more compassionate and able to see people’s struggles more clearly through God’s eyes:

The young woman who can’t stop her heroin addiction? She is sick.

The father whose drinking is out of control? He is sick.

The teenager who is in the middle of a full-fledged porn binge? Sick.

But also:

The parent who works so much that he/she is always too busy for family? Sick.

The person who takes too much pride in their money and possessions? Sick.

The mom who spends too much money on therapeutic retail day-trips? PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER AND PUT THE CREDIT CARD AWAY, YOU IDIOT! Just kidding…sick.

The truth is, we are all “those people,” and the sooner we realize it, the better.

Depressed yet?

Well, this is actually good news! How much pressure would be off of you if you realized you didn’t have to get through it alone, and all the willpower and effort in the world could not save you from your downward spiral, or the downward spiral of someone you love? What if you didn’t have to try to “fix” everything and everyone around you (because that’s working out so great, right)? What if there was another way?

Unfortunately, most people have to hit absolute rock bottom before they are humbled enough to face reality, whether that means losing relationships, jobs, health, or financial security. Illusions of self-sufficiency are shattered, and we are left face-to-face with the truth: we are absolutely powerless.

In Christian recovery, our higher power is Jesus. It seems so simple, but yet is so difficult, that we have to turn our lives and wills over to HIS care. Our solutions did not work, and our attempts to control have failed over and over again. Our resentments have eaten at us from the inside out. Only then, in that state of complete vulnerability, can we say we are truly ready to be cured of our sin-disease. And from that healthier, saner place, we can see others more compassionately, because we have been there, too. As my good friend, Mike, would say, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.”

The steps can’t really be boiled down to concepts. That’s why they are so hard to write about sometimes, because ultimately they are about a spiritual experience. But if you can relate to being powerless over people and/or situations in your life, taking step 1 is the most loving thing you could possibly do, for yourself and for others.

Colossians 3:12-13  Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,  compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and,  if one has a complaint against another,  forgiving each other;  as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

 

Finding my Voice

I have no dog in this fight. Not much of one, anyway. I am not gifted in the administration and leadership departments. I’m also not the best speaker. I am a thinker, a reader, and a writer, and I like to share ideas, but I can do that already in the circles in which I run. My spiritual gifting runs more along the lines of hospitality and mercy. I think that’s why, to some extent, I feel so strongly about this topic…

Because I am a HUGE proponent of justice. Racial justice. Justice for the poor. Justice for the abused and violence-afflicted. SOCIAL justice. So from a young age, I have always experienced a cognitive dissonance regarding gender roles in the church. The faith tradition of my growing-up years wouldn’t allow women to even serve communion or be in any kind of role where addressing the congregation publicly is involved. Women could make casseroles for potlucks, teach children and other women, help with behind-the-scenes duties, and that was (and still is) pretty much it. On a deep, instinctual level, though, I never bought into the patriarchal worldview, the one with the “umbrellas of authority,” even though my soul never yearned for a preaching, deacon, or eldership position.

But it wasn’t enough to just feel strongly about this. There needed to be a healthy theological framework to go by, and coming from a fundamentalist, black-and-white thinking tradition, I never thought that was possible. So, it seemed women were stuck with platitudes and patronizing statements: “Your job is still SO important, even though you are in a subservient role,” or something like that; at least, that’s what little girl Emily’s brain and heart heard. They might as well have been saying, “Separate, but equal,” like Hilly Holbrook in The Help. 

So as a human being whose voice could not be heard in a public gathering of Christians, I began to silently study the matter. Getting my M.A. in English really, really helped me during the process. I learned how to better read literature, the Bible, words and letters, symbols on a page, and I was exposed to more valid points of view that differed from the ones I had learned in my little bubble. An issue that I almost lost my faith over became one that eventually strengthened it.

There are lots more details, probably ones that I will address later here on the blog. But that is the one main reasons why I’m here: to let my voice be heard. If you are willing to listen, and even, by all means, join in the conversation, you are always welcome here.