Saturday, December 28, 2013

On the Fourth Day of Christmas...We've Forgotten All About It

Did you know that today is the fourth day of Christmas?  Yes? Maybe? No?  If you didn't, don't feel badly.  A lot of people don't know.  They think either the 12 Days of Christmas is just a song, or that the 12 days are the 12 days that lead up to Christmas.  But, historically, in the Church's calendar, the 12 Days of Christmas is the season from Christmas Day until January 5.  January 6 is Epiphany (which celebrates the Magi visiting Jesus).  

There is so much preparation that goes into Christmas.  Buying gifts, getting a tree (real or fake?), putting up lights, extra rehearsals for concerts and pageants, making costumes for pageants, decorating the outside of the house, extra special programming for church, complaining about the busyness and commercialism of the season yet going along with all of it anyway to make sure the kids have fun.  We make such a big deal out of something and then are done with it so quickly. The gifts are open, paper and ribbons and bows are strewn about, and we have to remember which day the trash pickup is because it is out of the ordinary.  They'll pick up the Christmas trees until the 2nd or 3rd so make sure to have them out on the right day.

We claim that Jesus is the reason for the season, but but we also want the fun of activities.  We want to have everything that we want.  A few weeks ago Aaron Baart, Dean of Chapel at Dordt College, said in a sermon that we want our "American Dream" and want Jesus to bless it.  I think we want that with Christmas too.  We want all the fun and lights and presents and parties and then we make sure to throw Jesus in the mix too, so that we can say "oh yeah, we're celebrating Jesus' birthday". 

Maybe there should be a different kind of war on Christmas. Instead of complaining about store clerks not saying Merry Christmas or children in public schools not being able to decorate with red or green, why don't we make war on what we have done by turning Christmas into a consumeristic competition?

What preparation was there for Jesus' birth?  Not much. While there were certainly extraordinary elements to it, his birth was still very ordinary.  It was childbirth--something that happens every single day.  We make a big deal about THE incarnation, but when the day is over we forget about the incarnational life of Jesus and the incarnational life we are supposed to live as the Body of Christ.  How did Jesus live an incarnational life?  How did the presence of God walk around on this earth?  What did he do?  How did he treat others?  What were his goals?  Think about those questions.  And we must ask ourselves, do our Christmas celebrations acknowledge that or not?

We do not live incarnationally by making laws upon laws for people to follow.  We do not live incarnationally by claiming persecution when we hear "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" or see the word Christmas abbreviated to Xmas.  We do not live as Jesus' presence in this world by belittling others or by oppressing them.

We live the incarnational life of Jesus when we are completely sold out for him and want to follow his way of bringing about the kingdom of God.  We will find this contrary to much of what we find in our American culture, including the Christian culture in which each of us lives.  

And I wonder if we are holding on to our fun Christmas traditions and celebrations so much that they are becoming and idol.  Are we putting them above the one who we claim to be celebrating?  We make ourselves feel good by filling a shoebox or contributing to food pantries.  But it is often extra; it's not as if we want to sacrifice our own celebrations in order to give.  We do not do a 2 Phillipians and think of others as better than ourselves or give up our power to celebrate.  We just keep everything around us the way we want it and add some feel-good compassion on top of it.

What can we do to get out of this vicious cycle?  How can we celebrate Christmas more?  Right now, today, we are only one-third of the way through Christmas.  Everything we did before the 25th of December was Advent.  We don't think of Advent as interesting or exciting or fun, just something to get through.  In many places, it's not celebrated at all or is just giving a passing nod, because it can be seen as "too churchy".  

What if we celebrated Christmas during the actual Christmas season?  What if we moved all of our Christmas concerts and pageants and parties to those 12 days of Christmas that we are in right now?   Of course, we'd run the danger of it eventually becoming an idol as well, but how can we do Christmas different and do it incarnationaly? 

Monday, December 16, 2013

What Does It Mean to Be Alive?

Back in January, I chose the word "abundant" as part of the One Word 365 project.   Since I have never kept to any New Year's Resolutions, I thought this would be easier--er, more meaningful...yeah, that's it--than attempting to keep any resolutions.  It was great.  I thought and thought about my word, and then chose it based on what Jesus says in John 10:10
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  
I acquired an image and put it on my blog and in my Facebook and Twitter headers.  I wrote a post about it.  I followed up with a devotional about it at MOPS.  

And then I forgot about it.  

Like every other New Year's Resolution, I failed.

And I haven't really felt abundant all year, and even less so in the last few months.  I'm living no more abundantly now than I was when I chose the word. 

But in the last few days, I read a book and watched a video that made me think (and made me rethink liking Brene Brown and Peter Rollins because they were making me start being more introspective than I really wanted to be).  In Brene Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are there were two ideas that stood out to me overall (but really, the entire book is worth reading--and it's not too long and it's not too hard).

Brown defined authenticity as "the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are" (page 50).  Later in the book, she also included a quotation from theologian Howard Thurman:
"Don't ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."  (page 115).
I wanted to cry when I read that, because I don't really feel alive.  I am existing day to day, but not living abundantly.  I get so bogged down in stuff that drains me and I don't fill back up.  I stare at the pile of socks on my bedroom floor that's been there for days or weeks because by the time I get everything else folded, I could care less about matching socks. I look around at what needs to be straightened up and cleaned up just five minutes after I've spent time doing it.  Or less than five minutes.  The other day I folded a blanket in the family room, put it on the back of a chair, walked into the kitchen, turned and came back into the family room, and the kids had already unfolded it and started playing with it on the floor.  I lost it.  I yelled over a stupid blanket on the floor.

That's not abundant life.   That's not coming alive.  That's dying a slow death. 

A few weeks ago, I spent two hours talking to one of my pastors about spiritual gifts.  He'd sent out a letter to people reminding them of their gifts and encouraging anyone to come talk to him about how to use them if they weren't sure.  I knew I hadn't been using mine and took him up on the offer.  After that conversation, I've been asked by multiple people at different times--unknown to each other--to lead/teach something.  There are a few women in my community who are interested in reading and discussing A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans (and it would be good to start with something that is ready to go so I have time to write my own material for the future).  I started to get excited; I started to feel as if I was coming alive again, like when I researched and wrote and taught my study guide Called to Influence.  

On the day I am drafting this post, it is actually the second one I've drafted.  I feel energized.  Happy.  Joyful.  There is so much that I want to write and teach and I am so hopeful for opportunities to do so, and am so grateful that there is interest from women in my community who want some of the same things that I do.  Because really, when you are the only one who is interested in something, it can feel pretty lonely.  In the coming year, I want to come fully alive and be authentic.  I want to really learn who I am and encourage other women to learn who they really are and pursue their callings.  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Schism in the Church? Maybe. Maybe Not.

Tony Jones has called for people to leave the church:
The time has come for a schism regarding the issue of women in the church. Those of us who know that women should be accorded full participation in every aspect of church life need to visibly and forcefully separate ourselves from those who do not. Their subjugation of women is anti-Christian, and it should be tolerated no longer.That means:
  • If you attend a church that does not let women preach or hold positions of ecclesial authority, you need to leave that church.
  • If you work for a ministry that does not affirm women in ecclesial leadership, you need to leave that ministry.
  • If you write for a publishing house that also prints books by “complementarians,” you need to take your books to another publishing house.
  • If you speak at conferences, you need to withdraw from all events that do not affirm women as speakers, teachers, and leaders.
I appreciate the sentiment and the boldness that he expresses here.  I see it as a challenge for people who haven't or aren't doing anything about the issue of women to stand up and do something.  There are many people out there who need to see that it isn't an issue to be glossed over; it is about real women with real callings from God who are being held back by other Christians.  

But I do see some difficulties with it.  Although I share his disbelief that this still happens (see my comment here, plus, I never really even knew this happened until early 2000s, and only later learned the word complementarian), it's going to be harder to accomplish than not.

Point 1:  It's not easy to leave a church, especially if there are not that many to choose from in your town.  It's even harder if you have familial ties to it.  And a church that may not officially let women hold positions of ecclesiastical authority is actually one in which I saw men and women working together to lead the church.  Really.  In the Catholic church in which I grew up, the priest and the director of religious education always seemed to me to be a team, working together.  I never saw any indication of hierarchy.  Even though he led mass, she was always participating too, and girls and boys were both allowed to be altar girls and altar boys.  

If one feels he or she cannot leave a church, then one should not sit idly by and should continue to push for women's involvement.  Nominate them as elders/deacons--even if it isn't "allowed".  Keep suggesting opportunities for women speakers.  Give everyone you know a copy of "How I Changed My Mind About Women In Leadership".  Educate others who just don't know.  You don't need permission to have your own small group, so buy the book and discuss it with others.  

Point 2:  Make sure you can line up a new job first.  

Point 3:  This would work for someone who is a popular and established writer.  For me, not so much.  If I was offered a book deal, I'd probably take it no matter what!

Point 4:  Probably the easiest for those who speak for a living, but still definitely a fearful step to take.  

Is Tony's idea totally feasible?  Nope.  But it's a call to action to those who aren't acting.  What will you do?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What Does It Mean to Be Reformed?

A conversation between a member of a church in the RCA, a CRC pastor, and a UMC pastor.  
This is an ongoing conversation that will be hosted between these three blogs:  Renewing Your MindQuaerenda , and Mercy Not Sacrifice .  

Part I: What does it mean to you to be Reformed? 


Christian Doctrine by Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr.
Before I moved to Northwest Iowa, I had little to no exposure to "Reformed Theology".  What I knew about "Reformed" was that Martin Luther started the whole thing.  I knew two pastors of two different Reformed churches but to me, they were simply another Christian denomination.  I knew of John Calvin, but I'd never heard of Abraham Kuyper, and as I prepared to come into this community, I had a conversation with a pastor that I knew in the Christian Reformed Church .  He explained to me some various ideas about "Reformed" and as he spoke, I kept interrupting him to ask questions such as, "that's like the Methodist idea of..." or "isn't that like when the Catholics say..."
Later, to my surprise, I found out that one of the denominations in which I have roots, the United Church of Christ , has roots in the Reformed tradition.  Out here in Internet Land, Reformed most often is equated with Calvinist and the idea of double-predestination, and then Calvinist is in opposition to Armininan.  The names associated with Reformed are John Piper and Mark Driscoll.  But people I know in person in this Reformed area haven't even heard of them!  I've seen a lot of negative thought regarding Reformed, and I am inclined to say "but that's not my experience."  This is not to discount those who have had negative experiences and that have been hurt by other people and congregations who are Reformed, but rather to say there’s a lot out there that people experience differently—good and bad—Reformed or not.
Christian Doctrine by Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr.
Unlike Kelly, I grew up in the Reformed tradition. I was raised in Gibson Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan, attended private Christian schools based on Reformed theology, received my bachelor’s degree from Calvin College and later my M.Div from Calvin Theological Seminary, the official institutions of the CRC. My life has been inundated with Reformed thought for as long as I can remember. As a teenager I learned Catechism on Sunday mornings and Reformed doctrine in high school Bible classes.
I often have to remind myself that to those unfamiliar with the Reformed tradition, this can all sound like a bit much.
This backdrop has shaped who I am today and colors the way that I view the world. I readily admit that my experience is not the universal experience of folks in the Reformed tradition. While I have found Reformed theology to be a wonderful home for profound theological wrestling, deep engagement with the breadth and depth of the world, and an impetus for serious academic study, others have found in Reformed faith little to energize them or, worse, have endured intense pain (or even abuse) at the hands of some within the broader Reformed community. I can only share my own experience with the Reformed tradition.
I currently pastor a Christian Reformed Church with many folks attending our church who are faculty and students at Dordt College, a college in the Reformed tradition. Our church is shaped heavily by the Reformed emphasis, but, due to the large number of faculty, we have a strong theoretical and academic bent to our Reformed perspective.
I attend a Reformed Church that is part of the Reformed Church in America.  Our church website has a section about "accepting Christ".  Sunday morning worship has a very contemporary, Evangelical feel to it.  We use a variety of resources for classes, regardless of whether or not they are "Reformed", such as " Emotionally Healthy Spirituality", " The Story ", " Apprentice".  My pastor recently commented how doubt is an important part of faith, and that church should be the place where people should feel free to ask questions and wrestle with that doubt.  The men’s group my husband goes to just read a book in which the author wrote about his dislike for the “doctrine of unqualified submission taught by so many Christians and churches today” which definitely does not fall into the hierarchical/patriarchical view that many people associate with Reformed. 
The truth is, of course, that the Reformed camp is a rather large place. At the core, I’m not sure it’s even possible to come up with a cogent definition that would include all of those who self-define as “Reformed” Christians. I refer to the Reformed “tradition” because to me, being Reformed is as much about finding my place in a broader story than about being able to adhere to any specific theological doctrines.
I appreciate that a lot, because even though I am a member of an RCA church, my background is multi-denominational, plus I’ve also been influenced by my Jewish friends, so I tend to dislike having a definitive label, other than Christian, for myself.  I’ve also been reading a book I have, Christian Doctrine, by Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr. in which he says that “there is no one authoritative statement of faith to which all Reformed churches subscribe” and “There is plenty of room in the Reformed family…for individual differences and freedom of movement” (page 17). He believes that in order to be Reformed and Always Reforming, we need to constantly be looking at and questioning what individuals and denominations and creedal documents teach in order to find freedom and truth.  That’s very different from the popular perspective that Reformed are not allowed to question anything or anyone. 
My Reformed tradition is heavily marked by some key phrases. Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda (“The reformed church must always be reformed”), for instance. Or fides quaerens intellectum (“faith seeking understanding”) – and yes, that phrase predates our typical understanding of “Reformed” but that’s why we call it a tradition. Or Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch of creation over which Christ does not claim, ‘This is mine.’”
To me, being Reformed is about a posture of openness.
In my limited Reformed experience, that is something I have noticed.  As I said earlier, the church I attend uses a lot of materials from sources that aren’t just “Reformed”.  And one thing I’ve appreciated at Dordt College is their invitations to many non-Reformed speakers (see First MondaysThe Christian Evasion of Popular Culture ).  I had originally had a slight fear that it would be “this is the way it is and that’s that” but what I have instead learned is that it is more “let’s talk with others, let’s listen, let’s have a dialogue.”  The other day a Reformed pastor and I were talking about parenting and I’d commented on some parenting workshops I’d been to and how beneficial they were as opposed to some Christian-specific mothers stuff I had gone to, and he said that all truth is God’s truth, and I really appreciated that.  In some Christian circles, it sometimes seems that if it isn’t outwardly/obviously Christian (like having a Jesus fish on a store’s sign or something like that), then it is somehow inferior.  But what this pastor said, I think, goes along well with your earlier quote from Kuyper.
That idea points to the heavy emphasis on the sovereignty of God which is at the heart of Reformed thought, which declares boldly that God can and does speak through the wonders of the created world and that we are humbly utterly dependent upon God to break through into our brokenness with the healing of Jesus Christ.  It has the audacity to say that this world was created to bring honor and glory to God and so should be respected, cared for, and lovingly stewarded. It declares that Christ invites us into the experience of resurrected life, to experience foretastes of that coming Kingdom, and to join God in the mission of transforming all spheres of society into the vision of God’s Kingdom.  Being Reformed means that I am constantly being re-formed, constantly shaped by the experiences of this life and my walk of faith.
Since I spent some time in a United Methodist Church and briefly attended Asbury Theological Seminary, that sounds very Wesleyan to me!  John Wesley developed what is now known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which is about using Scripture, Tradition, Reason, & Experience together. 
I appreciate that. Before accepting the call to my current position, I worked in campus ministry at Michigan State University. Our (Reformed) campus ministry for graduate students welcomed students from across the denominational spectrum. We had folks who self-identified as Lutheran, Charismatic, Methodist, and everything in between. I frequently heard students say, “Our denominations are a lot more similar than I ever realized.”
To me, “Reformed” is less about a difference in theological or doctrinal positions and more about the posture with which I walk, the accent with which I speak, and the color in which I view the world.
I walk with a posture of humility, fully cognizant of my own limitations and the way in which human finitude and fallenness affects even my best intentions. Yet I walk without fear into critical Biblical scholarship, into scientific discovery, into bold philosophy, and into the intricacies of classical theater, trusting that God is there.
Please stay tuned for Part II, where Morgan Guyton questions us about Reformed thought and the problem of evil & the fall.
You also should read Rachel Held Evans' "Ask a Reformed Pastor" interview with Jes Kast-Keat.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Poor Me and Amazing Me by Anita Mathias

Sometimes, going through my Facebook newsfeed, I see two narratives: Poor Me and Amazing Me.

Poor Me status updates are largely negative: ill-health, the misadventures of children, looming deadlines, crushing work loads, exhaustion, the intransigence of schools, employers, medical services; the inadequacy of tax-payer money funnelled towards their needs,  the anguish of the entitled!

And then, on the other hand, there are Amazing Me status updates. Amazing Me won a prize; travelled to Antarctica, conjured up this gourmet creation, pulled off this domestic Goddess feat, moved mountains today, oh Amazing Me!
* * *

We started playing these roles in our childhoods. In my childhood, Poor Me would have met with no sympathy. I would have been scolded for whatever led to my Poor Me plight. Why did you allow yourself to gain weight? Get sick? Get writers’ block? Fail? Go, do something about it. Run a mile. Eat vegetables. Write a page. 

And I too get impatient with Poor Me, and come up with solutions. (Though, of course, I am silent, and my tears flow freely when there are no solutions, an incurable illness like motor neurone disease, say, an inoperable tumour, or the sudden death of a loved one.)

Amazing Me was the script I was expected to follow in childhood. Amazing me, always winning prizes; Amazing Me, dazzling my teachers; Amazing Me, achieving, achieving, achieving.
* * *

Poor Me and Amazing Me have this in common. They are both symptoms of emptiness. They both want something from other people. Poor Me wants attention—and sympathy. Amazing Me also wants attention--and praise. Both their cups are half-empty, the one who proclaims the emptiness of her cup, and the one who declares her cup runneth over, but still wants affirmation from other people.

* * *
In middle age, I am less interested in old scripts. I am not interested in Poor Me. When people Poor Me me, I hate it. I want to shake off their sympathy, which feels like a clog on my feet (though in the case of tragedy I can do nothing about, yeah, I will accept sympathy, and cry on your shoulder, if I can).

And when I tend to Amazing Me, on the days I am smart, I remind myself of the eternal fountain always flowing, flowing to fill all empty places.

And I tell myself, “Anita, you are indeed Amazing Me because you are a child of God. You are Amazing Me because you can climb into his lap and lean on his shoulder. You are Amazing Me because he sings over you; you are Amazing Me because he protects you; you are Amazing Me because no matter what goes wrong, he comforts you. You are Amazing Me because when you blow it, he puts his arms around you, and blows his spirit into you, fills you with the water of the Holy Spirit to overflowing. You are Amazing Me because he patches you together again, and you are as good as new.  You are Amazing Me because he will take you to places you never dreamed you’ll go.  You are Amazing Me because he loves you.

Anita Mathias is the author of Wandering Between Two Worlds (Benediction Classics, 2007) and blogs at Dreaming Beneath the Spires, 

A winner of an NEA writing fellowship, Anita now lives in Oxford, England with her husband, Roy, and daughters, Zoe and Irene. Visit her at Facebook at Dreaming Beneath the Spires or on Twitter @anitamathias1.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cats, Emily Dickinson, & Christian Celebrity Culture

Photo Credit: David Schell
This is the November synchroblog for The Despised Ones, a collective of bloggers.  Leave your link about Christian Celebrity at the linkup at the end of this post.  

I love cats, and I love mysteries, so when a great-aunt Emma gave me my first The Cat Who... mystery, I was hooked.  The series is written by Lilian Jackson Braun and mainly takes place in fictional Pickaxe, likely somewhere in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  In The Cat Who Said Cheese, the protagonist Jim Qwilleran refers to Emily Dickinson's poem "I'm Nobody, who are you?"  

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us -- don't tell!
They'd banish -- you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one's name the livelong day
To an admiring bog! 

In his newspaper column, he writes that "we crave heroes to admire and emulate, and what do we get?  A parade of errant politicians, mad exhibitionists, wicked heiresses, temperamental artists, silly risk-takers, overpaid athletes, untalented entertainers, non-authors of non-books..." (page 5).

Emily Dickinson was a nobody until after she was dead. So were Vincent Van Gogh, Jane Austen, Dracula, martyrs, and even Jesus (thanks to my Twitter followers for all the suggestions!).  Yet today, we have a lot of Somebodies.  We even have them in Christian culture.  Yes, I know, you're shocked.  Christians are supposed to be meek and mild and humble and not call any attention to themselves, right?  

We all want to be noticed, to be seen.  In When We Were on Fire, Addie Zierman wrote about how in over a year of attending a house church, she still felt as if she wasn't seen.  Nobody could really see what she was going through and feeling.  I remember one time a few years ago I emailed a Somebody to thank him for writing his latest book.  He emailed me back--which I was not expecting at all--and I was giddy.  On Twitter, I've been excited when a Somebody starts following me, as if their following me gives me worth.  And when they actually respond to a tweet or an email, it's even better.  And I think we each want some of that celebrity, too.  That's why we work on "platform building", so that people will take notice of us so that we can get the message out there that we believe we are called to give.  And we get jealous when someone else has what we want.  Other people get the attention for being a great writer or great speaker and are in high demand.  Well, at least, I do feel jealous at times.  And so, I sometimes stop myself from blogging or commenting on blogs in order to check my motivations.  

I think that there is a difference in how we are seen or how we want to be seen.  And sometimes, we might start off with good intentions and say "I only want to bring glory to God" or "I just want people to see Jesus in me, not myself".  I think those intentions might be hard to stick with.  The more attention we get, the more we are tempted to make it all about ourselves, despite what we say.  And then the more we get connected with other Somebodies, the more we forget about our past as a Nobody, and the more we forget to look and see the Nobodies out there, because they are invisible to us.  We do not see them.  We do see them because they haven't become a Somebody.  And yet God is different.  He sees the Nobodies.  In Genesis 16, we have Hagar, who who ran away into the wilderness after Sarai treated her harshly when Hagar acted haughty because she was pregnant and Sarai was not.  She is miserable and sitting by a spring of water, alone, when she encounters God, and God tells her to return.  Throughout her misery, God sees her and she names him The God Who Sees.  The God who sees.  El Roi saw through her pain and heartache.  He saw her when she was scared and lonely and had nowhere to run, nobody to turn to.  

She was a Nobody, but Somebody saw her.  

And we have the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well.  She's an outcast, a Nobody, coming to the well in the heat of the day, and Jesus sees her and gives her living water (John 4).  Or the man at Beth-Zatha who was ill for thirty-eight years, and Jesus saw him and made him well (John 5).  Or the man blind from birth, who Jesus sees and then heals so that he can see, too (John 9).  Or when Mary pours expensive perfume on him and Jesus sees beyond the cost of it to look ahead to his burial (John 12).  Or, after his resurrection, he sees the pain and sorrow of Mary Magdalene, and tells her he is there, and then she announces the good news that she has seen the Lord (John 20).

When it comes to Christian celebrity, it can be both a blessing and a curse.  How do we balance all of this?  How do we stay faithful to our callings when attention comes our way?  How can we be like Jesus and see people who the world deems Nobodies?  How can we use Christian celebrity to see others as Jesus did?  

Also, feel free to add more examples of Nobodies in the comments!

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: When We Were On Fire by Addie Zierman

I received a copy of When We Were On Fire  by Addie Zierman for free in order to write this review.

I really wasn't sure I was interested in reading Addie's book at first.  I'm a little burned out on reading and writing, and I honestly didn't think I'd relate to it; I thought it was more for others who grew up evangelical too and had struggled with it.  I am glad to say that I was wrong.

While I did not grow up in the same type of evangelical culture as Addie, I smiled at so many of her general references to the 1990s because I remembered them as well.

Although Addie's book is about growing up evangelical, it's not only about being evangelical.  Anyone who has been a teenage girl infatuated with an older boy can relate to that aspect of Addie's story.  Anyone who has turned to alcohol can relate to that part of Addie's story.  Anyone who has felt depressed and didn't know why and wasn't sure what exactly is wrong with them can relate to that part of Addie's story.  it's a story about being evangelical and the expectations that come with it, yes, but it is also a story about common painful experiences in life, no matter what one's faith, and that is the most important part of the story.

It is a story about a woman finding her voice and her identity.  It is a story about love and loss and faith and doubt.  It's a story about questions in faith and life.  It's a story about finding one's place in the world.  It's a story about belonging and about not belonging.  it's a story about loss and heartache and joy and redemption.  it's a story about growing up and changing in life.

Addie's book is so beautifully written.  Her writing has a poetic quality to it that makes the reader enjoy not only the story but the choice of words and how they are arranged.  This book is probably the most heart-wrenchingly honest memoir I have read and it surprised me at times at exactly how honest Addie is about her past struggles.  

This book should be a must-read for both pastors and youth pastors to enable them to see into people in their congregations that they are perhaps missing.  There is a lot of hidden pain in people in church--inflicted both by those outside the church as well as inside the church, and the more that pastors can be aware of that, the better.  

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Why I Haven't Been Blogging

I haven't blogged regularly in months.  There are many reasons for this and I figured I'd write about them today.

  • My older son started full-day Kindergarten this fall so there are a lot of school papers and notices and activities to keep up with.  This also means my younger son is home alone with me.  So I spend all day with a three-year-old who doesn't have his big brother to play with anymore.  He's a handful.  I find things like his lunch under a blanket on the couch or his drink behind the couch.   Or cookies with a bite or two taken out of them on the platter.  He loves to talk and ask questions.  And did I mention he is three?
  • The usual household stuff: laundry (lots), grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning.
  • I've been gone two weekends to go to weddings and even just making a short trip is a lot of work with a 6 & 3 year old.  
  • I've been doing a lot of cooking and baking.  Each week during the fall we host college students for spaghetti, homemade sauce, homemade bread, and chocolate chip cookies (see above comment about the three year old and cookies).  It's not just any college students.  Football players (especially Offensive Linemen) eat a lot.  A LOT.
  • These kids go through a LOT of laundry that constantly needs to be done.
  • I'm not not-writing.  When I have found time to write, I've been working on a novel.  It's been a wonderful creative outlet for me and I am excited to be writing it.  I don't know when I will finish or if it will ever make it to publication, but I love it and am enjoying it.  I am thankful that the fiction writers in my writing group inspired me to rediscover a love for fiction.
  • I've been doing some social media management/marketing/graphic design stuff for a non-profit on a volunteer basis.
  • I've been doing some social media management stuff for an athletic team.
  • I've been doing some social media management for "The Despised Ones" blogging collective. 
  • I've been doing some volunteer stuff for my son's class & school
  • I (attempt to) attend a weekly women's Bible Study and I have another small group on Sunday evenings in addition to regular church on Sunday mornings.
  • I have gotten somewhat burned out on blogging (though I still love writing).  The blogging world is so fast-paced, so competitive, so if-you-are-not-doing-this-you-will-fail, somewhat cliquish, and I wonder what I am doing and why I am doing it.  I don't think and write fast enough to react to other posts and events out there.  I read posts that make me think "yeah, I already wrote about that" or "that's what I wanted to say" and there are people who probably read mine and think "yeah, I figured that out already and wrote about it 10 years ago".  It sometimes seems as if "there is nothing new under the sun".
  • And speaking of Ecclesiastes, I have a post about it that has turned into a series that is still in draft form--it started as just a few hundred words reflecting, and then ended up at 2000-3000 words, and led me to listening to a Peter Rollins talk on Ecclesiastes which led me to reading his book Insurrection.  I also have other draft posts--I just don't feel it is all that urgent to post them until I think some more about what exactly my writing calling IS.  So I will post periodically (hosting synchroblogs for The Despised Ones, a collaborative post I am working on with a friend, etc.) and may have more time to write around Thanksgiving and Christmas (but even so, I may use that time to work on my novel and not blog).  
So that's why the blog has been pretty silent lately.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Are We Doing Leadership Wrong?

This post is to participate in October's synchroblog topic for "The Despised Ones" blogging collective.  The questions asked were:

  • What does cruciform leadership look like? 
  • Should we even use the word "leadership" or should people who are catalysts, visionaries, teachers, etc, only think of themselves as "servants" instead?
  • Or answer another question of your choosing that is related to leadership.

I'm not even sure my post will answer the questions, but it is a post that I've been trying to finish writing since August.  Please feel free to link up to the synchroblog at the bottom of this post.  I'm hoping I set it up correctly and that it will work!


Back in August, I attended a satellite location for Willow Creek's Global Leadership Summit.  Like most introverts, I needed time to think about and absorb the information with which I was presented.

One big question I had as I sat through all the talks was "what do I do with this now?"  I was the only non-staff/non-elder person from my church who attended.  Another attendee commented through the conference hashtag about "leading up" and in the home, and while I agree with those, I still wonder about them (and besides, for people who believe women can't be leaders what do they do in the home, anyway?!).  

Despite having written a study guide about women in leadership, I don't have a lot of expertise in the area of leadership theory.  I have only read a handful of leadership books.  But it struck me, as I saw the crowd on the screen that was at Willow Creek and knew there were hundreds of satellite locations, that for many reasons, people crave this information and want to be leaders.  But I do wonder what that means.  

When I first learned that there were leadership books and leadership conferences, it kind of perplexed me.  I thought, don't people just know how to treat others who work for them?  Apparently not, because I have worked for some bad bosses.  I've worked for some who are control freaks, and whenever they would leave work for me to do, there would be a "see me" note on it, so that for each task I would have to go and have them explain it to me.  That way, they could know when I was starting it and how long it took me to do it.  In this office, we all had typewriters in our individual offices, and the two or three computers were all in one room, so that they would know who was using the computer, when, and the reason it was being used.  At another job, I had a friend who requested to come to work 15-20  minutes late each morning in order to get her kids on the school bus so they wouldn't be alone.  She offered to take the time off her lunch hour.  Her request was denied and she eventually left and took another job that enabled her to have that flexibility.  And these supervisors in both situations?  Christians.

We often think of leaders as exuberant, outgoing, energetic people--the stereotypical extroverted leader.  And that's probably one big reason why I have never really considered myself a "leader"--I am an introvert, and I like to think for a while about things before I respond, and being with a lot of people is draining.  I'll never be the "life of the party" (I hope that doesn't make me sound too boring!)

Something I noticed is that people like to talk about servant leadership and turning leadership upside down and leading where you are and not really striving to be someone who is a Big Deal.  But then I'll see that people who are invited to speak at conferences are people who are Big Deals.  And the examples I read recently in a leadership book were all Big Deals and doing Big Things.  What message does that send to the Small Deal Leader?  The person who is considered a Nobody?  Do we ever hear from leaders who are leading from another angle or "lower level" or do we only hear from them when they become Big?  Sometimes, it seems as if the advice that everyone is leading and everyone can be a leader and do it where you are is to placate those who are not "in charge" of something.  And I've appreciated that sentiment in my own life.  When I heard the idea that leadership is influence, it made me feel better about myself and my situation in life.


How many leaders on top are really going to practice a model of "everyone's a leader"?  Is the CEO of a company going to delegate decision-making to the janitor who cleans her office?  Is a pastor going to open up the weekly sermon time for anyone who wants to give one?  Is a coach going to let the players decide how to run things?  It's pretty unlikely that these will happen, and so even though we have all these grand ideas about leadership being about more than being "in charge", people still often need someone to be in charge, to step up and make decisions, to organize the group, or at least lead the discussion about how a group should be organized.  

I thought an article in Christianity Today made some great points about this that made me rethink looking at leadership simply as "influence".  Paul Pastor writes:

"We pay lip service to servant leadership, but still structure our communities like the outside kingdom. There's a problem in our formation if we don't recognize the danger of this.
And there lies the true leadership crisis in the church. We face the same problem that we always have, the same problem that James and John (desiring to be young influentials) fell prey to when they desired glory at the right and left hands of the Enthroned Christ instead of longing to join the Servant-king in the empty place of true leadership.  
You see, there has always been a crisis of leadership in the church. It is this: few of those Christians called to lead seem to embrace Christ's model of leadership. Why? We cannot drink Christ's cup.

Many of our churches are still structured with the pastor who gives the Sunday sermon as the leader, even if there is some sort of board that also leads.  Often, this ends up working itself out as one (or a few) people with a specific vision for a specific location with which other people need to get on board.  Mike Breen wrote about this recently in which he said that this is called "plug and play" leadership, and he challenged readers to imagine what it would be like for various leaders from the Bible to step foot inside this church and volunteer.  Where would the be placed?  As ushers?  Sunday School teachers teaching prescribed curriculum?  Is that what we can see Paul or Priscilla doing in the local church today?  

Jesus' leadership example was to give up power and to die (Philippians 2:5-8).  Yet that is not what any of us really do--or want to do.  We want to stay in control because we have ideas about how things should be.  I know I do!  I don't like giving up control (especially if I feel I haven't really attained the level of it that I would like).  And so, if I think of leadership in those terms, it is leadership in a finite sense.  All of our leadership plans, at some point, should probably die so that new ones from others can be born.  If one's influence or leadership becomes so great that the message presented becomes about the messenger instead, it's probably a good time to take a look at what is going on.  I think back to a church I attended at one time where I thought I heard more people talk about how much they loved the pastor and what the pastor said than they did about Jesus.  It concerned me then and it still concerns me now.   When God called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt, Moses didn't want to do it.  He couldn't speak well.  But God still chose him.  Maybe, just maybe, it is for that very reason.  Because if Moses had been an eloquent speaker, and fit into the type of leader that we tend to glorify today, who would have gotten the attention:  Moses or God?

 If what I say or write is making people talk about me instead of about Jesus, instead of about exploring their faith, instead of relating with others and further finding out what it means to have an abundant life, then I am doing it wrong.  

What about you?
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Friday, August 23, 2013

Speaking the Truth In Love

A few minutes ago, Rachel Held Evans asked this on Twitter: 

Do you think it's even possible to "speak the truth in love" to someone you don't actually know & love but to some general, faceless group?

I don't really think it is possible, and I also wondered what it would look like to to combine that idea with the definition/description of love we get in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5. To refresh our memories, it is:

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful...

So, speaking the truth in love is...
  • Speaking the truth patiently.
  • Speaking the truth kindly.
  • Speaking the truth without envy.
  • Speaking the truth without boasting.
  • Speaking the truth without being arrogant about it.
  • Speaking the truth politely.
  • Speaking the truth unselfishly.
  • Speaking the truth good-naturedly.
  • Speaking the truth without resent.

When any of us think or claim to be speaking the truth to someone, is this how it is done? Or is it usually done in the opposite way? How can we be better truth-speakers in love?

Edited to add:

An additional thought I just had is that since Jesus says HE is the truth (John 14:6 6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.), then how do we speak Jesus to others in love? Do we follow the description of love above, or do we beat people over the head?

Friday, August 16, 2013

I Once Was...But Now I've Found... an interview at Tyler Tully's "The Jesus Event"

When Tyler Tully asked if he could interview me for his "I once was...but now I've found..." series, I said sure, but I was a little perplexed as to what the topic could be.  I never had any sort of major moment of conversion that is popular in much of evangelical Christianity and although I left church for a time as a teenager and came back, I never really felt it was that momentous and didn't completely redefine my faith or who I was.  So we came up with the idea of exploring the ecumenical Christian journey I've been on since, well, birth.

Kelly, you were raised in an ecumenical environment, where you were exposed to different flavors of Christian worship and practice. Why were you exposed to that type of cultivation, and what did you enjoy most about it?

I was exposed to ecumenism because my parents had always gone to different churches and that didn’t stop when they got married.  My dad was Catholic and my mom was Protestant (United Church of Christ).  I guess they wanted us to be able to go to both rather than picking one.  I was even baptized in both of them–on the same day!  I can’t say that as a child I enjoyed anything about it; it was more of an annoyance to often go to both churches every week (Saturday night Catholic mass and Sunday morning Protestant church service) but as an adult I have greatly appreciated it because it helped me to understand from an early age that no one denomination is perfect or right about everything.  I do remember as a child that when we would say the Lord’s Prayer, I would recite it the opposite way of the church I was in (the versions were slightly different) and when we would recite the Nicene creed in the Catholic church, I wouldn’t say the line about believing in one holy catholic church, because to me, I went to two churches that were equally valid.  I didn’t know then that catholic in that context meant universal.

To read the rest of the interview, in which Tyler asks me about church shopping, modesty culture, college ministry, and the future of the church, please visit "The Jesus Event".

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Worth Reading Wednesday: Millenials Edition

Millenials (I am not one; I'm in Generation X) have been a big topic on the Internet lately, so I've compiled a list of some of the articles/posts I've read.  There have been way more written than I've compiled here, so if you've read a good one I've missed, please add it in the comments.  

The One That Started it All:

A Variety of Responses:

Millenials Have Kids by Mandy Meisenheimer

Why We Left the Church by Micah J. Murray

Why Millenials Need the Church by Rachel Held Evans

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Toning it Down (Part II about tone)

This is the second part in a series about tone.  You can read the first part of this series here.
I learned that the right thing said in the wrong way is the wrong thing.  --Brad Lomenick, The Catalyst Leader
A while ago, in a private Facebook group to which I belong, I had a conversation with two women I know pretty much only through that group.  The topic was safe places on blogs, blog comments, anger, abuse, etc.  It was a fairly fluid conversation.  One of the women I was a little familiar with before this group, and the other not at all.  Prior to this group and conversation, my impression of one was semi-negative, due to the tone that I had sensed from reading at her website. 

During part of the conversation, there was some disagreement between people, but I noticed that it was always done in a respectful and caring way.  Nobody's anger got the better of them.  There were no temper-tantrums or fights.  It was peaceful, loving disagreement, and there was more to it, too.  In part of the conversation, I commented to one person that "When I periodically read [your website], I didn't really care for it. BUT, I have really, really appreciated getting to know you in this group and knowing more the *person* you are rather than the you as [your website]."  I was really scared to say that, because I didn't want to come across as criticizing her or the tone of her website, and I didn't want to come across as having some kind of arrogant or superior tone in saying it.  

What I learned from participating in this group and conversation was that I had probably pre-judged her without really realizing what I was doing.  I didn't know her past.  I didn't know her present either, really.  I just formed an opinion from what I read online, much of it due to tone, and assumed I had her figured out.  But I didn't.  

Throughout the conversation, we engaged with each other and learned about each other and listened to each other. 

And at the end, I was sitting at my computer with a smile on my face, and I felt like we should have a big group hug.  

The conversation stood out to me because there is so much negativity online and it's very easy to dismiss people when we dislike them, think we dislike them, or make assumptions about them or their writing.  And that is exactly what didn't happen in this conversation.  

I'm not sure why in some places--yes, even Christian ones--the conversations turn towards anger and disdain and in some places, like this example of mine, they don't.  Perhaps it was just that in that particular moment in time, we all were willing to set aside our own potential agendas or pronouncements or egos and just listen to what each other had to say.  We didn't use angry or rude or sarcastic tones with each other.  

I believe that part of the reason this conversation worked so well was because we were not using angry or dismissive tones with each other.   I know that if we had, I would not have been as willing to listen.  Maybe that is a fault on my part.  Maybe I should be willing to dismiss tone.  But when I think about it and how I want to present myself, I know that tone is important to me.  I hope that I don't ever default to writing in an angry tone, because for me, as a reader and writer, I find that the message is not as well-received.  I still believe tone shouldn't be dismissed as unimportant, because it does have an effect.  But we can all try a little harder to think of the whole person behind the writing--as I have to often remind myself to do.  

In that conversation, some of the fruits of the spirit that I wrote about in the first part of this series, were present in all of us.  We were loving toward each other.  We were patient with each other.  We were kind and gentle with each other.  We utilized self-control.  

I can't explain it, but the way our conversation went made me believe it was one of healing, redemption, and understanding.  It made me realize that although we were in different physical locations around the country, we were still in one place together, and it reminded me of Jesus' words in Matthew 18:20 "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."  Whatever our backgrounds, whatever our present lives are like, whatever our theological or political thoughts are, whatever our futures hold, in that moment in time, Jesus was present with us.  And that, I think, is what all of us in this Christian blogosphere should keep at the forefront of our minds and hearts.  Is Jesus present when we are gathered together this way, or not?