Sunday, February 23, 2014

Back to Seminary?

Back in January, Caris Adel and I had a conversation about seminary, and I semi-joked that "if a seminary wanted to give me a full scholarship and let me do it ALL online and take many, many years, then I'd consider going back".  My reasoning for this is that with two young children and having moved multiple times, all online would work the best for my lifestyle and would cut out a lot of hassle.  However, it's uncommon to have an all-online seminary program.  Most require travel once or twice a year for one to two weeks at a time.  So I didn't think it was feasible so I wasn't being all that serious.

Then I saw this tweet the other day that caught my attention:
I looked and saw that Western Theological Seminary's Master of Arts degree can be done completely online, and half of the classes are electives.  I immediately filled out the inquiry form and can't wait to get the information in the mail.

Since last fall, we've been going through "The Story" at church.  The questions from the discussion guide that I have related to have all been about waiting and calling, such as:
  • Joseph waited two years in prison for someone to remember him and send help. Tell about a time you waited for months or years on an answer from the Lord.  How did you make it through this long season of waiting?
  • When God called Jeremiah to serve him, he assured him that his plan had been in place since Jeremiah was in his mother's womb.  In the New Testament we learn that God has a plan for each of us who follow him.  How has God gifted and called you to serve him and how are you following this call?  How can your group members pray for you and cheer you on as you seek to follow God with greater faithfulness and passion?
When I first began seminary, I started an M.Div. program, but it never really sat well with me.  I knew God was calling me to seminary, but to what program wasn't exactly clear, and I was never all that interested in becoming ordained, even though I initially began the process.  I never got very far in either of them before I quit

This morning, I talked with one of my pastors about a little bit about this possibility, and he commented that I had a bounce in my step.  It was true.  I am feeling happy and excited about starting to pursue higher education again.  I have written on this blog a few times about how I believe God was behind us moving here, in ways that I just cannot explain, and that it's been difficult for me to be only a stay-at-home-mom because I loved my last part-time job so much.  I have been patient, knowing that at some point, an opportunity would present itself.    

I spent some time journaling this morning, and looked through my Bible for a verse to help me focus and decided on this:
"I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you..."  --Ephesians 1:17-18
It's only the beginning of exploring this option, and there will be many questions to be asked and a lot to think about before making a decision.  But the path that has seemed so dark for so long is lightening up, and doors are beginning to open, even if just a crack.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review of Jennie Allen's "Restless" Curriculum

I received a free copy of this study after being contacted by a publicist, for the purposes of this review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

The study is eight lessons (including one introductory lesson) that can be used in small or large groups, and there are different tools available (the video, the conversation cards) to allow the study be flexible.

Leader's Guide
The Leader's Guide is easy to understand and follow.  There is a repeated emphasis on the leader needing to be open, authentic, and vulnerable.  If this is difficult for a person, my recommendation would be for the leader(s) to do the study with each other ahead of time to feel more comfortable.  Unfortunately, this guide did not correct the misconception that was in the guide for Chase that shyness and introversion are the same thing (page 18).  Introverts like to think before answering and that is why we may be quiet.  I know my input may be valuable in a group setting and I need time to formulate what I am going to say. Don't call on introverts before they are ready. A lack of talking is not the same as a lack of interest and does not mean she is holding the group back!  Just because a group member does not verbally participate as much as the others does not need a talking to!  Forced vulnerability is not ideal.

Participant's Guide
The Participant's Guide is also easy to follow.  It is set up in sections:
  • short story/essay by the author
  • reading and questions of a portion of scripture from Scripture
  • other verses and more personal questions
  • a "project" that could involve journaling or drawing
  • conclusion, with more questions

The DVD sessions are a good length, ranging from 18-24 minutes.  I wasn't crazy about some of the presentation and I have some different theological views than some of what is presented and I got confused at times where I thought she was contradicting herself--though this could likely be due to our differing theological perspectives.  I really liked the setting of the videos; it was designed to be a bright and welcoming atmosphere.

Conversation Cards
As with the last time, I wasn't crazy about the conversation cards.  While they had some good questions on them, I'd rather see them included in the study guide so that participants have the opportunity to write down or even journal their thoughts about them instead of just answering them off the top of their heads.

Overall Impressions
There is so much great stuff in this study that both women and men can benefit from, so it's a little too bad it is only marketed toward women.  So many people are restless and wondering what to do with their lives (Bill Hybel's 2007 book, Holy Discontent, similarly explores this idea)  Throughout the participant's guide, there are so many fantastic questions that work to get people to think about what their dreams are and what is holding them back.  It really makes people be introspective, which means that if this study is done in a group where people do not know each other well, it may not have the intended effect.  Some of the questions are:
  • When was the last time you dreamt about doing something specific in your life?
  • Are you coming into this study with any hurt and disappointment regarding your dreams?
  • Describe some of the tensions that occur when many unique pieces are challenged to worth together as one body for one purpose.
  • Do you think this restlessness is discontentment or a restlessness from God wanting to move you toward more?
The idea that we should look at what our dreams and gifts are and what is holding us back is something we should all evaluate (and not just once in our lives, either) and that is the strength of this study.  The "projects" included in each session are valuable tools; they point people to some specific ways of evaluating their lives.  

What I found lacking, however, was the tie-in to the life of Joseph.  There are a few places where I found myself confused as to the conclusions she came to, such as "Joseph hoped his gifts were for his own glory" (64) or relating Joseph's experience in Egypt to Jesus' command to his followers to make disciples in Matthew 28:16-20 (page 103).

There were also a couple of places where a distinction was made between genders, which I found to be quite unnecessary.   On page 56, she writes about a friend who is strong and wonders "Why would he give a woman all this strength?" and on page 67 she describes Joseph as "an excellent leader, good with people, and great with business and strategy", but goes on to say "these were his strengths as a man" (emphasis mine).  I would say that the first question does not need the qualifier of "woman".  The question is "Why would he give a person all this strength?" and the answer is "to use it!"  For the second, the strengths are not Joseph's strengths as a man but rather, simply just his strengths.  

I think that in addition to people feeling "Restless", once they find their gifts and passions, there needs to be a place for them to use them.  To go through this study and have a better understanding of one's identity and gifts is fantastic, but there are too many times when doors get shut in people's faces, and that's discouraging.  If women are to be encouraged and equipped and unleashed, there needs to be openness and a place for them to do what they are called to do.  For example, if a woman goes through this study and realizes she is gifted and called to be a pastor, and her denomination forbids it, then she is likely still going to be "Restless".  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Tender Thaw, by Caris Adel

Be honest.  Be vulnerable.  It’s home group, small group, community group, so it’s safe here.  This is how you build strong friendships.  Real community, the growth of the church, depends on it – no secrets.  We can be honest here.  What’s said in group stays in group.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see

Be Brave and Roar are radio anthems, and advertising campaigns cash in on being true to yourself.  But do we really believe this?

Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know

When people assume that ‘because Jesus’, we can be honest and true, that we all have stories, so of course we can be in relationship together – it makes you wonder if they have ever held a story they didn't agree with.

Be the good girl you always have to be…

Of course we all have stories, and it’s so easy to be honest when we’re wearing gloves.  But what about when the gloves come off and the gift is revealed, and it looks so much like a curse and you just don’t understand?

Are people aware that there are so many humans out there who can’t or won’t handle vulnerability with the care it deserves?

My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around…

When we finally break through the lies and fears we have been taught, when we finally fall in love with who we were made to be – we may find ourselves alone on the mountaintop.

Here I stand and here I stay….

Except you can’t stay.  When you come alive, it won’t remain a magical movie moment.  Oh yes, stand on that mountain and let it all go – enjoy that moment of freedom.  Cling to it.  Remember it.

Because when you find yourself in the valley, people will still want you to hide. 

Accepting yourself is such a tender thing.  We walk around gingerly, afraid if someone touches us the wrong way, we’ll bleed all over.  No one wants blood and drama and mess in community!  That’s a recipe for disunity, dissension, disagreement, and who’s been taught to handle conflict well?

So how do you know?  How do you know who is going to be Hans or who is going to be Kristoff?

You have no idea who will fight for you and who will abandon you.  You can’t know if that friendly face will shatter once they know your truths.

‘Because Jesus’ does not solve the trauma of soul destruction.  If anything, so often, Jesus becomes the weapon.

Oh honesty, vulnerability, freedom.  What thin ice you are to walk on.

Let the storm rage on

But being alive is stepping onto the ice even though, and even because it cracks, because you know the waters underneath will be their own form of redemption.

The cold never bothered me anyway

What is this life we've been given, we've chosen? 

If only people knew the fragility all around.

When people talk so nonchalantly of vulnerability and honesty, I know they are the bull, and I am the shop, my stories the fine china to be shattered and abandoned.

Maybe the gift of ice is too much for some people.

But for those who are aware that being human means being fragile, fears and rejections and even our stories don’t define us.

And I’ll rise like the break of dawn

Entering the valley.
Embracing pain for the sake of people.
Choosing love over fear.
Having an awareness of vulnerability.

Here I stand,
in the light of day

This is what defines us.
This is what builds real community.

Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone


Caris Adel is passionate about loving people, defending the oppressed, and being a voice for justice.  She’s been married for 12 years, and with 5 kids, somehow finds the time to write about affirming the humanity at

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

When Thousands of Women Loved Something and I Didn't

This is probably going to be an unpopular post, but since much of the If:Gathering was about being authentic, and Brene Brown says that "authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are", then I guess I'll go for it.

I didn't attend the If:Gathering in person; I watched online and I followed along on Twitter.  I had been excited for it; it had the promise and potential of something, though I wasn't exactly sure what.  I'd heard that it was going to be "different", especially since the leadership had done away with the ticket price and instead did a "pay what you can" option for payment.  Other than that, nobody knew very much about it, and that kind of intrigued me.

When I watched the conference, I saw speakers who are very well known, such as:
Overall, I don't remember who I watched, but from what I saw they gave inspirational talks, and did a great job.  But for me, there wasn't much new there.  I have heard inspirational talks.  I have given inspirational talks.  And for those of us who were watching online, there were interviews with people such as Annie Lobert (Hookers for Jesus) and a singer who had been on American Idol (I'm sorry; I can't remember her name; if you know who it is please tell me and I'll edit).  

There were interviews where people were asked what they like on their pizza or what color they like to decorate with.


One of my biggest frustrations is that I have attended so, so many women's groups that are all about building relationships and sometimes I think that it is overkill.  And now I'll probably be in front of the firing squad for that because building relationships is all about what church/church groups is about.  I have gone to moms and women's groups for a long time and have done crafts and sang songs and built relationships.  It is tiring.  I had a discussion about this with one of my pastors a couple of months ago, and I felt horrible for expressing that, at first, until I was assured that it was ok to feel that way.  He described it as getting a lot of one type of food and nothing of another.  There wasn't anything wrong with those activities; I was just getting too much of them. 

And from what I understand, at the ending of IF:Gathering, we were left with this:
and then If:Equip was launched, where women can read their Bibles together every day, asking these questions:
if we believe these words to be true…then
what does this mean about god?
what does this mean about you?
what does this mean about the world?
I read my Bible a lot (thought not as much as I used to).  And our church is currently going through "The Story" and I lead discussion each week on it.  But the main point of reading our Bibles, it seems, is not really to study it.  I have written about this before:
"I feel like often, we just assume most Christians will get bored with this type of study, because it doesn't always bring out the "application" that we think we all need.  Don't get me wrong; application is important, however, I feel as if we try so hard to make everything in the Bible automatically apply to our own personal lives that we actually miss out on what is in the Bible."
--From When Bible Study Isn't Bible Study
"When I actually studied Galatians, rather than gave it a cursory read, asking "what's in it for me?", I was able to look at a bigger picture, I was able to come up with a myriad of ideas that I want to explore further through conversations, more reading, and through writing.  I don't get that out of "Bible Application Time"." --From Celebration of Discipline: An Experiment in Study 
I don't always feel equipped by reading my Bible.  It doesn't tell me how to go about evaluating seminaries and their programs, it doesn't tell me what opportunities are out there for me if I want to start working again, it doesn't tell me how to read it or any of the background or theology that I want to know, it doesn't teach me how to read Hebrew and Greek.  I am not really in a place spiritually where I need to figure out my gifts, rather, I am in a place where I am looking for open doors so that I can actually use them.  

And so I found If:Gathering lacking for me.  I am so thankful that it was uplifting and encouraging and a blessing for thousands of women and I hope that it will continue to happen and continue to do this for women.  And I'll continue to look for my place, too.  

To read about some great experiences at IF:Gathering, visit these (and if you know of others, feel free to add the links in the comments):

Sunday, February 02, 2014

God, Trees, & Life

'Tree of Life' photo (c) 2009, Vincent_AF - license: I'm becoming fascinated with different symbols for life, ever since buying my chai necklace. On the day I am writing this, I started thinking about the "tree of life" in the Bible.  It's rather quite mysterious.  In Genesis, it is in the middle of the garden (2:9); and after Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree of life is guarded from their touch as well.  In Proverbs Wisdom, the fruit of the righteous, a desire fulfilled, and a gentle tongue are all described as a tree of life (3:13,18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4).  It is not mentioned again until Revelation, where permission to eat its fruit is given to everyone who conquers, where it grows on either side of the river, producing 12 kinds of fruit each month, and its leaves are healing for the nations, where those that have washed their robes may eat of it, and where it is threatened to be taken away from those who alter the words of the prophecy of that book (2:7; 22:2,14,19).

I've never really done any research on the concept, and I find these images intriguing.

When I was growing up, we had a huge sugar maple tree in our front yard.  There was also an apple tree in our back yard that was perfect for climbing, and sometimes I'd take a book up there and read.  On the east side of the garage, there were some pine trees which smelled beautiful in the fall.  And there really is nothing like driving around the curve in the road in the fall and seeing the glorious colors on the maple tree appear.  Of all those trees, only the sugar maple still stands.

In my backyard now, we have a lot of trees, and as cold as winter is, looking out at them in the darkness of night is appealing.  In my journal last winter, as I stared out into the yard, and meditated upon Psalm 62:1, "For God alone my soul waits in silence", I wrote this (thanks to my friend Joy Newcom for recognizing it as a poem and reformatting it as such):

Howling wind. Spitting snow.
A tree, a spot where a branch
used to grow. Broken. Dead.
So dark. A light above my window
shines down, illuminating
just a few feet. Wind dies down
and picks up. Again. And again.
What about God am I waiting for?
How will I know when He is there?
Will He be here? Snow is blowing
from the northwest. Dead grass,
sticks, stones make a mosaic-type
pattern on the ground. I press
my face to the glass to see better.
Trees emerge in the dark landscape.
I feel peace. I feel inspiration,
beautiful words. The silence
is beautiful. Energizing.
God is the source of life. God
in the silence. God
in the life-giving silence.

What is it about trees and life?  A quick google search brought up that many cultures have a history of an idea of a tree of life.  Trees are often taken for granted, yet we get so much from trees.  Paper, books, wood for fires, oxygen, a home for animals and birds.  It is a form of life that lives in two worlds; it is both buried deep in the earth and reaches up into the sky.

When we looked at houses when we moved, there was an area of town where there were hardly any trees, just small, young trees.  It felt barren to me, as if without trees, life could be sucked away.

I've been either sick or taking care of sick kids this past week, and so the entire week has not felt very life-giving; it's been very, very tiring.  But in the short time that I spent looking up "tree of life" references, I felt a spark of life.  I wondered a lot about the tree of life, in the Bible and in various cultural traditions, especially Celtic.  In a fiction project I'm working on (that maybe I'll complete in a couple of years...what a long process!), my protagonist, like me, has some Irish ancestry.  I want a special piece of jewelry for her to wear or inherit, and the idea of a "tree of life" necklace came to me, so I googled some images.  They are beautiful (and now I think that might be my next necklace purchase!).

Maybe, sometimes all we need is just a small spark of life, as a reminder to live, as a reminder to not let our lives get sucked away from us.  Even those tiny trees that I didn't like have a spark of life and the potential to grow.

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