An Addict, an Alcoholic, and the Codependent Walk Into a Bar

DpaELqpwYE-4  The unthinkable happened.  I, the good little church girl who grew up in the stereotypical Christian bubble with scarcely a non-religious friend, suddenly found myself enraptured by the compelling story of a young woman slightly older than myself sharing her testimony.  It was indeed a harrowing story of both triumph and defeat, the highs and lows of drug use and rehab, and the devastating effects not addressing issues sooner can have on one’s life.  The most intriguing thing of all being that I was completely spellbound, all the while taking mental notes, not only of this young woman’s maturity and resilience, but also of how much she indeed was teaching me.

Every day we come across such individuals.  It may be through a church service or a young adult’s group.  It might be on testimony night or while casually eating tacos.  It may be in the sanctuary or in the side hall.  These moments might take place while on the bus or bustling tables.  While driving with a passenger in your car or passively listening to the radio.  But whenever they happen, they cause us to pause, take note, and listen.

There is something beautifully freeing in the power of a story.  Stories capture our heart and engage our emotions in a way factual information never can.  I can tell you the physical repercussions of eating fast food daily, or I can let you watch “Supersize Me” and hear one man’s story for yourself.  I can tell you about the blackouts drinking can cause, or I can let a former drunk explain those moments for himself.  I can proof text Bible passages or I can tell you about the ways God has transformed my life, bringing me out of darkness and into light and joy beyond measure.  Our stories disclose in a general (and sometimes a more specific way) who we were, who we are now, and all we hope to become.  They encourage and inspire others that no matter how far down they have gone, there is a hand bringing them back up.  They remind us that our imperfections are exactly what makes each one of us so perfect.  And nothing is more profound that a story firmly rooted in Christ – a mess God has redeemed, a triumph He has reclaimed for Himself.

I think the power of a story is the exact reason that I highly encourage every Christian leader to attend at least one AA meeting in their life.  You don’t need to be a recovering alcoholic to understand the power of a good story and in fact, I believe everyone would benefit not just because of the compassion you gain for someone struggling with this disease, but also because it truly would make our church stronger.  To be individually welcomed by so many people, numbers given with a proviso to call anytime, books bought for complete strangers, and a certain rigorous candour, these are all the things that many churches miss out on.  Not to mention this knack for storytelling.  I had two professors at my seminary teach me two very different things.  The first one encouraged each of his students to go to an AA meeting and write a paper – an experience I will never forget.  The second mentioned that as a church becomes more vulnerable and intimate, the less welcoming to newcomers they become.  Why then, do you see newcomers at AA every single meeting, sharing their heart and soul with people they have scarcely made eye-contact with once?  What is it that AA is doing that many churches are not?  Why do blatant atheists become ardent believers in God (and at the very least agnostics) and yet daily we see so many people walking away from organized religion?  Once again, the answer lies in an atmosphere of honesty, transparency, vulnerability, and an attitude which suspends all judgement.

I have also become convinced over the past few months that everyone struggles with an addiction of some kind.  We often view the addict as the “town-drunk” or the “homeless pill-pusher” yet these stereotypes not only avail us nothing, but are detrimental to the well-being and recovery of anyone who truly suffers.  It can be difficult to get into the mind of an addict, and yet, each one of us struggles with something – an insane desire to be liked by everyone, a need to control the lives of others, a need to indulge in sugary sweet and fabulous fatty desserts on the whim, a penchant for binge watching a certain tv show, and (as anyone born after 1989 will attest) an unhealthy and unholy preoccupation with our phones and all things technological.  Think about it.  The average Canadian spends over 7 years using social media and other forms of electronics (not associated to their professional job life).  Many compulsively check Facebook or Twitter accounts several times a day.  Many are not able to unplug from their work emails even on their days off.  Marriages, families, and friendships suffer from a preoccupation which distracts the person from all that is present.  People have reported “feeling naked” when the phone’s been accidently left in the car.  Leaving cell phones on overnight has often resulted in several cases of sleep deprivation, sometimes with devastating effects.  Many have felt “phantom vibrations” in their pocket because their mind has trained them to think they will be receiving a text message every other moment.  And a few years back when many people took a challenge to delete Facebook for a 40 day fast, certain individuals began having shakes akin to someone coming off of hard drugs, and a few even sought professional help.  What I am getting at is that I don’t care if you’re addiction is shopping or smoking, these addictions can hit anyone.  Anything that is taking over your life and that has an unhealthy place or detracts from your real life relationships with your spouse, your children, and your friends is something that needs to be addressed.  We are not “holier than thou” just because we struggle with food and Facebook over narcotics or weed.

Yet even so, we all know that people will experience their addictions in various ways.  This may be for a variety of reasons: family upbringing, personal baggage, or even different personalities.  Whereas one person may be able to seemingly move through the recovery process quickly, others may be stuck in the same state for years.  Not everyone has to lose their home, their job, their marriage, or their finances, to be an addict.  Not everyone needs to start from ground zero, but everyone needs to realize that thing in their life that has become their God.  That has become their only comfort.  That thing which is perhaps not bad in and of itself, but has become a burden rather than a blessing.  That thing which drives others to notice them or that takes the edge off the pain of their past.

Once we are able to recognize our own shortcomings and failures, it is then that we are able to begin ministering to the person in our congregation or in our family who we see going down a bad path and whose addiction we see having potential to destroy their life and career (if it has not already done so).  Here are the steps I would highly recommend you take:

#1: Never Judge.  So many people assume that a person can just stop using, drinking, or accessing porn.  However, if someone truly has an addiction, they must make this call for themselves.  It is not enough for a spouse, parent, child, or friend to point out a flaw.  If the person cannot own this stronghold, there will be no healing present.  The best thing you can do in the process is not to helplessly watch your loved one deteriorate, but to speak truth and life into the person’s situation.

#2: Love Unconditionally.  Sometimes the most loving thing you can say to your congregant or family member is simply this: “I love you, and it is because of my love for you that I am creating and putting up these boundaries until you can get help.  I will still stand by you and support you through it all.  I’m not going anywhere.  But I need you to do this, not for me, but for yourself.” The number one way to recover from any addiction is to have mentorship and accountability.  Without that, you’re as good as dead.  But with resolve and a cheerleading squad behind you, the past can be put in the past.  Each day is a new one forward.  Don’t bring up the addict’s past.  Embrace their future and all the possibilities that holds.  Take it one day at a time.  Any improvement (however small) is still an improvement.  It is important to note those little victories.

#3: Dismember the Trite Pleasantries. We’ve all heard those infamous sayings: “just pull up your bootstraps”, “just try harder,” “if you really want to quit, you’d just find the will power and resolve to do it.”  The truth is that someone who is seriously struggling with an addiction often cannot find solace in these phrases.  What’s important here is to allow a story to be told, and to hold it gently.  Get into the mindset yourself.  Think about the most difficult thing you find motivation to do even if you know you should.  I know that I should exercise more and eat healthier.  I’ve seen a doctor and a dietician and both told me the same thing.  But I don’t always feel that way.  I sometimes crave that double hamburger or that delectable double chip ice cream.  I give in even though I’ve been told that if I keep it up, I’ll continue to gain weight and get acne.  Again, this is an extreme example, but I think you can see where I’m going with this.  I can’t expect my congregant to go a week without a drink, when I’m knocking back a bag of potato chips every day.

The most important thing I have learned as I’ve begun opening myself up to the possibility of having friends who have addictions or mental health issues is this: people are people.  It can be so easy in our society to label someone or to make assumptions because of someone’s lack or poor judgement.  However, each one of us makes bad decisions on a daily basis.  We choose that Frappuccino over that piece of fruit or we buy that extra dress we really don’t need rather than giving the money as a donation.  We all act compulsively from time to time, get angry, make accusations against others or ourselves, and find forgiveness hard.  And yet, when it really comes down to it, we aren’t all that different after all.  As I’ve interacted with former rough sleepers, I’ve learned that deep down we all have that innate desire for friendship and love.  We all like to be wanted, needed, cherished, and accepted.  Some of us have had it easier than others.  Some of us had stable families and the support system we needed early on which enabled us to stay away from a lifetime of hardship (and if so, thank God for that!).  But others of us have had to struggle to find a way and blaze a path and God has used those stories and redeemed them for the benefit and saving of many people.  In the end of the day, one is not better or worse.  As long as we recognize the need for our own resilience and walk in the freedom and power of righteousness, we will blaze a path that others will dare to follow.  We will share a story that others will desire to step into.  And we will transform our trials from tests into testimonies.

Why You are So Much More Than Those 3 Little Letters (Finding Contentment as a Ms. Not a Mrs.)

48db8e86db9259a105274034599e119a_400x400 I’m still replaying that scene in my mind even though it happened nearly three weeks ago.  I was taking a class at my Alma Matter, Tyndale Seminary, and had just come back to the classroom after having a leisurely lunch outside.  People were socializing as they often do when you re-emerge from your break, and as I took my notebook out getting into the zone, I wasn’t even really aware of where the conversation was headed.  Then it happened.  Seemingly out of nowhere, one my classmates mentioned that she had written an article with a readership of over 5 million.  This peaked my interest.  I have been a blogger now for about 5 years and I’ve had articles published in a few magazines, but I don’t think I’ve ever even had a readership of 5,000 let alone 5 million.   Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in.  5 million – more than the entire city of Toronto, roughly the entire country of Scotland, reading one person’s work. So what was this girl’s topic and why did everyone feel like reading it?  The answer becomes apparent when you read the title “26, Unmarried, and Childless.”.  I was immediately struck by two things:

#1: This is such a stereotypical Christian girl thing to say.   You’ve heard of #whitegirlproblems?  Well this is #christiangirlproblems.

#2: I am exactly in the same boat as Amanda was when she first published this article.  For I, too, am 26 years old, unmarried, and childless.  And no, there are no potentials.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize how much romantic and sexual relationships permeate our culture.  In a recent lecture by Brett Ullman about youth culture, Ullman stated that one does not need access to the internet in order to purposefully view pornography.  In fact, anyone who listens to the Top 40 in their car is being exposed to pornographic images multiple times a day.  It doesn’t take long to really let the words sink into your soul.  Top songs feature lyrics such as Ed Sheeran’s “I’m in love with your body” or the Chainsmokers “Something Just Like This” that suggest one doesn’t need a superhero but just “something I can turn to, somebody I can kiss.”  Unfortunately, while the world has a “live for today” mentality where nothing is off limits, Christians are expected to be asexual until marriage and because that is nearly impossible for the majority of people, it is recommended that they get married by age 21 to avoid pitfalls and numerous temptations. This means that if you’re 26, unmarried, and childless something must be drastically wrong.  You must have some trauma you’re still trying to work through, you must be some sexually frustrated woman, or you must be called to a lifetime of celibacy and you just need to accept that fact and live a contented life.

All of these statements are complete and utter rubbish, but unfortunately, they are the lies the church spreads and seemingly that many young women buy into.  There is so much focus on “prepping for marriage” with ideas given that if you are still single, there must be a hint of immaturity about you, that it drives many women to desperation and entering into relationships which are not God-ordained let alone healthy, healing, and satisfying.  Many women are told that they have to “settle” and not be “so picky” and as a result they may end up with a man who is not a capable leader, a strong husband, or even a believer.  Truly, it is not so much about the man having it “all together” before marriage, but a woman must seek out someone who at least has the potential and drive to stick with her through life’s many difficulties, seasons, and storms.  A man who is selfish and self-promoting often ends up getting his bride stuck when she should be soaring.

What I am trying to encourage you in today is to see yourself as truly so much more than MRS – those three letters that seem to carry so much weight and add so much unhappiness to many a single woman’s life. Instead of viewing yourself as incomplete or accepting the false identity the Enemy wants to place in you, please remember these three things if you suddenly find yourself 26, unmarried, and childless:

#1:  Being Content in Your Circumstance Doesn’t Mean You Have to “Like It”

So many young women will make a life-altering decision simply on their emotional and physical state today.  You may not be married yet, that doesn’t mean it will never happen.  You may not have met Prince Charming yet, that doesn’t mean you never will.  I love Converge Magazine.  I think they have a lot of interesting and inspiring articles that relate well to my generation.  However, my one annoyance with them is that they waste way too much time talking about the “Problem” of singleness.   Toting happy single girls as heroes or else advising that unhappy single girls should be (usually those articles are written by a 21 year old who was married at 18).  The truth is, you neither have to be happy nor unhappy about your marital status.  It is true that as far back as Genesis we have been told that it is “not good for a [wo]man to live alone.” It is also true that throughout Scripture God uses the imagery of the Bride of Christ to help explain the high level of intimacy He wants to achieve with all of us.  However, it is also true that God has used single women throughout history to do wonderful things for His Kingdom that would have been impossible if they had been tied down to a husband and a family.  Think of the Prophetess Anna who was married only 7 short years and then a widow for 84.  As far as we know, Anna never sought matrimony again.  Perhaps there were things she missed about this lifestyle – an early morning kiss, a soft caress at the end of the evening, even a “hey honey, how are you?” as her grubby husband came off the corn field sweating.  However, she had found something of much more immeasurable worth – spending time in the temple day and night, serving, and teaching others about God.

Ask yourself: who are the women in your life who are single and loving it?  Do you have single friends who are your age and content?  What makes them happy even though they don’t have a life partner?  Do you know any older women who have never been married or who are widowed?  How has God used them and how might He use you?

#2: You Don’t Have to Settle For Less

I have a confession to make.  I just did a stereotypical Christian girl move.  I walked into a Christian bookstore, noticed they were saving a sale, and came out with three books on singleness.  Whether it’s a subconscious decision to try to change my state or if I was just looking for reassurance and validation, I don’t know.  All I know is this: reading tons of books, trying to improve yourself or change your style or personality – none of that is going to bring the man you want into your life a minute sooner than God’s ordained timing and plan.  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to better yourself.  I believe self-improvement is a constant process everyone should be engaged in regardless of their life stage, but it is a reminder that doing something out of desperation and duty will never bring the delight you’d like to see take root in your life.

This is something that so many girls just don’t get.  They will do all sorts of things they feel uncomfortable with just because they have been told that they are “less than” if they don’t have a partner.  Girls will go out on set-up dates with guys they would never give a second glance to because they feel their social status will go up if they are with someone.  Girls sometimes will even change their thinking and mentality just so that a man might pay notice to them.  Honey, if a man can’t accept you the way you are – the way God made you to be, quirks and all, he isn’t the right man for you.  You need to date someone because you see the intrinsic value in them and they in you – not because you are trying to earn that value.

If a man asks you out on a date, you don’t have to say yes just because you are single.  You say yes because you WANT to.  As my wise aunt always told me growing up, “It’s better to be single for the rest of your life than with a man who doesn’t treat you right.”

#3: Remember That Whoever You Surround Yourself With Will Rub Off On You

Since coming back from Scotland the one thing I have found frustrating is the Canadian mentality on dating and singleness.  In Scotland I had many single friends who were over ten years older than me and content.  They were content because they had learned that their value and worth doesn’t derive from any man, but from who Christ has made them to be.  They were content because they had learned that there are many benefits to the single life and that all we need to do is seize the day and make the most of those opportunities.  Rarely have I found a woman who WANTS to spend her life as a single (more power to you if you are that woman), but they found a peace in living in the here and now.

Now in Canada I find that all my friends are either married, engaged, in a serious relationship, or completely despondent and distressed in their singlehood.  Come to think of it, I would have a hard time pinning down one friend who is truly enjoying this season in her life.  I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that we covet what we can’t have and crave what we were not made to have at this particular time.

If you are a single person, I urge you to spend your time with people who truly build you up.  If you are finding singleness to be a burden, consider deleting your Facebook for a time.  If Instagram posts are causing you to be jealous or apprehensive about other people’s marriages or kids, delete it.  If you find yourself wasting endless hours on Pinterest creating a perfect wedding even though you don’t have a perfect groom, get rid of it.  Likewise, you want to find a healthy mix between married people you can look up to and single friends you can chum with.  The truth is that married people and single people have different priorities.  This is not bad or good, but it is just the way things happen.  Even the Apostle Paul himself taught us that a married person’s primary responsibility is to their spouse – how to make them happy or care for them, whereas a single person can enjoy a wider range of ministry and serving possibilities and further the Kingdom that way.  Yet whether we are married or single, we should always keep in mind that the ultimate goal of any Christian is to please the Lord regardless of state or circumstance.

When I think back to that day sitting in that Tyndale classroom after lunch and hearing that my peer had written an article with a readership of over 5 million people I give thanks that God used her even despite a circumstance she may not have chosen for herself.  I pray, too, that God may also use you in your singleness or even in your marriage to reach other people for His Name’s sake and for His glory.  Don’t rush from relationship to relationship fluttering around like an aimless butterfly.  Instead pursue godly relationships that are ripe with purpose and potential, ones that esteem your worth and help you to value and treasure the inherent goodness and grace of your partner.  It’s only when we learn to romance the King and make Him our first priority, that He will introduce us to our Prince who truly sees us as his princess and leads with gentleness, chivalry, and respect.

 

 

Beyond Sex Roles By: Gilbert Bilezikian (A Book Review)

51S5QkNjeML._AC_US218_One of the marks of a good scholarly piece is that even when your opponents disagree with your main premise, they still appreciate the quality of your work.  This is exactly what I have noticed as I’ve perused book reviews on “Beyond Sex Roles” By: Gilbert Bilezikian on Goodreads and Amazon.  I’ve noticed that even though many people disagree with his conclusion, the majority have applauded him for his research, application, and writing techniques.

This book was lent to me by my pastor after a conversation surrounding the appropriate role of women in the church.  As many of you are aware, this is a topic I have been wrestling through for a few years and ultimately find confusing as both sides present good arguments for their beliefs.   Although I may not have agreed with everything that Bilezikian expounded on, his work definitely is one I would encourage any serious theologian to add to their collection.

One of the greatest assets of Bilezikian’s book is the care he takes in outlining God’s original intent for men and women.  Unlike many other authors who simply proof-text 1 Timothy 2:12, Bilezikian actually starts right at the beginning of the Genesis account, moves throughout the Old Testament, addresses women in leadership in the New Testament, and finally ends with the Apostle Paul’s instructions for a woman to be silent.

In his book, he begins by stating the verse, doing an exegesis of it, exploring the socio-historical culture, and providing a practical application for today.  Here are a few things that stood out to me in his writing:

#1: In the original creation account, Adam was formed first and then Eve.  Nevertheless, it was not until after the fall that God informed Eve that her desire would be for her husband and that he would “lord” it over her (Genesis 3:16).

The original intent in Scripture is for the man to be the head of the wife and to love her as Christ loves the church, whereas, the woman is called to submit to her husband.  But what exactly does this mean?

In English the word “head” often connotes “the person in charge” for example “the head of the board.”  However, in other languages like French, it does not have the same meaning.  Nevertheless, in this situation, the word “head” actually refers to a “life-source.”  For Eve (and therefore women) were taken from man (Adam) and therefore are a part of him. Yet, what sets Christianity apart from the pagan society of the day, is the care for which the man in this patriarchal setting would have shown to his wife.  Whereas, women in this culture were often seen as “second rate” and only useful as “baby machines”, men were taught to be servant leaders and both husbands and wives were instructed not to withhold conjugal rights from one another.  Furthermore, in the context of family, both mothers and fathers were to be obeyed and respected by their children.  The word used when Paul ordered children to OBEY their parents, is different than the word SUBMIT.  This is because although the woman is to give preference to her husband and to honour him, it does not lower her own status or infantilize her.

#2: Proponents of the complimentarian approach often have difficulty accepting a women in pulpit ministry, but what does the Bible have to say on this topic?

It is evident throughout both the Old and New Testament that women were useful for the ministry of the church in a variety of ways, including in public settings.  For example, both Testaments mention female Prophets (Miriam, Huldah, Deborah, Anna, Philip’s Four Daughters, etc.)  The interesting thing to note here is that the prophetic ministry at that time was something often included in a public worship setting.  The Apostle Paul himself noted that Prophesy was useful for the edification of the church, whereas tongues were merely useful for person edification (1 Corinthians 14:4).  Moreover, there is an injunction in 1 Corinthians 11:5 that a woman who is engaging in public prayer or prophesy must cover her head whereas a man is expressly requested not to.  According to Bilezikian as well as many other authors, this had to do with the cultural strictures of the day.  There are, of course, some churches like the Brethren who still wear head coverings, however, for the most part I have always found it ironic that churches which don’t allow a woman to preach are fine without the use of a head covering.  To me this is hypocrisy and merely a way of ensuring a patriarchal structure.

There are a few other notable women in the early church.  There is Priscilla who along with her husband Aquila served as a co-pastor and mentor to the Apostle Paul.  There are also mentions of female apostles including Junia who was considered “outstanding among the Apostles” (Romans 16:7).  In this time period, the apostolic ministry was one of teaching and pastoral authority.  In fact, an apostle was considered a higher rank than a pastor (almost like a bishop today).  Therefore, it is erroneous to believe that there would have been a female apostle but not a female pastor.

Lastly, there was the church leader, Tabitha who was so influential that upon her death, two men sent for the Apostle Peter to raise her up.  They were so saddened by this woman’s faith and virtue that no one else could have taken her place.  What a remarkable leader she must have been!

So how exactly do we live in this tension of the Biblical world, while also staying true to the Biblical text?  Here is a summary of Bilezikian’s beliefs:

Firstly, the original design in creation was for men and women to enjoy equal status to each other and to God.  Any form of male patriarchy is the result of the fall.  That being said, there is still a way Christ has redeemed it.  The husband is to be the “life-source” of his wife and to provide for her, whereas the wife submits to her husband not merely out of obedience but out of love.  At times, the husband and wife must submit to one another, showing preference and honouring the other.  Decisions need to be made in a mutually edifying way that give the man his rightful place not as “dictatorial ruler” but as loving authority figure.  Likewise, the wife must submit not out of childish obedience, but out of reverence and support.  Situations like we see so common in our day where the man abuses his rightful authority and uses it is a means to manipulate or harm a woman, twisting Scripture and even justifying his abuse, are the result of sin and the fall.  Instead, the Biblical mandate we see is that the husband is to “provide a source of life, of servanthood, and of growth.” (Bilzekian, 158).  This is taken from the statement in Ephesians 5:23-29, that “Christ is the head of the Church.  He is Himself the Saviour of the body.  Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.  No man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it as Christ does the Church.” Bilezikian further notes, “the meaning of the head-body duality is not authority but reciprocity.  BECAUSE Christ is the wellspring of the Church’s life and provides it with existence and sustenance, in RETURN the Church serves Him in loving dependency and in recognition of Him as the source of its life.  In a similar manner, the head-body metaphor applied to the husband-and-wife relationships serves to emphasize their essential unity, deriving from creation.  Because man as the fountainhead of woman’s existence was originally used to supply her with her very life, and because he continues to love her sacrificially as his own body in marriage, in return a Christian wife binds herself up to her husband in a similar relationship of servant submission that expresses their oneness.” (161)  In this circumstance, Bilezikian acknowledges that “being subject to” or “submitting” is a “mutual (two-way process)” much different from the “unilateral (one-way subordination)” that would have been common in this time period (154).  That is to say, submitting out of love is not the same as the way a slave would “submit” to his master.  This is an important concept to grasp as many women wrongly feel that “submission” is a dirty-word and completely close their mind to the concept.  In Bilezikian’s own words “among spouses it is possible to submit without love, but it is impossible to love without submitting.” (168; cf. Col. 3:18-19)

Ultimately, Bilezikian provides this conclusion: Our life is so much more than the merely defined sex roles of the culture.  Yes, part of life is understanding what makes a man male or a woman female, but there is so much more than just what we see at the surface.  Regardless of gender or the associated roles placed on us by society or the church, each one of us is made as an image-bearer of God.  Thus, our personhood stems from the Holy Spirit and we are all called to represent Christ and the character traits that exemplify the Fruit of the Spirit (208).  It is only then that we will find lasting and full freedom.  Not in a man overexerting his influence and damaging women.   Not in a woman becoming a radical feminist and abusing men or ignoring their status. But rather in the two separate yet unified sexes coming together under the Cross of Christ in a glorious exchange of willing servitude and submission, in both men and women entering into a relationship with Christ which they seek to emulate in their marriage and public roles, and in shunning our cultural expectations in favour of heavenly ones in accordance with the original design laid out in Scripture.

 

Turning the Ground By Standing Still

squirrel-umbrella-rain-squirrelisimo-max-ellis-4 This blog post originally appeared at: http://www.stateofformation.org/2017/04/turning-the-ground-by-standing-still/. What follows is an expanded version of the first blog.

June has been a rather unpredictable month.  Generally speaking, the sun should be shining and we should be out wearing shorts, instead, all we get is a heavy dose of rain, cooling our land, and chilling me to the point of wearing a jacket.  When plans are cancelled due to inclement weather, it can be easy to be discouraged, however, sometimes all it takes is a change of perspective.  Previously, when I lived in Scotland, I learned to embrace the rain.  Over there, it rains nearly every day, and if I chose to stay indoors, I would have lost many sightseeing opportunities.  However, since returning home, I have noticed my outlook has shifted.  Now when it rains, I feel unmotivated.  I pull the covers over my head and will the day away.  Yet, if I am honest, I believe the attitudinal shift is the result of something deeper.  Some hidden longing, and perhaps some wish that life would return to what it was before.

For the past 10 months, I have been struggling with an unknown health condition.  For the past five years, I have given my life to disability ministries.  I have written and researched extensively on topics related to physical and mental health, I have advocated for churches to become more aware and inclusive of various needs within their congregation, and I have lobbied to end ableism in our culture.  Yet, I have done all of these things as an outsider.  I was truly invested in a more accessible world, but I had no personal understanding of what that would look like.  My ministry was shaped and informed by the various people with disabilities I frequently came into contact with.  Today, it is transformed by a more personal awareness of what it means to live with limitations and health struggles.

In my early twenties, I described myself as a “fun loving, energetic adventure seeker.”  To me, life was about the next big adrenaline rush.  It was about pushing my body to the limits, embracing life as a treasure box waiting to be opened.  Now, in my mid-twenties, if I were honest, it’s more like sluggishly getting through the day, going to doctors’ appointments, and trying to live with what very well could be my new reality.

It all started when I came back from Scotland.  I left Edinburgh excited about life.  It truly was a life-changing transformative experience, and one that I wished to prolong.  I made some rash comments about feeling led to come back more permanently.  What many people don’t realize is that I actually was given that opportunity. Twice.  However, just when I thought it was going to become a reality and my wish was going to be fulfilled, I turned it down.  Not because I wanted to, but because I was sick.

The first symptoms started appearing in early September.  I was still in the field with adults who have developmental disabilities and had to do quite a bit of strenuous physical work.  One day, I was doing a lift transfer into our wheelchair van when my arm suddenly became limp.  Thankfully, there was another worker there who helped remedy the situation.  I was shaken, but realized this was not the first time I had felt similar sensations in my arm.  Shaking it off, I thought it was just another fluke incident.  This ended up not being the case when a few days later I could barely even cut my food with a fork and knife.

I soon realized that many of the things I previously did, might not be able to happen anymore.  I resigned from my job, and moved home with my parents.  At that time, life seemed like anything but productive.  I tried to keep busy during the days.  I chose to volunteer with a few organizations and intern at a church.  I also decided to work on self-improvement and to meet new friends.  At first it was very difficult. My life has been founded on hyper-active preparation and I hate staying still.  However, I soon discovered that this was a gift.  We often lament having too much work to do, but when we are given a day off, we squander it.  There is nothing wrong with watching TV or Netflix, but it often is not the preparation we truly need.  Sometimes the reason our bodies give out is simply to teach us to listen to what they are saying.  Sometimes the reason we can’t go further is because we need to learn how to rest.

These last four months have been a challenge.  I have moved away from home and started a new position as a children’s pastor.  Working with kids is wonderfully life giving, but also difficult when you physically don’t have the stamina to constantly run around.  I’ve had to learn to adapt many activities so that the kids still have high energy games, but so that I can conserve my own strength.

In many ways, it’s made me more aware of kids with various health needs.  I sometimes think about the activities we have planned.  There are children I know of in the church who don’t attend these events.  Some of them use wheelchairs or other assistive devices, are visually impaired, or have other physical limitations.  It is ironic that I am championing for inclusion and that my greatest passion is for disability awareness, and yet, there are some individuals who probably couldn’t partake in everything I plan.

Sometimes I find it difficult to really know what I share with my church or with the kids.  Yet I have begun asking myself what children’s ministry really is all about.  Is it only about planning fun games and activities, or could the kids benefit from a bit more vulnerability on my part?  Could it encourage the kids to know we can pray for anything – even physical healing – even if that healing does not always come right away?

Currently, I am reminded of the story of the woman with the issue of blood.  She had an illness for many years with no respite.  The Bible tells us she had seen various doctors and specialists, tried many different medications and treatments, and yet each time became more discouraged.  This has been an example of a time when the Bible has really come to life for me, because I feel like currently I am that woman.  In the last 6 months alone, I have visited 5 different doctors, two specialists, and am on the waiting list for 2 others.  I have done various tests and am surprised I have any veins left.  But through it all, I remember, that all I really need is a touch from God.  Sometimes that touch might come through medical intervention, science, and technology, it would be great if it did.  Yet sometimes the real touch does not come through physical healing, but through an inner conscious awakening of the Holy Spirit urging us to know that He is God even when our minds and our bodies rebel against this notion.  Sometimes the real touch from God is not in what doctors know, but in being okay with the unknown –placing ourselves into God’s hands, and allowing Him to turn the soil by being still.

Collisions, Chaos, and Change (Book Review: Detour: A Roadmap for When Life Gets Rerouted By: Cam Taylor )

51JuZtWmgOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ The problem with opposition is that it often hits us blindsided when we are least expecting it.  No one anticipates that word from the doctor, that marital affair, that job loss, or that financial crash, so when those storms hit, our first instinct is to lament, to curse, to be frustrated, and to blame anyone and anything we can get our hands on.  Bad luck.  Our spouse.  Our circumstances.  The government.  The economy.  God.  Yet, rewiring our brains to turn opposition into opportunity and crisis into consolation is the exact discipline that will get us through those circumstances with the least amount of pain and loss.

Cam Taylor’s story is one of a personal journey dealing with the health struggles, emotional impact, and sense of loss he and his wife, Vicky, faced after a traumatic motorcycle accident.  The scene is one all too familiar, and for those of us who have been involved in accidents, it cuts close to home.  On a bright sunny day, the perfect temperature for riding, with few clouds in sight, Cam and Vicky set off for a nice ride through the West Coast terrain.  Yet what promised to be an enjoyable and relaxing time, suddenly turned into a whirlwind of ambulance rides, hospital stays, surgeries, and permanent life adjustments.

In this book, Cam takes an interesting approach which I have seldom seen before despite having reviewed many books on disability awareness for his story is not only confined to his own experiences, but also provides coaching and a listening ear to those who find themselves in similar circumstances.  Each chapter provides a timely quote, a brilliant illustration, a personal anecdote, and questions to consider, reflect on, and discuss.  His book does not provide “pat, easy answers,” but rather challenges its readers in a fresh and profound way to truly wrestle with the emotional and psychological (as well as physical) impacts a life-altering event can have.

What I appreciated the most about Cam’s writing is his honesty and vulnerability.  His desire to show himself the way he truly was and is, and his passion to see others changed and positively influenced by his work.  It is evident throughout Cam’s writing that he is a man of humility – not writing for self-promotion, but to give God glory.

From a personal and devotional approach, his book is inspiring and helpful in drawing out some of the key themes in Scripture including perseverance, discipleship, and counting the cost.  From a purely disability angle, his book is helpful in explaining the physical repercussions of a damaging experience and the practical ways we can help someone in this predicament (both through being open to hearing stories and providing emotional support and by doing those little “odd jobs” that may be left out such as lawn care).  For this reason, it is both from a pastoral as well as a disability inclusion standpoint that I highly recommend this book to you.  I guarantee it will make a brilliant edition to any home or church library and could even be including in seminaries and Bible colleges.

Another great resource that Cam provides is his Detour Journal.  Many of us know the benefits of journaling.  I personally have kept a journal since the time I was a young child, and it has indeed been helpful as I look back upon some of my more stressful experiences and how God has brought me out of them.  However, whether you are a seasoned journaller, new to this spiritual discipline, or just eager to try it out for the first time, this spiral notebook will help you maintain a rich and deep writing life.  Each page has a timely quote, space for personal reflection, and journal prompts.  If you aren’t much of a writer, don’t despair because as Cam notes, journaling can also be achieved through drawing, doodling, or mind maps.

I hope that both of these resources will be a blessing in your life and help you to see God’s hand over you even in the midst of trials and storms.  It was a real privilege for me to be on Cam’s book launch team and I look forward to seeing how this book will continue to impact the lives of many for the Kingdom of God.

For more information or to purchase your own copy of “Detour: A Roadmap for When Life Gets Rerouted” please visit Cam Taylor’s website at: https://camtaylor.net/detour/ 

“I Suffer Not a Woman to Teach” (What Does 1 Timothy 2:12 Really Mean)

preacher-blondeThis is perhaps the most awkward blog post I have ever written.  Usually when I write blog posts it is to impart some level of knowledge, to share resources, to give a definitive “what now” response to a particular question.  However, the purpose of this blog post is slightly different.  The purpose of this blog post is to admit, I don’t have all the answers and I don’t even have all the questions.  As a theologian and children’s pastor, there are still numerous theological areas I struggle with.  Women and ministry is one of those areas.

Some of you know me personally and have read up on many articles I’ve written on this very topic, but today I want to re-iterate some of that in order to help you better understand where I am coming from.

When I was 4 years old, I used to line up my teddy bears and preach sermons to them.  Some kids play house, some play doctor, I played church.  My curiosity for the Bible was insatiable and from as early as I can remember, I was a little nerd.  One day in my kindergarten Sunday school class my teacher (the pastor’s daughter) made us go around in a circle and say what we wanted to be when we grew up.  There were the traditional responses – a mechanic, an athlete, and a singer.  And then my turn.  I boldly announced “a pastor.”  My teacher nearly fell off her chair and quietly reprimanded me “honey, women can’t be pastors.”  Well, I am not one to take no for an answer, so a few years later I left that church and went to a different one with a female pastor.

Growing up, I have always been well aware of the tension of being a woman in leadership.  On the one hand, I believe that God has specifically called me to a Christian ministry vocation.  I believe I have been affirmed in gifts such as leadership, administration, teaching, and preaching.  Many people are afraid of public speaking, but that’s where I find myself the most energized.  I also believe that God has placed in me a desire to relate well to people regardless of their age.  I am a children’s pastor because I think kids are the future of our church and to invest in them is to invest in our future.  I take this role seriously, however, I also have admitted on several occasions that I don’t want to work with kids forever.  And if I were completely honest, I would admit that I am more drawn to the traditional pastoring roles of providing pastoral care, guidance, and teaching than I am in cutting out paper hearts and crafting paper airplanes.

I am very blessed that for the most part I have grown up surrounded by people who have affirmed my calling without making a big deal of my gender.  I have seen some friends and relatives who were once dead set against female leadership now encouraging me on my own path because they want to value what God is doing in my life.  I have also had some very close friends tell me that as long as I pursued pulpit ministry, they were never going to be on my side.  This hurts deeply and I think oftentimes these people don’t understand the tension that we women in leadership deal with.  Sometimes people can be downright cruel and judgmental in their thinking.  They will make all sorts of accusations such as that the person has heard God wrong, that they are following Satan and not God, and that they are only in the ministry to prove a point or because of pride.  These people often are completely clueless about how difficult it is for a woman to be a pastor.  Female pastors will likely never be as accepted as male pastors and will often have to justify a calling that men are so likely to take for granted.

Between the ages of 18-24 I attended Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto.  I first acquired my Bachelor’s of Religious Education followed by a Master’s of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry.  Being a non-denominational school, Tyndale accepts students of both persuasions.  I have attended classes and become friends with many people who will never set foot in a church as long as I’m preaching.  I have also attended classes with many women who I believe have the “gifts and graces” of ministry and are doing incredible things in their own church for the Kingdom of God.  What interests me the most in both interactions is that in both cases these people are sold out Christians.  In both cases these people simply want to follow God’s will for their lives, and in both cases these individuals have found examples in Scripture to prove their point.

Attending Tyndale I never once felt discouraged from being a pastor.  All Tyndale professors have to agree that regardless of their own persuasions they will not penalize or discriminate against a female in their class.  Professors must accept women into all their pastoral classes including preaching if she registers.  However, even though classes are open to both genders, I was one of three women in the pastoral ministry track (and Tyndale is the largest Christian seminary in all of Canada and one of the largest in North America).

At Tyndale I also did an in-depth study on women in leadership.  Over the years my viewpoint has changed almost entirely.  I used to be very egalitarian, then turned middle-ground, and now am almost exclusively male headship.  That is to say that I still value the contributions of women in all levels of leadership and want them to freely exercise the gifts God has given them (including preaching), but have realized that for myself I would not feel right being a senior pastor.  This is not to say that I don’t think there are ever exceptions, however, I will admit it is often not the norm.

Since I’ve read up on both side  of the debate and felt comfortable as a woman behind the pulpit (in other words, I didn’t think I was somehow “sinning” against God), I was content.  But then something happened.  As I have now started thinking more about ordination I realize the process is no longer a thought, but likely will be a reality.  Currently it is a question that plagues me most nights.  Am I doing the right thing?  Is this what God really wants?  And what on earth do I do with the 1 Timothy passage (the classic proof-text)?  Is it simply enough to say that it was written at a different time, under Patriarchal influences and that it doesn’t apply the same way today and is thus a matter of interpretation (like the more egalitarian books tell us)?  Are the Biblical examples of Deborah, Miriam, Phoebe, Junia, and Priscilla (all women of extreme importance who had a vast amount of leadership within the early church – potentially even over men) enough to justify a woman behind the pulpit?  Or is the mere fact that Scripture doesn’t name these women “priests” or “pastors” enough to turn us off completely from this notion?  And if indeed we are using the argument that women can be pastors based on the cultural norms of that day, how far should we take it?

Currently, I am blessed to be part of a denomination which is the absolute best fit for me.  In the Free Methodist church we hold to conservative doctrines almost exclusively.  The Free Methodist believe entirely in traditional marriage (including between a man and a woman, the man being the head of the household, sexual expressions only allowed in marriage, and divorce as an absolute last alternative to be avoided as much as possible except in cases of abandonment, abuse, or desertion).  My church also believes in pro-life and many other things that the most conservative churches adhere to.  However, women can still be pastors (including lead pastors).  That being said, there are not many lead pastors who are female and I still believe in many ways it is not the easiest for a woman to be a lead pastor and even that certain churches within our denomination would not accept this, but the fact is – it’s still a possibility.  And so this has left me questioning, how do I best live in this tension?  How come I so easily adhere to the fact that a man is the head of the family, but not that I can’t preach behind a pulpit?  And if I want to take that verse literally, how far do I go?  Can a woman teach on Mother’s Day?  Can she be a youth pastor?  What about young adults?  Or can she only teach kids and other women?

Like I said at the beginning, I have no real answer for this, but it is a very real struggle I am currently facing.  How to stay true to  the Scripture but also how to stay true and honour God using what I believe He has called me to for years and what people have affirmed in me.  And although I cannot give you any concrete evidence one way or the other (because trust me, there are numerous opinions on this point and both sides have excellent persuasions… I have read many of them extensively), here are some things I would urge you all to keep in mind whether or not you want to see a woman behind the pulpit.

1) God has created and gifted both men and women in various ways.  Both genders must be free to express these spiritual gifts, but also must exercise caution not to abuse them.

2) Throughout the Scripture, God has utilized the gifts of women in various ways (including ways that were not popular or “the norm” at that time).  Women in the Bible have prophesied, led house churches along with their husband, taken part in the public ministry of prayer, served as deaconesses, and even served as a judge over all of Israel.  Women were (and still are) a vital part of the ministry of the church and should be affirmed for their leadership qualities.  Paul himself, the very one who said “I suffer not a woman to teach” sent special greetings to his female co-labourers and from what we see in Scripture seemed to hold them in a high regard and be genuinely thankful for their contributions.

3) Both men and women can be led astray in what they perceive to be God’s calling over their lives.  A woman may be incorrect in the fact that God is calling her to teach, but men also can feel led to be a pastor for less than pure motives.

4) Although it is not the norm, God has called women into specific senior levels of leadership over the years (both in Biblical times as well as throughout church history).  The main thing to remember is that God can use anyone and even if there is a certain preacher you do not approve of, God may still have used him or her to challenge and encourage His flock.

5) Women in leadership is a “side-hall” issue.  It is indeed divisive with high emotions on both sides of the debate.  However, ultimately it is still a grey area in many respects.  It is much better to focus on the real issues at hand (those of sin and salvation) without letting a smaller issue like this distract us from the real work that needs to be done.

Ultimately, I still stand by what I’ve said in the past.  “If God has called a woman to be a senior pastor, then she better go do it!”  Ultimately God calls who He will, when He will, for what He wills.  Our role must always be to faithfully serve Him no matter what.  In all things we must heed the voice of Christ our Master, be faithful to His calling, be understanding and humble enough to admit that we might be mistaken, and to seek Godly counsel from mature Christians to make sure we are hearing correctly.  We must apply what we think God is saying to us through the lens of Scripture and we must remember that He is the one we will ultimately all have to give an account to.  Whether you believe in women in leadership or not, I urge and encourage you to be faithful to the role God has placed you in right now and to show hospitality to all, but especially to those who are of the household of faith.

I’d love to hear the thoughts and viewpoints of those on either side of this debate.

How to Keep Your Cool When Engaging with Religious Zealots

This article first appeared on: http://www.stateofformation.org/2017/04/how-to-keep-your-cool-when-engaging-with-religious-zealots/

3f3a51f0-27a6-450d-a22c-af7fdf3b331fMy fingers hovered over the keyboard, ready to write a fighting response while my mind willed me that violence (even if only verbal) is never the answer.  The blood steadily coursed through my veins causing me to clench my fists and grit my teeth.  In February, Premier Magazine out of London, UK asked me to write an article about my best friend, Karima, who is a Muslim.  Although I have contributed to smaller magazines before, this was the first time I was approached by one outside of North America, and indeed, it felt like a great honour.  Premier has recently been running a series on “My Friend the…” where fellow Christian engage and form deep relationships with people who aren’t part of their faith tradition.  Amongst the intriguing articles already featured are a post about a skeptic, an atheist, and a Jehovah’s Witness.  This seemed like the perfect platform for sharing something so near to my faith – interreligious dialogue, however, I was unprepared for what would follow.

A barrage of comments steadily streamed in over the month.  Some were positive, but many were not.  The blatant dislike of the Islamic religion, even debasing it to a mere shadow of what Islam truly is, forced a knot in my stomach and caused me to feel ill.  People, many of whom simply were concerned about the state of ISIS, began attacking the religion as a whole stating that Islam was evil incarnate, implying that my friend was secretly a “spy” alerting her networks to my attempts at good will, and stating that by taking one verse in the Qu’ran completely out of context they had the authority to damn an entire religion to hell.  All of this was terrible, as I kept asserting that numerous Muslims are peaceful individuals who desire the same things we all do (love, friendship, mutuality, and respect) and that the few Muslim extremists we see portrayed on television are simply that – extremists.  Yet, as difficult as it was to see my best friend’s religion painted in such a stark way, what troubled me most was the assault people produced on my own faith.  Comments about me not being a “true Christian”, distorting the Christian faith, and “needing to read a Bible” along with the notion that having a friendship where conversion is not even mentioned (and definitely not the sole reason) were the norm.  I struggled to find words and grace to hold my composure where also defending a dear friend who definitely did not deserve these false accusations.

I do not blame Premier magazine at all for suggesting this difficult topic.  I know that at the heart of what they are trying to do, we are on the same page.  I know that Premier is a magazine which is trying to broaden people’s perspectives and challenge false assumptions and notions that exist when Christians relate to those of other religious backgrounds.  However, to be honest, if I knew how difficult the preceding month would have been, I am not so sure I would have said yes to the request.  Yet, even in those moments of darkness, there were instances of great light.  Commentators who stood by me and applauded my efforts.  Genuinely thankful people who read the article in print and online.  A very thoughtful and sincere email from the editor himself when I mentioned the backlash and his open stance in suggesting this might be just what the world needs to hear.  And finally, the reaction of my Muslim friend herself, who through it all, continued to share the love, peace, and grace I have always known her to exemplify.

I think the difficulty does not lie with the magazine itself.  If anything, Premier is simply one channel and one voice that the world needs to hear more of.  The challenge is that people simply have failed to learn how to relate and respond to anyone different than themselves.

While I admit that I (despite my own best attempts) may not have answered everyone the way I needed to, I have learned a few lessons along the way myself.  Below, I’d like to offer you some ways to keep your cool when engaging with religious zealots (even, and perhaps, especially, if those zealots belong to your own faith tradition):

1) Don’t ever compare the worst of someone else’s religion with the best of yours.
2) Don’t compare a few extremists in one religion while neglecting the extremism in your own.
3) Recognize that every religion is internally diverse and even within the same denomination or religious group, there will be many differences of opinion on many different topics.
4) View each story on a case-by-case basis. Look at people as individuals, don’t paint everyone with the same broad strokes.
5) Someone who affiliates with a certain religion (ie. is a committed follower and practitioner) should always be considered more highly than someone who merely knows of a religion through second-hand study or the media (regardless of how educated you may be on the topic)
6) Recognize that there are inconsistencies within every Holy Book that need to be worked through and rectified.
7) Do not get into matters of the person’s soul. Example, don’t start telling another Christian that they don’t truly know the Lord or that they aren’t truly saved just because they don’t buy into your ultra-conservative ideologies.
8) Resist judgementalism at all costs.
9) If you find yourself getting angry – ask yourself what is internally going on. Anger is a secondary emotion, there is always something contributing to it whether guilt, fear, pride, arrogance, or sadness.
10) Friendship is more important than simply being right.

I recognize that inter-religious dialogue is difficult and sometimes painful work, partly because the soil has just not readily been prepared for us until more recently.  However, if we truly are interested in being ambassadors, we need to cultivate a position of peace whereby we are interested in building friendship irrespective of differences in race, culture, ethnicity, or religious tradition.  We cannot confuse the desire to be right with what is already truly right – a friendship that would willingly give itself to the other at no cost.  I still maintain that the beauty we see in this world is entirely because of the diversity that is so inherent within it.  And to all those zealous Christian commentators who wanted to tear me down, know this: I do read my Bible daily, and it is because of my devotion to my particular Holy Book that I feel so strongly about loving people of all persuasions.  I am not interested in compromising my relationship with my God, but rather believe that welcoming a friend from a different background is doing far more for the Gospel of Peace, than simply arguing a dogmatic position.  In fact, I would dare to say, it is doing exactly what Jesus would want.

You can read my article about my best friend here: https://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2017/March-2017/Becoming-best-friends-with-a-Muslim-demolished-my-prejudices-about-Islam