To What Extent Do We Control Our Life?

controlChristians often talk about “God’s timing” and His divine will and providence over our lives.  If something is meant to happen, it will happen just when God has directed it to.  This general mind-set is helpful in easing anxiety and allowing us to realize the plans are orchestrated beyond our control, but it also begs the question “to what extent does free will play a role?”

I have to admit, I am a huge control freak.  The worst part is, I didn’t even realize this until a year ago.  I have always tried to control what I was going to do and when.  I would make plans about where to study, what job to get, and where to travel to.  In my mind, everything had a start and finish date and I became obsessed with pursing my goals.  This was good in the sense that nearly every goal I have ever set out to seriously conquer has now been achieve.  It is bad in the sense that I likely went through most of life on auto-pilot not allowing the Holy Spirit to move.

I was recently doing some “pub theology” with a new friend when we began discussing this topic.  Non-Christians might call it “fate”, Christians tend to stick with terms such as “pre-destination”, but in reality, it’s kind of all the same thing.  Yes, I believe that there are many choices I’ve been able to make in my own life – we are not puppets and God allows us freedom to move around and to make bad choices which then have detrimental consequences.  But I also believe that there are certain life events that just happen upon us which we did not choose for ourselves, and yet which truly end up having a life lesson attached to them after the fact.  And then I believe that there are some things which I truly find very difficult to reconcile in terms of whether or not there truly was a point in it at all.

Take the first instance – free will.  We all have made choices in our lives which have ended up wonderfully or tragically.  Perhaps you knew that spending time with a certain friend was not beneficial for you, but you continued to do it anyways.  This friend then led you down a bad path which ended up affecting other aspects of your life.  This was not fate.  This was a poor choice.  Suppose you chose to eat only doughnuts and to fill yourself up with sugary sweets giving into every conceivable craving and you developed diabetes or other health conditions and became overweight.  Yes, God may have a lesson to teach you in your health struggle – and that lesson probably is to take better care of yourself and change your bad habits!  Or suppose you had the option of going to church on a Sunday or sleeping in and you chose church.  You then heard a sermon that really impacted you and changed the course of your life.  Was it free will or fate?  Likely a bit of both.  It was free will which enabled you to hear that timely message, but it was also likely predestined that you heard that message at the exact moment in time in which you would be readily able to accept it.  Perhaps if you heard that same message 1 year or even 1 week ago, you might have let it pass through you without giving it much thought.  Perhaps if you heard that same sermon one year later your life would be on a different path and so it would no longer be as relevant, but for today, it’s exactly what you needed to hear.  God used your free will decision to bring a special blessing out of it.

The second instance – Life Events Which Take Place.  We all have experienced these in our lives.  We’ve met someone that we never would have crossed paths with before and they have ended up blessing our lives tremendously.  We’ve found ourselves in a new location or in a new job that we didn’t know we would be in.  Or take one of the most common examples of all – marriage.  My own parents met 10 years before they began dating.  I know of another woman at church who could have met her husband 20 years beforehand, but due to a series of unforeseen circumstances it just never happened.  Why not?  If God knew the two partners were meant to be together, why not just speed things up?  There could be several reasons: maybe God was preparing one or both of them, maybe one or both of them were not yet ready, maybe there were still lessons to learn or ways to serve as single people which needed to happen first, and maybe there was a small element of spiritual warfare involved.  The old expression says, “Life is lived forwards but understood backwards.”

When I look at my own life, I can often see how even the most difficult and painful seasons have played a role in propelling me forward towards being more of the person Christ desires for me to be.  I remember being in university and applying for a transfer.  I had all my credits lined up and had spoken extensively to the dean at the new school.  At the last minute, I felt in my heart it wasn’t the right choice and so I stayed.  Was it God’s will?  I don’t know for sure, but I do know the people I then proceeded to meet who are now some of my closest friends whose paths I wouldn’t have crossed if I would have left.  I suppose the argument could then be made that I would have made other friends, but who knows?  I had a somewhat difficult time in my first year of seminary, and left to pursue a year at L’Arche before going back to my old Alma Mater to finish up.  Was that first year worth it even if it didn’t end the way I had hoped?  Yes, because it was in that year that I developed my passion and interest in disability theology.  If I had never have gone to that other seminary, who knows if I would now be doing what I am today.  I begged God to let me go back to Edinburgh after my first year there and the door was shut.  It took nearly 2 years to arrive back in Scotland, and sometimes I wonder why.  Yet, I think of all the lessons I learned in Canada (there were many), friendships strengthened, and a new identity forged.  I still don’t entirely know the reason why it took 2 years, but I believe that there might have been an element of God’s protection.  Who knows what might have happened had I been back earlier.  Possibly nothing, but then again, maybe something could have occurred which thankfully didn’t because God was keeping me safe in my home country.

And then there are those moments which seem to be utterly pointless.  I have to admit, I find a lot of tragedies difficult to explain away why they happened.  Yes, there are those who have risen victoriously and are now ministering to the hurt and broken as a result of their own pain, but then there are just some life events I cannot fathom the true meaning for.  And perhaps I never will this side of heaven.  Maybe the glory is in the fact that we simply don’t know and all will be revealed to us in time.  Perhaps the whole point is to live in that tension of shame, doubt, and confusion, urging us to trust in the One who does have all power and control.

I have learned that as much as I enjoy having full control over my life, my life goes better when I give that control up to Someone else.  I may make my own plans for the future, but God determines my steps.  Like the Psalmist says, “Unless the Lord builds a house, you labour in vain who make it.” (Psalm 127:1).  We potentially may have SOME control over our own life’s destiny.  We may choose to place ourselves in a position that brings us more of what we want or to position ourselves to achieve our goals at a younger age, but we cannot force the greatest mysteries of life to happen to us outside of the realm of God’s control.  When we surrender to His leading, we find that great events come to pass for us and countless others.  This is the great fact for us.

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Templeton Revisited: A Salvation Case Study

billy-graham-charles-templeton-full-v2 Canada – a country known for its multiculturalism, liberalism, open-mindedness, tolerance, and etiquette.  A country large in land mass, but small in population which prides itself on apologizing, friendliness, and warmth.  Yet despite these stereotypical clichés of the Canadian mindset, this country once held one of the world’s most influential evangelists – Charles Templeton.

Templeton was born in 1915 and as a young man became a prominent evangelist and the forerunner (and mentor) to the late Billy Graham.  He was an avid preacher, evangelist, and revivalist.  It was often said that he was a man whom God had anointed and placed His hand upon.  Through Templeton’s charisma and passion, church attendance in North America skyrocketed and thousands came to an understanding of salvation found only in Christ.

Yet, something drastic happened.  In 1957 at the age of 42 (and less than 20 years after he entered the ministry), Templeton chose to renounce everything he once stood for.  He said that he no longer believed in the infallibility of Scripture – in fact he did not believe in Scripture at all.  It is almost entirely normal for every believer to have a moment of doubt at least once in their faith journey, but for Templeton this moment was ongoing.  It was not just a few days or even months full of pondering and questions, it was not a year full of disillusionment and bewilderment in which he eventually saw God’s Hand coming through, it was a complete reorientation of his life, his theology, his philosophy, and his passion.  The water of evangelism had completely dried up from Templeton’s soul, the fire that once burned so brightly smothered from a slow flame into ashes.  Eventually, Templeton wrote a book that now has been widely circulated entitled “Farewell to God.”  Templeton, a scholar and very well-educated, reasoned out his viewpoints academically and rigorously.  He blamed his newfound lack of faith on science and religion not being compatible.  He had serious issues with many questionable Bible verses.  But was his intellect alone what truly led him to abandon the God he once loved and aimed to serve?  Or was there a deeper reason that never really became public knowledge and which he never allowed to surface?

The story of Templeton has often been used as a wonderful case study among theologians debating the possibility of predestination.  Myriad questions abound from his life, ministry, and then gradual departure from the faith.  Questions such as: Was Templeton really saved?  Did he lose his salvation?  And what then happens to those who were saved under his ministry?

Shockingly, statistics show that even when Templeton himself departed from the faith, very few of those who were part of his evangelistic crusades recanted.  In fact, while perhaps a few of them were troubled, it did not seem to shake their general understanding and awareness of Scriptures in any major way.

This is a topic that I have often considered and then come back to.  I consider myself a Calvinist, but yet, I am not entirely in-line with the traditional views of predestination.  I have read many articles and books on this topic, but despite its general tendency to divide and disturb, I truly believe this is one area in which we will never fully receive an answer this side of heaven.   Yet, here is my best attempt at summarizing how I generally feel about the question of whether one can lose their salvation:
When I lived in Edinburgh, I attended an evangelical church that stated if one “lost their salvation” they were never truly a Christian to begin with.  In this case, Templeton was never really a believer.  Yes, he might have said all the right things and paid lip-service to God, but he never truly had Christ in his life.  If he did, he wouldn’t have walked away.

I don’t like this mindset because to me it is too clear cut and I don’t think salvation ever works that easily.  Firstly, we have no right to choose who is in and who’s out.  We don’t get to decide who truly is a believer and who isn’t – that’s only up to Christ.  My pastor recently told me that when she conducts funerals she will always refrain from saying “This person was such a Godly [wo]man”.  There may be some people out there who are living a “picture-perfect” life.  Their marriages, families, and professions seem to show that they are Godly examples, but we don’t know what they are doing behind closed doors.  We don’t know what kind of lives they are leading when no one is looking or what kind of secret addictions they may be harbouring.  On the other hand, someone could be seriously struggling in their faith, but trying to get by and do the best they can.  In the end of the day, we can’t tell someone’s moral and spiritual status simply by what we have in front of us.

Secondly, in Templeton’s case, the real reason for his departure to the Christian faith was a lot more personal.  Oftentimes, the arguments that people present have to do with intellect and knowledge.  They struggle with religion and science meshing together, they see inconsistencies, but in many cases, the real reason why someone departs from the faith is a lot deeper.  When I was in seminary one of my professors said that Templeton really lost his faith when his daughter passed away.  He found this extremely difficult to reconcile and this led to his anger and frustration.  There might have been lingering doubts prior to that, but this was the “jumping off place.”  We don’t really know what happened to Templeton when he made this bold declaration and didn’t back down, but I think my professor had a point.  Perhaps when Templeton gets to heaven, all of this will be worked out.  Perhaps when he meets Christ face-to-face his crisis of faith will be resolved.  We can only hope.

When meeting someone who has walked away from the faith due to personal or family crisis, our first reaction should not be to theologize about whether they were legitimately a Christian or not, it should be to show compassion.  Throughout Scripture, we meet characters like David (he was known as “a man after God’s own heart”) and yet he freely spoke about anger and injustice.  We meet men like Job who in the heat of fury challenge God, but then when God shows up, humbly submit to Him.  Life can throw some very difficult and challenging times at anyone and we should not forget that there are real people involved in real faith struggles.  Stories like Templeton should not just be used as case studies.  We should not strip these stories of the full weight and impact they had on the individual’s life.

So, is it possible to lose salvation?  No, but it is entirely possible to walk away from it.  Salvation is a gift that is offered to us and will never be revoked.  But we can choose how to honour that gift.  For example, if someone gives you a prized item for your birthday or Christmas, chances are they will not take it back.  But you can choose to use that gift on a daily basis so that it benefits you and brings joy to others around you, or you can simply hide it in a closet and forget all about it.  In either case, you will still have the gift, but in the first instance you will be able to get a lot more use out of it and it will be more meaningful.  Our sole aim in life should not be theorizing about others’ salvation, but working out our own with “fear and trembling.”  We can’t choose how others will use and accept the gift they’ve been given, but we can choose what to do with our gift.  Let’s tear the wrapping paper off, fling the box lid open, take out the gift, and show it off to all those we meet!

I first wrote an article about Templeton back in May 2016.  However, I recently decided to re-visit the issue and write a more up-dated version.  You can read the original here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/05/30/templeton-testimonies-and-traps-is-it-possible-to-lose-your-salvation/

Finding Joy By: Morven-May MacCallum Book Review

43218836_10160845604505291_7721555727315107840_n Joyce (Joy) is a 16 year old high school student who likes parties, boys, and all the typical things teenagers enjoy.   She is living her life, doing well in school, and making plans for university, when suddenly her body and mind start revolting against her.  Joy is then thrown into a dizzying array of unexplainable symptoms which doctors do not seem to have any knowledge about.  Joy and her Aunt, Beth, visit numerous doctors throughout all of the UK and each one gives a different answer: moody teenager, depression, ME.  But nothing seems to make total sense, and nothing offers Joy that full relief.  As the days progress into months, Aunt Beth takes matters into her own hands.  She does some research and discovers that these symptoms align with Lyme’s Disease (a chronic illness caused by the bite of an infected tick).  It is not until Aunt Beth and Joy take the route of private medicine that this in finally uncovered and Joy is able to begin her journey back towards full health.

I met the author, Morven-May MacCallum this past summer at the Ness Book Fest in Inverness, Scotland.  The seminar she helped to lead was entitled “Writing and Health.”  The general theme being how writing can be a powerful tool towards bringing awareness to various health struggles and also can be therapeutic towards the one suffering the physical, emotional, and mental consequences of illness.

Truthfully, I did not know much about Lyme’s Disease before this seminar nor was I entirely particularly interested, but I was drawn to the general theme.  I am a writer myself and having suffered from an unexplainable illness for over a year, I do know how isolating it can be.  Writing can be a very powerful tool to make one feel like they are still connected to the larger world out there and to put on paper or on computer screen their deeper thoughts and feelings of when they are in and out of doctor’s rooms.

Although Morven’s book centres primarily around Lyme’s Disease and its co-infections, the general style of the book which addresses issues such as how someone feels to be ill for so long, how illness does not just affect the patient but their family and friends as well, and how to be more sensitive and compassionate to someone undergoing testing and treatment, can be helpful to anyone undergoing a serious illness.

Joy’s story is one that sadly all too many people of different ages and backgrounds are experiencing.  Not being totally taken seriously by medical professionals, being misunderstood as “lazy” or “unmotivated” when there is actually something physically wrong, and feeling helpless due to being so unwell.  This is a great book that is a wonderful play on words.  Finding Joy is about finding the true person whom disease and illness threatens to take away from us as well as finding joy even amidst the various trials and hardships we may face in life due to ill health.  This book is definitely worth a read if you are working in the health or disability sector.

 

What’s a Christian to do with LGBTQ+

transgblogimage About a week ago, a mega church in my home province of Canada wrote an emotional letter to two members of the congregation.  In the letter, the pastor laid out that this couple were not living by Biblical principles and were not receptive to the challenge and rebuke of the elders.  It was not an easy letter for the pastor to write.  He expressed the pain and heartache he felt (coming from a culture that practices excommunication I know it is no easy thing.  It is never done lightly and often there are many tears shed over it, always with the hope of full restoration).  What did this couple do that was considered so bad that they were now “poisoning the church” and causing “dissension?”  and why did everyone from that town feel they had to jump onto social media giving their viewpoint and opinion of what had happened?  The answer is simple: the couple was gay and had chosen to live a homosexual lifestyle.

Every church (whether people come forward or not) has a host of members who struggle with various sexual sins and temptations.  In a recent Bible study that I am doing with my 18-30s group in Scotland, we have taken to reading the entire Bible together for a year.  Throughout both the Old and New Testaments we see how the sexual instinct has led many people astray and even caused the nation of Israel’s downfall.  Whether it was the womanizing of Samson, the abundance of wives of Solomon (who in his later years caused him to worship false gods), or Esau’s blatant disregard to his parents’ wishes by marrying outside of the faith right from the onset, there is no shortage of showing how marriage can either build up or tear down our relationship with Christ.  In fact, 2 Kings 8 writes about a king named Joram.  Joram was an evil king who did wrong according to God’s law, but what started him out on that path?  The Bible writes “He [Joram] followed the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for he married a daughter of Ahab.” (2 Kings 8:18)   Who we marry is one of the most important decisions we make in regards to our faith.  When I was in my first year living abroad, I attended an International Fellowship retreat with my church.  We had a time where individuals could write down any question they had about the Bible or Christianity anonymously and someone wrote “if so many Christians are married to non-Christians and  it works out, why can’t I marry a non-Christian I love?”  The elder’s response stuck with me “when you get married it will either double or halve your ministry.”  If you or someone you care about is struggling with sexual temptation of any kind, it is important to know that there is nothing new about this.  It is an ongoing thread throughout Scripture, but it does not mean it is impossible to conquer and be victorious over.

Christians who experience same-sex attraction often will face a host of emotions due to their struggles.  On the one hand, we live in a culture where “anything goes.”  Those who don’t practice Christianity (and even a few who do) often have no issue with living a homosexual lifestyle.  People are being taught in mainstream culture to be true to themselves, not deny their impulses and urges, and that “love is love.”  This can cause some Christians to feel bitter towards the church.  Lots of questions come up: “Why would God make me gay and then not allow me to be with the one I love?”  “If I choose to be in a same-sex committed partnership what is really so wrong with that?”  “Maybe the church is just old-fashioned.  After all, the Bible was written in different times and maybe it’s not all applicable for today.”  Some non-Christian counselors and friends may even suggest that the Christian worldview towards same-sex attraction is “detrimental, unhelpful, or even harmful.”  Some have even classified it as “brainwashing” or “spiritual abuse.”

I have read widely on this subject, and as is the case with any other hot button topic in Christianity, one can find opinions and theological backing from both sides.  There are many books written by authors who are same-sex attracted Christians stating that although the orientation is not wrong, the act itself is, and these authors have chosen celibacy.  There are many other books written stating a case in favour of homosexual partnerships.  These theological arguments include references to obscure passages in Leviticus condemning eating pork or shellfish, or statements such as “Jesus never spoke about homosexuality.  I don’t think He would care.”  While I do believe these pro-LBTQ authors may have some valid points, as a theologian myself, I have consistently found their arguments to be quite weak.  If it were up to me, I would permit same-sex relationships, but I am not the one who wrote the Bible.  The Bible speaks of marriage only in terms of a relationship between a husband and a wife.  In our day and age, many people don’t like this, but the reason for it is because it was God’s original design for creation.  Although science is working on same-sex couples having their own biological children, as it stands right now, the only way to have a child whose DNA is 50% yours and 50% your partners is to have a male sperm mixed with a female egg.  Not only that, but men and women both bring different abilities and personalities to the forefront.  The complementary within marriage where a woman is to serve alongside her husband and her husband is to lovingly lay down his life for his wife, cannot fully be matched in a same-sex partnership.  Most importantly, marriage is meant to reflect Christ’s relationship to the church.  I was having coffee with my former small group leader recently and she put it this way, “marriage is not just to satisfy our own marital needs (a euphemism for sex), but to be a witness to the world.”  We live in a world where marriage is considered a throw-away commodity.  So many people are going into marriage today when their heart is not in a life-long commitment.  Marriage has simply been reduced to a piece of paper, but that’s not the way it was intended to be.  God created marriage to be the only means of sexual relations and the physical representation of His culmination of love for the church upon His return.

So, most Bible-believing Christians would express the need for heterosexual marriage only, but what then of the Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction (SSA)?  Are they all of a sudden “fallen, depraved, and corrupt?”  No.  Not any more than any of the rest of us are.  There has been much speculation over the years about what causes someone to be same-sex attracted.  Research has been poured into it, but there are no conclusive answers.  Most will attest to there likely being some biological difference in someone’s genetic make-up (in which case, the individual cannot control who they may feel attracted to).  There are likely also some cultural or familial reasons in some cases.  Sometimes an individual who grew-up with the absence of a strong father figure (for example) may try to seek refuge, love, and acceptance from other men, or a girl who grew up feeling that her parents preferred a boy may act tomboyish and perhaps even wish to be a boy herself, but this is not always the case.  Yes, there may be cases stemming from a “broken and bruised childhood”, but there are many other examples of same-sex attracted Christians who come from a strong, healthy, and supportive home.  When it comes down to it, SSA is just like any other temptation.  It can hit anyone at any time.  It is no respecter of persons.

It is true that sometimes Christians have done and said hurtful things towards their SSA brothers and sisters.  Sometimes these words or actions are done out of ignorance or simply being scared of the unfamiliar, however, I would like to propose now a few simple ways that you can reach out to those who struggle with homosexual feelings within the church:

#1: Look at people, not issues. – When dealing with SSA it is important to remember that there are real people involved with real feelings and emotions.  SSA is not simply an impersonal theological debate, but it is one that involves a lot of heartache, tears, and agony.  Christians with SSA often struggle between having to choose their faith or their orientation.  It is not an easy decision, nor should those who have never walked this path look at it this way.  Regardless of whether a SSA Christian chooses celibacy or gay marriage, there will be myriad struggles.  If a Christian chooses celibacy it means they will be giving up that which they so long for.  It may seem unfair that they will never be able to attain their hopes and dreams for marriage and family in the way non-SSA Christians can, and for some, singleness can be an unbearable weight of loneliness.  In this case, it is important to reach out to and offer other ways of attaining deep and meaningful connections and non-romantic relationships.  On the other hand, choosing marriage presents its own problems – Scripturally and practically.  SSA marriage likely will not be accepted into every church anytime soon and those who choose this path may well risk losing friends and family which can be equally heartbreaking.  In either case, I personally feel it is beneficial for SSA Christians to be in close contact with pastors, wise Christian friends, supportive mentors, and also professional counselors.  One friend put it this way “In either case, something will be lost.  [The SSA Christian] is either giving up their religious viewpoints [at least as they know it] or their desires and both need help and counselling.”

** On this note, it is important to remember that not all heterosexual marriages are strong nor will all SSA marriages end in disaster.  It is entirely possible for a SSA couple to have a healthy, happy, and meaningful connected marriage.  In fact, SSA couples may adopt and raise children who grow up with a positive view of relationships and marriage.  This does not mean it is right.  A heterosexual marriage still provides a certain dynamic which is impossible to achieve within a SSA marriage, but we should not demonize or demoralize those who do choose the SSA marriage path.**

#2: Understanding jargon – Many Christians prefer to use the term “same-sex attraction [SSA]” over “gay”, “lesbian”, or “homosexual/homosexuality.”  The reason for this is because SSA refers to an orientation whereas “gay/lesbian” often refers to engaging in the practice or active pursuit of the orientation.  Almost all Christians would agree that the orientation itself is not a sin, however, the practice is going against Scripture.  We do not choose who we feel attracted to, but we can choose whether to entertain thoughts about that person and the more we entertain the thoughts the more likely it is to act upon them.  Almost everyone has thought they were in love with someone they shouldn’t be with.  Some heterosexual people have felt a strong attachment towards a non-Christian or even someone who is married, for example.  This should not be considered as better or worse than someone who is facing attraction for the same-sex.  It is also important to note that even if a Christian does identify as gay/lesbian, it does not mean that they are in favour of all aspects of the LGBTQ movement.  If you have a SSA Christian friend, please ask them which terms they prefer to use, and also do not use any terms which they themselves are not comfortable using.

#3: Don’t act weird – many Christians have an unfortunate idea about what it truly means to be SSA.  Suppose, for example, that your best friend comes out to you and tells you that she experiences SSA.  You might right away begin to worry, “is my friend into me?”  You may even wonder, “should I still be seeing this friend one-on-one in my house?”  All of a sudden you might start reading into it if she is touching your shoulders, giving you a hug longer than normal, or patting your knee.  Please don’t act weird about it!  That only makes matters worse and further alienates a person.  SSA is the same as heterosexual orientation in terms of attraction. Just because someone is SSA does not mean that she will instantly be drawn into and develop a crush on every female that she sees.  If you are a heterosexual woman, you don’t have a crush on every single man you see.  In fact, you might spend a lot of time with a man and even have a high regard and respect for him, but never once think of him in a romantic way.  You don’t necessarily read into every encounter you have with a guy, so why do that with those who are SSA?  Equally, don’t ask your SSA friend if they have a crush on you as a joke and then act hurt when they say no.  This is immature and painful.  Don’t talk about the wonderful love life you have with your opposite-sex spouse in the hope that it will convert them.  It won’t.

#4: Create spaces of community, welcome, and warmth – Being SSA can be a lonely and isolating experience, so make sure that you don’t ignore the needs of your friend.   Especially if your friend chooses celibacy, remember to invite them along to events, spend quality time with them, and celebrate other milestones.  As people get older and move on to get married, they often tend to gravitate towards other married couples or couples with children.  People with SSA can feel left-out, so it’s a nice gesture to have a dinner invite or even ask them to help with the kids.  This is the same not just for those who are SSA, but for single people in general.  I remember going through a very difficult time in my personal life about a year back.  I was living on my own in my own flat.  I started feeling depressed and gained a lot of weight.  I hated eating alone and would go out a lot.  I spoke to my doctor about it, and she said that this is a common problem among single people.  “We were not meant to live alone.”  How true that is.  Scripture has a high regard for celibacy and never once puts down single people, but it also clearly states that we were meant to live in community.  We are meant to be with other people for fellowship and friendship.  We aren’t meant to do life alone or go through our struggles by ourselves.  When someone chooses the celibacy path, it is nice to know there are options to create this sense of community.  Some have chosen it through intentional living, and others through meaningful friendships.  Knowing someone is SSA is not a chance to pull back, but an opportunity to invest more.

#5: Connect with their story – I have often heard it said in evangelical settings “people can argue with your theology, but they can’t argue with your story.”  How true that is.  There are a number of good books out there that deal with the theology of being SSA and are clinically written, and those are good and useful.  But what’s even more useful are the number of memoirs written by those who are SSA who have struggled through it and are conquering it.  If you know someone who is SSA and you have a copy of one of these books, perhaps lend it out to them.  Personal stories are powerful.

#6: Finally, be consistent!  – The church has often held a double-standard towards sin.  The Bible is clear that all sin hurts God’s heart, but sexual sin is even more important to avoid because “all other sins are committed outside the body, but sexual sin is committed against the body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18)

I recently read a book by Preston Sprinkle “Living in a World of Gray”.  This book, written about SSA and the Christian experience, is targeted towards teenagers, but would be beneficial for anyone to read.  I loved what Sprinkle had to say in regards to the question “should I attend a gay wedding?”  Sprinkle wrote (paraphrasing here as I have since returned the book to the church library) that when answering this question we need to look at the person getting married.  If they are not a Christian we should ask ourselves if our presence would hurt or increase our Christian witness.  If we attend are we therefore saying we condone the marriage and if we do not attend are we therefore giving the impression that we do not approve of them as a person.  He further writes, if the couple is Christian, then we must make a choice.  If we choose not to attend a gay wedding, then we should not attend any wedding at all that is unscriptural.  I love this!  I went to Bible College and seminary and the majority of my friends are Christian.  Even so, I have attended weddings of my Christian friends who have lived together before marriage, advertised the fact that they had sexual relations before marriage, and some of them have been through an unbiblical divorce. The Bible is clear that the “marriage bed is meant to remain pure” (Hebrews 13:4).  It also states that anyone who divorces for any reason unless it is because of unfaithfulness has committed adultery (Matthew 5:32).  In this day and age, I think there are some rare exceptions where divorce can be permitted.  There are sometimes irreconcilable differences and of course, if abuse is involved we cannot expect a partner to stay within that dynamic as it would hurt them and their children.  However, these exceptions include extreme cases and everything should be done within that couple’s ability to work things out and seek healing, hope, and counselling.  Simply “falling out of love” no longer feeling a “romantic spark” or “lacking chemistry” are not good enough reasons according to Scripture to give up a sacred and holy union.  If you are going to come down hard on gay marriage, then you must come down hard on all other sexual sins and temptations.  Gay marriage should not be elevated as “the WORST sin” because it isn’t.  It is a sin, yes, but not any more of a sin than any other sexual relation going outside Scripture.

Here’s the wrap up.  My pastor and I recently had a chat about SSA and what it means to the church and she told me “same-sex attracted Christians struggle in a way that heterosexual people don’t have to” and she is right.  There are challenges and issues known only to those who have SSA.  But there are also challenges and issues that we all face.  Sexual temptation is a universal denominator and singleness can be difficult regardless of whether you are SSA or not.  Nevertheless, the church would do well not to be awkward towards people with SSA.  The Bible teaches us that temptation only has power when it is in the dark, but when it is brought into the light there is hope and healing (1 Peter 2:9).  If someone from your church comes forward and declares that they are wrestling with SSA, you should know that it is because they trust you.  You don’t have to feel bad about challenging a SSA Christian with Scripture – don’t give into the lie that you are being “homophobic.” But nor should they feel like they will lose your friendship if they go that route.  Our world is broken and sin has permeated it, but that doesn’t make SSA Christians “broken and sinful” any more than any other Christian is.  Engage your SSA friends with a heart of love and compassion, engage with mercy, banish fear, practice love, live for hope, root yourselves in holy sexuality.

Book Review: Four Gifts (By: April Yamasaki)

80334  The other day I sat at a local café with a new friend in Inverness.  After some brief pleasantries and the usual catch-up, our conversation turned to self-care.  Although a few years younger than me and still a student, I could relate to her struggles.  Struggles of trying to balance work, school, ministry, and friendship.  Thoughts of wondering how to be a leader when one is not offered actual leadership development courses.  The constant tension of how to maintain and make meaningful time WITH God instead of just FOR Him.

These are all questions and issues I’ve wrestled with myself time and time again.  I was honest with her – I know I have the tendency to be a workaholic.  I am overly enthusiastic, passionate, and find great satisfaction in serving others, but I can’t do it all.  Sometimes as a Christian I particularly face the challenge of what is ministry and what is simply being walkover (or as some might even say “co-dependency.”)  It is easy to explain away saying “yes” to every request that comes on my table, but is that truly the best option?  Is it really what Jesus would do?  Yes, Jesus does want us to reach out and help the lost, the struggling, the sick, and the misfortunate, but should we do it at the expense of our own body and soul?  Is there a limit to serving?  We cannot serve out of an empty vessel or as one timely quote goes “obviously, you cannot transmit something you haven’t got.”

I remember well the days of burn-out that I’ve faced.  I burned out of school, church, and ministry placements (whether paid or voluntary).  Burn-out has affected my physical health, my mental state, and my relationships.  I remember in seminary trying to do a full course load, working 3 part-time jobs, and also volunteering once a week on top of trying to keep up a rigorous social life.  In the end of the day, the thing that should have been the most exciting and fulfilling to me (time with friends) actually ended up just further draining me.  My friends became frustrated and resentful saying that I was no longer fun to be around.

Since I’ve started my full-time disability ministry five years ago, self-care has become a large facet of my life.  I’ve read a lot of books on it, talked to various ministry practitioners, and even took a week off work to take an academic course “Self-Care In Ministry.”  So when April (a woman I consider to be a friend due to our shared online presence) asked me to review her book, I was delighted.  Self-Care is an avenue that Yamasaki is clearly passionate about.  She has written extensively about it on her blogs and in other books, and it is clear that this is something she very much considers vital to her ministry.

Like I said, I’ve read various books on the topic, so what makes Yamsaki’s book stand out to me compared to the other literature I’ve read?  To be honest, there are a lot of self-help books on the shelves at libraries and in bookshops.  Most of them are helpful, articulate, and practical.  Yet Yamsaki’s book furthers the conversation and adds a new element of depth and dynamism.

Scripture tells us that we are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Matthew 22:37) and Yamsaki delves into how it would look if we practiced all four of those areas in our self-care.  Calling them the “Four Gifts” Yamsaki shares stories, practical suggestions, and illustrations about how community, soul-care (including reflection and lament), engaging the intellect and even how we choose to relate to food, exercise, and sleep can lead to a more fulfilling relationship with God.  Furthermore, she explores areas of cultural relevance to our time such as responsible usage of social media and online presence and the growing mental health and sleep deprivation concerns sweeping our world and our nation.  She writes from a Canadian viewpoint (which of itself is great, we need more Canadian authors), but her kernels of wisdom can impact anyone regardless of country.

What I particularly appreciated about Yamasaki’s book is that she does not have a “one-size fits all” approach.  She recognizes that some suggestions may work well for some and not for others due to various factors.  She realizes that self-care may mean eating a slice of chocolate cake one day and choosing to eat vegetarian the next.  She exerts that some days self-care may be about NOT doing one’s usual self-care techniques whether journaling or drawing.  It is in that sensitive space of permission that I find a desire for self-care is born.  Self-care shouldn’t have to feel like a chore, but sometimes it is about actually doing the chores around the house.

I have always appreciated anything written by Yamasaki and this book is no exception.  I really love April’s intellectual and scholarly mind coupled with her incredible passion and fueled by her pastoral sensitivity to truly care for her readers.  This is a book that I am excited to share with my friend and with any other young church leaders I meet.  I feel many would benefit from the wisdom and depth of insight she imparts to all who are willing to be taught.

 

Downs With Love – A Play Review

20180612_211601 Human relationships are complex and fascinating, but what happens when a girl with Down Syndrome falls in love with a man who ends up being her carer’s boyfriend?

In “Downs With Love” a play that toured throughout Scotland, Beth (played by lead actress Abigal Brydon) becomes friends with Tracey, her support worker.  Tracey and Beth get together multiple times a week to sing, watch TV, and do chores, but Beth wants to take Tracey on a special outing.  Every Friday night, Beth goes to the local pub where she listens to a singer named Mark.  Mark is handsome, has an angelic voice, and is around her age, and Beth hopes that he will one day fall in love with her.  At first Mark ignores her and finds it difficult and awkward to relate to someone with a disability, but as support worker, Tracey, urges him to at least be friendly and kind to Beth a friendship forms.  Mark, Tracey, and Beth all begin spending time together, going to the movies, going out for coffee, and going bowling.  Eventually Mark works up the courage to ask Tracey to go on a date with him.  Tracey does not feel comfortable going behind Beth’s back, but she agrees as long as it is just a casual date, not a “date date”.  Yet as Mark and Tracey grow closer together, they both start getting more and more distant from Beth who truly believes that something might eventually happen between her and Mark.  Soon the day comes when Mark and Tracey have to break the news to Beth, a moment she does not handle well.  She is devastated and feels like her friends have betrayed her.  She questions whether it is all about her disability and if she were simply “normal” if she would have the chance for love.  Yet, at the end of the play, all is remedied as Mark and Tracey get married and Beth forgives them both and is truly happy for them and so their relationship continues.

The play “Downs with Love” is based off of Beth’s (Abigal Brydon’s) own experience.  Abigal is part of a local theatre troupe called Inspire that welcomes actors of various ability levels.  Abi has even succeed in her dream of being a professional by taking classes at a local college, though her ultimate dream is to one day be on television!  Throughout the play, Abi weaves in her past humiliations of being bullied in school and seen as different, as well as her day-to-day routines and her own previous relationships.  It is a play that is at once realistic, thoughtful, and thought-provoking.

After watching the play and having the question and answer session with the panel, I came away with so many questions about how our society perceives people with disabilities in relationships.  Do we view that as awkward or romantic?  Do people with disabilities have enough resources to learn about relationships as the general public?  What is right or wrong in a relationship for someone with a disability, who decides that, and why?

This play really showed me that it is so imperative to support those with disabilities to accomplish their dreams in the same way as we would for anyone else.  It is important to be honest, upfront, and to be clear about boundaries.

I have never seen a play quite like this one, but I believe this is the start of something amazing when it comes to disability inclusion in the theatrical world.  The director, Suzanne Lofthus, has so many upcoming dreams for continuing to make similar plays and maybe in the future, films.  Until, then, I am excited to see more actors with developmental disabilities taking centre stage and reminding us of how love can be a possibility for us all.

Why I Went to a Funeral for Someone I Never Knew

Yellow-Flowers-Coreopsis-Walters-Gardens-Inc  Death – a word we all try to avoid, but that we know is inevitable.  It isn’t easy in the slightest to go to a funeral for someone you knew well and cherished, so why would one ever go to a funeral for someone they never even met?  This is the question I found myself asking as I piled into a room full of about 40 people from my L’Arche community in Inverness, Scotland.  The room was full of people wearing black, the room was also full of people wearing yellow.  A core member (person with a developmental disability) named Fiona had recently passed away and her favourite colour was yellow.  She liked the brightness of it and how it reminded her of the sun, of warmth, of laughter, and of friendship.  She even moved into a L’Arche house named Grianan, the Scottish Gaelic word for “Sunshine”, directly linked in a duplex style housing to another house named Saorsa meaning “Freedom.”  And that’s what Fiona was.  She was free, even despite her physical and developmental limitations, because she knew she was loved and held by the care and support of many who loved her.

Her funeral was much longer than any other memorial I have ever attended, but time seemed to be suspended as core members and assistants alike shared poems, stories, and pictures of Fiona.  As they said their final farewells and wrote on yellow cut-out hearts to be placed in a specially decorated box all the things they would have wished to have said to her but never had the opportunity.

Fiona’s boyfriend also spoke.  He and Fiona had been partners for a long time.  They went on trips together, shared meals together, and he visited her every Sunday at her house.  He  recounted a time when Fiona first asked them to be a couple.  His exact words were that she said “you and I should be together so that we can make others laugh.”  He even referred to her as “a cheeky little monkey” – a great term of endearment over here in Scotland.

I was off that day.  I was under no obligation to attend her funeral.  She hadn’t been part of the community for over 2 years as the result of her declining health which meant other arrangements had to be made.  I never met her.  So why should I use my free time to attend a community gathering as solemn as this?  The answer is because I feel memorials are a way of respecting and honouring someone’s life.  In our ableistic culture we tend to tote and idealize celebrities who pass away because we feel they have made a significant contribution to our world.  When a movie star, singer, or actor dies his or her name is mentioned in all the newspapers and tabloids.  When someone who has made a contribution in the field of medicine, scientific inquiry, theology, or psychology passes we feel a sense of gratitude for their commitment and inventions.  But oftentimes, someone with a developmental disability can be ignored.  And that’s not the way it should be.  The Bible tells us that “God uses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27) and L’Arche has taught me that God also uses those whom society deems unfit and even worthless to teach us what humanity, love, laughter, and life is really and truly all about.

Listening to people share that day brought me back to this place of realizing how everyone who walks this earth has something to share and contribute.  Fiona was a person with a disability, but she was also so much more.  She was a girlfriend, a daughter, a friend, a traveler, an adventurer, an explorer, a dancer, and that only begins to scratch the surface.  When the box got passed to me to stick my little yellow heart into I wrote, “Dear Fiona, I never knew you, but you’ve left a legacy.”  And that’s exactly how I felt.  She taught assistants from around the world to interact with her and get to know her.  Not for her disability, but for her personality.  Not because they were paid to care for her, but because they entered into a community in which she was a part and in which she urged them to get close to her and to be her friend.

This week in community has been full of ups and downs.  Death is not easy for anyone, and is especially difficult for people with disabilities to process.  But we’ve also had laughs and joyous occasions.  Also this week, one of our core members celebrated his 70th anniversary with great fanfare and a ceilidh band.  In his own words, “birthdays are a way to thank someone for being born.”  How true that is – people with disabilities are often shunned and sadly seen as a burden, but that’s not how it should be at all.  So both in celebrating a birthday and in honouring the legacy of a great woman, the message is the same – thank you for being born, thank you for living, showing us yourself, and teaching us the true values of humanity and love.  But most of all, thank you for your continuing life that whether in this world or the next continues to shine forth, proclaiming a message of equality, respect, and tolerance.  Thank you that that message can impact even those you’ve never met because you have left a legacy.