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

An Unlikely Teacher, an Encourager, and the Power of a Praying Grandmother

celebrating_seniors_logoToday I preached my inaugural sermon at Trulls Road Free Methodist Church at their annual Seniors’ Luncheon.  I am so grateful for all the seniors who have impacted and shaped my life.  I hope that this message will be a blessing to you! 

Good afternoon.  It is indeed a real honour and privilege to join you today for your seniors’ luncheon.  Today, I would like to share a few stories of how seniors have impacted my own personal and spiritual life.  I hope these stories will serve as an encouragement for everyone here.

Our culture is completely preoccupied with staying young forever.  Just flip through any magazine or television advertisement and you will be promised that a certain cream, lotion, or oil will restore your youth.  These same commercials suggest that one’s college or career days are the best times of one’s life.  However, what these advertisements fail to realize is that there are many things seniors can do which my age group cannot.  Some of these areas include: being able to teach and mentor the next generation through life experience, encouraging young people by testifying to God’s faithfulness over your lifetime of service to Him, and through the power of praying for your grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Let’s look at all of these areas a little closer.

Firstly, I appreciate how you provide mentorship and teach us through your life experience.
When I began thinking of what to share with you today, my mind immediately thought of 2 Timothy 1:5 where the Apostle Paul commends his young mentee, Timothy, to hold on to the faith that was passed down to him.  In this short verse, Paul mentions two instrumental women in Timothy’s life – his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois.  Timothy’s early life was probably shaped by competing worldviews and religious leanings because his mother was a Jew and his father a Greek.  And yet, because of his grandmother’s teaching, he became a positive role model to many in his church.

My grandmother, Anna Ferber, was also a sparkplug of the faith.  My grandma went through many terrible ordeals during her life.  She lived through the horrors of World War II and had to flee her native Hungary in order to move to Canada.  She also faced personal difficulties of various kinds, but these never hindered her faith and trust in God.  She was a very humble person who quietly served others, so it wasn’t until after her death that I truly understood what an inspiration she was.  Only later did we discover notes in her apartment posing questions like “Lord, have I remembered to thank You today?”  In her last months, her only request was for the Psalms to be read out loud to her frequently, when she was too weak to read them herself.  She was truly a faithful servant of God.

Secondly, seniors bless my generation by encouraging us through testifying of God’s goodness over their lifetime.

Questions and concerns are a young person’s food.  They often consume our thoughts.  This is where seniors provide a needed and welcome respite from the storms of life.  When seniors share their own experience, they often provide reassurance that we can also get through some of the most difficult hurtles life throws at us.

My grandmother got married very young and immediately started her family.  When she was still in Hungary, some German soldiers came to her house unannounced and demanded a search. Imagine how terrifying this would have been for a young Jewish woman, barely 20 years old with 2 small children. Yet, my grandmother was a very clever woman.  Instead of panicking, she warmly invited the soldiers inside and shared a pot of her homemade soup.  The soldiers had not eaten well in days and gladly accepted the offer.  My grandmother then led them out the backdoor, and the soldiers never shared the information with their superiors.  In this story, my grandmother was a modern day Esther who courageously risked her life for the sake of her family and future generations.

During the war, my Great Uncle was also detained in a prisoner of war camp.  Yet instead of complaining and questioning God, he used that experience to witness to other inmates.  Some even came to know God in a personal way. Today, he does not harbour any bitterness about these conditions, but only gratitude.

These last two stories are fairly dramatic, however, you can also encourage people in much smaller ways.  In my old church, there was a retired pastor named J.P. who was in his early 90s.   J.P. always went out of his way to praise and compliment the youth.  When I was a teen, I used to run the church sound system.  I was the first woman to do this and I believe the last.  Every Sunday, J.P. came to get his assisted hearing device and he would greet me by saying “it’s so nice to finally see a woman behind the desk.  It’s about time.”  This left a lasting impression on me so when he passed away, I cried about it for a few days.

Lastly, I really appreciate when your generation prays for mine.  It is unfortunate that sometimes prayer can be relegated to the sidelines, often as an afterthought.  Sometimes well-meaning people downplay its importance by stating “if you can’t do anything else, you can still pray for us.”
The truth is, prayer is the greatest ministry of all.  It doesn’t matter how wonderful a ministry is, if it is not constantly brought before the Throne Room of Grace it will collapse.  Just like the Psalms tell us “unless the Lord build a house, you labour in vain who make it.”

During my second week at Trulls, I joined a few seniors for lunch after church.  One of the members shared how she was previously involved in children’s ministry, but now she has retired from it.  However, she mentioned that she still prays for the ministry itself, the kids, and for me.  I was so touched by her words.  The prayers of a person who has displayed a lifetime of faithfulness to God are a valued treasure.

Please be encouraged.  Even if ill-health or physical limitations prevent you from actively serving like you once did, your prayers are the greatest asset to the ministry.  Like James writes, “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  Or in my own words “don’t mess with a praying Grandma!”

I’d like to end with one last verse from Scripture.  Psalm 92:14 reads, “You will still yield fruit in old age.  You will be full of sap and very green.”

I began my message by sharing how our culture often devalues old age.  And I shared some personal stories about how seniors positively impact my life.  I talked about the three greatest blessings your generation gives to mine: mentoring us through your own life experience, testifying to God’s faithfulness and goodness over a lifetime of serving Him, and praying for us deeply.
All of these areas are ways that you still bear fruit.  Sometimes it might be easy to look back with nostalgia on your ministry involvements as a 20 or 30 year old.  But I urge you not to forget the amazing ways that God is using you in your 70s, 80s, and 90s.

And that’s why, like the Psalmist says, at any age, but especially in old age, we bear fruit, we grow, and we flourish.

Thank you for your time this morning and may God continue to bless you and look favourably upon you.

 

 

Before You Go Bashing My Generation, Please Remember These Three Things

C5WcZQvWcAAbyVC Over the last few years, Millennials have gotten a lot of press.  There are numerous articles written about why Millennials are the laziest, least motivated, and most narcissistic generation.  These articles suggest that Millennials are over educated, but lack the necessary job skills needed to succeed in life.  They paint Millennials as being addicted to social media and their phones, being socially inept – unable to have a conversation in real life, and being disinterested in spiritual and religious matters.  They bemoan the fact that Millennials have given up on church and given up on God.  That they simply don’t care about anything unless it will directly benefit them.  They use statistics to illustrate that previous generations were more in-tune with daily life affairs, had a stronger work ethic, and were more drawn to starting their family earlier.

This is one side of the story, but then we also have the backlash of articles written by 20somethings stating otherwise.  These young adults claim that we are the product of an older generation that refuses to retire, that we have master’s degrees and work at coffee shops, and that we are delaying marriage because we simply can’t afford a million dollar house.

I realize that we will likely never come to a conclusion on the matter.  But I’d like to suggest that fighting about which generation is “better” is entirely missing the wonderful opportunities that could be had fostering inter-generational dialogue.

I understand that my generation is not perfect – neither was yours.  I know we have an unhealthy preoccupation with the screen, we are facing the social pressures of trying to keep up with our friends who post a “picture perfect life”, and in many cases we are struggling to even get a half-time position in our field.  Yet, I also believe that Millennials provide an incredibly dynamic worldview which could greatly inspire the older generation if they were willing enough to listen.  I know that I am only one person, but as a Millennial, I do feel like I am able to represent my generation.  Below, I’d like to share some of the ways the technological craze and Millennials in general are actually a great asset to our church, our culture, and our world.

#1: Is a nose stuck in a screen really a nose stuck in a screen?

Millennials like myself are often glued to a screen, held captive by our phones, and have conditioned our minds to respond the minute we hear a ding or buzz go off.  There are many negative side effects to this such as decreased concentration during conversations.  I have to admit that one of my greatest pet peeves is someone who tells me they are listening to my story while mindlessly scrolling their newsfeed.  On the other hand, they probably are – we are a generation of multi-taskers.  We have learned to pick up on the vital information, while playing Candy Crush or Snap Chatting.

However, there is another side to this story.  Sometimes seniors think that all we are doing is Facebooking, but that’s actually not the case.  As anyone under the age of 60 realizes, our phones are our mini-computers.  We are using our phones to connect with friends, but we are also reading the news, finding recipes, and learning new languages.

There definitely are disconcerting things about the technological world.  In “Overrated: Are We More In Love With the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World” Eugene Cho states that the newsfeed barrage has dulled our sensitivities and compassionate response.  I definitely believe there is much truth to this statement.  Causes are valiantly fought on Facebook and forgotten the next day.  Articles and photos circulate to raise awareness, but next week we don’t remember them.  We somehow think that clicking the “like” button or even the new “sad face” option makes up for a personal phone call when someone is going through a difficult time.

However, there is also a positive side.  The cool thing about social media is the way we now have access to people’s thoughts and opinions around the globe.  I often engage in meaningful church discussions with friends in North America, Europe, and Australia when previously this would never have been an option.  I am part of Facebook groups and blogging collectives (like the MennoNerds) where ideas are circulated and shared by people I never would have met in real life.  The blogging world provides opportunities for many to add their voice to a continuing conversation when previously only a select handful of people would be published.  Of course, there are individuals whose blogs probably are not worthy of publication, but for the most part, many blogs are helpful and provide unique outlooks and possibilities.

#2: The Generation that Doesn’t Grow Up, Might Actually Be the Most “Grown-Up” of All

Many people in my parents’ and grandparents’ generation are deeply concerned with the Millennial generation that refuses to grow up.  It’s just a much different world now than it was then.

Back when my grandparents were kids, a Bachelor’s degree was your ticket to nearly every profession.  A master’s degree showed you were some type of genius and a PhD meant you were practically on the Mensa list.  People back then often started their profession in their early 20s.  They worked in the same field for many years and then retired in Florida (unless, of course, they are still working and not opening up those jobs for my generation).

Not so today.  Today’s world sees people changing professions at least 6 times over their lives.  People seem unfocused and unwilling to put down roots.  And what’s worse, people don’t seem concerned at all with the fact that they are approaching 30 (or even 40) and still don’t have tenure anywhere.

This can certainly seem disconcerting in the moment, but take a closer look.

When I was 24 and a recent graduate (holding a master’s degree – a higher degree than either my parents or grandparents attained) I spent a year in Scotland.  Many people tried to discourage this.  They said it was a waste of time, that I should just “settle down” and that I would later come to regret it.  Their ideal for my life was something I considered “boring.”  Being a globe trotter often seems like an irresponsible use of education, however, I believe it’s a great asset.  Living abroad really broadens your understanding and scope of many things.  You learn how it is possible to make friends in a country and culture where you didn’t know anyone.  You wrestle through bumbling social conventions, you become more aware of global affairs, and your whole outlook on life changes.

Many people my age are also interested in intentional communities.  The older generation often doesn’t understand this.  I have often faced ridicule about my involvement in L’Arche, even being told it was a “cult.”  But I think it’s actually this increasing sense of isolation and individualization that propels us towards life together.  And I think our willingness to cook and share meals with one another, to give of our time and talents, and even to share in monetary resources is not a sign of immaturity, but actually a great witness towards the inter-dependency God ordained for us when He stated “it is not good for a man to be alone.”

#3: The generation that isn’t into church, has redefined what “church” actually means

Lastly, many older people are frustrated with the lack of young adults who not only skip church on a regular basis, but don’t seem to be interested in serving at all.  Yet, I think what this generation is failing to consider is that we ARE part of church, we’re just living that differently.
Of course, there are increasingly more Millennials who ditch church entirely, who embrace a “relative truth” schema, and who clearly are not considered with spiritual matters.  However, for those who are, we just want to see things done differently.

Millennials are perhaps the greatest proponents of social justice endeavours there are.  We clearly care about the ills that befall humanity and we are out to change that.  We need churches that will harness that creative energy and passion and allow it to fuel their ministries.  We’re done with the talk, we want action.

Here’s another thing, people often confuse denominational affiliation with the Christian title.  Here’s the thing, for many Millennials denominations are simply a buzz word, if not a distraction.  I know many committed Christians in their 20s and 30s who don’t want to be affiliated with the Baptist, Mennonite, or Anglican movement, but who nevertheless love God.  I, myself, do not like to stay tethered only to one denomination.  I am a Free Methodist because they are the denomination that hired me on and as a result the one I am seeking ordination with.  However, it could just as easily have been the Presbyterians, the Anglicans, the Pentecostals, or any other denomination which ordains women.

This can often be difficult for elderly people to compute.  Many grandparents grew up in the same church, raised their children in that church, and are proud to be Catholics, Lutherans, or Episcopalians.  To them, there is only one theology that can be correct.  They may extend grace to other groups, but they proud to claim the title of only one.

But that’s just not the way things are anymore, and I think it’s for the better.  I believe being trans-denominational is a wonderful asset that Millennials bring.  It shows that we are not so caught up in “only one” option, but that we are willing to bring the best of all denominations into the picture.  It shows that we are willing to communicate and discuss different theological topics without always having to be the ones who are right.  I believe that ultimately this will be to our benefit as it will likely help patch up many of the church rifts that occurred in the past for what we deem to be “quite silly reasons.”

Millennials are not perfect.  They have addictions like every other generation.  They struggle with mental health issues like every other generation.  They find it difficult to break into the job market, like many other people just starting out.  They wonder how they will afford expensive housing let alone get married and raise a family. Yet even in the midst of all these trials, they are able to bring us multiple job skills (acquired through a variety of different jobs rather than simply being an expert at one), many different world views (acquired through living abroad and in intentional communities rather than starting their career in one country and never leaving), and the unity of a group who is more focused on Christ than on denominations.  And because of this, I think we have a lot to thank the Millennial generation for.