What’s a Christian to Do with Multi-Faith?

download   Coexist.  If you’re from the West, you will likely have seen this slogan adorning bumper stickers, pamphlets, t-shirts, key chains, and possibly even church sign boards.  If you’re in my generation (under 30s) you probably have also grown up hearing logic like this:

  • All religions are equal, there are many paths to God and our role is simply to respect and learn how to COEXIST with one another.
  • Truth is relative. What works for me, might not work for you, but we can still COEXIST, mutually loving one another even despite our apparent differences.
  • “The truth is one, the wise call it by many names.” (Hindu Expression)…Therefore the wise COEXIST with one another, whereas the unwise bicker and dispute.
  • Or in slightly more sophisticated language (in the words of Professor Ali Assani of Harvard University: “The divine purpose underlying human diversity is to foster knowledge and understanding, to promote harmony and co-operation among peoples. God did not create diversity to become a source of tensions, divisions, and polarizations in society.  Indeed, whether humans recognize it or not, human diversity is a sign of spiritual genius.” (http://www.twf.org/Library/Pluralism.html).  Therefore, COEXISTING is a sign of our increasing intelligence, maturity, and desire to learn with and from one another.  Whereas failure to COEXIST is a sign of close-mindedness, rigidity, and disrespect.

At the surface, this all sounds rather easy in a hippy sort of way.  Sure, let’s just get along, respecting one another, and seeing the value in the various viewpoints people espouse.  But is it really so simply to act out in our day to day living?

In the West, we are fast becoming more and more multicultural, multiethnic, and thus multi-religious.  Due to factors such as immigration, cross-cultural communication, and emigration of our own peoples, we are no longer a mono-religious society, nor will we likely be one ever again.  On any given day, I engage with and walk past people who identify as Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, New Ageist, spiritual but not religious, Agnostic, Atheistic, and those who do not yet identify as having a religion.  There are, of course, various levels to which these people practice their faiths from very strict and religious observers, to nominal church goers, to secular Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and to cultural devotees who do not agree with their religion’s core doctrines.  Furthermore, among the various people groups I encounter, there is a wide range of beliefs surrounding interfaith.  Some are more than happy to build friendships with people outside of their tradition whereas others prefer to keep connections only with those similar to themselves.  Some are interested in exploring other religions (possibly going to a temple, church, synagogue, or mosque despite it not being their tradition), and others warn against such “evils.”  Therefore, the possibility of interfaith dialogue is not always an apparent opportunity.

Yet, because of shifts in socio-cultural and religious understanding, it is important for us to become more aware of the differences and similarities other people groups bring to our country and our world.  Below I’d like to suggest a few key points for making interfaith dialogue more readily accessible to all:

  • Being Aware of Our Own Prejudices and Ideas

Let me begin by asking you a few simple questions: What makes someone a Christian?  A Jew?  A Muslim?  A Buddhist?  An Atheist?

Do you think it is more meaningful to belong to a certain religious group or can one also engage in a meaningful life by being spiritual but not religious, not identifying with any specific group, or even being an atheist?

Can someone who is an atheist still have a deeply spiritual life?
Think about your answers.  Where do they come from?  Did you yourself grow up in one particular tradition?  Who were the people you were exposed to from your earliest childhood memories?  How did your parents shape and inform your religious views and identities (or did they)?  Were your parents adamant that you follow one specific tradition, or did they allow for exploration, open-mindedness, and dialogue ultimately letting the decision fall on you?

There are no necessarily right or wrong answers to these questions, but being aware of how we would respond to them helps create a good basis for where our interest in multi-faith relations comes from.

Additionally, we need to be reminded of how our culture and church shapes our views of other religions.  For example, it is an unfortunate reality, but many children today are growing up with a rather Islamophobic understanding of the world because of news reports and media coverage about extremist groups such as ISIS or Hamas.  This attitude sadly even extends into some churches which may become saturated with Zionistic tendencies, even using unfair examples to portray what they believe to be End Time prophecies.  Whereas, someone who grew up in the WWII era in Europe would very likely have been exposed to Anti-Semitism.  Certain Americans (though certainly not all) may be exposed to white supremacy and come to wrongly associate white religious expressions as more valid than those that people of colour follow.

It is also important to note that within each religion there are a multitude of different opinions regarding gender roles, sexual identity, political viewpoints, dietary restrictions, and many other topics.  This is because each religion is internally diverse.  For example, in Christianity we see male headship, but we also see feminism.  We see Christian arguments for vegetarianism, but also arguments against.  We see Christian groups which do not readily seek converts (such as the Amish), and we see evangelical groups who believe in street and door-to-door evangelism.  In each of these cases, the people who make up the group are still Christian, are likely very sincere in their approaches and their faith, but also are extremely different from one another.

  • Understand the Reason For Your Dialogue

People engage in inter-faith dialogue for a variety of reasons and with many different motivations.  For some it is simply a means of seeking out evangelistic opportunities.  They may believe that by attending these groups or making friends with people outside of a different faith that they may be able to help the other person see the need to join their specific group.  This is especially true of many Evangelical Christians. At the very least, even if the person does not convert, they still look forward to at least sharing their own beliefs and stating their own opinions (check this out for more reasons people engage inter-faith: https://western-hindu.org/2012/02/18/importance-of-dialogue-a-hindu-perspective/).  The Bible certainly DOES encourage us to engage with people of other faiths, to go into the world and share and testify to our relationship with Christ, and to disciple one another, but it all depends on our motivation for doing so.  Creating friendships and building bridges with the intent of truly getting to know the other person, forming a loving relationship, and striving for peaceful conversations are all good reasons to do so.  Excessive arguing, shaming, belittling or even attacking the other person’s viewpoints are not a good way to go about it.  Instead, we should be open-minded, trying to find level-ground, and willing to learn from the other person.  If you’d like to read my experience of spending time with a Muslim colleague who has become a very dear friend to me over the years and how we maintain strong ties without letting our religious viewpoints get in the way, please read this article: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/5-things-having-a-muslim-friend-taught-me/.

Furthermore, some people engage in inter-religious dialogue because they are interested in clarifying their own convictions or learning how to articulate them more clearly.  But the ultimate best reason to be part of the inter-faith movement is to break down barriers and grow in multiculturalism. 

  • Be Aware Of Your Religion’s Own Short-Comings

In his book, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Rule the World, author Stephen Prothero explores how Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, Yoruba Religion, Daoism and Atheism have all succeeded as well as failed at various points in their history.  Prothero also blogged about how it can be easy to display our religion’s best against the backdrop of another religion’s worst, but this is neither fair nor helpful (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/07/16/hinduisms-caste-problem-out-in-the-open/).  Each religion has at times floundered and been re-routed from their original founder’s viewpoints and ideal.  Each religion has been responsible for great acts of social justice and human dignity, but also for wars, division, and disunity.  It is therefore a gross injustice to make sweeping generalizations like “all Muslims are extremists and terrorists” or “all Christians are welcoming, nice, and friendly.”  It may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many people do this (consciously or unconsciously).  Even though people might never say these words out loud, they might often think them in their head, which can be just as dangerous and destructive.  Protero also rightly notes how easy it is to justify our own religion’s misdeeds while not offering the same level of forgiveness to other people groups.  For example, we might say, “the Christians involved in the Holocaust were not true Christians.  True Christians love people and always do what is right because they are following Jesus.  The people who did such atrocious acts simply paid lip service to God without a change in their heart or soul.”  We then may turn around and make sweeping generalizations of other groups we deem to be violent or dangerous.  Instead, we should humbly ask forgiveness for the things our religion has done that has harmed others and take responsibility rather than shifting the blame onto another.

Professor Assani once again gives some good advice on this topic “for in the end, a struggle against the flaws of the ‘other’ is worthwhile only if it is coupled with a struggle against the flaws of one’s own tradition.” (http://www.twf.org/Library/Pluralism.html)

Dr. Shaye Cohen (director of Jewish studies at Harvard) gives a similar statement when warning against the proof-texting that so often accompanies these sorts of discussions: “We don’t take the Bible out and put our finger on the page and say, ‘you see, look what it says.’  To which my response is always, ‘yes, but what does it MEAN?’  You have to interpret it and you have to see what the interpreters have said and then we can talk about it.”

  • Learn All You Can About Other Religions

I recently completed a 6 month certificate course through Harvard University Online (HarvardX) called “World Religions Through Their Scriptures.”  This course has been an invaluable tool for me and has opened up my mind to all sorts of new possibilities.  Previously, I hardly knew anything about Hinduism or Buddhism, but now I am beginning to see how to have a much more fruitful dialogue with people in these faiths.  The certificate included courses on: Religious Literacy – Traditions and Scriptures, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism and was taught by a superb teaching staff including professors who practiced the religion themselves.  When I first started, I was nervous.  I actually thought I might struggle in my own faith because Harvard is a rather liberal and secular school, so I asked some of my Scottish friends to pray for me about it.  Instead of decreasing my faith, though, it actually had quite the opposite effect.  I constantly was making new discoveries into what I personally believed, was seeing more and more of a need for these types of dialogues to happen across religious boundaries and barriers, and oftentimes came to many spiritual encounters which only confirmed and strengthened my own faith.  I think this is the key to beginning these types of dialogues – we need to be willing to learn and grapple with as much of a different religion as we can.  We also need to be humble and ask people what they believe and think, we should not solely rely on our own experience, education, or opinions to guide us.  Even if we believe we are experts in a certain religion, we still need to realize that everyone will follow their beliefs and practice their faith in a slightly different way because each person’s experience is unique.  If you would like to learn more about this course, you can access all of the materials for free indefinitely at: https://www.edx.org/xseries/world-religions-through-scriptures#courses   (You may also want to check out this site for more information: http://rlp.hds.harvard.edu/how-think-about-religion).

So…what’s a Christian to do with Interfaith? It ends up a whole lot.  Our responsibility as believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is not to flee from challenge or to deny our rapidly changing and expanding world, but rather it is to engage and engage in love. In our quest to do Kingdom work, we are to find ways to share our faith with others, but also let them share their faith with us.  We are to dialogue rather than debate, to actively seek peace rather than to create hostility.  We are to promote unity within diversity rather than ignore the wars and strife that religions can sometimes create.  When we put forth this effort, when we share in a cross-cultural meal joining hearts and hands with those much different than ourselves, and when we truly believe that global harmony is possible – we are bringing about God’s Kingdom.  I’m not saying to lay aside evangelism completely, not at all.  I’m not saying to hide your faith, but I’m actually saying the opposite.  I’m saying: be bold in your declaration of the Gospel of Christ, share it freely, but do it in love.  Do it in service.  Do it with sensitivity and compassion.  Do it in the spirit of inter-faith. 

If you are interested in having a meaningful inter-faith dialogue here’s a great website that might aid you in your discussions: http://www.scoutinterfaithworship.org/ten_suggested_rules_for_interfai.htm

 

These pictures represent just a small fraction of the books I have in my personal library on multi-faith.  It is fascinating to see the role religion plays in our daily lives: from children’s Bibles to Bible trivia to joke books.  It is also interesting to see how we can truly co-exist with one another.  Just like the books are each their own unique entity, but they live on the same book-shelf, we can do the same in our relationships with people of other faiths.  

Going Dark – My Experience of Being Off Facebook

stepsToTake_unplug  Those of you who read my first blog post: “God Rejoices Over You with Singing” (https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/08/17/god-rejoices-over-you-with-singing-finding-self-worth-and-self-esteem-solely-in-christ/) will already have some idea of what I am going to be sharing in this post.

For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to peruse it, I will explain a bit here.  Basically, I deleted my Facebook for a short time because I needed to re-focus on my relationship with Christ with minimal distractions.  I realized that as amazing as Facebook can be, as helpful, as convenient, as fast, and efficient – it was causing me to stumble.  Or at least I thought it was.  I truly believed that limiting my exposure to so-called “triggering” events was somehow going to shape my internal image and remind me of my worth in Christ…but ultimately I learned that unless I was willing to put forth an effort in my spiritual life, it was a rather pointless exercise.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of good has come out of taking myself off Facebook.  For one, I was able to get quite a bit of writing done.  If you read my blogs, you will know that I published 9 blogs while offline and have several more scheduled for the near future.  I’m sure this has made my fellow MennoNerds very happy!  Not only have I had a the chance to increase my blogging presence, but I also had quite a few moments of quiet reflection and journaling on my own.  It also boosted my self-esteem somewhat to know that people missed my status updates and it was touching that my friends sent me text messages and emails to make sure everything was alright (thanks, guys!).  It also showed me how although it’s usually easiest to reach someone by Facebook, your real friends will find all sorts of ways to keep in touch.  Nevertheless, it also taught me a few other important lessons:

  • Like I mentioned in my previous blog, henceforth called “GROYWS” taking myself off Facebook didn’t necessarily give me any more free moments in my day, instead, my time-wasting efforts were just shifted into other tasks. CF: the fact that I added about 10 game apps to my phone when previously I had none.  However, I can at least justify this somewhat by saying that some of those apps have actually started developing some good habits in me (for example: I have a work-out game app and I am starting to learn Polish and Hungarian, and I have also been working on improving my French and have been surprised at how much I still remember from high school).  Nevertheless, I have to admit that playing Candy Crush and Panda Pop probably are not really all that much better than mindlessly scrolling Facebook in the end of the day.
  • In a moment of vulnerability, just like I mentioned in GROYWS, deleting my Facebook did not take away that gnawing sense of anxiety or that stifling fear of insecurity. I talked to a few of my really good friends during this whole process.  It wasn’t so much like “rehab therapy” because to be honest, I didn’t find I missed Facebook as much as I thought I would.  But it was more about getting to the core issue – the real reason Facebook was affecting me so much.  I mentioned to them, and I will share openly now, that getting rid of Facebook was really just like treating the symptoms without getting to the root cause.  But thankfully, it allowed me to at least start thinking about what the root cause was.  In this case, I realized that my insecurity didn’t just come from scrolling feeds, but it came from my inability to see myself the way Christ sees me.  It came from my lack of discipline in reading the Scriptures and in spending time in prayer asking God to form me and show me a healthier way of viewing myself.  To combat this problem, I’ve made a few changes in my life, which I can also recommend to you here:

* The only way you will ever get over your sense of insecurity or people-pleasing and stop worrying about how others view you is if you make the conscious decision to care more about Christ’s opinions than the world’s. And the only way you can learn what Christ actually thinks is if you spend time with Him and ask Him.  So that’s what I’ve been trying to do.  When I finally was able to tear myself away from any kind of screen, it gave me the ability to go out and actually spend some time praying in nature which is what I love best.  It was then that I learned how great God’s love for me (and for all of us) really is and that He really and truly does REJOICE OVER US WITH SINGING!  More practically, I’ve added a few apps to my phone which might also help you.  Once again, realizing that adding apps DOES admittedly cause me more “screen-time,” but also knowing that without my daily notifications and the fact that it’s on my phone anyways, I wouldn’t be doing it as much as I have.

I have one app called “Daughters of the King.”  Ladies, if you are struggling with the same types of issues I mentioned above: with low self-esteem, lack of self-worth, identity disorientation, or constant and chronic comparison syndrome, this is just the app for you.   Every day, I get to read a new short devotional that is especially geared at women.  It’s super encouraging and relevant, but it doesn’t read like one of those self-help books or like a motivational speech.  Instead, it’s deeply rooted in Biblical truths – it’s about adjusting our perception of ourselves.  Additionally, there’s another add-on to this app called “Who You Are in Christ” it’s 7 minutes of pure awesomeness!  I usually put it on and let it play right before bed letting these words of truth and wisdom seep over my soul to destroy the lies of the Evil One.  Once again, it is incredibly Biblically rooted, and in fact, is not so much of a sermon, but literally repeating verse and verse of words that God speaks directly into our situation.  Here’s a little excerpt from Who You Are in Christ that I find particularly helpful and that sums up my experience with this little app: “It is important that you know who you are in Christ.  If you are going to accomplish anything in the earth for God’s glory, it will first begin with you knowing who you are.  Be blessed as you listen to Scriptures from God’s Word that will give you clear understanding into your identity.”  If you’d like some more information on this app, you can check it out here: http://www.dot-k.com/. ***SEE BOTTOM OF POST***

I have also added the Bible to my phone.  This is something that the majority of my friends have done, but that admittedly I never thought of doing until just now.  You can add any Bible version of your choice, but I chose to add Eugene Peterson’s The Message to mine.  I know that The Message has long been fraught with controversy and to be honest, I am eventually planning to do a theological study on it (so that blog will be up in about a year or so), but The Message is not all bad.  If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I studied theology, so when I read most versions I all of a sudden go into some sort of “hyper-nerd” function.  With The Message I actually get the liberty of sitting back and letting the Gospel story unfold as a narrative.  I don’t have that same urge to contextualize everything or to go into some lengthy discussion about historical criticism.  Previously, I was really struggling with my Bible reading (a terrible, terrible admission to make as a pastor – I know!!) but reading a whole new version has really been helping me out in that regard.  So it definitely hasn’t all been bad.

  • Lastly, being off Facebook has caused me to re-think a lot of what I post online. Sure, I know that for the most part I try to post uplifting and helpful comments.  I try to stay away from all that vulgar rubbish – you know, sexual jokes, mean sayings, and crass language, but being off Facebook has made me think about many other “more innocent” things I have posted in recently weeks which quite frankly have basically been a waste of time.  It’s also made me think about what I subject my mind to.  Yes, I have many friends who post WONDERFUL things on their walls that are very helpful to me.  I enjoy reading Bible verses, testimonies, even (okay fine… I’ll be honest…ESPECIALLY) theological rants.  I enjoy seeing pictures of weddings, babies, and baptisms.  BUT I was also subjecting myself (consciously or unconsciously) to a number of other things that get posted up.  Stuff that my parents would probably cringe at or things I know my church (and God) wouldn’t approve of.  It’s not because I was intentionally going to seek that stuff out…it’s just that…well, it was on my newsfeed, I was scrolling down, and it hit me like a bombshell.  Things I thought I was long over, temptations I thought I was long past, were welling up in my soul.  I take full ownership and responsibility for that.  As a mature Christian, I shouldn’t have been at that juvenile stage in my faith walk, but at the same time, I realize what a blazing inferno such things can create.  Now that I’m back on, I realize that perhaps what I needed to do was hide some of those statuses all along.

Don’t get me wrong, Facebook is an absolutely wonderful innovation and I am so glad to be back on!  It’s going to be super helpful in connecting with my friends, getting caught up with family, and talking to people a world over.  It’s also a much more effective way of promoting my writing and blogs (but hey, if you missed any of them while I was away, feel free to scroll through Z&P, everything’s still here!).  But ultimately, it was good for me to take a break.  Submitting to the Lordship of Christ means being willing to make these kinds of sacrifices because in the end of the day, it’s going to make you a way better and stronger person.  I hope you all continue to enjoy Facebook for what it can be – that brilliant people-connector, community-builder, and spiritual initiator, but always keep this in the back of your mind: if Facebook causes you to stumble, disable it.  Get right with God, and what you post on your feed will reflect that new found desire to follow Him.

***P.S.. Speaking of affirmations, here is one of the devotionals I read from Daughters of the King on August 21st that really spoke truth into my life.  It’s important for us to speak and declare words of truth over our lives and over our situation understanding how Christ sees us despite worldly pressures to believe otherwise.  I created a list of affirmations about a year ago that I read daily.  I also encourage you to create your own individual personalized affirmations rooted in Scripture because it is always more meaningful and speaks more deeply when we come to those realizations ourselves rather than just someone stating them for us.  However, if you are having a difficult time knowing where to start or if you’re not much of a writer, here is a great springboard to give you some ideas because it basically has all of the key elements for what you would include in such a list:

Know Who You Are

“But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
1 Corinthians 15:10

You are not your past. You are not your failures. You are not your state. You are a daughter of the King. You already know who God is, now be reminded today of who you are in Him. Declare this today:

I am smart. I am important. I am a world changer. I am brave and courageous. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am beautiful. I am called by God to do great things. I am strong. I melt in His presence, yet stand strong in the face of adversity. I can’t stop running because Jesus didn’t stop for me. I am a finisher. I am the right woman for the job. I am a winner. I am so loved. I am richly blessed. I am rooted and grounded. I am abundantly graced. I am my brother and sister’s keeper. I am empowered to lead. I am an overcomer. I am more than a conqueror through Jesus. Greater is He that is in me than he that’s in the world. I am a daughter of the King no matter how I feel. No matter how it looks I will see His promises manifested in my life. I am patient and kind. I am truthful. I am hidden in Christ. I am an end time soldier in His army. I was born for such a time as this. I have what it takes. I am resourceful. I am wise. I wear God’s grace beautifully. I am who God says I am and I will do what He says I will do.

Prayer: Father, help me stay reminded of who I am in You. Help me not to let my problems define me. You define me, Lord. You are my God and I belong to You. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Post taken from: http://www.dot-k.com/know-who-you-are-4/  Author unknown

Women & Leadership By: Malcolm Webber (A Book Review)

sbl10-pic2_compact  The following is a personal review on the book: Women & Leadership By: Malcolm Webber (Strategic Press, Bentham, Indiana, 2007 ).  The following views are my own taking into consideration Webber’s writing and referencing him often.  I have not been commissioned by Webber to write a review or to post any blog on his material; so any recommendation on my part is completely voluntary. 

Well, I never thought this would happen, but I have finally found a book about male headship in ministry that I thoroughly agree with, appreciate, and embrace.  Malcolm Webber is actually the senior pastor at the church I attended for young adults when I was a seminary student in Indiana.  I only met with him once, but I remember he gave me his book, “Women & Leadership”, when he heard I was studying to be a pastor…and for whatever reason I never opened it until just now (I was probably scared of it pointing me away from my studies).  Now that I’ve read it, I realize that it doesn’t invalidate my studies at all, it just proves more and more why we need more women to study the Scriptures, but also why we need more men to take up their God-given and God-ordained position as leaders within the church.  Webber’s style is both highly theological and practical.  He’s given consideration to all of the major Biblical texts about women in leadership (both from the Old and New Testament) and he’s arrived at a fair conclusion that I think we can all agree with.

Here are a few points I have taken from this excellent, easy-to-read, and yet well researched book:

  • Men and women are created different yet equal. A man’s role as head of the family and of the church is suggested to us throughout Scripture.  This does not have anything to do with inferiority, but rather with a proper structure that best employs stability.  When a husband or male pastor is doing his Godly work, it is a joy for a woman to submit, not a burden.
  • That being said, women should minister and lead to the fullest extent of their divine callings.

What exactly does this mean?  Well, it can mean a few different things depending on what God has called the woman to do:

  1. Scripture (both in the Old and New Testament) affirms women in all sorts of various roles. While it is uncommon for a woman to be in a top position of power (one example of this being the judge Deborah), women have served in a variety of other capacities including as counsellors, guides, teachers, and deacons.  Occasionally, in the Scriptures and in early church history, women have taken the lead but this is almost always the exception, not the norm.  Furthermore, even in a case like Deborah, the socio-historical context of the day shows us that this was not the ideal.  Deborah stepped in to serve because men were not taking their proper authority and rule – it was not the best case scenario, but she followed God’s will because it was either having a female leader or having no leader.  Deborah actually encouraged Barak to step up to his God ordained role, but unfortunately, he seemed to be unwilling to do so fully (by the way there are several interpretations of this.  I actually wrote a seminary paper on this story, so I know at least 4 or 5 interpretations ranging from very liberal and feminist to very conservative and male headship orientated).
  2. The idea that a woman can only lead other women or children, is often taken out of context. Most Biblical passages do not suggest this (except for a few classic examples of proof-texts).  Rather, women are affirmed in many areas of leadership except for top-level leadership.

How Do We Find the Balance?

The women in leadership issue is a diverse and extremely tricky one within the life of the church, and one often fuelled with passion and emotion on either side of the debate.  We meet “liberal” churches that discourage a distinction between men and women stating that we are all equal; some even suggesting that churches that follow male-headship are hierarchical, patriarchal, and even oppressive.  These churches may even suggest that a woman must be liberated from the command to submit to her husband perhaps even stating that this design was simply brought about because of sin and was not God’s original intention: rather God created men and women as equal and thus we are all permitted to do the same things.  Conversely, we meet “conservative” churches that proof-text 1 Timothy 2:11-15 stating that a woman has no right to preach or lead in any capacity  except to women and kids.  So who’s right?

Well, Webber has some good logic:

Churches which promote egalitarianism may rob men of the opportunity to lead the family and the church as they should and may push a woman into a leadership position she is unprepared or unqualified for…BUT churches that see only males as “worthy” of leadership can often lead down the slippery slope of male domination, authoritarianism, and female passivity.  When this happens women can easily become bitter and enraged and thus be robbed of using their God ordained skills and interests for the higher good of the church and the Kingdom (Webber, 16).  Later on, Webber follows this statement up with another helpful comment: “The Bible contains both teachings and examples of women ministering and leading to the fullest extent of their callings in God.  A church that denies women the opportunity to minister has robbed itself of at least one-half of the gifts and callings God has provided.” (32)

All this to say: we should guard against either extreme.  A church too focused on the differences misses out on all the wonderful ways women can enrich worship and church life (whether or not she is preaching).  A church too focused on the similarities, forgets that God created men and women different but equal and that diversity can be our strength rather than an oppressive driving force.

What does this mean practically?

  1. Men should be encouraged to step up and lead. Rather than denying a woman the opportunity to lead, we should seek to urge men to “fill the vacuum that had previously been left by men not fulfilling their God-given leadership roles.” (Webber, 54).
  2. Rather than solely focussing on what the role of a woman in the church is, we should ask what the role of both genders is and how both men and women can fill the needs of the church. Webber states, “Instead of worrying about ‘what I can or cannot do,’ our concern should be ‘what has God called me to do?” (51)
  3. Webber asks the question: But what if a woman is called to a top-level leadership position? His response: Well then, she better go do it! (51)  He then adds a follow-up question: what if the woman is wrong and she is not actually called to pastor?  His response: Men are just as liable to hear their calling incorrectly as women and we should apply the same standards in either case: to lovingly nurture and correct this person, gently guiding them back to the Truth and helping them find ways of discerning their actual calling.  After all, we cannot place God in a vacuum (although His original and ultimate design is for men to lead with authority and love, we cannot deny that for whatever reason in God’s good purposes He has sometimes made exceptions to further His plan within a given context).

Malcom Webber’s book is one example of a thoughtful, tactful, Scripturally and theologically sound resource; however it is only one book and one interpretation.  I’ve stated my own views on numerous blogs, but my views are constantly being formed and shaped as I become more informed and aware of the vast literature available on this topic.  I’ve recently compiled a list of books on this topic from either perspective and will likely be blogging reviews as I unfold each one.  In all things, my hope is that whether you are male or female, you are seeking to serve Christ to the best of your abilities, being faithful to His calling and guidance on your life, and ultimately asking yourself how you can best minister and evangelize to bring many other lost souls into His grace and mercy and for His good Kingdom purposes.

 

 

 

How Do We Know What to Believe? (AKA: Biblical Hermeneutical Crash Course 101)

100_3162   You’ve probably heard the same arguments over and over to the point of it almost becoming nauseating.  It seems that churches still focus on the key issues and regardless of which position you take, you will always find opponents.

What are your views on pacifism?  The Just War Theory?  Should we fight in self-defence or be absolute pacifists?

What do you think of women as leaders?  Can women be embraced and encouraged in any level of church governance or only in select roles?  Or should she merely be silent and submissive to her husband and male leaders?

What is the role of a Christian single?  Is celibacy the ideal or to be shunned and discouraged?

How should a Christian respond to inter-faith relations?  Should they be rigid and only maintain their own beliefs or open-minded and accepting of all world faiths without trying to convert or evangelize?  (A blog post coming on this one later)

These are just a select sample of the various questions you may be barraged with at any given time.  And in most of these cases, one can easily point to verses in FAVOUR or also AGAINST the position.  And the frustrating thing is that sometimes these contradictory viewpoints come from within the same passage, more often the same book, and always within the same canon (the Scripture itself).  It can be therefore becoming extremely challenging to navigate the maze between finding a convicting value while also appropriating the right amount of attention and care to the variety of factors that play into the text including: the socio-historical and economic climate of the Biblical world at the time, the writings and teachings of early church fathers and mothers, Spirit led guidance and interpretation (taking place within the community), our own cultural perceptions and biases formed from our unique experiences and cultural worldviews, and finally, of course, what the text itself is saying.

While I cannot answer all of these important questions for you (I will leave that between you and God), I would like to suggest a few invaluable tools that will hopefully aid you on your journey of discovering more about what you actually believe and why you believe it.

Tips and Tools For the Trade: A Biblical Student’s Handy Toolbox

#1: Humility in Admitting Our Blind-Spots

It is impossible to read the Bible without any form of bias and anyone who tells you they let the Scripture speak solely for itself without reading anything into it themselves is either intentionally prideful or, more often than not, simply ill informed.  The truth is that when we read the Bible our own thoughts and opinions are constantly being read into it, and due to our own life experiences and circumstances we may become overly passionate, zealous, or even dogmatic and defensive over certain texts whereas we may approach others in a rather apathetic or confused manner.  Here’s an example of what I mean:  As you all know (assuming you’ve read more than one of my blog posts) I am a woman who studied theology and trained as a pastor.  Thus, when I approach Scriptural passages describing a woman’s submission or suggesting a woman should not be in a key leadership position, my back instinctively goes up.  Even though I’ve studied these passages on numerous occasions and perhaps have come to several points of justification, I still have a difficult time reading what the text actually says on the matter.  Conversely, a passage speaking about how a master should treat his slaves does not appeal to my emotions in such a way because the concept of Biblical slavery is fairly foreign and repulsive to most modern day Christians (I am not speaking about sex or human trafficking here, I am speaking about slavery in terms of the Biblical injunction to act as servants and care for the land).

When determining what you believe on a topic and why, it therefore becomes important to do your best to step aside and see the text for what it is without bringing in your own personal and cultural pre-understandings.  Certain Scriptural texts such as those alluding to the polygamy at the time or injunctions to inflict physical harm and violence (for example through stoning adulterers) must be seen in light of the historical cultural time-frame rather than judged by our standards and values today.  A common phrase often employed in theology is: “don’t measure yesterday’s system by today’s yardstick.”  It is also helpful to keep in mind that if 2,000 years from now in the year 4016 a spaceman were to appear on our earth he may also be repulsed at some of the ways we treat one another or go about our daily habits even though what we are doing is commonplace and socially acceptable at the moment.  The same could be said about our cultural limitations.  That what might be encouraged as fine behaviour in one country may not be acceptable in another.  For example, some cultures believe it respectful to glance away and avoid body contact on first meeting an individual (especially one of a different gender) whereas in a culture like North America, the most socially acceptable thing to do would be to look the person in the eye and offer a handshake.  Some cultures find greeting one another with a kiss (perhaps even on the mouth) to be a form of great hospitality, warmth, and welcome, whereas other cultures would find this an intrusion on personal space.  And so on.  Therefore you see that when we are looking at a text that is so ancient and from a culture than the majority of us are not familiar with, it becomes important to state from the start our own limitations and prejudices that may thus hinder a truer reading and interpretation of the text.

#2: Humility in Acknowledging our Own Hierarchy of Rules

As stated above, certain texts garner more attention and interest on our part than others, but we must ask why this is.

Is it simply the result of our upbringing (perhaps a culture or denominational structure that valued some rules but not others)?  Is it the result of our own personal encounter with Christ – something He has taught us personally or that is especially relevant at the moment?  Is it the result of a current cultural issue (for example, the current ongoing trend about how the Mennonite Church should or should not accept people in the LGBTQ+ community)?

It is not necessarily a negative thing to have certain texts appear greater than others, but we must be willing to admit this is the case.  And it is for everyone.  I have a few friends who claim they follow all the rules in the Bible equally, but I have never actually met someone for whom this is truly the case.  A person may believe that a woman can’t preach, but then they proceed to attend church without a head covering.  A woman may believe that homosexuality is a sin, but then they do not grow their hair long.  A person may believe in the injunction to love their neighbours as themselves and to care about the social welfare of others, but then they completely neglect their own body and treat themselves with contempt or have a low self-image of who they are.  No one is immune from this and you shouldn’t think you are either.

So how do you determine which texts to give importance to?  Here’s what I recommend:

  • Keep the texts with a common theme. If the same (or a similar message) is constantly being repeated, pay close attention to it.  Especially when Christ Himself was the one to say those words.  On the other hand, if the command lies only in one of the Epistles and nowhere else and seems rather obscure, look more closely at the cultural context.  Perhaps it was meant only for a specific church in a specific geographical location for a specific reason.
  • Keep the texts which promote peace, harmony, and unity rather than discord and division. Although theological arguments are commonplace, this does not mean you have to enter into them needlessly.  In fact, sometimes for the sake of peace, it becomes more important to maintain a right relationship or friendship rather than simply being correct (even if you are).  Within any major world religion (including Christianity) there are certain Biblical texts that are inclusive and some that are exclusive.  Choose the inclusive ones over the exclusive ones.

In a recent course I took on Religious Literacy from Harvard University, Dr. Ali Asani posed the following questions (while although were geared towards Quaranic study are equally vital and valid when applied to the Biblical text):

How does an interpreter even know whether or not she is performing an exegesis [exposition, analysis] of the Scripture or an eisegesis [reading into]?  Is it even possible to know?  Is pure exegesis or pure eisegesis even possible? 

What do you think?

#3: Humility to Hear Other Viewpoints

Someone who is secure in their position not only tolerates, but welcomes, appreciates, and embraces a wide variety of opinions on varying theological matters.  This is not to say, of course, that you can’t question or push-back on areas you disagree with, though we should strive to do so with tactful respect (not with loaded arguments, name calling, or suggestion).  [If you need some help on how to do that go here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/when-we-disagree-with-each-other-tips-learned-in-life/]

What does this look like?  Here are a few tips:

  • Make intentional space and time to hear opinions that are different from your own. Ask open-ended questions that are straight-forward and to-the-point.  Don’t simply argue your position and then end with a question such as: “so even after all of this, why would you still believe that?”  Avoid value judgements.  Defend your own points, but once again, acknowledge your cultural blindspots.  (By the way, no one’s perfect, I say all of this, but I’ve fallen prey to doing some of the very things I’ve just suggested not doing…that’s why I’m encouraging you to learn from my mistakes).
  • Put your nerdy cap on and do some reading. As I’ve alluded to in other posts, it’s important to know the other position just as well as your own – in fact, if you are going to be a serious scholar, you should be able to debate the other viewpoint as if you truly owned it yourself.  I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but when trying to determine my values on controversial topics, I always try to get as wide of a range of opinions as possible.  As I mentioned in my Harry Potter post, when deciding if I would allow my children to read H.P. or not, I intentionally took the time to ask a variety of people (parents, educators, pastors, Sunday school teachers) on both sides of the spectrum for their input.  I also did my own reading (including reading through the entire series and books and websites/blog posts both for and against) so when I ultimately arrived at my conclusion I was confident that it was not one taken lightly.  Please don’t be one of those people who argues your point without fully understanding why you arrived at that conclusion.  [If you want to read the Harry Potter post look here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/fantastic-fiction-or-wicked-witchcraft-a-critical-view-of-whether-christians-should-read-harry-potter/)
  • Make room for the Holy Spirit to move. In Anabaptism, we place a high value on the Holy Spirit freely working within our congregational and corporate lives, just as much as we place value on Him working in our personal experience.  Oftentimes, it can be quite helpful to approach a text communally and to live and share the experience of how He speaks to each of us through the same text.  One of the coolest things about Christianity is that 25 people can read the exact same text and we would get 25 different interpretations (this is not to be feared nor is it cause to defend our viewpoints as “the ultimate truth” over anyone else’s, but rather adds to the beauty of Scripture being acutely personal and practical).  It is also important to take time to pray and ponder passages on our own, but if we do so, we must guard ourselves against proof-texting (in other words, taking verses out of Scripture in order to prove a point).  Recently, for my Harvard course, I was listening to a great lecture by Dr. Sajjad Rizvi, who prompted me to think of this classic example we can all learn from:

 

A father beats his young son for being disobedient and stealing toys from his siblings.  The father beats the child so badly that marks appear on his body and when the boy shows up at school, the teacher questions him about this.  The father responds that he has only acted in this way because he is in Christian and in the Bible it states, “Those who withhold the rod hate their children, but the one who loves them applies discipline.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Proverbs%2013%3A24).  In this case the question is: did the father apply harsh discipline because of this verse – because he thought it was the most accurate way to continue his religious practices and beliefs and because he truly wants his son to grow up to be a responsible member of society?  OR did the father abuse his child, then look for a text that justified his behaviour and applied it (trying to convince himself this was truly the case) in order to assuage his own conscience and guilt?

Obviously depending on the actual scenario, the correct answer could be either one depending on his true motivations, but this is a question we must all ask ourselves.  We must especially guard against using Scripture verses to deny someone their basic human rights, or to look down on a certain people group due to their culture/ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, or sexual orientation.  We must be aware not to justify cruelty or abuse on the grounds of Scripture, but we also must do this in less obvious ways just as rigorously.  We must do it on matters that make us prideful, insecure, or resentful.  We must do it in order to take the best care possible of those entrusted to us, but we also must do it on order to take care of ourselves and not let others take advantage of us.  In other words: we don’t always need to convince ourselves that we are in the wrong.  We don’t always need to be the stereotypical apologetic Canadian!

Although this blog post was not able to cover all of the major facets of a theological debate, I do hope it’s given you a bit of ground with which to think and work with.  Ultimately, our theological differences should work as our greatest strength and asset, not as a weakness.  We should constantly remind ourselves that our academic theological debates represent a greater desire to serve Christ and to be faithful to the text and thus it is not about simply being right or wrong, but rather having a greater appreciation for the whole character of Christ and His inspired Word instead.  I hope that on your journey to discovering what you believe and why, you will meet many wonderful travelling companions – both those who agree with you and can support you in your personal opinions, but more importantly, those who see the world differently than you do.  Because it is really the latter that makes your life all that more beautiful, complex, and special.

 

theology2

 

Towards Our Common Sung Theology

16227  Throughout church history, our faith, our doctrines, and our spirituality have been most vitally expressed through our sung words.  Sharing in the rhythm, tone, and energy that music – whether through hymns, praise choruses, A Capella, choral, instrumental, or chanted genres provides us all with a sense of our common humanity and draws us closer to one another and to Christ.  There is something about joining our hearts and our voices in praise and worship to our Creator that often speaks to the deepest level of our souls – weaving together our most profound emotions, inspiring us towards action (and occasionally protest), instilling in us a great sense of comfort, and even challenging us when we would otherwise feel apathetic.

Although there may perhaps be a few churches that still do not employ any form of music, it is fairly safe to say, that almost all major Christian denominations and other world religions find music integral to the life of the congregation.  Within the Mennonite and Anabaptist traditions, music has also been central to our life and witness.  In fact, I can recount being a young teenager and volunteering at the local Mennonite nursing home.  While there I met an elderly woman, Anna, who came across to Canada from the Ukraine on a boat while singing:

“Wherlos und verlassen sehnt sich oft mein Herz nach stiller Ruh; doch Du dekkest mit dem Fittich Deiner Liebe sanft much zu.  Unter Deinem sanften Fittich find’ich Frieden, Trost und Ruh; den Du schrimest mich so freund-lich, shutz-est mich und deckst mich zu.”

The English translation of which reads:

When I’m lonely and defenseless, my heart longs for rest and peace.  Then You spread Your wings of caring, with Your love You cover me.  Under Your soft wings of mercy my soul rests and is renewed, for You shelter me with kindness, keep me covered, close to You.  [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1GMdN73rnA  – plus cute baby conducting!]

This song greatly sustained Anna during some very stressful and confusing times of her life.  Being uprooted from the familiar and travelling to a strange land where she did not speak the language or know the customs and culture must have been very unsettling and challenging for such a young girl.  Yet, this song became an anchor to her in the storm, kept her face upright, and allowed her to see goodness and grace amidst the terror, turmoil, and loss.

Many of us also have had similar instances with particular songs.  There are a number of modern worship songs I go to when I am feeling distressed, confused, or anxious.  Here are a few you might like to check out for yourselves:

Strong Enough (Matthew West): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knuHDPbE5es

You’re My Everything (Owl City): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbOcVER0WqU

Guardian (Ben Cantelon): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiRH8Hc8VQI

You’re Not Alone (Owl City, Britt Nicole): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DavJ9UKS2ps

I Will Praise Him (Rebecca St. James): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXET-duSRr8

The Kindness of Our God (Rebecca St. James): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roeDXgsmaUA

Diamonds (Hawk Nelson): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yf1ARbpB0gA

Better Than a Hallelujah (Amy Grant): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rm5kx3xqmg0

Shoulders (For King and Country): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfiYWaeAcRw

Sparrows (Jason Gray): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRJZQFRyZ6s

 

There are also a number of older hymns I turn to for support and guidance: How Firm a Foundation, Blessed Assurance (my baptismal hymn), It Is Well With My Soul, and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing to name only a few.

 

One of the most wonderful advantages to music is that it allows us to express ourselves when words fail us.  Sometimes I am experiencing something, but don’t know how to share it with a friend, but if I play a certain song it summaries exactly what I would have shared.  At other times, my friends are really struggling with something and no words of advice or wisdom will lessen the impact.  Instead, sharing with them a song allows them to be in the present without meaningless words needing to be exchanged.  We thus minister to one another in this sense of shared musicality, letting the spirit flow freely.

There is a great worship song by the City Harmonic which sums up music ministry perfectly:

Praise the Lord when it comes out easy
Praise the Lord on top of the world
Praise the Lord ‘cause in every moment Jesus Christ is Lord
Even in the middle of the joys of life
There is always grace enough today to
Praise the Lord    

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lm7V-26flkQ

 

In fact, the Apostle James himself wrote: Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+5%3A13&version=NASB

Worshipping Christ fully through our music is about finding a balance between proclaiming the goodness of our God and singing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.
When we lift up our voices, there will definitely be many moments of jubilation, celebration, and delight.  But there will also be moments of immense pain, intense hurt, and immeasurable grief.  Nevertheless, when we turn our hearts and our voices to God in prayer and in song, we receive all the blessings of a pure and complete relationship with Him.  We are truly able to sing about the rest and peace we find in Him.  We are truly able to ask Him to keep us sheltered, close to Him.  We are capable of praising the Lord at every moment.  We are able to sing and be sustained because of our common sung theology – a solidly scriptural belief that places Christ at the centre.  We are able to share in our common humanity because music is the one gift that unites us all.

Every Woman’s Survival Guide for Being in Full-Time Ministry

867a3e6795e578c0646c91530d770128   Originally I was going to name this post: “For Women Only: 3 Things They Never Taught Us in Seminary” and it was going to be an exposition of the various ways women can feel lonely in a “man’s world.”  However, after thinking about it for a while, I decided that this was not really the direction I wanted to go.

You see, the word “ministry” can often be quite misrepresentative.  Everyone who is a Christian and who is actively seeking to follow Christ, to evangelize, and to reach out and support others is already engaged in ministry.  It doesn’t matter if you’re an elementary school teacher, an engineer, or an at home mom…you’re doing ministry, and you’re likely doing it full-force.  Now here’s where it gets a bit tricky.  Oftentimes in the professional world, we get a bit muddled and try to segregate “ministry” (as in helping out at the church food bank) and “vocational MINISTRY” (as in being a pastor, woman’s worker, youth leader, or any other paid position).  But once again this is misleading.  That’s because even if you never preach a sermon, you probably are logging in those same hours… in fact, you’re probably also in full-time ministry.  How many diapers did you change this week again?  How many errands did you run for the kids?  How many times did you bite your tongue when your co-worker was going at you because you wanted to be a good Christian influence?  You get the picture.  When we try to put “ministry” in a box it ends up disastrously because it becomes more about what we (or what society) thinks are the most fundamental tasks for the Kingdom versus what Christ thinks are the most important.

And what exactly does God say is the most important task in full-time vocational ministry?  It is this:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+12%3A30-31)

 

Loving God, seeking to follow His will, and in turn reaching out to others who need us the most.

 

But how exactly do we do that more practically?  Look no further than the book of James:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1%3A27&version=NASB)

 

Or in the words of Eugene Petersen’s The Message:   Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1%3A27&version=MSG)

 

Menno Simons got it right when he gave this brilliant explanation and expanded upon this passage:

 

True evangelical faith is of such a nature it cannot lie dormant, but spreads itself out in all kinds of righteousness and fruits of love;
it dies to flesh and blood (1);
it destroys all lusts and forbidden desires (2);
it seeks, serves and fears God in its inmost soul (3);
it clothes the naked (4);
it feeds the hungry (5);
it comforts the sorrowful (6);
it shelters the destitute (7);
it aids and consoles the sad (8);
it does good to those who do it harm (9);                                                                                                   it serves those that harm it (10);
it prays for those who persecute it (11);
it teaches, admonishes and judges us with the Word of the Lord (12);
it seeks those who are lost (13);
it binds up what is wounded (14);
it heals the sick (15);
it saves what is strong (sound) (16);
it becomes all things to all people (17).
The persecution, suffering and anguish that come to it for the sake of the Lord’s truth have become a glorious joy and comfort to it.” (https://themennonite.org/feature/true-evangelical-faith/)

I have the first part of this quote featured on my Skype, Google HangOut, and Facebook and I try to include it once in a while when I am preaching just to keep in fresh and in the front of people’s minds.  It’s a text I try to live by.  It’s a text that breathes life into who I am and into my existence.

So now that we understand and realize that we are ALL called to full-time vocational ministry, what do we do?  I’m going to be open and honest with you for a minute: even having the assurance that you’re in the field God called you to, doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.  Women still have to face all sorts of pressures.

Women have to face outward pressures.  It is easy for us to feel lonely and singled out.  You may be blessed to have a core group of friends who support you in your ministry despite your gender, but you’re also going to constantly have people in your face who suggest that serving God is a sin in your case because you have an XX chromosome and not an XY.  You’re going to face discouragement when sharp disagreements occur.  And you might be frustrated when the only positions you can get are working with kids or youth and you really don’t see yourself doing either.  Even if you are surrounded by people who accept your calling, you might still feel lonely because you will be one woman among a barrage of men.  The men you work with might be wonderful, but you might still long for a deeper connection – one which only a woman-to-woman bridge can bring.

Women also face internal pressures.  Ideas they bring to themselves about what success looks like.  The pressure to conform to social norms that they themselves feel are important, or a certain shyness that makes them unable to be assertive to men.  I’ve written more about that in my recent blog post: “Boundless Possibilities” you can read it here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/boundless-possibilities-dismantling-the-myth-of-the-good-little-church-girl/

I’m sure I could write a hundred different blog posts addressing a hundred different ways to tackle this problem, but I think it really all comes down to 4 key points.  If you want to succeed and have longevity in your ministry – any kind of ministry, you must: know who you are, know whose you are, know where you are, and know why you’re there.

Know Who You Are

I’ve mentioned in a few other posts that my inward struggle to accept myself for who God has made me to be has been an ongoing battle…and one that I often don’t succeed at because I’m a pacifist.  I’ve also shared how I’ve begun addressing that issue and recommended a fantastic resource called Daughters of the King (http://www.dot-k.com/). This great website also has a 7 minute audio clip speaking words of affirmation and truth.  In the description it reads: “It is important that you know who you are in Christ.  If you are going to accomplish anything in the earth for God’s glory, it will first begin with you knowing who you are.  Be blessed as you listen to Scriptures from God’s Word that will give you clear understanding into your identity.”

The key to maintaining a strong and vibrant ministry is understanding and accepting who you were made to be.  It’s about recognizing the unique ministry you have which only you are capable of achieving at this time and to this particular group of people.  It’s about not comparing yourself to others.  Realizing that you have strengths and gifts that they don’t have, but also that you have many blindspots and weaknesses where you will need to rely on others and delegate tasks to them because they will be a better fit.  It’s about seeking out resources to improve on those areas where you still need to grow.  And it’s about being mentored so that you can be the best version of yourself you can possibly be without worrying or caring so much about what others around you are (or aren’t) doing.

Know Whose You Are

We belong solely to Christ and our ministry flows from His desire for us to please Him and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit who permits that to happen.  Everything that happens in our life takes place for a purpose.  There is no meaningless or wasted moment when we follow and serve Christ.  Even the most difficult and painful times can bring us closer to Him if we are willing for that to happen.  When we know who we are in Christ, we follow the Voice of the Good Shepherd (not endless societal rants or superficial theological disagreements).  We become attuned to His Words and His will…forsaking all others and realizing that sometimes His calling upon our life will bring about rejection and discord.

It’s also recognizing when we need to drop a circular argument because it’s getting us nowhere.  Of course, we rely on those emotionally closest to us to provide support and encouragement and we long for people to hear what we have to say and affirm it.  However, the Bible also tells us “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans%2012:18)  Scripture also tells us to avoid endless quarrels, and worthless quandaries and instead seek to edify one another in our attempt to build up the Body of Christ: “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Titus+3%3A9&version=NASB).  In other words, next time you want to harp on your favourite controversial passage, ask yourself what you’re really going to accomplish through it and why you really want to do it.  If you need more help in this area, check out my recent blog post on this topic: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/when-we-disagree-with-each-other-tips-learned-in-life/

When we are secure in Christ, we don’t have to worry about whether or not people will like us or try to get everyone to see things from our point of view.  Knowing WHOSE we are, is just as important as knowing WHO we are because it reminds us that without Christ we can do nothing and thus, any ministry we are called to belongs to Him.  Not to those who disagree with us.  And not even to ourselves.

Know Where You Are

There is a famous African proverb that says: “if you don’t know where you are, or where you’re going, any bus will do.”

For years I have dreaded these two questions in a job interview:

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

What will you do if you don’t get this job?
I’m an extreme planner.  Not only do I have a 5 year plan, but I also have a 10 and 15 year one.  But over time, I’ve learned that “In their hearts human beings plan their lives. But the Lord decides where their steps will take them.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Proverbs%2016%3A9) In other words, just when I think I’ve figured it out, my life drastically changes.

Take my current position.  Never in my entire high school or undergrad career would I have seen myself working with people who have intellectual disabilities.  The thought never crossed my mind… I was destined to be a full time pastor in the Mennonite Church.  Then, all of a sudden, in my first year of seminary, my heart tugged me in this direction.  It was completely unplanned and unexpected, but now I have been in the field for almost 4 years.  I love what I do and see it as my primary focus and ministry.  It has grown from curiosity into an intense calling, affirmed by others around me.

Well, not everyone.  Some people think I’m wasting my education and should go back into full-time pastoring…but in the end of the day, you need to rely on Christ’s will and plan for your life.  After all, it’s your life, not theirs.  When Christ clearly shows you what you are to do, you don’t hold back, you go do it…even when others around you might not understand or might think it’s foolish and pointless.

So where are you today?  Are you young or old?  Are you just beginning your academic journey or have you been retired for years?  Where are you currently living?

When you think about your age, life-stage, and geographical position, each place brings with it new opportunities for witness and evangelism.  Opportunities that you might not have had in previous years and that you might not have again because this is where you are RIGHT NOW, at this particular season.  Think about how you can be a good steward with where you find yourself at this moment.  Don’t keep looking back – preserved in the past like a stand-still pillar of salt.  Don’t keep reminiscing about the “good old days” neglecting the current reality.  And conversely, don’t become too future focused.  Don’t keep grasping for the next goal without taking a moment to pause and reflect on what you have just accomplished.  Live in the here and now.  Live in this tension of the “now” and “not yet”.  Live with the assurance that God is going to move in many mighty ways to the people you are encountering at the bank, the grocery store, your local church, your favourite coffee shop, and the ice rink.  That’s really the key to a successful ministry.

Know Why You’re There

Have you ever found yourself in a trying situation – a place you never wanted to be, never want to go back to, and would never wish on your worst enemy?  Have you ever asked God why He placed you there to begin with?

Helen Rosevear was such a woman.  A young, idealistic English doctor in the D.R. Congo, she soon found herself face to face with rebel soldiers, force, and violation.  Yet, she chose to ask God the question: “Why am I here?  What can I accomplish through this terrible injustice?”  God spoke quietly and softly to her heart reminding her of who she was and whose she was.  She recounts this question in particular “are you willing to trust Me even if I never tell you why?”  In her fear, pain, and frustration, she humbly submitted regardless of the cost.  She later publicly shared her testimony on numerous occasions where she proclaimed “the question is not ‘is it worth it?’ but ‘is He worthy?’”  Because of Rosevear’s great internal strength of character, she has become a hero of the faith to many including a mentor to myself.  Oh that we would have such a faith!

You might have found yourself in a similar position, or you might find yourself in a less intense one… but we all face struggles and difficulties of various kinds throughout our journey in life.  When we’re stuck at that job we don’t want to be in, we can ask ourselves “why is God calling me here?  What is He trying to teach me through this work place?  How can He use me to minister and benefit others?”  When we’re about to lose it with our children we can ask God for the grace we need reminding ourselves that He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love even despite our rebellion and disobedience to Him (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+145%3A8&version=NASB).  When we find ourselves in a time of utter confusion and at a crossroads, unsure of exactly where we are or why we’re there, we can rest in Him and His promise to clarify our calling and our direction.

If you need more guidance in this area, one of my fellow MennoNerds Benjamin L. Corey recently wrote a series of posts on this very topic as he recounts a deep personal loss he recently experienced.  Two of his posts in particularly really stuck out to me because of their honesty and depth.  Corey gives us the great reminder that even in loss and confusion, it’s okay to question God and to be angry.  Even when we’re following Christ and relying fully on Him, we’re still going to have many questions – that’s to be expected.  But we also know where to turn for the answers.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/how-to-be-here-when-here-is-the-shittiest-place-you-can-imagine/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/if-god-is-the-cause-of-our-suffering-hes-kinda-a-jerk-just-sayin/

Being a woman in ministry is a difficult and often painful place to be, but my following these four steps of knowing WHO we are, WHOSE we are, WHERE we are, and WHY we are there, our ministry will become much more robust.  When we keep seeking the guidance of the One who called us into His glorious hope, it also becomes so worth it.  May you experience a glimpse of His joy as you seek and serve Him with the people He has entrusted you with TODAY.

When We Disagree With Each Other (Tips Learned In Life)

argument2   I get it.  I can be a pretty argumentative person.  I thrive on debates (much to the chagrin of my more passive friends) and as an online personality test once told me, I am a haughty-intellectual “you think you know everything, and you probably do.”  In fact, I once thought I was wrong, and I was right, so therefore, I’m always right!

All joking aside, I have recently been reflecting on my own inner nature to try to prove my point, to become defensive, and to go around in circles without ever landing the plane.  So to help me with this on-going struggle, I’ve started doing some research.  I’m currently reading a really great book called When to Speak Up, and When to Shut Up by Dr. Michael Sedler.  In this book Sedler shows us ways to affirm the other person’s dignity and worth, while also having the courage to state our own convictions clearly.  Here’s one of the best tidbits of advice he provides: “don’t argue by stating your position over and over.  If someone does not agree the first time, the next five times will not convince them.  Saying it louder and with greater force will not work either.” (p.127). Yep, something I am definitely guilty of personally!

A few days ago, one of my fellow MennoNerds, Tabitha Driver wrote this incredible blog which you can see here: http://ultimatemetaphor.blogspot.ca/2016/08/when-christians-disagree-5-common-logic.html.  I’d love to just copy and paste all the nuggets of wisdom she has to share, sorry Tabitha!  But being the good little Mennonite girl that I am, I thought I’d kind of amalgamate Sedler’s book and Driver’s blog in order to provide you with my own perspective on the topic.  It’s probably not as good as either one, but I hope it might be a close third.

#1: Understand the Reason for Your Argument

Although as I have stated and will readily admit, I am quite an argumentative person and thus probably get into some form of debate daily (yes, the good Lord still loves even me!) in the interest of time, I will only share with you the most recent one.  Lately, I have really been struggling with the issue of women in leadership.  Those of you who read my blog know that I just came home from a year-long mission’s trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.  Unlike my liberal Canada, Scotland is still quite conservative in a number of ways, meaning that you’d be hard-pressed to find a female pastor over there.  In fact, many churches will not even let a woman be an elder!  This has oftentimes been quite a challenge and struggle for me.  I studied theology and I graduated with my Master’s of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry.  Previously, I have served as a pastor and pastoral intern and it is difficult for me to go from being permitted to preach in a church to being told I need to be quiet and submissive.  So I usually go right ahead and jump to the defensive.  Even in Scotland, I was often very clear that this issue is a deal-breaker for me.  I have no problem going to a church like that for a year or two, but when thinking of settling somewhere permanently or when contemplating where to put in church membership, this is a major issue of consideration.  Yeah, I know, I’m probably a bad missionary for not blending in enough with the culture!  However, I have recently started looking at the question quite honestly.  What exactly is it about being told I can’t lead or preach that irritates me so much?  On the one hand, I believe I have a strong calling from God and I want to please Him with my education and be a good steward of the 4 preaching courses I’ve taken.  That’s a good motivation…probably the right one to have.  But admittedly, I also realize that lots of times the real reason I’m frustrated is because I have an ego.  I want to get the “status” I feel I deserve.  I don’t want to be deprived of doing something I enjoy.  And yes, perhaps, if I probe deep enough, I like the attention that preaching gives to me.  So then the issue becomes less about God and more about myself which, as I’m sure you know, is a trap door for disaster.

Summation: It’s fine for you to disagree with someone else’s opinion, but you have to know WHY.  You have to be honest with yourself.  You have to realize when the issue is becoming less about God and more about you.

#2: Become Aware of Internal Triggers and Unwanted Emotions

Emotions are one of God’s greatest gifts to us.  They remind us that we are alive and healthy.  They allow us to experience joy and pleasure.  They can also be highly distracting when we want people to take us seriously if we don’t know how to properly reign them in and put them in check.

A list of emotions to watch out for: anger, bitterness, jealousy, pride, envy, fear, intense people-pleasing, sadness, depression…I’m sure you can think of any number of other adjectives to add as well.

If you suddenly find yourself exhibiting a high level of any of these emotions, you need to slow down, take a breath, and stop.  Re-evaluate the situation, ask yourself why you’re experiencing these feelings, validate them, then don’t resume the confrontation or debate until you can put them back in place again.

Emotions are neither bad nor good in themselves, but rather they serve as warning signs and signals.  They can be helpful, but they can also detract from what you’re trying to say and make your words sound less credible.

Summation: A wise theologian once told me: “in the end of the day, your opinions don’t matter, and neither do mine, the only thing that matters is the Word of God.”  We would do well to heed his instructions.  It can be easy for us to become preoccupied thinking our viewpoint is the only correct one to have.  We may even begin feeling our blood boiling and our pulse quickening.  But if that happens, we need to take a step back and relax.  We need to keep our head in the discussion…if we can’t do that, well…quite frankly… then we aren’t ready or mature enough to have that type of conversation yet.

#3: Agree to Disagree in Love…No Really…

With the women in leadership issue, I’ve also been realizing how I can be rather hypocritical on the issue… and I’ve definitely seen this with other areas as well.  Here’s a classic example.  I’m a people-pleaser (a bit ironic that I’m also an avid debater, isn’t it?)  I love stirring up trouble, but then I go cower in the corner because I’m scared that people will be mad about it for the next month and a half (oftentimes this is an over-exaggeration and the majority of the time, they are just fine).  Anyways, I’ll usually give a stereotypical Canadian phrase such as this: “Ultimately, I believe we can all have different opinions on this.  It’s not a deal-breaker for salvation.  It’s a side-hall issue, not a main-hall one.  I have many friends who disagree with women in ministry, but we are all still friends.  I respect them.  They respect me.”  But I realize that this is all just lip-service to what’s really stirring in my heart.  Truthfully, I wish I could be the type of person who always respects other people’s viewpoints and is fine with them, but in reality, I’m far from that.  I might nod my head in agreement when I’m with them or even add a few “mmm-hmmms” and “yes, that makes sense” but inwardly I’m seething.  A lot of the time, I feel like I need the other person to come to my side, or else I haven’t done the issue justice.  Even though I say that I’m fine with a close friend not supporting my vocation, inwardly, I’m hoping to bring him or her around so that they can see things from my viewpoint.  Which actually really isn’t fair.  If I’m asking them to respect where I’m coming from even if they don’t agree, to love and honour me even when they don’t support me, I should definitely be doing the same for them.  So why aren’t I?

Summation: If you suddenly discover yourself secretly trying to convince the other person to come to your side even though with your lips you’re proclaiming that they are entitled to their own opinions, ask yourself why you aren’t willing to relinquish the control.  What do you hope to get from their changing their mind?  Is that really necessary for life in the Body, or can we actually, really, truly agree to disagree on some issues and still maintain close friendships and ties?   One of my really good friends from Edinburgh and I have butted heads on this issue many, many times, but I’ll always remember what she said once when I Facebook messaged her after a particularly stressful debate.  She said to me: “I’m not offended.  Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it, but the opposite, actually.  Having different opinions adds colour to our friendship and is a beautiful part of our personalities.  I don’t have this need to have everyone agree with me all the time, and you shouldn’t either.”  Since then, whenever we end up being on different ends of the spectrum, I always remind myself to be thankful because our differences are what makes our relationship so unique and so much more interesting.  It’s what makes it special, rather than bland or boring.

#4: Avoid Obnoxious Name Calling (In Other Words: Grow Up!)

Academic debates can often turn into “straw-man” type arguments when we let our emotions run rampant (if you don’t know what a “straw-man” is, it’s basically using irrelevant information and attacking the individual’s personal character in order to strengthen your point.  It’s highly emotional, it’s immature, and it’s the way of most politicians – cf. what we see all the time in the latest U.S. political debate).

Getting involved in a theological debate requires precision, honesty, and integrity.  It also means knowing and understanding the facts… not just going off on someone you disagree with.  One of the biggest downfalls of the church, is Christians using verbal ammo against one another in order to compel the person to come to their side.  May I ask a quick question though?  If you’re constantly shooting at me, barraging me with your machine guns – what makes you think I want to hop the fence?  I’d much rather stay on the side of peace.  In other words, feel free to challenge someone else’s opinions, but do it with love and grace.  Be the Quaker Peacemaker who walks across the field with a bag of chocolate chip cookies, shakes the enemy’s hand, and gives him a hug.  Don’t be that big army thug.  After all, Anabaptists are called to be pacifists, right?

Summation: If you want people to take you seriously, you don’t get that respect from knocking someone down, belittling them, insulting their character, or questioning their spiritual status. In other words, avoid saying meaningless things like “if you were really a Christian, you’d…,” or “I don’t see how you can really be a Christian and do…” Avoid thinking of one particular denomination, way of thinking, or theological position as being the only infallible option that will bring one to eternal life.  Also resist throwing around terms like “liberal” or “conservative” with a tone suggesting that one means heresy and the other is synonymous with close-mindedness.  If you are going to use loaded terms, understand the implications and look up what they actually mean (so as not to use them out of context).  Better yet, avoid labels altogether.  Even if you intend to use the words with their original definitions, culture implies all sorts of things about these ambiguous types of words…so best to run the farthest you can from them.

#5: Let Them Eat Zwiebach!  (Or Borscht, or Strudel, or Rollkucken, or… You Get the Picture!)

Facing a myriad of people who disagree with female pastors has actually been quite a humbling experience for me.  Today I was reflecting on how my inability to see things from the other person’s point of view is so counter-productive to what I really want my life’s aim to be about.  Here’s why:

There are some people who sincerely believe that God does not allow a woman leadership over a man.  Many of these people are not “women-haters” or do not see women as inferior, but they have come to that conclusion through careful dissection and Scriptural research.  My Edinburgh pastor recently stated, “society and culture often tell us that unless men and women are doing the exact same things they are not equal, but that’s not necessarily the case.”  And he’s right.  The woman is the one who carries the child to term and gives birth and she is the one who breastfeeds her, but that doesn’t make her any less of a daughter to her father and that doesn’t mean the father therefore has no responsibility and care over her.  A mother and father are similar and equal and yet incredibly different.

On the other hand, you meet people like me.  People who have also done massive amounts of research, who know the Biblical languages, who have read the Bible cover to cover on multiple occasions and in many different translations, and who have theological training and they believe that it’s fine for a woman to preach.  They see it as being a God-ordained ministry for both men or women and they recognize that calling is central so if the woman is called, why not?

Now in either one of these cases, what is ultimately the most important thing?  To serve and honour God.  One person comes to the conclusion that a woman shouldn’t preach because they want to respect God’s authority and His Word.  They feel like denying a woman this opportunity is ultimately God’s Will.  It’s how they serve God.

On the other hand, people like me believe that we can serve God both in and out of the pulpit regardless of our gender.  We trust that by doing so we are being faithful to God’s call upon our life.  We feel like to not speak, would set “fire to our bones” and would not be honouring all that God has given to us.

So then, who’s right?  Well, in a way both are.  When thought through correctly, both viewpoints are distilled into the same category: how to best live Biblically.  Both are about being faithful to the witness and identity of the church, but both witness in incredibly different ways.

Realistically, I think that when Christ comes back, He doesn’t want us to be squabbling over petty theological differences.  He wants us to spreading His Word and His message through our lifestyle choices.  He wants us to care for the “least of these,” not sit behind ivory towers writing theological treatises that probably don’t make a whole lot of difference in the end of the day.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for academic debates, but there’s an even bigger place for activist faith and true, life-giving and breathing Christ-centered spirituality.

So in the end of the day, let’s just throw aside our differences.  Let’s agree to disagree.  Let’s periodically put away our theological dictionaries, concordances, and interlinears, and let’s all eat a batch of zwiebach (or strudel or whatever other Mennonite food you want to insert here!)

Summation: I’ve you made it to the end of my long blog, congratulations.  You probably need zwiebach not only to proclaim peace with fellow debaters, but also just to get your strength and stamina back so you can read other nerdy writings at https://mennonerds.com/!  Just saying!