Book Review: Four Gifts (By: April Yamasaki)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Downs With Love – A Play Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Went to a Funeral for Someone I Never Knew

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Day with Patricia Bootsma

downloadOn Saturday, October 28th, one of the largest churches in Toronto – People’s Church, hosted a “Serve the City Day.” The day was focused on evangelism, outreach, and missional leadership and included a plenary session in the morning with the famous charismatic evangelist and author, Patricia Bootsma. I have heard Bootsma speak on more than one occassion, and every time I listen to her I am reminded of how much of a woman of God she is. Here is a woman who has experienced and helped to bring about healings, prophecies, visions, and more. It is evident when you meet her that the Spirit of God is upon her and the most impressive thing of all, is her humility towards this. She is not someone who does any of these things in order to amass fame and fortune, but rather she is someone who only seeks for God to use her as His evangelistic instrument.

At the conference, Bootsma spoke about the need for intercessory prayer and prayer evangelism. She explained how before we are able to go out and reach the masses, we must first bring the masses to God. For example, before we ever evangelize to a friend, we need to pray that this friend will be open and receptive to what they will hear. We need to become people who plead with God for lost souls and who truly are so deeply distrubed about the lost and the dying that we cry for them. If there ever was a “Mic Drop” moment in the history of Christian sermons, it would be this line from Bootsma “Do you love souls or do you just love your ministry?” Wow. What an incredible question to consider. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus Himself cautioned that not everyone who calls Him Lord and Master is truly His disciple. In an almost scary way He even mentions that there will be some who will posess charismatic gifts and perhaps even do much good because of them. These individuals may practice gifts of healing, prophecy, or even casting out demons and raising the dead, but in the end times, God Himself will say “depart from Me, I never knew you?” How can this be? How can someone who has practiced the gifts of the Spirit not be in-line with the Spirit of God to the point that He even says He doesn’t know who they are? The answer is then clearly laid out for us verse 21 where Jesus explains that only those who do the will of the Father are truly His disciples. In other words, only those who truly love souls, who engaged in ministry for the sake of the Kingdom (rather than for reasons of wealth, pride, fame, or prestige) are those God wants to associate with. I believe this is a great warning for anyone in ministry, but especially for those of us who have the charismatic gifts. A gifted preacher or evangelist such as Billy Graham may gain attraction and a following, but we also live in a day and age where people are impressed by signs and wonders. Therefore, when someone comes along not just claiming, but actually proving that they have the ability to raise someone from the dead or to heal the sick, our attention is piqued. And so, those of us with this gift, need to be cautious of how we use it and how it will be interpreted. If it is not for the saving of souls and for evangelical purposes – we should forget about it. The Lord gives us gifts in order to use them – not to abuse them. They are never there to draw attention to ourselves, but only to draw attention to God, and the minute we forget that is the moment we risk being one of the goats rather than one of the sheep.

I know not everyone agrees with the charismatic gifts. There are some Christians who feel those gifts were only for a certain time period directly after our Lord came to this earth. In this case, my heart is saddened because I feel these individuals are missing out. When we take the authority of Jesus Christ and use His power to accomplish His mighty acts and deeds, we are not only seeing revival in our own hearts and lives, but also permitting others to experience this revival as well. To hold it back is not only to cut ourselves short, but potentially to leave out great opportunities for evangelism and witness.

At the end of the sermon, I approached a young woman named Ruth, who is Patricia Bootsma’s intern. Ruth is Scottish and I have a heart for Scotland (having lived there for a year) and as we talked Ruth felt the Holy Spirit upon her heart and asked if she could pray and prophesy over me. I agreed. Ruth prayed that God might use me to bring a great revival to the country of Scotland and to interceed for the needs of the Scottish people even right here in Canada. Upon hearing this great prayer, my heart was glad. I was thankful to have attended a day where I was to minister to others, but I was the one who ended up being ministered to!

Everything about this day was a great experience, but as they say, unless you choose to implement something from a conference or a sermon within the first three days, it will never happen. There is a big temptation to be fed at a conference, but to not feed anyone else in turn. To be inspired, but then to not inspire someone else. I hope and pray that I continue to implement what I learned about prayer and intercession. That I continue to live out the specific gifts and callings God has given to me not for my own sake or to achieve fame or status, but for the sake of the Gospel. I hope to join the Apostle Paul in saying that whatever I have gained, I now count it all as loss unless souls are saved in the process. Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift of salvation found only in and through Jesus Christ and His shed blood and atonement alone.

A Prayer for Today

prayer-force

Let us pray for all God’s people:

For those who this day have woken up to adventure and love, and for those who trod through this day painfully hoping it will end soon.
For those who are struggling in their marriages, and for those who are struggling in their singleness.
For those who have problems with their children, and for those who yearn to have a family of their own.
For those enslaved by violence, oppression, and greed, and for the ones who enslave them.
For those who suffer from ill-health, mental disturbance, or increased disability, and for those who suffer in the state of their mind due to their own prejudices and character defects without even knowing how lost they are.
For those who travel to explore, and for those who travel to escape.
For those who are too trusting, and for those who do not trust enough.
For those addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, and gambling, and for those addicted to being liked, popularity, prestige, and fame.
For those who are homeless, and for rich Christians living in an age of hunger who refuse to do anything about it.
For those trying to find their worth in meaningless encounters, and for those who have found their worth but now are struggling once again with the possibility of losing it.
For those who are beaten down, and for those who beat down others.
For those who are puffed up and for those who do not consider themselves worthy enough.
For those who are bold enough to question, and for those who do not know which questions to ask.
For those afflicted, and for those too comfortable to notice the affliction of others.
For those who wander, and those who are bored of being at home.
For those who seek, and those who have found.
For those who hope for community but have not yet found it, and for those who tirelessly seek to build and restore community.
For those who care for the earth, and those who ravish it without conscience.
For those who are humble, and those who are haughty.
For saints and sinners, all.
For those who have found their home in the organized halls of religion – of church steeples, choirs, and pews, and for those searching but still on the fringes.
For those who find themselves on the fringes but would like to be included, and for those who choose to be on the fringes and find themselves excluded.
For those who doubt, and for those who believe.
For those who are just trying to recover for the first time today, and for those who have given up trying.
For those who mentor, and for those who need to be mentored.
For those who change too frequently and for those who do not change enough.
For the dreamers, the poets, the artists, and creators,
And for those who have had their creativity shut down.
For those for whom prayers are few and far between, and for those whose prayers effortlessly lift off their lips though never sincerely mean the words in their hearts.
For the broken, bruised, bandaged, and bemused.
And for the brave who are bothered by injustice.
Father of all Eternal Glory,
Draw ever near us today, be ever present
So that we, in turn, may be present to others.
Lord in Your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Going Beyond #Metoo Why a Simple Hashtag Isn’t Enough for Me

me-too In recent days, social media has been lit up with #MeToo.  Sometimes the post contains nothing more than those 5 letters and other times it spills out into a complete confession of wrongs done to the person.  Some posts give a victory cry of how despite injustice, the individual has overcome, other posts simply state that the individual is not yet ready to disclose all that happened (at least publicly) but would consider having the conversation off line or via private messaging.  And still many others are an invitation to talk – to discuss, to empower and support one another through what is a tumultuous and oftentimes scarring experience.

At the core of the #Metoo movement is a desire for perpetrators and abusers to begin being held accountable for their actions.  It is a vessel to gather information – to prove the scope of the problem, to acknowledge that more women than we realize have fallen prey to gender-based violence, and an opportunity to begin taking those same women seriously as a society.  The #Metoo movement aims to show women that they are not alone, that there are many others in similar positions to them (to varying degrees), and that there is indeed a problem – and a big one at that.

A few days ago when my Facebook starting lighting up with #Metoo I at once experienced the profound emotion of anger – anger at this world for allowing this to happen, anger at some men who take advantage of women, anger at a society that objectifies women’s bodies at every turn and corner, but also mixed with it was a feeling of pride and extreme gratefulness at the courageous women who stepped up and shared their experiences.  Scrolling through my newsfeed I became aware that this problem affects women of all socio-economic ranks, religious and political leanings, cultures, and ethnicities.  Some of my friends are straight, others gay.  Some are thin and the portrait of beauty, others would describe themselves as a bit chubby if not “ordinary” and “plain.”  The truth is, to an abuser, these things often do not really matter.  Ultimately, where the concern lies is simply in who is a prime victim to be taken advantage of.  The person the abuser can have a “power-play” on and oftentimes the very person who they know will either never tell or else will tell but will never be seen as credible.

At its core, there is a lot of goodness stemming from the #Metoo movement.  It is a place of identification, corporate support, and in some cases action.  Marches are being done, letters being written by third parties which alert abusers that other people in the woman’s support network know what’s going on, and engagement and dialogue happening both on and off-line.  Nevertheless, I do have a few issues with the #Metoo movement, and I urge you as a reader to consider them and not take them lightly.

Firstly, the #Metoo movement is a great opportunity to at least begin envisioning and understanding the scope of violence done to women, however, what I find disconcerting is that while at least half of my female Facebook friends have written #Metoo, less than one twentieth of my male friends have written #Iamsorry.  This, of course, is not at all to say that all men are guilty simply by association of their gender, however, it is to say, that even with this growing movement, it is still very much seen as a women’s issue.  As something like “well, that sucks it happened to you, thanks for sharing with me, but I’m still not going to take any responsibility for what happened to you.”  The truth of the matter is that the Bible calls both men and women to a very high standard of sexual morality and living.  The Bible states that if a man looks at a woman lustfully he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  It doesn’t matter whether that woman is married or not.  If she is married – you are robbing her husband even if you never act on your impulse you are degrading and defiling her.  If she is single (even if you are in a relationship with her but have not yet put a ring on her finger) you are robbing her future husband and objectifying her.  The Bible tells men that they are to lead out of love and servitude.  Submission is to be a point of provision and mutual dependency.  To be a leader means to first be a slave – to put each other’s interests before your own and to make decisions based on trust and respect for one another.

If you are a man who helplessly stood by when a woman was catcalled because it was too awkward for you to get involved, you are responsible.   If a woman opened up to you about a previous abuse or situation that made her feel uncomfortable and you chose to dismiss it because women are always “too emotional” you are responsible. If you are a man who made a suggestive comment (even in jest) you are responsible.  If you are a father who did not teach your sons the proper way to respect a woman and woo her in love, you are responsible.  You can be responsible for your inaction as much as someone should be for their action.  In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If you choose to stay silent in situations of injustice, you have already chosen the side of the oppressor.”

My second issue with the #Metoo movement is that it can easily mess with a victim’s mind.  In theory, the activity and acknowledgement of what once was (and still is in many cases) relegated to the basement never to be spoken of again being brought to light and spoken of publicly can be a healing experience.  Nevertheless, it also can raise someone’s defences, heightening their PTSD, and reminding them of experiences they’ve tried so hard for years to bury.  In light of this, all I ask is that we walk with our friends gently through this experience.  If we have not experienced sexual violence ourselves, we may not comprehend how seeing something on the screen can truly be triggering and upsetting – but trust me, in our culture today, seeing things visually online can be just as upsetting (if not more upsetting) than hearing them offline while sitting across from a friend at a local coffee shop.  During these upcoming days, weeks, maybe even months, please allow your friends to FEEL.  Please do not become defensive or filled with justification (especially if you are a man), acknowledge her emotions and let her vent.  Standing in solidarity with a victim does not always mean we need to be full of sound wisdom and sage advice, sometimes it simply means that we need to tune our own needs out in order to focus on hers.  Journeying together is a lifelong process – it cannot be rushed, it cannot be shushed, it cannot be snuffed out.

Lastly, my issue with #Metoo is that we cannot simply see this as a by-product of the culture, rally for it for a few weeks and then let it die out.  I’ve seen this time and time again with online causes, and in fact, when I was doing my master’s degree one my classmates actually did his thesis on online presence.  We saw Facebook light up with the “N” for Nazarene to raise awareness of religious persecution.  We saw thousands of people doing the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for ALS, but today that organization has not been able to keep up that same amount of fundraising.  Social media constantly sees a barrage of causes on a daily basis – profile pictures changed, hashtags added, even protests circulating.  Yet, the very nature of social media is that it is transient.  We live in a passionate generation, but it is one in which we rally together for a cause until we get bored of it and move on to the next (often within a period of weeks if not shorter).  Sexual abuse, assault, and harassment are such big issues that affect almost every woman that we simply cannot just “move on”.  People are opening up publicly in such a vulnerable way, and we cannot take that lightly.  When a woman opens up (perhaps in some cases for the first time – at least publicly) she is putting herself at risk.  At risk of being broken, at risk of not knowing how people in her life will respond, at risk for being questioned, even at risk for becoming part of the victim-blaming cycle.  With risk comes opportunity and potential advancement for growth, but there is still a great risk attached.  The truth is, whether at this point we want to admit it or not, in the next few weeks, #Metoo will be old news and replaced with something else, but the trauma that woman experienced will continue to live on vicariously for the rest of her life.  When a woman experiences trauma, abuse, and victimhood, it does not just affect her for a time or a season.  It will affect how she views herself – her sexuality, her ability to trust, her relationships, maybe even her spirituality.  It will affect her daily activities – whether she will walk through that park again in the dark, whether she will make friends with someone who looks like her abuser (even if she knows internally that it is not that person).  It may cause her to experience mental illnesses such as depression or PTSD for the rest of her life.  It may eventually affect her marriage, her family, her friendships, even her working environment.  So, you see, the issue of abuse is perpetual.  Even if the abuse only happened once, it can snowball throughout her life, coming up at the most inconvenient and shocking of times even when she felt like it had all been dealt with.  So regardless of what happens with the #Metoo movement and whether or not it goes anywhere after these initial weeks, please remember that these women who have now posted so boldly are not going to suddenly “get better” just because they posted, and in fact, in many cases may actually get worse now that things are all churned up again.

If we truly want to make a difference and end this culture of abuse and violence, we must be willing not only be acknowledge the widespread problem, but to be part of its solution.  We may all be at different stages.  We may be someone silently struggling to articulate the abuse that happened to us.  We may have a friend or relative who was the victim of a grave abuse and want to be an ally to that person.  We may have been sexually harassed and just have never realized it.  Even if we personally have never been the recipients of sexual harassment or violence, if we are women, we must realize that as members of this society – we are harassed on a daily basis by media and pop-culture songs that are nothing short of porn and almost always aimed towards women.  The best way to help end this cycle of abuse is to stand firm in our own stories, to educate ourselves, to listen to others, and to listen to our own hearts.  It is to take the Biblical injunctions of God’s love, mercy, healing, and forgiveness seriously.  It is to see sin as the systemic oppression and violence it is and to call each other and ourselves out on it whenever we see that we are beginning to make justifications or rationalizations.  And, when we have done all we can, it is to entrust the rest to God – to give Him this broken world with all of its attachments and weights, and to hope, trust, and pray that ultimately there will come a day when we will move from #Metoo to #Meneither.

Dear Church I Love You, But…

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Dear Church,

Yesterday I visited you.  You welcomed me in the same way as always.  Cheerful people, the senior lady who truthfully told me she was praying for me and gave me a word of encouragement, the look of a clean facility that was well run and well maintained.  Your landscaping reminded me of the beauty of those little flowers cropping up on the side of your building, and the warm sense of music completely filled the sanctuary.  Here I am among friends.  Here I am fully able to be myself.  Here I feel whole and complete.  Well, at least most of the time that’s how I feel.  Then there are other times when I feel that I could never truly let the real me show.  My own struggles and vulnerabilities.  My own defaults and disasters.  My own doubts and disillusionments.  I am, after all, employed by you.  I am there to be a guide, a shepherd, and a leader – the one meant to offer healing, not the one in need of healing.  I know that at the core, that’s my own pride talking.  In the words of author Esther Fleece, I do not have to continue “faking fine” but sometimes it sure feels like I do.

I decided to pose this open question both to my Christian and non-Christian friends alike.  To Saints, Seekers, and Skeptics: “How would you answer the following question: Dear Church, I Love You But…”  Here are a few responses that stood out to me – not because of their scholarly content, but because of their rawness.  Not because of their nerdy appeal, but because of their honesty.  For these are exactly the very things I have said myself about you, but never had the courage to address until just now.

Dear Church, I love you, but I wish Jesus would feel welcomed here.  Nearly every church I have ever attended claims to be “welcoming and inclusive”, but I have learned that is rarely the case.  Being an inclusive church is oftentimes more messy and requires more work and a greater commitment.  So, there are times when people who don’t fit into a certain mold, stand out because they realize they will never be part of that mold.  I grew up in the church so I’ve always felt that I fit in.  In fact, like most Christian kids, I can more easily and readily connect to other Christians than to “people on the outside.”  However, in recent weeks I’ve been learning how much of Christian culture is simply that – culture.  Not something directly addressed in the Bible, but things we have picked up and now hold as sacred.  That’s not all bad, but, we do need to become mindful of clichés and acronyms we use that keep people out.

When Jesus walked this earth He told His disciples that whoever welcomes a prisoner, a sick person, a beggar, or a child, welcomes Him.  What do all four of these people have in common?  They were considered nothing within that society.  Therefore, any church that welcomes someone without pretense, without any investment in what they could possibly get from that person (time, money, other donations, credibility), welcomes Him.  Today, there are many churches that are welcoming just such individuals, but there are many more that keep those same people at a distance – people with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses, people so trapped in their addictions that they have destroyed their lives and their families, people who are petty thieves or sex offenders, people who have made bad choices and taken wrong turns or simply people who have been the recipients of others’ bad choices and wrong turns.  It makes us uncomfortable to get out of our comfort zone, but that’s exactly what Jesus tells us to do.  He was, after all, an itinerant preacher, a common business man, a man with radically upsetting theological viewpoints at times, and a refugee.  But we often forget those aspects of Him in favour of our Sunday School version of a blonde hair and blue-eyed North American Jesus who looks exactly just like us.  So, dear Church, I pray that you may one day come to the place where people are welcomed and valued for who they are, even when you disagree with their lifestyle choices.  That you may one day endeavour to truly be a welcoming space where the shouts and noise of children are welcomed.  A place where the poor worship alongside the rich and think nothing of it.  A place where everyone’s gifts are equally valued regardless of how insignificant those gifts may be, because often it is in the least of these gifts, that we truly find the greatest reward.

Dear Church, I love you but I wish you wouldn’t fear people’s faults.

I once asked a good friend with relatively little Christian background or influence what she thought was the biggest thing a church could do to become more welcoming.  Without a moment’s hesitation, she responded “don’t fear people’s faults.”  This short phrase has stuck with me ever since.  There is a temptation in churches to be a bit “fake.”  I’m not saying that churchy people aren’t genuine and sincere, but they often can’t get to the depth of what is truly troubling them for fear that they may be considered an inferior Christian.  I remember in my late teens and early twenties struggling with severe depression and being told common clichés like “just pray more” or even “how can you be so selfish when there are children a world over starving.”  I was taught to bury these emotions because good Christians, and good pastors, never doubt the goodness of God “God is good all the time, all the time God is good.”  Or as Kutless says in their new song King of my Heart, “You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down.”  But what about the times when God DID let us down?  That divorce?  That death?  That betrayal of trust?  That broken friendship?  That abuse?  That thing that happened to us of which we had no control over and that we never deserved?  Wars and famines around the world?  Do you really think people in Syria or in Egypt truly believe that God has NEVER let them down?  Do you really believe the woman who got pregnant at 19 not by choice but because of an abusive relationship really believes that was God’s design for her life?

When I think of my own faults, of which there are plenty, I am thankful that I have met many wonderful Christian people who have always loved me even despite my mistakes and failures.  But I have also become distressed by a church that expects certain things of me just because of my educational background and professional experience in ministry.  I truly pray that the church would come to accept people regardless of their backgrounds and to see those as possible assets that build up the church, rather than that detract from it.

Dear Church, I love you, but I wish you would stop trying to be the State.

When I posted this question to Facebook, it reached friends from literally all over the world – most notably the US and the UK.  Both of these countries have a somewhat tighter understanding of Christendom than Canada does, however, in many Western countries, matters of State because matters of theology.  Take, for example the legalization of marijuana – something I myself have not yet come to a conclusive decision about.  So many churches have created this mindset that because it once was illegal it is therefore “sinful” but is that truly the case?  The Bible does not ever speak of marijuana or drugs at all for that matter (at least in the conventional sense of how we understand them today).  We become so fixated on a certain topic, lobbying the government for change when really – to the best of my knowledge anyways, God has called church and state to be two separate entities.  This doesn’t mean that Christians should not become involved in politics.  I believe it is a wise and responsible choice for Christians to be informed of what is happening locally and globally and to work for change in different ways – nevertheless, I wish the church would resist the idea that we have to be a “mini-state” and instead go back to what the word Christian actually means and just focus on becoming “mini-Christs”.

Dear Church, I love you, but I wish you would stop being so fixated on marriage.

I get it.  We need marriage and families in order to continue to keep our church functioning.  Children and youth are the very lifeblood of the church and those we need to train to take the gauntlet of leadership for the next generation.  I am also pro-marriage.  I hold a traditional view of marriage that maintains it as a sacred institution, even despite a society that often opts to live together – to receive all the privileges of matrimony without any apparent level of commitment.  Nevertheless, I have been getting frustrated recently over how the church responds to anyone over the age of 25 who is still single.  There are many benefits to the single life and in many ways I believe my singleness permits me to give more readily to the church than in marriage.  In fact, the Bible itself says that if someone is single their responsibility and devotion is to things of the Lord, but the person who is married is primarily responsible for his or her own family first and thus must learn to balance family life with things of the Lord.  In fact this passage even uses the phrase “his interests are divided” (1 Corinthians 7:34).  I’ve alluded to this in many other posts, but the Bible actually has a very high regard for singles.  It says that some people are born “single” (perhaps because of a disability or a natural temperament that better suits them to singlehood), others were made single because of circumstances beyond their control, and still others choose to become single in order to better glorify God and build up the Kingdom (Matthew 19:12).  Think of the Biblical examples of Paul, Jesus, and even Anna – all of who were single for different reasons, but who ministered to God in incredible ways because of their singleness.  Think as well about missionaries such as Elizabeth Elliot (single by widowhood) or Helen Roseveare (never married) who also served God on the field by not being constrained by marriage or family life.  The Bible actually never says anything negative about singlehood, despite being in a culture where marriage and family were the norm and in which Hellenistic literature at the time stated that the only thing worse than unbelief was to never be married.  Therefore, I find within Christianity as it is to be properly understood a great respect and freedom for those who will not or cannot get married.  Unfortunately, the church post-Luther has lost this very gift.  It has instead chosen a path of toting marriage as an ideal and viewing singles as “less than.”  It has become preoccupied with an unrealistic expectation to get married and start a family young.  It has not learned to properly reach out to and equip singles – not to match make, but simply to be present with.  It has not, for the most part, come to a conclusive and helpful way to properly minister to those who now find themselves single a second time after divorce or death.

Dear Church, I love you dearly.  I am glad to have grown up knowing you and I am thankful that Christ married you forever.  But, dear Church, I also pray that you may one day accept the full reality of who Jesus is calling you to be.  I pray that you may become a safe haven where everyone is welcomed and included.  Where people are greeted with a sincerity and warmth that truly pulls them in, rather than pulls them away.  That people will be built up in your midst, rather than torn apart.  I pray that you may become a place where you live in opposition to the systemic structures that are put in place and instead model a level of servanthood and humility that the world needs to see.  I pray that you may live differently and counter-culturally rather than giving in to the whims and debates that currently swirl around our world.  I pray that you may accept singles in the same way you accepted marrieds.  That you would accept teen moms in the same way as you accept long-lasting marriages.  And I pray that just like the words of the old traditional song, people would come to know that we belong to you, that we are a part of you, that we are mini-Christs not by our words, our actions, our theology, or even our mission terms, but by our love.

Sincerely yours,

A young twenty-something churchgoer who loves Christ, loves the fellowship of believers, and loves a church that is willing to get messy and become inclusive.