Zweibach and Peace – A Year in Review

YEAR+IN+REVIEW1 Well, it’s that time of the year again. Fellow MennoNerds and I are posting some highlights of the previous year on our blogs. Aside from being able to contribute to the new MennoNerds anthology “A Living Alternative”, I’d say that Z&P has had a pretty fruitful year. In total we’ve published 78 blogs, welcomed 9,948 visitors, and had 13,610 views all in the last year alone. (1) It’s been amazing to engage with our faithful readers on topics ranging from disability theology to social justice and from the charismatic movement to young adults in the church.

As we reflect on the past year, we’d like to specifically draw your attention to some of your favourite blog posts from 2014:

So, now that we know some of your favourite blog posts for this past year, where is Z&P headed in the New Years? Well, we’d love to hear from you and to get an idea of a bit more of what you’d like to see on our blog. Some ideas we have lined up include: hot button topics that Christians are afraid to touch (homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, perhaps?); some in-depth interviews with some of your favourite Anabaptist thinkers and theologians, more guest blog posts, more book reviews, and finally beginning to tackle the Calvinist vs. Arminian debate. What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Drop me a line at: deborahruthferber@gmail.com about what you’re hoping 2015 will bring :).

Thanks for your faithful readership over the years to Zweibach and Peace. We wish you a happy New Year and trust that God has great things in store for you :).

1) Over the past 2 years since Z&P was founded, we’ve published 189 posts and had a total of 24,862 views on our blog.  Our goal is to ring in the New Year with 25,000 views! Help us make that happen by sharing this link on your Twitter or Facebook newsfeed.

2) Affectionately Subtitled: The Danger of Not Having the Sex-Talk and How Churches Can Begin to Encourage Their Young Adults to Liberate Their Sexuality (Published: April 21, 2014)

A Mennonite Seminarian Turned Pentecostal Intern Re-Examines an Anabaptist Approach Towards Signs and Wonders

lamen “Holy Spirit come with power, breathe into our aching night. We expect You this glad hour, waiting for Your strength and light. We are fearful, we are ailing. We are weak and selfish, too. Break upon Your congregation, give us vigour life anew.” (1)

“If you believe and I believe and we together pray, the Holy Spirit must come down and set God’s people free. And set God’s people free. And set God’s people free. The Holy Spirit must come down and set God’s people free.” (2)

“Praise the One who breaks the darkness with a liberating light. Praise the One who frees the prisoners, turning blindness into sight. Praise the One who preached the Gospel, healing every dread disease, calming and feeding thousands with the very bread of peace.” (3)

The words to these well-loved Mennonite hymns echoed across the room as we all stood to sing of the Holy Spirit who heals, restores, forgives, and nourishes us. As a congregation we beseech the Holy Spirit to come into our lives empowering us for acts of service and witness to the wider church, to help us rebuild and restore our common humanity. We have no problem believing the Holy Spirit is more than capable to do miracles, but we have a hard time believing that He will do miracles for us. Today. In the 21st century.

As an Anabaptist thinker I grew up being skeptical of such spiritual activity myself. I doubted that God would choose to send angels and other prophetic messengers, and the thought of speaking in tongues seemed prosperous, forget about the idea of raising someone from the dead. I thought that the gifts of healings, casting out demons, and receiving words of wisdom from someone we barely knew were all things of the past. Not at all important or relevant to our society today. However, over time, I have come to believe otherwise.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I began attending Tyndale University College and Seminary, a trans-denominational school in Toronto, Ontario. While there my eyes and heart were opened to a variety of spiritual experiences, and over the years I have been incredibly blessed by God to be able to speak in tongues on a variety of occasions, to give and receive prophetic words, and even once to be able to interpret the tongue of another person. Throughout the last five years, I have also received challenging dreams and visions, have experience both demonic and angelic visitations, and on at least one occasion have experienced supernatural protection despite being in geographic places of profound spiritual darkness and distress.

Now, as someone who once was skeptical of all of these activities myself, I know how easy it is for individuals to just write-off these experiences as fanciful imagination or attribute them to lack of sleep, but now that I have experienced these other-worldly encounters myself I have no reason to believe that they no longer take place. In fact, as I read the Scriptures and discuss theology with seminarians of a more charismatic persuasion, I am drawn to believe that God did indeed grant these spiritual gifts to His people and that He has not stopped doing so. For example, both the Old and New Testaments are replete with examples of Christ’s followers, both before and after His departure, being able to open up the eyes of the blind, to heal dreadful diseases, and even to raise sick individuals from the dead. This is further cemented by Jesus’s rebuke on more than one occasion to His disciples for not having the faith to accomplish miraculous feats. Most importantly, after Jesus’s ascension into Heaven, He promised the Holy Spirit to His children as an advocate and a comforter, although there are numerous statements (both implicit and explicit) before that of the Holy Spirit being a vital part of the Trinity.(4)

This preliminary understanding of my own experience with spiritual gifts, thus serves as a backdrop as I approach Micael Grenholm’s chapter in the new MennoNerds Anthology “A Living Alternative” entitled “Charismatic Anabaptism: Combing Signs and Wonders With Peace and Justice” (if you own the book you can find his chapter on page 247). In his chapter, Grenholm argues that spiritual signs and wonders still occur and that they can indeed be a method of producing peace and justice in our world. At first glance this may seem quite peculiar. Many individuals may wonder how and why signs and wonders are important to the Christian community of faith and how it even applies to peace-making. After all, most Pentecostals are not necessarily pacifists and most pacifists are not necessarily Pentecostal. Nevertheless, as Grenholm traces the historical movements of the Charismatic church, it becomes quite evident that Pentecostalism began as a largely peace-oriented church and through believing in the power of the Holy Spirit has been able to accomplish wonderful and rich evangelism which helps dis-empowered individuals at the same time.

When I first received my copy of “A Living Alternative” I was immediately drawn to reading my own chapter (hey, there’s something special about having your work in print!), but as soon as I finished that, my next stop was to read Grenholm’s chapter. By way of explanation, Grenholm publishes frequently on topics of charismatic gifts and the Holy Spirit and has a blog and YouTube channel called “Holy Spirit Activism” which you can check out here: https://holyspiritactivism.wordpress.com/category/holy-spirit-activism/. A self-proclaimed Anabaptist thinker, Grenholm is one of the few scholars I have met who is able to meld both charismatic and Anabaptist ideals together without keeping them distinct. That’s because throughout my life when I started exhibiting more charismatic experiences many (though certainly not all) Mennonites disagreed with me that such things were possible and many did not want to continue the dialogue at all. Contrarily, on several occasions Grenholm and I have read each other’s literary works, have agreed or disagreed on certain points of theology, and ultimately have furthered dialogue within our individual circles because of it.

Reading through Grenholm’s chapter in “A Living Alternative” recently once again produced points of contention and fostered awareness of what the Holy Spirit is indeed capable of. It is hard to do a chapter full of such good scholarship justice in only one blog post; however, I’d like to highlight just a bit of what Grenholm shared in his chapter that I really resonated with.

Firstly, as I already alluded to previously, Grenholm traces the charismatic renewal through the centuries in the first few pages of his chapter. Here he references some of the best known occurrences of Spirit-filled worship including the Azuza Street Revival and the Toronto Blessing. The Toronto Blessing, now manifested in the Airport Christian Fellowship (also known as: Catch the Fire) is a movement that is still going strong in Toronto, Ontario. I have had a few opportunities to attend this church myself, and while I largely do not agree with the theology they espouse or the way they proclaim it, and while I believe that pastors should have more education than what their pastors currently possess, I have, like many others, been quite impressed by the sensationalism of the whole experience. It is hard for me to sort out what is truthful or not because I have never been to any of their healings, but without limiting the Holy Spirit, I do believe that certain occurrences are quite possible. My only caution with attending churches like this is to beware of emotionalism (meaning that belief and theology in healings and miracles must be both emotional and intellectual) and to ensure the testing of all such activities. The Apostle Paul himself warned to “test all things”.(5)

Secondly, I resonate with some of Grenholm’s words of caution on the testing of so-called spiritual experiences. I, personally, have been asked on more than one occasion if I believe that prophetic utterances still exist today. My answer: sure they do! HOWEVER, there are two criteria that I always keep in mind when someone tells me they have a word of the Lord for me personally or for the church. First, prophecy cannot contradict the Scripture (6). As the Bible tells us, no one can say “Jesus is Lord” and at the same time say “Jesus be cursed.” (7) A house divided against itself cannot stand (8). Therefore, everything that is claimed to be prophetic must be in accordance with what Jesus said and with the message of peace and justice that He proclaimed to the world. Secondly, prophecy must come true.  The Bible tells us that we will know a prophet based on whether the words take place as he or she espoused or not (9). In certain cases this can be quite difficult to ascertain based on the time frame they give us, but we should always be cautious of accepting all prophecy before it can be faithfully proven to us. We need to be alert and vigilant because many false prophets exist who only provide words of comfort which “tickle people’s ears” but in essence lead them astray. (10)

Finally, I found the personal encounters of the Holy Spirit that Grenholm uses in his chapter to be both encouraging and inspiring. Although it is easy to dismiss these experiences as legitimately happening, they remind us that the Holy Spirit primarily works in personal ways and that He is not confined or limited to our understanding of who He is or what He can do.

Like Grenholm, I truly believe that when we allow the Holy Spirit access into our lives, He truly will do great things through us. I am not of the persuasion that this looks the same for everyone, as I do not believe that every individual has the ability to speak in tongues, to be prophetic, or to do healings (in fact, Paul himself said that tongues was the least important of the gift (11). Nevertheless, I do believe that every believer does possess gifts which they can use to benefit and further God’s Kingdom here on earth in an attempt to bring peace and justice.

A very short anecdote about this would be from my own experience. As someone who grew up in the church and who has thankfully never experienced much hardship, it is easy for me to believe that my testimony is boring, uninspiring, or unable to bring people to Christ. After all, how can street youth, battered women, or deviant adolescents truly connect to a “good little church girl” who did everything she was supposed to do? Yet, a few months ago I started fervently praying allowing the Holy Spirit full permission to use any parts of my personal story that would benefit the church and bring glory to God. Although it did not happen right away, the Holy Spirit took me up on the offer. Soon I was asked to preach and in particular to share parts of my testimony, I was asked to write, and individuals were placed in my path with whom I could discuss and encourage. This may not be as profound as raising someone from the dead, but it did bring my attention to the fact that the Holy Spirit is a powerful force and one we cannot ignore because He is persistent.

I want to thank Grenholm for reminding all of us that the Holy Spirit is alive and active and that He woos each one of us closer to the heart of God. I also want to thank Grenholm for his courage in discussing a topic not always well thought out in the western Anabaptist church and for his honesty and integrity in exploring these concepts further. I hope that if you have the opportunity you will read his chapter in “A Living Alternative” for yourselves. I look forward to further dialogue on this topic with you :).

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1) “Holy Spirit Come With Power” (Text: Anne Neufeld Rupp, 1970; Music; attributed to B.F. White; copyright 1970)

2) “If You Believe and I Believe” (Zimbabwe Traditional; copyright 1991 WGRG The Iona Community)

3) “Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness” (Text: Rusty Edwards, Music: American Folk Melody; Copyright 1987)

4) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+14%3A26&version=NIV

5) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Thessalonians+5%3A20-21&version=NIV

6) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Peter+1%3A20&version=NIV

7) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+12%3A3&version=NIV

8) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+3%3A25&version=NIV

9) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy+18%3A22&version=NIV

10) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Timothy+4%3A3&version=NIV

11) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+14%3A5&version=NIV

To purchase a copy of A Living Alternative: http://www.amazon.com/Living-Alternative-Anabaptist-Christianity-Post-Christendom/dp/0989830411/ref=asap_B002BMG086_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417959721&sr=1-9

How To Have a Retreat in Daily Life (Part 3 of a 3 Part Series)

RDLThe Retreat in Daily Life is a personal prayer renewal practice with roots in the Ignatius exercises and with inspiration from Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the Presence of Prayer.”   In his book Lawrence describes profound moments of Christ-centeredness and fortitude as he participates in the daily rhythms of life through such activities as washing the dishes or attending to other household chores. The idea is that we, too, can experience such grace-filled existence if we approach each day with the possibility of God showing Himself to us and using our gifts as an extension of our service to Him.

For many of us, the idea of going away on a week-long retreat to a nature reserve may simply seem impractical. Perhaps we work, are raising a young family, or do not have the means to pay for an expensive retreat centre. Perhaps we are taking care of an aging parent, struggling with a disability, or feel unable to justify relocating for a time. Thankfully, there are other ways that we can shut off the noises in our hearts and minds to permit even half an hour a day which will help inform how we choose to look at the rest of our day and week.

If you are feeling that a period of stillness and quietness is missing from the daily rhythm of your life, perhaps a retreat in Daily Life would benefit you. Here are some ideas for having an inexpensive and yet meaningful retreat experience:

Alone and Together – Retreat as Communal: Although the Retreat in Daily Life is largely focused on personal rejuvenation, having a communal aspect helps participants to be able to share with one another in a safe environment all that they are learning. In this way, enlisting the support of a spiritual director or a spiritual friend can be of immeasurable worth as God will surely bring up topics that are best discussed with another person. Additionally, having a group of friends or a spouse who will also partake in the retreat can also provide some new perspectives as you share together how Christ is moving in your midst.

Making Sacred Space: Choose a comfortable place where you can be at rest with God and with limited distractions. If you are choosing a place in your own home, shut off all noise (such as the TV and radio) half an hour before you begin your practice and for half an hour after. While I recognize that in certain cases you may not be able to shut off your youngster from talking, try to set the pace for this being a special place. Perhaps you can consider doing your devotions when the children are out for their sports lesson or carving out a part of your lunch hour at work. Once you begin your devotions, do something special to set the mode that this is a retreat. Pull out your favourite quilt or comforter, brew yourself a cup of specialty tea or hot chocolate, and put on your favourite housecoat. Try to come back to the same place every day. Make it your little secret cave. My mentor even set up a small tent in her living room and told her three sons that when she was inside the tent it was her time with God!

Preparing for Sacred Time: When you begin your daily retreat, make sure that it is just you and God. Make sure that all immediate chores have been attended to before you start and try to start at roughly the same time every day to make it a habit. Silence your cell and home phone and set an alarm for half an hour (this will give you a realistic goal for how long to spend time with God every day). Try to begin each session with a short prayer, music, or a Scripture reading and to end each session with a reflection on how your time with God went.

Sacred Pauses: In her book, Sacred Pauses, April Yamasaki discusses how Sabbath is far more than just one day a week set aside to God. During your retreat in daily life, try to be mindful of the movements of the Spirit. Take an extra moment to smell the flowers or look at the sunset. Do something you enjoy that you rarely make time for or take a bubble bath. This retreat is about you and God, make it memorable.

Other Tips: * Use a journal that you like and write with your favourite pen. Make it an enjoyable time and something you look forward to.

* Occasionally consider varying your devotions so that it doesn’t become stale due to doing the same thing every day.

* Choose meaningful Scripture passages and don’t rush through them. Let the words pour over your soul. Take as long or as little time as you need to digest the passage and make it meaningful to you. Enter through your five senses. Imagine that you are in the text. Which character are you? What do you see? Hear? Taste? Touch? Smell? How do you feel? What emotions arise? What thoughts does the text evoke? Where is Jesus in the text? Is He in the text? How does the text apply to your life? Today? In this moment?

* Don’t worry about finishing the chapter. Sometimes the Holy Spirit may simply be calling you to focus all of your attention on one paragraph, one verse, or even a single word.

* You can enter into the text in a variety of ways. Through writing the text out, through drawing or painting a picture, through composing a song, or through writing poetry. Whatever feeds your soul, make sure you get a chance to do it!

* Remember this is your time with God. Even if you feel like you aren’t a skilled writer, painter, or musician but you enjoy these activities, know that God will love it! You don’t have to share your work with anyone else (unless you want to!). Oftentimes I have been in groups where I have been the most inspired by someone who thought they couldn’t sing but still created a song or someone who thought they couldn’t draw but had the most profound picture at the sharing session.

How to Make a Writer

shutterstock_83131060 With the increasing technological advancement of our day, it is becoming progressively harder for parents to motivate their children to read and write.   As I see children with their heads buried in their tablet or cell phone, I become saddened by the prospect of reading and writing becoming lost arts. In fact, just a few months ago as I was waiting for an emergency dental procedure at my dentist’s office, she remarked that she was so impressed that I had brought a book to read while I waiting for her. She said I was one of the very few patients under the age of 30 that is not completely stuck on Facebook or texting the entire time.

Now, of course, I’m not saying that tablets and cell phones have no place. I often use the latest gizmos myself and with the advent of programs like Kindle, I completely get that many people are still reading but in a more convenient way that takes up less space on the plane. Nevertheless, I continue to be amazed by the number of peers my own age who show no interest in reading books some of whom cannot remember reading a single book since elementary school other than one which was assigned for a class. This troubles me because I truly believe that in order to gain wisdom and insight we not only need to have deep discussions with others, but we also need to be wide-read and know how to express ourselves well through our words. In fact, I have heard time and time again that in order to be a good writer (one of the most necessary skills in any discipline, but especially in the academy) we must first learn how to be good readers. So, below, I’d like to share with you a few suggestions for how we can motivate ourselves and encourage our own children and grandchildren to gain an appreciation for reading and writing and to acquire the skills they need that will last them a life-time.

1)  Read Everything You Can Get Your Hands On.  I don’t care whether it’s a cookbook, a dictionary, a Bible, or a Qur’an, if it’s there, read it. In order to grow in global awareness and become knowledgeable on a variety of subjects, it is important to read a variety of works. As a budding theologian, I tend to gravitate towards the deep theological works of Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli, but I have also learned that in order to better appreciate some of the newer classics by C.S. Lewis, John Mac Arthur, and Max Lucado, I also need an awareness of literary classics in general. Time and again I am surprised at how many newer books reference Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, or J.R.R. Tolkien, so as a result, I now try to invest my time into finishing at least two or three classics a year. Additionally, as a seminary student I have learned the necessity of reading other works I may not entirely agree with or even be comfortable with in order to broaden my understanding of why I believe what I do. This means that aside from having friends from other denominational or even religious backgrounds, I try to not only confine myself to Anabaptist thinkers, but also to bring Catholic, Presbyterian, and even Charismatic voices to the table. In my library, I not only have copies of a variety of English versions of the Bible, but also the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Talmud. By becoming acquainted with these holy books, I gain a deeper appreciation for world religions and at the same time get a deeper understanding of how to better defend my own faith.

2) Journal. My journal is my greatest literary tool ever. When I journal I don’t have to worry about whether the sentences make sense to anyone other than myself. Typos and incomplete thoughts are welcomed, and I am able to spend as long or as little as I want ruminating on one topic. My journal is the place where I can make rough drafts of poems, where I can write out raw prayers to God, and where I can develop my theology. There are many times when I am able to use portions of my journal to develop longer blogs or article pieces, but at other times I feel the Lord simply telling me that regardless of how profound I might have experienced a revelation to be that it is simply between Him and I. I try to journal every day, leaving it right by my bed in case I wake up in the middle of the night with a thought or with a revelation I know to be from God. Years later as I pour through some of the journals I wrote much earlier in my life or when I was newer to my faith, I am reminded of God’s faithfulness and compassion towards me. Many times the questions I once thought would never be answered, have developed into wonderful expressions of God’s delight towards me.

3) Read for 15 Minutes a Day. I get it. We all have busy lives and it can be strenuous to try to make time for even one more activity in our day to day life. Yet, consider this: 15 minutes is probably less than half the amount of time the majority of us spend on a daily basis texting, Facebook stalking, or Tweeting to the world about inconsequential matters. I once had an undergraduate student come into the writing centre and after relating his difficult in formulating sentences, he asked me how he could become a better writer. My response? Through reading! How can I read, if I have difficulty even reading my Bible? He wanted to know. My answer: Try 15 minutes a day. 15 minutes a day may seem trivial, but you would be surprised at how many books you can go through in a few months time if that is the only time you will devote to reading in a day. In fact, I was able to complete the entire Bible in about 8 months time just by reading 15 minutes a day. Having a short time period will make it much easier to approach reading and will give you a sense of accomplishment.

4) Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help. In an individualistic culture, many of us may find it difficult to approach a more knowledgeable person and ask for their assistance, however, I have learned that by asking for help you can really hone and develop your skills of reading and writing more efficiently. Whenever students come into the writing centre, one of the very first pieces of advice I give them is this: “I don’t care how good of a writer you are. I really don’t. It’s always a good idea to have someone else look over your work.” I’ve made so many mistakes as a writer myself. Simply having someone edit my work has saved me from making costly mistakes. In fact, one time having a PhD candidate edit my New Testament essay saved me from potentially getting kicked out of Tyndale based on accidentally writing a heretical statement when I in fact meant to write something completely different than what I had put down on the paper.

5) Lastly, Remember That You Have a Voice. One thing that my editor constantly likes to say to me is this, “you have a voice, just like everyone else and what you share is not any less important than what any other theologian is writing about.” Through finding my theological passion and through writing about topics I truly care about and yet find are largely silent within the mainstream church, I know I am giving a voice to others who might not be able to articulate their thoughts in the same way. I am giving a voice to people with disabilities, to single mothers, and to women who have been abused. I am giving a voice to the minority, often through first spending significant time with them and hearing their own concerns before I formulate it for them on paper. In this way, it doesn’t matter whether you have a seminary education or not or even whether you think you are a skilled writer or not, God can still use you by sharing your own story and the story of others. You gotta write when the Spirit says write!

I hope these tips provide you with a life time of good writing and I look forward to reading all that you have to say :).

P.S.Although I mentioned it in a previous blog (seen here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2014/12/23/literary-thanksgiving/), I just want to take a moment once again to thank those individuals who have inspired me to read and write throughout my life. Their generosity and encouragement over the years has truly inspired me and fostered in me a joy and delight of literary pursuits!

 

Literary Thanksgiving

little-girl-writing-730x285November 20, 2014 was perhaps one of the proudest and most monumental moments of my life. You see, it was the day I published my first co-authored book “A Living Alternative: Anabaptist Christianity in a Post-Christendom World.”* Throughout my life I have had a profound love of reading and writing. Since infancy, I couldn’t get enough of books, journals, and magazines, and as I have gotten older my appreciation for poetry, fiction, and short-stories have deepened. Although my literary interests have shifted over the years, a common thread of reading Biblical and theological musings has always permeated the very fiber of my being. I attribute my success as a student, solely to this love for words in all forms.

Nevertheless, as I reflect back on my journey as a young writer, I am reminded that what could be considered a natural talent, is only a very small portion of what has allowed me to be featured in several magazines, journals, and now in a bound copy of a book. That’s because, had it not been for the wonderful people who have mentored me throughout my literary career, I would likely never have made these gains. Therefore, I feel that it is so important to share a few examples of people who have mentored and nurtured me as I have learned to write. Of course this list will not include everyone who has had a literary impact on me, but I hope it serves its purpose of explaining that writing is not a solitary art; rather it is one that is fostered in community.

From the earliest days of my life, my parents have fostered in me a desire to read and write. My mother even has her own fond memories of me as a youngster attempting to devour books (literally by eating the paper) while my older brother was enjoying pointing and laughing at the pictures. As a young adult looking back on this experience, I now tell my mother that already from infancy and toddlerhood I was simply trying to digest the words and make them more alive in my heart. By age three, my mother insisted that my brother and I keep a journal and by middle school, I was well on my way to being coxed by my mother to enter into reading competitions. Therefore, I can clearly attest to the fact that my parents were perhaps the strongest literary supporters I have ever had and for that I am grateful.

Throughout my childhood, I was also blessed with many other wonderful adults who provided me with gift cards to bookstores and with magazine subscriptions. These individuals did not place stipulations on what I was reading so long as I was reading. They also fostered in me a desire to have a large and varied library which has since expanded to include commentaries and many books.

Finally, I cannot go without thanking several members of my congregation who have truly encouraged me once I began to write more professionally. These individuals saw me through several transcripts of books that I was working on at the time (and that as of today have not yet been published). Yet, even though these people perhaps knew these books were theologically underdeveloped as a result of being written by a 17 year old, their love of me and their interest in what I was writing about helped foster confidence in my own abilities eventually enabling me to get to the place where I learned that I did have something to offer and that I wanted to share with the world.

All of these individuals are the real reason that I write and the real reason that even after all of these years I still enjoy a solitary day with a good book, a notebook, and a cup of my favourite tea. Yet, they only really make up one group. The other group are the individuals who have inspired me.

Although they may never realize it, my colleagues and core-members (residents with developmental disabilities) at L’Arche Daybreak have challenged, inspired, and motivated me in my writing by providing new ideas and insights on topics that never would have crossed my mind had I not come into contact with them. Through graciously allowing me to be part of, and even to write part of their story, they have shown me that writing is deeply rooted in relationships. I’m also constantly inspired by countless individuals who have an unshakeable faith despite great personal difficulty, who have taught me that writing theology is completely useless unless we also live it out.

Today, I not only engage in several freelance writing opportunities, but I am also an undergraduate writing instructor and editor at Tyndale University College and Seminary. In this role, I am able to mentor many young students as they also find their voice and their calling as writers. Other than the fact that I find this to be a profound ministry, it is also truly rewarding because I am able to use my own experiences in order to also benefit and encourage others. You see, the truth is that although I may have been born with a love of writing, that does not mean that it has always come easily to me. Throughout my life, there have been certain individuals who have tried to discourage me. They have told me that I did not have anything to write about or that I lacked the skills to make good arguments. Rather than try to mentor me into better writing techniques, some of these teachers even told me that I should quit writing entirely or that I should give up on my academic pursuits. Although hearing such words threatened to reduce my enthusiasm and spirit, it also taught me that writing is a difficult discipline and one that often does not come easily, but rather that must be carefully honed throughout our lives. Thus, because of my own struggles in writing, I am able to share honestly and openly with others who are less confident about their skills and give them the opportunity to know that they really have more to offer than they give themselves credit for. Additionally, I can see how God has used my own struggles with being largely unable to read or write in my head to become more empathetic to those who have learning disabilities. Finally, through my own difficulties over the years learning French and other languages, I have developed such a respect for our English as a Second Language students who have so much insight, but who find the grammar and spelling difficult within our North American context.

At first glance, this blog may seem to only be about promoting me and promoting my writing, but it’s not like that at all. In fact, it’s the complete opposite of that. In fact, it is simply saying thank you to the various teachers, editors, and professors who have encouraged me all along to continue to write and to continue to express myself through word and pen. I truly give God and these other individuals the credit because without them my chapter in “A Living Alternative” wouldn’t exist. I hope that you will also be able to find such wise mentors to walk alongside you.

* A Living Alternative is a joint project of the MennoNerds blogging collective and features some 20 Anabaptist thinkers and lay theologians.

For More Information on “A Living Alternative” See: http://mennonerds.com/living-alternative

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Lessons in the Retreat in Daily Life (Part 2 of a 3 Part Series)

EffectsofnoiseOur world is constantly bombarded with noise. We aren’t able to stop our minds from going a thousand miles an hour and when we lose electricity or our internet connection goes out for a day we end up going insane. We have forgotten how to play outdoors, how to visit without the TV blaring, and how to have a proper dinner conversation without constantly checking our phones.

When I began the Retreat in Daily Life one of the first challenges I faced was how to identify and then shut off the noises both on the outside and on the inside. I needed to learn how to ignore the constant chatter, the tapes that wouldn’t stop playing inside my head, and the endless banter in order to truly be able to listen to God’s voice. In one of our group sessions, one of the spiritual directors said something to this effect, “being still doesn’t mean ‘hush, be quiet’, it means releasing our hands to God. Letting Him fill us.”

This really quote really helped put it into perspective for me. Instead of seeing stillness as being completely silent with no moving or fidgeting (a recipe for disaster for a hyperactive person like myself), I am now able to see that stillness simply means letting God be God. It’s about not trying to force ourselves on Him, but instead letting Him fill our frame.

The Holy Spirit works best when we are still. He doesn’t want to compete against the noise. He is like the silent but profound introvert who challenges us to truly listen to the wisdom pouring out of His mouth. Here exists the profound revelation that there is a difference between hearing and listening. That there is a difference between mumbling and talking. And ultimately, that there is a difference between time with God and time WITH God. I can be with a friend and still not really be WITH them if I mentally or emotionally tune out or become too preoccupied with what I am about to say next that I lose touch of their own needs and feelings. My temptation so often becomes to fill the air with meaningless words that I forget that often the greatest friendships exist in the ability to be quiet with one another. That often the greatest way to show love is by careful listening and that often the greatest service is in simply being still and available. Releasing the hand of doubts, frustrations, and anxieties and letting it be filled with Christ’s love and acceptance. Moving away from a me-only worldview into an eternal mindset that functions within true community.

One of the best ways to practice stillness is by engaging in a retreat like mode. In an upcoming post, I will be explaining a bit more about how we can make the Retreat in Daily Life a reality even in the midst of our busy schedules, but for now, let me say that retreat simply implies rest. It’s not about doing a million and one activities at a retreat centre two hours away from your home, it’s not about going a week with no cooking, cleaning or chores; it can be as simply as brewing yourself a cup of hot tea and setting some scones down on the table while you quietly journal or going for a 30 minute walk on some nature trails by the water.

Retreat is not optional. God created the Sabbath for us. He didn’t create it for us to become legalistic about it, but as a way to bless and rejuvenate us. He bids us to take a rest and nudges us to spend time with Him so that the Holy Spirit can more consistently flow into our lives.

My hope is that you will be able to take this moments to reflect and to walk with God as He draws you into closer fellowship and communion with Him.

Taking a Moment to Reflect – My Experience With the Retreat in Daily Life Part 1 of a 3 Part Series

indexThe inevitable happened. After 6 years of theological training I gave up reading my Bible. I put it on the shelf, refused to pick it up unless I was reading for a class or preparing for a sermon, and no longer felt inspired by the words of my favourite passages. My life continued on as if the Bible was just one compartment among many. Now before you get the wrong impression, I had not given up my faith in God. On the contrary, my spirituality was taking me to new dimensions I had rarely, if ever, explored before. My prayer life began to become special and meaningful to me, and yet, I could not understand this disconnect in my life between why reading the Bible for devotional purposes was so draining and yet why spending the day at the park praying and journaling for hours was so rejuvenating and left me feeling refreshed.   This left me confused, torn, and frustrated. How could I be teaching the youth I mentor to read the Bible when I myself was not doing it? How could I even teach my Sunday school class when I had not read the chapter I was teaching about until the week I was assigned to teach it?

Thankfully, God saw through this struggle and provided me with an experience that helped clarify why prayer and Bible reading had swapped in their level of interest to me. You see, for a long time, prayer has been the hardest discipline for me to take part in and Bible reading came easily to me…but all of a sudden this switched.

This past semester, Tyndale offered a special opportunity called the “Retreat in Daily Life”. Over a six week period, interested participants were matched with a spiritual director who we met with weekly to explore themes of grace, forgiveness, mercy, and hope. During the days when we were not meeting with our director we were assigned various Scripture verses to read and meditate upon.

At first, this was a very difficult experience for me. As an academician, I quickly resorted to the historical and theological roots of what the verses were trying to tell me. I proudly went to my Spiritual director with pages full of Greek and Hebrew exegesis all lined up, only to have her turn them away and tell me, “Deborah, you need to make this more personal. It needs to be about you and God, not about you and the text.” I began to be discouraged. School is such a big part of who I am that I could not understand how it was possibly for me to have a devotional life that didn’t revolve around hermeneutics, yet, at her gentle insistence, I went into a very part of my life I often choose to ignore: my emotions.

As I began to read the Scripture through a more emotional lens, I was immediately surprised at what I found there. I thought I would have felt such profound love and acceptance from the Father that it almost felt as if He were giving me a hug and re-assuring me (and I definitely did experience this at times). However, the Holy Spirit actually had something much different in mind for me. He began to release the very things I dislike about myself, sins I thought had been buried long ago, and struggles I have chosen to ignore for these past six years. One day, the Holy Spirit convicted me that I needed to go before God and confess all sins and struggles in order to experience full healing and wholeness. That week I went into my spiritual director’s office almost in tears. I told her what I terrible week I had just experienced, how everything had gone wrong, and how I was seriously about to call it quits. Yet, when I told her these things a huge smile lit up on her face. She replied “that’s EXACTLY what this retreat is all about! Oftentimes, God uses this time to show us the things we have buried inside our souls because we have been too busy to deal with them.” She asked me to share some good things that had happened that week. I shared about how I had hung out with friends, how I had received a good grade on my exam, and how I had played with adorable babies. As I shared these profound blessings with her, I was able to see that even in the midst of a difficult week, God had indeed filled my life with immeasurable riches.

Throughout these 6 weeks I learned that there were actually two main issues I was having which prevented me from reading the Bible. The first reason is that because I am in school, it is easy to view the Bible as just another textbook. Those who have never attended a rigorous seminary program may view this as shameful and even sinful, but those who have started working on their Master’s or doctorate know just how easy it is to become cynical when one is constantly tearing the Scriptures apart. My Spiritual director reassured me that this was a typical response to “Bible burnout”. As a seminarian the last thing I needed was to read the Bible for an hour a day on top of the other 6 hours I had spent tearing it apart for theology class. Knowing this helped explain to me why I was able to listen to the Bible on CD and get something from it, but why I could not pick up a physical copy of the Book without automatically putting my brain in academic gear.

Secondly, I learned that even though it often felt like God had quit talking to me, He actually still was. My spiritual director taught me that part of my struggle resulted from me trying to listen to God in the same way an introvert would, rather than listening to Him as an extrovert. As a hyperactive extrovert silence is painful to me. If I sit in a comfortable position for 5 minutes while intently staring at a candle I will get bored and my mind will wander to other more pressing matters. I will eventually give up due to lack of success and meaninglessness. This is what had been happening to me over the past 4 years. I no longer felt the traditional ways of doing devotions (reading a few chapters of the Bible, a chapter of a devotional book, listening in silence, and praying) to be relevant, so I gave up doing my devotions entirely. When we approach devotions the same way day after day it will simply become a chore to us, another thing to check off our long list of activities.

After the Retreat in Daily Life, I have come to see that the traditional mode of devotions is something that we bring to the text not the other way around. In Scripture we are given certain commands. Jesus requests that we spend time in prayer and fasting, the Psalms remind us to meditate day and night on the Word of God, and Deuteronomy tells us to do some memorization of key texts in order that we can teach our children and so that we can talk about them with others. BUT you will notice that beyond these common injunctions, we are never actually taught HOW to do them. Nowhere in the Bible are we given a specific time frame of an hour or two a day, nowhere are we taught that meditation solely implies silence, and nowhere are we taught to light a candle and gaze intently at an icon. I can now see that devotions can imply anything as long as we are spending time with Christ. Often my deepest times with God are in my car on a long commute home as I let the Christian radio station minister to my aching soul, on a short drive to the grocery store as I listen to just one chapter of the Bible being read aloud, or on a road trip across the city as I pour out to God my own requests and intercede for the needs of the world. My car has become my sanctuary. It has become my devotional setting.

Another place I often go to spend time with God is in nature. I love going to the local park where I observe the ducks and the geese freely playing and swimming in the water. Oftentimes I come with just a notebook in hand and while there am inspired to write poetry and prayers to God. As I listen to the children laughing and playing on the swings, I am reminded that true community and communion with God exists here.

Both my car and the park have become shelters for my soul. They have become soul-food in a way that reading a chapter of Our Daily Bread has not been. God also speaks to me quite often through music, through good conversation with my friends, and even through the act of serving others. That’s just me. God speaks to all of us in many ways. Many Christians are able to find silence to be a profound discipline, but I am not, and after the Retreat in Daily Life I have given myself permission to believe that this may never work for me, so there is no need to force it. The important thing is that we spend time with God every day, not HOW we spend time with Him.

I once had a dear friend ask me how my spiritual walk with Christ was going. At that time I thought it wasn’t going too well because I hadn’t read my Bible in months. I told her I had stopped reading the Bible and that I was just listening to the Bible on CDs now. She told me that wasn’t the same thing as reading it so it didn’t count as a devotional practice. Today, I know that the Bible was first SPOKEN rather than WRITTEN. Today, I know that my practice of listening is just as important to Christ as her practice of reading.

I am so thankful that God provided me with the opportunity to be part of the Retreat in Daily Life. It was a great experience and one that I do not regret taking part in. I hope that you will also find a time in your life to be part of such a movement. A time to rest and enjoy those “sacred pauses”*. A time to enjoy real soul-food.

* Sacred Pauses is a term employed by April Yamasaki (author of: Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal)