To What Extent Do We Control Our Life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Templeton Revisited: A Salvation Case Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Joy By: Morven-May MacCallum Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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.