In the 1500s, Menno Simons (an early Anabaptist leader and the founder of the Mennonite denomination) wrote a tract entitled “Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing.” In this tract, Simons unashamedly addressed the hardships Anabaptist Christians underwent at the hands of political authorities and yet the fervent joy of still maintaining one’s faith and spiritual standing regardless of economic or social pressures. Like many others in his day, Simons boldly stood against religious heresy or the abuse of power by a few select individuals in prominent positions of power. Instead, he urged for a simpler understanding of the faith which all were invited into, and contended for a church “without spot and blemish.” The concluding line of his tract reads, “Beloved brethren, do not deviate from the doctrine and life of Christ.”
There are two seemingly “opposite” verses from the book of Psalms that keep popping into my mind:
4 years ago I started my journey with L’Arche (well, kinda. I got accepted as a live-in assistant, but didn’t start until July 8th). L’Arche has had such a big, formative part in my life, and if you follow me on social media/blogs you likely have read all about some of the lessons and experiences it has provided me with. Thanks to L’Arche I’ve had the opportunity to attend a regional Ontario-wide prayer partner retreat, serve on the spiritual and community life committee, live in Edinburgh for a year, go to Ireland, go cottaging with our core members, have “Holy Book studies”, cook spicy cinnamon chicken, find a fab salmon recipe, attend the National Speaking Group in the UK, have panda birthday cakes every year, and many other wonderful things. Some of my best friends are people I’ve met through L’Arche and we’ve been able to go on trips together or even just hang out for late night snack clubs.
In the past, I’ve written about the lessons I’ve learned during my stay in L’Arche, but I realize that I have only processed my experience while there, not after I left. I think it’s important now that I am starting a new chapter in my life as a children’s pastor, to take a few moments to reflect on all that L’Arche has taught me and meant to me. I’ve been out of L’Arche for nearly 3 months now, so it is the perfect opportunity to step back and look at it from the full-side of my humanity and inner spiritual life, not just as an employee. Here are some of the ways I’ve learned and grown as a person that have become apparent to me (and there may be other things surfacing in the next few months as I further transition):
#1: If you don’t really want an answer, don’t ask the question.
You know how our parents always taught us that honesty is the best policy, but if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say it at all? Well, that’s not the case in L’Arche. We live together 24/7 and have made an intentional investment to be part of community with each other. This means that we are part of each other’s lives at a much deeper level than most other employment opportunities would provide. In L’Arche I have learned to accept honesty. Our relationships run deep, but be careful, if you ask if your dress makes you look fat, you very well might be told that it does
#2: Your feelings are yours to feel in whatever ways you choose to feel them.
No one has the right to tell you how you should or shouldn’t be acting or reacting in a certain situation. Prior to L’Arche I had no clue how to deal with the emotions of others. I find myself to be a very logical person, so I’m more into facts and figures and what needs to be done practically than I am with trying to assuage unpleasant feelings. L’Arche has opened this side of my brain up to me. Now I feel comfortable in most situations. I have learned to accept any thoughts or feelings I have. I don’t necessarily have to continue to dwell on them, but they are good to at least be aware of.
#3: On being a people-pleaser
My natural inclination is to get people to like me, but L’Arche taught me that I need to assert myself first. I need to live into the fullest example of who I am as a person and do what’s right for me. I can’t make decisions based on what other people THINK I should do or where they think I should be. I need to first and foremost follow my own heart’s path.
#4: On practising balance and self-care
L’Arche is truly a unique experience in that they are an example of an employer who truly cares about you as a person. L’Arche is a formative time for everyone and we have experiences like yearly assistant retreats, visioning meetings, assistant check-ins, and accompaniment (also called “coaching” which functions like spiritual direction/mentorship). There are very few other jobs I know of where your “boss” and “co-workers” are as patient as you work through your own life’s pattern.
Life in L’Arche is demanding and often difficult since we work long hours (most people I talk to who have never been in L’Arche are shocked to find out that I worked 55 hours per week on average and sometimes up to 70). But for seasoned L’Archers, we learn the balance. We learn how to say no to some things in order to say the best yes to other things. We learn how to use our free time wisely. Every free day is our opportunity to look for outside groups and social interactions. Even our 4 free ours of personal time are spent doing whatever relaxes us.
It seems odd, but those long, gruelling hours were some of my happiest times and in them I found more freedom than when I only worked part-time. L’Arche taught me to recognize the signs and symptoms of burn-out before it is too late and how to prevent ourselves from drying out and shrivelling up like a raisin. I’m sure the skills I learned in this regard are transferable to any other ministry or employment opportunity.
#5: On friendships
When you arrive in L’Arche, you have no idea what type of people you will be sharing your house with. Sometimes you will hit it off right from the start. You’ll notice a similar passion or interest and your friendship will fly. Others you’re a bit more unsure of. They seem so different at first. You wonder how you’re going to work alongside each other when you both see the world so differently, let alone become friends.
In L’Arche we are a professional organization, but also a family. Yet, there is no expectation to become friends with everyone. It should happen naturally over a course of time.
I regret that there were many people I would have loved to have gotten to know more, but since we worked in different houses our lives went on and we barely talked. Yet in many other cases, I’ve been completely amazed at who I’ve met and gotten to know. Prior to L’Arche all my friends were Christian and mostly white (you have to understand I spent my entire life in Christian schools and church groups…how was I suppose to know any differently). Suddenly I found my life being enriched by a wide plethora of ideas stemming from Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, and Jews. At first I wondered how we would possibly form strong-lasting bonds when our religious leanings were so opposite. But then I learned that this diversity is our greatest strength. That it is the best example of striving for a better humanity, and that it is possible to work together in ways that are life-giving. We’ve had so many interesting discussions surrounding faith and religion and it’s been wonderful because we aren’t out to “convert” anyone. We talk freely and openly and we know we are practicing global learning rather than trying to prove another person wrong.
Furthermore, I’ve had the opportunity to live with people from over 15 different countries. This is something I feel is so special and close to my heart. I’ve gotten to try Filipino spaghetti and Bavarian pancakes. I’ve eaten an Indian meal with my hands and cooked a full Thanksgiving dinner twice for my Scottish house. I also introduced them to Shrove Tuesday (pancake day) in exchange for them introducing me to proper fish and chips and haggis. I’ve danced the salsa and the ceilidh. I’ve picked up some Polish and Hungarian words and I’ve taught them some Canadian slang. This intercultural exchange will always be part of my life now. I never want my world to be completely white again 😉.
Living in L’Arche was the most formative 3.5 years of my life. Those years have given me so much self-confidence and global awareness. I know that you’re learning never ends when you’re in L’Arche, but I also know it’s important to take what I have learned and apply it to my new situations. When I look back on who I was 4 years ago I see someone who had a big heart and wanted to help but simply didn’t know how to. I see someone a bit shy with emotions, a bit clueless about the world, and a bit naive about global impact. When I look at who I am today I see someone who desires to not just do things “for” people with disabilities but alongside them. I see someone who strives to create a more just society where all can fully be themselves, and I see a young woman confident in who God has created her to be and trying to live into that reality, that goal, and that identity every single day of her life whether in L’Arche or out.
Thank you, L’Arche for all you’ve taught me. Thank you to all the assistants and core members who have patiently walked beside me as I’ve figured out where my life was headed. Thank you to my accompanier for asking all the hard questions. And thank you, God, for providing these 4 incredible years!
This past Sunday I attended a local church where the sermon centred on finding light in places of darkness. Since it was January 1st, it was quite appropriate for all of us to take some time and reflect upon what the past year brought us – both blessings and challenges. Almost all of us can attest to the fact that globally 2016 was not the best year. We received the sad news that many of our favourite actors and singers had passed away. We saw on the news that the rate of homicides in Chicago was at an all-time high. We continued to wrestle with the unrest in many Middle Eastern Countries. And we asked ourselves how it would be possible to find peace in a time of Trump. All of these global issues definitely can affect us at a personal level, but then there are also the challenges we ourselves face on a daily basis. Between December 30th and January 2nd many of my Facebook friends posted statues claiming that they were ready to burn 2016 and embrace 2017, hoping for the best. Many of my friends struggled with very serious health issues, unemployment, lack of job satisfaction, and academic distress this past year. Many of them stated that 2016 might very well have been the worst year of their lives.
But not for me. For me 2016 was probably THE BEST YEAR EVER! Well, at least the first 8 months of it were. You may have picked up from other blogs I’ve written on this subject, but being in Edinburgh, Scotland was pretty much the best thing that ever happened to me. And I was naïve enough to think that it was a “forever” type of thing, not a “one year only” type of thing.
Even though things did not seem promising for my return, it wasn’t until just a few weeks ago that everything came crashing down on me and the reality set in that I really wasn’t going anywhere. This meant that although my 2016 started off beautifully, holding hands and singing Auld Lang Syne while watching the fireworks from the top of Calton Hill at midnight, my 2016 ended with me being sad and depressed about how the events unfolded. To further complicate matters, I received a job. But not just any job, a vocation. I finally was called to a church that I feel is an absolutely brilliant fit for me. I am excited to do the very best I can as a children’s pastor and I feel honoured that God has selected me for such a time as this. After all, it is what I studied, and I feel thankful that I was able to receive a charge almost as soon as I started applying (when so many of my other friends have had to wait over a year to find a place). Yet, as much as I look forward to this new opportunity of continuing to gain skills and professional development and hopefully ministering to the lives of many children and families, there is still a certain level of resistance and tension. I am trying to run with my arms wide-open into another ministry possibility, but I am still holding back, unable to say goodbye to what I thought would be, but is not. I am asking myself “how do I possibly deal with all this?” I am wondering how to bring closure to a dream I feel has been dashed, while still maintaining a positive attitude so that I can bring new life to my new parish.
This experience has been a lot like playing with playdough. Giving a lump to a young kid and asking them to make some sort of shape. The kid doesn’t really know what to do with it, so they end up just turning it around in their hands multiple times. I am that kid. I’m still working with playdough trying to see if I can turn it into a wonderful masterpiece, but it definitely is a work in progress. And because of that, I can’t offer you any cut and dry answers for how I have arrived at finding light in the midst of my turbulent time, but I will offer a few suggestions based on what I have learned, read, and talked with a mentor about in recent weeks. I hope they will be helpful to you in your present circumstance and offer you a place of healing and hope even when you feel your dreams and deepest wishes have been shattered.
#1: Permission to Feel
In my mind, I have a picture of one of those old school computer games that I played when I was about 12. Of course, kids these days, have much more exciting consoles than what I had, but I used to enjoy mission games where I was stuck in the middle of a tropical rainforest jungle and had to make it out with only 2 first aid kids, 3 pairs of clothing, a canoe, and a bag of food. In this game, the character was able to ask for various things. “Permission to speak, sir?” And if the commander liked you, he may have responded “Permission granted.”
Our life is a giant mission. And you will encounter your ups and downs. Sometimes when you’re feeling down, it’s important to be able to validate your own emotions. And sometimes, you need that added boost of having another person tell you it’s okay to feel sad. That’s why if you’re asking me “permission to feel?” I’d like to respond with “permission granted.”
One of the greatest lessons I learned in L’Arche was this: you have the right to feel whichever emotions come to the surface in whichever way they come about. Even if your trial does not seem “huge” compared to what your other friends are going through, don’t downplay it. Live into those feelings. Don’t tell yourself a Christian “shouldn’t” feel a certain way. In fact, as much as possible, abolish the word “should” entirely from your vocabulary. Instead of saying “I shouldn’t feel badly about not going back to Scotland when I have such a wonderful job opportunity here” say “I am thankful for my new job and all it will entail, but I still sort of wish I was back with the Highland cows.” This shows thankfulness and hopeful expectation, but it also acknowledges the challenge with moving forward. Instead of saying “I shouldn’t feel sad about my breakup. The guy was a jerk anyways” say “That person was not the right individual for me at this time. I’m thankful for the times we could spend together, but also the protection God gave me not to further what wasn’t right for me. But I will still miss hanging out with him (or her).”
I remember going through a tumultuous time in my teenage years. For a long number of years, I struggled with severe depression. I am thankful that God has since alleviated this burden and provided me with sound health for over 6 years now, but I still remember those initial days of bitter struggle and they have provided me with more compassion for those who currently suffer. When I was 17, I met with a wonderful Christian doctor and told her what I was feeling. I then rebutted my own emotions by saying, “I know I shouldn’t feel this way because there are so many people going through worse things in life.” My doctor asked me “do you think you are suffering?” I said “No. Not compared to those kids who have no food and water.” And she looked me straight in the eye and said “you ARE suffering. Don’t let anyone tell you you aren’t.” And that’s what I want to say to you right now. It doesn’t matter how small or how big your trial is. You are suffering and I am so sorry to hear that. But I hope you won’t have to stay stuck in the suffering. I hope you will be able to see that even in the darkness, little cracks of light are appearing out of nowhere and little birds are whispering messages of hope, healing, and encouragement into your ear even when the Devil is trying to fill your mind with despair and loss.
#2: Live Into the Questions
Over the past 2 months, I have been doing a book study on the wonderful devotional “Univited” By: Lysa Terkeurst. In this book, Lysa addresses how to effectively deal with rejection (whether from family, friends, or being turned down from jobs or situations we had really hoped for). One of the best pieces of advice Lysa gives is to ask WHAT questions instead of WHY questions. Taking an example from my own life, I am tempted to ask WHY things with Edinburgh didn’t work out. WHY God gave me a passion for a very particular city, country, and culture then took it from underneath my feet. WHY God seemed to open a million and one doors, but when it really came down to it shut all of them. Yet, although I am tempted, I realize that to ask such questions would simply be to run around in circles. The truth is, that maybe God will reveal to me the answers to the WHY questions, but for now He is remaining strangely silent.
Instead, I have decided to shift my questions to WHAT. WHAT lessons does God still want me to learn here in Canada that I couldn’t learn over there? WHAT character traits does God want to instill in me that would make me a more effective minister if I ever did go back (minister here is used in the broad sense, not necessarily in the pulpit sense)? WHAT can I do in the interim while I’m waiting to “dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness?” WHAT can I do to effectively minister with the opportunities I have right here in front of me without daydreaming about what could be, but obviously isn’t?
I’m not saying it’s easy to come up with answers to all these questions or that it’s easy to retrain our minds to think differently, but I have noticed for myself when I shift my focus on WHAT I do have rather than on what I don’t have I become a much more content person.
Here’s another thing Lysa taught me. When a door shuts we often assume that it will be closed forever. When I found out that I wasn’t able to go back to Edinburgh for the next several months, I decided in my mind that this meant I was never going back. However, to be fair, God didn’t actually tell me that. The UK government didn’t actually tell me that. L’Arche didn’t actually tell me that. I told myself that. It is possible that your disappointment is the result of God’s protection for RIGHT NOW. For whatever reason, God isn’t providing you with a spouse, your “dream job” or the chance to go back to your favourite country, and there’s probably a reason for it. I know, if you’re like me, you hate hearing those types of Christian clichés, but they are so true. There is a level of protection in God’s divine plan for us, even when it seems like God is just being “mean.” He’s not mean! He’s the parent who withholds too many sweets from His kids because they also need some meat and potatoes.
#3: Being thankful in the moment.
My decision to resign from L’Arche Cape Breton was not an easy one. I knew it was the right choice and the best way to respect both myself and the L’Arche movement, but still L’Arche was all I really knew. I had worked with them for the past 3 years and loved living in intentional community. I didn’t know what it meant to have to find my own place or go back to job searching. Living into that transition was hard, so in order to curtail any sense of depression or anxiety for my future, I began posting three things I was thankful for every day on Facebook. Forcing yourself to think of the positives in every circumstance (no matter how crummy) actually ends up being a double-blessing. First, we train our minds to pick up on the positive so throughout the day we are subconsciously aware of the good things that are taking place. Then, at the end of the day when we write them down, we are reliving those happy memories. Thus, our serotonin (or happiness) levels spike twice, and thus we experience the positive not once, but twice (for more information on this read “The Happiness Dare” By: Jennifer Dukes Lee).
I first started this practice in Edinburgh after attending one of our Tyndale chapels where one of our students talked about her “gratitude journal.” Yet, this exercise has ended up being a smile-saver in the midst of what could have ended in disinterest and disillusionment after my disappointment with Scotland.
I still wish I was near a castle and listening to Scottish brogues, but I started playing a game with myself to try to come up with some reasons why I am here. As of today, I have 195 entries (3 for the 65 days I’ve been home). Here are a few of the blessings that could only have taken place in North America (not in Europe):
- My brother is getting married and I was able to meet his fiancée’s parents and brother. I also don’t have to worry about how I could financially afford to attend their wedding and the complications of flying home and then flying back to Edinburgh to complete another term.
- I was able to attend a local young adult’s group where I made some new friends. Since I haven’t lived in my hometown for about 15 years, I virtually had no one (except my parents) to come home to. Now, when I come back for periodic visits, I will have lots of friends to meet up with!
- I was able to work on “self-improvement” and had some down-time which I likely will never get another opportunity to have in quite the same way.
- I was able to spend a week with my university friends in Toronto where I went to the Christmas Market, discovered the best burger place in all of Newmarket, and randomly ran into my pastor on the train ride home.
- Although it was born out of pain, I was able to have many good discussions with friends who were also facing disappointment because of doors they felt God had closed to them. I am thankful that we were able to mutually edify and build one another up.
- I was able to spend 2 months as an intern at a local church and this ultimately resulted in me getting a position as a children’s pastor at another church. I learned so much about kid’s ministry and was able to pour into my passion of working with kids who have special needs.
- I was able to have more time for my writing
- I was able to spend Christmas at home with my parents
- I have developed a more spiritually mature view of God and have had time to wrestle with some tough and important theological concepts.
There are just a sampling of the many blessings and opportunities God has given me since I arrived home. It doesn’t make the disappointment any less, but it does help me process my grief in a way that is more productive and less destructive.
If you have not taken up this practice for yourself, it is something I’d really like to encourage you to do. Find at least one positive thing in every circumstance. It doesn’t matter how big or how small. If you can’t find at least one blessing or crack of light in the darkness, it might help you to word things differently. In “Uninvited” Lysa suggests asking the question “what does not accepting this position free up for me?” Yes, going to Edinburgh would have been great, but being in Canada has freed up my familial obligations that would not have been met in the same way if I were abroad. Yes, being in Edinburgh would have been fun, but being here in Canada has protected my relationship with my brother and sister-in-law in a way that being over there wouldn’t have secured. So when someone hands us a bouquet, we have to decide to not stare at the thorny stems, but to look up and see the beautiful roses.
Oftentimes we are convinced that we know ourselves better than anyone else, but I’d like to suggest that is not necessarily the case. Our Heavenly Father knows us the most intimately because it is He who made and formed us and He wants what is best for our future. If you’re faced with heaps of disappointment right now, you may not be interested in mere proof-texting, but let me urge you to do this: find a quiet room, pour your heart out to God and allow yourself to FEEL all the feelings without rationalizing them. Live into your hurt and disappointment, but then don’t stay stuck there. Ask yourself what you can learn from the situation and move from being a victim to being victorious. Challenge yourself to see the positive outcomes in the negative situation, and thank God for any hints of protection not receiving your wish will bring to you. The healing may not come easily and it will definitely take time, but in the end it will be so worth it, because you will realize that for each challenge, there is a blessing, a rose, just waiting for you to take hold of it.
The Following views are my own and do not reflect those of MennoNerds, its associates or its affiliates.
Merry Christmas to all of my faithful readers. It is now approaching midnight where I live and my stomach is full from a lovely turkey dinner and my heart overflowing from laughter and good conversations. I hope that like me, you also had a marvellous celebration of Christ’s birth along with some good company during all your festivities!
Christmas season started for me near the beginning of December. I, like many of you, had a million and one things to do during this past month. From hosting and attending numerous parties to worshipping at two Christmas Eve services to buying, selecting, and wrapping all my Christmas presents, to trying to bake some delicious cookies – there was no shortage of things to do. While some lament that Christmas has become increasingly secularized and materialistic, others have posted blogs and Facebook statuses reminding us of the REAL meaning of Christmas.
Recently one of my fellow MennoNerds, Benjamin L. Corey published a very thought-provoking, well-articulated, and convincing article entitled “No, Jesus Wasn’t Born to Die (The Part of the Christmas Story We Mess Up).” You can read that article here. In this article, Corey suggests that Christ’s birth was not primarily meant to end in death, but rather took place in order to show us how to live. Corey’s premise is intriguing and helpful in allowing an Anabaptist Christian space to wrestle with some of the key points of our theology. For many of us who claim Anabaptism as our faith tradition, we recognize the importance of social justice and peacemaking in a variety of settings. This means that we live out our faith in an active and engaging way, rather than as passive observers. We dismantle the idea of God simply appeasing His wrath and replace it with a theology of love and service. Corey definitely has earned my respect in this regard, however, I disagree with the main theme of his blog. I would like to argue that Yes, Jesus WAS born to die, but that’s not the only reason He came.
Over the past several years, I have noticed a shift in church theology whereby words like “sin” and “judgement” are considered archaic and even abusive. Some Christians wonder how God could possibly have killed His own son (isn’t that divine child abuse?). Others suggest that Jesus willingly went through His suffering and consequent death in order to espouse a theology of social justice. Many claim that Jesus’s death and resurrection were symbolic of the breaking down of oppressive systems and that Christ’s sacrifice was nothing more than a moral example to the rest of us.
Being a theologian myself, I have studied many of the atonement theories in-depth and I have come to see the merits and shortfalls in almost all of them. I believe there are definite pieces each one contributes to the puzzle and that there are reasons to agree with one over the other. Although I grew up in a church that believed solely in penal substitution (meaning Christ NEEDED to die in order to transfer our own punishment on Himself) I also agree heartily with the moral example theory. I believe that in many ways, Christ DID come to show us the right way of living. I believe He did many radical things in His life that caused people to wonder, He pushed back on issues that were restrictive, and He repeatedly stood up for those who were not able to claim their own voice. Furthermore, Christ taught many moral and ethical lessons, He healed people with debilitating diseases in order to give them back their life and social status, and He ultimately showed through His death the height of what it means to a non-resister in the face of oppression and extreme violence.
All these things are very good and important for us to take note of, however, at the core of who Jesus is – He was not a moral teacher, He was (and is) the Son of God! Our churches have a tendency to downplay the seriousness of our own human depravity. Instead of focussing on individual ills and wrong-doings, we tend to pour our efforts into seeing the entire creation and systemic structure as lopsided. Thus, we promote economic and environmental stability, we protest poverty and violations of human rights, and we practice civil disobedience when need be. Yet to relegate Christ to merely the status of “the greatest moral teacher who ever lived” is to strip Him entirely of His rightful status as Son of God and Saviour of the World. The very word “Saviour” implies that there is something we need to be SAVED FROM. Not only do we need to be saved from the impact of violence and the ravages of war, but we ultimately, and of primary importance, first need to be saved from the mess we have created for ourselves which stems from our own wrongful view of ourselves, the overall creation, and God. This is best described in one word: SIN.
In his groundbreaking book, “If You Will Ask” Oswald Chambers poses the following question: “are we merely devotees of a social cause or are we disciples of Christ?” Don’t get me wrong, it is entirely possible to be BOTH. And in fact, I think God calls all Christians to be BOTH. However, at the core of our worship and our theology lies the fact that we must acknowledge that Christ Himself is capable of doing something far greater than any other moral teacher was ever able to accomplish. He died in order to set us free and to enable us to share an eternity in heaven with Him.
So why did Jesus have to come? When we look at the Bible, we see a divine drama playing out starting in the very first chapter of Genesis and then swiftly moving towards Revelation (from the origins of our humanity to the full-culmination of the New Humanity). God’s original design for this world was perfection. Yet, because of free-will, humanity chose to go the wrong way. We chose our own direction in our pride, rather than God’s direction in our humility. This resulted in sin entering this world within the very first generation. And the Bible tells us that with sin came death, destruction, and disease. Yet, there was good news. Really, good news. God is far more than a mean master with a rod in His hand. He is Holy and thus not able to look upon imperfections (thus the reason for all the sacrifices in the Old Testament), but He is also merciful extending His mercy to generations upon generations of those who will only call out to Him to receive them into Himself. As soon as sin enters the world, God gives a solution. The solution doesn’t happen right away, in fact, we will read later that it will not happen for thousands of years, however God promises it will eventually take place. Whereas humans chose death over life, God the Father chose life over death. God proclaims that One will come who will have the power to crush the very one (Satan) responsible for this mishap. The rest of the Bible follows the premise of Christ eventually becoming the victor over death.
Repeatedly we read prophetic utterances that point to Christ’s appearance. Particularly in Isaiah 53 we read that we will be healed by Christ’s sacrifice. The Bible shows us that Christ is able to do what we as individuals are unable to do. We needed someone pure and perfect to erase our own impurity and imperfection.
Eventually we wind up in the New Testament which is where the story of Jesus really takes off. We read that Jesus enters into this world through a Virgin who has never had sex with a man. Mary submits to God’s will for her and gives birth to Christ who the angels then praise from the highest heights and urge Shepherds and other villagers to see. The fact that Christ came into this world through a Virgin is significant. It shows that His entrance was not tainted by what others could perceive as “mere physical means.” Rather, He was set apart by God right from the start and appointed to a specific task.
Corey interestingly poses the question “if it were all about dying, why couldn’t the baby in the manger just have died? It would have done the trick.” I submit that this question really lacks the theological depth of all Jesus came to do and all He was. The whole point of Jesus’s atoning death resulted from His ability to say YES to it. His willingness to submit to the Father which ultimately showed His love. For God, it wasn’t merely about the sacrifice, but about the method and reason behind the sacrifice. God is not a merciless baby-slayer, but He IS a patient sin-slayer. Once again the book of Isaiah points to this when it mentions that “He took our punishments upon us, by His wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
Corey also challenges the reason for the sacrifice. He states that God (YHWH) abhorred human sacrifices and thus why would He demand this very thing from His own beloved son? Corey is correct in the first part – God did explicitly state He didn’t want His children to act like neighbouring villages who willingly killed their kids off in order to appease a fake god. However, because Jesus Christ was not simply a human, but God Himself, this makes the whole premise much more difficult. I don’t think it’s something our finite human minds can grasp. How could God be dead and still living at the same time? And it is because of this confusing passage that I know a few believers who really struggle with the concept of the Trinity. While I cannot give a clear answer on this, all I can say is that it entirely shows the depths of the Father’s love for us. He could have completely held us under when we messed up, but instead He chose to do the most devastating thing in order to show us true life. If this isn’t the height of love, mercy, and forgiveness, I don’t know what is. And this is where I appreciate what Corey said – because at the core of what this message is about – it’s about HOW TO LIVE….but also WHY CHRIST DIED.
So we celebrate Christ’s birth and it is important to spend time relishing the arrival of a perfect babe. We then spend the year going through the rest of His life. We should not negate His miracles, His teachings, His compassion, and His wisdom. We shouldn’t rush to Good Friday, but should take time to pause and reflect upon His life itself. To simply say Christ came to die, is not enough, but to simply say Christ came only in order to show us how to live is also to miss the point entirely. It’s sort of like attending a funeral. When a eulogy is given, we don’t dwell on the fact the person is dead – we recount their life. And that’s what we do with Christ. But we also don’t dismiss His death lightly.
In a way, all of us are born to die. C.S. Lewis recognized this when he wrote that we are born for something far greater. When we live in the here-and-now it can be easy to forget that there is a heaven. C.S. Lewis referred to us as being little children content to play with mudcakes all the while forgetting that there is a greater vacation about to take place. We cannot spend our lives too focussed on death, though, or else we’d never do anything for the common good of humanity. On the other hand, we also cannot forget that death will embrace all of us or we will only focus on the earthly and forget the eternal.
I really respect Corey’s article since it covers a topic that few of us are wiling to venture into. I appreciate Corey’s cutting-edge ideas and his overall concern with moral welfare. I relate to Corey’s questions concerning some of the more troubling passages of Scripture and his wrestling with how we, as Anabaptist pacifists deal with them. I support Corey’s conclusion that Jesus’s life has many moral and ethical lessons to teach us which we should more readily become aware of rather than just reaching for a simple “Sunday school answer.” However, I fundamentally disagree with His premise. Jesus did not JUST come to die, but His atoning sacrifical death was a LARGE part (and perhaps the most important part) of why He came. Jesus was born in order to die and by that death to ultimately show us how to live.
Today is week 10 and the last week for our Sunday challenge. It also just so happens to be Christmas Day. I want to thank all of you who have joined me these past 10 weeks and I truly hope and pray that these acts have encouraged and inspired you. Maybe you have begun thinking about issues in a different way or began seeing the world from a new angle. Maybe you’ve even made some big decisions like changing your diet or moving into a more life-giving career path. Wherever your journey has taken you, I’d like to say thanks for joining me on the journey and I hope your path does not end here, but only continues in ways that promote your wholeness and well-being.
In seminary we often say that the two most difficult days to come up with a new sermon are Christmas and Easter. But today I’d like to word that a little differently. You see, often it isn’t about saying something completely new, but rather saying the same old thing in a brand-new way.
Christmas is one of the most important days on the Christian calendar. It is not only a day of family get-togethers, gift giving, parties, and lots of food, but it is first and foremost a celebration of a wonderful Saviour, a God-King who came down to this world to redeem us all.
For many people, the Christmas holidays can be occasions of joy and happiness, but for many others they may evoke a sense of sadness, of grief, and of loss. Regardless of where your emotions line today, know that you are loved and held completely by Christ, embraced in His never-ending and ever-flowing love. His gift to you and to me.
My challenge for you this week is to find ways to continue to share in this celebration. What are some ways that you can be a light-bearer and a joy-giver to all those around you? What can you do to spread some Christmas cheer to someone who might otherwise not get any? Who can you invite to join you at your table who might not have a home or might be away from home?
When I lived abroad, I got at least 4 or 5 invitations to join Christmas dinners. One family in particular opened their house up to anyone who needed a place to go – to any internationals they could think of. It ended up that I was working on Christmas day and so I spent the time with my L’Arche family and we had an incredible meal together followed by some Sherlock Holmes. BUT the sheer act of being invited greatly lifted my spirits. It reminded me that as far from home as I geographically was, there is always that extra piece of home you take with you wherever you go.
I pray that this Christmas you experience that sense of home – right there in your heart. Merry Christmas one and all, and to all a good night!
Today I went to a Christmas Eve service at a local Mennonite Church. I, like most people who grew up in the Christian tradition, have heard the Christmas story countless times in my life. Thus, it is very easy to “tune-out” since we already know how the story is going to end. Mary is going to get married to Joseph, give birth to a pretty amazing baby boy – Jesus, and all will be right with the world. Everything seems calm and bright, doesn’t it?
Not entirely. Today when I was listening to the Biblical narrative a few things stuck out to me that I hadn’t noticed before. Firstly, the angel appeared to Mary (who traditionally we have assumed was a young woman, pretty much “clueless” about all that is physically involved in making a baby) and the angel gave these words “FEAR NOT, you have found favour with God.”
Okay, so I have heard the words FEAR NOT a lot, but let’s unpack this a bit. Mary had every reason to fear. Her life was about to collapse. She was not ready to be a mother, yet. She was still engaged, she was still trying to figure out what marriage even meant. Additionally, at this time period being a single mother was the furthest thing from easy. There were cultural norms and expectations in that day and age which saw such a choice as radical (in a not-so-nice type of way). We can only imagine the shaming that some people must have wrongly treated her with. She might have been charged with adultery which at that time often included the death penalty. So how could she not have feared?
Secondly, we are told that she found favour with God. While carrying the Christ-life inside of you would have been an amazing privilege that only one woman in the entire world was ever able to receive – I still think Mary must have been thinking “Me? Are you kidding?” Her idea of having favour (since Scripture explicitly mentions Mary’s virginity) would likely have been to do the honourable thing by having a child through the union of marriage.
She seems from her song to be a woman that others respected and that she had dignity – so I’m sure breaking the moral and ethical laws of her day were not something she entirely had in mind.
And yet, she went through with it. The Scripture speaks to Mary’s incredible character in that she consented to the will of God. Did she know what she was getting herself into? Did she know how brutal those 9 months had the potential of being? Was she prepared for stares, awkward questions, and people looking the other way? (I think watching The Nativity Story really brought this part home to me – how terrifying it must have been). Yet in her own words she describes herself as “blessed.” She states that from now on her name will be historically associated with a blessing. She calls herself “the Lord’s handmaiden” (signifying a sense of deep respect and submission to her task). The Scripture also says that rather than questioning or asking for details, she simply “pondered all these things in her heart.” She internalized it, and I cannot even begin to fathom how difficult that must have been, because other than Joseph and possibly her own parents, almost everyone else would likely have disbelieved her and maybe even shunned her. She had no professional counsellor to hash this out with. No therapist to walk her through the process. When it came time to give birth, we are not even sure if there was a midwife to coach her through her first experience of labour. And we have no record of prenatal classes.
What do we do with a story that is this messy and complicated? I think the answer lies in Mary’s attitude and subsequentially in our own attitudes towards God’s calling upon our lives. Although few (if any of us) will experience an angelic visitation, all of us have been called out by God for a special task only we are capable of achieving. God has given each one of us a reason to be on this earth at this time – something that no other person in history was able to attain. Oftentimes, when God calls us we have every reason to fear. We fear the unknown. We fear being used to dismantle oppressive systems that have long been in place. We fear going against societal norms that demand that we present ourselves in a certain way. And yet we are told FEAR NOT. We are told not to concern ourselves with the opinions of others, but only with the opinion of God who demands a life of rigorous honesty filled with justice.
Speaking out on behalf of the innocent, demonstrating for and with love, fully living into all that God has called us to be (whether single or married), promoting understanding of difficult topics, or daring to confront systems, churches or religious leaders who seek to hold others down may seem like the furthest thing from finding favour with others for us. In fact, it may feel like the exact opposite. While holding our picket signs in protest we may feel more alienated and disillusioned than ever. But somehow, there is a promise embedded in all of this that something greater might happen because of it. That something more significant is going to be achieved because of our willingness to say “YES.”
What is your YES this Christmas? What is God calling you to do that you are finding hard to surrender? What is the impossible task you feel led to but don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry about all these things. Don’t worry about the next nine months. Don’t worry quite yet about the proverbial baby that is going to spring out of your womb. Just focus on today. Just focus on how you are receiving that call. Trust God and say “yes” however timid you may be. After all, even though God never promised it would be easy, He did leave you with these words “FEAR NOT.”