Monday, January 28, 2013

When Love Looks Like Hate

"Praise Him, praise Him, all you little children. God is love! God is love!"

I grew up singing that song, being assured that God loves me, my parents love me, my church loves me.

We learn the definition of love by experiencing it.

So when a child hears, "God loves you!" and also learns that God commanded people who didn't believe in Him to be killed, a child learns that love is conditional and harsh.

When a child hears, "Mommy/Daddy loves you," and then is struck repeatedly after some wrong-doing, a child learns that love is painful.

When a child hears, "Your Sunday School teacher loves you," and then is treated to harsh words or eye-rolling for not moving quickly enough (or for moving too much) to suit the grown up, a child learns that love is impatient.

When a child hears, "Your pastor loves you," and hears him bragging about all he has done and why the church owes him unquestioning allegiance, a child learns that love is boastful and arrogant.

When a child hears, "I love you," but then is met with a laundry list of failures, a child learns that love holds grudges.

When a child hears "I love you," followed at some point by disbelief toward the child's expression of feelings or a cry for help, a child learns that love is suspicious.

When a child hears, "I love you," but then has affection withdrawn from him when his behavior does not meet with the approval of the adult, a child learns that love gives up easily.

When a child hears, "I love you," but cannot be honest with his parents for fear of a reaction, a child learns that love is not interested in truth.

When a child hears about love, but is then shown the opposite, is it any wonder that child does not desire a deeper relationship with her parents or develops a fear of God?

Contrast that with God's definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13. In fact, because God is Love, you could replace the word love with God to get a more accurate picture of the Divine.

Love is patient, love is kind.

Love does not envy, love does not boast, love is not proud.

Love is not rude, love is not self-seeking, love is not easily angered, love keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

True love is more than affection and doesn't always come easily for me. I daresay, true love doesn't come easily for most people, considering how poorly love is shown to us and others.

I have found that the reiki principles are basically a condensed version of how to express love. In addition to reading and trying to live the definition of love written in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, I have also begun meditating on the following:

  • Just for today, I will not anger.
  • Just for today, I will not worry.
  • Just for today, I will be grateful.
  • Just for today, I will do my work honestly.
  • Just for today, I will be kind to my neighbor and every living thing.
  • Just for today, I will honor my teachers.

How much better could we be as people, as parents, friends, and community members if we stopped talking love and walking hate? How much good could we accomplish by living in an authentically loving way? How much radical change could we effect by ceasing to call hatred love and showing our world what love really means?

I intend to find out. Will you join me?

Friday, January 25, 2013



In my faith journey, I find that asking questions is sometimes frowned up. Oh, sure, easy questions are encouraged, because they help you learn more about God and grow spiritually.

The hard questions, though? They are often invalidated with comments such as, "As you mature spiritually, you'll find getting the answers aren't so important." or "We can't ever completely know the mind of God." or "You just need to have faith in God and don't worry about asking questions."

I have had versions of the above directed at me for most of my life.

Wondering why the child on the other side of the world who never had a missionary come and tell her about Jesus would die and go to hell earned the response, "That's why you need to pay for missionaries to go tell people about Jesus or even be willing to be a missionary yourself when you grow up."

Asking why mentally disabled children didn't get spanked ("Because they don't have the mental capacity to understand good and bad or cause and effect."), and then extrapolating that toddlers don't have that capacity, either, so why do they get spanked? And what about kids who look normal, but have developmental disabilities? Yeah, I found out I should be thankful I'm smart so I can experience the joy of parents who express love through fear pain hitting spanking. I believe at that point I expressed a desire to be mentally retarded.

(I should probably also mention I don't have much of a brain-to-mouth filter.)

As I've matured aged, the questions have neither stopped, nor gotten easier.

If God has commanded, "Thou shalt not kill," then why does He (apparently) command genocide throughout the Hebrew Scriptures? (Joshua 6:21; 1 Samuel 15:15, 32-33)  Wouldn't that make God a hypocrite? Or at least give anyone who kills an automatic get out of jail free card by allowing him to claim "God told me to?"

If there is only one, true God (Elohim), isn't the command to have "no other gods" before Him kind of a moot point? (And, yes, the word translated "gods" is, in fact, Elohim.)

Is patriarchy really God's plan for how the world should work? Because, honestly, I think everything from government to family works better when both men and women are making decisions together. Besides, it would seem God's original plan was unity (not hierarchy or patriarchy) until sin was allowed to derail it. Still, doesn't Christ's sacrifice restore all things?

How do I trust a God who supposedly has the whole world in His hands and controls the universe, but can't reliably sustain life in the womb, i.e. allows miscarriage and still birth?

Why? How? Why, why, why? Sometimes I feel guilty for barraging God with all my questions. I mean, if our chief end is to "glorify God and enjoy Him forever," I'm not really glorifying God with all my doubt.

Am I?

Maybe I am. It always helps me (as a parent with infinite, unconditional love for my kids) to imagine myself as God's child.

In my role as a parent, I love when my kids come to me with questions. Yes, sometimes their attitudes are wretched, sometimes their motives are wrong, and sometimes, frankly, they aren't interested in the answers I have to give, but still, they come to me.

That alone says volumes about our relationship.

Likewise, I think God is glorified when I am comfortable enough to show my doubt, that I am honest enough to admit I don't have all the answers, and confess I don't understand His reasons why.

Sometimes my attitude is wretched. Sometimes, I come with wrong motives. And sometimes, I'm not even interested in listening to the answers, so arrogant am I and secure in my indignation.

But, I come.

That, alone, speaks volumes.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Forgiveness. Atonement.

There's a lot in regards to forgiveness (human and divine) and Christ's atonement and application percolating in my mind right now. I'm having trouble articulating thoughts at the moment, but I wanted to record this before I forget.

Jesus didn't come to save us from God. Jesus is God; He came to show us how to live the law without legalism, how to love without condition, and how to serve without expectation.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Abuse in the Christian Environment

Those who know me personally know it is in my nature to be an advocate. The truth in Micah 6:8 is imprinted on my soul, and though I've strayed from it at times, I cannot deny what God has called me to do.

I grew up in a subset of Fundamentalist Christianity. There were many people in that group who loved God but believed strictly adhering to religious rules (generally those espoused by the pastor) was what God required. I had one childhood pastor in particular who advocated child abuse from the pulpit. Oh, not in so many words, of course. His "Biblical counsel" from behind the "sacred desk" was to encourage parents to use "firm discipline" with their children while they were very young; then parents wouldn't be questioned about "bruising" when the children were school-aged.  Because, you know, the government hates God and everything He stands for and the government is going to take away our rights to beat hit discipline our children.

In such an environment where a child has no rights, s/he typically will not speak up if being abused, either physically or sexually. Even if the child does somehow muster the courage to tell someone, the nearly universal result is that the congregation rallies around the accuser and blames the victim. I saw this first hand.

At my church, I once (over)heard some ladies talking about a local youth pastor and a girl from his church. I gathered that a 3 year old girl had told her mother the youth pastor had been touching her inappropriately. I couldn't have been more than 5 years old, and I remember being shocked and saying so. I was told "There's more to the story than that." It was then explained that the girl hadn't actually come out and said anything, but the girl's mother had noticed radical changes in the girl's behavior and had taken her to "a counselor." (Obviously, the girl's pediatrician had found enough evidence of sexual abuse that he referred her to a psychologist or psychiatrist who was then able to get more details from the girl.)

During this narrative, it was obvious to me the adults assumed the counselor had planted the idea of abuse in the girl's mind in order to attack the "man of God" (youth pastor). Incredulous, I asked, "But why would she lie?" The answer was astounding. "Well, maybe she really believes it happened because the counselor told her it did. Maybe she's just a naughty little girl who was trying to find a way to get out of being spanked."

I'll let you digest that for a bit.

By the time I got to high school, I had met several girls who admitted to me they had been sexually abused, or suspected they had been, due to large blanks in their childhoods. In an environment where victims are certain they will not be believed but blamed, none of the girls who shared that part of themselves with me had told anyone else. I suggested we tell an adult, but the girls inevitably refused.  Since by the time I was told, the abuse had ceased, and because I was in the system myself and saw no other recourse, I didn't think to encourage my friends to go to the police. I wish I had.

I think a lot of us who grew up in similar subsets of religion wish we could have done more to help our friends, but we honestly had no clue what to do or who to turn to. Even now, people all throughout the Christian community have no idea what the proper, godly response to abuse is, especially when it happens at their church, or within their church family.

That is why G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) is so important. This organization provides information to those concerned about the proper legal and godly ways to approach both the perpetrators and victims of abuse. G.R.A.C.E. also conducts investigations into organizations where allegations of abuse and/or abuse cover-up have occurred.

Two current investigations involve the ABWE (Association of Baptists for World Evangelism) mission board and Bob Jones University and Academy. I am not in any way affiliated with ABWE, but I did attend BJU and can speak about my perception of the institutions views toward abuse. I will not share those perceptions here, but I will post a link to the investigational survey. If you have any connections or knowledge about either of these organizations, I encourage you to participate.

ABWE investigation

BJU investigation

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Disobedience or noncompliance?

"Why won't you just listen to me and do what I'm telling you?"

"Stop being so disobedient!"

I don't always say those things to my kids, but I've definitely been guilty of thinking them. When I'm not in that moment of frustration, I often wonder, "Was my child being truly disobedient?  Or was s/he not complying for a reason that I was too impatient to hear about?"

I'm a firm believer in treating others the way we want to be treated.  I also believe that our kids copy the behavior they see modeled.  So, if I'm loud, demanding, and impatient, I guarantee you my kids are going to be the same.  There's no sense in holding my children to a standard I refuse to hold to myself.  Not only is it illogical, it's unjust.

However, when I exhibit the fruits of the Spirit in my life (you know, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...those easy-peasy attributes, right?), my children likewise follow suit.

Micah 6:8 states, "He has told you, o man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?"

It is unjust, cruel, and prideful of me to expect immediate compliance from my children.  True obedience comes from a heart of love, a heart that counts the cost before submitting.  If I do not give my children time to count the cost, to consider what it is I am asking of them before following through, I am not giving my children the dignity they deserve.

For instance, I have a toddler who is so sweet, happy, and compliant by nature.  She is still learning words and meanings, so often when she is given an instruction, she will stand and look at me.  If she were my first child, I would have simply repeated my instruction a few times, threatened her with a spanking if she didn't "obey" and then followed through.

Now, I am aware that people in general and small children especially need up to a minute to process an instruction.  Yes, a full minute!  In my education classes, we were told not to fear the silence that followed a question to our class, as it could easily take 20 seconds for the students to interpret our query and then formulate a response.  Obviously, pre-school children require more time to process and formulate, and we are doing them a tremendous disservice by training them to respond like automatons.

Here's a recent example:  I brought my toddler to her high chair to eat breakfast. I had a small portion of waffle, already cut into tiny pieces and topped with syrup ready for her on her plate. I stood her in her chair and said, "Ok, sit down and eat."  She picked up her fork and began eating.  I reminded her to sit.  She squatted, then stood again, looking at me out of the corner of her eye.  Frankly, I was a little frustrated, as we've followed this routine ever since she could sit up by herself.  I put my hand on her shoulder and said, "You have to sit in your high chair."  She looked at me, squatted, and stood. 

My first impulse was to pick her up and place her in a seated position back in her chair, but my brain said, "She never does this.  There must be a reason."  I checked her diaper, and sure enough, she had pooped!  She was not disobeying me; she wanted to comply but did not want to sit in ickiness while eating.  Can you blame her?

So because I treated my toddler with dignity, she got a fresh diaper and could enjoy her breakfast more completely.

Here's another example where I didn't do so well.  My oldest son is a feeeeeeeler.  By that, I mean he has BIG FEELINGS about everything, to the point where he tends to either explode or shut down because he is still learning how to handle these giant feelings.  I also am a feeler, and I am empathetic to the point that I can actually experience another's emotions with them. Throw the two of us together and you can get some huge, spiraling, out-of-control emotions, sometimes.  Kind of like fireworks, only less pleasant.

Anyway, my son was having difficulty completing an assigned chore.  I was sensing his frustration and anger, and instantly became angry and frustrated with him.  From my perspective, I was asking him to do a fraction of his fair share around the house, and here he was, balking. I scolded. He exploded. I exploded back. He shouted, "You don't really love me! It's all just an act!"

Ouch. That got my attention. I immediately went into question and listen mode.

It turns out, I've grown careless in choosing my words, especially when expressing my disapproval and frustration of my son's negative behaviors.  Instead of focusing on the desired behavior and offering alternatives or simply correcting the undesired behavior, I was saying shouting completely unhelpful things. "Stop acting like a jerk!" "I've had enough of your misbehavior!" "Would you pay attention?" "Just do what I say - NOW!"

As a result, his behavior toward me had grown antagonistic. He felt unloved and unappreciated - and is it any wonder?

My son was complying with instructions, albeit grudgingly.  That is hardly true obedience. But who was at fault for the breakdown between us? Obviously, I was. I am the parent and the leader. He is the child and follower of my example. He lacks the necessary maturity to calmly bring my own misbehavior to my attention while being a model of good behavior himself.  Additionally, he felt that the foundation of our relationship (unconditional love) had crumbled, leaving him insecure and uncertain.

There cannot be true obedience unless the foundation of unconditional love is solid. True disobedience with such a foundation is extremely rare, and when it does happen, I've found my children are quick to express repentance and work toward reconciliation without any prodding from me.

It's time we Christians really look at the words we're using to describe our children's behavior. Delayed obedience is not disobedience at all. In fact, I posit delayed obedience is true obedience, because one who delays is counting the cost and choosing to submit anyway. Noncompliance is not following an instruction, while disobedience is counting the cost and choosing not to submit. Compliance and noncompliance happen on the outside, while obedience and disobedience take place is the heart. 

If we as parents are going to follow the instruction to "do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly," we must seek the reasons behind our children's unwanted behavior.  It is, after all, what we hope others would do for us.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Proverbs 31 Woman

Those of you raised in or currently a member of the evangelical community probably either rolled your eyes or groaned at my post title.  Personally, I used to wonder why God had recorded such an over-achiever for us women to emulate when the men had nothing remotely similar held up as their standard. (Unless you count the cursory, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church." reminder during the frequent sermons on subservience submission.)

Well, guess what, fellow exhausted moms?  Our Jewish sisters know a bit more about this passage and its intent that we do, and I'm going to share their insights with you.

First of all, Proverbs 31 is NOT. A. TO-DO. LIST!  No, really.  It's a poem of praise for the eshet chayil, often translated into English as virtuous woman.   

Ok, you ask.  Then who is this eshet chayil and why is she important?

Eshet chayil is more accurately translated "woman of valor" or even "warrior woman."  You see, chayil has the idea of being strong and valiant, like a mighty army!  The Proverbs 31 woman is no doormat, but a strong, capable individual who not only cares for her family but is also concerned with social justice. (Prov. 31:20)  She's obviously a hard worker.  (Do you know a mom who isn't a hard worker?)

As to why this woman is important...well, we don't know for sure if the eshet chayil in Proverbs 31 was a real woman, but we do know she is an everywoman.  Apparently, Jewish women use the title eshet chayil as a sort of, "You go, girl!" or congratulation for one another.  Get a deal on new furniture? Eshet chayil!  Donate your hair to Locks of Love? Eshet chayil!  Reached your new year's fitness goals...from 8 years ago?  Eshet chayil!  Engage in an argument with your spouse and refrain from immature behavior? Eshet chayil!  Find your children have taken 5 lbs. of flour into the bathroom to "make a blizzard" and you firmly but calmly supervise their clean up and amends process?  Eshet chayil!  Finally get a decent hair cut?  Eshet chayil!

Another point I'd like to make is that waaaaay, way back when the Hebrew scriptures were written, only men were allowed to study them.  From that aspect, it becomes obvious women were not actually the original intended audience for Proverbs 31.  It serves as a reminder to husbands of all the hard work their wives put into making a home.  In fact, the Eshet Chayil is still sung all over the world by Jewish husbands to their wives every Friday evening as Shabbat begins!

Now, my Love Language is Words of Affirmation.  I guarantee you, if my husband were to tell me just once a week how much he appreciates me and goes through a laundry list of the things I've done for our family and our community, I would be putty!  (Obviously, he does affirm me more than just once a week, but a weekly serenade based on my greatness would not be turned down.)

So, stop looking at Proverbs 31 as a to-do list.  Stop letting the eshet chayil give you an inferiority complex.  Instead, take your place beside her.  Don't be afraid to list your accomplishments, even if it is only to yourself.  Because after all, you go, girl!  Eshet chayil!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Is Segregation Always Wrong?

Today's post is actually me thinking out loud, as it were, not sharing insights or giving a challenge.

I grew up in church, as did my spouse.  At the time, it was expected that children be separated from their parents and taught in children's classes.  That may seem innocuous enough, but even infants were expected to be dropped off at the nursery so they would not disrupt the teaching of God's Word.

Furthermore, in my church, once children reached middle school, we were separated further into same-sex classes.  Keep in mind, this was a small church of maybe 100-150 in attendance, so that's a lot of teachers needed!

During my childhood, I just accepted the age-divided classes.  After all, grown-up church was boring.  But even as a kid, I recoiled at the rewards-based system in place for the children's programs, and at the competition of boys versus girls or class against class.  If Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we are His sheep (I reasoned), why are the sheep trying to one-up each other or fighting to earn the Shepherd's favor?

Now, as an adult and a parent, part of me is horrified at the thought of turning over my children to semi-strangers teaching them who-knows-what about God and the Bible.  For instance, my 5 year old was explaining to me her teacher's definition of what sin is: "If your mommy or daddy asks you do do something and you don't do it, that's sin."

My mind boggled for a moment.  I mean, what if some poor kid is being sexually abused?  The church teacher is (inadvertently, I'm certain) telling this child s/he has to accept being violated!  Regardless, that's not even an accurate definition of sin.  It would be more correct to explain to a child that sin is, quite literally, "missing the mark."  I completely understand simplifying a concept for children, but I'm also painfully aware young children are extremely literal and place a lot of weight on what perceived authorities tell them.

On the other hand, an adult-oriented church service or class is not necessarily an appropriate place for children, either.  Topics such as child sacrifice or genocide are recorded in the Bible, and the mention could be a catalyst for anxiety-based nightmares or worse, a fear of God, the Bible, and church.

As a result, I'm frustrated and questioning.  Is segregation ever a good thing?  Should the Church be practicing age-based segregation when we are called to unity?  Is there a practical alternative or middle ground somewhere between complete age-based segregation and complete inclusion?

These are difficult questions, which I'm sure, do not have easy answers.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Finding the gift

One of my roles as a parent is guiding my children in self-exploration.  Whether a quirk of personality or a product of living in an often-critical society, my older children especially are quick to put themselves down for traits that make them special.

My oldest daughter, for instance, is a very strong, determined individual.  She is creative and thoughtful, moving and speaking with a sense of purpose.  Leadership skills and confidence swirl around her like a cloak.  Uncomfortable with expressing her emotions, she instead pours her soul onto canvas and paper.  Yet because she prefers dinosaurs and Transformers to rainbows and Ponies, her peers call her weird.  She is strong and doesn't hide who she is, but she is frustrated and confused as to why she "has" to like something or be a certain way because she is a girl.

My oldest son is almost the polar opposite.  Soft-spoken and sensitive, he gains focus only when he is passionate about a topic, whether it be science or social issues.  He likes Legos and stuffed animals, video and board games.  He is a follower, unless he senses uncertainty or injustice.  Then, he becomes a crusader, forcing the leader to re-evaluate his methods and means.  Because he is sensitive, his siblings (and younger children in general) are drawn to him.  He gets frustrated because he doesn't like the rough and tumble way most boys his age play.  He wants them all to "play nicely," a rare trait for an elementary school-aged boy.

In my eyes, each of those children is beautifully gifted.  Yet, each of them has expressed to me the desire to squelch their beauty and be more like their peers. My job, then, is to help them see their uniqueness as a gift, something to be proud of.

This task is even more difficult when one considers the fact that I was brought up in an environment where I was expected to tone down certain aspects of myself.  Even now, in my mid-thirties, I will find myself modifying my personality to be accepted.  Why?  As I told my kids, the people who will be your friends will be your friends no matter what.  The people who are trying to get you to change aren't your friends, so you don't need to worry about them thinking well of you.  You are perfectly suited to be who you are.

Self-acceptance: that is my gift to my children.

A Book Review

As a frequent reader of Rachel Evans’s blog, my interest was piqued when she announced the publication of A Year of Biblical Womanhood.  As she shared book excerpts from time to time, my interest grew until I knew I had to buy the book.

It takes a well-written, deeply researched, carefully crafted book to stand up to the initial hype surrounding its release, and AYOBW does not disappoint.  Combining superb storytelling with hilarious personal anecdotes, along with extensive study and research, the book takes a conversational tone and not once devolves into being preachy or arrogant, gently reminding us to “read the Bible for what it is, not what you want it to be.”
Furthermore, Evans effortlessly balances the tasks of laying out her topics in an unassuming manner and being honest about her own conclusions, while simultaneously giving readers the space to make their own decisions.  

I was raised Independent Fundamental Baptist, hearing a lot of the topics Evans writes about used almost as weapons to keep women “in their place” (whatever that was at the time).  Throwing the adjective “biblical” in front of womanhood made for a smoke-and-mirrors argument that couldn’t be refuted unless one wanted the labels “rebellious,” “contentious,” “worldly,” or worst of all, “jezebel.”

Despite the fact that women were doing the lion’s share of work in our small church, I overheard deacons refer to these women as loudmouthed or gossipy if they dared to speak up at a business meeting.  And as a little girl, I felt despair, because I knew I could never be as important to God’s work as a boy would be.

In AYOBW, Evans carefully scrutinizes Biblical text and subtext, searching for the deeper meaning, the whys and the wherefores.  Not content to “just have faith,” “accept what God says,” and “stop questioning,” Evans uses her God-given intellect to get the the root of the issue: “The Bible does not present us with a single model for womanhood, and the notion that it contains a sort of one-size-fits-all formula for how to be a woman of faith is a myth. [...]there is no one right way to be a woman, no mold into which we must cram ourselves.”

That concept, along with the reclaiming of Proverbs 31 as an affirmation rather than a checklist, was worth the price of the book.  The understanding that God does not want women to change into some Frankenstein’s monster excised from the pages of His Word is incredibly liberating and life-altering.  With no pressure to conform, no condemnation for being loud or quiet, a leader or a follower, head covering or not, women are left only with a sense of purpose, an urgency to get about the Father’s business. 

I highly recommend AYOBW to anyone curious about the Bible, about women’s issues, about the Church.  You may reach differing conclusions to Evans, but you will be challenged to think and to evaluate your beliefs.

Honestly, there is so much more I want to say in praise Evans's book.  It is of that special class of tome that will have you ruminating about its contents long after you have put it down.