Thursday, June 26, 2014

Emerging - Part 5

In emerging, I’m learning so many things about myself, one of the main questions has been “who am I?” and it’s been hard to answer. Until now I’ve been operating on the assumption that I’m a victim. The horror and abuses of the past, those are the things that I have allowed to define me all this time. It’s just in the last week or so that I’ve begun to realize that there is a difference between my identity and my history. Just because things have happened to me doesn’t mean that I need to allow my history to tell me who I am.

As a rape victim, I see rape around every corner, I engage in passionately declaring that everything I ever have to face is due to rape culture and horrible misogynistic attitudes. As an abuse victim, I look at families and see abuse when there may not be any, I am suspicious of friends and neighbors because of the things I have been through. I’ve been hurt by Christians and by the church and so I attribute nefarious and ugly motives to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Being a victim I operate on suspicion, deception, anger, bitterness, and hatred, those feelings coursing through my veins supplying the necessary blood to my spiritual heartbeat. The problem with life giving blood that is made from these things is that it’s anemic at best, and it’s hard to live the full life I was meant to live if I’m tired all the time because of spiritual anemia.

The thing is, I’m not a rape victim, I’m not physical abuse victim, I’m not a victim of spiritual abuse, I’m not the victim of a bad marriage, I’m not the victim of terrible circumstances. That’s a horrible, debilitating, defeating way to live and I’m done living in defeat. Who I am is a woman who is loved by God, who has my identity in him. I’m a woman who has been raped, a woman who was physically abused, a woman who has been mistreated by those who should know better in the church, I was in a crappy marriage, and I’ve had some really terrible and devastating things happen to me. But those things are things that have happened to me, things in my past, in other words they are history. History is a record of things that have happened; history might even look into why or how, and track patterns and provide explanations.

But my history
is not my identity.
My history
does not define me.

I can choose
who and what
I allow to define me.

I am
a new creation
in Christ.
I can choose
to allow Jesus to define me
I can choose
to take my identity in him.

And in doing so
I can emerge.

Selah.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Lectionary Reflections for June 22, 2014

Readings: Genesis 21:8-21, Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17, Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39.

In Matthew 10, Jesus is speaking about what a commitment to him will cost. When I became a Christian on March 3, 2008, I knew that I was committing to serve Jesus. I didn’t want to become a Christian just for fire insurance from hell; I knew that it was going to be a defining moment for me, something that would change the course of my life.

I love several things about this passage, the first being that Jesus basically said that even though when everything happened with my separation and divorce and the upheavals there and the gossip and the spreading of lies and rumors, that even if people don’t care to figure out the truth of it all right now, that one day in eternity, God will reveal the truth of the matter, and the things that people have lied about me about, I will be vindicated. Although I tend to think that once we get to eternity I’m not going to be too worried about being vindicated because Jesus will have finished the work he has begun in me by then.

I remember a long time ago, standing in church worshipping, knowing that my marriage was basically down the toilet, and singing “where you go, I’ll go, where you stay I’ll stay, where you move, I’ll move, I will follow you. Who you love, I’ll love, how you serve I’ll serve, if this life I lose, I will follow you, yeah”. I had tears running down my eyes, and I made a commitment to God that day and I sang it instead of the words on the screen and my version went like this “if my husband I lose, I will follow you, yeah”, and at the time I knew it was possible that my following Jesus would cost me my husband, but my marriage was still at the point that it could have gone either way. But I meant what I said and in the end it was something that I had to, although I have to admit I have not done it perfectly and I almost didn’t keep this commitment, the price was too high and the pain was too bad. I have forgotten the date I made that commitment, but I certainly wasn’t able to forget that I’d made it.

Which is why it is comforting for me to read, so soon after my divorce, the words of Jesus when he says that if we love people more than we love him, we are not worthy of him. He’s saying that the only way to live committed to him is to love him above all others, after all he’s the one that will never let go, and I’ve experienced that. Basically my commitment to serve God whether I could keep my husband or not in the process was the right decision, which means that I need to trust him to now work all of this junk together for my good. I’m learning that even when I am unfaithful, he is faithful, and today these words from Matthew 10 have comforted me.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Emerging - Part 4

God, I renewed my commitment to you and I know you know my heart and I mean what I say but you know like that hymn that I’ve known since I was old enough to sing says “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love” and I know from experience how easy it is to wander from you. In a way I think you understand why I did what I did even though it was wrong, I think that because you are the one who created me with the specific personality and interests that you did. I guess that’s why the Bible tells me to love you with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength, because all four of those are important.

Lately I’ve been struggling with loving you with my mind. You say that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, in Hebrews 11. I’ve known that Scripture since I was old enough to speak it, and in perfect King James English too. You know that I love intellectual pursuits; you created me to love them. You know that I relate to you in the intellectual but also with feelings and experiences. But right now I’m having a little bit of trouble with it, in knowing how to balance that with my faith, because when it comes down to it, faith cannot be described intellectually because that is what makes it faith: which means that some stuff I just have to believe whether I can explain it in an academic essay or not. The problem is that I’m often better at academic essays than I am at faith.

I’ve had a hunger to learn for as long as I can remember, and that can be a blessing and a curse. It makes me want to learn all I can about you, but sometimes it also makes me want to learn stuff that would draw me away from you, such as all that Witchcraft stuff. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m really, really sorry about the Witchcraft stuff. I tried to justify it academically and from the Bible, because I wanted to do it so badly. Thank-you for never letting go of me, for being there for me even in the darkest of times, even those where I haven’t been able to see you, or have cursed and raged at you, blaming you and being angry when those things weren’t your fault.

But this is just me being honest and real with you about the struggle that I’m having, and I know that you already know this which is why sometimes prayer seems to not make much sense because you know all this crap I’m telling you anyway, but I also know that prayer can cause me to be honest and real with you and with myself. I know that when I write prayers such as this, it gives me more clarity and its part of confession because I’m putting words to the struggles that you already know about, and confession helps me. It’s helping me to emerge.

This has been my most popular series ever, the one that I have had the most personal feedback and discussions on. Those of you who are academics and Christians: how to you balance the wonderful world of academia and Christianity?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sexuality and Consent

I have major revelations of things that I have been struggling with at the weirdest of times, the most recent one was this morning at 4 am when I should have been sleeping like a normal human being, but instead I was awake in my bed and my brain wouldn’t shut down. I’d picked up my phone to read some stuff off of Facebook to try and pass the time, and I was reading a follow up article in response to Leadership Journal taking down their article written by a prison inmate about going from youth pastor to felon. This article was arguing that Leadership Journal should have left the post up, and his reasons why, several of which were legitimate. The comments, and the original thread I followed, were very interesting.

I totally agree that the church in general has a major sex, abuse, and rape problem. As someone just newly divorced out of a bad marriage, I was struggling with why sex really was such a big deal to God, and why it was supposedly important to not have sex outside of the context of a one man and one woman marriage, and why the church in general had to be so strict on the issue. I was wondering what the heck I was supposed to teach my children about sex, and if I really truly was supposed to teach and expect abstinence until marriage.
 
I was trying to grapple with some of the points of view towards things such as rape, does a woman who is raped in the legal context of the word ever hold any responsibility for the rape if she flirted or initially gave consent, the age of consent, how to set the age of consent, and the concept of consent itself. And then all of a sudden, it just clicked. God designed for sex to be within the context of a one man and one woman marriage in part because he was trying to make it simple, following what God says about sex actually protects us. If everyone followed what God said and only had sex within marriage, we wouldn’t have to worry about things like the age of consent, etc.

Now I can teach my daughter that it’s important to wait until marriage to have sex because it protects her from having misunderstandings over consent as a teenager, hopefully making her changes of being the victim of statutory rape a little less. I can teach her to guard her sexuality and give it away wisely to a man she is committed to when she is developed enough to understand what she is doing. I’m not na├»ve enough to think that this will protect my daughter from sexual abuse, but it may help protect her from some bad sexual experiences and ruining her life.

I can teach my sons that it’s important to wait until marriage to have sex because it protects them from believing they had consent from the young woman and then having them arrested for statutory rape because she was underage. Some clear easily understandable guidelines may prevent them from a mistake. Then again, it might not, but I’d like to think that it would help.

It’s easier for me when I understand that God has reasons for the stuff he says, and that it’s not just some outdated rule that someone pulled out of their hat and made up one day and attributed to God. I’m so thankful that God chooses to speak to me in those quiet times, instead of just demanding that I do something because he said so, he lovingly takes time to explain…even though I should do it because he said so. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Emerging - Part 3

Last week I reacted in an entirely different way to a situation than I normally would have. I want to make a disclaimer here stating that I certainly don’t think I’m “better” than anybody else, I think it’s been very well established that I have my own issues, and that’s why I write this post, to talk about my issues and how this turned out differently. I also don’t think those that did advocacy work were wrong, only those who were involved in the situation can tell what their own thoughts and attitudes and motives were. Leadership Journal, part of Christianity Today, published a very controversial article on their website last week, an article titled “From Youth Minister to Felon” an article by a man in prison who had raped a young woman in his youth group. I think Leadership Journal were running the story as a cautionary tale of what can happen if you aren’t careful, I don’t think they had insidious motives.

The article, however, contained language and was written in a way to make it sound like the relationship with the young woman was consensual, even though the law says that she is too young to consent, which means the reason this man is in jail is because he is considered by law to be a sex offender. Many, many people, even Christian people were offended, and I don’t blame anybody for their feelings. As a rape survivor myself, it can be difficult to process what happened and it’s something that tends to stay with you. I wasn’t necessarily offended personally by the article, because I thought that at least they were trying to do something, but I wasn’t surprised nor offended that others would fight so hard to have the post removed because it was hurtful to them.

There was a huge social media campaign, people left comments on the original article that were, sadly, deleted, which I think was a very bad decision on the part of Leadership Journal. It took almost a week, but on Friday evening, the editors of Leadership Journal posted a very genuine sounding apology, taking responsibility for how their actions had hurt others, and even offered some amends. I don’t think there is a lot else they could have done except it would have been nice for them to have addressed the deleted comments and apologize for that as well. However, I was appreciative of the apology and was willing to think the best of Leadership Journal (and I have no ties to either Leadership Journal or Christianity Today, in fact the brief look I have had at any of CT’s stuff makes me kind of nauseous) but I do think they at least tried.

I mean, from my point of view, there are often times that it takes people telling me stuff and explaining stuff to me over and over and over again before I begin to get it. Isn’t that entirely possible that’s what happened here with Leadership Journal and their editors? They apologized and offered amends, and people still descended on them like vultures, waiting to feast. Just a few weeks ago, I’d have been one of those people, because I was in a place where I was burned out, and bitter, and angry, and still trying to process things that have happened to me. But then again just a few weeks ago I was denying Jesus too.

I’ve done so many horrible things that I need forgiveness for, and I know what it’s like to genuinely try to make amends and apologize, just to have people continue to carry on about what happened. It’s natural for people to do that when they’ve been hurt, and I can’t really blame them, but it is discouraging. It was like I saw this situation through completely new eyes. I could have used a lot of time last week campaigning for the take-down of the post, and I could have even been right in doing so, but I’m glad I didn’t because for me, it wouldn’t have been profitable. It would have fed bitterness and anger that I’ve been trying to release.

It doesn’t mean that what happened was good or right, but it does mean that when I identify that something could cause an issue for me, and issue to feed bitterness and anger or a choice to leave it be and quietly go on with my life refusing to feed the bitterness and rage, that I have to make a choice. The choice that I make needs to be the one that is the most spiritually healthy for me, and in choosing what I respond to, choosing what I read or focus on, choosing what part of me I want to feed, is the most important thing here. And last week, for the first time that I can really remember, I made a purposeful, conscious choice to feed something apart from bitterness and anger, and I’m hoping that the more I do that, the more it will be eventually starve and die, and I can continue to emerge.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Emerging - Part 2

Well Jesus, you know that I cheated on you, you don’t need me to tell you that, but you never let me go and anyway I just want to say I’m really sorry. I let my pride and my arrogance and my supposed intellect get in the way, things just didn’t make sense but I forgot about faith, and the reason it is called faith is because it’s not based on intellect, faith is belief in things that I cannot see. You know that despite the fact that I swore up and down to the contrary, that I was unfaithful to you, because I pretended to follow you while taking a path I knew you did not want me to take.

I held bitterness and anger and strife in my heart towards my fellow believers, I hurt them, I did damage to your name. I almost left the community of believers you have blessed me with, because of hurt and anger that I didn’t want to deal with. I believed the enemy when he said he had a path that would make me happy. Instead of telling him to go away, I let him hang around and chat for a while, showing me all the supposedly beautiful things that he had to offer me. Those things were attractive and looked like they might offer me all of the things that I longed for, but you didn’t let me go because despite my unfaithfulness, you are faithful. You kept working to get me back, and I’m so thankful that you did.

I think I’ve been mad at you, even though you answered my prayers for a way out of my situation. I was mad because you didn’t answer the prayers the way I thought you ought to answer them, I thought you made the situation worse, but now I see that possibly this was the only way you could answer my prayer, and give me the help that I needed at the same time. I’m really sorry I didn’t trust you and that I let myself be allured away by the false promises of the enemy.

And I know you’ve been waiting for these words from me, that you will forgive me because that is what you promise to do, and I can trust you to do what you promise. I don’t deserve all of the blessings you’ve given me, and yet you choose to give them anyway. I’m here, I’m sorry, and I’m yours. I don’t know how to put all of these pieces back together again, but I know that you do, and I’m asking you if you could do that for me. I’m sort of overwhelmed by all of the pieces right now. I committed my life to you back in 2008, but I haven’t lived for you lately, in fact I’ve lived against you. Please forgive me, please restore me. This is my confession, the public confession I should have been making all along, that I am yours.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Emerging - Part 1

From bitterness…I repent.

From dishonesty…I repent.

From running and hiding…I repent.

At some point in the last few weeks, something changed for me. It crept up on me so slowly that I was unaware, and I think it really began the day that I repented from messing with Paganism and Witchcraft. When I was honest with myself, and with God, and with another person (this is beginning to sound like a 12-step program) about what was really going on, I think it opened a gateway to healing. Which kind of makes sense because the Bible says that we will know the truth and the truth will set us free. So I suppose when I couldn’t be honest about what I was doing, who I was becoming, I couldn’t be free. I had to face myself and the reality of what I was really doing, and I had to quit hiding, hiding from God and from the one friend I knew without a doubt loved me enough to walk through this with me if I would just talk to her about it, but I was too ashamed.

It’s kind of pathetic, but I’m so desperate for respect, that sometimes I’ll sell out to try to get it, which I think is a pretty normal thing humans do when we want something so badly, but that is never the right thing to do. A few weeks ago I cried when my therapist mentioned that I might be bitter about some things, and I got upset when a dear friend said the same thing. I told them that their accusations of bitterness were hurtful because it was just a way of trying to gloss over all the hurtful things that had been done to me and an excuse for nobody having to bother about having offended me because I was also sinning by being bitter. Well, the thing is that they were right. And because I felt like I could use it to leverage respect in some circles, I fed that bitterness and kept it alive, in order to try to win friends and influence people.

Bitterness has always been a struggle for me, it’s something I go round and round and round on, taking one step forward and two steps back. It’s probably going to be something I continue to struggle with again, this time I know better than to think it won’t come up again. I didn’t even own up to the bitterness label right away, but I did start doing something differently…I started taking some real responsibility for myself and my actions and reactions, and focusing on myself makes crap that others have done to me seem kind of trivial. I saw the ugly inside of me, the parts that made me want to war against my brothers and sisters in Christ, the parts that threatened to bind me in darkness if I did not deal with them. The more that I look inward to myself and my responsibility, the more I look at the forgiveness, love and grace that have been granted to me, the more I forgive. And the more I forgive, the more bars on this prison that I have made for myself are torn down, and I can emerge.