God & Heroes

Niagara Falls Wounded Trooper McLeod Badly Wounded

My dad told me there were two things absent from war:

Heroes and God.

In a time when everyone in uniform is a “hero” that must sound shocking, but it was his unwavering opinion.

We all knew the basics of his war story. Lied about age to join up. As a scrawny teenager he was made a radio operator in a tank. Shipped out to Sicily. Rolled into an ambush and was left for dead after a shelling. When he came to, he realised he wanted to live and got himself out of the tank and watched the battle rage around him until he was dragged to safety.

From a tiny child I tried to picture what it must have looked like. Him sitting there while shells and bullets flew through the air over his head.

Then one day, just a few years before he died, he added something to his story.

After he climbed out of the tank, he collapsed again and was unconcious. When he woke up an Italian soldier was removing Dad’s boot. Dad remembered him tipping the boot and pouring out blood.

Then someone shot the soldier dead. Dead. Just like that. When he used the word bastard in the telling of that story, it was not describing the boot thief.

And I don’t think Dad ever recovered from the horror of that moment – a  moment devoid of Heroes and God.

I tend to agree with him about the heroes, but I wished I’d said to him the thing I only just figured out today:

If God was on that battlefield, He was in the heart of the scrawny kid from Niagara Falls who was so horrified by the death of his enemy. That’s where God was.

 

 

 

 

 

Once Upon a Time I was a Poet

November Churchyard

A lament of naked chestnuts stands
watching over leafbound graves.

In the midst of life we are in death.

The book falls open to corrugated liturgy,
its own leaves sodden by November tears.

How blessed are those who mourn.

From damp dust we were fashioned;
now mud to mud returns.

God of great mercy, receive.

As torrents pour off a gutterless roof,
Autumn’s grip on life goes slack.

Yet though he dies he shall live.

While Winter’s spirit waits
in the shadow of the lychgate.

And we live on in sure and certain hope.

TM

FYI – I’m still an Evangelical

I don’t self-describe as an evangelical very often but I think it may be time – if just for a moment.

I grew up in a church that changed its theology and worship tradition every time a new man in a collar walked through the door.

We were, intermittently,

Moderate Liberal Low Church,

Moderate Evangelical Low Church and

Very Liberal High Church (bells & smells and everything.)

Then I fell in with the Moderate to Conservative Evangelicals and there I stayed my adult life until I decided to drop the “conservative” in light of the damaging attitudes of the Mark Driscolls and John Pipers out there. (Click on his name to discover why.)

So what? Well, I’ve been inundated lately, mostly on social media but also to my face, with negativity from fellow believers about evangelicals and evangelicalism. I’m very well aware of its short-comings but I’m equally well aware of its treasures.

Every Christian theology and tradition of worship on earth has its treasures, baggage and garbage.*

  • The greatest treasure of evangelicalism is its reverence for the Bible – though some would challenge my commitment to that given my last post. But they would be challenging in vain because, without the Bible, I don’t see a difference between church and an ancient social club. It’s hard work but worth having as a foundational and guiding document.

The garbage side of this is believing that there is only one way to interpret scripture.

Or believing that it’s possible to live the Bible one verse at a time or without reference to the context of the original readers.

Or proclaiming that you believe every verse of scripture while having no concern for the poor.

So much garbage around this wonderful, holy and life-changing collection of complex, ancient and often mysterious documents.

  • Another great treasure of evangelicalism is its breadth of theology – something I experienced for years and years in different churches. I’m may not be happy with Driscoll, Piper et al but I quite like the company of Scot McKnight and Rachel Held Evans.

The garbage comes in when one particular brand of evangelicalism suggests that it’s their way or get out of town – and making the litmus test what one believes about certain difficult passages of the Bible.

Equally garbage is the idea that your political persuassion is somehow linked to your permission to enter the Evangelical camp.

  • Another treasure is that, historically, evangelicals have been immersed in social justice – the belief that a Christian is to be salt in a world prone to rot and light in a world that prefers dark.

The garbage is a tendency in some areas to focus on “personal salvation” over right living – that the goal of the Christian is to get people to confess that Jesus is Lord – then move on.

  • And the baggage? Oh there’s so much baggage – the language of evangelical prayer, the “Like if you love Jesus” facebook memes, (though the “proud to be Christian” meme is utter garbage – seriously – think about it), the lack of robes and candles, the music. These things really don’t matter – they’re about culture and tradition and preference. If they feel like treasures then maybe they’re actually becoming garbage.

So here’s what I want to say to those who dismiss evangelicalism for not embracing things fast enough. Be patient. Making angry or dismissive comments might actually stop someone who was beginning to see the world more your way. It takes time to change. And things are only obvious once they’re obvious – and not before.

From The Message: “Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.”

So back to self-describing as a believer without any particular brand attached.

*Don Posterski, Reinventing Evangelism, IVP 1989.

 

A Few Things I Know & Where They Take Me

I’ve always been interested by people who don’t get tied in knots over issues because my second most frequent place of residence is A Quandary. When I’m feeling stuck there, often in a never ending circle of argument with myself, all I can do is think of the things I know for sure and put away the bits that confuse me till they come clear – and they often do.

So here’s what I know. (If you’re not an overthinker, chances are you won’t get to end of this post, but you’re welcome to try.)

  • That all people fall short of God’s glory. Every single one of us. And don’t you dare add the word But to that.
  • That the Bible says what it’s always said but the cultural lenses through which we translate and interpret are always changing – even for those who would describe themselves as “Bible Believing”.
  • That there are many many things in my everyday life that were not forseen during biblical times and yet, people themselves, their temperaments, humours, and gifts, their tendancy to be selfish and seduced by wealth and power, haven’t changed.
  • That social mores are constantly changing – evolving or disolving depending on your perspective – and one generation or another is always going to be part of that change. My grandmother didn’t have the right to vote until she was 28 years old. James Hood, only 17 years older than me, was rejected from attending an American university because he was black.
  • That “Bible believing” evangelicals fought for and against slavery, for and against the right of women to vote and for and against the end of segregation. I can’t help but pray that I would have been on the right side of those issues and I use the word “right” with confidence.
  • That the two hottest topics in the church right now are the acceptance of women in church leadership and the acceptance of same sex couples in church at all.
  • That there are ultimate logical conclusions to our religious beliefs.
  • That there is not so much a slippery slope as a continuum from condemnation to grace and the darkest edge of condemnation is supported by people whose views are considered religiously correct. Just for example: Uganda and India.
  • That I decided a long time ago which direction on that continuum I want to be walking – and am willing to risk being “unbiblical” in the process. I’m going to be face down to the floor when I meet God anyway so I might as well add this to the list of reasons to be eating holy dust.
  • That I will welcome gay people into my life and my fellowship and encourage them in their Christian faith and their relationships.
  • That I will “sit under” the leadership of women who are gifted and called to be leaders.

Discussion of “yes, buts” welcome but a spirit of grace is mandatory.

2013 – The Year of Sanity

I have long given up counting unhatched chickens but am not averse to looking forward with hope and longing. And I love that we have a do-over every three hundred and sixty-some-odd days.

This year, I’m hoping and longing for spiritual and physical sanity.

By middle age, we seem to be stuck in some patterns and fully comfortable with things that do us no good whatsoever. Two things are grating on me just now.

First, I’ve got caught up, both spiritually and physically, in the peripheral stuff – the issues and arguments and theories and research. That’s all fine except that I can let a good bout of “car crash christianity” (see previous post), or a few articles about intermittent fasting distract me from the things that will actually make a difference to my life.

Second, this lack of doing almost always leads to the guilt that goes nowhere. You’d think I’d have learned by now that feeling guilty about how much I weigh or how little I pray or read the bible makes me neither lighter nor closer to God. In fact, it makes me more likely to head for the wine bottle (literally) or the wishing well (metaphorically).

With all that in mind, I’ve come to the mature conclusion that it’s better to embark on something new and different and risk failure than to keep doing what I always do and guarantee failure. So – in that spirit and for the rest of 2013:

  • I’m going to listen to the bible this year and not even think about reading it. I’m starting with Romans because I want to know what stands out when I hear rather than read those texts. I want to get even a tiny inkling of what it was like to be with those early believers hearing the wisdom of their elders read aloud from a letter. I’m going to let the difficult bits wash over me and through me and listen for what matters.
  • If you’re already embracing physical sanity then you won’t understand the following but here goes: I’m going to be happy with my physical self. Period. I’m going to stand way back from the mirror, buy clothes that I love, move and eat because I like to move and eat – not because I’m trying to meet some unrealistic expectation set by myself or anyone else. I’m going to remove myself as far as possible from the diet and exercise industries and use my hard-earned wisdom to stay fit and healthy.

So here’s to risking failure, making mistakes and seeking God. Happy 2013.

 

Reaping the Harvest of Violence

I just yelled at my husband because I am filled with rage at James Dobson. So I’m going to give the poor man (husband, not Dobson) a break and get this out here.

Galatians 6
7Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Some loud Christians seem to believe that the United States has sown sexual immorality and that has led to the deaths of twenty little children and their teachers.

How bloomin difficult is it to see that what has been sown in the United States is not immorality linked to sex but immorality linked to violence – and particularily to guns? Seriously. How can the spiritual leaders of that nation not be falling on their faces in repentence for guns?

Do they think their addiction to guns is actually of the spirit rather than the flesh?

How can they not fall on their faces in repentence for vulnerable men and women unjustly put on death row?

How can they not fall on their faces in repentence for the deaths of Afghan children by American weaponry?

These days post the Newtown murders should be a time of sackcloth and ashes for anyone who thinks that violence curbs violence. It’s already a time of sackcloth and ashes for those of us who don’t.

Proverbs 22:8
Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken.

Seeds of Social Conscience

It was not always obvious that I was one day going to be the kind of person who cared about what was going on in the world and felt moved to make a difference in some way.  I was a tricky selfish teenager who refused to feel guilty about the state of the poor in the world. I can remember saying as much to my Socials 11 teacher. Not one of my better moments but I think I took that stand because the problem just seemed so big and I really did care but couldn’t see how I could possibly change anything.

When I talk about “making a difference” now, I mean just the bits I feel I can take on, realizing that I can’t fix everything but I can fix some things and, what I can’t do as one, I can maybe do and one of many. Even then, I’m painfully aware of my frequent hypocrisy and ineffectuality. But doing something is better than doing nothing so I chug along.

I suppose it all started with Mom and Trevor Hudddleston. When we were very tiny, she used to walk us from Woodwards department store down Hastings Street to show us Skid Row well before it was called the Downtown Eastside. She wanted us to know that this was where she had spent her preschool years hanging out in cafes with her beloved grandfather and his cronies during the depression. Poor people were just people.

Then came Trevor Huddleston and the oranges.  After reading Naught for your Comfort,

if my mother saw Outspan oranges in our local Safeway or Red & White, she would summon the manager and tell him take them off the shelves and didn’t he know what was going on in South Africa! It was some years before I could pass a display of oranges without a feeling that something unpleasant was about to happen.

And it didn’t stop at oranges. I wasn’t allowed Barbie clothes because they also came from South Africa. Amusingly, I was allowed Barbies – so the feminism hadn’t kicked in yet – but all their clothes were ugly and handmade and I will never forget the teeny teeny tini bikini that my aunt somehow managed to knit. A hand stitched ball gown just couldn’t compete with whatever those wonderful South African seamstresses were producing, but, “because the black people do all the work and the white people get all the money” was the final answer to any plea for Barbie finery. My Barbie wore a sack to the ball.

Funny how the seeds get planted. I guess it also helped that my mother was the kind of person who would pick up litter and hand it back to whoever dropped it. She would stop for anyone and everyone in need. She would happily (much to my cringeing embarrassment) yell at other peoples’ children if they were misbehaving.

She was a community minded fair trade social activist in her own way -and she planted the seeds of my own stubborn belief that change is possible and worth pursuing.

 

Judging Leaders Part 2

I put a link to the earlier post on facebook and ended up with quite a lot of comments – exceeded only by the number I got when I said my son was my new favourite child. Most of them were, rightly, expressing shock and dismay (at Piper, not my parenting) but one brought up an extra question.

My friend wrote:

Good to think through the dilemma though. I have followed Piper on twitter and been uplifted by much. But I can’t ignore that thinking. . And where do I draw my line – if it were something unacceptable in my view but less maddening would I let it go! What are my absolutes?!

Indeed.

I’ve worked happily alongside many Christians over the years who don’t share all my theology, politics, taste in music/fashion/food, morals even. There are Godly people I love dearly with whom I simply will not engage in certain conversations – especially older people who have generously loved me but who come from very different Christian cultures. I don’t expect them to think as I do.

However, when it comes to leadership rather than friendship, I’m happy to draw lines.

Here are my deal breakers for Evangelical leaders:

  • Anyone who suggests one’s politics are in any way linked to one’s chances of getting to heaven.
  • Anyone who puts evangelizing the hungry ahead of feeding them.

I was going to say something about attitudes to women but I think it’s a much broader issue so I’ll say:

  •  Anyone who fails to acknowledge that their interpretation of scripture is coloured by both history and culture. If church leadership genuinely believed the Bible informs womanly behaviour today exactly as it did in the 1st century, the consequences would be unthinkable. See here for an example.

Which is related to:

  • Anyone who believes that there is one clear and unquestionable interpretation of scripture. I have no desire for woolly uncertainty, (another kind of deal breaker), but I respect a leader who has the intellectual integrity to acknowledge that not all is black and white in the Bible – and who sees that it’s possible to examine the difficult bits honestly without fear of endangering anyone’s salvation.

And finally:

  • Anyone who would think, “She’s a liberal”, after reading the above. Big Big Deal Breaker.

And now it’s time to move on. Bless you, John Piper. (I leave those words in even though my husband told me to take them out.) I pray that you will one day explain how much you did not mean what you said in that video.

Judging Leaders ~ by whom I mean John Piper

I have genuinely been trying to avoid car-crash-Christianity on blogs – by which I mean posts about the likes of John Piper and Mark Driscoll. They fascinate me and, sadly, entertain me, but they do equally little for either my blood pressure or my faith.

But today I decided to have a glimpse at what John Stackhouse had to say about the latest in the John Piper “masculine Christianity” brouhaha. I had already read about it over on Jesus Creed and was willing to consign it to the “what else is new?” file.

Instead, thanks to the video below, buried in the post’s comments, I found myself welling up in fury over the words of a man who is widely respected in some Christian circles- and whose influence extends into my own church here in England as well as Vancouver churches that might be attended by my adult children and their friends.

I knew my morning wasn’t going to go well when I heard the words, “It depends on what kind of abuse.”  Apparently we need to differentiate between abuse that would cause the woman to sin (ie engaging in group sex) and abuse that “simply hurts her”.

Listen for yourself, blood pressure allowing.

John Stackhouse suggests that we “keep hearing John Piper on the good things he has to say. And let’s just set aside those things he says…that really aren’t so good.”

I would suggest  -at the insistence of my husband- irony not lost – that we completely and utterly reject John Piper as a church leader until he repents of this attitude and comes to understand that to “endure being smacked for a night” might just lead to the death of a vulnerable woman or at very least affect her children for a lifetime.

I have searched the internet for evidence of that repentance but can’t find anything. If you know of such a wonderful occurrence, please let me know and I will repent in turn. Until then, I will question anyone who excuses John Piper on the basis that he also says a lot of good things.

And just a quick heads up to any man who might think JP has a valid point: the first word from a woman being asked against her will to engage in group sex is not going to be a wistful “Honey”.

 

Listening Before Judging

My getting ready for 50 project involved letting my hair go grey. Tick.

And reading the bible cover to cover. Tick for the OT and the Gospels but got stuck in Romans, limped to Corinthians and am trying to get started again.

But this isn’t failure confession time. What I want to say is that, now that I’m properly on the other side of that hill, I’ve decided to, as far as middle-agedly possible, eradicate dismissiveness from my life.

When I told my 22 year old daughter that I was going to listen carefully to people rather than just assuming that I disagreed for whatever reason, she asked, “Does this include conservatives?”

Me: “Theologically or politically?”

Her: “Theologically – you never have to listen to right wing politicians.” (Nice touch,  I thought.)

Funnily, I’ve been trying to listen to the more liberal brothers and sisters out there but, having felt burned by some wacky far right theology, didn’t feel like I had to extend this listening before judging thing to my “enemies”. Yes, I do see how that bible-reading exercise might have influenced me a little more, especially seeing as I did get through the gospels.

So how’s it going?

It’s hard – first because I’m particularily gifted at judgementalism and this new way requires that I breathe (think, even) before I come to a conclusion.

Also- it’s hard because dimissive jugementalism is rampant amongst my peers. Left, right, liberal, conservative, believing, non-believing – it doesn’t matter – everyone seems so set in their middle-aged ways and not just their politics and theology, but their taste in just about everything.

It’s not that I want to like things that I find unlikeable. Not at all. But I want to be able to explain clearly why I’m bored to tears by Ricky Gervais when he airs his humourless atheism, as popular as he is, on a light entertainment programme. I want to be able to talk to an atheist about that and have them see my point of view. In other words, I don’t want to be dismissed either. (See? I didn’t miss all the Gospel wisdom.)

I especially don’t want to dismiss something because it’s new and different. I’ve never believed in the good old days. Rather, at every point in history, I’m pretty sure you could point out something cultural that’s better and something that’s worse than it was 30 years before. I don’t want to miss out on the stuff that’s better than it was when I became an adult almost that long ago.

So that’s the plan and the new spiritual work in progress.  Look for an update in about six months. It may be to say that I have no more friends. Must remember not to dismiss those who are stuck in their ways.