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All Things are Yours

"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)

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Christian Sociology

A Jew’s Perspective on Christian Perspectives on Jews

I’ve never really focused on this on my blog before, but I want to share my perspective as a Jew.   Yes – I am Jewish, and while no Jew in my life has ever asked me this question, Christians always seem to ask me so I guess for some reason Christians need to know that:  yes indeed, both my parents were Jewish.

I guess Christians ask that a lot because some live in areas of the country where they’ve never actually met someone who was Jewish; or, because in Christian circles someone is always “discovering” that some obscure great-great grandparent might have been Jewish because of some family rumor, it might be hard to believe that someone hanging out in the Christian community who claims to be Jewish might actually be really, truly Jewish — like, solidly both parents, and all the grandparents, had no question about the matter.

Actually, the reason no one would ask this in the Jewish community is because it is generally assumed no one wants to be there who isn’t actually Jewish, and even then, Judaism doesn’t actually require that both parents be Jewish for one to be a Jew.  Only one’s mom needs to be a Jew, or alternatively, one can be a Jew by choice and convert.   But this means that “when” I have children, they will be just as Jewish as me.  There’s no such thing in Judaism as “half-Jewish” or “partially Jewish;” one either is or isn’t, and thus my non-Jewish husband doesn’t really factor in to Jews accepting that my children are part of the tribe.  (But sadly, I know that *Christians* will constantly ask my kids their entire lives if *both* their parents were Jewish, as some sort of litmus test, and I just hope my children won’t get a complex over it that threatens their sense of identity as part of my people.)

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

The other question I get a lot from Christians is whether or not my family “raised” me “practicing” Judaism.   Again, this is an outsider’s question.   Every Jew practices Judaism in some way shape or form, however assimilated into Gentile culture they may be — whether that simply means eating bagels with Lox, and perhaps having a Chanukkah bush (read: Christmas tree) at Christmas, or celebrating three Jewish holidays a year with heartfelt conviction while eating a ham sandwich on the way home from the party, or really any level of more religious observance they might feel drawn to.  All Jews have a sense of connection not necessarily to the faith, but definitely a connection to our shared culture and history, even if it only goes back as recently as World War 2, which reinforces us a distinct people who shared in a common history of trauma. (Many traumas, in fact, as WW2 is not the only one.)

cloak-2027435_640A professed atheist who is addicted to dill pickles, with a dating profile on Jdate.com, might not be the image Christians have of what a practicing Jew looks like, because unfortunately many Christians’ image of what it means to be a practicing Jew comes from their reading of the New Testament mixed with some sort of caricature they’ve absorbed somewhere.  They are expecting Jews to be like the Pharisees of the Bible, walking around in long white robes, speaking in Hebrew, and blowing shofars.

And, the scarier Christians are the ones who have bought into some crazy conspiracy theory and think we control all the banks and the world, which is most certainly why I grew up needing the free school lunch program, couldn’t even afford to go on my senior class trip, nor the French class school trip like my Gentile classmates, and which is also why my impoverished father has been known to sardonically say, “Every Jew owns a bank…it must be true, people constantly say so.  I just want to know, where’s my bank?  Why don’t I have a bank?”  It’s also why so many Jewish Holocaust survivors live in abject poverty, and why thankfully there are even Christian organizations that want to help them out.

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Photo by Alexander Mils on Pexels.com

At any rate, over the years since believing in Jesus, I’ve actually I’ve experienced a whole spectrum of Christian viewpoints about Jews, a great deal of which seem to be detrimental to the Jews as people.  It’s time I would like to talk about what’s going on out there in the Christian world relative to my people — the people of my birth — and where I might humbly or perhaps not-so-humbly submit what I think needs to improve in the Christian worldview towards Jews.

What I’ve seen is that the Christian pendulum has two extreme ends of its swing, including at one end a church with theology that is completely enamored with the idea of “Jewishness” and Jews, and on the other end, a theology engendering a distaste for everything Jewish and a desire to erase even the idea of Jewishness itself.

These two positions in many ways are diametrically opposed, but, something they both have in common is that they are viewpoints that dehumanize Jews and replace Jews with an idealism that is uniquely concerned with Christian interests and concerns, to the disregard of Jews themselves.  I’ll explain more of what I mean as I go along.

Adoration of all things Jewish

guitar-4008341_640First, there is the side of the church that is absolutely in love with anything about Jews and the modern nation of Israel.   Often, I and probably most Jews don’t generally mind this so much — on one hand, it’s so much better to have people enchanted with our culture and peoplehood and religious practices than to have them hating us, barring us from employment, and even wanting to kill us for no reason, as so often in history things have gone for us with Christians.

But there is a problem here even so: as believers in Jesus fall in love with Jewish things, they often fall in love with their distinctly Christian IDEA of Jews and Jewish things, more than the actual Jewish people around them.  For one thing, the Christian “love of Israel” is often oversimplified; way oversimplified, beyond the reality and complexity of how Jews themselves even relate to the complex politics and ideas in the region. It’s as if Christians don’t realize that Israel is a democracy with as much or more diversity in political opinions than Americans have about America, and that debates are had from many different JEWISH perspectives about Israel’s policies in region.  Christians for instance often don’t realize that there are entire cities INSIDE Israel (not in Palestinian held areas) that are filled with Israelis who are Arab, part of the fabric of the nation of Israel since 1948, who even sometimes even serve in the Israeli military.  Nor do they realize that Jews themselves protest other Jews settling in sensitive areas in East Jerusalem or the West Bank, nor that there are kibbutzim where Jews and Arabs live together in a shared life.  There is a lack of understanding of the history and variety of opinions Israel has about what it means to be a modern Jewish state.

But beyond politics: one time here in the USA, I was at a new Bible study where I didn’t know most of the people and I hadn’t said much during the meeting.  At the end of the meeting, an older gentleman whom I hadn’t yet met came up to me and without introducing himself or even asking my name, asked me point-blank, “What are you?”   Now I could have taken this many different ways, but experience told me it was likely that he had noticed my olive skin, and fairly pronounced nose, and other physical features unlike most people in this predominantly Germanic neighborhood, and that his question was aimed at uncovering my ethnicity.   I found the question, though, as it was posed, to be literally dehumanizing.   So as I responded with an, “Excuse me?” and he repeated the question, “What are you?” emphatically,  I just replied, “I’m human.”  The man smiled and said, “Yes, but I mean, what ARE you?”   To which I again replied that I was indeed human.  This went back and forth with a few iterations to which I just kept replying with the word “human.”

Now what I found the MOST bothersome was not the man and his questions, although they were rude and I was hoping he would realize his rudeness at some point by my resistance to answering his question — but what really bothered me was the response of my Christian friend who brought me.   She could have chosen to stay on the sidelines, or, to politely introduce me and the man to each other, but when she sensed what this guy was asking, she instantly replied to him on my behalf, “She’s Jewish.”   I still did not know this man’s name, nor why he presumed to need to know my ethnic background, and I also felt incredibly objectified by the friend I came with who somehow didn’t understand that my privacy was worth keeping, and my humanity was worth fighting for, instead  divulging without my permission to an inappropriately curious voyeur what my exotic middle eastern appearance said about my ancestry.  (And by the way, my completely Jewish grandmother had naturally blonde hair and blue eyes!   Stereotypes are not reality!)

But there are lots of little examples:

  • I’ve been in prayer meetings where Christians were weeping over their sins as a people towards Jews, only to find out it was a mere religious exercise which while Jews were the hot topic, when I introduced myself as a Jew to extend forgiveness and they had zero interest in talking with me as an actual person.
  • I’ve been cursed out by Christians in debates on the internet, that, when somehow the debate brought up the topic of my Jewishness, the perpetrator immediately started saying, “Why didn’t you tell me you were Jewish?  I don’t want to be cursed by cursing a Jew!” As if treating me like a person worthy of kindness and honor wasn’t important unless he knew I was Jewish.
  •  I’ve had people tell others that I was Jewish and had their friends come up to me asking if they could be friends with me because “I’ve never been friends with a Jew before but I really want to be.”
  • In my hippy lifestyle when I decided not to shave my legs and armpits in a revolt against “the system” oppressing women with requiring women to remove body hair, I’ve been asked if the reason I didn’t shave was because I was Jewish.  (Uh, no…are all hippies Jews?)
  • There was an older widow who told me she was “waiting for her Boaz” to remarry, and when I asked what she meant, she told me God had promised her she’d marry a Jew, which, while I found it strange and objectifying, I still introduced her to a Jewish single guy friend in her age bracket, and then she took me aside and told me she meant a RICH Jew.
  • And, I’ve had a non-Jewish roommate that I felt saw me as a person until I came home one day to her and her friends in our living room, and as soon as I walked through the door, she announced, “This is Heather, my Jewish roommate,” as if somehow that was vital information that one must know before simply knowing me as another person.   Like, why???  When I protested that she would never introduce a black friend like that, she defended herself saying that with a black person, it was too obvious to need to say anything.
  • I’ve been told I need to move to Israel to fulfill Bible prophecy.   Yet God was calling me to go to other nations as a missionary.

Maybe none of these examples seem particularly poignant if you haven’t experienced them, but what they all have in common is that in some corners, there is such a fascination and infatuation with Jews as a concept, that an actual Jewish person is not really “seen” but rather entirely objectified; is not known as a person or even as a fellow believer in Christ who happens to be Jewish, as much as “this Jew I know.”  To this extent, the love and fascination with Jews actually turns into racism — just, a nicer, less dangerous form of racism that happens to be a little harder to explain.

Screen Shot 2019-07-09 at 4.39.03 AMAnd ultimately, it ends up with cultural assimilation, where Christians are all claiming to have a Jewish great-grandparent (no offense to those who truly have one) and everyone dresses in stuff they think Jews would wear so they can dance and blow shofars the way they think Jews would do so….and they try to keep Torah with a total disregard for thousands of years of careful debate about how it might best be kept, because a verse or two about how Jesus had an issue with some tradition or another — and ultimately, their eagerness to connect with Jewish things ends them up in a position of trying to replace Jews themselves; with their own version of what they think Jewishness is.

The icing on the cake of course is that most of these folks also believe all Jews should immigrate to Israel, to fulfill their vision to have two-thirds of us killed in some great Armageddon so Jesus can come back.   It’s such a great vision for our future, and for our children’s future.  I can’t wait.  But of course, there are other movements in the church to be concerned about.

On the other hand: the “JEWS DON’T ACTUALLY EXIST” teaching.

Screen Shot 2019-07-09 at 4.31.19 AMThis one is the extreme opposite of the folks who are in love with all things Jewish.  In this side of the church, the teaching that the church is the REAL Israel dominates.   According to this side of the church, Jews disqualified themselves from being Jews 2000 years ago by not believing in Jesus.   Then God destroyed the Jewish temple in 70AD, thus ending Judaism.   The church is what God’s plan landed on as He rejected the Jewish people and instead chose the church.  Therefore, aside from Christians being a new Israel, there is no such thing as Jew today as God “ended” that whole covenant in 70AD.

Now, for every lie, there is a little bit of truth.   Here’s the truth of the matter: the Israel of the Bible was a nation that represented something that God wanted to do more fully in Jesus Christ and those who would believe in Him.   There is something valid about understanding that the Earthly nation of Israel was not the fulness of God’s plan for a people, and that the body of Christ is a spiritual “Israel” .

But here’s where the problem is, if it isn’t already obvious:  You can’t just erase an entire people group, their contribution to your faith, and their history, just because the way you’ve calculated things in your theology says you can.

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No one would ever go up to a Native American and say, “Native Americans aren’t in the Bible, therefore, according to my theology, you’re not a Native American.”   This is about as valid as saying, “My theology says Jews no longer exist, that God has no special place in his covenant for Jews anymore, and therefore, there’s no such things as Jews.”

Yet these people act like this is the case.   They ignore an entire people group which has mostly shared DNA for the past 2000 years.   (They are also very fond of a theory that says a race of people called Khazars all converted and became Jews, to try to prove erroneously that there is no genetic connection of modern Jews to ancient Jews.  Even if it were true, which DNA says is not true, it wouldn’t matter anyway, because Jewishness is more than just DNA.  But the DNA link does mean that there is a people who share ethnicity with one another through thousands of years of intermarriage.)

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Auschewitz Concentration Camp

They ignore that a group of people has a shared heritage, shared culture, shared humor and ideas, a shared Bible that they have copied over and over for two millennia, and that they have suffered together at the hands of mostly Christians for the greater part of those two millennia.  They ignore the fact that there is a people with a shared story, language, practices, food, history, trauma, homeland, and to some extent or another, belief system.

I’ll upset my Jew-loving audience who is sure the modern Jew is a fulfillment of Bible prophesy, by saying to the Jew-dismissing Christian audience what they need to hear:

It doesn’t matter one iota if prophesy is already fulfilled, nor that God instituted a new Covenant, ended the old, nor even if it would be true that He rejected the Jews from being His people — none of these things change the fact that there is a group of people on the Earth right now, descended by blood, history, culture, and religion from those people God wrote the whole Bible story about, whether or not you think God is finished with them, even today, and even if there would be nothing spiritual about the whole situation, Jews are still a viable people regardless of whether or not the Bible is done with Jews or not.

Ultimately, Jews today are not a theological fact for you as much as a fact of present reality and a historical fact — we are here, and we’re not going to stop being a people just because your misinterpretation of our Holy Book and our Prophet and Messiah says so.  The problem is, you’ve confused your theories and theology with actuality.

We don’t have to theologically “count” for you as “true Jews” for us to be Jews nonetheless.  Jews in the Bible might have been defined by God’s covenant to Abraham and Moses, but even if everything Biblical about us would belong to the past, it’s still a shared history — and today’s Jews are still a people even if they are less defined by Biblical markers. Whether we are descended via DNA or simply culture and tradition, it is immaterial — the Israel according to the flesh still lives, not to compete with the Israel of the Spirit, but to constantly reflect a God who is merciful and faithful who does not utterly destroy even if His plan does not depend on us anymore. God did not wipe Jews off the planet, as much as I’ve overheard some of you saying that Hitler was sent by God to do so in your insane need for your theology to make sense.   The fact that Jews still exist, and a nation called Israel has been resurrected may not be any sort of Bible prophesy in your measurement, but it doesn’t have to be.

 We don’t have to fulfill Bible prophesy to be real.  We don’t have to fit somewhere in your understanding of covenants to be a people who have a history with God that we pass on to our children today.  

We are yet a people.  We didn’t disappear in 70AD; we just went into hiding.  And as much as you are Irish, or you are German, or you are whatever it is you might want to be, American, Australian, Canadian, whatever — well we are a people. Sorry to inform you, but as much as you want to, you can’t just Bible that away.

rain passing through at clearing in the woodsRomans 11:17-18 “Now if some branches have been broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others to share in the nourishment of the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, remember this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.

 

 

SO WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE THINGS?

Well this post is very long.   But if I could ask Christians — just treat us as people.  Interesting people, people who you may or may not want to learn from, but please stop trying to be us.   Please stop treating us as an artifact to stare at, rather than your brothers and sisters in humanity, and sometimes even in your faith.

vitrage-2127736_640And please stop coming up with theologies where you tell us what our place is to be in your version of the world — I guarantee you, we won’t fit your box for us, anymore than anyone made in the image of God does.  We won’t be pawns in your theological games, my apologies, but it must be said.   In the end, try loving us.   Show us a real Jesus, not the one you’ve held up as you’ve hurt us through the centuries.   Make us want what you have — if you indeed really have Him — and welcome us with open arms in the covenant our own Messiah made with us.  While we don’t run the world, and we don’t generally own banks — we do have treasures to share with you if you get to know us, for real, as people, and generally, we really want to know you too.

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The Most Common Christian Infertility Cause

I suffered from infertility for a long time.  It was an infertility that the church most easily ignores; an infertility that comes with very little sympathy from others and yet is one of the most common forms of infertility suffered by women in body of Christ in the West.   My infertility had nothing to do with anything wrong with my womb or my body or anything medical; it was the infertility of being a woman who was being a “good girl” and obeying the Christian edict to wait to get married to have sexual intercourse, and yet, who was unable to find a suitable Christian husband.

For years and years, I would be in churches or get togethers and see couples share that they were struggling to conceive a child; and they would be invited to come forward and have hands laid on them and get prayer while the church shared in their grief and struggle; while I and many other women who were single past their prime were invited to do nothing but go home and cry on our pillows at night, alone.    Married infertility is seen and recognized, but singles facing impending lifelong infertility are considered unworthy of corporate support.

I and my fellow single sisters have had difficult decisions to make.   A friend of mine recently asked her parents to help her financially with the very expensive process of freezing eggs; her Christian parents told her they wouldn’t help her because, “If God wanted you to have children, He would have brought you a spouse already.”   Not only did this comment make my friend angry at God as to why He supposedly had assigned her this unique grief, misplacing the problem off of a messed up dating culture and the unwillingness of the body of Christ to help singles find matches in the same way other groups (such as Orthodox Jews) take very seriously the need to preserve their legacy by helping singles find spouses, but by blaming people’s deepest griefs on Divine Providence, we alienate people from God.

During my singlehood journey, I struggled with the idea of getting sperm donation and having artificial insemination.  Single parenthood seemed too scary to me, I didn’t have a support network where I could even count on having a babysitter, I wanted to be able to breast-feed a child and wouldn’t be able to take off work to do so in a country that offers little to no maternal leave, and I couldn’t shake the stigma that I knew evangelicals would have towards me for bringing a “fatherless child” into the world.   Yet I thought often about how the God of the Old Testament seemed to want to make sure that a woman who was left single and childless because her husband had died still had a chance at becoming a mother through the whole kinsmen-redeemer thing.  It seemed that God had more concern over people being left without children than my evangelical subculture would allow for.

If I shared all this with others, I had to suffer through person after person telling me that “You don’t have to get married and have children to be a complete woman.”   They seemed to believe that I had bought into some cultural lie that feminism would deliver me from.  The problem was, I was already a feminist — I knew that I didn’t have to have children to fulfill some “womanhood” edict.   But that wasn’t why I wanted children — it had nothing whatsoever to do with being a “woman” as much as the existential human desire to pass on what and who one is to survive into future generations through reproduction.    I wanted a child maybe on some level because God spoke into all humanity the words, “Be fruitful and multiply,” because it just was something intrinsic to the deepest parts of my soul with a strength of divine edict,  and while I have no problem with people who feel this isn’t for them, to the depths of my heart I knew this was something I couldn’t live without doing.   Rachel’s cry, “Give me children lest I die”, was my unbidden heart cry, and no platitudes about being complete whether or not I have children could satisfy that yearning.

The painful thing too that most singles in my shoes have dealt with is that most of the people who give us platitudes and share comments with us that ultimately are basically micro-aggressions towards our grief about singlehood and its associated infertility, are usually people who themselves are married and who have their own flesh and blood children as well.  These are also the people holding up adoption as the highest ideal, most often people who have never adopted children press on singles and even childless couples that they ought to adopt, even criticizing us for trying to have children by other means because, “there are so many children out there that nobody wants.”  I don’t know why people with natural children think there is a moral obligation for those struggling with infertility to find and adopt the world’s unwanted children, while those who have children easily and without trouble often seem to feel excused from having any need to do so, but this is probably the greatest microagression that singles and infertile couples face from other believers on a regular basis.

Adoption is a beautiful choice, but it is only one of many choices that people ought to respect and admire.  Those holding up adoption often don’t understand how difficult it is to adopt (one middle class couple in my church has been trying to adopt for years and years, and are consistently overlooked by birth parents choosing wealthier or younger parents, or have children placed with them for adoption only to have birth parents change their mind before the adoption is finalized.  The experience has been nothing short of traumatic.).

Adoption is expensive, difficult, and in my husband’s case (that’s right, I’m married now, and I’ll discuss that and the next step of our journey with singlehood infertility in my next posting) he has already adopted a child only to have experienced corruption in the adoption industry that resulted in him raising a severely special-needs child that he loves dearly and would never trade for any other child, but is emblematic of the type of issues that even adoptive parents face.

And, to be honest, for single people even adoption is stigmatized still in the church.   My friend Julia Duin has a blog site dedicated to promoting adoption among singles, because even that can be frowned upon by Christians.

At any rate, for years and years I asked my friends and church to help me find a husband.  I was on every dating site I could afford.   I went places, met people, and shared my story.   Christians seem to despise people who seem “desperate” to meet a spouse.   I was told over and over, well into my thirties, that “Sarah had a baby in her 90s so don’t worry,” as if Sarah’s story trumps all birth statistics and that I could count on God to make my fertile years an exception to the norm.   One pastor, I was close to, in a weird twist on the whole “Jesus is your boyfriend” stuff, told me to “embrace Jesus as your son.”  I was kicked out of a Facebook group for house churches for starting a thread in the group asking who in the group was single and looking for spouses — and told that in no way, shape or form was this group about something as lowly as “finding a mate.”   I’ve seen leaders that I respect, chewing apart “Christian Mingle” advertisements as if the desire of single people to get married and have the family and kids that they happily enjoyed themselves was something to be despised when pitched to singles.

In short, single hood is something the church doesn’t want to deal with, considers unseemly to address, and despises those who complain about it.   There is no compassion, no answers, and if you say too much about your desires or grief on the subject you will even be rudely shown the door — by those who are on their third child and talk about how family means the world to them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Experiencing God’s Voice, Part 1 – “The River”

I’m going to begin a series of posts about experiencing God’s voice, and this is a HUGE subject that honestly could and probably should be a book, not a blog post.  Many have in fact written books on the topic, and some of them are pretty good, and some are not.   I wade into the topic with a fresh perspective — I have been through countless teachings and books on experiencing the Spirit and the voice of God and most of them didn’t seem to help me very much when I was trying to learn how to find Him in this way.  So in this series some of what I’ll do is look at the pitfalls of the various approaches that are commonly taught as “the way” to do this, as well as bring my own perspective into play of what I’ve learned along the way of bumped knees and concussions in trying to go on pilgrimage to this place.

The subject is so vast, and it will be hard to do it justice.  I’m very aware of my own lack of knowledge on this topic, and yet, I do know I have a small deposit of something worth sharing.  If you want to follow along, please pray for me as I write that I’ll be able to organize what I ought to say in some coherent fashion and that, as one stepping into some role as a under-shepherd of God’s people in trying to nurture my readers along, that I won’t leave anything out that needs to be said for the sake of safety and edification.

bridge-192982_640Safety — it’s an interesting word on this topic.   Realistically if you treat into these waters looking to stay safe, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong River.   Yet there are disasters that we can hope to avoid, even so.

Some of those disasters involve what happens when you put “hearing God” into the context of community.   Ironically, many people would point to community as the place of safety in learning to hear God, the idea being that community will keep experiments along these lines from going too far afield.  The problem is that often those surrounding us in community aren’t real good at hearing God either — they either quickly shut down things the Lord would want to do because it doesn’t line up with their expectations of Him, or, they themselves are the ones saying they are hearing from God and in the process abusing and manipulating others with what they say God is saying.   Hearing God is dangerous — hearing God in community is even more dangerous.   And yet, the folks that say we need community for safety are paradoxically also right — community really is the best place to tread into these waters, as Jesus and His Word dwell among us corporately.   As much as community can wound and trouble us on our journey, it’s still better to suffer those wounds and troubles than the ones we will end up with going it alone.

At any rate, I hope to do justice to all these pitfalls, and make a clear and balanced presentation of both the singular experience of experiencing God’s voice and the corporate dynamics of the gifts of prophecy and word of knowledge and wisdom and so forth.  I might never get done this series.

radio-1682531_640But let’s begin — why did I entitle this “Experiencing God’s Voice” instead of “Hearing God’s Voice?”  This begins my “fresh perspective” I hope to bring into this conversation.    When I first wanted to hear God, I wanted most specifically to be “led by the Spirit.” I initially didn’t even realize that the way the Spirit “leads” us is by speaking to us!   But I had no idea what avenue, or channel, or sense, or experience would actually constitute being “led.”

When people talk about “hearing” God, folks new to the experience can often assume we are talking about “hearing voices” or at least, a Voice.   And, we are.   But the fact is that God’s voice is not really all experienced auditory.   The auditory experience of His voice is a real one, and one I’ll be discussing as we go forward, but realistically the Lord Himself is not simply transmitting in audio, although he can definitely be found on the audio frequencies.   But if we think we are only meant to “hear” His voice, then figuratively speaking we start to search for Him on the AM/FM dials, hoping to pick up only some sort of “sound,” and while He can be found there, searching for Him only as audio not only blocks out the fulness of His “signal” but also ironically leaves us more open to confusion and deception in trying to hear Him.   Realistically, the Lord is like super-broadband, transmitting on so many wavelengths all at once — He’s like a star in the Cosmos that you can view in infrared, radio, UV radiation, and visible light, and gravity waves all at once, or a broadcast station transmitting internet, HDTV, FM audio, and cellphone signal all at once.  Likewise, He is not just speaking audio, but He speaks thought-to-thought, He speaks in visions, He speaks forth a sharing of the sense of His emotions, He speaks forth dreams, He sings, He laughs, He gives forth His fragrance and extends His love and peace and anger and pleasure and displeasure and His glory and strength and healing and power; He expresses Himself with various extensions of His spirit and personhood to us.

God’s utterance, is, in fact, Himself.   His voice is the going forth of who He is, and as He is Spirit, we can only know Him Spirit to spirit.  (I’m aware and tracking with you when saying such a thing creates a problem for us when we don’t even know what or where our own spirit is within ourselves.)   But His voice isn’t just “voice.”   After all, does a Spirit have a mouth or vocal cords?   sun-11582_640But just like our Sun has an outer atmosphere which is part of it, yet there are deeper layers still, experiencing the Voice of the Almighty has layers.   He is extended to us at all times with a constant stream of His Spirit, pouring forth from His being, but there are experiences one might have with a solar flare which would be altogether different from touching the plasma surface of His burning, and different yet again from experiencing the substance of His core, even though His core drives forward and is one substance with all we might experience at any part of Himself.

Yet God is not an unfeeling, inanimate object like a star (no offense meant to any stars out there.).  Analogies have their limitations.   All of which to say — God is transmitting on too many wavelengths to merely talk about “hearing” His voice as if it would all be auditory or even all words, even though, “hearing” is what all of his communication, whether verbal or nonverbal, can be spoken of in a certain broad sense.

iceland-2608985_1280There is a stream that comes out from the throne of God.  It never stops, and even though for many of us an experience from God is a rare and isolated event, unpredicated by anything we know how to control, the stream coming from the throne is nonstop, and God is “speaking” to us constantly.  This is the same stream that Jesus spoke of being within believers when he said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said: ‘Streams of living water will flow from within him.’”

We just need to learn how to drink from the stream more consistently and consciously, instead of rarely and accidentally.  It is a stream of living water; throughout the Bible, both “life” and “water” are motifs associated with God’s words.  Put together, “living water” refers also to the Holy Spirit, who is made of the same substance of the God who is Living Word, but the Holy Spirit is unique in being the part of God that extends to us and abides within us, and thus carries the rest of God — all that He is, His Words and His thoughts and emotions and voice and personhood to us.  Thus Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would “take from what is mine and make it known to you.

radio-telescope-3575529_640In some words I think of the Holy Spirit as being like the “carrier wave” of a radio station; in radio,  the “sound” of the station is wrapped up and embedded in the transmitted carrier wave and when the wave arrives at your receiver, the “sound” is part of but can also be decoded out of the wave.  The Holy Spirit is the extension of Heaven from God’s throne to the innermost part of us, and He abides within us individually and among us collectively when we are gathered together in tune with Jesus and His Father and each other.

God can be felt (which is a problem if you’ve always been taught to be wary of “feelings” and “impressions” and “sensations.”). And yet, in wanting to be open to feeling Him, we must also be aware the balance is that most feelings are not Him.   And God can be heard, and yet most voices are not His.  God can give visions and dreams, and yet not all dreams or visions are from Him. river-679011_640And He can be manifested in miracles, appearances, experiences, and all sorts of things from flashes of inspiration to creativity to peace to joy to overwhelming love to heat to shakings to too many things to list.   All of it, when legitimate, is an experience of His Voice.   The stream is broad, and so is God’s wavelengths of speech towards us; the stream is powerful, and so is the effect of His Voice where it is made known and received; and the stream is deep; taking us to deeper and deeper experiences of communion with His person.

But all of this we will delve into.   Why do some people get prayed for at the altar and while everyone else is falling down shaking, nothing ever happens to them?   Why can some people hear God easily and others are left with their own thoughts?   Why does music seem to bring some people easily into God’s presence and others can’t stand singing?   Why do we talk about God’s presence as something you can experience when the Holy Spirit is in everyone who knows Jesus regardless of feelings?  And how do you know if someone’s prophesying is real or not?   Is it just a matter of “comparing what they said to the Bible” when the Bible doesn’t say anything at all about that person’s word they gave you that you need to drink orange juice every day for the next week?   And what about “signs” and “confirmations?”   And while we’re talking about the Holy Spirit and our spirit, and angels and demons and the like, what is “a spirit” anyway?

blushing-4213963_640I’m going to wade through all of it.  Here’s hoping you are with me on the journey.  And please pray especially the Lord grants Himself to me as I write, as it is after all, all about Him and that is the real journey.

 

*********************Please let me know any topics you want me to explore in all this as we go forward, below.  Or just make a general comment. 🙂

The Housechurch Movement Ruined My Life

Catchy title, no?   I thought about various things I could call this blog post when I started writing it — things like, “The Dark Hole of House Church” and “the Dangers of Housechurch” and the “Slough of Housechurch Despondency.”   I finally settled on “The Housechurch Movement ruined my life” because, there’s enough truth in that to be worth titling this post that, and, I bet it will make you curious — and rightfully so.

First, let me talk about what I mean by “the Housechurch Movement.”  In recent years, regular institutional-style churches have taken to calling midweek meetings that go on in homes a whole host of names, anything from “life groups” to “cell groups” but occasionally “house church” or “home church.”   At any rate, these things are generally healthy and that’s not the house church movement I am talking about.

The House Church movement is a movement about leaving behind the trappings of institutional churches — such as sermons, preaching, pastors, church buildings, and everything that goes with all that, to have simple gatherings of friends in homes meeting on a very grassroots level to discuss their journey in Jesus, teach and pray with and for one another, and be a family together.   Different “streams” of the house church movement do things similarly or differently and have different viewpoints on how meetings of believers function, but, in general, the main distinctions of the movement are no formal leadership, open participatory meetings, and no church buildings.

Now in and of itself, I don’t actually think any of that is wrong.  If this is new to you, you might be intrigued or you might have a knee-jerk negative reaction and have a lot of objections in mind, and some are pretty common objections that I’d probably disagree with, because in many ways I am still a house church person at heart.  Vast stretches of blogs on the internet are devoted to justifying and explaining the Biblical basis for doing things this way, and fending off critics that would raise an alarm at lack of leadership and/or structure.   However, I’m not going to do either of those things as they are abundantly out there to read, except to say — I still have a huge love for grassroots meetings.  In fact, I am a participant in a house church even at this point in my life, and it has been a wonderful blessing in my and my husband’s life.

Ok, so, have I confused you yet?  (She says she has no issue with the concept of house church, and she is part of one, yet she is writing a blog about how the house church movement sucks?)  Yep, even though I am part of a house church, there are so many ditches and pitfalls in the house church movement that this blog post really still needs to be written.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, and THE UGLY

The good part about house church is that if you are in a terrible, blood-sucking, depressing institutional church situation, the house church movement is one place in Christendom that will tell you God still loves you and you’re not sinning if you stop going to church.   It tells you that you don’t even need to go to church at all, that church is wherever two or three are gathered, so if you have a friend or two you can fellowship with, you are just fine.   Short-term, this is freeing and life-giving to many people who need to know they are free from religious obligations to defunct church systems and are going somewhere they hate going thinking that God requires them to attend something.  Short term, it is good to have the freedom to walk away from things that aren’t working and not be buffeted by soft-spoken condemnations such as “but you should stay and make this horrible church better” when you are totally not in a position to do so.

church-1081718_640But long-term, and by that I mean longer than the [half year to two years or so] time it takes to clear one’s head and recover from a bad church experience, it’s not good to dig in one’s heals about not going to church, because we’re all made for community with others and after a while spiritual isolation becomes really traumatic all by itself.   This is even more true if you are a single person hoping to find a Christian spouse, or, if you are a parent hoping to raise children excited about being followers of Jesus.   Hundreds if not thousands of people out there on the internet pride themselves in “being the church” instead of “going to church” and while the freedom not to be imprisoned in some religious system of things is meaningful, the tendency is to end up feeling really doctrinally correct but oh so isolated.  

Many of those thousands of out-of-church people in the house church movement, including me under the influence of house church dogma, desperately WANT fellowship, but are encouraged to hold out with occasional fellowship with a few friends while waiting for the utopian dream of a real, bonafide, healthy house church in their area — or moving to another area of the country to find one.

You wouldn’t have known how isolated I felt — or others feel — by the way we defend our out-of-church circumstance to well-meaning Christians (by whom I considered myself “attacked”) who naively seem bewildered by a brother or sister who refuses to participate in a regular church. When years roll on being alone and fellowshipping only online or occasionally with the two or three friends in an 100 mile radius one has that echo their own viewpoint becomes one’s entire experience of life in the body of Christ, it can be very bad for one’s spiritual progression.  This slowly becomes as toxic and damaging both emotionally, socially, and spiritually as any bad situation one may have left behind.

And here’s the rub — I know too many people, myself having been one for too much of my life — who were so critical of how church should or shouldn’t Biblically function that we ended up in the wilderness for years on end, suffering needlessly in isolation while we convinced ourselves that we were loving the body of Christ while holding out for this ideal way of meeting with believers, and refusing to become involved with any group of Christians that weren’t doing it right.  I didn’t realize it but this had become a false robe of righteousness for me, my “right” ideas about how the church should function — and I was encouraged by others in the movement that I was suffering for being on the right path.   This was such a lie, and I wasted years of my life believing it…  I left one negative system to end up in a psychological nightmare worse as bad as any system out there.

(And as a single person, it may have been the single most important factor in delaying me getting married until my forties, something that some people might choose willingly but with my hopes of having children, I did not.)

TOO FOCUSED ON A TWO HOUR MEETING

Church is minimally two hours a week – yet the house church movement makes things seem like what happens in this two hour block of time is the be-all of God’s concern for His people – the “ultimate intention” he has for His bride on Earth.   When I bought into that idea, I found a great house church that did everything right — for those two hours.  We had amazing meetings under the headship of Christ, open participation and all.  But I need up scratching my head at how we could have such great meetings and yet, almost no community during the other 166 hours of the week.   I stayed way too long in a soul-killing situation, because I believed what really mattered was how great this church was at having a good meeting.

men-2425121_640I finally realized that it doesn’t matter how great or how lousy the church structure is — what really ends up mattering is the fabric of community the rest of the week.   Since then, I’ve also scratched my head at institutional churches I visited with that were horribly restrictive and exercises in sheer boredom for two hours, yet during the rest of the week people were spending time with each other, praying with each other, helping each other with life, being real friends and community.   I’ve marveled at God’s humor at juxtaposing these two situations in my life, almost to get me to ponder which is better or worse in His sight, until I realized that I was too busy trying to figure out what kind of church God approved of, and that this was a pretty legalistic way to think when the reality is that the best church is the one where I was growing the most with God and with others.

Yet, the House Church movement was all about Christ being the Head of His people but I started to realize — the Holy Spirit moves more among a group of folks who meet in a church building every week but know how to be family all week long, than a bunch of religiously prideful house churchers who have the perfect meeting for two hours on Sunday but never see each other otherwise.  Christ is interested in being the head of His people for all 168 hours of the week, not just a two hour meeting.

AND….THE VARIOUS EXPERTS OF HOUSECHURCH DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING

The obsession on meetings and getting them right doesn’t just detract from what goes on during the rest of the week, but it also keeps housechurches from meaningfully getting off the ground to begin with.  The internet is full of people trying to start their own housechurch that are begging someone to come teach them “how to have a meeting” with no one leading (except Christ, of course.)  This gets really paradoxical, with the ideal being to start something, but of course it can’t be you that starts something, it has to be Christ, so you constantly have to make sure you aren’t doing anything while partnering with Christ to do something, but of course that happens through you (and through others who have to make sure they aren’t doing anything either — ESPECIALLY not leading anything.).  It turns out to be a lot of work to make sure you aren’t doing anything while doing things yet not you but Christ in you.   A lot of work indeed, to the point of being confusing, which is why you might need an expert who also isn’t doing anything but is somehow also an expert at teaching you to not do anything except to let Christ do things, to come help you learn how to be better at not doing anything while doing something — yet not you, nor them.

I still see people in house church discussion groups asking “how to have a meeting without having anyone lead it” and “how do people with a teaching gift get an opportunity to use their gift without taking over the meeting” and I am realizing this movement ties people in knots, telling them to pull off paradoxical things because of being so afraid that anything a human does might replace Christ being the head of a gathering.  Christ is most fully the head of a gathering when everyone is raised up to be who they fully are — pastors, prophets, teachers, worship leaders, poem readers, intercessors, evangelists, artists… and we’re too busy crucifying each other’s gifts in the name of Christ than to really see what it means to have all the parts of the body truly functioning in Him and He in them.  Some of the teaching in the movement is so anti “doing” in the name of not being works oriented and learning to sit at Jesus’s feet that it was completely disorienting to me as a young adult trying to figure out what to “do” with my life.   Only now in my 40s am I starting to recover and too much time was wasted.

People who have written books and lead conferences will volunteer to come and teach your group how have a meeting with no one leading, but often the “model” of how to do housechurch often is restrictive and strangles things that would bring life to the group.  One model is intensely performance oriented — you join for a year and either spawn another group in that year, or you are kicked out.  Another model replaces all the songs sung in your housechurch TO Jesus with songs that emphasize who you collectively are as the bride of Christ together, so that musical worship time no longer really focuses on Christ as much as on us, who are the bride of Christ.   (I personally found this hard to get into very much — it was just too distracting for me from the One I wanted to worship.)

person-723557_640

Also, there are some house church experts who ban musicial instruments during singing because anyone playing a guitar would be “too much of a leader” in a fiercely leaderless movement.  As a result, singing worship songs often loses something that only an instrument can provide, and its not a small thing that gets lost.   I understand that the opposite excess is often true in the institutional church — music becomes flashy, pre-packaged, overly hyped, etc.  But when humble people with instruments play worship music from their hearts, and do so in a way that is sensitive and open to non-instrumentalists offering words and prayers, I’ve seen an amazingly beautiful thing. Yet many house churches are so afraid of someone leading they never experience how the Holy Spirit can move among people in that type of musical setting.  And while a very common way that people learn how to tune into the voice of the Spirit is through experiences they have during musical worship and prayer, this process doesn’t occur as easily in house churches that are afraid of musical instruments.

 

The irony is that while I was full of house church dogma, I still listened to recorded worship music with instruments on CD or live streaming.   I was afraid to be part of “the system” yet the music of “the system” I was drawn to in my private worship.   God would touch me deeply through the voices of my brothers and sisters singing to Him in institutional churches and institutional church conferences, yet I squelched my desire to be part of that whole scene (and my talents and desire to make music and lead others in worship) because my doctrine didn’t allow for it, even though it edified me both to play for others and to be in environments where others were playing.  I understand that there is hype, and bad music, and annoying shows, and yes, I understand that “worship is what you do with your life, it’s not music…” which people in the movement are so fond of saying, but the fact is something very edifying happens when people make music together to God, and the institutional church has led the way in this.  But some of the house church models out there actively shut people out from this.

ORGANIC AND NON-ORGANIC THINGS WERE MEANT TO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP

tomato-308855_640When I was young, I planted a garden and refused to stake the tomatoes because I wanted them to be natural.  Most of them rotted into the earth they were laying on.  I think this is a good analogy for my experience in the movement.  Organic things often work hand in hand with non-organic things and a tomato stake does not take away from the organic growth of a tomato; it only enhances it.  Some structures that people invent for church life as they gather are not harmful, they only enhance the ability of people to function together — but in the house church mindset I was infected with could only condemn those things.  I do think people need to be set free from narrow-minded leaders who want to micromanage things and don’t know how to make room for the Spirit to flow and people to function as a body.   But in my time in the movement, I believed all structure of any sort was wrong, and this kept me from being part of structures that would have been healthy and helpful to me and others.

The house church movement emphasizes listening to the Holy Spirit and being led by the Lord, but one time I had a dream where the Lord was talking to me about gatherings and boomed the word “STRUCTURE” all through me to where I still felt it burning as I woke up, but I was so blinded by my Housechurch dogma at the time that I could barely accept this.  I wish I had accepted it sooner.

HYBRID CHURCH MODELS

Hierloom tomatoes are good, but hybrid tomatoes have a lot of benefits, and the same is true in my experience of organic church life. These days I am still part of a housechurch, but it’s a group that doesn’t fit most of the desciptions I have shared above.   It’s a very alive, happening group but there are two main leaders who drive it forward.  They’re not afraid to be leaders and I haven’t gone to war against them being leaders as I might have in the past when I was a house church purist.  In my experience over 20 years of house churching, the healthiest groups I have seen that didn’t fizzle out in a few months to a couple years, and that didn’t seem to grow stagnant, were groups that were hybrids between organic church and institutional church.    They were groups that didn’t shut themselves off from the institutional church — they either had healthy relationships with other churches, even institutional ones — or they were an institutional church that decided to transition into being an organic open housechurch.   All of the groups I have seen thrive over time had people in them with strong leading personalities; and they used their personalities to build up others to also be leaders and teachers in the group.   I’ve even been to house churches where our entire group together would visit an institutional church, to keep the lines of communication flowing, and to receive of whatever importation of the Lord was in their midst.   Last week, an institutional church we have a relationship with sent us a photo of their entire congregation praying for our little group.

House church claims to champion the priesthood of all believers and a passion for us all being part of the body of Christ, with Him alone as the head.  But what I got sucked into was an elitist, divisive movement that was full of pride, and I drank the full cup of that.  Instead of it helping me honor the body of Christ more, it cut me off from the body of Christ and took years of my life where I spun in circles trying to get some sense of how to connect in more meaningful ways than internet groups to others in the body.  It stole my chances to find a mate while young.  When the Lord spoke to me about doing missions work, it took at least a decade longer than it probably needed to be for me to do anything with that because I was disconnected from a support base and people who would have championed my way forward.  (In fact, many in the housechurch movement actively dissuaded and even condemned me for my interest in overseas missions as being something too religious and unnecessary in their point of view.) It took a long time to realize that I need the body of Christ and people around me who love the same Lord I love, whether they are in an institution or not, and that the institution is not all bad.

When I think back on it, the things that catapulted my growth in the Lord the most were the timesScreen Shot 2019-04-19 at 2.57.08 AM.png I went against my own house church convictions and sat momentarily under the teaching of some pastor or leader or institutional conference speaker and had the Lord give me some revelation or insight that yes, He could have given me directly because I also have the Holy Spirit, but for some reason, didn’t.   He seems to appreciate using the gift of teaching for whatever reason, and one of the reasons is probably to make us depend on each other, priesthood of believers notwithstanding.   Even so, I was so afraid of the institutional church for so long (and not because it had harmed me, but because my dogma said it was foul and unclean) that I stayed away too long from something that may very well have been a good place to plant my garden, and a good way to stake my tomatoes and bring forth a bounty of fruit in my life to the Lord.  I hope that others who read this will read it not to condemn the house church movement, but to not be sucked down by it’s blind dogma into a pit of isolation and pride that has the potential to steal meaningful years of co-laboring and fellowship from one’s life in the body of Christ.

 

 

Opposite Sex Friendship — a few thoughts

I’ve been thinking about the way that Christians, particularly singles in their late teens, 20s, 30s, think about opposite sex friendships and been wanting to write a blog post on the topic for some time.   The other night a male friend of mine (let’s call him Andrew) was telling me he was going to go hang out with a female friend of mine.   The guy is happily single, not looking for a girlfriend or wife at this point, and not interested at least not at this point in dating the woman in question.   The gal (let’s call her Samantha) is someone who has very openly talked about her desires to be married at this stage in life and her disappointment that she is still single.

guy girlAndrew and Samantha understand that Andrew’s visit with her is only for the purpose of friendship; that Andrew is not interested in Samantha as a romantic partner.  (In fact, they became friends when Samantha was “safely” dating someone else, but that relationship didn’t work out.)  But Andrew mentioned to me, “I do have to be really careful here, there is a real danger that she could develop feelings because she is looking for someone.”

Therein lies an issue.   Somewhere along the line, singles in the church have developed this idea that it is their responsibility to worry about whether or not their friends might develop feelings for them.   Often a guy won’t hang out with a girl if she wants to date him and he doesn’t, or worse yet, he won’t hang out with her (or her with him) if he’s not hoping she’d be interested in dating.  And what I have seen goes like this:

A guy thinks it is dangerous for a girl to like him if he isn’t feeling the same way.   So when he walks into a room full of new people, and a girl he doesn’t instantly feel physically attracted to comes up to talk to him, he’ll have a few standoffish small talk words in her direction and then quickly move on to talk to the gals he finds attractive, making long and sustained connection with them.

WHAT ABOUT OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO WALK AS SISTERS AND BROTHERS?

On one hand, there is nothing wrong with investing energy towards finding a spouse, and that would include spending time talking to people of the opposite sex one finds intriguing.   But the problem with this as a general way of being is that the body of Christ is more than this — whether one finds someone attractive or not the fact is that we are all sisters and brothers in Christ. 

This doesn’t get enough airtime from pulpits, and Christians don’t tend to approach other Christians on that level — they don’t tend to think about the spiritual relationship they already share with someone as being the most important aspect of any interaction they have, and then things like “mate possibility” as secondarily important.   But this is to the detriment of the body of Christ.

In “the world” — outside of the church — people who are in groups form “in-crowds” and “out-crowds.”   Many times this has a lot to do with social desirability, and mating desirability.  People cluster around charismatic, attractive, powerful, or affluent people.   Being in the “in-crowd” increases one’s odds of getting a highly attractive date.   And so on.    When Christian guys (or girls) only invest time, attention, and energy into friendships with girls (or guys) that are romantically or socially desirable, this cluster or “clique” dynamic appears in the church.    But the church isn’t supposed to reflect the value system of what flesh and blood tends to value.

The church is supposed to reflect a higher value system — that is, the worth of every individual to God, and the familial relationship that we all share in Christ of being true sisters and brothers to one another.

This familial relationship transcends even blood relationships — which is a fact that often doesn’t get taught or preached except in whacked-out cult groups that want to dissolve family bonds and reestablish the only important bonds as that of the cult group.  But while the cult groups are wrong in devaluing the importance of flesh-and-blood family as an important realm of relationship for folks, they are not wrong in recognizing that the Bible doesn’t speak of believers being “sisters and brothers” as some sort of unrealistic platitude, or just some feel-good short-hand for “members of the same Sunday morning club.”

WHAT DO WE REALLY WANT TO EXPERIENCE?

Our sister and brotherhood in Christ is true, and it is every bit as “real” as the blood connection we share with our families of origin.   In this case, Jesus’s flesh being ripped apart and his blood actually flowing down to touch the Earth is the “real” blood connection that binds the family of God together.   We are all made of dust of the Earth, and as His blood dripped down to the dust we are all made of, it bound everyone who would believe in Christ into one bloodline — Christ’s bloodline.   Of course, not having his actual blood cells in our veins, it had to be made more apparent so thus we are also “adopted” into God’s family.

But these aren’t just pleasant platitudes, for eternity we will be the Lord’s family and brother/sister to one another.  Other generations and those in persecuted nations had a deeper grip on this, as so many of our brothers and sisters throughout history have mixed their blood together as they died for the Lord together in bloody shows of martyrdom.  And in those moments, no one cared whether they had the same sense of cool clothing style, or whether they liked the same authors, or whether they found each other’s hairstyle or body shape attractive.   We are one in Him in a way that goes radically beyond all that, and this becomes apparent when the same mice in a prison are nibbling on your toes together, or when our blood runs down into the dust as one together at the executioner’s sword.

In some sense, this is what we all want — not to be persecuted, but to experience this communion with one another.  At least those who truly have believed in Christ, somewhere in our souls beats this desire to see the body of Christ look like more than a nice, safe, “oh I know that person, I see them at church on Sunday” sort of relationship with one another.   Whose hearts are not moved by reading Acts about the believers selling their homes to be with one another, having all things in common, eating and praying together from house to house?  We want to share in the communion of saints in late night conversations, bearing our hearts, feeling the presence of God together and being rocked in the fear of the awe of the Lord; we want to make huge sacrifices for each other, to feel a little counter-cultural and radical and knowing that in a very real way we have each others’ backs and we would die for one another.

This doesn’t happen if our friendships are based merely on who we think we might want to have sex with one day and whose DNA seems pleasing to make children with.   If none of these lofty ideas cause one to consider being friends, real friends, with those they aren’t wanting to date, then consider this: often the person you aren’t attracted to might have friends that you would be attracted to.   Sometimes in our human weaknesses lofty ideas don’t cut it but practical down to earth ones make more sense.

Where am I going with all this?  No, it’s not good to lead someone on, to take up all their time and keep them off the dating scene because you, their opposite sex friend, want to hang out everyday and yet you’re not interested in dating them, but they have no idea.   Yes, that’s unkind and irresponsible friendship.

But while irresponsible friendship across gender lines does certainly exist, we need to get around this thing that says we wouldn’t want to be friends with someone we’re not attracted to because, gosh, they might develop FEELINGS for us and then we’re in the middle of a relationship we don’t want to be in.    I’ll ask the same question I asked above:  Where did singles get the idea that it’s a terrible thing if your opposite friend falls for you and you’re not into them?   Where did we get the idea that we need to hold each other at a distance, and run away at the first sign that someone we’re not attracted to is attracted to us?

MATURITY in FRIENDSHIP

adventure-1807524_640I want to call us up to a more mature view of friendship if I may.   A few years back I had this guy friend (we’ll call him Randall) who I developed a serious crush on.   Randall and I were fairly deep, heart to heart friends.   We had a sense of commitment to one another, that we were there for each other to walk each other through some pretty intense stuff we were both dealing with.

Eventually I told him I was seriously becoming attracted to him, and I think Randall’s attitude towards me was a gift of divine proportions.   He said, “Heather, I just don’t feel the same way towards you — though I certainly appreciate this, this, and this about you.  (Awesome when guys build their sisters up in the Lord.)   So I don’t know what you’re going to do about how you’re feeling towards me but I’m going to leave that between you and the Lord to sort out.   In the meantime, I am still 100% committed to being your brother and your friend.”

Randall gave me a gift of steadfast friendship commitment by realizing that my feelings weren’t his responsibility and they weren’t his to deal with….so while he wasn’t unmerciful like, “Don’t even talk to me about this…” he didn’t run away screaming either.   And I in turn took a bit of time away from him to get my heart somewhat clear (you don’t have to have “no feelings” to be clear enough to still be friends), and able to be around him again in a way that we could still reflect Christ to one another.

For a long time I have wished I could tell all the singles I watch running away from each other:  Guys, you don’t need to worry if someone you find unattractive finds you attractive.   You don’t need to hold them at arms length as long as you don’t deceive that person about how you are feeling and don’t take advantage of their feelings.   And gals, the same thing goes on our end – we don’t need to run away from a guy who “likes us” if we’ve been able to be honest and tell him we don’t feel the same way, and IF he is willing to respect our boundaries and not refuse to take our, “No, I just don’t see a dating relationship in our future” seriously.  The only guy I ever had to cut out of my life on this level was one who doggedly refused to take “no” for an answer, insisting God had “told him” I was his wife and that I was in rebellion to God for not listening.   I told him that no means no, and if he couldn’t respect that we couldn’t have a friendship.  But most of the guys that I have ever had a thing for, or who have ever had a thing towards me, still have an open door of friendship in my life to one degree or another.

But of course folks who have been “friend zoned” sometimes find themselves mutually falling for one another despite the fact that one or both of them originally felt that only friendship was in their future.   It’s OK to revisit a friendship conversation respectfully,  in something that might sound like this:  “Josh, I am not wanting to make you uncomfortable as I really value our friendship, I know we talked about this a year ago but I wanted to know if you still feel we are better off not pursuing a romantic relationship — but if you ever did want to date each other, I’m still open to that. But if not, I’m still going to be your friend and sister and I can’t wait to bless you and whoever you marry if it’s not me.”  And it’s also important to not keep hanging on to a friendship if you’re only secretly stalking someone waiting for them to change their mind, especially if you are getting in the way of them dating other people.   A really good test of whether or not a friendship is honest is whether or not you can introduce your friend to someone else they might want to date.   If you can do so, you might end up lifelong friends with someone you really value, married to someone else you really value — a win-win recipe for lifelong friendship that will have deep rewards for both you and the Kingdom.

This is maturity.  And it brings maturity to the body of Christ when singles — and married people who are friends with singles (another topic for another day) can still experience the richness of brother/sister communion in Christ.

************************

(For further reading check out Forbidden Friendships by Joshua Jones,

or Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions by Dan Brennan.)

(As a footnote I especially want to recognize Dan Brennan’s writings about how in the ancient middle east, a brother was often the most significant and close relationship of a woman’s life, a concept we don’t generally consider when reading Paul instructing Timothy to treat young women as his sisters.  Sisters and brothers were not mere distant acquaintances.  Instead our relationships with the opposite sex in the church tend to be more like the way we relate to the cashier at the grocery store — pleasant, casual, and without any shred of intimacy.  The difference is extreme and fear-based.   But that’s for another blog post.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Danger of Israel Utopianism

As a Jew, I love Israel.   There’s no way around that.  In fourth grade I remember being assigned to write a report on any country in the world, and it was a complete no-brainer as to which country my report would be about.   With great pride I decorated the blue-and-white report cover with the Israeli flag.   Although seemingly irrelevant, I sprinkled some family recipes for things like matzo ball soup into the report, although now I see that the ethnic pride in recipes and that nationalistic pride in my peoples’ country really are not that far apart.

Years later, I’d get to take my first trip to Israel, and tour dozens of ancient Biblical archaeological sites.   And where our Israeli tour guide could not take our group, but instead handed us off to a Palestinian tour guide, we also got to tour the ancient sites of the West Bank.    As I came to realize how many places in my peoples’ history and my Bible were not under Jewish ownership but instead Palestinian, I started to realize that this did not sit well with my fantasies of what the “Jewish homeland” should be.    My inner child wanted a complete restoration of what once was – I was living a fantasy of having walked back through the pages of the Bible, into the land of my Fathers and Mothers and into the “Kingdom of Israel” — with King David or Solomon, take your pick, ruling from Jerusalem, the Shekinah glory of God sitting on the Temple Mount in the Jewish temple, and every ancient parcel of land firmly a land for me, for us, the Jews.

It would be so neat and tidy if it were like this.   Dare I admit that while I wouldn’t have let myself think such a thought with conscious intentionality — I started having a secret wish that the whole thing would blow up, and that Israel would have an excuse to destroy the Dome of the Rock, and that some war would break out allowing armies to wipe away the Palestinians by the millions, allowing there to finally be peace in the region because, well, there’d only be Israel and no more Palestine to wrangle with.

Of course, the Palestinians have their own fantasy that works a lot like this, but in reverse.   In their daydream, they rise up and push Israel into the sea.   Thus there is peace in the region because there’d be no more Israel.   It’s funny how dreams for peace tend to take on a tone of ethnic cleansing and ethnic Utopianism.

Of course all of this comes from a dream of what once was – the dream of returning to a time when one ethnic group had a golden era in the land.   I want to have my peoples’ golden era back.   I want to walk into the pages of my ancient storybook and have that world again.   The Palestinians are an uncomfortable inconvenience.

But this is my fourth grade Utopian dreamer self musing.   My adult self can dream of peace that doesn’t put my collective ethnic self quite as much in the center of it all.   My people don’t need to have a land that has the exact same borders they had 3000 years ago.   I can dream of Isaac and Ishmael dwelling together again as one family, or at least learning how to have their respective tents side by side, even as much as Martin Luther King, Jr. could have a dream of black and white kids holding hands in America.

 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.  The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people,Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”  – Isaiah 19, ESV

The first time I ever read Isaiah 19, tears went streaming unbidden down my face as I realized that God didn’t just love Israel and He didn’t just love Jews.   He didn’t even always have Jews first – so much for all that I thought being the “chosen people” was about.   It was not an affront to see this – it was a relief.   It meant I could have new fantasies – fantasies where loving Palestinians, Arabs, Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, Iraqis – was somehow in the center of God’s plan, not peripheral to it.   It meant I could care about what it meant to be a Palestinian, and what it meant to be Arab, and what it meant to be living as the unwanted party in the middle of the Jewish hopes for a restored homeland.

My adult fantasy might have about as much realism as my fourth grade Utopian fantasy.   The Palestinians, Arabs, and the Jews might never get along, but at least this dream of finding a way to share the land doesn’t inflame tensions in the region and make things worse.    My fourth grade ethnic pride admittedly got really excited to know that Trump proclaimed Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel; some part of me hoped as many of my evangelical friends proclaimed that, “God was working something out here despite how insane Trump is to do this.”   It’s a dark fantasy – the fantasy that diplomacy is unneeded, that Jerusalem is the Jews’ merely by history and divine right, despite any developments or changes that may have occurred over the past 2000 years, and despite the history of any other people that could now also have a stake in the matter.

We can brush away those “other people” with a mere return to what once was, we wish inwardly. By reading history from 3 and 4 thousand years ago in a sacred book, we can brush those people away by pointing to prophesies about the Jews’ return from Babylonian exile and rework them so they are talking about today.   We can brush away the Palestinians because there’s no room for them in our narrative, they aren’t in our Utopian dreams, they don’t get us excited about the Bible coming to life in front of us the way a conquering, abiding, reigning Jewish presence in the Holy land does.   They don’t fit in our ideas of God’s covenant with Abraham, so we can brush these people away theologically. And if we brush them away enough in our fantasies and musings, we can brush them away in the types of political solutions we applaud and get excited about.   To the point where our dark fantasy selves will even applaud at brutal, blood-filled military efforts to brush them away should any sort of provocation or incident give us room to happily justify it.

What then is eschatology?   Eschatology becomes the working out of our Utopian desires to walk into the Biblical world from the past in some promise of the past becoming the future – but even better.   In clinging to eschatology, we give ourselves permission to rejoice in other people being marginalized, removed, or destroyed for our personal fantasy of what the future should hold.   It’s a glorious future, no doubt, one in which we imagine God and His Messiah receiving all sorts of glory for elevating people who come from the storybook fantasy and return it to that storybook ideal – while destroying all the people who weren’t written into the story we want to see enacted.

Or we can dream different dreams, and hold to different goals.   If we want to walk into the pages of Scripture, we can dream of God once again showing up differently than religious expectations cast Him, as He always does when He shows up.  We can dream of Arab muslims adoring Isa (their word for Jesus), of Jews being excited over Yeshua (Jesus again) and of the Christian Arabs who are already there (or need to be more) being reawakened – and supernatural love flowing among all of them – and all of us, whoever we are – in new, non-politically defined ways.   We can even revisit our eschatology and see if there might be room in it for the past 2000 years of Palestinian history and life in the region to be included as a God-thing.   Maybe.

All this to say – if your fantasy is for a perfect Israeli gestalt end to all this, I get it.  I really do.  I just know how dangerous it is for me to live in that mindset, and how impossible it is to be able to love this other tribe of Abraham and value them while my fantasies for a perfect Jewish world would be held out as some idyllic dream on God’s heart – and I hope to warn you too.

 

For further reading:

http://krisvallotton.com/my-8-eschatological-core-values/

 

 

 

Evangelism and Genuinely Liking People

Forget apologetics.   Forget signs and wonders.   If you really want to excel at evangelism, there is one golden key worth more than all the others – LIKE the people you are reaching out to with Jesus.   Since we often get really messed up with doublespeak when we talk about what it means to “love”, I’d like to submit that the real issue is whether or not we LIKE “them.”   In general*, we can’t bring people to Jesus that we don’t like.

What is evangelism, first of all?

A student of Greek will quickly explain that evangelism involves sharing good news, being an ambassador, etc etc.   And that’s all good and true.  Evangelism is part of our kingdom role of being priests and kings.   Malachi talks about one of the jobs of a priest:

“True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. 7“For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.”  (Malachi 2:6-7)

Sharing the knowledge of God both with believers and nonbelievers is incredibly important and is our honored role in the Kingdom.   I’ve heard people often quote, St. Francis in saying, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.”  But the reality is that words will always be necessary.   We are to help people UNDERSTAND things about God, and share knowledge.

BUT –  if our view of evangelism is just about TELLING people something, shoving a sign or a track or a well-rehearsed message at someone, I don’t think we’re going to get very far with real humans with that approach.   At least, I never saw much come of my own efforts at evangelism when I approached people with that mindset.  Evangelicalism for a long time has I think based much of its lifeless attempts at sharing the good news with people on a misapplication of one verse:

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”Isaiah 55:11

Screenshot 2017-05-23 at 11.44.25 AMThis verse is often used to justify completely violating or at completely impersonal attempts at sharing Christ with people.   Under this mindset, all that matters is making people hear words.   It doesn’t matter if the message comes to them in any real understandable form, or if it has any personal connection to them… simply shouting at them is good enough, for God will make any words we shove at them “not return void.”   Though an explanation of why that’s a bad way to read that verse is well beyond the scope of this blog post, that’s not what this verse meant when it was written, and I don’t think its what it means for us today.

LEARNING A DIFFERENT WAY

My relationship with being an emissary of the gospel really started to change a few decades back when I stopped trying to be a “good witness”  (which is evangelicalism-speak for “hiding all your sins and faults from nonbelievers in order to supposedly attract them with the perfection of your life now that you are a believer in Jesus”) and instead let a non-Christian friend see me “for real,” as I shared with him the depths of the depression I was in, as well as my intense struggles with God at that time.   When he suddenly up and decided that Christ was real and he wanted in on the Kingdom when I was contemplating how best to hurt myself, I started realizing that my first “convert” was teaching me something about how Christ makes Himself known to people – and it wasn’t by me being fake and seemingly having it all together in front of non-believers.

I also started learning that it wasn’t about shoving impersonal sentences at people that supposedly were “the Word of God that won’t return void” to them.   Some wise person shared with me that every person in existence is already in a relationship with God, and that He has been dancing with them their entire lives, carefully cultivating a conversation with them.   I started to understand that my job as an evangelist was not to plod on into that conversation like a bull in a China shop, but to respect it – and to learn to peer into how God has already been engaging with that person, and that person with God – and to enter appropriately into THAT conversation.   children-1426769_640Just as the Holy Spirit is one who “comes alongside and helps” I started to see my job as a colaborer with Christ by the Holy Spirit, agreeing with the Holy Spirit in coming alongside a person being drawn to Christ, rather than coming at them.  Good evangelism is midwifery, and while some babies are born on their own, much of the time someone helps the baby along.

But how does one come “alongside” the process, already in progress, of the Father drawing someone to His Son Jesus?  This is where I would say that there is no replacement for GENUINELY LIKING the people one is trying to reach.

Liking People is the Opposite of Alienating Them

It’s almost too obvious to write about, but people don’t generally want to hear what someone has to say when they sense hostility coming at them from the speaker.  Instead, most humans put up walls, and get defensive.   This is why standing on a street corner holding a sign and shouting, “The end is near!  Repent or burn!” is probably one of the worst images that our society has of Christians…and of evangelism.   It would take an extraordinarily humble person to want to subject themselves to learning from someone who approaches them full of condemnation and hostility.

wall-1436752_640But an even more subtle form of hostility that Christians present to nonbelievers comes from an “us/them” perspective.  If we walk into a relationship with an us/them mindset means it we carry a type of “alienation” to the relationship with nonbelievers before we’ve even started.  It puts a wall up between oneself and one’s target or uh, “victim” because us/them is a form of alienation already in play.  Most of us have experienced this: when you have an “us/them” perspective in your approach to someone, they will feel like a project to you – and the person will eventually sense they are a project in the evangelist’s eyes as well.    If you manage to convince the person that being a project is ideal, and a spiritual thing, then you might be able to bring them to the point of becoming your disciple where the project mentality can continue even past the point of their conversion.   But generally people feel a bit creeped out at being someone’s project.

Incarnation

Ideally, evangelism should be “incarnational.”    Incarnational has at times been a Christian buzzword, but it’s a good one.   It means that neither of these two above things are in play – there is no hostility, and there is no us/them mentality.   “Incarnational” describes what God did when He put on human flesh and became one of us.   It sparkles; there is a closeness about it, a warmth where the one who is incarnated is identifiable and now as one of those he or she has now become.  They are tangible and relatable as “one of us” now to the culture they have stepped into.  In fact, we don’t just share a message, we become the message, as the apostle Paul wrote:

“It is clear that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts…”  2 Cor 3:3

In order to BE the letter, we need to be able to be known, to be seen.   This is true even with all our messiness; the point is that as we relate to God and He relates to us, our history with Him marks us and writes something into our souls.   And this is available for those we walk with to read.  This is Christ incarnated into us, even as we are incarnated into someone else’s world.

Screenshot 2017-05-23 at 12.03.50 PMBut uniquely, all the gifts and beauty of the realm from which the incarnated one has come are brought into the realm of the society and reality in which she or he is now involved…and those gifts are offered for the taking in a very personal, connected way.   Someone who is incarnated brings their pre-incarnated identity into their incarnation.   But incarnation is a position “in the middle” of where they are coming from and what they are stepping into; for the person who has been incarnated takes on the identity of the people he or she steps into to become, as well as the flavor, the struggles, the atmosphere and rhythm and likeness of them as well.

INCARNATION SETS US UP FOR CONNECTED SYMPATHY

As all of humanity was made in God’s image, it was because He wrote, as it were, a prophecy in human flesh of Himself which was waiting for fulfillment: we were made in His image, so that at the right time, He could come to us in our own image.    And thus He did.  And there were many reasons for this, many specific benefits and necessities, one of which was so He would know what is like to be us….so that He could fully relate to who we are and what we go through.

The writer of Hebrews captures this in Hebrews 4:15 –
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin.”

And this is INTENSELY important.   It brings us back to my opening point about LIKING those we want to reach.   For too many years the type of Christianity I was in treated Christians as “real” people while nonbelievers weren’t worth really knowing or being friends with.   They were simply objects to be captured.   But as I kept trying to keep in step with the Spirit and how He was moving in someone’s heart and life, I found those people becoming real to me in a way that makes me now ashamed to admit how I treated people as evangelistic objects.   When we like someone, we get to see them as a real person, valuable and truly worth being connected to, and having real friendship with.   And we find ways to sympathize with what they are going through.   If we can’t sympathize with the things keeping someone from seeing Christ clearly, we’re not going to reach them very easily.   Examples:

ATHEISTS

flat-earth-1054350_640
There was a time when “the four corners of the Earth” was taken literally by the church (in fact, some people still take it literally.)

I love to reach agnostics and atheists.  Why?   Because I genuinely ENJOY atheists and agnostics.   I tend to think of atheists as one of God’s gifts to the church.   When the church tries to make theology that is inhumane, or nonsensical, sometimes it takes a bunch of atheists to bring us to our senses.   This doesn’t mean that every criticism or critique a nonbeliever makes will turn out to be valid.   But I love the fact that these guys challenge us when we get too lost in the clouds with stuff that just doesn’t make sense.

I also can relate really well to these folks because I know what it is like to be unable to believe in something, even when I wanted to.  My own testimony involved coming from a place of unbelief, struggling really hard to find out if there was “anything out there” and having a really hard time taking a leap of faith to find out.   Some Christians would never believe how many atheists and agnostics have told me they really WISH they could believe in something – or that if “Someone” were there, they really wish they could know that.  And especially for those folks, I get it.

And when I hear people bash atheists as if they are somehow deliberately in rebellion against God, that there is something ugly and hateful about someone honest enough about their doubts as to say, “I don’t know if God is real” or, “I’m pretty sure he isn’t there”, it really upsets me.   I would rush to most atheists defense in a moment, because many of them are intensely truth-hungry people that I just want to help them find how to truly find Him, and the army of rancorous Christians shouting at them about how horrid they supposedly are sure doesn’t help.

Screenshot 2017-05-23 at 11.15.48 AMYou’re not going to win an atheist or agnostic to Christ by telling them that God doesn’t care about how they try to be a moral person; they were never being moral for the sake of God anyway.   You’re not going to draw them in by telling them by telling them that without God they have no basis for ethics or morality, because they know you’re wrong.  Quoting at them from a completely different context out of the book of psalms the verse, “The fool says in his heart there is no God,” just affirms to them that you hate them, that you call them a fool, and you’re quoting at them from a book they can’t relate to anyway. Again, all you’re doing is putting up that wall of alienation and hostility for them that Christ died to take down.   And that is the opposite of the incarnation.  And besides, Jesus gave dire warnings about calling someone a fool.

We can win atheists and agnostics to Christ by putting ourselves in their shoes, being honest with ourselves about our own doubts and difficulties at times walking in faith.   We empathize with them by being a real friend and letting them see our real struggles – and victories – with Christ.   We sympathize with them by walking with them through their questions about God, being honest about not having all the answers for them, while appreciating these people for who they are and what they bring into our lives, and how God is using them before they even know Him.    We show Him to them by just being who you are in a real way, talking about Him and His truth in authentic contextual ways that are real to our lives, and giving them all the room in the world to do the same – knowing that a real God is lighting the way forward for you and them together to figure it out.

MUSLIMS
quran-1719546_640One of the surest ways NOT to draw Muslims to Christ is to have all sorts of ideas about them.   I continually run across evangelicals that think they’ve got the “Muslim thing” figured out because they’ve learned about a half dozen ugly statements from the Koran about hating infidels or something.  They also tend to approach those verses in the Koran the way Christians approach their own Bibles – not realizing that Muslims may have their own reasons for approaching those texts differently (just as Christians have their own reasons for approaching Deuteronomy differently than nonbelievers often assume they do.)   But none of that really is the point anyway – you can’t learn a culture just by studying some of its documents ; you learn a culture by hanging out with people.

You can read the Koran from cover to cover 1000 times and still understand next to nothing about muslims, because to some degree, it doesn’t matter what a holy book says – it matters how the people who believe in it interpret it and live it out (or don’t live it out.)  There are many, many cultural things that affect how any particular Muslim will view themselves as a Muslim, and view the teachings of the Koran.  There are various nationalities, various sects in those nationalities, various levels of commitment, various understandings of how to interpret the Koran, and there is folk Islam with its own sets of beliefs.   There are militant Muslims, there are devout yet peaceful Muslims, there are disinterested Muslims and disaffected Muslims.   And just as there are many different cultures of Christians (nominal Catholics, Bible banging Baptists, serious Catholics, liberal Baptists) there are many many different categories, movements, and personalities of Muslims.

But no matter what, one can’t LIKE a Muslim without hanging out with him or her and really getting to know them.  As long as Christians regard Muslims as “the enemy” rather than approaching them as their next best friend, one will never have the privilege of getting to be part of their Islamic friends’ exploration of their own prophet, Isa (Jesus).

kid-1077793_640But this requires learning to LIKE Muslims.   I have found that practicing Muslims are inspiring in their adoration and love for God.  Their reverence and awe for Him are beautiful, the way they seek to involve Allah (and even Christian Arabs call God, Allah) in everyday life puts many Christians to shame.   One thing that seems to be fairly universal however is the importance placed on hospitality; if you can let yourself be invited in, the value of hospitality in this culture in many cases completely transcends any anti-Christian sentiment you might fear your Muslim friend might hold towards you.   Muslims tend to value their guests very highly, and its a great way to get to know them and learn all the things there are to like about them.

And as far as sympathizing goes; I know what it is like to have a works’ mindset in approaching God, and I think many Christians have at some point in their relationship with God a similar experience from which to relate to Muslim religious experience.   Instead of judging devout Muslims for approaching God with a works mindset, I find myself being reminded of how I’ve struggled with the same thing, both before and after knowing Christ.   And many Muslims are not necessarily even approaching God that way either – it’s important to get to know what is actually going on in the lives of one’s friends.

On the flip side, I’ve met young Muslims so in rebellion against the teaching of their parents that they were taking steps with their lives that the God who cares for them would not want them to take.   Sometimes sharing my own sins and stupid decisions and how “Allah knows best” (Allah is just the Arabic word for God) is the best way I know how to help a Muslim-culture friend care about knowing God – and Jesus – when everything about God seems irrelevant to them.

WHOEVER IT IS, LIKE THEM

The main point is, we will be most effective with the people we like enough to truly relate to them, and probably be completely ineffective with people who we are only sharing Christ with as some sort of a duty, or some sort of niche on our Christian-y belts.   I’m also not writing this to give folks an excuse to shrug off reaching out to people they don’t LIKE or don’t GET.     But instead, I’m writing this as an encouragement and a challenge to the church to stop making ourselves “feel good” by how we can look down on those “foolish, God-hating Atheists”, or those “evil satanic Muslims.”

Joshua and Caleb set themselves apart from the other men who “spied out the land” of Canaan because they liked the land they saw, and they thought it was a good land that God was ready to give them.   The other spies looked at the land as being too full of strongholds for their trouble.   Likewise, do we approach people like they are cherished and beloved by God, and that the things keeping them from Christ are not that big of a deal?  Do we find them delightful and enjoyable and know they are a hair’s breadth away from the Kingdom, and that God is near them?  Or do we put up walls of fear and hostility that just don’t need to be there, which alienate us from them and them from us, ultimately cutting us off from our inheritance and the blessing of walking in Kingdom relationship with them?

We’re called like Jesus to love and serve people, and one of the biggest differences from serving someone from a place of superiority verses authentic incarnationality comes down to one thing: Do we authentically like them?  If not, I do think it’s worth asking God to show us how.

 

* Footnote from first paragraph:   I say, “in general” because, heck, God can do anything and when God is really moving in someone’s life, they may not need much human involvement at all – whether you or I hate them or like them may be completely immaterial.   But in most cases, we’re talking about the actual action of evangelism here, where we are the tour guides taking someone by the hand and showing them all the sights along the way and leading up to an encounter with the cross and the resurrected Christ.)

 

 

A Democrat Walks into a Church….

My aunt, as long as I’ve known her has always been an extremely liberal Democrat and a staunch atheist.   That is, until a couple who were planting a church in her housing development befriended her and invited her to start attending their church.

At first it seemed like an unprecedented change was happening in my aunt’s life.   I couldn’t believe she had even said yes to the invitation, but somehow going to church became intriguing to her, and from there it was only a few months later that she told me, with daring and nervous tones, that she no longer considered herself an atheist.   She told me wasn’t quite ready to believe in a “personal God” and didn’t yet know what to do with Jesus, but that she had decided that there was “something out there.”   From my theist perspective, having known my aunt my entire life, this was unprecedented progress.   She laughed at herself as she agreed with me at the change in her viewpoint that she had never thought possible.

And she kept going.   Something was drawing her to continue going to this church, even though she told me their Republican-sounding views on Israel she found somewhat annoying to her liberal, secular Jewish sensibilities.   But she found it something she could overlook, and continued fellowshipping with her friends.

Until Trump was elected.   As his magic pen signed executive order after executive order, the leadership of her church rejoiced and extolled that the man they had helped elect was taking what they considered to be such glorious stands for righteous lawmaking.

  My aunt, still reeling with grief about the fact that this man was even in office, was repulsed beyond measure that the leaders of the church she had come to call home had not only helped elect him, but were proclaiming the very executive orders that sickened her and kept her up at night worrying about the future of the world were their pride and joy in the man.  

She quit going to church, and now tells me she has a real ax to grind with Christians for ruining the country.

Another story, if you’ll allow me:
I knew a man named John, he was a brilliant concert pianist who had destroyed his life with drugs and alcohol.   My friend Rob, who was John’s brother, told me that he could barely believe his ears when this brother he had prayed for his entire life suddenly asked him one day on the phone to buy him a Bible.   By some very strange event, John, who was now in his mid-60s, after spending a life carousing and studying all types of philosophies and intellectual pursuits through a drug-induced haze, had met a Korean pastor in a McDonald’s one morning.  Somehow the pastor managed to entice him to come to his church – and John became a regular, going to Bible studies regularly.
John attended this church and incredibly enough, gave his life to Christ.

But then, he started to tell me and Rob that he needed to find a new church.   Apparently the church had started railing against legislation that had been passed allowing homosexual couples to marry; and John, who had dabbled in homosexual relationships in his life and said, “I think it was wrong what I did, and I don’t want to live that way anymore, but I just can’t agree with the way they are talking about people who are gays and lesbians and the way they want to make laws against them.   And it’s not just that: I’m also bothered by the way they keep holding these classes teaching pseudoscience trying to prove evolution isn’t true.”

The “moral” of both these stories:

I think the evangelical church has some serious questions to ask itself…the biggest one being,

“Does someone have to have a Republican view of politics to feel comfortable finding Jesus with you?”

Have we gotten ourselves so confused that we don’t even know the difference between presenting the Bible and the gospel to people and what our derived viewpoints are that are actually just Republican or Democrat?

Are we comfortable in creating a church culture where a political platform and leanings are so married together with what it means to follow Jesus, that if someone wants to find God and Jesus in your church it will be presented to them that they can’t really do that without accepting Republican beliefs too?

I suppose liberal and progressive churches can ask themselves the same question in reverse.  I know many churches where Republicans coming into the church will find themselves inundated with so many leftist ideas of what it means to follow Jesus that they may well walk out of your church before they’ve really had a chance to know much more about Him.   But this is not the norm as much as the conservative version of this, so I aimed this blog post more at my conservative friends and thus I ask:

Do we expect that as soon as someone begins to open their hearts to Jesus and finds His message and work attractive, that they will immediately adopt our church’s version of political leanings?   Have we taken the typical salvation message and added to it our political leanings, thus essentially saying,

“Accept Christ into your heart, and please change your voting registration to Republican or go find other friends to fellowship with?”

(And how soon after ….or even before….accepting Christ are we assuming peoples’ political viewpoints should become the same as ours?)

I fear our emphasis on “politics emanating from our understanding of the Bible” has created a situation where, we’ve conflated teaching people to be Jesus’s disciples with teaching them they have to vote the platform of a particular party, or they may as well leave our churches because we don’t need Christians that think like THAT – that “other party’s” way of thinking.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians against factions and parties in the church.  At that time the issue was parties arising over spiritual leaders in the church, not political ones.   He called such party thinking “carnal” – fleshly, unspiritual.  I don’t think he ever imagined the church would divide up over something even beyond that – earthly politics.

If his answer to that was “all things are yours” – the very name of this blog, in fact, is there something to be said for the idea that both the Republican parties and the Democratic parties in the USA might have ideas on BOTH sides of the fence that the church could see Jesus agreeing with?   Perhaps ALL things really are ours?   (After all, Jesus did ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, not an elephant.  Ok, bad joke…)

That will take some really outside-the-box we’ve created for ourselves thinking.  Until we can go there, let’s not forget that there is something to be said for creating a church culture that has something of this at its heart:

“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”    (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

Otherwise, we end up promoting one of the kingdoms of this world – the Republican kingdom (driving away all the Democrats from Jesus and our churches) or the Democrat kingdom (driving away all the Republicans from Jesus and our churches) – not to mention all the independents and Third Party folks among us too.   All of these kingdoms are the kingdom of our God, and His Christ, Jesus – He’s at work in all of them, and owns all of them.   So let’s learn to reflectively listen to the various perspectives represented by people in our society, and make sure the only thing that someone would be sick of if they decide to leave our churches, is Him… not our love affair with some party platform (or our hatred of it either.)

I Lived With My Boyfriend – and it didn’t mean what you think it meant.

A few years back I lost my job, in a traumatic burn-out on the level that caused me to retire permanently from teaching and shake with anxiety and fear every time I even tried to explain the struggles of my career to anyone.   (Actually, I had to quit my job, but the reasons were so compelling that unemployment found in my favor and started paying me for job loss.)   Even though I was on unemployment, I could no longer afford my apartment and in a perfect storm of weird dynamics within a church I had been in that was crumbling, and abusive family dynamics, I found myself faced with two choices: live in a homeless shelter or live with my boyfriend.   My boyfriend and I chose the latter.

Evangelical and others’ viewpoints on the matter:

Among charismatic evangelical Christians (which is my spiritual background) this was absolutely a no-no.   In the Pentecostal world there is a name for this: it’s called, “shacking up.”   Shacking up is denounced loudly in sermons without so much as a Bible verse mentioned as to why it is deemed absolutely hideously unacceptable, but the assumption is that you’re having sex.   And even if you’re not, by living together you’re violating another one of the great, immoral, evangelical rules: “Having the appearance of evil.”  Merely “appearing” evil is as great of an evil to Christians as doing the evil itself.

 

Except to those outside the evangelical community, it doesn’t come across as evil.   Non-Christians, at least the average Western nonbelievers, absolutely don’t care or find anything at all questionable, immoral, or indecent about two unmarried people living with one another, nor even with them having sex.   To them it is not only normal, but wholesome.  So it is not nonbelievers that find the appearance of two people living together to be potentially evil.   It is exclusively Christians for whom the appearances thing is an issue.

The fact is, the Bible verse that Christians often use to say that Christians need to be careful to not “look” like they are doing anything immoral really shouldn’t begin to be understood that way.   That Bible verse isn’t saying, “avoid looking sinful.”  It’s saying, “wherever evil appears, avoid it.”  Click here for a better explanation.

But beyond considerations of what the verse says or doesn’t say, the concern ultimately is a concern about sexual purity between unmarried persons.  Religious cultures however have a long-standing fear of men and women being alone in a home or room together.   Orthodox Judaism has a rule called Yichud which means that any time a man and a woman are alone in a space together, it can be assumed that sex has occurred.   Billy Graham (and now, by extension, Vice President Mike Pence) had a rule that he would never be alone with a woman in any setting, not in his office or out at lunch.    The irony is that religious culture, in its quest to prevent sex, often ends up looking like it is obsessed with sex, albeit preventing it.   And often law triumphs over mercy.

So…I moved in with my boyfriend.   Was it a great idea?  No.

If I had any other option that I could have emotionally handled at the time (moving in with strangers or living in a homeless shelter were not things that I could have handled in the midst of the upheaval of job loss and other things going on.   Call me emotionally weak if you want, because I was…) I would have done so.  If there were friends who would have allowed me to move in with them while I had no money left from my measily unemployment check to pay them for rent, I would have.   Do I recommend after reading this blog post that others go home and move in with their fiance’s or boyfriend/girlfriends?  No.

The choice carries with it all sorts of emotional complications, not to mention bearing total shame in front of one’s faith community, that stigmatizes people who “shack up.”  As our relationship hit the rocks that other couples living together (read, newly married people) would hit, we were without the help and resources of counseling that others trying to share a household in the context of an intimate (emotionally intimate) would have had in our context – because we were not yet married.   It strained us to the point of calling off our wedding plans because we both became unsure of our future together.

But aside from our faith communities, there are others that instantly have the wrong idea when you tell them you are living with a domestic partner, in ways that sometimes make me wonder what century I live in.   As we sat in the secular counselor’s office (since we couldn’t go to faith-based counseling, although some well-intentioned friends were helpful) she asked us about our sex life.   We told her that while we had a very sweet time cuddling, that we did not as yet have a “sex” life as we were both committed to waiting until marriage for sex.   But I learned most people think:

Men’s sex drives are an issue, women’s are considered a non-issue.

She then asked my boyfriend, who had previously told her moments earlier that this was his conviction as well, “How are you handling going without sex?”   She never posed the same question to me.    In instance after instance, my boyfriend was asked by various people how he is holding up in a relationship without sex.

I have never been asked the same question – never – neither by men nor by women.  It is assumed somehow that a woman has no desire for sex?  In Judaism, it is interesting that sex is considered a woman’s right, not a man’s.   It is her right to have children, or at least to attempt to have children.

While everyone was busy asking my boyfriend how he was enduring the supposedly awful ordeal – assumably imposed by me – of not having sex, no one was asking me about the tears cried into my pillow regularly about forced infertility being a relationship that was not coming to completion in marriage.   Not to mention the fact that shouldn’t have to be mentioned:  women have a sex drive too.   The assumption that male pleasure and temptation was somehow always an issue and female pleasure and temptation somehow just doesn’t exist was something I found passively insulting, to say the least.

Not that I wanted to break our mutually-enforced rule of chastity either – despite my libido, my convictions about sex before marriage are still stronger than my sex drive.   But, there is something in both secular society and religious culture that acts as though self-control doesn’t exist as a thing.   That the only way to explain abstinence is by absence of desire.  

While no one ever asked me if I minded going without sex, there were several who asked me if I thought my boyfriend might be gay.   Again, not having sex is all about the male party….but this question is one that betrays the assumption that not having sex is only possible if one doesn’t want it.   There does not seem to be a narrative in either the church or the world in which two people can very much want it, but for one reason or another decide not to do it – while being alone in a room together.

Is it possible? Definitely yes.   Is it ideal?  No.   I wholeheartedly affirm that ideally – two people have a marriage covenant together and can let their wildest sexual pleasures and fantasies with each other find a whole range of beautiful expression, while having babies and providing emotional security with one another, in the context of the joyous partnership of sharing a home.

But we live in a world that is not always ideal,

where sometimes the only person who loves and cares enough for you to keep you off the street or help you find your way is someone of the opposite sex whom you are not yet married to.    I’m grateful for the love shown during our confusing relationship of non-marital cohabitation, and for the commitment to abstinence that both of us held on to.   And I sincerely hope that as I go on from here, I can be open about this part of my past – even though it hardly counts as a “past” – without being seen as not-really-a-serious-Christian because of it.  Although doubtlessly, that will be the case for some.

(I should add that we eventually found a faith community to be part of that was non-charismatic but accepted our situation without misjudging our situation, and yet offered us pastoral counseling in the midst of it.)

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ADDENDUM:

This article was published sometime in April of 2017.   In December of 2017, the blog author and the man she talked about living with got legally married in a small private get-together, but waited until they could gather with family and friends to consider themselves fully married.  In July of 2018, they had a wonderful wedding on the beach with their church, their family, and their friends, and as of July 2019 report being still very happily married.   So, the Lord did breathe on this situation and worked it out in a wonderful way, finally. 🙂

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