2020: Praying for Miracles

Miracle is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in this way.  1 : an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs (the healing miracles described in the Gospels). 2 : an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment (The bridge is a miracle of engineering).

This year has been filled with the unexpected.  On a global, national, and personal level.  It has left me praying for miracles—for others.  Not for me.  Never for me.  But we’ll return to that in a moment.

In March, I found myself struggling with constant GI pain that began a week before everything shut down.  The timing was unfortunate, to say the least.  

“We’ll send you for an ultrasound, but you’ll have to wait for the hospital to call you,” was what the doctor told me.

A month passed by and the pain grew much worse—I was barely eating or sleeping.  The hospital never called, so I called the hospital.  They scheduled the ultrasound, but it was 2 weeks out.  I called my doctor, and all of the doctors were out on vacation, but at the end of Friday, the Physician’s Assistant called me and said, “It sounds like appendicitis, so I’m going to call you in some antibiotics and see if that works.  If your pain gets worse or your fever gets any higher, get to the hospital right away.”

A week later, I finally got in to see the doctor who ran blood tests and sent me for a CT scan.  But by then, the antibiotics had done their work and the massive swelling had gone down, some pain was gone, and my fever had lessened.  “You definitely had tons of inflammation and infection,” she confirmed after looking at the blood tests.  Yeah, I know.  I was there.  “We just don’t know what was infected or why.”

So, she sent me to another doctor who in turn, finally sent me to a GI specialist.  After regaling him with the details of my annoying saga, he gave a befuddled laugh and said, “You have a very strange body.”  Yeah.  I’ve been informed of that for most of my life.  He ran a few more blood tests and told me to come back in a few weeks if the pain didn’t magically resolve.

So, it’s almost July and I still have no answers and am still in pain.  To use the current buzzword, it’s a little triggering as I’ve been through all of this before.  The endless frustration of waiting for 3 1/2 years, and finally receiving a diagnosis of a little understood incurable, chronic illness.  That was disappointing.

So, when I found myself in the garden, and praying fervently for others in our broken world, God asked, “Why haven’t you asked me for a miracle for yourself yet?”

I came up short.  I thought back and had to admit to myself that I have avoided praying for myself or anything that I want.  But why?  And then, as I found myself yanking up weeds with ferocity, I admitted it: I felt duped.  And then, laughing at my own foolishness, I thought of how, alongside those past prayers for miracles I’d also prayed “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” just as fervently, secretly hoping that God’s will was aligned with mine (not the other way around).  The irony doesn’t escape me.

And if anyone had driven by right then, they’d see a crazy person, talking to herself and crying, like a petulant child throwing a tantrum, because her dad didn’t give her what she wanted.  I listed my litany of grievances to God because asking for miracles shouldn’t be so freakin’ complicated.  

“I asked you for a miracle when I was so sick last time,” I started.  “I asked for healing.  And what did you do?  You gave me a sickness that I can’t fix, that no one can.  You gave me something that slows me down, forces me to face my inabilities and weaknesses daily.  I have to do less, ask for more from you and others.  That’s not the miracle I wanted.

“If I ask for a miracle this time with my sickness, what should I expect?

“Last year, I begged you for a miracle for the boys.  My heart was—still is—broken, and what did you give me?  A dream.  Before I ever even met them or knew who they were, you told me that I could never call them mine.  So I asked you for that to be untrue, for that dream to be just a dream…but I knew it wasn’t.  I told no one.  I asked for you to let us keep them.  And what miracle did you give me then?  You helped me to find love for the people who hurt them time and again.  You helped me understand and love them in their broken humanity because their brokenness called to mine.  You changed my heart to want them to be successful caregivers, to know that they are cared about by others.  That’s not the miracle I wanted.  

“I begged for your help in teaching Nick to make better choices.  But he’s in jail, and has suffered so much there.  He is starting to change, but does it have to be like this?  I prayed for miracles, but this is not how I’d envisioned them.  

“And then there’s Jeremy.  I don’t even know where he is right now.  Is he in jail, homeless, in a mental hospital, or has Charmaine found him once more, and like a guardian angel, taken him into her halfway house again until he wanders off once more when his meds stop working? She is not the miracle that I imagined, but her love for the most broken certainly is.

“And then there’s Mom. I prayed for you to heal Mom from her depression my entire life, but she remained depressed and suicidal until the moment she died.  She’s healed with you, I know, but that was not the miracle I’d wanted.”  

And there it was, some of my deepest griefs and fears laid bare.  And as I considered what God had done, I realized that he did do miracles and they were beautiful, but they took massive amounts of pain and sometimes sacrifice.  He changed me, not necessarily the things around me.  

I prayed for the first time this year, for miracles for me, whatever that means.  I prayed that God will prepare my heart for the next set of kiddos that darken our doorway, whether they are here forever or for just a short time. I prayed for a doctor who could figure me out.  I pray that I’ll have the energy to fight for our next kiddos as hard as I did for the last, that I won’t instinctively guard my heart from them, that I will love them through their pain.  

As the time draws near for us to open our home once more to new children, I’m excited and nervous for that next phone call when our lives will completely change once more.  There will be the hard period where we relearn these next kids, their traumas, their likes, their dislikes, and start to help them trust, one moment at a time, perhaps for the first time.  Maybe they’ll have been starved, abused, or abandoned. Perhaps they’ll act out violently or hoard food.  But I’m praying for strength.  

And as I think about myself and my own need for miracles, I think of everyone else enduring this profound year of 2020.  I see the turmoil as a hopeful and redemptive phase; birth-pangs of the miracles that are to come.  Some say the end of the world is near, and they throw up their hands and wait.  I say, what does that change for me?  Nothing.  I’m still going to hope, to do, to pray that others hope and that we are willing to sacrifice ourselves (hopes, dreams, time, whatever else) for the love of God and others. 

It is our duty as Christ-followers to be those who hope and pray for redemption by being actively redeemed.  But many times, our own self-righteousness, fear, and anger cause “even the Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion…we have to be stonecatchers.”—Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

2020 might not be the year we want, but maybe it’s the year we need. Now is the time for compassion.  Shall we pray for miracles and be the stonecatchers together?

Treatise of a Hypocrite: Attachment, Millennial Migration, and the Problem of the American Church

Before you begin reading, please know that I am coming from a place of love, not of judgment.  Also, like every other imperfect human being in the world, I struggle on a regular basis with living a balanced life of love and truth consistently.  In essence, I’m a hypocrite– down in the trenches alongside everybody else who’s trying to figure things out.

A few days ago, I posted a controversial little article on Facebook about how the church drove Millennials away because it offered more judgement, hatred, and bigotry than love.  The people who’ve left the church, “liked” it, while those who still attend church, said, “But truth!  Truth!”  So, being the person who loves people on both sides of the proverbial fence, my mind has been churning with a small bit of the complexities as to why, I firmly believe, something seemingly unrelated is of utmost importance to the church.

First, let’s look at the two viewpoints of those who have left the church and those who’ve stayed.

Here are the 4 most common reasons I’ve heard from friends who’ve left the church:

  1. Hypocrisy (anti-abortion but also anti-human rights—like refugees, immigrants and the death penalty)
  2. Judgmentalism/self-righteousness (believing ourselves superior to others)
  3. Inconsistency between beliefs and practice (saying you love everyone, but hating the LGBTQ community, for instance.  Chick-fil-A sandwich, anyone?)
  4. Irrelevance (where’s the church when ___________ was happening?)

(It’s interesting to note that people who’ve left the church and espouse zero love for it, still believe its people should live up to a higher standard than the rest of society. Example: Those pointing out the hypocrisy of Joel Osteen not opening his church in the Texas flood.)

The #1 reason many current church-goers believe so many have left the church?

  1. Because they don’t like the Truth

Since the beginning of time, truth hasn’t really changed, but now, people are leaving the church in droves.  And since I don’t buy that this generation has a greater aversion to truth than former generations, what’s really changed?  I think it’s more complicated than simply Love vs. Truth.  So, let’s look at a bit of historical context to get a better idea.

Beginning in the 1730’s, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield led what would come to be known as “The Great Awakening.”  This, most would argue, was also the birth of the Evangelicalism.  This period emphasized high moral standards, hellfire and damnation, personal redemption, and introspection.  This movement was in contrast to the Enlightenment period whose hallmarks were Rationalism, and adherence to rituals and traditions.

The 1790’s-1850’s brought the “Second Great Awakening,” characterized by emotionalism, and super-naturalism; eventually spawning the Restorationist Movement.  That, in turn, featured the concept of preparing and cleansing ourselves for the end times.

From there came Pentecostalism which began at the 1906 Asuza Street revival.  It emphasized miracles, inter-racial worshipping together, and emotionally charged services.  In reaction to this movement, came the Fundamentalist Movement alongside of it, which emphasized strict literal interpretations of certain Scripture passages, rigid adherence to dogma, and making clear distinctions between themselves and other religious groups.

By the 1960’s, the Jesus Movement was the newest trend and paired well with the hippy mindset of peace and love.  It emphasized miracles and feelings, and much of it was Restorationist in theology.  This movement spawned what we think of today as the “Christian right” and “Christian left.”  The left sticking with the more Charismatic nature, and the right veering into the reactionary Authoritarian/Fundamentalist side of things.  Is it clear how this pendulum swing of love and truth is throughout each generation?

And now we arrive at those “damn Millennials.”

By the time I was born in the 1980’s, the Fundamentalist/Authoritarian mindset was in full swing throughout much of the country.  The church was great at boldly stating what it didn’t stand for and took on a fight-the-culture mindset: home schooling became popular, Christian music became a thing, and Christian movies and actors got their start.  The church created its own sub-culture to shelter its people from the common sinful pitfalls of the heathen culture around it.  We were taught to live by strict rules, to keep ourselves pure from evil influences, and were judged harshly if we didn’t.

And it is this little history lesson of pendulum-like reactions that brings me to why I believe that Millennials have left the church.

For one more moment, I beg of you to take a seemingly large, unrelated leap with me. I’d like you to consider the two following scenarios.

Scenario #1: It is your first visit to a new doctor.  You admit that you smoke frequently and immediately he responds, “You know, you need to stop smoking because it can cause A, B, and C…”

Scenario #2: Your beloved spouse of 10 years tells you, “Today, you really worried me because you were wheezing and breathless as you were going up the stairs.  Please try to quit smoking because I want you to still be beside me 20 years from now.”

Which of these two scenarios seems more likely to move you, the smoker, to action?  If you have a healthy relationship with your spouse, probably scenario #2, because even though your spouse is not the expert, you have a long relationship built on trust.  The truth was told in both scenarios, but one told you the truth out of love and used your trust of their intentions to communicate to you.  In other words, your spouse used your attachment to him/her.

What is attachment and why is it so crucial to the everyone, especially the church?  My own definition would be this: attachment is love and trust over time.  For anyone who’s parented a child with attachment issues, you already know that attachment is EVERYTHING.  Without it, there is no relationship and especially, no disciplining your child.  If you discipline a child who has a tenuous attachment at best, the child is likely to shutdown, meltdown, or run away.  And this doesn’t just apply to children.  Like the doctor scenario, it doesn’t matter if you have all of the right answers, if you haven’t taken the time to build that loving trust.  As my dear therapist once put it, “it’s okay to have high expectations if you have an equal amount of love to go with it.”

All human beings seek attachment: it is a biological necessity.  And this is the order in which it MUST proceed.

  1. Physical needs.  If those basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, and safety are met, there is enough trust in place for the next level.
  2. Mental/Emotional needs.  Physically being there for the child, loving them, showing goodness to them, no matter their behaviors. This is the stage where children (aka everyone) learns that they are loved and they belong, no matter their choices. This is where they understand their precious personhood.  And only then, when they have learned that no one is abandoning them, or hating them, or judging them, are they ready for the next step into something deeper.
  3. Spiritual needs.  This is where children can observe and emulate a parents’ moral compass, develop empathy, guilt, learn right from wrong, and hopefully, develop their own beliefs.

Reading this list, can you see the connection between the generation raised in Fundamentalist (and for me, Evangelical) churches that emphasized lots of truth, sometimes outright hatred, very little love, and the strong reaction (historical pendulum swing) of those tenuously attached Millennials to run the other way?

I find it interesting how many New Testament verses there are about adoption.  My favorite, which I believe, sums up the very foundation of our faith is this one:  “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15)  This verse explains the intimacy that we are supposed to have with God our loving Father.  So how do we, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, help people to build that connection with God?  I truly believe it’s through being a kind of placeholder, building attachment over time.  Here are my ideas.

  1. Physical needs.  The church does this pretty well.  Keep providing for basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing, but make sure it’s consistent over time.
  1. Mental/Emotional needs.  This step is probably the most lacking in the current American (especially Evangelical) church.  Our job as Christians is to be Christ-like, not to be Christ.  It’s not our job to change hearts nor to judge.  It’s not our job to hurry things along, which, as an impatient person, I’m very bad at.  It’s our job to give time, love, compassion, and space to everyone. We must wait with them in love.  It’s hard because it may mean sacrificing our time, our comfort, etc…  And we must do all this, without believing we are somehow better than “them.”
  2. Spiritual needs.  This is where most church-goers assume that everyone around them is at.  But honestly, many people are stuck back at the second step.  The time for the big “T” (and by that I mean truth) will come when it comes.  We don’t have to hide it or shy away from it, and more often than not, a ready heart will seek truth out; especially when it’s safe to do so.  Truth from a loving place is sometimes hard to give, but if we must confront someone, we must first ask ourselves, “Do they already know that I love them?  Do they trust that I want the best for them?”  The answer may be no.  You may not be the right person or it may not be the right time.  And so many times, if we’re really living out God’s truth and love in our own lives, not much needs to be said.

To my dear friends who’ve left the church:

Yes, we, the church, have failed you and even though we have, God won’t.  Maybe you no longer believe in God, or maybe just not his people.  Either way, please keep telling us the truth in love—hopefully, sometime soon, we’ll get the hang of listening.

Grasping at Consistency: Honest Thoughts On A Religious Journey Part 2

I’d like to tell you a story, but I would like to start near the end of the story because really, it’s closest to the beginning.

It was an oddly warm morning this past October and like almost all mornings, I took my dog Aera for a walk.  I decided to go to the outdoor track behind the YMCA because I needed a change of scenery from our usual places.  One of the best things about having a dog is the necessity of a silent walk—perfect for praying.  And that particular morning, my heart was heavy with a decision that I’d made.  I was praying that God would give me one last confirmation—a Biblical fleece, I guess you could call it—to show me that I was indeed, following His will.  So as I prayed and walked, we passed a lady who was running and she smiled and waved to us.  And because this track is a large loop, we passed her several more times.  At one point, she stopped running to talk with us.  We made small talk about the weather, dogs, and then she asked me a question I was not expecting.

“I know this is going to sound strange,” she said, sounding a bit hesitant. “But do you believe in God?”

“I do,” I replied.

She looked relieved.  “You may not believe this, but as I kept passing you, I received a word from the Lord.”

Now I know very well that the phrase “word from the Lord” is a Pentecostal phrase that means, God spoke to me about you, so I was very interested to see where this was going.

“Oh?” I asked, trying to show her that this was indeed welcome information.

“The word I got was ‘courage,’” she continued on without much of a pause. “You see, I think it has something to do with a decision you are making and that you should have the courage to go through with it and not be afraid.  This is what you’re supposed to do.”

For a person skeptical of the more mystical side of Christianity, I’ve had quite a few things like this happen throughout my life, so I couldn’t help but smile. “You know, you’ll never believe this,” I responded. “But I was just praying for confirmation for a decision I’m making—that it’s the right one and that God would give me a sign.”

She beamed at that point, “Take this as confirmation.  I also feel this has something to do with those close to you—your family?  Maybe telling them something they don’t want to hear.”

“Yes,” I said, shaking her hand.  “Thank you so much for having the courage to tell me this.  It really is what I needed to hear.  Your words are an answer to prayer.”

She stood for a few moments, seeming hopeful that I would explain what all of this was about, but I didn’t.  I didn’t want to shake her faith.

We kindly parted ways and I shook my head, trying to contain my laughter at God’s sense of humor.  You see, what had just taken place was this: a Pentecostal had just told a Presbyterian to become Catholic and to have courage to tell her Southern Baptist dad about her decision.  See the humor now?

The following is my thought-process throughout this 5-year journey, it is in no way a complete look into my thoughts, but it is enough.  That being said, here is my journey towards Catholicism.  I’ll start with the boring stuff I had to come to grips with first about the Catholic Church.  If you’re not interested, then feel free to skip to the last paragraph.

Problem #1:  Authority

Part 1: I have always had a problem with trusting authority because throughout my life, I’ve had a front-row seat to religious leaders and others in authority abusing their powers (whether through sexual abuse, misleading “truths” to push a personal agenda or to gain notoriety, etc…).  Many people my age have left the church because the great amount of hypocrisy they’ve seen.  I have not left because I know that a church is a place full of sinners who need God (and the only difference between people in a church and outside of a church is that church-goers admit that they need help to be more like God).  For me, God has always been much better and higher than His sin-tainted church.  But we try and that’s the point.

What about all of those children sexually-abused by Catholic priests, you are asking?  How can you ignore that?  I don’t.  Here’s the thing, the Catholic church is huge.  There are an estimated 1.2 billion Catholics in the world currently.  In 2010, there were an estimated 800 million Protestants (many different denominations).  I grew up Evangelical and knew that the same awful stuff was happening in most of the churches I’ve attended, the difference being, the churches are smaller and can cover it up more easily.  The Catholic church is huge, and thus, much easier to expose.  I’m glad that the sins of the Catholic church were exposed because hopefully it can heal and change.

Part 2:  Accepting Apostolic Succession.  This was not a hard one for me.  Catholic theology teaches that when Jesus told Peter “Upon you I will build my church,” it was meant literally.  Apostolic succession is through the laying on of hands from one Apostle to another.  The Apostles were the first bishops of the church.

Part 3: The all-male Magisterium (bishops of the church who have ruled on interpretation of questionable scriptures throughout history).  I do not love that women are excluded as deacons and priests, especially since Junia was named in the Bible as an Apostle (bishop) and is recognized as such in Catholic church history as such, and Priscilla and Phoebe, recognized as a deacons.  Thus, historically and Biblically, women should still be eligible for includsion in church authority but they currently are not.  That being said, the exclusion of females in governing leadership is nothing new to me.  Presbyterians, for example have a Presbytery and only men are considered for pastor, elder or diaconate roles.  I tend to give a bit more leeway to Protestants because they think they are acting Biblically.  For example, Junia is argued by John Piper in his work in helping to translate for the New English Standard Version to really be Junias (even though there is less-than-nothing to back up that claim besides his own distinctly patriarchal p.o.v.).  Protestants shrug at the inclusion of Priscilla as a deacon because they say that she was paired as a “helper” to her husband Aquilla who was the real deacon and was not really referred to as a deacon.  The many verses in Timothy about women being silent in church, etc…is always taken out of the patriarchal cultural context at the time too, but whatever.  I could go Episcopal or Anglican, but those tend to be pretty liberal leaning or non-existent in our area.

So why am I becoming Catholic despite this?  Because progress is being made and the church is open to it.  For the last 50 years, many strong nuns and leading female (and male) Catholic writers and sympathetic priests have raised this issue.  Every few years, the current Pope brings it up as something that must be changed.  Summits are held, voices are heard.  Change is slow, but I am happy to lend my voice to this cause.

Part 4: The Pope, the Magisterium, and our ultimate need for consistent authority. Whether or not Protestants like to admit it, we all have our own “Popes” or “Magisterium.”  Whether we ourselves are the final authority on what we believe or whether it is a favorite pastor or a more celebrity-type leader (like the Graham’s, Dr. Dobson, Bill Gothard, John Piper), we all listen to someone as the final authority.  Becoming Catholic, I am choosing an authority with a long history, both good and bad, that has been consistent in its teachings throughout the centuries.

Problem #2:  The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

I’ve read the Protoevangelium of James (aka the Gospel of James).  I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty weird and I have a tougher time with this one.  It’s an account of Mary’s upbringing, Christ’s birth, and testimony to Mary’s perpetual virginity.   But what about the mention of Jesus’ brothers in Scripture?  The church teaches that they were most likely the children of Joseph from a previous marriage or cousins.  But having accepted the church’s authority in general, this is one I can live with. And because the Catholic church dates back to Jesus’ Disciples and what they taught, I’m going to believe the people who knew Mary personally.  So even if you are a Protestant and are thinking, “for shame,” just remember that the original Church Reformer, Martin Luther, believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity too.

 

So I’ve told you what I had to really work through, but what simultaneously drew me?

 

A Consistent Theology of Life, Love and Truth in Action

I was 21 when I picked up a copy of “Death of Innocents” by Sister Helen Prejean from the library.  I knew absolutely nothing about the book, I just liked the title when I came across it on the shelf.  It was a book about those wrongfully convicted on death row and the idea that the death penalty is always morally wrong (innocent or not).  I wrestled with the concept at the time, but now I see that it comes from a theology that is all about respecting the entirety of life. I love that the Catholic Church is pro-life all the way through life and in every aspect.  Pro-life to Catholics means much more than just protecting the unborn.  It also means caring for and loving the refugee, the prisoner, the oppressed, the mentally ill, the homeless, the elderly, the poor, your enemy; and all of these are equally as important.  It means that Catholics were the main overlapping group who attended both the women’s march, the march for life, and refugee rallies across the US.  It means having a theology that says others who’ve never heard of Christ but who believe in God in the way that they are able, will likely be alongside Christians in Heaven.  It’s a theology that embraces the idea that it is our job to be good stewards of the earth that we live on and we are to care for all of its inhabitants (plant, animal, human).  It is a theology that says, yes, God created the earth, but we don’t have to deny science to still believe that.  It is a beautiful thing and one, that without putting words to it, I have always believed and tried to live out.

 

Complexity and Suffering

The churches I grew up in were somewhat fundamentalist, but Advanced Training Institute (ATI) was legalistic to the extreme.  They taught us that there were always clear, black-and-white, Biblical answers to every problem that could arise in life.  Special rules were formed for that reason: you should not dance, because dancing could lead to sin, for example.  Remember King David dancing before the Ark and how that turned out?  That was the ATI example of why one should never dance.  The philosophy was, it’s better to avoid things that could lead to sin, rather than come near temptation—a sort of bubble wrap theology. I believe very firmly, and always have, that God did not call his people to take the simple path.  He did not create for us a simplistic black-and-white, all-or-nothing, comfortable world with easy Biblical answers that we can close our eyes and point to and say, “problem solved!”  It would be convenient if the world worked that way, but it doesn’t and can’t. (I’m also not saying that we should purposefully go out of our way to put ourselves in losing situations either).

Although the Catholic church has the same downfalls as any other religion/denomination to ere on either side, its core theology is embracing of that fine line, that delicate balancing act of being in the world fully, but not of the world.  It is subtle, nuanced, difficult and complex, and never quick nor easy to explain.  Much of what Protestants (including myself a few years ago) say the Catholic church believes is an inaccurate soundbite of the actual belief that misses all of the important complexity.  “Catholics believe that you can work for your salvation” is one, for example.  In reality, Catholics believe that salvation through Christ’s redemption is the only way, but they take the verse in James, “Faith without works is dead,” very seriously.

Within a portion of that embracing of the complexity, it also means embracing ideas that could lead to suffering.  The Catholic church teaches that suffering is a good thing and a normal part of the Christian’s life, and although suffering for suffering’s sake is never right, they encourage believers to not shy away from it, and in some respects, to expect it. In a very real way, if one is truly pro-life and acting on that by visiting the sick, the prisoner, or giving aid to refugees, you might be placed in dangerous situations.  You may become ill, you may die, doing what you are called to do and this is what the church is much quicker to embrace than many Protestants.  There are two movies that I think really embrace the complexity of trying to grapple with difficult issues of faith, suffering, and what part God has called us to play: The Mission, and Silence.  I would encourage you to watch them if you haven’t yet.

The main thing that I would like you as the reader to know is that I’ve put much thought and prayer into all of this as I hope was clear.  If you know me well, you know that I’m not just following my husband (as some well-meaning people have assumed).  For a handful of people that are very dear to me, I have not told you before now because we have not been face-to-face since I’ve made my decision, and how do you awkwardly work in “oh and by the way, I’m being confirmed in the Catholic Church” into the end of an e-mail, text, or a two second conversation?  I know for many people, this might be controversial and that is okay. Note that I did not site scriptures or texts, but they are easily Google-able, so if you want to discuss something, feel free to look it up first and we’ll talk.

One last thing.  Please know that I did not make my decisions based upon a dislike of Protestantism, but a love for Catholicism and foremost, because God has called me here.

If you would like to read about my thoughts when Ethan became Catholic (Part 1), here’s the link.

The Ugly Truth about the Church and Mental Illness

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I’ve seen quite a few people writing recently about the subject of how churches are dealing with mental illness. They are good philosophical arguments complete with quotes from scripture and testimonials from people who struggle with depression.  But what about those people that are bat-shit crazy?  Then what?

I have always found it trite and academic when people in church debate Calvin’s theology of predestination.  I was introduced to this theological point in Sunday school, during my senior year of high school.  The idea is that God chooses some people to go to Heaven and others are simply created for destruction and eternal damnation.  I could give you my theological/philosophical argument as to why I think that is incorrect, but I’d rather not.  I’d rather you see it through my lens instead.

It’s easy to say you believe in predestination when your life is comfortable.  It’s easy to ask those questions if your brother you grew up with wasn’t a schizo-affective disordered sociopath and believed by many to be destined for hell.  It’s not difficult to believe in God’s creating and subsequently choosing certain people to hate, when its not your brother yelling commands to his demon army in the backyard at two in the morning.  It’s easy to say yes, God chooses some to send to hell for absolutely no reason–just because.

It’s also enjoyable to debate Nature vs. Nurture, unless you’ve wrestled with understanding that line your whole life.  How much is he really responsible for?  And can I love him even if he’s responsible for all of it?

I’d like to take you through my personal experiences as a siblings of someone diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder (that’s basically bi-polar and schizophrenia rolled into one) and as a sociopath, and what the church’s role was in our lives.

Jeremy was a sweet, pretty much perfect baby.  He had curly golden locks, and big animated blue eyes.  Life was good.  Then, he began to talk.  One of his first phrases was to call us, his siblings, “Dodo birds.”  Not only did we realize that he was calling us names, we had no idea where he’d gotten that name.  We looked it up and thought how strange it was that he was calling us extinct birds.  How did he know about Dodo birds when we had never even heard of them?  From there, the phrases progressed to “I hate you,” “everybody hates me,” “I’m going to kill you,” and “No one loves me, I’m gonna kill myself.”  Writing this, I realize how odd it is for a child to say these things, but Mom said similar things at times, and we were all used to Jeremy’s dramatic nature, so didn’t think much of it.

By five, he’d already attempted to throw himself from a moving vehicle onto the highway (multiple times), tried to kill me with a knife, and when I talked him down, he turned it on himself before I wrangled it from him.  Trying to strangle people was also regular occurrence, although I’m not sure if I can attribute that solely to Jeremy since I remember Mom doing that several times to me and we kids doing it to each other when we were angry.

Jeremy has never admitted to feeling guilty about anything, and I remember well, his satisfied smile at witnessing the pain of others.  We knew early on that he had the uncanny ability to read people, but he only saw the negative.  He was incredibly smart, but never understood most humor but especially, sarcasm. For him, sarcasm seemed a way for people to say the negative things to him and get away with it.  Half the time, he was probably right.

It was around his sixth or seventh birthday that Mom found a crack-pot “Christian” child psychologist to evaluate Jeremy.  Her first diagnoses were “sociopath,” “ADD” and “bipolar.”  (It is not common nor recommended practice for anyone under 18 years of age to be diagnosed with the labels bipolar or sociopath). Her major caveat though, was a big one; it was most likely “demon possession.”  So, I was ushered from the room to take care of my siblings in the waiting room, while the psychologist prayed over (exorcised) Jeremy.

After the session, Mom attested to the fact that Jeremy became angry and agitated while the woman was praying for him.  She failed to mention until much later that the woman was holding him down on the floor while they prayed the demons out of him.  Her final diagnosis?  “There’s not much I can do for him.”  At this point, I’ve not made it hard to tell that I find this ridiculous.  Do I believe that people can be demon-possessed?  In theory, yes.  However, the Fundamentalist culture in which I was raised (ATI, etc…) was always far too quick to dismiss mental illness as a spiritual problem.  That being said, I’ll continue.

At one point, my parents took Jeremy to a pastor in the Gothard inner circle who deemed Jeremy the worst type of fool: the “Steadfast Fool.”  Again, the idea being, nothing could be done for him; he will go straight to hell if he doesn’t change his ways.  No one considered the fact that maybe there was something terribly broken in his brain.

At some point, my parents sent Jeremy to live on a farm in Waycross, GA for troubled teens.  He did pretty well there, because the one thing that showed Jeremy’s humanness was animals.  He truly cared for them and did well taking care of them.  He also learned the finer points of growing pot, what it feels like to be shot at close-range with a BB gun to the stomach, and how to make a tasty squirrel stew.

We went to visit him once as a family.  Things were going well…until we turned off the lights to go to bed.  I was thinking that maybe he really was changing for the better, when out of the darkness, he grabbed my arm and started shouting at me calling me a “fucking bitch,” etc.  Nope, I guess I was wrong.  Still crazy.  Our relationship was another complicated piece of the puzzle that added an extra dynamic to the insanity, but I will leave it out for right now.

After the farm, Jeremy began a go-to-jail, come-home, go-back to jail, cycle.  I think he was about 15 the first time he went to Juvenile Hall, but to be honest, my timeline is a bit hazy since there was so much other ongoing drama.  I also don’t remember what it was that landed him there the first time, but I do remember the relief we felt.  For the first time, I didn’t have to worry about him going crazy and killing us all in our sleep.

Once old enough, he went to jail mostly on assault and possession charges.  Each time he returned home from wherever he was living, he had a different accent and varied vocabulary.  After the farm, he had a thick hick accent and after a long stint in jail, he fused it with Ebonics which was an odd and interesting combination.  He still speaks with a lesser hybrid of both.

Up to this point, can you see the role that the church has taken? That’s right.  It’s non-existent— unless you count the shoddy exorcism attempts (which were not even connected to our churches).  It is easy to avoid people that are messed up, weird, different.  Jeremy is twenty-six, his brilliant mind is gone from years of heavy drug-use, his body is like that of a 70 year-old man, and he spends most of his time smoking and talking about his how he is “the Beast” prophesied about in Revelations. So what has the church done for him?  Well, in a few of his more lucid moments, he says that he believes that God cannot love him or forgive him, and that his soul belongs to Satan (because he sold it to him in exchange for taking his sadness and anger from him).  Jeremy still believes that no one loves him and that he is, in fact, likely to die and go straight to hell.

Most of my family takes no pity on him because they can only see the damage he’s done to himself and our family.  They think that every stupid thing he’s done is his choice.  And that’s the hardest part: loving someone with such severe mental problems and trying to sort out what was a choice and what wasn’t.  Has he made bad choices?  Certainly.  Was he born with a problem?  Definitely.  Was there ever any help for him?  I don’t know.  But I do know this: he’s a human being who stills needs hope and love to thrive.  It’s easy to hate him, to hold back compassion from him.  My bones still remind me of our tumultuous relationship each time I sit in certain chairs or whenever a storm front is coming.  The problem is, I love him and I’ve seen his humanness.  I’ve seen the way he cares for animals.  I know that he loves animals because they don’t judge him and they accept him for who he is: broken and crazy. I’ve seen the light of hope in his eyes when he decides to garden and make things beautiful.  I’ve seen his sadness at thinking that he is unloved.

Jesus loved crazy (demon-possessed) people.  They didn’t bring themselves to be healed—their families brought them or the family had already given up on them—and half the time, the crazy people came just to mock Jesus.  But Jesus always had compassion on them.  Aren’t the crazy ones “the least of these” that we are told to love and care for?  Is it hard and sometimes on the verge of impossible?  Yes.

I hold no animosity toward the church, and I don’t blame the church for wanting to hide its face from the ugliness that is mental illness.  Many people within the church are unequipped to handle mental illness, and that’s okay.  What’s not okay is ignoring the reality of mental illness and saying that it’s definitively a spiritual problem when it’s not.

So this week, as I’m trying to convince my dad that Jeremy needs to live in a personal care facility, it’s not because I hate Jeremy.  It’s because I love him and I have hope that at some point in his life, he may be able to feel love.

On Forgiveness

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Some things are easy to forgive, and others, well, you can’t forgive because it feels too good to hang onto the hurt.  At first, the anger feels good, like a fire burning inside you.  It gives you strength, energy, fuel for living.

But slowly, that fuel of anger burns away your happiness, it incinerates your joy.  You focus on the person you hate, who’s wronged you.  You cannot stop feeling hurt and angry.  And without knowing it, you become like the person you hate and refuse to forgive.

Wait long enough, and that hurt and anger becomes depression.  A yawning hole in need of something to fill it.  So you try things.  You smoke, you drink, you try sex and drugs.  You turn up the music, turn on the TV to drown out the thoughts always screaming in your mind.

You find these things give you a moment of rest, of happiness.  But it never lasts.  And the more you’re drawn into those things, the more they swallow you up until those once pleasurable things no longer bring an ounce or moment of happiness.

You’re stuck.

Long ago you convinced yourself that you don’t need anyone else.  You push people away, telling them that it’s none of their business.  But deep down, you want them to keep pushing past your walls to prove that they care about you.  How much pursuit is enough?

You have the choice to be miserable and let the person you can’t forgive ruin your life, or you can let them go.  The thought of them hangs on you like heavy, wet clothes.  Every movement you make, they come with you.  The idea of them makes you sick, but you won’t take off those old clothes.  You need them because you think they’ve become who you are.  So what can you do?

Forgive them.  They don’t ask for it or even acknowledge that they’ve hurt you.  They may only care about themselves and they may wrong you all over again.

But you know what?  They’re just doing what you did for all that time.  They are filled with that same anger, that same hurt, that same sadness that’s eaten them alive because somebody did the same thing to them.  They take out all of their hurt on the people around them who care about them most—just like you do.

Can you forgive someone for making the same choices that you did?

Maybe you can’t do it on your own.  Maybe you need someone to show you how it works.  Ask the guy who forgave the whole world—you, the person that wronged you, the person that wronged them—to show you how to do it.  Jesus is just waiting until you’re ready.  Can you accept his forgiveness for the wrong you’ve done in order to forgive that person who’s hurt you?

The Importance of Being a Girl

How would you react if someone told you, “It’s your job as the woman to take care of the menial tasks at home so that [your husband] can focus on accomplishing the important things that he needs to do.” This is a quote from a conversation that I had not long ago.  It is one of many like it.  If you are a woman, it’s very likely that in subtle and not so subtle ways, you’ve been told that you are unimportant because you were born the wrong gender.

What I really want to discuss is my journey as a girl who never wanted to be a girl.  Don’t get me wrong, I love dressing up every now and again and feeling beautiful, but if God was giving out preferences, I would’ve chosen to be a boy.  Why?  No periods. Haha, no…seriously, let me take you the long way around through some of the more memorable highlights.

The first time that I realized that being a girl was not all it was cracked up to be was when I was 4.  My brothers and I were painting our “tree house” in our back yard.  My older and younger brother had their shirts off, so of course, being a hot day, I took mine off too.  Don’t worry, I was dragged in the house by my mother who was completely dismayed by my lack of modesty.  Modest what?  I was 4.  “Girls always have to wear shirts, Anna,” she said as she wrestled my shirt back over my head.  “But Jonathan and Andrew don’t have to,” I whined.  “It’s hot and we’re workin’.”  (Yes, I had a little southern accent back then.)

“You’ll understand when you’re older, but you always have to wear a shirt and they’re boys—they don’t have to.”

“That’s not fair.”  Oh how right I was as a little girl.

That was the first time I realized that there were rules which applied to me and not to boys.

My next foray into inequality came when my family first joined ATIA (Advanced Training Institute of America).  My first encounter with ATI was in Knoxville, TN.  Each year, there was a big conference where all of the families from the east coast and midwest would gather for “Biblical training.”  I don’t know exactly how old I was when we first joined, but I was forced to attend the children’s sessions.

To blend in, my parents bought us all regulation clothing.  Much to my brothers chagrin, they were forced to wear white, button-down dress shirts and navy pants.  For me and my sister, it was an ankle-length navy skirt (or as close as one find in such “worldy” stores such as Wal-mart), and an ill-fitting white blouse, to camouflage any feminine body part—such as knees, necks, shoulders, and chests—which might cause a brother to stumble.

“If anyone asks,” Mom drilled us before we arrived in Knoxville, “you dress like this all the time.  And Anna,” she said, “don’t mention that you wear blue jeans.  If they ask, tell them you don’t.”  I was given permission to lie!  I could handle this.  This undercover life excited my imagination.  I saw it as great practice for my later career as a spy.

However, the excitement vanished as soon as it had come.  Dressing in a long skirt meant that I could not do any of my favorite things without great difficulty. I learned quickly to distinguish fakers like me from the hardcore Gothard-ites.  The real ones wore red scarves tied 50’s soc-hop style around their necks.  It was also easy to tell by how gracefully one was able to sit on a concrete floor. The ones that were used to sitting on the ground in skirts, were able to sit down in less than a heart beat with the utmost grace and modesty: like a weightless fairy upon an enchanted lily pad.  I worked my way through several awkward positions, looking like I was wrestling a piranha that was caught in there before I had myself situated.  I couldn’t sit any of the ways I normally sat.

In the children’s program, we sang dumb songs (and as a kid who never stopped singing, for me to draw the line at these song says something about their poor quality), watched Mr. Andrew–our K group leader–do finger exercises and ventriloquy while we waited each morning for the bus, and heard stories about how animals, like the Indian elephant, could teach us character qualities such as perseverance, and hard work.

Each year following, there grew more and more dissenters in our family.  The second year, two of my brothers had a contest to see who could get more “wisdom walks.”  “Wisdom walks” were ATI’s happy sounding phrase for punishment.  Only bad kids got those. It was some form of punishment that usually involved running laps around the large warehouse and a good old fashioned talking to.  And this was exactly what my brothers preferred, over sitting in this awful place.  They likely received spankings as well, but I really don’t remember.

The next year,  two of my brothers and I graduated into the teen program.  At first I was excited, but I soon came to realize that it was far worse than the children’s sessions.  We still sang songs, but we were graduated to actual hymns now.  I learned the hard way that there were some hymns that I, as a female, was not allowed to sing.  For instance, it was offensive for a woman to sing any hymn that featured the word “men” in the title.  Obviously, these hymns were written for men only.  Duh. So when, in a mixed assembly, we were told to stand and sing “Rise Up, O Men of God,” I did so, and while singing out with gusto, a girl tugged on my skirt and said, “Sit down, this is not for us.” I was embarrassed to notice that out of the 300 boys and girls there, I was the only girl standing.  It didn’t seem right.  With each passing day of that week, I became more and more aware that the brothers I had been equal to my whole life were no longer my equals.  I was a lesser individual who had to surround myself with rules and personal sacrifice to make their world easier.  While the boys were learning survival skills and repelling from water towers, I was stuck learning how to make ugly multi-colored braid belts that no one in their right minds would ever wear, and being forced to memorize Proverbs 31 with the Gothard interpretation.  His interpretation went something like this.  The part where she buys land and her husband trusts her to run everything is always skipped over.  The focal point is always the making clothes, the women’s work, and the sacrifice that the woman must make.  And really, as a 12 year old girl, this was my interpretation of what I heard. “The Proverbs 31 woman is basically a glorified slave who does everything (without complaining) so that her husband has a great reputation at the gate and can hang out all day doing whatever he wants with his buddies.”  That was the first time in my life, where I felt an anger that I couldn’t understand or put into words until many years later.

The more my family delved into Gothard theology, in the nifty little “wisdom booklets,” the more a seed of anger grew.  I couldn’t explain it and I constantly repented for it, but the more we became entrenched, and the more rules I was told to live by (as a girl), the more obstinate I became.  I’ll never forget reading in the wisdom booklet the interpretation of Tamar’s rape.  According to Gothard, the rape was her fault: she was leading Amnon on.  Another time, the whole last 10 pages of the booklet were pictures and detailed descriptions about how long a woman’s hair and skirt should be, and how applying too much makeup led men to stumble.  And college, was out of the question for a woman because that would mean that she would be out from under the authority and protection of a man.  Thankfully, my parents, although many times idealizing other “perfect” ATI families, never made me wear skirts (except on Sunday), and thought that the whole no college bit was overkill.

When I dressed up on Sunday’s, I only wore dresses that were extremely modest.  I was never embarrassed by my body like many women are, but I believed that somehow my body was inherently evil.  I was just about the cover child for modesty.  When my mom allowed me to wear a skirt that had a slit up to my knees one Sunday, I kept trying to sit so that no one could tell how immodest I was.  Long baggy shirts, long shorts (if I wore shorts), and once I was in high school, I wore mostly men’s clothing.  I was afraid that I might lead a man into sin accidentally.

At home, I was held to a different standard than my brothers.  I was expected to do the women’s work and my brothers were not.  Whenever I did something (usually fun and) immature, my Dad would say, “I’m disappointed in you, Anna.  You acted like the boys today.”  Being the kid who wanted to please my parents more than anything in the world, this was always a blow.  I would vow to myself that I would try harder.

As a kid and a teenager, I wanted to join the military and thinking that my Dad might be proud, I told him.  “No you won’t.  The military is no place for a girl.  I won’t allow it.”  As it turns out, because of a health issue, I wouldn’t have been eligible anyway, but it was the difference between the encouragement of my brothers doing it and me not being allowed that made it memorable.

At one point in college, I found myself being the only girl playing a football-type game with all guys.  That wasn’t too uncommon in high school, but when one of the guys took me aside and told me that it was inappropriate for me to be the only girl playing such a rough game with about 20 guys, he asked me to leave and, being completely embarrassed, I did.  I look back now and wish I’d ignored him and kept on playing, but I didn’t.

When I married Ethan, I started to believe that for the first time in my life, I was beautiful and that I didn’t need to go out of my way to cover up my body.  He liked when I wore skirts that were above my knees and tops that weren’t burgeoning on high Victorian collars.

My next step in the process came when we were trying to find a church to attend.  There was one church (Crossway), and for some reason, each Sunday that we attended, I would get the same angry feeling that I did in ATI.  So instead of praying it away or dismissing it, I began to take note.  First, I saw that on the Sunday’s where I attended church and Ethan was not with me, they did not hand me a bulletin because they only ever handed the bulletins to the men.  Then, I noticed that men would avoid looking at me or talking to me.  In fact, there was one conversation that stuck out in my mind.  A man came up to Ethan to ask if he would lead a small group discussion.  I stood directly beside Ethan and the man asked Ethan, “Would your wife be interested in assisting you?”  Ethan laughed, not giving it any thought. “She’s right here, ask her.”

He turned to me and asked and I said I’d think about it.  I was already a little burned by the fact that not only are women not allowed to lead any sort of Bible study where there might be men or boys over the age of 12 (is that the age of manhood?), but the guy had to have permission from my husband to talk to me.  There were other comments about the place of a woman from the pulpit, usually along the lines of if you’re married, you should be having and raising children.  I had no children, and thus, I was likely viewed as a threat by the men of the church.

The most obvious example of the gender segregation was the Men’s prayer breakfast and the church workday afterwards.  Ethan went to the men’s prayer breakfast where the women made, served, and cleaned up after the men’s breakfast.  Afterwards, Ethan brought me back with him to work.  Out of the 500 people in the congregation, how many women do you think were there for the work day?  One.  Me.  So the whole time, I got comments like, “You work like a man,” and “Wow, you look like you’ve done this before,” and my favorite, “you know your outdoor work, but can you cook?”  At that point, and with my hands covered in wood chips and mud, I refrained from slapping the man.  Before that point, all of the things that I had noticed had gone unnoticed by Ethan.  It wasn’t happening to him, so he was oblivious to it.  I told him about these things that I was noticing, and slowly, he was starting to see things for what they really were for himself.  It was not long after the church workday that we left that church.

Is this what Christian fellowship is supposed to look like?  Is it supposed to be driven by fear of our sin natures?  I should hope not.

Not long ago, a Christian speaker asked, “How do I teach men how to be men?”  I would ask instead, what does it mean to be a man?  Most father seminars run along the lines of teaching men to “lead their families,”  using words like “leadership, decisive, strong, protection, etc…”  Is that really what a man should be?  What about the men who are nothing like that?  Perhaps they have no desire to “lead” their women.  Great.  What if the man and woman fall naturally into those prescribed roles?  Great.

What would happen if that concept was to change?  What if men were held to the same standards as women?   What would the world look like if men were taught to be kind, generous, thoughtful, loving, and serving?  What if women were taught to love themselves for who they are, tomboy or girly girl?  Would it be so wrong to embrace every part of each human?  And would we then be able to view gender roles as safety nets for our sinful natures?

God the Father

If I were to ask you, who is the Advent season about?  You would say _____.   If you said, Jesus, great!  You get an A+.  For me this Advent season, it seems no matter what I do, God keeps reminding me of His part in this story.  He keeps drawing me back to himself as the loving Father.  I’d like to share with you a few parts of this year’s little learning Advent-ure 😉

It all started in a small village in France in late October.  Everywhere we went, we saw families together.  And not just together, but children happily holding their parents hands or siblings hands while the whole family took a walk.  Fathers, Mothers and children would play in the park together (I’m not talking about the parents talking to one another at one side of the playground while the kids nearly kill themselves on the jungle gym, I’m talking about actually running around with their children and playing with them).  Teenagers were even willing to hold the hands of their parents.  If this was just one family, that would be one thing, but it’s a whole other thing that it was nearly every family nearly every evening.  Seeing these families wanting to be together gave me a joy and a hope that I couldn’t seem to explain.  It brought to mind the handful of times that my parents played with us kids; we loved it and were sad when those rare times ended.

Next, came Berlin at the beginning of November.  There was a speaker there named Dr. Neufeld who spoke about parental attachment and how today’s culture no longer supports parental attachment but instead opts for peer attachment.  This means that parents must work harder than times past to have their children’s hearts as they grow older.  He writes from his perspective of working in the field, but also as a father of teenage daughters.  From this book, I have come to understand so much about myself, my family and why kids with parents are growing up with an orphan kind of mentality.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has kids, is thinking about adopting, or anyone who wants to understand themselves better.  It’s called Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld. The point of this book is that to remain close with your child, you must purposefully be physically, mentally and emotionally close.  It helped me to understand why seeing those families in France meant something.

A few weeks ago, I received a newsletter update from the co-founder of the foundation “The Harbor” that Ethan and I visited in St. Petersburg, RU a few years ago.  It’s a foundation that takes in orphans/street kids that have “graduated” at the age of about 16 or 17 (this really means that they are given a small sum of money and sent out to the streets to figure how to survive on their own).  The Harbor is a Christian organization that gives these kids a place to live, food to eat, and more importantly, teaches them useful working skills and about the love of God.  In the newsletter, Melinda Cathey talked about how she had once asked the kids, “What do you think of when you hear the word Father?”  For a long time, no one responded because most of them had not experienced having a father.  Those that did, only had negative associations.

And yesterday, it all came together as I was meditating on the first words of the Lord’s Prayer “Our Father.” Here’s what God brought to mind about Himself.

God knows me and wants to be known by me.

God wants me.

God provides for my every need, without exception.

God is not grudging in his gifts.

God knows my every desire and longing.

God takes the time to comfort me.

God loves me, without any conditions attached.

God never leaves me.

God protects me.

God is not unjust.

God forgives me when I mess up.

God makes no excuses.

God is not afraid.

God does not mock me.

God does not give up on us.

God gave up his only son, so that all of his other adopted sons and daughters might have life.

Perhaps the word Father mostly has negative associations for you too.  Perhaps these descriptions of God sound nothing like your dad.  I would encourage you to remember that although this season is about the gift of the Son, it’s also about the gift of the Father who wants more than anything to be close to you.

“He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Eph. 1:5-6)  Now that’s an amazing gift!  Merry Christmas!

Grasping at Moderation Part I: Honest Thoughts on a Religious Journey

Picture by tubagooba CC Some Rights Reserved

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

In May, my husband Ethan was confirmed into the Catholic church (the rough equivalent of denominational membership).  To get to know what it is that the Catholic church officially believes, I am taking an RCIA class (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults into the Catholic church).  Throughout this class, I am constantly reminded of how Catholics aren’t well informed as to Protestant theology and vice-versa. I grew up indoctrinated with misinformation like, “Poor Catholics.  They’re good people who’ve missed the point.  They think that you can get to Heaven through works alone. It’s too bad we won’t be seeing most of them there.”

Our dentist was a Catholic and my parents really loved him. “He’s got to be a Christian Catholic,” they reasoned, “you can see the love of God in his life in the way he treats people.”  For much of my life, I thought I would make an excellent nun…if only they were Christians…

Catholic theology places great emphasis on works stemming from faith.  They take James 2:18 very seriously: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”

I am still Protestant, partly because I have not read the church fathers and can’t swallow the emphasis placed on Marion theology, and partly because I have not felt the leading of God that way.  However, I’m very thankful for my husband’s journey as he seeks God’s will. Perhaps I will join him somewhere down the road, and perhaps I will not.  I am trying to keep an open mind and heart.

When Ethan made this decision, we were dumb-founded at the blatant prejudice that is still so pervasive between the two factions (for lack of a better word).  We have both been treated with great hostility for his move.  People seem baffled by this dichotomy of my being in full support of Ethan’s decision while choosing not to follow him.  One well-meaning woman even rebuked me for allowing my husband to make that decision.  Hmm, right. I’m going to MAKE my husband think one way or the other…yeah, not so much.

“What is this? The middle ages?” I mused to Ethan one night while brushing my teeth. “It might give people more satisfaction if we revert to burning at the stake. I just don’t understand how two groups of people who love God can be so hateful to one another.  And honestly, I see it much more from the Protestants than the Catholics.”

“Being strong and in the middle,” a very wise older friend told me, “confuses people and makes them uncomfortable.  You are doing something uncommon by being together in your separateness. People like black and white because it’s easy to see what is right and wrong and thus, comfortable.  This is one more way that you two are pushing the boundaries.”

It’s so refreshing when friends approach me directly and straight up ask what they want to know.  The questions always start with “How is this affecting your marriage?”  When I answer that this has actually drawn us closer, a majority of people cock an eyebrow and say “really” because they assume I’m either lying or insincere.  Let me assure you I am not.

The next question is, “What about when you have children?  Then what will you do?”

Most people assume that we’re just busy people that are waiting until we get all of the fun out of the way, but the truth is, I can’t have children.  So choosing a church in which to raise our children is not a problem that will have to be solved in the near future.  All of the sudden, people get sympathetic looks on their faces and begin apologizing about prying.  I always think this is funny, because I wouldn’t have told them if I didn’t want them to know.  I have nothing to hide–it’s just the way things are.  I always had an intuition growing up that I would not be able to have kids, and well, I was right.  I’ve already raised a bunch of kids, so I know what it’s like.  I’ve had the sleepless nights when a baby is colicky or a kid is throwing up or the sheets need to be changed and the kid bathed in the middle of the night because he/she wet the bed.  I’ve had the joy of changing diapers, giving baths, tucking in at night.  I don’t feel the need to do it again any time soon.

That being said, if God wanted to do a miracle he can make anything happen and Ethan and I are happy either way. This statement  leaves people with a look of aww,-you’re-just-making-lemonade look on their faces.

Lastly, people want to know about communion.  “Won’t you miss taking it together?” In some ways, it is a little odd that we are not allowed to take communion together, but I subscribe to the fact that God is bigger than church tradition.  He’s present at both and we’re partaking in the body and blood of Christ, just perhaps not in the same place and time.  As for the transubstantiation vs. consubstantiation argument, I’ve always sided with the Catholics since I was 14 and read Foxe’s Book of Christian Martyrs of the World  (the opposite position of the book).

This is all to say, the middle is not a popular place to be, but being comfortable is not all its cracked up to be either.  Whether or not you agree with my thoughts, I challenge you to look at your own journey.  Are you in the uncomfortableness of seeking God’s will?  Is God calling you to follow him in the undefined middle?  Where has your journey led you up to this point?

Men and Women: A Common Sense Look at Submission

Why are men all in favor of a submissive wife but are attracted to women who know their own mind and are capable of making decisions for themselves?

This may seem contrary to the “Scriptural view” of women submitting, but I think that the supposed “Scriptural view” is really more of a “Man’s view on Scripture.” I agree that women should submit to their husbands, but I also agree that men are supposed to treat their wives as Christ treats the church. How’s that? Well, Jesus “submitted himself even unto death” for the church. Hmm, that’s strange. That sounds like Christ wants us to “submit to one another.” Why is this such a hard concept for people to swallow?

If we look at how Christ treated women, it’s pretty easy to see that he thought of them as people in a culture where this was abnormal. The woman at the well is a perfect example of this. He spoke to her, had a conversation with her–the lowest of the low–a whore, a samaritan, a woman. That was completely counter-culture.  The women at the tomb are another example.  In that culture, the word of women meant next to nothing, so the fact that they were the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection, and included in the final draft of the Gospels  is a big deal.

Mary and Martha. We always see this story as one of Jesus chiding Martha for not doing what was important and praising Mary for doing what was right. Have you ever stopped to think that Martha was doing exactly what was “right” in their culture by serving and Mary, what was inappropriate? Mary not serving and instead, being “one of the boys” was unacceptable and counter-culture.

Look at the women mentioned in the Bible. Deborah: a leader of Israel, appointed by God. Ruth: a woman who defied culture and stood for what she believed to be right. She defied culture (as did Boaz) when she pursued him. Esther: defied tradition by entering the king’s court. She could have been killed, but instead, she called the king to pursue truth and justice. In each of these situations, these women were able, through pursuing what was right, to bring a vision, a calling of truth to the men. In turn, the men they “persuaded,” did great things and had a broader view they did not previously have.

Many times, when discussing my ideas with conservative Christian women, the Proverbs 31 woman always comes up. I don’t know why. She’s the epitome of independence. She buys a plot of land, makes decisions about the servants, runs the household, does the hard work so that her man can have a good name at the gate. That’s a good wife–not a thoughtless, totally dependent one. It’s a great relationship–honor going in both directions. The husband honoring the decisions his wife is making and allowing her to make them, and the wife making the decisions that will gain her husband honor.

This is not to say that men should be subservient to women. Nor should women be subservient to men. Just the other day, I was told (by a man) that I was “a lesser individual (than a man)” and “should be subservient.” And yet, even he is attracted to the girls who have opinions and can think for themselves.

But perhaps women have been too kind in their arguments and retaliation. Why are men so afraid? Are they afraid that women will use the same strong-arm methods as they have for so many years? It won’t happen. Women work differently then men. Men and women are different, yet equal. Our strengths are sometimes different than men, but it’s still strength. For centuries, our power has laid in privately persuading because we did not have a public voice. We were not allowed to voice our opinions, so we persuaded those who did.

Women have come so far from where we were, thanks to the women willing to sacrifice their “feminine communication” in order to be heard by the men. There are stories after stories about the women who led the feminist movements, lead the way on women’s suffrage, fighting for the right to vote, and even today with women in business and politics. These women have pulled on the pants and set aside their way of communicating so that they could adapt to communicating to men. These women are usually thought of as being “bulldogs” or “pushy.” They have no choice. Hillary Clinton or Margaret Thatcher are prime examples. No one thinks of them in a “sex appeal” way. They think of them both as pushing through “the glass ceiling” with sheer will-power, brassy doggedness and determination. I use them as an example not because I necessarily agree with their political views, but because I respect how far they and others like them have led the way for other women. Not very feminine, but effective nonetheless.

From my personal observation of “good Christian wives” submitting to their husbands, there is much unneeded stress. The wife disagrees with the husband’s decision, but doesn’t want to be “a bad wife,” so she goes along with it holding it all in, slowly building up resentment and anger but thinking she’s doing the right thing. The wife starts trying to control every detail of whatever she has power over (she maybe sitting on the outside, but she’s standing on the inside). The husband feels pressure because he has to always make every decision and it always has to be the right one. Those are a lot of decisions to make in a single day: especially if one involves kids in the mix. Eventually, it all comes to a head and it’s never pretty. Sometimes it’s many years later.

Submitting to one another is another way of saying LISTEN to both parties. Be a team. Communicate.

What are your thoughts?