Thursday, September 29, 2011

On Speaking or Writing with Respect and Humility

'Spotlight on Michael Buble's second stage at Rod Laver arena.' photo (c) 2011, Simon Yeo - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/I was privileged to have dinner with some wonderful ladies the other week, two of whom are bloggers I respect a great deal, Rachel Held Evans and Elizabeth Esther. We talked about a number of interesting topics during our few hours together, and many things have given me food for thought. Unfortunately for you, most of what we talked about will remain in the personal column of my life.

But we were all able to agree on some great advice for speakers and writers that is worth sharing. All three of us sometimes (okay, maybe often) tackle sensitive or controversial topics, and we've all made mistakes. But as we learn and grow there are two simple things we try to keep in mind. These guidelines are valuable for teachers, pastors, professors, and even parents.


1) If you are talking about a group of people or ideology, always assume that someone in your audience identifies as part of that group or believes that ideology. 

If you're talking about abortion, always assume there is a woman in the room who has had an abortion. If you're talking about New Yorkers, always assume a New Yorker is in the room. Talking about misogynists, Mormons, or Mexicans? Yep, always assume they're listening. 

As Americans, we especially need to keep this in mind when discussing politics. Always assume a Democrat, Republican, or even an Anarchist is listening to you. Even divisive theological leanings should be included. That means you, Arminians and Calvinists.

How does this apply to parents? I hate to break it to you, but at some point your children will start (hopefully) having opinions of their own. It's probably not a good idea to diss people unlike yourself in front of your children. Your son just might grow up to believe the opposite of you, and he will always remember how hateful your speech was toward those who believe as he now does. That's damaging in so many ways.


2) Always assume that someone in your audience is smarter than you or more of an expert on the topic you are addressing. 

I'm not a certified genius and I know that some of you are. Chances are, someone will find flaws in what I'm saying. That is okay, and even good. But I need to realize this from the get-go in order to kill my pride. 

Also, if you're talking about a certain topic, always assume an expert is in the room. Trying to explain New Testament Greek, an economic concept, or the deficiencies of the American diet? Always assume a Greek scholar, economist, or nutritionist is listening. Someone always knows more than you, so caveats in honor of the experts go a long way. And when they correct you, which they sometimes will, listen to them.


So with those two little tidbits I bet our speech could be a bit more gracious, kind, and constructive. Let's all admit that our pride needs killing and our neighbor needs love. We'll all forget these guidelines a time or ten, so let's also be quick to forgive. I'm sure I'll need some forgiveness and gentle correction before too long.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Forgiveness for Nazis

'SS-Aufseherin Irma Grese' photo (c) 1945, Marius  Lucius - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/During my seminary classes and my readings, I am exposed to countless nuggets of awesomeness. Some books I read contain such a nugget on every page. I will try to share these with you without much explanation when it is appropriate to do so.

Today's nugget comes from my professor's lecture this morning in Christian Ethics. We have been discussing improvisation as it relates to ethics. Specifically, we have been talking about the reality that life is a grand story, and we can organize the story of life, which is the story of God, into a five-act play:

Act 1) Creation
Act 2) Israel
Act 3) Jesus
Act 4) The Church
Act 5) Eschaton

These acts are not separate entities and in order to understand each subsequent act we must understand what has previously transpired. So, Act 3 builds on Acts 1 and 2, and Act 5 is only possible because of Acts 1-4. 

We've been talking a lot about how God is in charge of Act 5. We can do nothing to bring it to pass (despite what some poor theology might teach you). So as Christians, we should be formed by Acts 1-4 and be always yearning for Act 5, but not attempting to advance the story of God before the writer of the story has ordained it.

All of that said, when thinking about dealing with the conflict of the Yet But Not Yet, we are able to trust that our desire for rightness and justice will be satisfied by Act 5. He told us this story:

At the end of World War II, a prayer was found written on a scrap of wrapping paper within the walls of Ravensbruck concentration camp. It's author has never been identified, so it is presumed that she (Ravensbruck was for women) died at the hands of her oppressors. This was her prayer:


O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted on us; remember the fruits we have bought, thanks to this suffering—our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this. And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.


I almost cried in the middle of class when he read it. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Modesty, Honor, and Power


'Vintage Little Black Sweetheart Dress' photo (c) 2011, jessjamesjake vintage - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Modesty.

When you hear that word, what do you think? I immediately imagine the "three-finger rule" regarding shoulder straps. Don't know what I'm talking about? Good, it's really not important.

Before I begin talking about modesty, I would like to highlight the fact that I am not talking about modesty in regard to only women. Men, when the topic of modesty comes up, don't think you can tune out. 

Guess what? I am a visual person. Women have eyes and sometimes they are actually connected to arousal. I know it blows your mind to read that ('cause only men are visual, right?), but it's true. In addition, if you think your immodesty is only an issue in the presence of women, you are not being loving toward your brothers who are attracted to men. That's right, there are probably some men in your Bible study or church who are attracted to other men. My stance on homosexuality is not important to my point: We should always assume that someone in the room might be attracted to us, even in single-sex company.

Now to be blunt: For all men and women reading, I would like to ask that you dress modestly.

Of course, this means a variety of different things to different people. What is modesty? Is modesty universal or culturally-specific? I don't want to rehash the entire debate here, but if you are interested I will point you in the direction of some thought-provoking blog posts that have been written about modesty lately:


However, the question I have every time this conversation comes up is: 

How do we train young men and women in modesty well?

Yes we need to be trained in modesty, and the way we train people in the church says BIG things about God, so it is very important.

Before I give you my thoughts on the matter, I must explain a little background about my own dealings with modesty:

I have grown up in the church, in many different church communities to be exact. I have heard A LOT of talks about modesty because (duh) I'm female. I've been handed a list of how to properly check yourself for immodest dress before leaving your house. I've even heard someone say that we should be modest to honor our current or future husbands because "our bodies are their secrets." Yeah, um, okay, that didn't go over well in my mind. Aside from the fact that I don't have the most saintly sexual history, I just thought, "Um, I guess men don't know what gynecologists do." (But that was just my first reaction. Good grief, there are tons of other reactions in regard to that comment.)

I have rarely found these talking-tos to be helpful because they have been shrouded in shame and rule-making.

Additionally, as a teenage girl, I craved power. I don't want to reinforce the lie that women are only sexual when it gets them power. My sexuality is way more complicated than my desire for power. But, in all honesty, when I realized that dressing immodestly gave me a certain degree of power in a room, I saw an opportunity and leveraged it. I embraced immodesty as a means to power. It would be a lie to say that looking nice or appealing doesn't give people advantages in life.
'Islamic Dress Code' photo (c) 2011, Michael Coghlan - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
So with my background explained a little bit, here are some thoughts:

1) Modesty must be something men and women choose, not something they are forced into.

I don't think this one needs much explanation, but just in case: People are going to make mistakes in regard to modesty when they are free to choose their own wardrobes. But that doesn't mean women should be forced to wear burqas. If God gives us freewill, why don't we extend the same freedom toward each other? Of course, change within societies that legislate modesty will not be achieved by you, a visitor, breaking the rules. Adhere to strict modesty standards when appropriate, even if they are unjust.

2) Discussions about modesty must be specific and frank when appropriate.

While I think our conversations about modesty must steer away from rule-making and toward perception-sensitivity, I think it is helpful to clearly communicate things that some people may consider immodest. Let's use words like ankle, shoulders, and butt if the conversation warrants it. Avoiding rule-making can lead to conversations that are too vague to be helpful. For instance, it never occurred to me that showing skin between my shirt and my pants was immodest until I heard a talk at a nonChristian event on learning how to dress professionally. I know it sounds crazy, but some young girls do not have enough others-awareness to notice that people are staring at their chest instead of their eyes when they are speaking.

3) Instead of using shame-based language, let's used honor-based language to call young men and women into modesty.

I've just started working with middle schoolers at our local church. Some girls really don't understand how distracting their new boobs are. I want to train them, but I don't want to shame them. I think there's a reason I responded to a nonChristian talk about professional dress better than Christian talks on modesty: I was being called into something better. Perhaps it also helped that it was a talk for men and women and that I was being called into something different than being a wife and mother. That struck a chord with me.

The (female) youth pastor at our church, who is great, suggested something like this for the female volunteers as they talk to young girls: "Melanie, I know you want to look great and you do. But do you notice that sometimes it's hard for people to pay attention to what you're saying when they're distracted by your boobs? I know you have a lot of great things to say and I want people to hear you out, so could you try to dress a bit less revealing?" (Maybe that's not perfect, but it's better than anything I ever heard from adults on the issue. Anyone have any other suggestions of how to actually talk to young girls and boys about the issue frankly?)

4) We must acknowledge that there are deeper issues at work behind the decision to dress modestly.

I wanted power. Other boys and girls want love or attention. If we do not address these deep longings, we're getting nowhere. Of course we must fight to right the wrongs that leave boys and girls grappling for power, love, and attention. It will help if young people actually feel like they have a voice and are loved. But we also must teach them how to repent of sinful desire and how to live in a broken world, always wanting and never fully getting. As Christians, we have to help each other live in the tensions created by our sin, the sinful world, and our longing for redemption. The issue of modesty provides an opportunity in which we can begin addressing these deeper issues.


So what are you thoughts? Practically, how do we go about dealing with this hard issue with the next generation?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

From Dating to Marriage, Part 5: Date Nights




I finally have a reason to put a photo of Tine Fey in a blog post. Win! But seriously, isn't she awesome?

Now for the topic at hand: date nights.

Josh and I are only in our fourth year of marriage, so I'm certainly not an expert on marriage. But I do want us to be able have very frank and respectful conversations about what our marriages really look like. So here's what I hope will be a conversation starter:

Josh and I did not need to go on dates until this year. 

To clarify, I'm talking about dating in marriage. When we were dating and engaged we obviously went on dates so that we could see each other. And we loved to go on dates. We expected that once we got married we would keep a weekly date night as strictly as we keep our Sabbath. In fact, we felt like we had to keep a weekly date night in order to have a good marriage. Honestly, I think some well-intentioned people even told us that it was a requirement in all good marriages.

But we (and they) were wrong. It turns out that we didn't need to go on a weekly date night to stay connected. We worked together, often spending all day together. We communicated easily and fought very little. I know it might sound crazy to some people, but if we needed to schedule anything to keep our marriage healthy it wasn't date nights, it was time alone and time spent having fun with peers. 

So why do I bring this up? Because now we've instituted weekly date nights. In fact, we've schedule two: a mini date night midweek and a real date night on Fridays. So what has changed?

Honestly, I think we've become a bit more normal now. We're not working together any longer and our schedules are extremely full. Our communication doesn't come as easily as it used to and we are finding it more difficult to connect in a significant way. We still love and like each other, but things have simply gotten harder.

If our connectedness used to get an A+ rating, we've slipped into the B+ category. While a B+ might be a great score for a lot of marriages, we know that things will only get harder and continue to decline if we don't enact some changes. We don't want to wait to give our marriage a tune-up when we're in the C, D, or F category. (Also, now that Josh knows our connectedness can be given a letter grade, his competitiveness has kicked in. He's a bit of an overachiever.)

So, I'd love to hear from you! 

If you're married, do you go on dates? What do you do on date nights? What might help make ours great?

If you don't go on date nights, there is no judgment here. I don't expect everyone's marriage to look like ours. Marriages and marriage advice aren't one size fits all. We'll never tell you that if you don't go on them your marriage is doomed. That seems a bit like false marital dogma to me.

As my mom used to say ad nauseam, "If it applies, apply it, if not, ignore it." She's pretty smart. I'm going to add to her advice, especially in regard to marriage advice you might receive:

If it applies, apply it. If it doesn't apply, store it away because you never know when it will come in handy.


From Dating to Marriage series:


Monday, September 19, 2011

Shalom and the Separation of Church and State

'Barack Obama, Time cover February 2, 2009, I don't write much about politics, at least explicitly. I doubt I will write much about the American presidential election in the next 14 months, but I do have one contribution I'd like to make to the political conversations happening online, in living rooms, and at church potlucks: 

 The separation of church and state does not dictate a separation of religious convictions and state. 

At first glance, some people might think I'm trying to argue semantics here. I'm not. 

I'm making the point that church is an organization, an institution designed to gather people together under God. I believe whole-heartedly in the separation of church and state because I don't want any government telling me how, where, or who to worship. On the other hand, I don't want churches as organizations to have control over our government. If we lived in Iran, I'm pretty sure we, as Christians, would value the separation of church and state more than we currently do.

But, in the face of my belief in the separation of church and state, I also believe in shalom. 

For those who are new to my writing, shalom is a key component of my understanding of the God of the Bible. Shalom in the biblical sense does not simply mean 'peace' or 'an absence of conflict'; shalom is the bringing together of things that have been broken. Shalom means wholeness, healing, integrity, peace, and so much more. It is a rich concept. 

When man and woman become one, that is shalom. When a heart heals from abuse, that is shalom. When a fruit tree produces a plentiful harvest free form disease, that is shalom. When a lost earring is found, that is shalom. When friends make dinner and share it, that is shalom. 

Surely our religious lives and our political lives need some shalomifying. Yes, they do. But shalom between church and state does not look like what we would expect. We can't force unification between church and state as some would wish (or have tried). Grappling for power is not shalomic. 

If shalom is to be achieved between church and state it must be achieved in the lives of individuals, not organizationally. I want the individuals of America to be whole people in every aspect of life. And if I want individuals to be whole people, then I should not expect people to "leave behind" either their religious or political convictions when they are in the "opposing" arena. Compartmentalization is the opposite of shalom.

For instance, when you are sitting in the pew at your church, I want your weekly worship (including Bible teaching, community, communion, etc) to impact every aspect of your life, even your political viewpoints. If you sit there and think "God can teach me whatever He wants but He better not try to change my politics," then you are resisting shalom. Likewise, I want people to walk into the voting booth and make decisions that reflect their core beliefs, even if those core beliefs are religious in nature. 

But If I truly want individuals to be experiencing shalom in all of life, that means that I have to be okay with a few things:

1) We, as individuals, should not be expected to separate our religious convictions from our votes.

In the abortion debate, when I hear the "You can't vote based on the belief that God gives life at conception because that's a religious belief" argument, I am frustrated. If a person truly believes that God gives life at conception they are unable to make a political decision in regard to abortion separate from that belief. Our religious convictions should shape our political convictions. If they don't, our religious convictions are too weak. 

This doesn't mean we should be eggheads and refuse to explain our political views to others. It simply means that we are going to vote certain ways because of religious convictions whether or not our votes make sense absent of our religion. As such, we should stop trying to make sense of others' votes on the basis of our own worldview. It doesn't work and it only leads to conflict. Accept that we have different starting points. If you want to change people's minds politically, trace their political beliefs back and find what they are rooted in. 

2) Pastors are people who should be allowed to have political views. 

I am not a fan of pastors sharing political views from the pulpit because I believe that the dichotomy of American politics can be an unnecessary hurdle for many who long to surrender to Jesus. I've heard too many people say, "I would consider Christianity, but I don't think I would belong because I'm a Democrat." That, my friends, is a public relations FAIL. From the pulpit, I believe we should seek to share Jesus and His Gospel, using illustrations from our own lives and era when they are helpful, not when they are hurtful. 

However, when pastors are simply being themselves, they should be allowed to be political people. If they have a sign in their yard or want to help campaign for a candidate, we should allow them to be political in that way. Like the rest of us, pastors should learn how to love and serve congregants and strangers with opposing political views. Heads up Pastor: If you don't have any congregants with opposing political views, you should probably ask yourself, God, and some trusted friends why. It might even be worth sending out a survey to people who visited your church but didn't return.

3) Politicians do not have the magical ability to make decisions independent of their religious convictions. 

What a politician stands for - education, feeding the poor, justice - is informed by his/her religious convictions. In fact, I am highly skeptical of politicians who claim to be free of religious "bias". They are either completely out of touch with what drives them, disingenuous about their ability to be politically independent, or they do not truly believe what they claim to believe. We should stop expecting politicians to be areligious. Even if politicians claim to be atheistic, their atheism informs their worldview and values. 

However, I believe that deeply religious people can actually make the best politicians. Why? First, and perhaps most importantly, is that they will know that there are powers/beings greater than them. I don't know about you, but I prefer a president who knows that God can strike him dead at any minute to a president who feels invincible. Power corrupts very easily, but perhaps the process is slowed if you truly humble yourself before God. Second, I think prayer is great training for politicians. In prayer, we ask for guidance and help, admit our shortcomings, and ask for blessings upon other people. Those are great starting points for political life. 



So for all of us, let's remember that the way we conduct ourselves in the public square reflects on our one true King. Let's be kind, gracious, and creative with our speech while we advocate for what we believe best advances the Kingdom of God here on Earth. And let's be honest; people are religious beings all of the time, even when they're talking politics.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How Can We Develop Character?

I have been a part of a number of Christian communities. They have all been formative in different ways, but one of these communities stands out above the rest. 

Why? Honestly, I'm not entirely sure. But I think a big part of why this one community became my family was because they saw me through the most growth I've ever experienced.

As a entered my sophomore year of college I was asked to join the student leadership team of one of the college ministries on campus. To be honest, this wasn't a surprise to me. I'm a take-charge kind of woman. When there is a problem, I want to find a solution. When I'm at a party and it gets too hot, I'm the one who gets up to open all of the windows. Or, if I'm really being honest, I'm the woman who points at people nearest each window and tells them to open windows. 

So when I was invited onto the student leadership team I expected to be using my skills a lot. I expected to hear, "So, this is what we need done. How much can you do?"

To my surprise, our campus staffers immediately turned my expectation on its head. I was explicitly told, "We didn't invite you onto this student leadership team to use you; we invited you onto this team to invest in you. It is more important to us that you grow than the ministry grow." 

Those of you who are in ministry might know how radical it is to hear this from your superior. I was surprised and actually a little uncomfortable with the whole situation. I didn't want the focus to be on me, in part because I subconsciously knew that I had a lot of rough edges that would become very apparent very quickly. Despite my confusion and guardedness, we moved ahead as a team and grew in tremendous ways. It was truly life changing to realize that my personal growth was a vital component of the growth of the Kingdom of God.

Once, when I had expressed difficulty in a moral dilemma, our campus director pulled me aside one day and showed me an illustration something like this:
He said that Satan tries to put people in Christian leadership who lack the character to support their responsibilities. Inevitably, Jesus will be made to look like a fool when people of poor character are leaders in the Church. He explained that he, as my leader, cared more about developing my character than building my skills or giving me responsibilities. In fact, he explained that it would be irresponsible of him to build leaders "from the top down." 

This concept has always stuck with me. People must have more character than skills and more skills than responsibilities. 

We've touched on this briefly in my Christian Ethics course. My professor takes an admirable approach to the material. He says (more or less) that Christians should not sit around in classrooms debating what the correct Christian response is to an ethical dilemma. Rather, Christians should be focused on how we can grow people of Christian character so that when an ethical dilemma arises there will be no hesitation as to what is the right thing to do. 

I love APU because they recognize that they will have failed if we graduate with skills but without depth of character. But the reality is that people graduate from seminaries every year without a solid foundation of Christlike character. Unfortunately, it's hard to pick up on poor character in job interviews, so these well-educated people will probably end up with a lot of responsibility. And that worries me.  

I don't have much of a bring-it-home point regarding all this. I don't know what else to say other than THIS IS IMPORTANT. 

We can teach skills fairly easily. But how do we go about forming character? How do we grow people into Christlikeness? How do we continue to grow ourselves?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hauerwas on Redemption, Sin, Freedom, and God's Story

So I've started reading The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanley Hauerwas for my Christian Ethics course. If I could I would force you all to read whole chapters of this book. But it turns out that that would be pretty antithetical to Christian ethics. So, I'm going to share a few thoughts from the book.



"To be redeemed... is nothing less than to learn to place ourselves in God's history, to be part of God's people. To locate ourselves within that history and people does not mean we must have some special experience of personal salvation. Redemption, rather, is a change in which we accept the invitation to become part of God's kingdom, a kingdom through which we acquire a character befitting one who has heard God's call. Now an intense personal experience may be important for many, but such experiences cannot in themselves be substitutes for learning to find the significance of our lives only in God's ongoing journey with creation" (33). 

CHEER. 

But.

"Our lesson is most disconcerting when the narrative asks us to understand ourselves not only as friends of the crucified, but as the crucifiers. We must be trained to see ourselves as sinners, for it is not self-evident. Indeed, our sin is so fundamental that we must be taught to recognize it; we cannot perceive its radical nature so long as we remain formed by it" (30-31). 

WINCE. 

"It is only be learning to make that story - that story of God - our own that we gain the freedom necessary to make our life our own. Only then can I learn to accept what has happened to me (which includes what I have done) without resentment. It is then that I am able to accept my body, my psychological conditioning, my implicit distrust of others and myself, as mine, as part of my story. And the acceptance of myself as a sinner is made possible only because it is an acceptance of God's acceptance. Thus I am able to see myself as a sinner and yet move on" (48).

CRY.

"Freedom is a quality that derives from having a well-formed character" (37).

WANT.

"It is the privilege of Christians, as well as their responsibility, to tell God's story to those who know it not. But "to tell God's story" is to put the matter far too simply. For God's story is not merely told; it must be lived" (44).

BREATHE. 


(Did you notice that I'm only 50 pages into this book?)

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Redemptive Pursuit: Our Daily Bread


Our Daily Bread
by Laura Ziesel
September 12, 2011



Scripture:“Then the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day.” Exodus 16:4


“Give us this day our daily bread.” Matthew 6:11


Reflection:
Unlike most people in the world, I grew up in a very well-to-do home. I knew our family had more money than the average family, but that didn’t make me truly appreciate what we had. If I wanted to go on an expensive field trip, I went. If I wanted to take dance or tennis lessons, I did so. I never worried if I would have dinner or if my family would get kicked out of our house. I was very protected from worry about money. Honestly, I thought that was normal.


My husband and I have very different financial backgrounds, so we talked about money a lot during premarital counseling. In short, I thought he was the only one with money baggage and that I would help him grow in this area. While it’s true that he has his fair share of money issues and he has grown, our premarital counseling clued me into the reality that I had money baggage too. And my money baggage revolved around one stubborn belief: Money provides security.


I don’t want to bad mouth money. Money is not an evil thing. Money can be a great tool for good. But my belief that security comes from money is pure idolatry. To base my perceived welfare on my net worth is to put money in the place of God. Sure, money might make me feel secure, but it’s a false security. My true security comes from the saving work of Christ, from being eternally adopted into God’s family. His riches are truly eternal: peace, justice, truth, wholeness.


But just because God has richly provided for us eternally does not mean that He is unaware of our real, persistent financial needs now. My husband and I are both full-time grad students this year, and as a result our finances will be the tightest they’ve ever been. Our income is low by choice so that we can pursue our educations, but many others worry about money because of unexpected expenses, layoffs, or loss of benefits.


In all of these situations, God does not glibly say to us, “But you’ve got treasure in heaven so you’re fine. Just have more faith.” Instead of being dismissive toward our concerns, God turns His face toward us, looks straight into our eyes, and says, “I am listening.” And then we are to tell him our worries, our needs, and our wants.


The stories of the Bible show us that God is our provider not only eternally but also here and now. When the Israelites wandered in the dessert, God gave them manna. When an unexpectedly large crowd gathered to hear Jesus teach, He fed them. Every piece of food that comes from the ground and every drop of water is from Him.


Despite God providing for me both eternally and immediately, what I’ve learned is that I only feel secure when I have extra. I want a fully pantry, a growing retirement account, and money leftover. That’s the American dream after all, right? But the American dream is not necessarily God’s dream for me.
'167 - Daily bread' photo (c) 2010, Marlon Bunday - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Contrary to my desires, God doesn’t always provide extra. When the Israelites ate manna, any extra they collected would rot. When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He said, “Give us this day our daily bread” not “Give us this year our full salary.”


So now I’m disciplining myself to not just hollowly recite the words “Give us this day our daily bread” but to truly mean them. Because I know God is my true source of security, I can be peaceful and joyful in the face of financial uncertainty. He is my true security, not money or love or any other false hope. And because He holds my future safely, I can trust Him to give me what I need each day at a time.


Prayer:
God, I confess that I turn to things other than you for security. I repent of this and all my sins. I ask that you create in me a clean heart, a heart that is confident in you and not in my possessions. I ask that you do provide my daily bread, and that you would help me to be grateful instead of bitter when that is all you see fit to provide. If you give me extra, Lord I pray that you would help me to use it wisely. Thank you for caring about me and listening to my every need. Amen.


______________________

I will be posting my devotionals from The Redemptive Pursuit once a month as they are published. 

Read other devotionals by The Redemptive Pursuit here.





Wednesday, September 7, 2011

It's All Greek: Seminary is Underway

'Greek New Testament' photo (c) 2010, B. Vasiliy - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ For those who have been praying for me and my new journey, I wanted to give you a quick update on my life as a seminarian and as a blogger. 

Sadly, an hour before my first class I became quite ill, so my first day of classes was difficult. But I made it through and am on the upswing. My sweet husband did make Jello for me, but even that was hard to eat this morning. But this afternoon I was able to eat real food twice, so I'm happy with my progress.

That said, I'm loving my professors and my classes so far. 

I have been immersed in Greek since last night and have watched the first minute of this video hundreds of times today. A better pronunciation of the text is here, but the video is helpful for me because the speaker is a bit slower. I was hoping I wouldn't have to speak Greek at all, but alas, I was wrong. This is actually quite difficult for my trained-out-of-a-speech-impediment-in-English brain, but the retention is coming along. 

In my Ethics course, I could actually use your help. We have to write a few papers this semester, and for one of the papers I get to choose my topic. As I expect some of my coursework to overlap with my writing, I would love your feedback as to which topic(s) might be of interest. Here is the prompt:

"Demonstrate how Christian worship trains the church to deal with one of the following challenges":

Abortion
Reproductive Technologies
Homosexuality
Euthanasia
Divorce & Remarriage
Race Relations
Cloning
Food
Gender
Economic Globalization
Environmental Stewardship
Civil Disobedience
Capital Punishment
Violence and War
Virtual Reality
Social Media
Disability & Suffering
*Propose your own topic [My thoughts: Death, Parenting]

Obviously, some of these appeal more to me than others. (You can probably guess which ones by looking at the popular labels on the right hand side of my homepage.) I don't want to choose a topic simply because I am familiar with it, nor do I want to avoid a topic because I am familiar with it. 

So, I'd love to take votes. Are any of these more appealing/interesting to you? Can you think of any additional options? Of course, I won't post the whole paper here, but I won't be surprised if a snippet or two make it online. While I will make the final decision, I value your input.

All of that said, I appreciate your prayers and kind messages as I continue to write while in seminary. They truly make my day sometimes. 

I certainly do not lack inspiration for this blog. If anything, I am overwhelmed by too many topics that seem worth discussing. I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I currently have about 25 blog posts in various draft forms that still haven't seen the light of day. Most of the ones that have not been published are on hold simply because I am not satisfied with them, but others of them are on hold because I have yet to write much more than a title and an outline. I hope that my time in class will produce higher quality posts, but for all I know I could just come up with 25 more topics and lose what little focus I have. I appreciate your honest feedback as I continue to write.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Seminarian's Prayer

'Franciscan Monastery Praying Visitor' photo (c) 2009, Ted - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/Creator or Heaven, Earth, and little ol' me,

I don't even know what to pray. 

Honestly, I fear if I record a prayer I'll only come back to wince at it in a few years. But I hope I give myself grace as you so abundantly do. 

So, I'll start with this: Help me.

Help me to learn, to study, to grow, to repent, to share, to serve, to forgive. I know I will mess up in these areas, so I'm not asking for you to make me look good. I just know I'll need your help. That's it.

In my studies, I ask for your guidance. May the work of my brain bring honor to you.

With my classmates, I ask that you knit us together as brothers and sisters. Give us humility toward each other so that we will see that we are co-laborers for your kingdom, not our own little castles in the sand.

I pray for my professors. Bless their efforts as they train us. Help me to respect them, submitting to their authority and teaching. 

For my personal life, I ask that you supply extra grace for every relationship. For my marriage, my family, my church, and my friends, I ask that I will value people above my own performance and well-being. 

Patient Father, I ask that my knowledge does not outgrow my character. Refine the ugly parts of my heart, even if it hurts. 

And I ask now that my own growth does not become an idol. I want to grow in knowledge and character, but I don't want to become more self-centered because of my studies. Help me to use my training to serve and equip others, not just to sit idly while thinking deep thoughts. 

Toward your holy Scriptures, oh Lord, I ask for a deeper love. May my time studying the Scriptures lead to more love for them, not less.

And toward you, the One True God, my Maker, Friend, and Redeemer, I ask to see more of your greatness. I long for more intimacy with you, more trust in you, and more love for who you truly are. 

May the prayers of this seminarian never cease. Thank you for always being here to listen.

Amen.

(Today I begin a new journey.)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Watch Your Tone

'Angry Birds' photo (c) 2011, Denis Dervisevic - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/There are a lot of heated debates out there, both inside and outside the Christian world. When discussing politics, finance, or race, things can get heated very quickly. This probably isn't news to anyone, especially as the 24-hour news cycle and venomous arguments on Facebook are always looking for more fuel.

You might think I'm naive for wishing this, but I want conversations among Christians to be different.

After reading Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, I turned to a spiritual authority figure for clarity. He is engaged in biblical scholarship, so I thought he would help me flesh out some of my concerns. At one point in the conversation I said, "Another thing that is really disturbing to me is the lack of civility between complementarians and egalitarians. It seems they are very unkind toward one another and that makes it hard for me to trust either camp."

My heart sunk a lot when he replied with, "Well, that's just the tone used in academic writing. It's not personal, it's just how it's done."

Boy, was I disappointed.

Tomorrow I start seminary, and one of my concerns is that being unkind, even in writing, will become normal for me. I don't want to become dismissivebelittling, or sarcastic like many of the voices of American Christianity. I really, really don't.

I want the tone behind my words to be full of grace and love because I know I can easily become arrogant, unkind, and petty.

On the Myer-Briggs personality indicator, I am a strong Thinker (as opposed to a Feeler). My default preference is to think very little of how my words and actions affect others. And that is why I care about this topic. I've had to learn, against my nature, to think about the power of my words. I'm still not a natural at being kind or humble, but I have grown a lot in this regard.

So when I say I am concerned about the tone used for debate among Christians, it is not because I am a sensitive person, it is because I am a repentant sinner. And as a Christian I should care not just about the content of my words, but also about the attitude behind them and the impression they leave on others.

There are lots of Christian teachers out there who I want to learn from, but they make it very difficult to submit to their teachings simply because of the tone they use when they engage with opponents. I'm sorry, but correct teaching is not enough to earn my respect; I need to trust that the Gospel has changed you. I need to see that you are free of having to be right, of having to strike back, or having to come out on top. I need a humble attitude in my teachers because I need a humble attitude in myself.

So teachers of the Bible, if you have a tone marked by anger, fear, pride, or ridicule, I am more likely to disregard what you have to say. This also applies to all arenas of life: politics, academics, healthcare, etc. I don't expect our tones to always be kind because I know that we are all sinners. I use tones I am not proud of more than I care to admit. But to use an improper tone and know that it is improper is one thing; to use an improper tone and ignore its importance, blame it on others, or even call it righteous is another. Generally, we should be more apologetic than argumentative, not argumentative with apologies thrown in as afterthoughts.

As I start seminary, I'm going to admit that I will give more respect (and possibly credence) to authors and professors who are humble and kind, even if their doctrinal stances are different than mine. Don't worry. I am the last person who will go along with someone theologically simply because they are nice.  I'm not saying I'm going to be a young sapling simply looking for the easiest climate in which to grow. But I am saying that I am more likely to take your words seriously if they are unsullied by a tone of sin.

Just as there are people out there I have a hard time agreeing with because of their tone, there are others who I respect a great deal despite our differences because of their kind tone toward others. Take Rick Warren for example. I disagree with him theologically and politically on many levels, but I respect him for his kind tone. Or consider recent articles by complementarians who I couldn't disagree with more: The Her.meneutics Gender Debates (Part 2) with content from Dr. Russell Moore and Taking Dominion with content by Mark Chanski (see especially the comments). I disagree with both of those men, but I respect them because of the tone they have used; they do not mock or belittle egalitarians, and that earns them major points.

So as I begin seminary, I confess my inclination to be prideful, dismissive, and harsh. And I ask you to help me. I welcome your feedback as I continue writing, undoubtedly engaging with biblical scholarship in a deeper and more passionate way.

I don't want to succumb to "how it's done." I want to succumb to the way of grace upon grace. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Parenting Lessons from TV?


'Tiny Television' photo (c) 2010, Cathi B. - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/A lot of people say that TV is worthless. I am not one of them. Sure, a lot of television programming is worthless, but if you watch the right programs with the right attitude, TV can actually contain real beauty, truth, and life lessons.


Josh and I don't have cable, so we mostly watch shows on Netflix. I actually prefer watching TV this way because I only turn to something with intention. I can't just flip on the TV and let it go for hours on end.

One program I've been watching a lot recently is Nanny 911. I know it probably sounds dumb, but I am a sucker for reality shows like this one in which a professional goes in to help normal people. Certain episodes of Nanny 911 are probably worthless, but as a whole, I've actually picked up a few basic parenting tips. I hope I actually remember them when push comes to shove!

1) Conflict within a marriage will manifest in behavioral problems of the children. So my marriage always needs to be a priority. Children need to see love and feel secure.

2) If I fail to show respect toward my spouse, my children won't show him respect either. To be honest, I can get a bit saucy. My tone is not always kind toward Josh when he does something frustrating, and I really, really need to work on this. 

3) Discipline is good, but discipline without two-way communication is pointless. If my child does not feel that they are being heard, they will not trust that I actually care about them and am doing what is best. Likewise, if I do not clearly communicate what behaviors are unacceptable, children only get confused.

4) The tone I use when talking to my children will be just as important as the words that I say. Saying, "Honey I just want you to be safe" with a tone of anger or apathy will not be effective. 

5) Doing everything for your children removes opportunities for growth. I'm all about this one 'cause it means I can teach my 4 year old to dust one day! (I hate dusting.) My kids might not dust as well as I do, but it's about them learning responsibility and hard work, not about things getting done perfectly. And they'll never learn to do things properly from the get-go; they have to start somewhere.


So, what about you? Have you learned actual life lessons from seemingly mind-numbing TV? Any other Nanny 911 or SuperNanny fans out there?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

From Dating to Marriage, Part 4: Oh, Dating...

'speed dating' photo (c) 2006, Tom Riley - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

My From Dating to Marriage series:

I'm definitely not an authority on marriage, but I can at least talk about marriage happily because I love my marriage. Dating, on the other hand, kind of makes me hang my head in shame. I dated a lot before I got married, and I rarely dated well. So these thoughts on dating do not come out of an area of strength, but a major area of weakness. But with that acknowledged, I do believe I have a few thoughts on dating I'd like to throw out into the world:

1) Dating looks a little bit different for everyone. Teenagers date differently than adults with jobs and mortgages. So be careful not to misapply dating styles or advice to people in different stages of life. What are the differences between adolescent and adult dating? Being that I never did much adult dating myself (I started dating Josh at 21), I'll leave that one up to you guys. Please contribute your thoughts in the comments so that we can possibly flesh out what dating means for different people.

2) Dating is meant to be a temporary relationship; it should end within a reasonable amount of time by either a break-up or marriage. Of course, if two 16 year olds start dating, they should be in no rush to get married. But they should be aware that dating is not an end in itself. A big shift in perspective occurs if you realize that dating is only a temporary state. If you are an adult, I would suggest that you probably don't need to date one individual for more than 2 years before a decision to leave or cleave is made. Some people say 6 months is enough, but I'm being generous.

3) Dating should happen within the context of community. This doesn't mean that you must date someone from within your community. What I mean is that dating relationships should be open to outside voices: parents, pastors, and friends. You don't need to give everyone authority to speak into your romantic life, but you should give some people this authority. Just as we get married before God and before witnesses, we should date before God and before witnesses. Not only will this keep your dating relationship healthy, but it is great practice for being married in community. Eventually, your marriage should be open to outside perspective, so practice listening to people's constructive criticism now.

4) Online dating has created a new world of possibilities. Honestly, I think online dating is a great new option for adults. Now to be clear, I don't mean that a dating relationship that only takes place online is healthy (see #3). What I am saying is that online dating sites can actually be a great way to find compatible people to date with purpose. I know many couples who met through a dating service and are happily married. Every culture is different, but I think this is about as close as most American cultures get to arranged marriage. (And for the record, arranged marriages are not all bad. I know they can fail, but so do our marriages. Arranged marriages can work beautifully if executed properly.) I really think there should be no shame in online dating. If you genuinely want to get married, trying out some online matches is a great option people didn't have 50 years ago. Back then we just had the town busy-bodies to set up blind dates. I think this is better. 

These are just some basic thoughts on dating. I would love to hear your experiences and perspectives in the comments section. I'm sure some of you have great advice and thoughts, and I know that people are hungry to hear them.

Also, there may or may not be a Part 5 to this series in the future. For now, I am going to take a hiatus from it to post some other content. I predict that at some point I'll resume the series, but I don't want to make a promise I won't keep. If you do have future topic proposals to get my wheels turning, I'd love to hear them! Just leave a note in the comments or shoot me a private message. 
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