My eldest started high school the other week. The night before I slept like you do when you know you’ve a super-early plane to catch… a wee bit restless and never falling deeply asleep in case you miss the plane.
Four weeks ago the Millennium Falcon also landed in his mouth – a galactic installation of hinges that drop vertically between top and bottom jaw and connect as bars under his tongue, alongside a swathe of shiny metal tracks across all his teeth. He wobbled over it – for a day I wondered if we would ever see his smile again, his hand creeping up to cover his lips each time he spoke.
It is painful that the orthodontic work that relies on growth spurts and puberty to achieve its objectives coincides with the time when you don’t want to be different, are dealing with more than enough changes, and heading into an expanded new school grouping.
I ought not be surprised at how he navigated his high school preparation with quiet ease, it’s part of his nature. This is where we pray that all we have planted to date gives him the roots and strength to flourish, grow upwards and, yes, away.
It makes me think about God’s heart bursting with love and pride over us too. Those moments when we walk in His light, when we say no to the stuff of the world and turn to His promises instead, do the three of them give each other a quick high five? A trinity fist-pump of encouragement:
“YES! He navigated away from the porn site.”
“Oh, yes, look! She was so scared in her heart she’d be rejected, but she offered to pray for her work colleague.”
“She went to youth group when everyone else went to the party and got drunk. She’s going to get some stick about it on Monday, but she did it!”
“Their son didn’t get invited to the birthday sleepover because last time they picked him up early on the Sunday to get all the family to church. It hurts them as parents to see the exclusion. But they’re still sticking with church.”
Walking Christianity in a world that is set up to mock and challenge you for your beliefs is much like walking into puberty and a new high school with your mouth full of metal. It looks weird, it can feel weird, a lot of the time you struggle to talk – sometimes breathe – and you can feel the pain of blisters as you rub up differently to ‘the norm’.
Thinking that G&J are watching our journeys and cheering us on, helps, no? And not just cheering, but actively helping, with those wonderful God-shoves of the Holy Spirit. The book of James reminds up to persevere with joy – isn’t it cool to imagine the joy that GJ&HS get from us doing just that?
Like me with Master 13. Just bigger. Much bigger. A God-sized heart, bursting with love.
I was asked to give a talk a few weeks back: how to keep your ‘Be Happy’ new year’s resolution longer than February.
The original topic given to me to talk about was Hot Tips to Happiness. I pondered discussing great cocktails and great sex but decided while the audience (non-Christian parents dropping their kids off at a church-run summer event) might enjoy it, it likely wasn’t the best context to discuss gin and g-spots…
But being happy seems to be the goal nowadays. Do X, achieve Y, add in a dash of Z and, ta-da, happiness! Working at RedBalloon a few years ago, the tag line was “Creating A Happiness Revolution.” In RedBalloon’s case, at least it wasn’t the pursuit of buying stuff that made you happy…rather the pursuit of experiences, doing things – either solo or with friends and family – that delivered happy. Yet it’s still external. Still a pursuit.
Being happy isn’t as easy as it’s advertised.
Our economy is geared up for happy: in advertising, brands want to be associated with smiling, laughing, happy customers, and positivity has been shown to increase sharing and engagement on social media. Billboards tell us to open a coke, open happy! Don’t worry, be happy. Lose weight, marry someone who looks and behaves like Hugh Jackman… these are all things we’re told can make us happy (I’m waiting to test out the Hugh Jackman theory.. just as part of research, you understand).
We see happy, we connect with it, and we all go, yes, I want that. And the mistake we can make is thinking that happiness is something that can be pursued. If I just pay off my debts, I’ll be happier. Get that red dress, I’ll be happier. Have a cleaner house (by the way, no-one lies on their death bed saying they wished they’d spend more time cleaning!).
C.S Lewis, of Narnia fame, once described suffering as God’s megaphone. When my Mum died six years ago, when I was grieving her, I was very aware of what I was experiencing internally. To go off and find happy externally seemed to make a mockery of what I was feeling inside. It made no sense to look at happiness as an external pursuit. If sad was in my heart, then happiness, it’s opposite, must be in there too.
Proverbs 15:15 says this:
A miserable heart means a miserable life;
a cheerful heart fills the day with song.
So how do we go about encouraging our hearts to be cheerful? Below are some some good daily habits, and then I’m going expand on one area that gets insufficient attention.
Take a daily thank you walk – “Feel blessed and you won’t be stressed” – what you pay attention to that grows. What do you give thanks for every day?
Talk to yourself – Not the naggy, unkind voice we can too often use. Remind yourself of the lovely truths about yourself. Me, I came to a faith in Jesus a few years ago and that really gave me a new perspective on how to talk to myself. In the Bible God tells me that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made and that God’s works are wonderful. Who am I to disagree with God? When you talk kindly to yourself, when you share God’s perspective on yourself, there’s an immense amount of love and happiness that comes with that.
Get more sleep – a great night’s sleep cannot be replaced by a double latte.
Don’t waste your energy on negative things. Gossip. Your past. Stuff you can’t change. Forgive yourself, and others, admit your mistakes and ask forgiveness of others too.
Love, serve and care – For centuries, the greatest thinkers have suggested the same thing: Happiness is found in helping others. Jesus said it is better to give than to receive. Through MRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain—and it’s pleasurable.
You don’t need me to tell you five tips, or ten steps, to daily happiness habits. We’ve got google for that! I did it when writing this: how to have a happy life. I got about 14 articles per page, and by page 18 of Google I’d stopped pressing ‘Next’. But there were plenty more. Hundreds if not thousands of articles on how to be happy.
But we’re not. In any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety. I suffered from it, and I’m sure everyone knows at least one person. It’s on the rise.
So for all the self-help articles, for all the hints and tips out there, ‘being happy’ must be – if you look at the stats – hard. Or are we looking at it the wrong way?
What if it isn’t about self-help?
For all those articles I googled, the one thing I noticed – Jesus didn’t pop up once. He didn’t get a mention as a way to happiness. Yet the 5 tips above, they can all be traced back to Jesus. Even getting more sleep – like the time in Mark 4, when he and the disciples are in a boat when there’s a massive storm, Jesus is fast asleep in the bottom of the boat, the disciples are panicking, yelling “How can you sleep?! We are going TO DIE”.
How can Jesus sleep? He sleeps because he’s assured of His Father in heaven. Sleep, prayer, thankfulness, forgiveness – these are ways of happiness –– they are all ways that Jesus modelled not because of SELF-help. But because of His trust and the love of his Father in heaven.
And that’s the same for all of us. It’s not about SELF-help, but God’s help.
The Bible has plenty in it about happiness, but defines it differently than our culture. The happiness the Bible advocates isn’t dependent on circumstances. The words for “bless” and “blessed” in both the Old and New Testaments means “well-being,” “flourishing,” and “happiness.”
Itis used throughout the Psalms and Proverbs to describe the happy state of those who live wisely according to God’s design.
Four years ago, I wasn’t a Christian. In fact, I’d done the self-help, new age thing for over a decade. Courses, crystals, books (I even went to a church that channeled an alien) – you name it, I tried it. Searching for happiness. There was always another course, another book.
And then I met Jesus – and may I say, I have never been happier. Augustine (one of the great early church theologians and a wild man before he met Jesus) said a lot of pretty fantastic things. This is one: ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts find no rest until they find their rest in you.’
In Jesus, I have found rest, peace, contentment – happiness – no matter what the external world throws at me.
And, unlike that external pursuit of happiness, of striving, God says STOP.
God says, YOU don’t have to do all the work to be happy. No. I’m pursuing YOU. I love every hair on your head. I sang over you as you knit together in your mother’s womb.
With God’s love and gift of Jesus, there are no rules to get right, no external things to chase. No ladder of rights and wrongs you have to climb up to reach God.
Instead, in Jesus, you meet the God who came down the ladder. Pursuing us. He became human, lived the sinless life we could not, died the death we deserved, then rose again – all in order to ensure a close, forgiven relationship with us. Through faith. And Grace. Nothing else.
Being loved like that, being redeemed by that, no matter what, gives you an incredible blank canvas each day of love, trust and happiness. Jesus died and overcame death for me so I could be in right relationship with God.
And His love is where true happiness and flourishing comes from.
A lovely new friend said to me recently, after she’d gotten to know Jesus, “Phil, it sounds mad, but even the trees seem greener!” It’s not mad – it’s the right order of things. A relationship with God, through Jesus, means we flourish. And when we flourish, happiness is a natural by-product. Psalm 1 tells us that in relationship with God we are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fresh fruit, always in blossom. Happy.
I want to close with something that Jesus said that resonated strongly with me when I was seeking happiness. You see, we put so much effort in trying to achieve happiness, we can just end up exhausted. Jesus said this in Matthew’s Gospel, and I’m using a more modern message translation as it really speaks into how harried we can become pursuing happy:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burnt out? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
If you’re tired out by this pursuit of happiness, and you like this idea of blossoming, flourishing with ease, without the stress and effort, try hanging out with the Jesus-fella for a while. And if you don’t know where to start, drop a comment below and I’ll do my best to help.
Eleven years ago right now I’d finished around 17 hours of labour. After firmly refusing to go to hospital because, with the firstborn – 22 months before – they sent me home twice. No way was I going to hospital until things were serious in the contra-aaaahhh-ction department.
Number two was overdue. Which challenged all my journalist, deadline-orientated, thinking. Number one had arrived on his due date, after all.
I believe God sends you the children you need. Aren’t they the most glorious, confronting, gap-analysis mirrors of our very best and worst traits?
Number one is my introvert, reflective, deep-thinking mirror. I understand number one with his phlegmatic approach to life. He is more mellow and methodical than I, but, like me, hides well how deeply he feels. He takes peoples’ measures quickly, succinctly and does not suffer fools gladly.
Gestating number two likely had less of my attention because I was busy living and parenting with number one. It was less ‘beautifully-planned nursery’ and more ‘hand-me-down Bond WonderSuits’. So then – like now – number two devised her own way of gaining attention. Overdue? Yes, and I’ll stay that way until you really focus on me.
After acupuncture in an effort to get things moving, the practitioner said to me: “I get the strong sense it has something to do with the name you’ve chosen. And the nursery.” That evening, Big T and I finally spent sometime getting the nursery more organised. As we sat together on the small sofa placed for night-feeds, we changed the orginally-chosen name to Grace. In less than 30 minutes the first contraction began.
Fast forward a few years and it was her name, uttered in my first phone call with the SAP that set him thinking that maybe, just maybe, God was chasing me down. I’d failed to notice quite a few signs over the years before. Like the name-change.
Number two feels every emotion deeply – and she lets us all know. From extremes of joy to extremes of frustration, phlegmatic is never an adjective we will ascribe to her. Until I really knew God and Jesus, I never understood grace. But I watch it each day in the daughter whose name we changed.
You see, she may veer from sheer frustration and anger one moment, to joy and wide smiling love another – but she never holds a grudge. Sure, she may sweat it – for a while – but she can also forget it in a flash. She forgives. She tells me when I’ve hurt her feelings. And vice versa. And we hug and it is gone.
I’m sure life will deliver its bruises to her, but I pray she holds onto the peace, redemption and love of the one from where we chose her name.
On her birthday, I am reminded of God’s long-range plans for me, for all of us. I imagine God explaining:
“Phil’s going to take a while to get with the program, son. So I’m just going to do this small thing with Ecclesiastes 3:2 and her daughter, regarding a time for everything and a time to be born. Press upon her a different name. A few years later, that name’s really going to stand out. For her and that SAP fellow I’ll have pick up the phone.”
It once again shows me how personal and loving our Abba in heaven is when it comes to wanting a close relationship with us. He plays a long game to relentlessly pursue us with love. With Grace.
My last post regarding the emerging story about Don Burke, and comparisons I drew with recent news coverage and responses to DV in churches and clergy marriages, was received, for the most, positively.
I urged readers to be wise as snakes and gentle as doves. Again, for the most, readers were.
I have a philosophy/policy with this blog. I treat the posts like my children. I’ve done my best with them, I pray they don’t disgrace me in public, but nor am I going to hover, defend, justify or disempower them. Whether as a writer or a parent, the time comes when I have to let go and see if they fend for themselves.
However I do want to look again at an example I used. I sought to illustrate the subtlety of language and how it can both empower and disempower. I wrote about two conversations I’d had where – on separate occasions – a man and a women in church positions of influence dismissed the idea of women preaching. They used specific language on i) how it would disempower men and ii) my female broken, sinful nature.
A couple of comments via social media reached me. While my policy/philosophy above means I ought to let them slide, I want to be clear: I did not use the example to make it about me; specifically me wanting to hijack domestic and sexual violence in church in order to push an agenda about women wanting to preach and women seeking ordination.
The comments I read tried to make out this was so. And I won’t have it. I asked people to be wise as snakes, gentle as doves. So let’s try again. To tackle the concerns:
1) My credentials: I don’t have insight to write on DV.
I write with insight into DV and sexual abuse because of my personal experience (read here and here). This is how, alongside the Bible and some literal, smacked-into-me lessons, I learnt my wise as a snake mojo. I don’t profess to have counselling degrees and a specialist field of study. But I pray I have empathy and insight.
2) I just want to preach, so I’m using the angle of lack of women’s voices in church = DV to push my personal agenda about my desire to preach.
It is not wise or gentle of me to want to stick my fingers in my ears and loudly sing, “la-la-la-la-la-la, can’t hear you.” But, Good Lord, I really want to when I read such agenda-shifting comments. Oh, hang on, that’s what happened. An attempt at agenda-shift.
Take your fingers out your ears, please, stop the la-la-la’s and breath. Sit with it. I know it hurts. It’s bloody painful to think a lack of women’s voices and leadership in church could play into the insidious evil of DV in church. But we can get past this. God is bigger than us and this. So let’s lean in. If – and I’m referring especially to anyone in church leadership, influence or authority – you think it’s too painful to do so, please lift your eyes back to the cross and away from your pain receptors.
Do I preach? Yes. Am I gifted at it? According to feedback, yes. Can I? Literally, yes. Biblically? Well, it depends on where you land scripturally.
Do I particularly care if I preach to men or women? Nope. I just want to preach Jesus.
If you do want to get Greek scholarly and biblical and start thrusting verses at me to argue I ought not preach to men, please resist. Be a gentle dove. I don’t need you to agree with me to justify why I’ve arrived at my ‘wide path’ decision on women preaching based on my scriptural study; just as you don’t need me to agree with you to justify your ‘narrow path’ belief in your decision based on your scriptural study. Okay?
It’s not a salvation issue, there’s no “I’m a better Christian” barometer if one person believes X and the other believes Y about women preaching. Thank God for the fully equalising gurney of grace.
But, as someone with 20+ years in communications and a Masters degree in the dark arts (PR and Comms, or ‘persuading someone to think a certain way about an issue’) I do know there’s a consequence of language becoming subtle, pervasive and using oft-repeated specific messages. In this case, regarding gender, roles and influence in our churches.
Having had intimate insight into domestic family violence, I know exactly how hyper-vigilant sufferers are. The words you say, the look on your face, the tone of your voice, they all signal something. Something you may not even intend. And when it is ‘the norm’ – like, say, a woman should not preach as it disempowers men – you may not even think about it coming out your mouth. But for the victim, reading and paying attention to that, it is everything. I cannot emphasise that enough. Because she has learnt to observe, to watch for cues, to live in fear of missing one. The onus has to be on us, surely, to love our neighbours better. To no longer speak in ways that offer subtle disempowerment and disenfranchisement.
3) It rises up when you least expect it (back to credentials)
For the most part I have prayed, pondered and therapied my wounds. But until quite recently I never realised the level of my hyper-vigilance. I just thought God had wired me fast, with a million-miles-an-hour brain! A career in journalism (deadlines) and 20 years of business ownership (always another job to do, another sale to pitch) had simply fed the pace and race.
It wasn’t until I was given some pills to fell the racing cheetah did I realise. Forget multi-tasking, I hyper-tasked. I won’t sit with my back to an entry and, if I do, unwittingly, my sub-conscious will reposition my body before I’m aware. If I ever have coffee with you and you find I’ve switched sides of the table to sit in your lap, my apologies…
Talk to me in a crowded room, and I will focus fully on your conversation, but I’ll also be aware of the content and currents of the other conversations around us. I thought it was a fairly cool gift until a kindly doctor pointed out the dangerous spikes in my cholesterol were likely to do with constant fight and flight and cortisol.
“But I”m not anxious or stressed!” I blustered. “No, that’s part of the problem,” he replied. “You think it’s normal. You were a child, the wiring started way back when, you don’t realise it’s not normal because it’s always been there. Time to stop.” The day I took my first ‘fell the racing cheetah’ pills was hilarious…
But the point I’m trying to make: it creeps up and fells me when I least expect. Like when I was told, ‘wanting to preach is sinful and broken’. I kept it together until I left the church but afterwards I just howled. I couldn’t reconcile my loving, grace-filled Abba in heaven who has blessed me with a gift to write, read and speak, with what I had just been told (well, admonished). That even though I thought I had a voice, it was sinful and broken of me to think about using it widely. It took me straight back to an abusive step father, grooming and an attempted sexual assault where I had felt voiceless. Unheard. Without hope.
Recall: I’m a 45 year old, feisty so-and-so who has come a long, long way in healing and speaking out, who did not experience abuse at the hands of a Christian using scripture to keep me down. Yet my reaction still happened.
How much worse, then, for someone who has suffered through incorrect application of scripture? Who has been told she ought to always submit, who has been abused, assaulted, raped? Hearing narrow messaging, no matter how unwittingly done, would be much worse. A million times worse.
And please, let’s not go off track on admonishing and correction, and how if someone is biblically incorrect then they need to be put straight. You may agree I needed to be ‘put straight’ on women preaching. That’s ok. This isn’t about that. It’s about being open to consider how the tenor of language and messaging, the subtleties of submission doctrine and gender leadership, can impact.
Please hear my voice: this is not, and never will be, about pushing a personal female preaching agenda.
This is about urging everyone to be vigilant in their scriptural language and being alert to any subtle disempowerment and disenfranchisement of women, from how scripture is taught to how we speak, lead and teach each other.
There are too many great women in the Bible who led, fought, taught, preached, prophesied and served for us to think about doing anything less. To do so would be, well, unBiblical.
On Ch 9’s A Current Affair last night, Don Burke admitted he had made mistakes in his life, saying he cheated on his wife numerous times, but denied the latest allegations of sexual assault. During the interview he said he was sorry, he may have gone a bit far, but in his opinion it was a witch hunt and claimed the allegations surrounding Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein reinforced people’s victim mentality.
Burke accepted fault for jokes he had made and said people were punishing him for making some mistakes. “[It’s] not entirely wrongly, but the sexual stuff is a way of twisting the knife,” he said.
I couldn’t help draw the comparison to the church and DV over the past few months.
When I shared about the accusatory feedback from many in the Australian church to Julia Baird’s initial report in July this year, there was a chilling lack of understanding from too many in ministry. I was asked by a minister not to share on social media any stories by others that did not reflect well on the church.
Last week, more stories emerged. Brave women who found their voice. And an avenue to be heard. There is one glaring difference. The article-sharing and surrounding noise has been far, far less then back in July. This time, there is no data to decry. Instead there are the stories. Brutal stories of rape. Violence. Too many. They say the church has known for decades that some clergy abuse their wives but has done very little to fix the ongoing problem.
But to stop at apology – as we see with Don Burke – is never sufficient. Investigations must take place. Resources (and they are beginning, such as Safer from Common Grace ) need to be rolled out to ensure that #churchtoo – where women around the world have been sharing personal stories of harassment and abuse in Christian communities – stops in this generation.
But, like Don Burke last night, I’ve heard ministers this past week express concerns about the church being part of the witch hunt when the follow-up TV report and online articles regarding domestic violence in clergy marriages emerged.
Which is tantamount to sweeping the stories of abuse under the rug and diminishing them. Please stop. We – as the church – don’t get to be the martyrs. Jesus already did that.
Do not redirect to another, noisier news agenda. In the past week, I’ve heard the excuses: “But that was 27 years ago..” or “that was the Melbourne diocese, they’re a bit loose on stuff like that..” and it makes my blood boil. To reiterate:
the clergy wives interviewed in the past six months by the ABC say little has changed in the 27 years since the CASA reports were published
Some of the clergy wives interviewed were part of a Sydney Anglican diocese support group – so let’s not redirect and blame any ‘loose’ diocese/ denomination language here, please.
Leading theological collages are accused of teaching dangerous submission doctrine. Some women’s conferences are being pointed to as perpetuating this doctrine. This is the most confronting part of all for many: to be accused as a denomination, as a theological college to be contributing to #churchtoo by the systematic theology taught – yes, it can feel like a witch hunt, can’t it?
Tempting to bunker down, say nothing, because, after all, what happens if it’s investigated and the way that the doctrine has been taught is seen to feed in? I can imaging many lecturers and ministers thinking, “but it’s God’s word. We can’t say it’s wrong. It’s what the Bible says.”
Let’s separate God’s Word from humanity’s teaching of it. God’s Word is going to stand up to scrutiny by its very nature of being God’s Word. But we shouldn’t – as the Body of Christ – ever shy away from looking at how it is a body of broken humanity shaping and influencing how it is shared and unpacked. Shining the light on that is not an attack on God’s Word. It is liberating it. It’s being brave and humble and saying – until Jesus’ return – there’s always going to be serpents amongst the apple trees. We have to be wise as snakes and gentle as doves in our recognition of that.
In my last post on the topic, I called on the men of Christ who were blustering defensively about the data to man, I mean Jesus up. In this post, I’m going to ask all of us, men and women, to do so. Let me draw something subtle to your attention.
In the past six months I’ve been told by a woman speaker my studying to preach is a sign of my sinful and broken nature and that I should not teach or have authority over men. Similarly, I’ve been told by a male pastor that he’d never have a woman up preaching because it would disempower and disenfranchise the men in the pews who don’t believe women ought to preach.
Imagine if I were a DV victim listening to that. Trying to find my voice in front of them to ask for help. Because, right there, coming from both genders, there is a subtle disempowerment and disenfranchisement of women. Would that make me feel sufficiently safe to reach out my hand and say, “my Christian husband beats and rapes me and has done for 20 years saying it’s ok by the Bible.” Or would I shrivel a little further inside because that same husband had told me so often how worthless I am, how pathetic, how I can’t even hold a decent conversation, so what worth do I have, what voice do I have?
Both a woman and a man, both in positions to help and support me, have just implied to me that my voice has no worth. Not because either honestly believe women, per-se, have less worth under God. He made us equal, after all. But because of what they have been taught.
Don’t they know how much brave it takes for me to even find my voice? Don’t they know how long the subtle eroding of my self-esteem has gone on? And out of their mouths – not even aware, not even thinking it can add harm – come words that erode my worth even further.
We can argue and get shrill about greek translations and “but that’s what the Bible says!’ but as Christ followers we have one great command. To love each other. To no longer speak in ways that offer subtle disempowerment and disenfranchisement. To be wise as snakes and a gentle as doves.
Did this three years ago yesterday (hint: wasn’t a swim safety program). As I blogged at the time, it wasn’t the easiest of decisions. I only admitted quite recently to the SAP that on the day of dunking, I almost didn’t turn up. “Like I wouldn’t have driven over and dragged you down to the river,” he answered.
Hmm. It’s not like you can hold people down in baptism against their will. That would be known as..well.. drowning. But I got his point.
My sudden onset cold feet had little to do with my faith in God and Jesus, and more to do with my faith in me at the time. The SAP could likely see quite clearly that G&J had me embraced, secure and held up. It was ME – with all my quivers over being worthy of such unconditional love – that had me teetering.
Now? I look back on that woman and wonder, wow, who was she? There is little from back then I recognise. Which is the beauty of a crazy, radical, loving journey with GJ&HS. They did all the work. I surrendered. Perhaps not totally gracefully (cagefight with God, anyone?) but no-one’s perfect here. That’s Jesus’ gig.
The HS is good. And kind. And patient. But even He’s going to roll his eyes at my preference for ribald language, cheek and a large gin or four. I imagine the discussion of my HS download – after I got to grips with being head-over-heels with the Jesus fella – being an entertaining board meeting in heaven.
The difference now is I sit with ME secure in how I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. Back then, I sat behind the ribald, the cheek, the gin (ok, I’m kidding a bit with relying on the gin, ease up with the AA intervention, SAP), and prayed I could let some love in.
“Be vulnerable, ” God would whisper to me, oh, so often, these past three years. That was the hardest lesson of all. Saying I am vulnerable, and then actually doing vulnerability, are worlds apart.
Plus, to be brutally honest: in Australia today Christians – and the church – are hardly embraced with open arms. You’ve only got to look at some of the same-sex marriage commentary (hating, homophobic bigots, anyone?) or the latest news coverage on domestic violence in the church, and it’s enough to make anyone wonder WHYI’d reach such a decision.
The answer: irresistible grace.
Ask me if I’m religious and I’m likely to have bile rise in the back of my throat. Dear God, I never want to be religious. The toughest words Jesus had back in the day were for the religious rulers, the Pharisees. No, I just want to try to walk a little bit more like Jesus each day.
Which isn’t about me being judgmental or trying to follow churchy rules. I still think that’s where Jesus gets lost in translation. It’s actually more about me throwing my arms open wide and going, “TA DA! I am so utterly loved in the Jesus-fella despite my many, varied and colourful failings, and LOOK, look what he gets to do with me. Fixer-upperer. Holy spirit makeover.”
I was happy to dunk down in that river three years ago because of the sheer love and grace that Jesus showed me when he walked to the cross on my behalf. My journey over the past three years has only continued to show how wide and long and high and deep that love is.
I’ll never be the pin-up poster girl for religion. But I pray I can be a pin-up for Jesus. Who is now covering his eyes and saying, “Don’t type that! D’you know what some people will make of a line about me and pin-up girls!?!”
Three and a half years ago I was rejected for a job. And, boy, it stung. I was geared up to wow them with what I could do onlyto find out it was irrelevant compared to what I was not (a person of Christian faith). Anyone who isn’t across the hilarious Jesus journey that ensued, you’ll need to go back to the start to read about it here.
A character on this journey who’s received a lot of blog time is the smart-alec pastor (SAP) who picked up the church phone when I decided I’d get into some tyre-kicking, journalist Jesus research. An individual who’s had a lot, lot less attention is the person who decided against offering me the job. The Rejector.
The Rejector also deserves some blog time. Credit where credit is due. Why? Because he stuck to his faithful guns and wouldn’t concede ground on seeking a person who shared his beliefs to be his proxy in a public situation.
When he explained that at the time, I confess I mentally rolled my eyes and thought to myself: “oh, but I’m in PR, I can handle any message you need me to spin…” Something prevented me from sharing that obnoxious gem, and it was quickly replaced by something that pressed and intrigued: “He really needs me to believe this. And to reply that I can spin it, would – I sense – make a mockery of something he holds dear.”
I didn’t have a clue then of what a true, faith-based, faith-led life looks like. After the recent same-sex marriage campaigns, I’d argue very few Australians do. To many, it seems extreme and irrelevant to hold God’s word as truth, to confess Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, to be obedient to a single God who tells us He knows what’s best for us. Instead we often prefer to follow our own personal gods of self, career, money-making, self-validation..to basically follow ME, my feelings and my desires. I’m the god of me. No-one else.
The funny thing is, if you spend any time having a read of the Bible, worshipping the god of ME isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been happening since Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve chomped down on that apple after the serpent waved it at them. We’re wired to want the apple that is described in Genesis as from ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’
We desire to be the gods of our own good and evil. To know best. That was me back then in response to The Rejector. I knew best.
Now, after my journey with the Jesus-fella, I am far more humbly aware of just how dodgy a proposition that is.
But what if The Rejector hadn’t had faithful guns? What if he’d let those concerns slide? Worried less about the veracity and importance of my faith, and instead focused on filling the short-term need of someone who’d just get the job done. There’s a line in the Bible’s book of Romans (Chapter 12, V2) which springs to mind, and I’m using a modern translation in order to think about it in light of a job interview:
“Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
The Terminator didn’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world in his interview decision. He refused to weigh up my skills and expertise. In fact, he threw out all my skills and expertise against this one criteria: Did I believe in Jesus?
Nothing else mattered.
Now I (and many others, as we wrestle with SSM laws, freedom of religion laws, freedom of expression, and anti-discrimination) could have bleated about it being unfair (and, well, maybe I did for a day or 5 ;-)) but what I actually wanted to know, deep-down, was this:
Why was this Jesus fella so bloody important that he trumped my amazing skills and expertise? And why was he so important to the Rejector? Thank God I was sufficiently self-aware to recognise something more important than my own self-importance and be intrigued.
And thank God for the Rejector. If he’d copied the customs and behaviours of this world, I could well have found myself in a job with a bunch of people I misunderstood and with no clue, still, of the Jesus fella.
It also reminds me that institutions who use faith as a criteria for a job description have a real need and requirement to continue to do so.
God has been asking me to do a few different, ‘leap across the abyss and trust Me’ action items of late. All in areas where I traditionally become scared, uncertain and, well, choke. Better the devil you know..ahem.
I’m now sufficiently theologically aware to know that my ‘choking’ over the past four to six weeks is putting other gods (safety, security) over my true God. That by giving into the voices of fear and ‘what if?’ I’m letting the horned mother trucker mess with my head.
The Bible tells me that God has my back. That when He asks me to grow and do wild, crazy things that make ZERO sense (remember Abraham honouring God when, in a test of faith, God asked him to kill his son Isaac? ), He delivers. As we grow in Him, He blesses us. But, oh my gosh, it still doesn’t make doing it any easier!
I’m no Abraham. The trick is knowing and trusting God’s character. How do I do that? By spending some solid time in God’s word. It’s all there in black and white, proof statement after proof statement, from His covenant, loving promise to His people in the Old Testament all the way through to His sacrificing His only son in the New…all because He wants a close, personal relationship with us. If He is willing to go to such lengths to show me His love, why on earth would I fear? Verse after verse points to His having plans to grow and not harm me. Yet, still, I teeter…
Why? Honestly, I think it’s to do with the Bible. It’s so big. And dense. And written down. It can feel impersonal, this big book of God’s rescue mission for his people. It’s like I’m observing characters from 1000s of years ago and because it’s so long ago it’s easy to forget how they still all relate to me. I petulantly mutter, “It’s Ok for THEM. You spoke to them directly through prophets, no wonder they got it. And then there was Jesus. They got to see him. I’ve got words on a page and it feels so…not lonely, that’s not the right word. Just too far away from me here, struggling with this?”
Now, if it were me, less abundantly blessed as I am with the fruits of the HS (patience, kindness, self-control etc.) than God, I’d be calling Jesus over and getting terribly frustrated: “Why doesn’t she get it? How much more do I have to do?! Haven’t I told her, shown her?” Thankfully, God is better at patience and loving kindness than I.
The miracle is how personally he shows me His patience. How lovingly He shows He can leap off the pages of the Bible and move through my life, in this time, in this place. The Bible isn’t an old, static book. It is God-breathed. Living. Supernatural. Once you get your head around that and allow God to leap off the page, it becomes more than words.
So as I wrestled with fear, it began with a call to read Psalm 119, to reflect upon God’s word, ‘to open my eyes that I may see wonderful things’ in it. ‘Mediate on Me,’ God whispered. Over and over the Psalm reminded me to trust in His word, that God will always remember all He promises. Psalm 119 affirms God’s Word and reflects the very character of God Himself. Righteous, Trustworthiness, Truthful, Faithful, Unchangeable, Eternal, Light and Pure.
So, of course, straight after reading that I was positively overflowing with trust and bravery, right? Well. Sort of. But something small shifted, like the HS within me had risen in response to, well, Himself.
Quietly, inside, it became less words on a page and more living and fluid. Which may be totally woo-woo to a fair few people, maybe even some UHT Christians, but it suddenly began to make more sense. The God in that book was at the exact same time the same God in me (the HS) and the same God all around me, right here, right now as I walk and pass through time and place. Which of course I knew – I hope I’ve blogged sufficiently to show I have no problem with Him being all around – but the sense of His word rising up to envelop us because it is a real thing you can hold in the hands of your heart suddenly made perfect yet inexplicable sense at a cellular level.
Look at how John begins his Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He’s about to write an account with the end in view: all John witnessed, the glory, the light, the words out of Jesus’ mouth, the miracles, dying, rising are summed up in one excellent line that is designed to land between the eyes.
The first and final, Alpha and Omega is the Word, which is also God, which is also with Him. You can’t separate the Word from God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, John tells me. Don’t make the mistake of separating the Word (God) from the Word (on the page in The Bible). It can’t be done.
When people say dive into The Bible, as you would a pool, I think we ought to take it quite literally. Not simply a deep dive regarding ‘head study, what does this greek mean?’ but knowing it is real and living, soaking in it to our core. A spa retreat for the Holy Spirit within.
Yet I think too often, that’s the mistake we make. I know I did. Likely because it takes a small brain explosion to stop looking at the Bible as ‘words that tell me about God and Jesus’ and recognising instead it is them. Was them. Will be them. All at once. There’s a reason why missions records stories of 100s of people in remote villages all becoming Christians, yet having never been introduced to Jesus by anyone like the SAP. They’ve simply been able to get their hands (or ears) on a Bible translation. And, as THE word, God leaps out and into their hearts. No special sermons, no fancy preaching, not even a fancy ground coffee. ‘Just’ a Bible.
Australia’s ABC’s 7.30 report and then 60 Minutes current affairs programs have, in the past week, again put domestic family violence (DFV) in churches, due to the misuse of scripture and warped readings of submission, under the spotlight.
Again it caused all sorts of defensive positions. Some Christians took refuge in atheist commentator Andrew Bolt decrying (Christian) reporter Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson’s quoted research. To paraphrase most defensive camps, very loosely:
“The quoted statistics about evangelical men irregularly attending church being most likely to abuse their wives is offensive and nonsense and too old. So the rest must be rubbish.”
Or, “the ABC hates us Christians, we’re persecuted, so you can’t believe what they’ve said.”
Or, “I was interviewed for that story, I’m doing a lot to help victims of DFV, but they didn’t use any of the footage. Which made the DFV issue in church look worse than it is. And that’s why they chose not to use it. Because they want us to look bad.”
Baird has been called a “shameful Christian” and worse. The phrase “feminist agenda” pops up a lot – giving something or someone an agenda makes it/them sound so dangerous, underhand and divisive, doesn’t it?
What did the rush to redirect to incorrect reporting, bias, errors in statistics and vilifying Baird really achieve? It buried all the stories – the true, researched, on-record, painful stories – of women who had been abused by their husbands under the incorrect application of scriptural submission. As a result, many Christians focused their attention on any errors in the quoted statistics – rather than paying more attention to their neighbours. Consequently they derived false, horrible comfort at victims’ expense.
The rush to legal fact-checking was like the Pharisees questioning Jesus on the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath. If we keep it about rules, regulations, and berate you for getting a statistic wrong, or not giving another statistic sufficient prominence, we might avoid looking at the real sinful failure here. Which is this:
There are wives who have been badly beaten, raped, made to feel unsafe in their homes, made to feel terror for their own safety and their children – all at the hands of Christian husbands misusing submission and headship scripture. There may be thousands, there may be hundreds, who knows, because the problem is, there’s no up-to-date data in the Australian context. But just because there’s no data – or the data that’s being extrapolated is from another country – is no excuse to blame-shift. Experts recommend we draw patterns from other countries and level those numbers UP because DFV is notoriously under-reported.
In fact the whole crux of Baird and Gleeson’s research shone light on this problem: there is no data and Australia desperately needs it.
I can’t believe I’m having to write this: but just ONE woman saying this has happened to her is one woman too many. More than one woman came forward to speak to the investigative reporters. All with awful stories of abuse. How dare we diminish their voices playing games of smoke and mirrors over data?
Please, all those men who assumed the defensive – “I’m an evangelical Christian and I’M NOT A WIFE BEATER, saying this damages the church, and me as a Christian, it’s wrong, you must stop sharing and spreading this sort of story, the statistics are wrong!” – I ask you to be bigger than that. I ask you to be stronger than that. I ask you to make yourself less in this. I ask you to lay down your lives. Put their stories first, put these women first. Love these sisters in Christ as Jesus does.
As an aside, when the research also shows that regular attenders at church are much less likely to be involved in domestic violence – which was reported by Karl Faase in Eternity in 2015 and also by Baird but less prominently – I’m slightly baffled as to why so much defensiveness and bluster. You faithful, solid Christian guys got paid a compliment…unless, of course, you don’t attend church regularly and are now paranoid everyone will think you’re a wife beater. If this is you, I’m going to gently ask you to man, I mean, Jesus up.
Jesus didn’t roar and bluster defensively. He wouldn’t have said, “Shame on you, Julia Baird for your use of that data that reflects poorly on me and my church.” Or, “Go fetch me more Australian data to support the story the woman shared of how her pastor told her to pray about it when her Christian husband was raping, abusing, and hitting her, and if he killed her first before he repented, well, at least the pastor reminded her she’d be in heaven with me. I need more data, Julia, data. Data thy neighbour. That’s it.”
Jesus is gentle. Jesus comes back with love. With grace. He reached out a hand to the Samaritan woman at the well who, in my eyes, is the closest we have to a likely DFV sufferer in The Bible. He prevented the stoning of the adulterous woman. He didn’t join in throwing the stones.
I’m a former journo. I understand the news agenda. Immediacy, conflict, proximity, consequence etc etc. Baird and Gleeson have held up their research to scrutiny and while detractors and trolls will still likely scoff, it reads as solid research to me, not news agenda sound-byte chasing. Solid particularly in light of the lack of Australian data and fear so many women have about going on record.
As I’ve written before (links below), I don’t want to hear more stories emerge about DFV. I don’t want our churches to be viewed as places where wives who have experienced this will not be heard. Where their husbands will be allowed to stay while they themselves lose their body of Christ support. But until we move away from shrill, scared, ‘it’s just a feminist-agenda’, or trying to reduce it to errors in fact-checking, and an unwillingness to listen to women’s voices more fully in some church contexts, I’m afraid the stories will continue to emerge.
I want to thank those pastors who have been quick to say, “I don’t care who you are married to, I don’t care what position your husband holds in your church, if this has happened to you, I am here, I will believe and I will help and support you.” For those who tackle DFV in full sermons, not simply in passing through one or two verses, I salute you.
I contribute to sites written for women to learn what it means to follow Jesus. Some of whom use it as a safe place to reach out. DFV sufferers in the past week have shared to the site’s management team how they value the support and willingness of others to keep speaking out when they feel powerless and voiceless. So let’s be like the Lord we follow. To whom we owe our lives. Shine light, speak out and, please, weep with those who weep.
Other related posts pertaining to DFV on this site:
I’ve written two sermons in my life and preached one. The first – written, not delivered – was a full length, “give me something I can get my teeth into” challenge I begged of the SAP. The second was a 20 minutes to prepare, ten minutes to deliver number as part of a ‘Principles of Evangelism’ unit.
The first I prayed, sweated and toiled over for weeks. It was pre-bible college enrolment and, in reaction to ‘needing more’ in my heart, was answering the relentless call to dive deeper into scripture. Maybe because I’m late to the GJ&HS game or maybe, in echoes of my Divinity o-level at 15 years old, it is proof of God’s word never retuning void. Instead it is returning me. Back to dig deeper, to write again, much as I did in the exam hall in 1987, about the meaning of Jesus’ ministry. I recall being sprawled across the day-bed, making notes on the Gospel verses the SAP had ‘set’ me, feeling like I had returned home.
The second sermon experience was far more stomach-churning. 20 minutes? Dear Lord. The SAP received a volley of vomiting emoji faces. “You can do that,” calmly texted back the bloke who’s been SAPing and preachin’ for 20-odd years. Such faith.
Much like my early blog posts, I know when God is on a roll because He simply helps me flow it out between head, heart and keyboard. It was a daring, daunting whisper: “You can do this.”
“Yes. Don’t you feel it, love it, know it? Love Me?”
“Yes, but… You want me to do THIS?”
I’m no shrinking violet. I’m quite confident in my PR abilities to write a speech, jump up on a stage facing an audience of 1000s, and deliver a message. But a sermon? That matters. It’s personal. It’s more than unpacking scripture. More than God’s word. It’s my guide, my compass, my everything. It’s being willing to share my deepest heart connection to all and sundry. Does it read weird that thinking about delivering a sermon reminds me of the ‘butterflies in the stomach feeling’ of introducing ‘the one’ to your parents? Desperate that they love and think he’s awesome too?
Of course, unlike introducing ‘the one’ to your parents, God is unlikely to put His foot in it with an ill-timed joke and would always know the correct cutlery to use.
Yet, even so, this was a timed, tie-breaker, under pressure. Pick one of eight verses on offer, prepare a ten-minute sermon in 20 minutes… and GO!
Peskily, the verse the SAP had set me for my more leisured sermon preparation wasn’t on the list so I couldn’t even rely on that.
Yet there she appeared. One of my most treasured bible characters whom I look forward to meeting in heaven. The Samaritan woman at the well. I so identify with her is likely why I’m so fond of her. Who hasn’t made horrendous relationship choices in their life? Been let down by men who were supposed to offer security? Similarly, who hasn’t felt judged for those poor choices?
There were 30 of us in the classroom. Not everyone had to take the podium, there wasn’t sufficient time. “Who wants to go next?” asked the lecturer. I sat there, head down, heart in my mouth. “Put your hand up,” said God loudly.
I wasn’t immediately obedient. I’m more scared of God than the SAP, but I’ve got to admit the thought of telling the SAP I’d choked, next to God shoving at me, had my hand in the air.
“He won’t pick me,” I muttered back to God unfaithfully.
The lecturer picked me.
Taking a deep breath and praying hard I’d not stuff up, I stepped up to the lectern and began an exegesis of reality TV house renovations, broken-down fixer upperers, lonely people thirsting for affection, and the wonderful restoration offered by Jesus who doesn’t care where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and whatever awful wallpaper we’ve chosen to paper over the cracks.
I closed with the invitation to learn more: that perhaps you’ve been sold on the idea of the masterpiece, perfect show-home life and you’re just so tired and it’s not as fulfilling as you’d been led to believe and you are thirsting for more.
Or maybe if you already know Jesus, how are you responding to him? Do you still thirst for him? Are you letting Jesus refresh you? Or has your faith gone off the boil…and if so the call is to spend more time with him.
Or if you do know Jesus, do you still talk about him? The Samaritan woman blossoms once she understands Jesus’ affection for her and who he really is. Cast-out in the heat of the day, she is hopeless and defensive one minute, and then she returns to her village reborn, restored, vital, and unashamed. “You have to meet this guy!” she exclaims. The first evangelist to Samaria, sowing the early seeds that ripen and show harvest later in the book of Acts.
So there you have it. A fast sermon synopsis of what I delivered in that ten minutes.
I ended. Inhaled. And stepped off stage saying I’d never delivered a sermon before. To which the lecturer responded, “perhaps that ought to change. Especially if that’s what you do with just 20 mins preparation.”
There’s a line in Jane Austin’s Persuasion that sums it up: It was agitation, pain, pleasure, a something between delight and misery. Three hours afterwards I was still churning emotionally.Which is fairly unnerving for a chick who will do other sorts of public speaking without a eyelid bat. I glittered between, “woo, God is awesome and quite mad and He graced me with THIS sort of gift, what the, really?” and the flat-out, humbled, teary, breath-taking realisation that God is laying out a path that feels way too big and yet perfectly tailored and beautiful.
As the churning feeling continued I asked the SAP if it ever subsides. “I’ll let you know if that feeling goes if it goes from me,” he replied. Ah. Let’s pray it never does. Green round the gills preaching keeps you on your toes. This… well, this is important.
I’m also aware of some in Christian circles who believe I lack the necessary ‘tackle’ to preach. Whilst I have a heart, soul, and head for Jesus something a little lower is missing.
Similar to my opinion on Greek qualifications, I don’t think Jesus is going to reject someone when they turn up in front of him saying, “Yes, I heard this great sermon delivered by a woman, how she spoke resonated and that’s when I really accepted you.”
I can’t imagine Jesus saying, “No, wrong. My grace does not extend to you because you got to know me through a preacher who had female genitalia. Off to hell with you.” It doesn’t fit with the full picture I have of God and Jesus from the Bible and the time Jesus spent teaching and encouraging women.
Nor am I exaggerating. A believer I know has been told quite seriously by a male pastor she ought to question her salvation because she came to know, understand and love Jesus through the peaching of Bobbie Houston. I mean, really? Where’s the grace in that conversation? I’ve also been told that my seeking to study preaching is a sign of my sinful, broken nature that I ought to repent over.
There’s more, naturally. I can’t unpack women, church, leadership and preaching in one blog. What I do hold close is this:
When we accept Jesus the Bible tells us we are all graced with different spiritual gifts. Since becoming a Christian I have crafted the most creative, the most attuned, and the most heart-felt pieces of writing since..well, since ten year’s old. I suddenly found myself able to write, speak and explain Jesus and the Bible in such a way that resonated strongly with others – and it not only took me by surprise, it took a lot of UHT Christians aback too. I know it isn’t all on me. My writing and communications skills all blossomed, just as the Samaritan woman at the well blossomed, since meeting the Jesus fella.
I’m just going to go and grab me a bunch of head-coverings…. and tell everyone I’m not preaching, but rather prophesying. Yes, I can see Jesus shaking his head at that too.
“Dad, we did call the cheeky, comms PR chick didn’t we?”
“Yes, son, Yes we did. It’s going to be an exhilarating earth-exit interview, don’t you think?”
And that, dear reader, is why I call Him Abba and why I always refer to it as the gurney of grace.