The cost of honouring life

At 19, Clare became pregnant. Was it intentional? Her mother didn’t share – perhaps she didn’t know – if Clare intentionally came off the pill, if there was a reaction to antibiotics, or she’d had a stomach virus. baby-barefoot-blur-415824

Regardless of how, sperm had met egg and cells were dividing – life had begun.

Clare was in a steady relationship with her boyfriend. It was likely steadier than her home life, which had seen its share of trauma and upheaval through family breakdown.

Her father had remarried, to a younger woman not much older than Clare herself. A second family had been born. It was a messy break-up – her mother had had an affair, walked out of the family home – all rolled up in the mess of alcohol and emotional abuse from both sides of the family tree. For Clare, life, love and relationships were not simple. Are they ever? In the mess of the break-up, Clare and her siblings had opted to live with their father.

Clare’s father had himself a new family, one that looked secure. One where two new babies were loved and cared for. Babies that were taking his attention. Is it too hard to imagine that Clare observed that and thought, ‘Well, why don’t I become a Mum too?’

We all seek love and acceptance. Perhaps Clare was seeking to create her own, secure, family unit. Something that allowed her to share in the extra love and attention that she had been lacking.

Regardless of why sperm had met egg and cells were dividing – life had begun.

But there was a difference between Clare and her father in regards to parenthood. He was married. She was not. As it turned out, her boyfriend – the one who supplied the sperm – did not want to be married either.

Clare was brought up on Sunday mass and Catholic rosaries. Given the science that human life begins at conception, the Church’s opposition to abortion is the principle that each and every human life has inherent dignity, and thus must be treated with the respect due to a human person.

Sperm had met egg and cells were dividing. For Clare, and her father, a life that had inherent dignity has begun and was to be treated with the respect due to a human person.

Clare lived in a small town. The inherent dignity that she was affording her unborn wasn’t offered to her. Clare’s inherent dignity was ignored in the age-old whispers and slut-shaming that so commonly accompanies small minds and small towns.

Her boyfriend’s inherent dignity – the young man who had not looked after his sperm, nor respected the consequences for Clare, and whose family was more concerned about what being a dad at such a young age could do to his career, was far, far less maligned.

Clare was sent away. Before her body began to really show that sperm had met egg and that life had begun. To a place where the baby could be born quietly, away from prying eyes, and given away to a family unable to conceive a child of their own.

Clare was sent away from those who gossiped over her inherent dignity. Over six hours away from the family home. It was a long, lonely, difficult time.

Clare kept her eyes closed throughout her labour. She was giving away her baby. She couldn’t look.

Then she returned home. Sobbing in the car for the whole six-hour journey.

Only a few days later, unable to carry the burden of it, Clare did the next brave thing in her life: she demanded to be driven back and to bring her baby home.

But family of origin is a messed-up space. Humans are broken and flawed. It’s a hard thing to forgive being given up for adoption – despite knowing the love and seeing the sacrifices your single parent has made on your behalf.

“Why didn’t she want me, why didn’t she love me enough to keep me from day one?” is the question that has haunted her child ever since the reason for the lack of newborn photographs was provided.

For Clare, the same refrain could be asked of her own parents. “Why did I have to be sent away? Why was there so much shame attached?” A shame that has continued, passed onto younger sisters who spent their years in the same small town feeling like all eyes were on them, waiting to see if they too would make the same ‘mistake’ by having sex and getting pregnant when they ought not.

I wrote yesterday about there being grey in the black and white debate over the bill to decriminalize abortion in New South Wales. Clare’s story comes from the grey space.

She honoured her faith and beliefs. Sperm had met egg and cells were dividing, life had begun. A life that had inherent dignity, made in the image of God, and was to be treated with the respect due to a human person.

But she carried a lot in the grey space. A burden that her church neglected to honour. A burden that society neglected to honour. The father carried far, far less of a burden.

This is the grey. A place where women still have to count the cost of honouring life. Lower superannuation due to leaving work to have children. Gender pay gaps. Unflexible work hours. Mummy wars. Slut-shaming. Job uncertainty. Centrelink shaming. Discrimination. All the minute costs that appear to amount to little in the column of costs when stacked up against the moral positive of HONOURING LIFE. But they are there. And they weigh.

Until there is no cost in this decision, or until the cost of honouring life is born equally by both genders, there will be abortions. Their decriminalization in NSW will not change this.

So how do we work to change our society so women have more possibilities of not having to choose abortion?  I think to do so we must start understanding the cost of honoring life. Christians ought to understand that best. Ought to support that best. Ought to lobby the hardest for the cost to change. After all, we follow someone who paid the greatest cost to let us live.

If you are facing an unplanned pregnancy and wish to talk to someone about your choices with compassion and without judgment, contact Diamond Women’s Support or call them on (02) 8003 4990.

Silencing your shame harpies

The Harpies were monsters in Greek mythology, having the form of a bird and a human face. They carried evildoers to be punished by the Erinyes. Their name means “snatchers” or “swift robbers”.

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Source: https://mythology.net/monsters/harpy/

I think we all have Harpies. They might be internal voices, ones that whisper we’re not good enough, we’ll never succeed. Voices that taunt us for past mistakes. They may be external: voices of (ahem) friends or family. And they can be swift: a quick dive in from a Harpy’s talons can lay waste to all positivity.

I awoke earlier this week with my least favourite brand of Harpy in my brain: the Shame Harpy.  One of the contemporary scholars of shame, Gershen Kaufman says this, “Shame is the most disturbing experience individuals ever have about themselves; no other emotion feels more deeply disturbing because in the moment of shame the self feels wounded from within.”

When you’re wounded from within, you can feel like you never get away from it. It is always with you. With shame, it’s not an action, I’m not writing about anyone actually doing anything wrong. It’s the feeling – the thoughts that we are somehow wrong, defective, inadequate, not good enough, or not strong enough.

Shame is, as Brene Brown writes, the swampland of the soul. Shame is different from guilt. If someone did something to upset me, they would (I hope) be able to say sorry.

Guilt is: “I did something bad, I’m sorry I made a mistake.”

Shame is: “I am bad. I’m sorry. I am a mistake.”

I don’t know why the Shame Harpies took up roost. We’ve been dealing with plenty of emotional stresses as a family. Unpacking past traumas. Plus, when running a business doesn’t go as well as expected, you also have days of doubt.

So there’s never one thing. Nothing to easily explain why this insidious whispering was JUST THERE as I opened my eyes from sleep. However, I have a history that sowed such seeds. And some days they explode without warning, looming large like triffids, and the Shame Harpies can land in their branches and begin.

The first trick is in recognising them and the damage they do as they flap and squawk in my brain. Recovery from trauma is rarely linear and some days can feel more swampland than solid ground. I wanted to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head. The darkness feels more attractive than the harsh light of day. In the dark, no-one can find me and inadvertently scratch my too-raw emotional skin.

But me, myself, and a choir of Shame Harpies alone in the dark do not a great combination make. Brown writes if you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment.

So trick number 2: get out in the light, stop being silent, secretive and passing judgment on myself. For years I treated myself with my personal brand of the impatient warrior: harsh, unkind and frustrated with such weakness. It was a poor healing protocol.

Yet, Brown’s research also shows that if you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. So, instead, I try to be gentle and empathetic towards myself. For that gift, I can only thank the Jesus fella.

You might wonder how serving myself up some Son of God helps. After all, supreme perfection is a difficult yardstick when you’re trying to throttle a Shame Harpie. But it is Jesus, the Son of God in his humanity, in the flesh, who has the ability to understand and share my feelings the best. He who experienced tiredness, pain, and abandonment is the one who pours out empathy.

One of my most treasured people in the Bible, whom I can’t wait to meet in heaven, is the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well.

For her, Jesus is different from all the other men she has come across. Men who might have slept with, used and discarded her. He is different from those who had left her feeling inadequate and shamed. Jesus is different from the townspeople who judge her. He offers her time, pays her attention and speaks to her gently. He offers her what her heart is thirsting for: empathy.

But when he declares to her, “I am he” he goes one better. In that, Jesus moves from empathy, the empathy of his humanity that douses our shame, to something FAR bigger.

Restoration. I am He. The Christ. The Messiah. “Know who I am,” promises Jesus, “and I will restore you to what you are supposed to be. Spotless, perfect, a wonderful child of God, created to be in relationship with our heavenly Father.”

Jesus, as fully human, douses my shame, just as he douses the shame of the Samarian woman, everyone’s shame with empathy.  But as fully God, as the Messiah, he sees into our hearts, sees past our veneers, our hurts. And He goes beyond an empathetic fix-up, as wonderful and tender as that is. He doesn’t simply fix-up. He restores.

So if I am restored, why do those damn Shame Harpies come back to roost? Well, I guess because I live between two points: the cross and eternity. The saving grace of Jesus and the work his Holy Spirit is doing in me each day to make me a little more like him is a process – just like recovery. Some days I forget and get in the way, which is often the biggest problem.

But when I draw closer to Jesus, the shame harpies get quieter. It’s simple to write, so often hard to practice. But I know now how he works. You see, in shame we condemn ourselves. But Jesus doesn’t. He came to heal and restore, as I am reminded by Romans 8:

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ because through Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free.

I will blog of His faithfulness? That’s it?

shrugIf my past five years being a Christian had ALL been cage fighting wrestles, as per my last blog post, I’m sure the smart-alec pastor (SAP) would have expired. Or accepted a mission role somewhere remote without cellular or internet. I think I might have burnt out too. But sometimes, sometimes I miss it. The neon. The unmissable insights that God is taking action in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I love the quiet prayer yurt times. But the WHOO HOO moments are fantastic.

Last post, I explained how I’d not written because I worried how boring my faith travels might sound. Sedate, safe, Bible-reading, Bible-college attending, preaching Phil. Compared to the ‘skidding, whoo, WHAT is going on?’ from three-to-five years ago. I’d made me the arbiter of interesting. Not God. How foolish.

I worried at it like a kid with a fidget-spinner. I wanted to blog, but what about? I realised – as Godspiration began to strike less over the past three years – I had egocentrically put my own, somewhat pious parameters around it: “I won’t blog unless I am called to.”

Really? Who kidnapped me, made me editor of the universe and puffed me up with such writing importance??! Unless I’m called to. Dear God. Anyone would think I’d been marinating a bit too long in theological college and mission. Ah… possibly.

I thought the only way to keep writing about GJ&HS was to either get all Bible study exegetical each blog (yikes) or draw out what they were up to with me. But, truly, all eye-rolling nonsense about waiting to be called to write aside – I didn’t want it to be about me!

“Write about your new story being part of the old, old story,” advised the SAP. Which – three days ago – made zero sense.

I imagine God and Jesus doing the divine forehead slap. Then – offering more kindness and patience with me than I ever manage with myself or others – agreeing: “She’s not quite picked up on the point, yet. Let’s try again.”

As they so often do, they used an early morning wake-up call today and a pressing to listen. This time to an Exodus sermon. Finally, what they were trying to tell me clicked.

(Sidebar: If you don’t understand how Israel wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years in the Old Testament makes sense of God’s massive, crazy promise in Jesus in the New, it’s well worth the 29 mins. Link at the end).

The main point of the sermon: look at how faithful God was – and is. He made these massive promises to His people that, frankly, looked impossible.

How was God going to create a massive nation using the dry and likely limp fertility of two old age Israelites? But He did. Through famine, slavery and desert dust He went from one man with no land to a nation overloaded with loot – blessing after faithful blessing poured out, promise after promise kept.

How much more then His promise to us in Jesus? That one day every knee will bow, every tongue confess, that there will be no more tears or pain, and the world that so cuts and grieves us one day will be but a mirage in the review mirror as we step into His eternal banquet. As we step into God’s house, His home, His peace.

But while we wait, what do we do? asked the preacher. Do we give up on the promises entirely? Make them small and attainable? Make them more suitable to our small, not God-sized lives? Refuse to accept the super-size me God serving on offer and simply settle?

Oh. That struck. Like me: settle for a quiet life that stops writing, Phil, because, gosh, you think you might sound a little like Ned Flanders going on and on and on and on about what GJ&HS are doing in your life.

No, the sermon reminded me, as God ricocheted through my headphones and shook my heart. No. The promises of God are not to keep me comfortable. So what if me writing about God makes me fret and worry about looking self-centred (here she goes, writing about her GJ&HS encounters again)?

The preacher asked: “how do we maintain our trust in the promises of God while we’re facing the brokenness and the famine and the hardship of life right now? How am I going to say to my children, and my children’s children, that the promises of God are good and never fail? How do we maintain our faith in the massive, preposterous promises of God to us in Christ?”

The sermon suggested: first to look for the places where we see God at work. The small signs that He is still rolling out His love and blessings.

Yes, Phil, God whispered, for you to see the small and large ways I have changed your life today and over the past five years as part of My larger gathering of you to Me. 

All those God shoves, all those answered prayers, those crazy Godincidences I used to blog about so often, that blew me away and took me out with awe-full tears at the heart and the knees? They were never simply exciting new God news. They were blogs that strived to unpack GJ&HS. To examine more closely, like a bower-bird returning to the blue shiny glistening gem in the dirt of life, how they were building and sustaining my faith.

And then what this preacher said? The most important thing to do, to learn from Exodus is to keep telling the story of God’s faithfulness. “You’ve gotta tell the story,” he said.

A cracking one liner, delivered with Canadian-accented colour.

THAT line? Right there, today at 3am, wet my eyes with God’s love.

“You’ve gotta tell the story,” said this preacher.

“Write about your new story being part of the old, old story,” said the SAP.

Who gave me this talent with words? Who created my tongue?

Phil, you’ve just gotta tell the story.

I don’t have to make the story. Heck, I don’t even have to be the story. I just gotta tell it. Over and over, sharing the bower-bird shiny blue gems. Because it gives me hope.

So, much as it feels a little presumptuous and scary, I figure, dear reader, it gives you hope too. Of what He is doing in your life and mine, your family’s life and mine, in the lives of the people around us.

So I’ll keep telling the story of those God shoves, of the quiet Yurt times and the crazy who-hoo times. I will blog of His faithfulness.

Phil, you’ve gotta tell the story.

Thank God I’ve got one hell of a subject.


Link to Exodus: The Story So Far.  Exodus 1: 1-24. By Marc Rader, Gymea Baptist Church

Can Godly men be quiet?

In my five years as a Christian, I have felt the weight of my gender, its capacity to be diminished, unheard and unseen more than any other time. Not because I suddenly became Christianly enlightened to the atrocities women face globally. No. It was more personal. In these five years I have been exposed to more limiting expectations and opinions based on my gender than in any other context I’ve been in during the 37 years prior to my meeting Jesus.the-quieter-you-become-the-more-you-can-hear-22384454

Did you inhale in horror? I hope so. In the 37 years before meeting Christ, hanging out in that broken world, far from a relationship with God, I experienced low-to-no gender discrimination. Didn’t even blip on my radar. Compare this to my recent, briefer time spent working in Christian organisations, worshipping in church, and studying at Bible college, and overnight my gender seemed to become the yardstick for my ability to do anything!

Take a church gifting questionnaire I filled out in year 2 after meeting the Jesus-fella. My top three ‘manifest’ gifts: wisdom, leadership, teaching. With but a point separating the three of them. Closely followed by knowledge, discernment, prayer.

Crickets chirped as I shared the results. “What will you be able to do with those in church?” asked one.

It was my first clanging indication that I wasn’t in Kansas (or indeed a developed, enlightened country) anymore. My ability to have wisdom, lead and teach all reduced and negated by having ovaries and breasts. As a lecturer at Bible College said to me last year, “You know, Phil, with some of the things that have been said to you, I’m amazed you actually are a Christian.”

But I am. And I have intentionally chosen theological study because what I was hearing didn’t match up with the fullness of what Christ Jesus offered me. I needed to discern where denominational opine was leading me away from Jesus, not to. And, thankfully, God blessed me with gifts like wisdom and discernment so I could.

How many awesome, gifted women are not meeting Jesus because of this sort of thing? How many remain unreached and lost as a consequence? This is what presses and hurts my heart the most. It’s why – despite feeling hugely uncomfortable speaking up and out in a context that has Timothy’s ‘woman, be quiet’ rattling around my brain – I continue to do so.

But I don’t want to have to operate at such a loud volume to be heard. It hurts my throat. So instead, I ask: Godly men, could you be quiet? Because in the quietness you might hear something new. Something Jesus is whispering. That this fuss about women is getting in the way of the Gospel and we need to shush and listen.

A recent post from an organisation that develops strategies to hold institutions, perpetrators, and enablers accountable for violence, harm, and cover-ups was the final shove to have me take to the keyboard after months of quiet.  It comes in response to yet another church cover up of abuse. The headline used (from which I drew inspiration): Godly men, be quiet.

Boom. Nothing like a headline between the eyes. The writer opens:

The vast majority of church leaders have absolutely no business trying to be leaders in the movement to end sexual abuse. Part of how church leaders mess up–particularly in strongly patriarchal traditions invested in male headship (and let’s get real, for all the change that’s happened, that’s still most of Christianity)–is in assuming that they do.

With my hand on my heart for all my Christian brothers who have supported and encouraged me, I have to say: the article is right. Can you please, please, just shush and listen.

Listen without the defensiveness of #notallmen (and that goes for any women too who swoop in with the hashtag and rush to the defence of their husbands, brothers or sons). We know it’s not all men. But just like when everyone rushed to decry the data about domestic violence in Aussie churches, swooping in with the hashtag means you diminish the importance of what is being shared and, worse, you negate the pain and bravery it has taken for people to speak up.

You see, the very nature of how the world views leadership has pervaded many churches. Of course it has, or else we wouldn’t be reading story after story of collapsing meagchurches with leaders caught in sin without anyone being held to account.

Christian leadership courses teach being servant-hearted, leading from behind. To do so, it requires you to champion the least to the front. If Jesus told us the least will be first in the Kingdom of Heaven, then surely Jesus-like leadership demands the same of our leaders?

But do we see that in church? I think to model heaven on earth, we need to look more honestly at the locus of our spheres of leadership. And own that we do not do it. Not nearly enough.

Almost ten years ago, the top scholar on gender and leadership, Dr. Alice Eagly, released studies showing that women are more likely than men to possess transformational leadership qualities  – they care more about developing their followers, they listen to them and stimulate them to think ‘outside the box,’ are more inspirational, and they are more ethical.

Gosh. Transformational leadership qualities. Caring about developing their followers. Listening to their followers. Stimulating them to think outside the box. Inspirational and ethical. Why, that sounds positively ‘Lead like Jesus 101’!

Imagine if the Vatican church had leapt on that research by Dr Alice Eagly a decade ago. Or the Southern Baptist churches. Would such growth – appointing women in vital leadership roles – have prevented the tsunami of abuse that is washing out of these organisations?

So who is least? For one, those women without a voice in church. Those women who are not represented or modelled female leadership outside of children’s or women’s ministry. Who hear a majority male perspective on scripture, and, worse, are made to feel they are rebellious trouble makers when they question it. Not because they seek to tear down God’s word. But because, as women, they have been long aware of how their opportunities are diminished because of their gender.

So they pray, and they wonder. They recognise Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, who bandages up bruised reeds and fans smouldering wicks. They think, surely, Jesus, you wouldn’t seek to diminish us too?

Of course not. Who were first to share the resurrection? The earliest evangelist to Samaria? All women.

Women like the persistent widow, the haemorrhaging woman, or Mary learning at Jesus’ feet. Many women challenged their status in a patriarchal society to be near Jesus, to touch him, to be forgiven and to grow in his likeness. To grow. 

The trouble is, as soon as this topic get touched on, we get caught in shouty dialogue of what scripture says, who is right, who is wrong, who can lead, preach, teach etc. Don’t you think I’ve not prayed and wrestled with James 3:1? I know where my salvation lies and to whom I will give an account.

So, instead, can Godly men be quiet in this? Rather than rushing to speak, look at what we are seeing: the diminishment or lack of female voices is having far-reaching impact. Instead, look at the evidence that women have a vital role to play in leadership transformation.

When I turn up, again and again, asking for a new way it’s not because I’m a shrill harpy seeking to diminish men. It’s because I’m the persistent widow.

When I reach out my hand, my voice, fighting against the crowd to speak, to lead, it is not because I am some bossy feminist seeking to stomp all over men in my high heel boots. It’s because I am the haemorrhaging woman.

When I listen to the Holy Spirit, to learn and engage, to use the gifts He poured out on me in making sense of scripture and Jesus; having a knack to speak it, teach it, share it, it’s not because I seek to wilfully challenge. It’s because I am doing my best to honour and obey. To sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary.

Remember, too, there is a difference between quiet and silence. A culture of silence is a breeding ground for abuse. A culture of quiet creates the space for many more to be heard. For the last to be first.

Monica: a quiet faith that shouted loud

File_000 (1)On Tuesday evening a group of my contemporaries gathered in a ‘mini-wake’ ahead of her funeral to celebrate the life of a friend, Monica Brewer. After a short, valiant journey (she didn’t like to call it a battle), she passed away early last week from a cancer that had been diagnosed a fast six months before.

She is not my first friend to die of cancer. She likely won’t be my last. But I wasn’t able to meet them to celebrate on Tuesday night. I was off doing something else. Something Monica played an instrumental role in my undertaking.

I was at my Bible College class. Should I wish, and most importantly should God wish, by the end of this course (a Graduate Diploma in Divinity) I could become an ordained minister. Which I’m certain God, Jesus and Monica are now having a jolly good laugh about in heaven. I don’t think that will actually happen, my being an ordained minister. I still swear waaay too much for that. But God does have a strong sense of humour, so I’ve learnt just to wait and see.

I met Monica through the She Business group many years ago, long before I became a Christian. Christianity was not what I expected in my 40s, and it took much wrestling and cage-fighting to figure it out. One of my wrestles was being a business owner and integrating my faith and work.  Soon after I was baptised in the river, I retained Monica as a business coach – totally unaware she had a Christian faith herself.

Monica mixed a no-nonsense planning approach, thanks to her background as an accountant, with a matriarchal firmness I enjoyed. As I said to her at the time, “I don’t need you to talk to me about positive thinking mindset, I need you to call me on my sh*t,” and she did.

She and I worked on developing and rebranding my communications agency. But as GJ&HS swept relentlessly through my life, she could tell my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted a Kingdom-business but I was a new Christian still figuring out the Kingdom for me, let alone a business. It’s like I didn’t know enough about my own faith then to work it all out.

One day – after one of those dangerous crazy prayers – an executive role in an international not-for-profit Christian mission presented itself.

I remember turning up to my next planning meeting with Monica, totally conflicted. We had spent months, after all, planning and structuring this new agency. I told her about the prayer, and what had happened 24 hours later. “I just got goose bumps,” she told me. “Follow this. The agency will always be there for you to pick up. God will do the rest.”

Of course, she was right. He did. With spectacular results. From her encouraging me to walk through that first door, I now find myself studying, writing and preaching. Plus a new opportunity that saw me launch the Ministry of Sex. Yes, you read that right. And no, I’m not administering that sort of pastoral care. Everyone calm down.

The agency has also been prepared for me to pick it up again. Whilst working in the mission, I ran it remotely with an awesome team. Was it a juggle? Yes. Am I ready to focus on it fully, now? Yes.

Monica was part of that too. Three years ago she helped show me how to run a Kingdom business that integrated my faith – I just wasn’t sufficiently mature in my faith to recognise it at the time. During our meetings, our laptops open at her wooden dining table, an overseas visiting pastor (staying with the family as he studied at Bible college) would wander in and out. There was my Kingdom business model. Love God, love what you do in business, serve where you can and do it for His glory. He looks after the rest.

Today was her funeral. I love that they read Proverbs 31, as it encapsulates her perfectly. A woman of Godly character, in successful business, full of energy, with strength in her arms. Facing a cancer diagnosis that she called a gift from God, her faith assured her. I don’t doubt she was clothed with strength and dignity – and she may not have been laughing at the days to come, as the Psalmist writes, but she would have been fearless.

Thanks Monica. The biggest blessing is knowing I get to spend eternity with you in heaven. Dancing, just as we all did leaving the church today, just as you asked.

God bless.

 

 

 

Brace yourself: Jesus and orthodontics

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. IMG_9450-e1423232292342

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.

 

DV in church is not about me wanting to preach or be ordained. Seriously.

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.

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Source: BBC

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.