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.
I have been at God’s boarding school for the past couple of years. Which is kind of weird, considering I had no clue I was there – but bear with me.
You see, after the crazy pace and race of the first eighteen months with GJ&HS, it all skidded to an abrupt….I don’t know what. I’ve been trying to figure it out:
Halt? No. I used to blog how I expected it all to wear off, but it certainly didn’t stop.
Cruise control? Like the set and forget, take your eyes off the speedo, and autopilot takes you along in fifth gear. No way. I can’t describe the past couple of years as cruising. GJ&HS (especially HS) were still in action and I was still active in trying to figure out why God had hunted me down in my forties.
Heck, you could call me the conversion chick poster girl: from meditating on runes and crystals one minute to working in an international Christian mission, serving and learning about GJ&HS, receiving a scholarship to complete a year-long Christian leadership course, moving on to study part-time at bible college for a Graduate Diploma in Divinity, leading a new growth group in the church, plus – the real crazy icing on the cake – speaking and preaching in a variety of settings across churches and conferences.
I’ve hung around plenty of UHT Christians now to understand what an anomaly this is. The most common comment I’ve received in the past four years is, “That’s not typical, you know, what happened to you.” (Closely followed by, “You do know you’re not Anglican…”)
The typical getting to know Jesus route involves Sunday school, Christian parents, youth group etc etc. A nice linear path that appears measured and within certain speed limits. Not my UFC cage-fight followed by full-throttle around the racetrack on a Kawasaki ZZR 1100. I used to feel I had to apologise for it, as if such speed was unseemly.
But so too was the speed at which the Father ran towards The Prodigal Son in Luke 15, so I decided to stop worrying what everyone else thought about the pace, and started to accept rather than worry about it.
The other comment (about my surprising Anglicanism) could be to do with my preference for expressing my opinions with a glint in my eye, ribald humour, red-to-purple hair and leather pants. Whilst I turn myself over to the HS daily for ongoing application of the J-factor (sort of like the X-factor, just with better gifts, talents and far more kindness and patience than Simon Cowell), I’ve not yet been overcome by a need to return my hair to its natural, dirty-dishwater blond or change my wardrobe.
As the Bible tells me, God loves every hair on my head, He knows what I’m about to say before I do…. and I don’t have to change outwardly to fit. He changes me as He sees fit, but that’s hugely different.
So if I grew more secure in my relationship with GJ&HS, recognised that the three of them were handling the makeover, not I, why havethe past couple of years felt bereft?
This is the description I landed on. Bereft. It hadn’t halted. I wasn’t in cruise control. But I felt bereft. I was still loved, but the tangent and tenor of my conversations with GJ&HS had shifted.
Something was lacking. I was deprived of the almost compulsive need to blog, for example. Despite desperately missing the medium, it felt like my brain was clogged down with chronic fatigue each time I tried to write. What had poured out of me four years ago – for almost two years solid – felt as unwieldy and as appealing as wet cement.
I was also rubbing shoulders with more Christians than ever before too: learning from them, being inspired by them….
…and being knocked down by them.
It should come as no surprise that Christians behave badly. We are God’s broken people, after all. But doesn’t it wound and take your breath away when it happens? It hurts more – much like the awfulness of churches sweeping child and domestic abuse into hidden corners. It explains our wider society’s struggle to forgive – because so much more than brokenness is expected of God’s people. We are asked to be His lights, His image-bearers, to walk and talk as Jesus would in this broken world – so when Christians behave badly it strikes as so much worse, so much more damaging.
God thrust me right amongst it: the wounding, the lies, the gossip, the inability to forgive as He has forgiven. Verbal and spiritual abuse amidst pious proclamations. The only things that didn’t cross my path were heresy and adultery.
Yet for every illustration of brokenness, God delivered me 20 Christians who lit a path. He knew how much I needed them.
Truthfully, I wanted to both retreat and retaliate with cynicism. To doubt that anything good was at work here. Yet it also took me to new depths of scriptural wrestling, of really listening to the HS and trusting each time He would guide me. While I wanted to distrust, doubt, be suspicious – all traits of cynicism that eat away at faith – the HS took over. It was like the HS ring-fenced my heart. He showed me when to be suspicious of what I heard, whilst showing me my heart need not be damaged by what I experienced.
I name it the HS vomit. It ranges within me from a faint queasy seasickness to a full, oily rolling in the stomach when something is off-piste. It has protected me during spiritual abuse, when I have been subtly demeaned, diminished, bullied and told I am ‘only a new Christian’, ‘unable to understand theologically’ or when my gender has been used against me – as if my ovaries somehow get in the way of my understanding God’s Word.
The oily sickness would rise and I would find myself better able to discern the lack of truth being uttered. I would reach for His word and find out just how far scripture was being twisted to suit agendas.
Little wonder I felt bereft. I have felt a little bit of me has been missing. But I couldn’t figure out what it was.
The problem wasn’t me getting too close to God in all this. At times I didn’t feel close enough. It became a dark balancing act: yes, I was learning and growing like a weed, but there were days when I felt so choked by thorns I would wonder what on earth was going on. “So what if I’m working in a mission, so what if I’m at Bible College – when was the last time I had a decent, open, generous conversation with someone about Jesus?” I would implore God. “It’s all so…theoretical. But, agh, (exhale), sorry, Your will not mine.”
Kindly, God placed an image of an arrowhead being sharpened with flint in my mind. Which – you’d think – would be sufficient for me to simmer down. But no. Akin to a petulant Israelite whining about wanting smashed avo on toast instead of manna, I returned: “Okay, okay, I get it. Sharpening. Preparation. But leaving me in the equivalent of a forest feeling frustrated with flint might mean I burn the place down out of boredom.”
As you will no doubt pick up, dear reader, the HS is still working on my download of the gift of patience. Yet in illustration of how much He loves, the very next day I received two calls to preach at two different events. Maybe, just maybe, this strange, bereft time in the ‘wilderness’ was coming to an end…
It did. Two and a half weeks ago God picked me up from boarding school – which is the only metaphor I can think of to explain the move from bereft to fullness again.
I’d gone to listen to the SAP preach in a new church. For a variety of reasons, I’d originally cancelled my plans to attend. It wouldn’t be the last sermon the SAP preaches, and the beauty of podcasts hardly made the four-hour round trip a necessity. Yet, once I’d cancelled, God had been persistently insistent, shoving hard at me the need for me to go. in. person.
Maybe the SAP needed some encouragement? So, travel coffee in hand, I blearily took a long drive to attend early Sunday service (taking in a radio sermon en route about Israel travelling widely in the desert… God’s humour ;-))
Outside the church, I had my first clue that maybe this was less to do with the SAP and more to do with me. Overhearing the soundcheck, the lyric “it’s your breath in our lungs” landed like a shock on my chest. Hang on… this intensity was familiar: the same pulling me into God’s embrace that I’d experienced so viscerally in my early Christian walk. One that I had been missing, that had contributed to my sense of bereft.
The sermon packed a similar punch. I physically felt I’d received a filling of my lungs – a full 100%, powerful, oxygenated lung capacity that I’d not experienced for a while. Now, I appreciate the SAP’s talents as a preacher, I do. But this wasn’t about the SAP. This was a Holy Spirit rush.
I remember when my son went for his first school camp, age 5. He was away for three nights, over 200km away. On his return he stood on the steps of the coach, looking out over the crowd of parents. He looked so contained – still terribly young and yet he had grown within himself. Then, scanning the crowd, he saw me. As our eyes met, just for a split second, the mask of accomplishment fell away. It was pure love mingled with relief: you are here and I need you so. I’ve been brave, I’ve grown while I’ve been away…. but, Mum, I’m so glad you’re here.
It was the same for me. It was like God was waiting in the arrivals hall of the airport and pulling me in to Him.
Me: “But, but, hang on…I didn’t think I’d moved? Did I? Oh, Lord, really? Did I go away? I’m so sorry if I did.”
He smiled and pulled me closer: “Not at all. I planned this. Haven’t you learnt the last couple of years about Me, and you, and My people – all the good, all the broken and everything in between?”
I nodded, wiping my hands over my face to clear the tears. “Yes. And there were plenty of times I prayed if were time for me to move on from the situations You had placed me in. PLENTY.”
God smiled. “And what did I say?”
Me: “You kept saying, “No. Not yet.””
God (smiling): “Yes, and I know it drove you nuts. You slanged and wrestled with Psalms. But you did as I asked, dear heart. Plus you had to seek Me in My word first. Which you did before, but not as much as you have done as a consequence of the past couple of years.”
It explains my idea of being at God’s boarding school. I was bereft because the level of intensity I’d experienced when I first got to know GJ&HS had altered. At the time, it was a real, vivid, loving intensity that God knew was so desperately needed in order to reach through the cynicism and armour I had erected around myself.
Nor do I want to imply that God withheld His love. That either of us moved. But I needed to learn how to stand on Him as my rock, not as my giddy fairground attraction. The most wonderful part of the past two weeks has been recognising I now have both.
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.
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.