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Guard Your Gates

Photography by Brian A. Petersen at www.brianapetersen.com

We have a few good phrases we say in our house a lot, little catchphrases or sentences that carry a lot of meaning in just a few words. They are the phrases that distill a lot of conversation into one sentence. For instance, we say “calm your heart” and “we use our words to love each other.”  This is another one: Guard your gates.

It was Halloween and we were at my parents’ house helping to hand out candy. We aren’t really into Halloween and so we hadn’t made a big deal out of it. At the time, Anne was barely two and Joe was only a month old so the idea of trick-or-treating was more daunting than delightful. So we stayed inside and handed out candy with my parents. Anne was off and about, playing here and there but she happened to wander past the front door right at the moment that I opened up the door to a gaggle of teenagers decked out as zombies and witches. We can talk about whether or not teenagers with beards should be trick-or-treating another time perhaps but I’ll tell you this: Anne was terrified of them. She didn’t even scream and cry, she just froze in absolute fear, her eyes swallowing her face as the colour drained.

My mother saw her reaction and quickly scooped her up and away from the door. After I finished with the teens and shut the door, Anne was perched on my mother’s lap. I was privileged to overhear my mother helping my daughter learn how to deal with fear. As best I can remember it – it’s been six years and more babies since then – this is what she said:

“Annie, that was scary, wasn’t it?” Anne nodded, her mouth quivering. “Well, you know what? You don’t have to let that fear into your mind and into your heart, sweetheart. Just because there are scary things, it doesn’t mean you need to invite them. Let’s pretend your heart and your mind have a gate, okay? And we can either open the gate to scary things or things that make us bad or do bad things. Or we can shut that gate. Sometimes we still see things over a gate, right? But we don’t have to open the door and invite them to come in and set up forever. If scary things come into your mind and heart, it’s hard to get rid of them. Your eyes and your ears are your gates, Annie. So if you ever see something that makes you feel really scared or makes you want to do bad things, you just shut your ears and your eyes to it. You need to guard your gates, baby. If you guard your gates, then nothing will come into your mind and heart that you don’t want in there.

You want to open your gate up to the good things, sweetheart. You open your heart and your mind up to the things that make you laugh or make you good or make you think.

Annie got it. Since then, all of the tinies have gotten it. In her childlike trust, she believed my mother and the thing is, I did, too. Tinies are so sensitive, so easily influenced, so perceptive. Of course I wanted to guard her gates and teach her how to do the same thing. We are careful about what we allow the tinies to watch and experience and listen to – we know that it can become part of their very selves.

In a way, it’s become a bit of a family joke. If we’re watching Hockey Night in Canada and a commercial for a horror film comes on (seriously, HNIC, why do you do this? you know kids are watching), someone – often one of the tinies themselves – will holler “GUARD YOUR GATES” and then the tinies clap their hands over their ears and screw their eyes shut. They know that if they see that terrified girl or that blood dripping down an arm, it will become part of their mind and their heart, haunting their dreams.

I’m sure that when the tinies are all grown up, they’ll laugh themselves silly over how we used to holler “guard your gates!” during the commercial breaks of Chopped on the Food Network because an ad for a primetime show came on. Whatever. What’s parenting for if not to give them a few ways to laugh at you later on?

Confession time though: I still guard my gates. I’ve admitted at long last that I’m not immune either. I’ve learned to guard what I watch or listen to even in movies and television and music. Not because I have some weird legalistic thing about it, but because I’ve finally admitted what most everyone who loves me has known for a lot longer: I’m very sensitive. The tinies come by their sensitivities quite honestly. I take these things into my mind and heart and they latch on. I’d rather not open the doors of my heart wide to fear or lust or violence, for instance. If I believe those things are antithetical to life in Christ, then why am I flinging wide my own gates to them?

It’s funny how much I’ve tried to pretend that I’m beyond being influenced. Like I’m supposed to be so past it, so over it, that it doesn’t bother me or impact me. Like what I listen to or watch doesn’t affect what I think and how I speak and how I move through my life, how I view humanity and violence, sex and God.

Brian and I tried to watch a show recently that everyone was raving about. We made it through two episodes before we realised we were both sitting there with a cringe-y look on our faces. “It’s just not us to watch this stuff, is it?” he said. “It makes my soul feel sad,” I admitted. So we turned it off. Maybe we can’t keep up with 99% of pop culture references but I’m okay with that. Lesson learned. And yet I watch my fair share of crap, too – I can’t figure it out either. Somethings just make me a worse version of myself. I can admit that now.

But as the tinies grow up, the simplicity of that instruction has shifted. As we deal with friends and challenges and new influences, we’ve had more conversations about what it means to guard your gates beyond just slapping your hands over your ears.

Guard your gates now means that we get to decide who influences us – how we think, how we feel, what we do.

As in most things to do with parenting, I find I’m learning right along with the tinies.

One of the tinies recently asked to listen to some quiet reinterpretations of old hymns after our bedtime prayers. “It feels like someone is still praying over me as I go to sleep, it keeps the gate open to good things,” they said. Another time, we had to have long talks about the influences of certain friends and how these friendships had opened up the gates to some unacceptable behaviours and habits. It was time to practice guarding the gates against those influences while still being kind and friendly.

When we have the agency or choice (which we don’t always have), we want to be careful about who and what takes up residence in our minds and our hearts.

I think this is the hard thing about parenting – okay, who am I kidding? one of many hard things –  this whole “finding a way to help lead and teach and model nuance and wisdom” thing. When the tinies were toddlers, it was as simple as “shut your eyes and shut your ears” to scary things. Done and done.

But now that they are getting older, guarding one’s gates has to become an act of Holy Spirit lead discernment. 

Because there are times in our lives when we damn well better open our minds and our hearts to things that make us uncomfortable. In fact, I think sometimes that a lot of good Christians take the toddler approach to “guard your gates” – they just don’t listen to or hear anything that might be difficult or complex or heart-breaking. They go through life with their fingers in their ears and their eyes screwed up tight against anything that might challenge them.

Indeed, I have been thinking a lot lately about the importance of listening to the stories that make us uncomfortable and challenge our peace. Just because something is terrible to learn, it doesn’t mean that I need to guard my gates against it. As Christians, I think it’s our responsibility to carry each other’s burdens and be a part of restoring justice for one another. Sometimes that means being able to carry truly terrible truths without letting it bury us whole. We grow in these places of challenge and hardship. Guarding my gates doesn’t mean shutting out the cries of our brothers and sisters.

Sometimes the most holy work we can do is listen to each other’s stories and take their suffering into our hearts, carrying each other’s burdens and wounds to Christ.

So, no, I don’t guard my gates against simply terrible or scary things anymore. Instead, I want to guard my gates against what diminishes wholeness and holiness in me.

I guard against the influences that make me the worst version of myself, the influences that feed my natural tendencies towards sin and bitterness, rage and cynicism, seeing the worst of people and being quick to offence.

This is a hard thing to write about without sounding like this is an exercise in boundary-marking and legalism. I’m not really into policing anyone else’s standards. I tend to trust the Holy Spirit in you. But it’s also a good bit of common sense to me now.

Sometimes it is this simple: is this influence – whether it’s a book or a movie or a friendship or a Facebook page – bringing life and wholeness and the fruit of the Spirit to me and others? Is it challenging me to be fully alive, to be more compassionate and human, to be more wise and loving?

It doesn’t have to be pleasant, oh, no sometimes the things that bring compassion and wisdom and wholeness into our lives are the very things that break our hearts or make us angry or challenge us.

Even in the face of terrible and terrifying things, I want to open my gates to the influences that will help make me whole and holy. I want to grieve and lament, push back against evil and darkness, challenge injustice while still, as Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8-9,”filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”

And I want to open wide the gates of my heart and my mind to the influences that bring life and light, goodness and holiness to me.

I want to fill my heart with those things because then when I encounter the terrible and the terrifying, my true life will brim over into true words and deeds that bring life (Luke 6:44).

I have no idea if this makes any sense.

 

 

Continue Reading · faith, family, parenting · 82

Be Not Afraid: A Letter to my Charismatic Brothers and Sisters

benotafraid

My dear Brothers and Sisters:

I have been wanting to write this letter for a while now. Perhaps it’s silly to think that it will matter in any meaningful way, but I’m okay with being silly. Remember, we have always loved to sing about how we’ll become “even more undignified than this.” Acting a fool for the Lord is an okay place for me.

Our charismatic roots stretch back over 2,000 years of Christianity but our more modern family history begins with the Pentecostal movement of 1901 moving through to the Charismatic movement of the 1960s and then the Third Wave of the 1980s. That is when I joined our tribe – a skinny kid with a sensitive spirit and a thirsty heart and a mean dance-kick. I have been a charismatic woman for more than 30 years now. Even after a season of my life when I walked far away from our traditions, gathering the greater story of our Church and history to myself, I now find myself corkscrewing back over and over again to the teachings of my childhood, the songs, the practices. For more than one hundred years, we’ve arguably been at the forefront of the emphasis on the Holy Spirit and those gifts in operation for the growth of the Church and the redemption of the world. But perhaps that is the root of our suspicions – we’ve been outsiders for so long that we’ve become convinced that we are, in fact, marginalized. When nothing could be further from the truth. Out of all the movements of Christianity, our tribe of Pentecostalism or charismatic Christians is still the fastest growing in the world. As Harvard theologian Harvey Cox said, pentecostalism is “reshaping religion in the 21st century.” People who want to moan and groan about the waning influence of the Church have forgotten the global story and the bigger story of our little movement.

I think that kind of influence brings a demand for thoughtfulness and care, don’t you?

But over the past few years, as I’ve personally become even more charismatic in my practices and in my theology, I have found myself distancing myself from our broader family of charismatics, particularly our more public voices. I crave thoughtful voices, I crave hope and faith, and even, yes, a prophetic imagination. Even as my theology remains staunchly charismatic, I have found myself distancing from the culture of being a charismatic.

But we’ve all splintered as a movement over the years – which perhaps shouldn’t surprise us. It has happened to every other movement within Christianity, we shouldn’t be so proud as to think we would be exempt from this natural growth and change. It’s inevitable and likely even helpful.

Yet here I am writing to us all now, as a larger family united by the Spirit, wherever we fall on our history and practices, church affiliation or theology.

Family, I believe the Spirit has a word for us: be not afraid.

This message has been central to our history and it is key for our future.

I’ve been particularly grieved by two incidents within our tribe over the past few weeks. First, our brother Michael Gungor, one of the most thoughtful musical artists of our time, has been publicly vilified across Christian media – both traditional, online, and social – for openly discussing his belief in an old earth rather than a young earth. Our tribe has been quick to pounce on him in particular since he is one of our own. Yet he is not alone in this belief, of course, many well respected and orthodox Christians throughout the ages have held to the scientific evidence of the universe while still affirming the creeds and Scripture fully. But instead, many in our tribe have settled with fear-mongering misinformation. Often putting words and beliefs into Michael’s mouth that simply aren’t true, accusing him of everything from heresy to abandoning his faith to pride.

This reaction to Michael’s beliefs has grieved me for several reasons. First the lack of charity for him, the swiftness with which so many have kicked him to the curb, the hateful tones, the way that many in our leadership have simply fanned the flames of fanaticism and fundamentalism rather than engaging in thoughtful and careful care not only for each other’s souls but for the Church.

But second, I have been grieved because of the underlying truth at the heart of these reactions: fear. People talk about Michael and they are AFRAID. Afraid of the slippery slope, afraid of nuance, afraid of anything other than a literal black-and-white reading of Scripture, afraid of the breadth of tradition within orthodox Christianity, afraid of science, afraid of education, afraid of university, afraid of Michael himself even. Fear, fear, fear.

And secondly, there was the article published at Charisma News – once our flagship media empire but sadly now descended into fear-mongering and poorly disguised click-bait to incite emotional reactions. Written by Gary Cass, the article was entitled “Why I Am an Islamaphobic” and then proceeded to not only argue that it is impossible for any Muslims to come to Jesus, but that the only way to “deal with” our Muslim neighbours was to deport them, sterilize them, or take up arms against them. The article was eventually removed after a major public outcry but tellingly, there has been no retraction printed. Charisma has often in the past few years printed articles similar in tone or content, this was not a one-off incident but the latest in a long string of terrible and dangerous editorials. Brian Zahnd had a godly response to the article; in fact, he was the one who brought it to the broader public attention as well.

Like many charismatics, I parted ways with Charisma years ago for a few different reasons but this article went so far beyond ignorant stupidity. It flatly advocated the same tactics, theology, and beliefs that resulted in the WWII Holocaust and the Rwandan holocaust. It stank of evil and murder, genocide and hatred. Nothing could be further from the message of the Jesus who we claim to follow than this. And at the root of that evil and hatred – fear. Fear, fear, fear. 

Be afraid, the world tells us. And now, sadly, it seems many of our charismatic/Pentecostal media outlets and leaders are telling us the same thing. Be afraid. Be afraid of money, be afraid of losing “the fire”, be afraid of education, be afraid of theology, be afraid of growth and change, be afraid of gay and lesbian people, be afraid of art and science, be afraid of television, be afraid of artists, be afraid of reading books, be afraid of the news, be afraid of Islam, be afraid of the President, be afraid of the UN, be afraid of immigrant children, be afraid of other churches, be afraid of the Pope, be afraid of socialism, be afraid of the government, be afraid of the world, be afraid be afraid be afraid. 

We’ve taught the message that “everyone is out to get us” and “be afraid” for so long that perhaps it is no wonder that we have become fear-filled, defensive, close-minded anti-Christs. I grieve for our witness. Is this the activity and experience of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Surely not.

We are living out of our worst fears instead of our best hopes. We are teaching and preaching, we are writing, we are leading, we are praying out of crippling fear instead of the hope of Christ.

This saddens me because it is so far from our historical roots as charismatic/pentecostals. And it is also so antithetical to the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit of the Lord will never look and smell and speak fear. The Spirit of the Lord will not bring division and disunity. The Spirit of the Lord will not move us toward hatred, ignorance, fear, and evil actions.

In some ways, I am still very simple and childlike: Jesus is still my teacher, still the one I want to follow to the ends of the earth. And if someone’s teaching or leadership is leading me away from the teachings of our Jesus, let alone away from cultivating the fruit of the Spirit’s operation in my life - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – then I have to wonder if that teaching has anything to do with the Spirit to begin with…..?

I think this is why it’s wise to be test and weigh the words of those who influence our own spirits and minds: are they leading us towards greater freedom and hope and joy? or are they weighing us down with the shackles of fear and torment? 

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

When I remember the early days of my faith, I remember our joy. I do. I remember that even though we were a motley collection of stories and failures, we had been born again in every way possible. Speaking in tongues, prophetic words from the Lord for one another, laying on hands in the belief that God would and could heal, all of it. I remember our songs and our hope, I remember our steady commitment to memorizing Scripture and how we were foolish enough to simply believe that it was true.

I remember how fear was an enemy to be routed and cast out of our hearts, not a pet to stroke and coddle, let alone a tactic for financial gain at the expense of each other.

So these two incidents happened. And I remembered what you all have taught me, family. You were the ones who taught me to cast fear away from my heart. What has happened to us? What has happened to our boldness and courage? I’ll tell you – we traded it for fear.

Our tribe is the one that taught me to wrap myself in the truth of Scripture: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

The Lord is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:17).

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18).

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)

These were our songs, remember? These were our anthems. These were the verses we memorized out of our brand-new never-read-before Bibles and then wrote out on index cards to tape to our mirrors. These were the words in our mouths. These were the prayers we prayed over our histories and our families, over our own minds and our hearts, over our children while they slept.

Fear is not our motivator. Fear is not our address. Fear is not our ruler. We are not a people of fear. We are a people of faith and hope and love. We are the people of Scripture. We are the people of the Holy Spirit’s active movement and intimate involvement in our lives.

When we reject fear and embrace faith, I believe our lives become more open, more generous, more loving, more kind, more gentle, more patient. We are slow to anger and quick to forgive, we are a people of radical hope and forgiveness.

We are a movement with tremendous influence in the world today. What will our legacy be? One of fear? with his children hatred, ignorance, narrow-mindedness, evil, and even murder? Or will our legacy be born of the Spirit? with her children of hope and love and joy, wisdom and imagination, courage and thoughtfulness?

We have lead the Church so beautifully in so many ways, let’s lead well again.

How sad that we have opened the door of our heart, not to Christ and his hope and abundance, but instead to the insidious spread of fear. Fear will choke out the life of the Spirit in us. Fear will poison the fruit of the Spirit in your life. Fear is truly a tool of the enemy, it will destroy not only you and your life but the hope of Christ that you carry within for the rescue, renewal, and restoration of the world, too.

Dear brothers and sisters of the Holy Spirit, remember your first love. Remember that fear is our enemy, not our friend. Remember the words of Scripture and cling tightly to them, hold fast to the hope of Christ. Remember your roots in faith and hope, not fear.

Be not afraid.

Jesus has saved and will save and is saving the world. What can man do to us?

As so many of our brothers and sisters around the world face real persecution and torment, now is not the time for us to become lazy in doing good or to give ourselves over to fear. In fact, I believe that now, more than ever, we are all called to stand in faith, as prophetic outposts for God’s way of life, as glimpses of the ways of life in Christ.

Remember, “praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you,  who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Peter 1:3-6).

Be filled with the Spirit.

I leave you with the words of our brother Paul as recorded in Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

In faith,

Sarah

 

Continue Reading · church, faith, fearless · 86

I know. I’m sorry. I hope I was kind.

I was a tongue-talking eight-year-old in a new church that was meeting at an old leisure centre. I guarded my confession – I didn’t feel sick, nope, I’m coming down with a healing! and I literally believed in thirty, sixty, hundred fold returns, calculated to figure out how much God owed me for my tithe. I secretly wondered what was missing in the lives of people who were sick or depressed or broke: obviously, they were not blessed. By the time I was a teenager at the Jesus camps, pledging my life to being a warrior in God’s culture army, I had memorized Bible verses as answers, and developed a pretty major evangelical hero complex along with my superiority and false sense of control.

I was nineteen and full of disdain for my old ways. I broke with the faith of my youth, railed against over-realized eschatology, studied theology and waxed philosophic about all the ways they were doing it wrong. I judged the Christians of my youth and my context, and I found them wanting, clearly I had a better theology now. I was stumbling into the fringes of an emerging movement in the church. Finally I found my tribe.

And less than ten years later, I had abandoned the label, poked holes in the arguments I used to make, found the inconsistencies, the hypocrisies. I judged the people who helped usher me into this new season of my life in Christ, and I found them wanting so I held them up in my mind or in public for mockery and slander. I disguised my critical heart with a lot of talk about critical thinking. I found the points of weakness and drove a chisel into it, let’s watch it splinter together.

These are just two seasons of my life:  I also had my anti-institutional church season, my I’m-not-a-Christian-season, my agnostic season, my angry feminist season, my new-wanna-be-theologian season, my screw-it-let’s-knit-things-season, my I’m-a-new-mother-and-I-know-everything-now season. I have had seasons for my marriage, for my work, for my processing, for my mothering, for my relationships, for my writing, and so of course, I’ve had them for my journey with Christ. I imagine I’ll have a dozen more seasons. Sometimes I cycle through a dozen Sarahs in a day. I’ll look back on the me-right-now with wiser eyes someday, I’m under no illusions.

Now I feel tender-hearted when I look back at my own self in those seasons. And I feel tender-hearted towards all the people who were there with me, all of us doing the best we could do with what we had.

I’m redeeming it. I am reclaiming.

In God, we live and move and have our being, and God was in and amongst the movements because he was moving in the people there, and now I see outside and in and among, and above all, for us, for us all.

I will gather up all these disparate seasons and thoughts and opinions and experiences, and hold them all in my hands with gratitude.

Now I’m able to find something good in the over-the-top excessive prosperity preachers and the smug theologians and the pot-stirring elitists and the overly passionate kids in the stadium light shows and the evangelistic new mothers and the disillusioned bitter cynics, because I’m all of them, too.

Someday I’ll add the woman I am now, the theology I practice, the words I write so earnestly to that list of stops along the way of lifelong discipleship.

In addition now to the wrongs or the missteps or the weirdness, I see the beauty of my young first generation faith: a love for the Scriptures, a deep and profound sense of God’s inherent goodness, a respect and love for language and words, a passion for worship and full engagement. I see the beauty of the other seasons, too: the respect for education, the widening of horizons, the gift of anger, the awakening to complexity, and a tribe of sinners-saved-by-grace reminiscent of a messy first-century Church, I see grace. I look back on the people, on the movements, on the seasons, and I want to curl up beside all of us, listen, love, and be kind. I want to reach out and hold hands.

There’s room for all of us. There’s room for all of me.

Maybe it’s because I see this cycle of seasons in our own lives and in the Church, and I see it happening again.

Maybe it’s because I’m gratefully disillusioned about church leadership. Maybe it’s because I’m pretty convinced that we’re all doing the best we can do, most of the time. Maybe it’s because I don’t think anyone has the corner on truth. Maybe it’s because I’m thankful for the extremes and all points in between, because they keep us growing, keep us alive, keep us reforming.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been wrong so often. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit tired.

And maybe I want a little more kindness and more faithfulness, I want to walk in the way of humility. I think we underestimate the foolish ones and the kind ones.

Maybe it’s because I imagine, someday, likely soon, some part of the Church will look at me with disdain on their faces and parody Twitter accounts and coffee shops and doctoral dissertations on All The Ways We Did It Wrong, and all I’ll know to say is that I know, and I’m sorry, and I hope I learned to be kind.

edited from the archives

Continue Reading · faith, journey · 27

We underestimate the foolish and the kind ones: On building the Kingdom of God, peace-making, and bridge-building

Nearly a year ago, I had one of my first in-person conversations with Christine Caine. If you don’t already know Chris, well, get ready – she’s an over-caffeinated, fast-talking, Pentecostal Aussie who is filled with the Spirit and leaves most of us slack-jawed while she preaches her face off around the world and sets the curtains on fire. And I love her. But in this story, we were just chatting quietly in the back of a room, getting to know each other. She was kind enough to encourage me in my work, particularly as Jesus Feminist was just weeks away from releasing. Off hand, she mentioned that she feels like we need to create pipelines for people to move towards God’s idea of equality and justice.

In a way, we all start at a different point in our journeys. If I imagine this journey towards God’s full realization of justice as an alphabet, some of us start at Point A and others start at Point S.

At the end of our lives, some of us might finish far away from Point Z perhaps but it took a tremendous amount of courage and faith to end up at Point P. And so we can celebrate any movement towards justice and wholeness in each other, however far from perfect.

We all need a way to move forward. We need an invitation or a way to onboard to the journey. We need the bridges to be able to cross over.

Even if, in our lifetime, we only move from Point A to Point M, at least we are moving towards God’s heart for justice, at least we are being moved. And I think so often in our work for justice, we lack patience for those who are on different points of the journey, we want to leap them from Point A to Point Z. Sometimes I want to make that leap myself or leapfrog someone else to where I am already – forgetting that it took a lot of pipelines, bridges, prayers and conversations for me to end up where I am.

I find the true and long-lasting work happens when we take the time to walk with each other in that journey. I have needed men and women to walk with me as I move on this made-up idea of the justice alphabet, they are the ones who have created bridges for me to cross, space for me to grow in real and meaningful ways. I have been discipled.

We are all moving from different places and experiences, backgrounds and teachings, contexts and privilege. But I have hope still that God is moving us forward – if we are open to the Spirit and to each other.

I think this is also the holy work of justice and peace-making.

I’ve thought of that metaphor so much since our conversation. Because the truth is that we do all start from different places on different issues of justice. And I felt like Chris articulated much of how I feel about that little yellow book, and even my own ongoing work: I want to create the pipeline, to build the bridge, to hold out my hand and say walk a while with me and see for yourself. (I’m always so thankful for those disciples who are ahead of me in the journey.)

Wherever people find themselves in their journey, am I creating pipelines or building bridges? am I inviting my brothers and sisters further out into the holy and wild work of redemption?

***

I believe that our God is at work in the world, setting things right. I also believe that God accomplishes this in our world through, well, us. God’s redemptive movement, the slow and steady arc towards justice. We are learning that there is no fear in love – as of 1 John 4 says, we are letting “love have the run of the house.”

***

My friendships in Haiti have changed a lot of my theological opinions just like my friendships here at home or the ones built throughout a lifetime. (This is the way of community, I think. If our theology doesn’t evolve and change during our lives, then I have to wonder if we are paying attention.) I have written often about the man who moved a mountain so that a school could be built. The metaphor of moving a mountain as it relates to doing the work of peace-making and justice-seeking since my first visit to Haiti crops up often in my life and work – in fact, I ended up dedicating an entire chapter of my book to this beautiful idea).

And with every day that passes, it takes on new meaning and nuance to me. Because sometimes, yes, we speak to a mountain and it will lift up and be cast into the sea. What a glorious image! But I’ve also learned over my lifetime that it is just as holy and just as ridiculous and just miraculous for the people of God to pick up their own small shovels and shoulder into that mountain with faith.

Sometimes the mountain is cast out and other times, I believe, we see that mountain move by blood, sweat, tears, and patience, by joint effort, a million small stones at a time.

I have decided that, rather than be someone who denies the existence of the mountain entirely – whatever that represents in the moment – or simply gives up in despair, that I will be a woman who picks up small stones and moves them. Small acts of faith are still acts of faith. I will be a woman who slowly and over time and alongside of many others will make that mountain move.

But it will also be an act of love.

***

I’ve been thinking about the women of Exodus a lot lately. I lay the blame – okay, fine the credit – for that squarely on the shoulders of one of my best friends, Kelley Nikondeha. She has always been enthralled with the Old Testament. In fact, her work and her whole life centres around the themes of Isaiah through Communities of Hope in Burundi. Jubilee, justice, swords into ploughshares, all for the restoration of both lives and the land.

Kelley taught me about the women of Exodus, how they quietly turned over the empire in their own ways, paving the way for Moses and the exodus of Israel from Egypt. She writes here about the midwives, Pueh and Shiphra, who subverted Pharaoh in their own way. They were meant to murder any boy babies that were born to the Hebrew women but instead they quietly delayed their arrivals or “forgot” to look if the baby was a boy. All this to ensure that mothers delivered their healthy babies. When Pharaoh challenged them, they blamed the strength of the Hebrew mothers. And they kept right on delivering life to the people of Israel. This is why Moses survived. The mountain of slavery for the Hebrew people was moved in the big ways – the parting of the Red Sea, for instance – but that mountain also moved in the small and secret ways, like the midwives.

It was behind the scenes work. Small stones work. By the very nature of midwifery, it is holy work that is done in secret and in intimacy. But the result is life and hope, stretching for generations, changing the trajectory of the story.

***

I think that the work of the Spirit is often silent work. Perhaps that’s why it’s so rare – silence is so rare.

We don’t see what is going on in each other’s lives and hearts, as the Spirit moves among and within each of us. I think the greatest work of the Spirit happens in the secret places of our lives. We’re moving and changing, slowly being scrubbed clean on the inside. Who cares if we give all of our attention to the outside of the cup if the inside is filthy? (Matthew 23:25-26)

Not all of the redemptive movement of God is visible to our judgment. 

There are moments in our lives when we are silent because the Spirit is at work. Midwifery happens in the hidden places.

***

The paradox is that the  Spirit is also a movement, a mighty wind, a rushing river, a burning tongue of fire setting our mouths and our minds and our hearts on fire. There is usually movement – change perhaps? – after an encounter with the Spirit of the living God. The Spirit never calls us to apathy.

***

We think of a revolutionary as a holy warrior and it is exciting to be angry and to turn over tables. I bless the ones who are called to that work.

Peace making is not passive aggressive.

Some of us are called to the combative and visible work, but here’s my quiet word of caution: don’t look down on your brothers and sisters whose work in the Kingdom may well be done in secret, in quiet, in kind ways.

There are a lot of ways to challenge the empire. My way is not the only way. Your way is not the only way.

***

Revolution doesn’t look like changing diapers or making meals, right? Kind people don’t change the world. We can’t imagine overturning the empire through these small stones that we lift up, one after another, through the small lives we spare, through our words and our prayers.

But some of the most Christ-like people I have known in my life, the ones who have changed the world, are doing it in ways that we often think are beneath us. I know we’re dazzled by social media platforms and conferences stages, bullhorns and accolades. We take liberties with them, perhaps.

Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom of God in small ways: a seed that grows to a mighty oak, a mustard seed of faith, a bit of yeast that causes the whole loaf to rise.

I have a bit of a preference for the grassroots folks, I admit. I see the ones far from the usual power and leadership narratives as the heroes.

The Kingdom is often taking root in small ways – in our kitchens and in our parish halls, in our streets and our subsidized daycares, in youth group mentoring relationships and after-school care, in prayer circles and by-law meetings at city council.

We walk right past each other, never knowing we’re in the presence of a peace maker, never knowing the full ways that we are each engaged in the radical work of reconciliation, rescue, and redemption. 

And I think we underestimate the bridge builders, the ones caught in the middle with their arms outstretched.

I think we underestimate the kind and the foolish ones.

***

I am aware of power differentials and privilege, of systemic injustice and evil, of my own anger and my gross tendency towards an evangelical hero complex.

So of course I want to name the empire for what it is: crippling and soul-sucking, dehumanizing and evil. Whether it’s racism, patriarchy, war mongering, dehumanizing, it’s counter to God’s Kingdom. But the people caught in those systems are rarely the enemies – often they are just as caught, just as longing for a rescue as the rest of us. We don’t battle against flesh and blood, not really, but against the powers and principalities that hold us all captive.

And so I believe that we – as the people of God – are called to prophetically live out the Kingdom of God in our right-now lives. So that means setting up our lives as an outpost for the Kingdom way of life, the life of a disciple, the life and life-more-abundant of our God’s dream for humanity.

There’s room for the ones who dismantle and the ones who plant gardens in exile. There’s room for the midwives and the Moses.

 

***

I’m also suspicious of empire tactics being baptized and employed to “build the Kingdom of God.” 

My soul recoils from the use of the very tactics of the empire – silencing, bullying, judging, other-ing, dehumanzing, mocking, name-calling, ganging up and piling on, violence – used against the oppressed and marginalized now somehow being used for “good purpose.”

I see this tendency in my own soul and it grieves me. The Spirit often calls us to repentance before we are called to our ideas of revolution. 

My friend Kelley that I mentioned above here tells me that sometimes we think we’re called to fighting but really we’re called to farming.

This is the very nonsensical part of discipleship that our need for power bumps up against. It’s all very well to talk about “the upside down kingdom of God” until that discipleship asks us to actually live it out. 

To the world, it’s foolish to choose peace instead of war. It’s foolish to forgive. It’s foolish to be kind. It’s foolish to hope. It’s foolish to offer grace and conversation.

It’s foolish to care for your weaker brothers or sisters, let alone change our own behaviour to accommodate their growth and discipleship, their freedom and their journey.

It’s foolish to live without legalism and “clear boundaries” that apply to everyone. It’s foolish to make it our business to pursue a quiet life. It’s foolish to lay down our power. It’s foolish to be silent and listen to others instead of rush to make our own point (after all we have things to say! important things!). It’s foolish to recognize your own privilege and walk softly. It’s foolish to believe that your life matters. It’s foolish to honour one another.

Foolish things will confound the “wise” of our world. 

Those things all do seem foolish to me. So much of what Jesus and then the early church calls me to in Scripture seems foolish to the world. They confound me. They often go against my very real instincts to burn down bridges and shut down dissent and pick fights and turn over tables. But I think we are being foolish in the ways of a disciple. We are living prophetically into the Kingdom of God.

We can prophecy a better world with our very words and actions, even in the ways that we overturn the empire.

The Spirit transforms our hearts and minds and then our lives: regardless of our past, regardless of our context, regardless of our privilege or lack thereof. If we are disciples, we are participating in the life of Jesus now. And the way in which we engage in our lives matters. The way in which we engage our enemies matters even more perhaps.

This is how we will be known: by our love.

I want my work and witness to be marked by who I build up, not who I tear down. I want to be known as one who speaks life, not death; who empowers and affirm and speaks even the hard truth in love and invitation. I want us to be the ones who boldly deconstruct and then, with grace and intention and inclusion, reconstruct upon the Cornerstone.

I want to embody the character and nature of the kingdom of God, of our holy God, even when it seems so foolish.

I guess I’m foolish enough to believe it, they will know us by our love.

 

image credit: Kenny Louie

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