Navigation


Archive | fearless

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

In which I read my bad reviews

You know better. Of course, you do. You know better than to read blog posts about your book. You know better than to Google yourself. You know better than to troll a list of “best blogs” looking for your own absent name.

And you know better than to ignore the 5-star reviews and only read the 1- and 2-star reviews of your little yellow book. You know better than to measure your self-worth by the measuring sticks of another.

Of course you know this. But some days…. Well, some days, you forget or you violate your own boundaries and you do it anyway.

So this is what people think of me.

And then you sit in their thoughts. Deflated. Out of breath. Hot. Why does your face always get so hot when you feel exposed?

They’re right. Of course, they’re right.

Who do you think you are?

That hiss always comes on the heels of these moments. Who do you think you are? And in this moment, you can’t remember the answer or can’t muster the words aloud.

So this is what you do first: you walk away from the reviews, from the criticism, from the mockery, from the ways you’ve disappointed.

Then you call your sister and you call your husband. You call your friends. You get mad and dare to say it out loud. You admit that you’re hurt. You admit that you made a bad decision by choosing to read them and now you’re living with the consequences but they seem a bit too harsh in your soul.

You admit that you’re feeling vulnerable and exposed, ridiculous and small, worthless and foolish. You are trying to harden your heart so it doesn’t hurt anymore.

Somehow saying it out loud helps a bit.

But you don’t want to have a hard heart. You’d rather be hurt than impenetrable. This is the price of living without armour, of making art with your life and stories and faith: you are vulnerable.

Every attack feels personal because it’s your heart-and-soul-work. And that’s okay. You might need a bit of time before you can sort through the legit criticisms – the kind that will make you better – from the hurt. Maybe it will make you a better writer. Maybe. Reason and logic seem insufficient at the moment.

You go for a walk in the sunshine. You remember that it’s spring and so you take pictures of the pink and white trees. You hold hands with your littlest girl and stop often to look at the wonder: look, a ladybug! look, a rock! look, a cigarette butt! look, a dandelion! And you carry her treasures in your pockets (except for the cigarette butt). You tip your face to the sky and breathe deep. This is real, this is real, this is real.

You argue and defend yourself and justify to a closed computer. Then you pray and you find comfort. You keep praying like you always do, throughout your life.

You consider quitting writing but first you’d have to quit living, quit caring.

You go home and clean something. You make supper. You bath your children and quiz spelling words. You sweep the floors and put away laundry. Your life is achingly normal and today this comforts you.

Then in the night, when everyone is asleep, you run the bath and sink into the warmth. Your damp hands hold up a book you love, and the pages absorb the warmth. You read and soak until your hair is damp and curling around your neck.

You rise up out of the water and stand. You look in the mirror at your bare face and you say it out loud this time: I’m a beloved warrior

Then you go to bed and sleep.

In the morning, when you rise, you already know that you will pour a cup of tea, sit your bum in your chair, and write again. And someone will not like it. But you will write anyway and you will keep writing because this is where you find God most clearly and most profoundly, this is your sanctuary and this is your work.

Continue Reading · books, fearless, journey · 56

In which this is for the ones leaving evangelicalism

For the ones (1)

I walked this path years ago: it is not an easy path. But there are a lot of us out here waiting for you.

Can we ever really leave our mother church? Perhaps not. The complexity of tangled up roots isn’t easily undone. And yes, I think there is a way to reclaim and redeem our traditions with an eye on the future.

But maybe this isn’t your time to do that. Maybe this is your time to let go and walk away.

I know you’re grieving. Let yourself grieve. It’s the end of something, it’s worthwhile to notice the passing of it, to sit in the space and look at the pieces before you head out.

In the early days, when you are first walking away, you might feel afraid. You don’t need to be afraid. It can be confusing to separate from what so-and-so-big-guy-in-the-big-organization says about you or people like you. It can be disorienting to walk out into the wilderness on purpose. It can be lonely. It can be exhilarating. It can be terrifying.

My friend, don’t stay in a religious institution or a religious tradition out of fear. Fear should not drive your decisions: let love motivate you.

Lean into your questions and your doubts until you find that God is out here in the wilderness, too.

I have good news for you, broken-hearted one: God is here in the wandering, too. In fact, you might just find, as Jonathan Martin wrote, that the wilderness is the birthplace of true intimacy with God for you.

Jesus isn’t an evangelical. You get to love Jesus without being an evangelical.

Your pet evangelical gate-keeper isn’t the sole arbitrator of the Christian faith: there is more complexity and beauty and diversity of voices and experiences within followers of the Way than you know. Remember, your view of Christians, your personal experience with Christians is rather small sample size: there are a lot more of us out here than you might think. A lot of us on the other side of that faith shift, eschewing labels and fear-tactics, boundary markers and tribalist thinking.

There are a lot of us out here who aren’t evangelical theologically or politically. There are those of us who are evangelical perhaps in our theology still (I think I am but who can keep track these days of the master list we’re supposed to be checking?) while separating from evangelicalism culturally or politically.

I’m someone who believes that we are in the midst of major shift within the Church – what Phyllis Tickle calls a “rummage sale” – similar to the Great Schism, and the Reformation. The Church is sorting and casting off, renewing and re-establishing in the postmodern age and this is a good thing. The old will remain – it always does – but something new is being born, too. If it is being born in the Church, it is first being born in the hearts and minds and lives of us, the Body.

Maybe evangelicalism as we understand it doesn’t need our defense anymore: maybe we can open our fist, lay down our weapons for the movement or the ideology or the powerful, and simply walk away.

It was helpful when it was helpful. Now, perhaps, it is not. Evangelicalism doesn’t get our loyalty: that fidelity is for our Jesus.

Sometimes we have to cut away the old for the new to grow. We are a resurrection people, darling. God can take our death and ugliness and bitterness, our hurt and our wounds, and make something beautiful and redemptive. For you. In you. With you.

Let something new be born in you. There is never a new life, a new birth, without labour and struggle and patience, but then comes the release.

Care for the new life being born in you with tenderness. It will be tempting to take all the baggage with you – to bring the habits or language or rules with you. That’s okay. You might need to be angry for a while. That’s okay. You might need to stop reading your approved-translation-of-the-Bible and only find Scripture in The Message. That’s okay. You might need to stop praying the way you were taught and learn to pray as you work, as you make love, as you walk at night. That’s okay.

I’m not afraid for you: you are held.  You are loved and you are free. I am hopeful for you.

Nothing has been lost that will not be restored. Be patient and kind with yourself. New life doesn’t come overnight especially after the soil of your life and heart has been burnt down and razed and covered in salt.

Don’t worry about the “should-do” stuff anymore. It might help to cocoon away for a while, far from the performances or the structures or even the habits or thinkers that bring you pain. The Holy Spirit isn’t restricted to only meeting with you in a one-hour-quiet-time or an official 501-3(c) tax approved church building.

Set out, pilgrim. Set out into the freedom and the wandering. Find your people.  God is much bigger, wilder, generous, more wonderful than you imagined.

The funny thing for me is that on the other side of the wilderness, I found myself reclaiming it all – my tradition, the habits, the language. Your path may lead you elsewhere, but I’m back where I began with new eyes, a new heart, a new mind, a new life, and a wry smile.

Now, instead of being an evangelical or whatever label you preferred, perhaps you can simply be a disciple, a pilgrim, out on The Way, following in the footsteps of the man from Nazareth.

You aren’t condemned to wander forever. Remember now: after the wilderness comes deliverance.

 

Related:

In which you’re a pioneer

In which the Spirit inhabits the praises of the people

In which I know, I’m sorry, and I hope I was kind

Lean Into It

Hope is a radical act of faith

 

 

Continue Reading · church, faith, fearless, journey · 159

In which I was a try-hard writer because I had a try-hard life

Six years ago, I quit writing. After more than 20 years of calling myself a writer, I laid the dream down in the ground, heaped on a bit of earth, and walked away. There were many reasons why I quit writing, but the final nail in the coffin was the literary agent who told a roomful of hopeful writers if we didn’t have a huge platform (think: mega-church pastor) to recommend us, then we’d be lucky to have a unique enough voice to ever be published.Quite right, quite right, murmured the packed room taking notes at the writer’s conference, all while my carefully curated dreams of sitting across from Oprah discussing my book’s inclusion in her book club crumbled to dust.

I knew the truth in that moment: I had no Voice. None. I loved to write, of course, I had a knack for a phrase now and then, but before I could happily delude myself out of the frank honesty, I knew, quite clearly, that my Voice did not exist and so, I could not be published. That night, I had a come-to-Jesus moment in my hotel room: it sounds a lot more romantic than it was. In reality, there was a lot of wadded up tissue and the bitter sense that I had been chasing rainbow gold that did not exist, a failure.

Before that moment, I had tried to be strategic about a writing career. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being strategic, not at all, but for me, I was using strategy to mask the lack of substance, strategy as smoke and mirrors to distract from an inauthentic Voice. I had read the tactics and tutorials for being a better blogger-turned-writer and so I tried them.

If a blogger was popular, I tried on their voice or topics for a while, imitating style and substance. I thought that I needed to narrow my focus a bit more because I couldn’t find my fit in the progressive Christian blogosphere – I wrote too much about my life and motherhood, perhaps. So I tried writing proper fodder for mum-bloggers: tutorials and tips, lists and anecdotes. This was a disaster because I was not made for do-it-yourself crafting or potty training tips. Then I tried the Christian-lady-blogger world with blog posts as devotionals but I was bored to tears and my own experience defied tying my spirituality up in a neat package. I tried to write like wry and smart feminists, objective and logical, then I tried to write like a serious social justice advocate for women. One persona after another after another, all were inadequate and fragmented snippets of my own self, masks for my whole self, and so it’s no wonder that I went to that writing conference discouraged and frustrated and unfulfilled.

Soon after I buried my dreams of being a writer, I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount when I read a few words from Jesus that felt new to me – this wasn’t really possible: I’d read them dozens of times, no doubt. But the Holy Spirit has a way of illuminating the words I need to know or live into at that moment. The words were spoken by Jesus in Luke 6:43 – “You must begin with your own life giving lives. It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.”

The truth broke through again: my scattered copy-cat writing voice was simply evidence of my scattered copy-cat real life.

For years, I had a try-hard life. I tried to match my spirituality to certain men and women, a pastor here, a famous preacher there, a worthy mentor, or a compelling writer, until I could parrot the “right” answers without any real truth or discipleship on my own part. I could cry out, Lord, Lord but I didn’t know the voice of the Shepherd. As a mother, I would put other women on the pedestal above me, trying out their tactics or methods with varying success, always feeling like somehow I didn’t measure up, always feeling guilty and inadequate. As a wife, as a disciple, as a woman, as a writer, you name it, I was a scattered people pleaser looking for her real self. I was an inauthentic performer on the page because I was an inauthentic performer in my life.

If you’re a Today’s Christian Woman subscriber, you can read the rest of this article here. (It’s behind the paywall so you have to have a subscription to read it.)

P.S. The article is about finding your authentic self in Christ, not simply about finding one’s voice as a writer.

image source

Continue Reading · faith, fearless, Guest Post, journey · 23