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Stealing Baby Jesus for Advent

I had just sat down at the end of the day, about to watch “The Carol Burnett Show” (which I watch religiously) when I received an interesting message from a friend of mine from back in the day.  She asked me if I was the type of person who steals Baby Jesuses from mangers.  Initially, I thought she was joking, in reference to my hatred of tacky Plastic Baby Jesuses that are lit up in people’s front yards (although, I have never stolen one, even though it is quite tempting).  But as it turns out, this was not the intention behind her question.

She told me she knew someone who wouldn’t put Baby Jesus in the nativity set until Christmas Day, and would hide Him, claiming that He wasn’t born yet.  My friend was confused. Since we don’t know when Jesus was born, what does it matter when we put Baby Jesus in the Nativity?  She pictured me being a Baby Jesus Hider as well, and if I was, she wondered if I could explain the significance.

I don’t decorate for Christmas at all, but if I did, yes, I would be a Baby Jesus Hider.  (She knows me well!)  So, I took time to explain the tradition, and in case others are curious about what is up with us Baby Jesus Stealers, here’s the explanation…

The first thing to acknowledge is that Advent and Christmas are completely different holidays, although it is true that Advent leads up to Christmas.  In the Evangelical Church (and perhaps in other branches as well), I have noticed that people often mistake Advent as a sort of extended Christmas—a time to pick apart the Christmas story and look at different aspect of it.  For example, spending some time on the story of Mary, and then moving on to the story of Joseph, and then moving onto the story of the shepherd, etc…  However, this is not what Advent is all about; Advent is very different.

So what is this Church Holiday?  Advent means “the coming of a notable person”, who in this case, would be Jesus.  I see Advent as two timelines being parallel to each other.  One is the timeline from Genesis 1-Matthew 1—the time from the beginning of time to the time of Jesus.  The second timeline is from Acts1-the future–Jesus’ ascension to His Second Coming.  We celebrate the anticipation of Christ’s birth, at the same time as we celebrate the anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming.

Often Advent is a time to look at the past.  We look to Moses and see how he was foreshadowing and a forerunner to Jesus being a deliverer.  We look at the prophets and the prophecies and promises God made to send Jesus to save His people.  We look at the 400 years of silence (the 400 years between Malachi and Matthew where it is noted God remained silent) and the exile of His people waiting for the Messiah.  We acknowledge that just as God promised the Israelites to fulfill His promise of a deliverer, and just as God promised the Israelites and fulfilled His promise to send Jesus, God has promised us and will fulfill the promise of the Second Coming of Christ.  This is a celebration of hope!

While Christmas is about excitement and joy that Jesus has come, Advent is a time of sadness, longing, reflection of God’s faithfulness in the past, a time to pray for a deliverer, and a time to prepare our hearts for Jesus’ birth.  There are several different ways to prepare one’s heart for Christ.  Some people do Advent Calendars, and other people do Jesse Trees, (honestly, I have never participated in either of these).  Mostly, my preparedness comes from the Advent wreath at the church and music.

Last year, before church one December morning, I was crossing the sanctuary to run to my office quick when two older elementary aged sisters stopped me to see if they could ask a question.  I can never pass up a teachable moment, so I sat down beside the girls.  “What’s up with the candles on the table?” they asked.

“That’s the Advent Wreath.  Do you know what that is?”

“No,” they both replied.

So I proceeded to explain, “Advent is the four Sundays before Christmas, where we celebrate waiting for Christ’s arrival.  The wreath is in a circle because it reminds us that God has no beginning and no end, but goes on forever.  Then we light each of the skinny candles, a different one each week, and they all represent something different.  The first candle represents hope, the second love, the third joy, and the last one is peace.  Each candle also represents 1,000 years of waiting for Jesus to be born.  All of the tall and skinny ones are purple, except for the one that is pink.  We light that one the third Sunday of Advent as a reminder for us that the time is almost here for Jesus to be born and it’s getting more and more exciting as we wait for Him.  The white candle in the middle we light on Christmas Eve to announce that Jesus has finally come to be the Light of the World.”

“That’s really cool!” one of the girls said.

The other piped in, “I think my favorite part is that it’s in a circle because God has no end.”

“That is cool, isn’t it?” I agreed.   She proceeded to tell several people that day about how the wreath symbolized that God is eternal. I pray that whenever she sees a Christmas wreath throughout her life, she will be reminded of an eternal God that made His way to earth to save her.  They had plenty of questions about Advent before I got to my office just in time to completely forget what I had gone in there for, but that teachable moment was totally worth it for me.

This year, I have added another practice for myself as I prepare for Christ’s arrival; I have taken Christmas Carols out of my car’s CD player and replaced it with a CD full of Advent songs (thanks Amanda!)  We are all familiar with Christmas Carols as they tell the story of Jesus’ birth, and these are all songs that we know at least the first verses to and can recite them by heart.  Advent songs are a bit more obscure (although a quick YouTube search can lead you exactly where you want to go).  The most common Advent Song is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”.  As we listen to the lyrics, we hear the longing and pleading for Christ to come and deliver His people.  Another popular Advent Song is “Come Thou Long Expectant Jesus” as it declares we are longing for Christ to come and set His people free.

There are two songs that are really speaking to me this Advent Season, the first being, “Waiting in Silence”.  I think this has pricked my heart, because it emphasizes the anxiousness and the urgency of the need of Emmanuel.  “People Look East” is a fun little song about preparing our hearts and homes because Love is near.  I love the idea of preparing my home for Jesus.  It’s a bit of a different perspective than just preparing a manager, but something a bit more tangible for me to experience.

I have noticed some really neat themes that stand out and shine in Advent music that we miss in Christmas Carols.  Some of them are waiting, hope, longing, building anticipation, faithfulness of God in the Old Testament, John the Baptist preparing the way, but my favorite is: Maranatha.  Maranatha is Aramaic and is only mentioned once in The Bible and that is at the very end of Revelation.  It means, “Come Lord, Jesus.”  I find that absolutely beautiful and causes excitement with hope, not only for Christmas, but also for Christ’s Second Return!

What is newer information to me is what happens after Advent ends.  Starting December 25th we celebrate Christmas for 12 days!  I haven’t gotten too far in my thoughts to see how I will be celebrating Christ’s birth for 12 days, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out (and I’m always open to anyone who has suggestions).  When the 12 days of Christmas ends on January 6th, comes the celebration of Epiphany.  This is the day we acknowledge the day the Magi present their gifts to Jesus.  And thus ends the celebration of Jesus’ birth, at least Church holiday-wise.

I never grew up knowing about Advent, but as an adult, being a part of a church that celebrates it, I’m glad I have discovered it.  There’s something about church holidays that intrigue me with curiosity.  I think it’s mainly because I see them as opportunities to learn and grow in a focused way that causes me to sit down and actually pay attention to detail.  I think “Joy to the World” has an even more of a significance to me, after I’ve been listening to “Waiting in Silence” for four weeks.  The mourning and waiting is finished.  Christ as come!  FINALLY!  Hallelujah!  Let’s go adore Who we’ve been waiting for all this time!

And who knows?  Maybe… just maybe… this year, I’ll invest in a Nativity set to put up, but there will be one Person missing from the scene, as I anxiously await the celebration of His birth on December 25th!

Yes, I am that person who steals Baby Jesuses from mangers and I’m proud of it!

Superman

Biblical Studies Degree: The Academic Aspect

This is part two written about my journey with my Biblical Studies Degree.  Click here to read part one: The Spiritual Aspect.

My story starts with my former bosses/pastors encouraging me to go back to school.  Although, I love to learn and the idea of school, the actual act of school was terrifying.  School and I have always been strong enemies.  As a kid homework, tests, and school felt impossible; especially math!  No matter how hard I tried in the majority of school subjects, I couldn’t even get a 3.0 to make honor roll.  After years of wondering if I had a learning disability (LD), I decided to finally get tested.  I was diagnosed, at the age of 30, with working memory problems.

I waited 30 years to hear someone finally acknowledge my struggles with school and inabilities to do math, and not ride it off as a motivation problem.  It was such a relief, that I started sharing my story on FB, and the more I shared my story, the more I heard other peoples’ stories.  I found myself in others’ people’s pain.  I was not alone.  And more importantly, I was not stupid.

I went through classes to learn how my learning disability works, how to cope with it, and how to heighten my other cognitive skills.  I came out of that class feeling like I was Supergirl or Superman who had finally conquered Kryptonite.

Superman painting

This is the picture I painted for my teacher/trainer who helped me in my LD class.

 

Now, it was time for the rubber to hit the road… was I really going to sign up for classes?  Could this really be possible?  Fears settled in and I went back and forth about actually going back to college… but I eventually took the plunge and decided to trust God and just do it.

To my surprise, my first few classes went well.  It was ridiculously difficult to find someone who was considered a qualified person who was willing to do the paperwork so I could get accommodations, but I finally found someone to do it.  Things were going well…

Then, Advance Inductive Bible Study Class happened.  I was so frustrated because I just couldn’t figure it out!  After contacting a patient professor who was doing what he could to help; I was still not understanding the information which left me feeling hopeless and helpless.

I recall one particular week where I had three frustration fits and had become a hot mess because I was tired of not understanding the information!  I felt like I was back at square one.  How silly I felt that I had even attempted to go back to school.  I knew better than to do this!  What was I thinking?

In desperation, I called a pastor-mentor of mine and asked if she would meet me and she agreed to do so.  The next week we went out to eat.  My pastor-mentor asked the reason for the meeting.  I explained my frustration with class, then I said, “I’m seriously thinking of quitting school, and I need you to talk me out of it.”

After a few moments, my pastor-mentor responded with something along the lines of, “You can’t quit, you’ve come too far.  You got diagnosed with a LD, you went through classes to learn how to deal with it, you’ve overcome a major fear, and you’ve made it through your first few classes.  Do you realize how many students just transfer credits and that’s it?  They haven’t done half the work that you had to do.  You’ve worked too hard to quit.”

She made a valid point.

I finished that blasted class with an “A”, but I realized there was a huge difference this time than in the past.  When I worked hard at school before, it made little to no difference.  However this time, all the hard work paid off.  It made all the difference knowing what my LD was and how to work with it. For example, I always knew the moment I got lost, but I didn’t know why, or what to do about it.  Now, I knew the moment I got lost, it was because I had forgotten what was just said, and a quick reference got me back on track.  I learned to depend more on my logic and less on my memory.  My notes went from written word, to drawn pictures which was more effective.

Although, I knew how to cope now, it doesn’t mean everything was easy.  My greatest struggle was simply being able to sit down and focus on a task.  I used things such as music and movies to purposely be distraction so I would have to work harder to focus.  I realized my focus is highest mid-morning so that’s when I worked the hardest on my homework.  The night before a big assignment I would pray God would give me focus to get it done the next day.  The prayer seemed pathetic, but I needed it, and it worked.

SQUIRREL!

I struggled to remember what I read.  I was married to my highlighter for two years.  At one point IWU announced they were going to electronic books.  I tried to keep an open mind, but in the end it proved to be more frustrating because it was harder to look things up. Luckily, it only lasted for one or two classes.  THANK YOU, JESUS!  I was grateful that with the exception of three classes, there were no quizzes or tests!  WHEW! The less I had to depend on my memory for things, the better off I was.

Finally, school and I made peace with each another and became friends.

As I was nearing the end of my schooling, I was thrown a curveball.  My math credit from my previous college did not transfer because it was too low of a grade.  NOOOOOO!!!!  Everything was going so well!  I had two more classes to go.  Why did math have to come and mess everything up for me?

I tried to advocate my way out of it, but it didn’t work.  I tried to get additional accommodations, but that didn’t work either.  I found myself in high anxiety over the class, but I had to finish school!  I did a bunch of praying, royally freaked out, made a cry for help on Facebook, and moved forward.  I remembered the words of my pastor-mentor, “You’ve come too far to quit.”

The first two weeks of math class was surprisingly simple!  As long as I had a gist of what I was supposed to do, I could manipulate the computer program easily.  Plus, our professor gave us access to the “show me how to do this” button… OH that button and I were married for six weeks!

Then the third week hit.  Polynomials.  In case you don’t know what these are, all you need to know is that they are what nightmares are made of.  I tried watching the video three times, but that didn’t work.  I contacted the professor, who was willing to help, but still I couldn’t do it.  Another frustration fit sank in.  I contacted one of my friends who had offered to help me from my plea on Facebook, and for three and a half hours she worked with me on FaceTime.  (I feel I owe her my life now.  True story!)  And I got through that week!  HALLELUJIAH!  After two more blasted weeks of useless numbers, I passed!  I passed with an “A-“… only because of a computer program I could manipulate, but that’s beside the point… It’s the only dumb “A” I ever got in math, and I’m flippin taking it!  And all I have to say is, “Bite me, math!”

On Sunday, March 20th, I turned in my last paper.   IT.  IS.  FINISHED.

A few weeks later, I was notified that I wouldn’t receive honors, because they combined my previous college experience and IWU together, making my GPA 0.17 under the lowest honors category.  However, if they had only used my IWU experience, I would have graduated with a 3.74.  That number brings tears to my eyes.  There was a day I couldn’t even get a 3.0 no matter how hard I tried.  And there it was on the page—just 0.26 under a 4.0.  Unbelievable.

My graduation was set for April 30th in Marion, IN, and I decided to make a trip there to walk across the platform to graduate.  My best friend, Ruth, came along on the near 8 hour trip to support me on my big day.

The approach of my graduation reminded me of so many stories I had heard these past three and a half years of people who have been affected by some sort of LD in some sort of a way.  In the wee hours of the morning of my graduation, I couldn’t sleep out of excitement, so I wrote this poem:

“Today, I Walk
(A Poem Because I Can’t Sleep)”
By Deb T.

Today, I walk across a stage,
Given a piece of paper and a handshake
The tassel on my hat goes right to left
Today, I walk

I do not walk for myself
Lord knows I’m a turtle in a shell
No, I do this to make a statement
To be a voice
Today, I walk

I walk for every student who wonders, “Why does everyone get this but me?”
I walk for every student who can’t do what everyone else takes for granted
I walk for every student who thinks the best word that describes them is “stupid”
Today, I walk

I walk for the parent who wishes they could remove their child’s struggle
I walk for the parent who is tired of fighting and advocating but stays committed
I walk for the parent who secretly wonders if their child’s potential is flipping burgers
Today, I walk

I walk for every teacher who helps students before and after class
I walk for every teacher who will do anything so we “get it”
I walk for every teacher who unconditionally believes in their students
Today, I walk

I walk for a misinformed public who thinks we just need to “try harder”
I walk for a misinformed public who thinks accommodations is cheating
I walk for a misinformed public who thinks we just need to be spanked harder
Today, I walk

I walk to remind us, to convince us, to convict our very souls on the darkest and most frustrating days:
Our learning disabilities do not own us,
But we own our learning disabilities

Today
I
Walk

The day of graduation was finally here!  It was a rainy day that required us, graduates, to wear trash bags as we walked from one building to the other where commencement was held.  I laughed.  Here we were: smart alumni wearing garbage bags over our graduation garb.  Oh, the irony of looking intelligent.

I had the opportunity to meet one of my classmates and one of my professors from my classes, which was nice to put a face with the name and get to meet them face to face.

As we walked into the auditorium and heard everyone cheer was overwhelming!  I looked around the area and saw the crowd go wild and it took my breath away!  Just three years ago, I didn’t think I would make it to this day, but here I was—I had made it!  We had a speaker give a challenge to us to be people who fight injustice.  One of my classmates in Biblical Studies Degree represented the rest of our class of 2016 with a great speech!  Then, it was time to walk.  It was amazing to shake our president’s hand and get my diploma.

But the moment that meant the most to me, was the moving of the tassels.  I had to take deep breathes to keep from crying as the audience gave a roar or applause.  The tassel change is such a simple and small movement, but oh the work that is symbolized in that movement makes it one of the best moments in my life.  It may have taken more work, more support from friends, more questions asked to the professors, and it may have taken more time to finish my assignments than the rest of my classmates; but I made it!

My Kryptonite has no power over me!

super graduate

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Biblical Studies Degree: The Spiritual Aspect

I recently received my Bachelors of Science Degree in Biblical Studies from IWU, and this is part one of two blogs about the experience.  This one will be on Spiritual reflections of my degree, and the next one will be a reflection on the academic side.

I was challenged to consider going back to school by my former bosses/pastors of mine (more on this in my next blog).  I’ve entertained the idea of a Master’s of Divinity or Theology on and off for some time.  I thought a good place to start would be to have a solid understanding and way of studying of The Bible.  Below are some concepts and ideas that I have learned over the last two years that have changed the way I read Scripture.

 + Genesis 1-2

There were several creation stories told in various religions of Egypt, Canaan, Mesopotamian, etc.. as well as Israel.  These creation stories were intended to introduce the reader to their gods/goddesses, to teach how the deity/deities came to being, how humanity came to being, their purpose on earth, and how the gods/goddesses interacted with humanity within their respective religions.

I used to read this story thinking it was about the beginning of time, but now I read it as though Moses is introducing me to God by saying, “Hey Deb, let me tell you all about Yahweh.  First, Yahweh is One, there is no other deity.  Yahweh is all-powerful.   Yahweh can take something that is empty and void and turn it into something which is functional, useful, and beautiful.  Yahweh puts perfect order and organization to things.  Yahweh interacts with His people by means of relationship.  Yahweh entrusts His creation to humanity.  Yahweh rules over His creation.”  I will never read the creation story the same again.

+Old Testament and Parables

One of the things we discussed in one of my classes was how some Old Testament stories can be seen as parables (i.e. Job and Jonah and possibly Esther).  We also talked about how some stories may be elaborations and exaggerations added to the overarching story.  For example, Moses led the Israelites to freedom, but there may not have been a parting of the Red Sea.  The purpose of doing this was not to lie, but rather, to emphasize to the reader of Yahweh’s power.

This became a very serious crisis of belief for me.

All the arguments I had heard of trying to prove every story in The Bible to be 100% true had been pulled like a rug from under my feet and I felt lost.  I became conflicted on the understanding that the moral of the story was what was important versus pondering “if these stories are false, what else is false?  Where do we draw the line?”

After about four months of wrestling, I realized the purpose of The Bible was not to be a historical book or a science book, but rather, it’s a theological book.  Ironically, what I thought was tearing me apart from God, was the exact thing that was drawing me closer to Him.  As I started reading the stories differently, instead of seeing a 1-Dimensional God who was set in black and white stories, I started seeing God’s character come through as very dynamic and complex as He works through humanity’s complicated lives.  I’ve come to believe it’s more important I know WHO God is, than to know exactly what He did or didn’t do based on research or science.  A parable doesn’t disprove God any more than a true story proves God.

+Ecclesiastes

For my final class, we could pick any passage out of The Bible to study and show we knew how to use the skills we had been taught through the rest of schooling.  For some odd reason, Ecclesiastes caught my eye.

In Ecclesiastes, we see the phrase, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.  A chase after the wind” repeated.  I came to the conclusion that I think the better translation is “Mysterious, mysterious, everything is mysterious, and trying to understand it all is like trying to control the wind.”  I like the concept of God and His works being mysterious.  I suppose it’s because it places Him back in a place of being bigger than me, where I have to trust God more, and seek after Him more fervently.

+Jesus Died for MY sins

In one of my textbooks (Kenneth Schenck’s “Jesus Is Lord” in my New Testament’s class).  The author talked about how we often say things like, “If I was the only person alive, Jesus would still die for my sins.”  Now this isn’t entirely theologically unsound, but I was challenged in the fact that often when we think of it this way, we can get lost in my sin vs. your sin controversy.  The author spoke that a better illustration is to think of sin as a grenade that has come into our camp and Jesus jumped on it before it went off, which resulted in His death, but saved everyone else.  That was a very powerful illustration to me.  It made me rethink how we communicate “Jesus defeated sin and death”, as inclusive to all people.

+Paradoxes

I have become aware of the paradoxes we find in Scripture.  I’m absolutely fascinated on statements like “the weak are strong” (II Corinthians 12:9-11), “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21), and “foolish things shame the wise” (I Corinthians 1:27).  I had never examined these phrases before because… well… It was just church lingo I grew up with.  However, now I am fascinated as I realize these are really important thoughts that show us that God’s Kingdom is not of this world.

+God’s Revelation

We can easily read God’s Word today and go from passage to passage without even realizing there are centuries and cultural changes between the two.  As a result, we may forget that God’s revelation takes place over time.  God was first revealed as Yahweh, but it wasn’t until centuries later when God was revealed as Jesus, and a few decades after that when Yahweh and Jesus are revealed as the Holy Spirit.  And even more time passes before the concept of the Trinity is brought together as a concept.

The disciples thought Jesus was sent to earth to overthrow the Roman Empire, sit on an earthly throne, and free them from oppression.  Instead, Jesus dies at the hand of the Roman Empire.  The disciples were left with a decision to either:  go with what they were always taught and find a new messiah to follow, OR they had to rearrange their faith to include a Messiah that died, resurrected, and was part of a Kingdom that had no physical evidence.

In Acts 10, Peter strays from what he’s always been taught in The Law by the testimony of Cornelius and accepts that the Gentiles can be saved as well.

The bottom line is that God is continually revealing Himself throughout history.  There are times in my life when I must rearrange what I’ve always been taught, and that doesn’t mean I lose my faith, that I believe that God changes, or that I am shaping Him into what I want Him to be.   Instead, it is God revealing Himself to us in a new way and calling us to be more like Him.

The more I learn about God, the less I know about Him.  And the less I know about God, the more I learn about Him.

+Wessy vs. Calvy

I started my education argumentative towards Calvinism.  Now, I see it as a waste of time and really not an important theological fight at all (possibly worth a discussion but not an argument that divides people).  Although, I am still a solid Wesleyan, I’ve come to peace with the fact that there is Scripture that supports Calvinism as well.  It is what it is… let’s move on with life.

Here are some other blogs where I wrote about things I had learned in my classes:

Moses Foreshadowing of Jesus

The Reformation

Women in Church History here and here

God’s Word as Authority

 

Now that I’m done with my degree, I am released from Friday night Discussion Board assignments due dates, Monday night due dates, a ton of reading, the writing of papers, hours of trying to organize my thoughts, and staying up late to get it all done.  You would think I’d be excited about this, but honestly, I’m kind of disappointed by it.  For the last two years I’ve had a safe theological/Biblical discussion group that was not connected to my denomination, and there was a lot of freedom in searching and conversing openly there.  It was a place where healthy, honest, and mature debate took place, and it was a place where we could agree with one another too.  My faith has grown astronomically while in school, and now I feel like I’m coming off of a mountaintop into the valley where growth is stagnate and dull.  It was a good source of community for me, even if it solely took place over the internet.  I miss the environment of school, and I wasn’t expecting this feeling at all, upon my graduation.  Don’t get me wrong, graduation was definitely a celebration of accomplishing goals that I never thought I could obtain, and I’m so glad I was able to do what I never thought I could do!  I’m just surprised by the sadness that has accompanied it as well.

The truth is: I. miss. school.

I never thought I would ever say that, but I suppose I’ll talk more about that in my next blog.

feces

Verse-Poo Throwing Monkeys

My material grandmother had a peculiar rule of thumb, according to my mom: she never allowed anything to be placed on top of a Bible.  Absolutely nothing!  Not a highlighter, not a pen, nor even a bulletin could grace the surface of God’s Word.  This practice that once seemed strange to me, now seems to be making more sense.  Now, several decades later,I too have decided to retrain myself into following this practice… Why?  Well, let me begin at the beginning.

Sometimes, the phrase “Word of God” isn’t as clear as we would like to think.  When we think “Word of God” typically what pops into our heads is The Holy Bible or the Holy Scriptures.  We often think of it as the written Word, however, this does not encapsulate the entity of this phrase.  The “Word of God” does properly represent The Bible, but it is not limited by what’s written.  It also includes The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit.  “The Word of the Lord” was around long before Gutenberg’s Press.  In John 1, we see Jesus referred to as the Word that became flesh.  The Holy Spirit is what is moving the Word of God into action in Acts 2.  Therefore, the “Word of God” isn’t merely a book, but is God, in all three persons, along with the written Word of God.  So, the revealing of God’s Word didn’t end with the Apostle John writing Revelation, but rather, still continues today, because God is still working.

One of the things that is absolutely impossible for us to do, is to read The Bible without biases.  It’s going to happen.  I read The Bible as an American Christian, because that is who I am and that’s what I know.  An African Christian will interpret Scripture slightly different because who they are and all they know is how to be an African Christian.  There are biases that happen against our will because that is all we know, and I think we need to come to terms with that and understand it and simply be okay with it.

There are other biases we bring to The Bible when we read it that we can help and change, but often we choose not to do so.  For example, a Wesleyan comes to The Bible with a Wesleyan bias and a Calvinist comes to The Bible with a Calvinist bias.  A conservative comes to The Bible with a conservative bias, and a liberal comes to The Bible with a liberal bias.  A feminist comes to Scripture with a feminist bias and a complementarian comes to The Bible with a complementarian bias.  These biases aren’t bad in it of itself.  It’s important we know exactly where we stand, or else that old quote may become a reality, “If you don’t stand for something, you’re going to fall for everything.”

Where these biases get in trouble is when we aren’t willing to listen to reason, and we start to throw verses and chapters at each other, as though we are monkeys throwing poo at each other.  Personally, I’m not going to be won over to the likes of a monkey by being splattered with poo, anymore than I will be won over to the likes of an opposing side of theology by being splattered with Scripture.  But this isn’t even the main problem.  The main problem is actually this: when we are verse-poo throwing monkeys, we take the authority of Scripture away from the Trinity, and we therefore, turn all authority over to us and make ourselves the “experts.”

I’m not a fan of the theology of “age of accountability”, in fact, I despise it.  I understand people came up with it to help grieve the lose of children, and by no means do I believe any child is condemned to hell because they are too small to ask Jesus into their hearts.  Rather, I struggle with the concept of when a child turns 12 or 13, they understand and therefore can make a decision.  First of all, some of my best theological discussions happen with a 5 or 6 year old.  Secondly, a 12 or 13 or 14 or 15 year old can’t fully understand the Gospel either. For crying out loud, I am in my 30s and I don’t understand how the Trinity works, or why God loves me, or exactly what will happen at the end of the world.  God is so much bigger than me.  What I do believe is that God meets us exactly where we are at–right in our little corners of the world.  He doesn’t expect us to go to Him, He’s always been the God who came to us.  And in order for Him to speak to me, I need to humble myself to a place where I can hear Him.

I’ve never been an expert at understanding God’s Word.  However, truthfully, I’ve had my share of being the verse-poo throwing monkey, and it’s an easy place to put myself.  All I have to use is my ego and pride, which I have tons of that I store away for a rainy day, aka: the day I feel enormously insecure about myself.  I’m trying to bring myself to the place where I know what I believe, and my spirit is willing to teach someone about what I believe, but as for flinging poo–nope!  I really want to abandon that practice!

smart monkey

I think one of the strongest ways we can show the Word of God authority is by being willing to unlearn something we have always been taught.  Over a decade ago, I was introduced to a theology of Revelation which excluded a rapture.  I had always been taught there was a rapture.  I had always been told there was a rapture.  I had always believed there was a rapture.  Suddenly, to learn there was no rapture was shocking, and honestly, it took a few years to unlearn what I had always been taught, and then it even took a few more years after that to formulate my own beliefs of Revelation to the point I could teach them.  Deconstruction and reconstruction of Scripture takes a lot of time, and understanding, but more than anything, it takes a lot of humility and seeking of God.

I have truly been challenged to give up my verse-poo throwing monkey ways which is really hard to do because golly gee–I love to be right.  And my pride loves to be right.  And my ego loves to be right.  And when I’m right, I feel powerful… well, actually “powerful” is the wrong word… I feel… uh… authoritative.  That’s it!  I feel authoritative when I’m right!  However, when it comes to the Word of God, the very last place I need to be is in authority, rather I need to be under the authority of the Word of God.  This requires me to admit that as much of a Wesleyan I am, there is Scripture to support Calvinism.  I may be wrong, but you know what?  That’s okay.  God never said we had to get it right.  He said we had to love Him and love people.  Getting The Bible right isn’t going to save me anymore than following all the laws of the Old Testament.  It’s that I’m seeking to find out who God is that matters.  In the words of one of my friends, “It’s all about the journey.”  And it truly is.  It’s about the quest for God, not actually arriving at being God.

An ordinance is a spiritual practice we do outwardly to show or remind us of something that has taken place inwardly (yes, that’s an ordinance, not a sacrament, there’s difference, but that’s another blog for another time).  My new ordinance is to make sure nothing sits on top of The Bible (which is hard to do because I nonchalantly do it all the time!), but this is to serve as my reminder to be humble before the Word of God.  It’s my reminder, that as much as I can, not to bring biases to Scripture before I read it.  It’s a reminder that everything and anything goes under God’s Being.  As a result, I hope this to be a reminder to stop the poo-verse throwing monkey ways.  I hope I will take God’s Word seriously, and that I will learn what I need to learn and that I will unlearn what I need to unlearn to follow God in a more dedicated way.

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Ash Wednesday, Lent, Resurrection Sundays, and Easter

While growing up, Lent was absolutely mysterious to me. Our church did not celebrate it, but I had several friends who did in their churches.  In my naïve, misunderstanding, little mind, I had pegged it as legalism and ignorance of empty rules.  As I have gotten older, and the more I’ve learned about it, the more significant it has become to me.  Yet, I find it to be something that is still mysterious and misunderstood by the evangelical church today.  People often believe that it’s merely giving something up from Ash Wednesday to Easter, and this is a popular misconception.  So, I thought I would write a bit on the subject to hopefully help clear the air.

Before I get too far into this, I do want to explain that this is strictly a church tradition. There is nothing in Scripture that commands it, and people are not holier or less holy depending on whether it is celebrated or not.  I can only speak for myself and say that it has greatly impacted my spiritual walk in the past and I find it beneficial for my own friendship with God, whether it’s Scriptural or not is irrelevant to me.

Ash Wednesday starts off the Lenten season. It’s a day when people usually attend a short church service, and ashes are placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross by a minister who states, “For dust you are and dust you shall return” from Genesis 3:19 (or Ecclesiastes 3:20).  The ashes come from the palms used during Palm Sunday the year before.  Most people leave the ashes on their forehead as a sign of humility to let the world know that they are sinners in need of repentance, and that Christ is our only salvation.

Lent is very different than Advent. Advent is the time before Christmas as we celebrate Christ’s first coming and anxiously anticipate His second coming.  Lent is a time before Easter to lament, mourn, and grieve a fallen world on a corporate AND individual level.  Lent is a time to declare, “We need a Savior!”  We see in several places of Scripture, mourning, grieving, and repentence was signified by sackcloth and ashes, so it only makes sense to include ashes in the celebration of this season. (i.e. Jonah 3:6, Job 16:15, Esther 4:1-3)

Lent is traditionally noted to take place 40 days before Easter to commemorate the 40 days Jesus was in the wilderness fasting and being tempted by Satan. (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13) Often Christians fast from eating meat or chocolate.  Other Christians make a commitment not to gossip.  Other Christians may take something out of their schedule and replace it with something else, such as giving up a half hour of TV and replacing it with Bible Study and prayer.  And yet others may add theological study about humility.  There are several different ways to celebrate Lent and it doesn’t matter how one does it, as long as the focus is on the need of the cross and resurrection of Christ in a fallen world.

There is one common misconception about Lent that is so vital that we miss! Many people think Lent means fasting for 40 days from Ash Wednesday all the way to Easter.  The problem with this, is that if you were to pull out a calendar and actually count the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter you will find there are 47 days!!!  Not 40 days!!!  So…. Why is that?  The reason being is because EVERY SUNDAY between Ash Wednesday and Easter is Resurrection Sunday!  Every Sunday is a day to free ourselves from mourning, grieving, fasting, and repenting in order to celebrate Christ’s resurrection!  Therefore, fasting ONLY occurs from Monday-Saturday, but on Sunday, we celebrate!  There are 47 days, because the 7 Sundays of Lent do not count in the 40 days.

Wednesday, February 10, is Ash Wednesday this year, and Easter falls on March 27th this year, and I ask you to quietly contemplate in your own heart, what will you do this year to celebrate Lent?  How do you want the cross and resurrection to affect you this year?  What do you hope to learn?

 

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Pacifism and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today, is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! It’s one of my favorite holidays, mainly because the teachings of MLK Jr. have changed my life in several different ways (more on that later)  So, I decided to write on the topic of pacifism in honor of his birthday.

When people find out I’m a pacifist, the first questions people are quick to ask is, “How does one defend and protect their families and children while at the same time remain a pacifist?”  Honestly, I have never actually attempted to answer this question, because there are so many layers to pacifism that I’m not sure if I have a way of organizing them.  However, today, I’m going to try my best to answer this question.

First of all, there needs to be a plan.  I remember when I was a kid, learning about fire safety, and then going home and talking to my mom about what our family plan was if there was a fire in our house.  What if I was trapped upstairs and couldn’t get downstairs?  Where would we meet as a family to make sure everyone got out safe?  What if Fatty (our cat) was trapped inside and I couldn’t find him?

The concept of having a plan is shared with children in other areas of life as well: what if someone tries to kidnap you? What if someone touches you inappropriately?  What do you do if you get bullied?  So my question is:  Why don’t we treat a break-in/gunman in the same way?  What if we came up with steps for family safety in this situations like in all the other situations?  It seems like common sense to me.  In fact, why don’t we teach this in schools?   Perhaps it’s telling kids, to lock their doors and hide under their beds or in a closest.  Maybe it’s having a person be designated to be the one to confront the armed person.  Who’s going to call 9-1-1?  Etc, etc, etc…  And just like everything else, it doesn’t guarantee safety, but it does increase your chances.

Secondly, even if a person does own a gun, it’s likely to be locked up, and good luck getting it accessible while being held up. Although, if a proper plan was put in place, it could happen.  But how likely is it? And even if it is likely to get to your gun, is it wise? Most people would say yes, but statistics tell us the exact opposite.  1 out of 5 (20%) unarmed people can talk a gunman out of firing a gun.  A good guy with a gun can talk a gunman out of shooting 3% of the time (1 out of 33).  So, actually, your chances on survival INCREASE by being UNARMED by 17%!!!  (RESOURCE: The Daily Show)

But really, these things are logistics, and avoid the problem at hand altogether.   I was recently in a conversation where someone stated something along the lines of, “But it’s your American right to defend yourself.”  However, this isn’t about an American right, it’s about doing what’s right… and just because it’s an American right, doesn’t mean it’s morally or ethically right.

…And that leads us to the next question brought to you by my friend, Amanda, “When did you realize that you were a pacifist, and what was happening that made you realize it?

I’m guessing I was about 12 years old, when I was sitting in our rocking chair in the living room watching something like “Inside Edition” on the television. My mom came walking through the living room with a load of laundry and I stopped her to ask a question pertaining to what I had just seen on television, “Mom, how come the 10 Commandment says we can’t murder, but its okay to murder in war?”

Mom answered, “Because in war you’re defending yourself.”

I was confused so I searched for clarification, “So God says it’s okay that we can murder in war?”

“Or if someone tries to hurt you,” she responded.

“But I thought we couldn’t murder. That doesn’t make sense,” I replied.

“Well, there was war in the Old Testament,” my mom stated.

That only perplexed me more, “So, God said, ‘Do not murder’ but then He sent people to war and said, ‘Go murder them’?”

“Well, ask Pastor Rick the next time you see him,” she replied.

I don’t think I became a pacifist in that moment, but it was the first time I thought killing someone in self-defense didn’t make any sense to me at all. God didn’t give any stipulations.  He only stated, murder should not happen.  This confused me, however, I was used to being spoon fed theology as a child, and so I just moved on with life and just accepted it as being part of Christianity.

In September of 2013, a friend and I went to Atlanta, GA, to see the King Center!  It was an amazing moment that I had waited 20 years to fulfill (I had done a report on MLK Jr. when I was in 5th grade for Black History Month, and ever since then, I have been fascinated with his story.)

While I was there, I picked up his book, “Strength to Love” as a souvenir. “Strength to Love” is a book full of several of sermons he preached during his activity in the Modern Civil Rights Movement.  King was a pacifist.  I had previously thought pacifists were wimps, but now I was beginning to understand that pacifists have several layers.  These layers are things such as: strategy, self-sacrifice, altruistic, peacekeepers, empathy, compassion, and love.  Pacifists do not love their lives so much that they have a fear of losing it, in fact, they believe that in losing it, they found it. (Matt. 16:25)  Pacifists do not overcome evil with evil, but aim to overcome evil with good. (Roman 12:21)  Pacifists love their enemies. (Matt. 5:44).  Etc, etc, etc,

During the Christmas season, my job requires me to drive A LOT of driving. A few years ago, while on one of those drives, I was listening to the last sermon MLK Jr. gave on his last Christmas Eve, entitled, “Peace on Earth.”  I still remember exactly where I was at the time I heard this profound quote.  I was waiting for cars going in the opposite direction to pass, so that I could turn into Wal-Mart.  King said, “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”  I had an “AHA Moment”, and I consider that my defining moment in which I became a pacifist.

What occurred to me were a few things: first of all, pacifism makes more sense than violence as a road to peace.  If I hit you in the face, your innate survival skill is to punch me back harder.  And my innate survival skill is to punch you back harder.  And so it goes, etc…  Violence begets violence, which begets violence, which begets violence, which… well you get the picture.  This is what Dr. King meant when he stated, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  Whatever we bring to the table, is what we are most likely to get in return.

Secondly, pacifism aligned MUCH MORE to Scripture, than war did. Yes, I know there were wars in the Old Testament, but there was also polygamy in the Old Testament.  Should we go back to that?  Women were property in the Old Testament, should we go back to that?  Just because something happened in the Old Testament doesn’t make it valid.  So, I think we need to weigh out which one carries more evidence.  And from my study, that’s peace.

Thirdly, the purpose of non-violence is to expose the violence as evil. Think of the Birmingham footage  or about Bloody Sunday from the Modern Civil Right Movement that we are so familiar with.  What makes us cringe when we see black people being sprayed with hoses for no reason, or beaten with police sticks, or chased after by dogs?  Is it not the fact no one was setting out to cause trouble?  Is it not because no one fought back?  We look at that footage and are heartbroken because we see violence for all it is: arrogant, inhumane, and a sickening power trip.  It’s impossible to expose sin with sin.  Only righteousness can expose sin.

Lastly, life is a value. We as Christians as a whole, just like the world, do not value life.  Death comes to everyone, and some people just deserve it sooner than others because of _____fill in the blank__________.  However, a lesson in Scripture will teach us that God was about LIFE! Death was a result of the fall, it was not initially God’s purpose.  The reason why lepers and people with deformities were not allowed in the Temple/Tabernacle was because they were considered to have dead skin or dead parts of their bodies, and death and holy could not reside together.  It’s the reason why there were so many rules surrounding dead bodies, such as the high priest was not to even be in the presence of a dead body.  Jesus stated, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). I am the way the truth and the life. (John 14:6)  I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10) Jesus touched dead bodies to raise them to life.  Jesus was resurrected to give us life.  And someday, heaven and earth will be made new and we will have eternal life!  And why?  GOD ABHORS DEATH!  And why does God abhor death?  Because God made His people to be in relationship with Him and with each other (Matthew 22:36-40)  Death is the ultimate relationship breaker.  It destroys the very essence for which we were created.

And to add a secular reference in this, I think Michael Jackson said it well in his song, “Heal the World”. “There are people dying. If you care enough for the living, make a better place for you and for me.”  To get rid of unnecessary death, we must first care about ALL the living people, not just the lives of the ‘good guys’.

And the last question for this blog: Specifically in war torn places of the world, moments of predatory danger, potential violence. Does protection ever trump or negate pacifism even for a moment?

We must acknowledge, that there are different types of pacifism. There is pacifism that states that under NO circumstance should anyone do any violent harm.  Others say that in extreme circumstances it’s okay.  I personally think that violence will never be the answer, and should absolutely, positively be the LAST resort.  Under no circumstances do I encourage violence to take place.  Does that mean I guarantee myself protection?  No, it doesn’t.  Does it guarantee that there is protection for others around me?  No, it doesn’t.  It’s a sacrifice, and it’s a rather scary one at that.  Why are people so angry about the potential of lifting of gun laws?  Is it not driven by fear?  This is why Martin Luther King, Jr., hit the nail on the head with the title of his book, “Strength to Love.”  The opposite of fear is not courage, the opposite of fear is love, for love drives out all fear (I John 4:18).  Therefore, when we are the most fearful, those are the moments we have the greatest opportunities to love.  And as you can see, pacifism isn’t for wimps, it’s for those who are the strongest in love!

In conclusion, you may think this doesn’t make sense, and I raise my cup to you and say you are most perfectly right! You see, pacifism is a paradox.  Pacifism is something that seems weak, but the longer we study and look at it, it’s actually quite powerful!

 

Advent

Advent (Reflections on the Season)

“How is Christmas going with all the chaos?” he asked, referring to my job.

“Ah, man!  This is certainly our busy season!  Things are so crazy, busy!  Wednesday is going to be hectic.  I just need a good night’s sleep.  I need to have one day where everything is clear from work.  The last two weeks have added chaos, but it’s no one fault, it’s just life being life.  And honestly?  Every day, at least once, if not more, I think in my head ‘Is it Christmas already?’  I just need it to be here!  It seems like forever away, and I’m tired of waiting for it!’”

He chuckled and jokingly responded, “Gee, you make it sound like its Advent or something.”

I laughed.  He had a point.  If there is any time of the year we grow anxious and tired of waiting, it should be during Advent.

According to Google’s dictionary, Advent means, “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.”  But often, in the evangelical Church, this is not what Advent means.  We think Advent means Christmas and where we sing Christmas songs, but the truth be told, Advent and Christmas are completely different celebrations.  They are not one in the same.

The emphasis on Advent is on waiting, not the arrival.  We are waiting for several things.  We are waiting for God to intercede in our lives, in our world, in our culture, but most importantly in our hearts.  We are waiting for Jesus to return.  We are waiting for the whole world to see His glory.  Advent is waiting, Christmas is the actual arrival of Christ!  It’s the arrival of God in our lives, in our world, in our culture, but most importantly, in our hearts.

A couple of weeks ago, two sisters from our youth programs were visiting in Church on Sunday.  One of the girls pointed to the Advent wreath on the Holiness Table and asked me what it was.  I was able to explain that each candle represents a week before Christmas.  The first candle represents the expectation of Jesus, the second, third and fourth candle represent hope, love, and joy while we wait.  I explained the pink candle stands out from the other purple ones to mean that Christ is almost here.  It’s almost time for Jesus to be born!   But the girls’ eyes got really big as I explained that the wreath is in a circle to mean eternity.  Just like there is no beginning nor end to a circle and it just goes on and on, so it is with God because He is eternal.  “That’s really cool!” one of the girls said, “I really like that!”  (And this is the part of the story when I say to the evangelical Church as a whole, “we don’t need anything for salvation other than Jesus, but a little symbolism never hurt anyone.  In fact, when it is done right, it enhances our spiritual walk.  We need to wake up to this fact before we lose everyone.”)

I’ve grown tired of Christmas music during Advent.  I want to hear Advent music.  I want to hear the pleads of:

O come, O come, Emmanuel  And ransom captive Israel That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.

And I want to hear the hope:

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny From depths of Hell Thy people save And give them victory o’er the grave Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel. O come, Thou Key of David, come, And open wide our heavenly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.

I want to hear of how God has been faithful before, we can be assured that He will be faithful again:

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might, Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height, In ancient times did’st give the Law, In cloud, and majesty and awe. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.

I want to feel the anxiety and the anticipation of the 400 years of silence, as humanity awaited to hear the voice of John the Baptist, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

I want to feel the awaiting in pain, and still have joy and still have hope. I want to know what it’s like to be in slavery and awaiting One who can set my heart free, and people free.  I want to know the pain of the people of the past and the chains of their souls, so that I may truly understand what spiritual freedom is today, for God’s people.  I don’t want Jesus’ life here on earth to be something my heart takes for granted, I want to appreciate it!  And so maybe that cliché, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder” is true.  (Or perhaps maybe we need to change it to, “Waiting makes the heart grow fonder”.)  I want my brow to drip drops of blood as I cry, “Come Lord, Jesus, Come!  Come make this whole place new!  Do what You do best: restore, recreate, renew, transform.  Come be the everlasting Light this world and our souls need!  Come, Lord Jesus, Come!  Have we not waited long enough?”

I wait to feel the impatience, the need, and the plead, and then find myself on Christmas mourn with tears of pure joy, “Joy to the world, the Lord is Come! Let Heaven and nature sing!”

Finally, we are free!

Finally, we can breathe!

Finally, God has come to dwell with humanity!

Finally, the promise we have been waiting for, has arrived!

There is a significance in waiting, so let’s not push it past us in hurry to sing the best Bing Crosby or Pentatonix Christmas song, or too quick to turn and read the birth story of our Savior. Let’s first look back, back into the Old Testament, as they await the coming of a Savior to rescue us from darkness.  Let’s walk around in their shoes for a while.  Then maybe… just maybe… we’ll get a greater glimpse of the great arrival of Jesus!

Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King, born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring. By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone; by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.  (–Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus–)

So, let’s act like it Advent… or something… ;-)

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Women Who Changed the Course of Church History: Hildegard of Bingen

When we think of monks, we usually think of a man in St. Francis of Assisi’s attire, chanting, gardening, studying the Word of God, explaining theology, and held up as someone who is wise.  In more modern pop culture, we may think of Friar Tuck from “Robin Hood” who was a noble man.  In general, we think of educated and astute men, and if we are going to mock them, we will draw attention to their vow of silence.  When we think of nuns, we get a much different picture.

Monk

We generally think of nuns as ones who wear habits, and slap children’s hands with rulers in school when they misbehave.  In pop culture, their vow to celibacy is the punchline to several jokes (but monks are never made a joke for the same vow), or they are portrayed as comics as with the “Flying Nun”, a sitcom that starred Sally Fields, or the comedy movie, “Sister Act” starring Whoopi Goldberg.  If anything positive is portrayed of a nun, they are either nurses in a hospital, Mother Theresa, or Maria from the “Sound of Music”.

Nun

In fact, I challenge you to do a Google image search for nuns, and then do a Google image search for monks.  You may be surprised the different attitude and reputation that are portrayed in each of them.

However, as we look back in history, women in monastic history played a large part in Church History, but they still somehow get lost behind Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome (with all due respect to these monks).

When a woman became a part of the monastic practices, she was held in high regard.  Her vow to celibacy was to be praised, because it was a reflection of the influence of the Virgin Mary.  Women who were in the monastic practice held several advantages over women who chose to be married with/without children.  These women were able to write, teach, preach, and contribute to theology.

Hildegard

Hildegard of Bingen (who lived 1098-1179) has become one of my favorite nuns to learn about in history.  She did work that we wouldn’t typically imagine for a nun or a woman in her day.  For example, she was the founder of the first abbess of Benedictine.  She was known for her mystical visions, her various writings, music, and her letters to various people.  Hildegard preached sermons and was requested on several occasions to write them down.  James E. Kiefer says that Heldegard was like the “Dear Abby” of her day, answering letters from people of all economical classes, and her presence would be requested for advice on various topics.  Did you catch that?  She led both women AND men!

Throughout her life, Hildegard wrote 70-plus songs, and 70 poems.  She also wrote 9 books: 2 which were filled with medical and pharmaceutical advice, also, she wrote a commentary on the Gospels, a commentary on the Athanasian Creed, as well as three books about theology and visions.  Kiefer states, “Although she would have rejected much of the rhetoric of women’s liberation, she never hesitated to say what she thought needed to be said, or to do what she thought needed to be done, simply because she was a woman.  When the pope or emperor needed a rebuke, she rebuked them.” (Biographical Sketches)

I think it’s time for us to redefine our cultural prejudices against nuns we have in America.  Women have done some great things in Church History and it’s certainly something for us to start talking about in a positive sense!

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Women Who Changed the Course of Church History: Mother Teresa, Lottie Moon, and Mary Slessor

Throughout this month, Ruth and I will be writing about various women who have made a GREAT difference in Church History!  The following is part of a paper I wrote for my Church History class. 

If I were to ask someone to list some influential men in Church History, I’m sure I would hear some popular names, such as: Billy Graham, C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther, Saint Augustine, or Saint Lawrence. However, if I were to ask someone to list some influential women in Church History, I’m sure I would hear Mother Teresa if I was lucky.  I’m not sure many of us could think of women who made great contributions to the Church.  The truth is that there were several women who made a difference in missionary journeys, writing, and theology, but unfortunately they are a well-kept secret, and frankly, I’m tired of them being a secret.

First, let’s start off with the one woman everyone knows: Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Macedonia.  Mother Teresa received her calling to serve at the young age of 12.  Six years later, she joined an Irish group of nuns.  One year later she was sent to Calcutta to be a teacher at an all-girls school, where on the weekends, she had her students serve the poor.  In 1948, she stopped teaching and left the convent and started to work solely with the poor and dying in Calcutta.  In 1950, Mother Teresa started the Missionaries of Charity, and she worked there until her death from a heart attack on September 5, 1997.

However, Mother Teresa wasn’t the first of women to serve as a missionary to those less fortunate. Several years before Mother Teresa, there was Lottie Moon.

Lottie Moon

At a young age, Moon was declared defiant, and she used that defiant attitude to make great strides for women in the Church and in Ministry. Moon went to China in 1873 teaching at an all-girls’ school.  She felt this job wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life, so she asked to be reassigned to planting churches.  When they refused to support her, Moon decided to go on her own to Ping-tu without the church’s support.  Moon did a variety of work throughout her life: evangelism, training of missionaries, wrote to Baptist Americans asking for support, organized relief work after disease and famine, and started a Christmas fund that still continues today.  Unfortunately, Moon fell into depression, stopped eating, and died, Christmas Eve in 1912.  Today, in 2015, we wouldn’t think much of the work Moon did as a woman, but in her time, it wasn’t work thought of as highly for a woman to do.  Her ministry was flat out radical!

Mary Slessor was also a woman who made great strides for the Church.

Mary Slessor

Slessor had grown up poor and she was often left to provide for her family.  God took that devastating childhood and used it for His good.  Slessor bravely went where her counterpart men wouldn’t even go in fear for their own safety!  Slessor lived in a mud hut and did several different tasks while in Africa: supervised education, adopted several abandoned children, and evangelized to villages.  She lived over two decades in rat and bug infested huts, endured boils and other bad conditions, adopted seven abandoned children, and escaped death that was practiced in a way that whenever a man felt like killing a woman, he simply could.  Slessor died in 1915.

A situation that has arisen in the Church has been to overlook the important roles women play/have played in the church due to gender roles, whether this is in regards to women as missionaries, women in pastoral office, or women’s public Christian activities. Several churches are seeing a need to liberate women and empower them to do great things, because of what assets women have been to the Church in the past.  Throughout the centuries women have done great things for missionary work and working cross-culturally, as well as during the Middle Ages, the women were important to the building, learning, and teaching theology.  Also, as we look throughout history, it is far more likely for women to be involved in ordinary participation of Church and its activities.  Women are absolutely vital in the Church and have helped kept it going throughout the centuries!

I’m sure there will always be those like Mark Driscoll, John and Stasi Eldredge, and John Piper who will want to see traditional gender roles continue in the Church, but one thing that is becoming apparently clear: although men have been highly regarded with Church History, they have also contributed to a lot of violence, fighting, and hatred as well.  Just because a person is a male doesn’t mean he’s the best person for the job.

Something that is vital for us to acknowledge is that it is important to give credit where credit is due, and to understand that not only have men played a valid and important place in history and in the church today, women have had an equally valid and important place in history in the Church as well. Both are absolutely vital!  We would not be where we are today if it hadn’t been for BOTH the men AND women of the past working throughout Church History.  ALL people are needed equally for God’s glory!

Reformation

The Burning of a Dead Man’s Bones and the Reformation

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to the door of the Roman Catholic Church and started the Reformation… well, according to legend. There’s a lot more to this story I did not know until recently, while taking a Church History class.

Often when we look to historical events, we tend to give credit to one person, when in reality, there were several people who were involved. So goes the story of Martin Luther and the Reformation.  I thought it would be appropriate today, to look at those who surround this infamous story.

First, I’d like to talk about a man named John Wycliffe. There isn’t a lot we know about this guy, even his exact birth and death aren’t fully set in stone by Church historians.

WycliffeBuscemi

 

 

 

                                                    Wycliffe, yes, the guy that shows us what Steve Buscemi would look like with white hair and in religious garb… in case anyone was curious about that…

In the fourteenth century, the only Bible available was in Latin, and Wycliffe studied it! Some of Wycliffe’s theology included:  Christ is the head of the Church and not the Pope, a priest was not to be a mediator between God and man but rather a spiritual leader who preaches and teaches the Word of God, the Church system is not what is important but rather one’s relationship with God, and God’s grace is through Christ’s work on the cross and was not of mankind’s good works.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “Hey, I’ve heard of the Wycliffe Bible! Does that have anything to do with this dude?”  And my response is, “Yes.  Exactly!”  Wycliffe felt it was necessary to have The Bible translated into people’s own languages so that people could read it for themselves.  This was actually quite rebellious.  Why?  Because previously, the Pope could say, “Well according to God…” and people would blindly follow because most people didn’t know Hebrew, Greek, or Latin.  So, basically, Wycliffe took power away from the Catholic Church, however, he was not martyred for it until after his death.  He actually died naturally, according to legend, during a worship service.  Now, that had to be quite the worship service people witnessed that day.

Next, we have someone named Jan Hus. Now, Jan Hus was a man, which could be misleading by thinking he’s a woman cause “Jan” seems like a woman’s name.  But don’t be silly!  Although, there are a lot of women who contributed to Church History, we can’t talk about them, because well… because that might lead women today to get this silly notion that they have something to contribute to the Church, and that would be emasculating to some men.  (Kind of like when a man vacuum’s my floor, I totally think, “He just took my femininity right away from me!  That masculine jerk!” ;-) )

So, anyways, back to the point, Jan Hus…

If this guy doesn't look like a rebel, I don't know who does!

If this guy doesn’t look like a rebel, I don’t know who does!

…during the early 1400s popularizes Wycliffe’s theology and continues the belief that The Bible should be translated to people’s native tongue!  He was adamant about teaching against the Roman Catholic Church traditions that were NOT found in The Bible.  As a result, Hus ends up getting burned alive at the stake, which actually makes sense when you’re trying to threaten someone. What doesn’t make sense, is that next, the Catholic Church dug up Wycliffe’s bones and burned them.  I guess the reason is that nothing shows a guy he’s wrong like burning him at the stake AFTER he’s dead??

…Don’t ask, it perplexes me too…

Then along comes this guy named Johann Tetzel…

"Hi, I'm Tetzel!  I liked to write television commercial jingles before writing television jingles were cool!"

“Hi, I’m Tetzel! I liked to write television commercial jingles before writing television jingles were cool!”

Now, there were these things called Indulgences in the Catholic Church. Indulgences were payments made to a Catholic person to free a spirit from earth and/or purgatory.  More or less, you had to pay your soul into Heaven, all the while, the Catholic Church is getting extremely wealthy.  In fact Tetzel had this little jingle he wrote, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

This makes Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk who studied Wycliffe and Hus, a hot mess!  (Although, in all fairness, Luther was a hot mess whether or not he studied Wycliffe or Hus, but we’ll save that story for another time.)

So, Luther does this…

"STOP!  It's Hammer time!" "But Brother Martin, I forgot my parachute pants!" "You disgust me, Friar!"

“STOP! It’s Hammer time!”
“But Brother Martin, I forgot my parachute pants!”
“You disgust me, Friar!”

He nails the 95 Theses (many of them he popularized from Wycliffe’s and Hus’ theology) to the door of the Church.  However, contrary to popular belief, Luther did this for two or three years straight, and no one gave a hoot. There is actually no response whatsoever from anyone, and Luther does not gain the attention he wants.

Then Johannes Gutenberg’s greatest invention came into play–the printing press!  Luther starts mass producing the 95 Theses and distributes them for people to read.  Now, the Roman Catholic Church gets angry and calls for Luther’s presence at a meeting known as the Diet of Worms in 1521.  It was there  they force Luther to eat a diet of worms for his penance, instead of saying Hail Mary’s.

No, I'm totally kidding!

No, I’m totally kidding!

There really was an event called The Diet of Worms though, which was a meeting in a town called Worms, where Luther was sent to recant his books, writings, and beliefs.

The more accurate and boring picture of the Diet of Worms.

The more accurate and boring picture of the Diet of Worms.

Luther asked for 24 hours to think over his answer. Mainly, because he knew what happened to Wycliffe’s dead bones and Hus’ living bones when they disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church.  And I’m sure he was more threatened by Hus’ persecution than Wycliffe’s…  Just sayin…  Anyways, after 24 hours, Luther returned and refused to recant his beliefs, by saying, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.  Thus I cannot and will not recant, for going against conscience is neither safe nor right.  I can do no other, here I stand, God help me.”

Luther was free for 21 days after refusing to recant his beliefs.  Then they captured him to kill him, but his good buddies (under the direction of a prince) kidnap him.  Luther spends the rest of his days translating the Latin Bible into German.

And there you have it folks, the starting of the Reformation…

Now, why is this important?  First of all, thanks to the Reformation, we start to see The Bible translated into various languages for the common people, and The Bible starts to become the rule of faith and practice, instead of the tradition of the Church.  Secondly, we start to see justification by faith through grace become the center of salvation, instead of Indulgences and good works.

Here’s some unimportant yet fun facts:

+Martin Luther did not like the beginning of the Protestant Church being referred to as “The Reformation”, rather, he wanted to reserve that title for the New Heaven and the New Earth when Christ returns.

+Martin Luther was a hot tempered mess of a man! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!

+Martin Luther also got married to a nun, and thus changed the course of history by stating that marriage and family is just as valid as celibacy and singleness in the service of the Church.

+The word ‘theses’ rhymes with ‘feces’.

BONUS MATERIAL:

+ Here’s a “Reformation Polka” for anyone looking for special music for your next Church Service.  Just take note, Luther never spoke against Transubstantiation, nor did he ever nail the Theses to a wall, or liked the word “reformation” to describe the beginning of the Protestant Church.  So don’t sing the chorus of this song, and you’ll actually be accurate to Luther’s story.

+Check out these women and read their amazing contributions to Church History! Remember men, this is not emasculating, so feel free to vacuum my floors anytime! ;-)

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen

Saint Brigit of Kildare

Saint Brigit of Kildare

Catherine of Silena

Catherine of Silena

Doctor of the Church, Teresa of Avila

Doctor of the Church, Teresa of Avila