On Freedom, Labels & One Crazy Week {In Defense of Dialogue Part 2}

IMG_9090It has been a wild, stormy week.

I wanted to have this post out 5 days ago, but it got preempted by an all-nighter to the puppy ER for Charlie followed by a potentially life-threatening reaction to Lipitor that almost sent me to the people ER.  One pill.  Then other meds I was on apparently stopped playing nicely together and in switching some out to other safer alternatives I kept having the exact opposite effects of what they are supposed to be doing.  It has been a week of heaps of pain {think 14 on a 1-10 scale}, crazy side effects, no sleep and fairly desperate moments.  I’m quitting 2 of the 3 meds and choosing natural alternatives.  This episode has only strengthened my aversion to almost all things pharmaceutical.  Then I got dive-bombed by a hornet while sitting at my desk. Seriously?

Welcome back to the front lines of ministry.  Someone must be really nervous for me to be getting all this attention. Here I finally am to continue the conversation my last post began looking at the conservative church’s response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage.

Let’s start by talking about what it means to really love God.

If God were to legislate and force us to love Him, it wouldn’t actually be love.  Love cannot exist outside freedom.  We can love Him because we have a choice not to love Him.  If we did not have freedom to choose His ways, or not, love would cease to exist.

And this is what makes God’s kind of agape love SO powerful.  Its great power lies in the fact that it is dependent on the will of the one choosing to love not the behavior of the one being loved. And thus we filled with God’s love can love our enemies, we can love those who speak hatefully against us.  It is God’s love that never fails.

So church, we can choose to love those who live their lives in ways with which we fundamentally disagree.  If we do not choose to walk in love, we have no authority to say anything.  The opposite of love is not hate.  It is fear.  And fear leads to control and control to the absolute removal of freedom.

Totalitarian regimes are based on fear.  Legalism is based on fear.  God loves us so much He gives us freedom to choose even that which breaks His heart.  And He is so sovereign He knows our choices before we do and the end from the beginning and yet He still loves us and gives us freedom to make those decisions.  That is almost unfathomable to me.  The bigness of His heart.

We cannot have a true dialogue without first understanding God’s heart and His love for the person or persons with whom we are engaging.  Many things can hinder this.  One of which is the defensive use of labeling people or positions with whom we disagree.

Defensive labels are almost always rooted in fear.  It is natural to fear that which we don’t understand.  In order to understand it we seek to quantify and categorize it as quickly as possible.  Instead of truly seeking to understand more than to be understood we slap a label on it: backwards, ugly narrow-minded, liberal, crazy, intolerant, shameful, disgusting, hateful, abominable.

Labels meant to quantify behavior often wind up objectifying the people perpetrating it.  When someone is objectified, reduced to a few-word description often hastily applied with lack of understanding as well as compassion conversation and relationship cannot happen.   Labels are assigned from both sides of the table.

labelsquantifyWhen I lived in Colorado, there was a pride week on a local campus and there was a well-known group who called themselves christians who came with repugnant signs and hateful chants.  I went and stood with homosexual community.  Not because I agree with the lifestyle, but because Jesus loves them deeply and I wanted to make sure they knew these folks shouting at them in no way represented God’s heart.

Let’s talk about the label abominable. It is very often applied by portions of the church in the discussion regarding homosexuality.

A friend of mine looked up all the references of it in Scripture and after talking with her I was prompted to do the same.  Many Christians refer to homosexuality as an abomination to the Lord.  According to 2 references in Leviticus it is. But what most folks quoting these passages fail to see is pride is called an abomination (using the same exact Hebrew word) also 2x.  How many of us have ever walked in pride?  Lying is called an abomination at least 3x, using different weights and measures +4x and idolatry +5x.

So if we come against homosexuality we better come against pride, deceit, lying lips, witchcraft, idolatry, cultural syncretism, perversion of heart (having a crooked or devious heart or motive), false witness, being divisive and unjust behavior at least twice as much.  Or we just might be guilty of using unjust measures which is mentioned twice as many times as abominable to God. Hmmm. Something to think of at least.

My point in all that is defensive labels are rarely equitable and almost never helpful in creating a relational space where genuine trust can be built and respectful dialogue can be engaged. Pointing fingers are usually equally unhelpful.  It is simply not my job to be anyone’s Holy Spirit.  He is the only that can bring true and lasting change about in any of our hearts.

More thoughts to come in Part 3…

flyingflagHave a great 4th!  May it be a time we reaffirm our living in In-Dependence on God in and for all things.  Let’s celebrate with gratitude for our freedom that is anything but free.  You are loved!

In Defense of Respectful Dialogue {Part 1}

dialogueThere is so much on my heart tonight.

I’m wading out into these controversial waters with trembling.  I know some of you will disagree.  And I’m 150% OK with that.  You are always welcome here, disagreements and all.  I will never punish anyone by withdrawing relationship simply because we disagree.

Living and serving outside of the USA for much of my adult life has afforded me a perspective on my own home culture I don’t know how I would gain any other way.  It makes some things clearer and makes it harder for me to fit in neat, presupposed cultural paradigms.

You have probably heard the news.  The Supreme Court released its landmark ruling in defense of the rights of the LBGTQ community to marry civilly if they so chose.  I’m not here to talk about the merits of that ruling except to say there are possibilities surrounding its interpretation and application in days to come that may quickly erode the civil liberties of those who disagree with gay marriage on faith-based grounds. We have seen the hateful targeting of dissenting opinions on both sides of the fence.  Calling names is never a helpful solution.

I believe Church we have a tremendous opportunity to model Jesus and begin to forge a relationally-based, respectful dialogue with those who disagree with us. On MANY topics, not just this one.  It is pretty clear in the Gospels Jesus didn’t withhold relationship even when He was betrayed.  Aren’t we glad?  I know I am.  It doesn’t get more disagreeable than that!

I believe in religious freedom, freedom of speech and the separation of church and state.  I believe the ability to have a respectful national discourse and an educated, engaged citizenry are hallmarks of the democracy upon which our nation was founded.  When we start calling people with whom disagree haters, bigots or other demeaning slurs while demanding their noxious opinions be silenced, we are essentially signing away our rights to have our own opinion heard as well.

Church, we are no longer a Christian nation, if we ever were to begin with. We are a pluralistic nation and the 4th largest unreached nation in the world.  We are the mission field.  While I believe God raises up some who are called into government, the primary answer the Church needs is not political.  It is spiritual.

As a democracy, engaged voters vote the soul of a nation into office.  The answer to changing the nation lies within reaching the soul.  It is less about reaching the political field and all about serving the mission field.  And I do know a thing or two about that. ;-) So here goes.

If things ever come down to the government forcing churches to perform marriage ceremonies in opposition to their beliefs, we are going to have to choose to respectfully but firmly stand the ground of our beliefs and our right to practice them knowing we may be persecuted for doing so.  I hope it never comes to this, but my gut feeling is it will.  If not on this issue, another.

Let me say this again.  We do not live in a Christian nation.  We do however live in an amazing mission field.  We will never be successful in sharing our faith by hurling vitriol nor will we be if we bow at the altar of political correctness. It isn’t about appeasing the PC police, it is about operating in love and honor especially for people with whom we disagree.  So I want to set that as a baseline.

If we are missionaries, it is time we start thinking like missionaries and stop expecting our society to get on board with our beliefs many times in the absence of any meaningful relationship with us and more importantly with Him.  I believe God is calling all of us to spend enough time with Him personally that we have some understanding of how He would have us respond to this issue and even more so the people who are often marginalized by it.

Case in point. I was involved in the wedding industry as a photographer before I moved to Africa.  I loved the artistry side and hated the stress of it. I lasted about 6 months.  But having worked in that space, this ruling has given me great pause to prayerfully consider if in any future date I step back into a differing part of that industry.

I have heard about Christian business owners who have lost their business after refusing a same-sex couple’s wedding business.  I don’t know the whole context but I 100% back the need for freedom of speech protections.  I do not condone Christians being targeted because of their beliefs.  But I’m not surprised by persecution.

Sometimes I wonder if some of the “persecution” comes especially on this issue because having an open, honest and honoring discussion rooted in God’s love is so rare.  I wonder if we have lost the art of passionately disagreeing on the issues but with the understanding that we can agree to disagree agreeably.

I would handle similar situations differently.  I view business as a vehicle of outreach for serving the community around me, which is a mission field every bit as real as South Sudan was.  I didn’t withhold relationship from people who made all sorts of life choices or held beliefs different from my own there.

If I were still in the wedding business {providing products or services not officiating the ceremony}, I would absolutely serve same-sex couples.  Church, how is anyone able to see Jesus in us if we punish people by removing our relationship, demeaning their personhood or calling them names.  Jesus doesn’t do that.  It is His kindness that leads us to repentance.

I  served heterosexual couples who had been living together before getting married.  Living together outside of marriage is “unbiblical” too. Just because I have a business client, doesn’t mean I approve of or even know every area of their lives.

We need to be so so careful that our language, our reactions, the way we engage this issue is respectful and genuinely rooted in the heart of God.  More to come on all this (Part 2 & 3).

Please know you are loved extravagantly by your Father in heaven. So much to come friends!  Can’t wait to be sharing all the fun in the days ahead. <3 Michele

From the Other Side of the Storm

othersidestorm

When you are standing in the middle of a storm with the wind howling fierce and wild all around you, it can feel like the storm will never stop its onslaught.  But it will.  Stop.  No storm is forever.

The last two years have been a stormy trek through loss and betrayal, through injustice and brokenness, through grief and pain.  But the violent ripping away from what I thought was to be the rest of my life gave me some incredible gifts, even though they were packaged in pain.  If you are in a storm, even if you can’t fathom this now, there are treasures hidden in darkness.  Jesus never wastes our pain.

As I watch a community stand up and forgive the brutal act of terror that took 9 beautiful lives Wednesday night, I’m humbled to see lovers of Jesus living out His incredible grace calling us all as a nation back to God’s love that never fails.  Sitting here today, I am reminded again no matter how atrocious the storm is, it will not last forever.

In catching up with a friend recently, I’ve started to see some of what these last two years have worked into me.  What God desires to pour through us, He first works in us. I am not the same person who walked into the storm.  And I could never step into what God has called me to without journeying through the last two years of facing many of my worst fears.

Can I be a bit vulnerable?  There might be something you can relate at least a little to in this journey ;-).

In 2013 the transition back to the USA caused a stripping away of almost every major ministry relationship in my life.  There is no blame at all here for that. Many relationships drift away in transition periods because they are seasonal in nature.  I was afraid of loneliness, of alone-ness, of being left out and displeasing leaders I respect.  Suddenly I had nothing to “fit in” to and 98% of my relational network had waved good-bye at the last fork in the road.  Again no blame.  I had to face those fears.  And now I have better, deeper relationships  in my life than I have ever had before.

I had a fear of simply being myself so I was constantly self-editing to make sure who I was fit the assignment well.  And then in the space of a few weeks in the summer of 2013, all my assignments were stripped away and all I had left to be was myself.  So I found my voice with an inner boldness I’ve never experienced before. I’m just not afraid of stepping on toes anymore. I do care what people think because I care about the people who are having the thoughts. But people’s opinions just don’t rock me like they used to.

Love doesn’t play it safe.  Love speaks truth to power from the place of vulnerability. I no longer have or am looking for a mold to fit into.  There isn’t one. I get it. I get now what God has been whispering for years.  I finally have the assurance just to be. I’m not looking for the next “thing” to be a part of.

I’ve learned so much about myself in this journey. Funny things like I enjoy doing radio more than TV {It is pretty awesome to share with thousands sitting in my PJ bottoms at home with no makeup on sipping on coffee.}  I’ve learned I love doing illustration more than classical fine art, that I’m not a big conference/event person {unless God calls me to be there}, that I’d rather sit under a tree with Jesus or spend time with family.

Even with all my God experiences, there was still a part of my heart that wanted validation {ahem, I called it confirmation} that I heard God correctly. And that internal hesitance created a dynamic where I’d second guess what I thought I knew. But when any and all external validation got stripped right out of my world, I found the actual deeper level of internal confidence I needed rooted in Jesus where it can never be stolen.

God never wastes our pain.  I’m standing on the other side of a 2 year storm and I no longer see the good that which was ripped away but rather the great that grew out of what remained.  And there is SO much more great growing than good lost.  The stripping always yields strengthening in God’s Kingdom.  It’s a process called pruning.

The storm the enemy purposed to destroy all God was doing and me in the process, only wound up strengthening my roots in Jesus and accelerating my growth.

If you find yourself in a stormy patch right now, hang on, press into where Jesus is sleeping in the boat and hide under His robes.  When you get to the other side of the storm, you will find treasures and gifts to unwrap you had no idea you even needed.

That which the enemy means to destroy will be the very thing that establishes you and prepares you to become even more dangerous to darkness. So much so he will regret ever trying.

Summer Dreaming

Dream.Perry

Two years ago today I was walking through the most difficult season of my life.

Profound loss, deep betrayal, violent relentless slander, severe health problems and the uprooting from people I loved and a place where I thought I would spend the rest of my life.  All of these things together became a perfect storm that stole even my desire to dream again.

{The one bright spot in the storm was knowing God brought the children in South Sudan and staff I still hold in this mama’s heart as family a wonderful missionary team, expatriate and local, to love and lead and guide and serve them as they enter an amazing new season of growth. It has been a joy to watch seeds I saw planted begin to yield a harvest and to know their future is filled with God’s goodness.}

Today I stand on the other side grateful to God for transforming even that which He doesn’t initiate into the very things that lead us deeper into His calling on our lives.  While I miss my family in Africa everyday, I know there is greater fruitfulness ahead than lies behind for all of us.

Storms are invitations to dance with Jesus.  When you get high enough above the squall, even the most turbulent storm has beauty.   And every storm has lessons.

Years ago someone told me prophetically I would come into a new level of grace and authority to teach and impart and see great healing come to those who specifically have been survivors of spiritual and pastoral abuse.  The word, when it was given, made absolutely no sense to me. I lived in Africa and worked with children and the unreached- not the previously churched.

If the person wasn’t who I knew him to be and the circumstances weren’t so unusual for the word he shared, I might have filed what he said as inaccurate.  Now years later it explains and gives context not only to my most recent journey, but to so many other earlier experiences as well.

In the next weeks and months, I will begin sharing some of the things I’ve encountered and writing about pastoral/spiritual abuse and its prevalence in the church, focusing on how we can see some of the unhealthy conditions that give rise to it begin to shift and change.  I’m not here to point fingers or place blame.  I’m here to raise a call for growth, healing and transformation.

Some of what I share may not be popular and I’m OK that.  If everyone agrees with you all the time, you probably aren’t saying much.  While I have lost much in the last two years, I have gained so much more than I lost.  I’m the person I am today because of it.  As hard and painful as the season was personally, what the enemy meant to destroy God has turned into a gift.

I have found my voice and boldness in ways I never would have if not for having to stand in the onslaught.  The storm has only strengthened my roots in Him and given me greater authority to speak into some vital areas few venture to touch.

Doors are opening and the dawn is rising and while there is much I may never understand about the past, the future is bright with His promises. I can’t wait to explore this new season of His dreams unfolding and journey with you into them.

You are loved.  Wildly.  From His heart and mine.  I’m so glad you are here.  Wishing you a weekend full of His wonder.

Jesus Was a Feminist

passionofthechrist-wallpaperweb

From Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”

I started to write this post to respond a little more to the conversation surrounding the Duggar scandal.  I’ve been reading and researching, praying and vacillating between deep sadness and indignation all week.  The deeper I delve and the more I read, the more disturbed I become.  This conversation might have begun with one family’s broken choices and actions, but we miss the point entirely if it stops there.

The abuse in the Duggar family and the allegations of sexual and other types of abuse that have been uncovered in the last 5-10 years surrounding the theological thought streams for which they are poster children are symptoms of even more foundational issues which should be alarming to the larger Body of Christ.

There is a growing movement mostly within fundamentalist circles that emphasizes woman’s submission to man as head of the household. I knew some people believed that, but I’ve been living far from the fabric of American Christianity for much of my adult life.  This week has been a wake up call.  I had no idea how pervasive these ideas had become in some arenas.

In these circles, a woman is subject to and subjugated by her husband.  Many times she is instructed to suffer well and stay with abusive situations.  Many more times abuse {physically, emotionally, verbally, sexually and spiritually} perpetrated by male members of the household is glossed over, covered up, ignored, downplayed and the female victims are told to forgive and endure. Women are also taught that the moral failures of men are their fault and therefore they most protect their brother’s fragile morality and cover up beyond what is considered normal good taste.

This stream also emphasizes instant obedience of children often enforced with extreme corporal punishment, traditional gender specific roles and specifically sets up girls to be easy targets for abuse from male authoritarian figures.  As many of these families choose to home school, children can be literally trapped in a closed abusive system that at best grossly misrepresents Who Jesus is.

Over the next weeks and months, I’m going to be periodically writing about some of my experience around issues of abuse in the church and how we who love Jesus can step up to intentionally create safe, loving environments and build healthy communities of faith.  No church is perfect.  Every church has flaws and blind spots.  But the ones who are safest openly, freely and even joyously admit their weakness and are humble enough to be transparent as well as to grow and change.

The way a church treats and views women tells me volumes about how they see & know God.  I had one church leader {a stranger} who read my first response to the Duggar situation declare I knew nothing about the Bible and was a secular humanist.  I’m not sure what his definition of secular humanism is because I think most secular humanists would be highly offended with my attribution to their ranks. I’m sure this post would cement my position as a heretic in his worldview.

Because I’m pretty sure Jesus was a feminist. 

Given the culture of His day, Jesus was a radical in His support of women, even to the point of saving the life of a woman caught in adultery {a capital offense} and standing up against the religious system of His day to do it.

The word feminist has a lot of modern political connotations.  I get that and that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about the original, historical meaning of the word feminist: the belief that women should have equal rights and opportunities in all levels and contexts of society.

Jesus came to set both men and women free, not to set men free to rule over women.

Yes, I do know the Bible passages most often quoted to support patriarchal submission theology. I’ve studied them in depth.  Without going into a lengthy Greek lesson, much of the original meaning and cultural contexts of these texts are quite literally lost in translation and then the meaning disappears even further in application of the translated text.

For instance, in the original Koine Greek Eph 5:15-23 was ONE sentence.  One context, no division into sentences, paragraph structure or convenient {but in this case misleading} subject headers.  The submission of wives to husbands and husbands to wives was not a license for husbands to rule over their wives, but a revolutionary call to mutual submission, clarified by the context of vs. 21 “submitting to one another in the fear of God”.  {For a fabulous discussion of this and other Biblical passages, check out Why Not Women by Loren Cunningham founder of YWAM}

Many times translations can have hidden {and not so hidden} bias from the translators.  Which is one reason why it is important as much as possible to learn about the original languages, contexts and historical factors and be led by Holy Spirit. It is impossible to rightly interpret and correctly apply Scripture outside of relationship with Jesus and being led by His Spirit.

To any woman reading this who is living with spousal or domestic abuse.  Regardless of what anyone may have told you, God does not call us to stay in abusive situations. EVER.  Staying doesn’t make you more spiritual and leaving doesn’t mean you are failing God.  God wants you safe, cherished, whole and free.   Please, please find a way to get to safety.  Or at least begin to consider the possibility.

And to all who pause to spend a moment with these words, always remember you are dearly loved.