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.

Church, Are We Having the Right Conversation?

convoI told myself there were a million reasons why I should not write this post.  OK, maybe just under a million.

I don’t like controversy or conflict.  Chiming in will put me in the melee.  {Deep breath}

I have never watched 19 Kids and Counting. I’m sure the Duggars’ love Jesus and are following what they believe He would have them do.  But the no-short wearing, no-hair cutting, woman-subservient-to-man, one-Bible-version-only, hyper-modesty camp they represent highlights to me a religious legalism that oppresses women into what is at best a subcultural stereotype.

While I fully support the Duggars’ rights to express their faith as they are led, it is not an expression I personally want to watch, support or be entertained by.  I have however loosely been following the media fray surrounding Josh Duggar’s pedophilia.  I’ve worked with child survivors and it is an issue planted deep in my heart.

I was praying maybe this one time we’d actually get the conversation right and protect the survivors.

Then I saw the 3 night interview of the Duggars on The Kelly File and my heart sank.  I became more disturbed and sickened with each minute.  It wasn’t only how the parents’ conversation repeatedly revolved around protecting the perpetrator, but how the parents and then the girls themselves minimized the actual abuse.  I scarcely could believe what I was listening to.

Do I believe Josh can be forgiven and horrible situations redeemed ?  Of course I do.

But church, forgiveness is only forgiveness when it is a choice. 

And for a choice to be a choice, that means there has to be freedom to choose alternatives even for a season and embrace an intimately personal journey.  Forgiveness that is forced through deeply ingrained expectations and desires to not disappoint authority figures may not give survivors the necessary space they need to go on their own journey with Jesus towards healing and freedom.

If you move on too quickly from trauma {apart from God doing the miraculous}, you wind up dragging the pain with you and not actually moving on at all.

I seriously wonder, given the culture surrounding these incidents, if forgiveness was indeed a choice that could be embraced in fits and squalls as the storm abated and healing came in layers, or if it was one-and-done, good-now-get-over-it.

The outrage I heard from the Duggars was not directed at the abuser or his very real abuse, but at the system, the media and seemingly everybody but him.  Over the last 4 years, I have seen repeated situations where the church has rushed to protect the perpetrators of sexual abuse, minimized the allegations and shamed the survivors into psuedo-forced-forgiveness.

The parent’s overt focus on Josh getting his life back and the repeated redirection away from the severity of the allegations or the impact on his abuse’s survivors, who were their very own daughters, shows the dark underbelly of a worldview still prevalent in some parts of Christendom where women are indirectly (if not directly) taught to be silent and stand by their man, no matter what.  And if we do talk about abuse or wrongdoing, let’s just soften it’s edges with platitudes touting mankind’s general imperfection.

Abuse is not indiscretion or imperfection.  Abuse is abuse. 

Whether the man is 14, 16, 18 or 98, sexual abuse is sexual abuse. When we minimize it, politicize it and protect perpetrators from receiving the full weight of the consequences of their actions, we legitimize its ongoing presence in our midst.

The fact that the media’s exposure of the abuse was 1000 times worse than the abuse itself in the survivor’s eyes makes me profoundly sad. It only points to how much the incidents themselves must have been minimized.

Church we need to stop trying to figure out how to protect our reputation or how to protect the perpetrators of abuse and focus on how to protect and provide a truly safe healing community for abuse survivors. We need to systematically address worldviews that devalue women and see how we can create conversations and contexts that empower women as Jesus does.  We need to once and for all say sexual abuse, no matter who perpetrates it or how “mild” the incident seems, is in no way permissible or tolerable in our midst.  Ever.

Let’s have this conversation.  Open. Honest. Transparent. Brave. Free.