And yet, she said yes…

At first blush, she was the most unlikely of women to be called to this extraordinary role. But I think that was exactly what made Mary the perfect candidate for this vital role in redemptive history. Nothing about the birth of Messiah was how it would have been envisioned by the Jewish people of the time. They expected a king – and all the attending pomp and circumstance. Christ’s birth was the complete opposite of that. Everything was upside down – including the “royal couple” who would be His earthly parents.

Mary was an unassuming figure, probably 14 or 15 years old at the time we meet her. She was betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter; she was a virgin who lived a quiet life in Nazareth of Galilee (think Danville or Decatur; not a metropolitan mecca or center of cultural or political power). She was preparing to be the wife of carpenter. She did not have dreams or visions of greatness. She was…ordinary.

But her life changed completely when an angel appeared to her:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. – Luke 1:26-28 ESV

A few items to note:

Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Betrothal in those days was nothing like what we call “engagement” today. Ending a betrothal was not as simple as returning a ring and canceling the reservation for the reception. In order to sever the agreement, the man would have to write a certificate of divorce. So when we meet her, Mary is a woman who has been promised to Joseph,  a woman in waiting for her bridegroom. She was expected to keep herself pure until the wedding night, when her union with Joseph would be consummated.

So, to be visited by an angel and told she would be with child, and that child would be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit was probably a bit disconcerting to say the least!

I mean, can you imagine the scandal? How many people do you think believed her when she shared this story? Joseph surely did not; when he learned this, he determined to divorce her:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,  and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. – Matt. 1:18-25 ESV

We hear this story so often that I think it could be easy to gloss over this, to sanitize it. But this was no small event. Old Testament law was not kind in these situations. The law stated that a betrothed woman who claims to be a virgin but is found not to be is to be stoned to death at the entrance of her father’s house (Deut. 22:20)!

Harsh.  And Mary would not have been ignorant of this. She knew exactly what she was getting herself into when she say “yes” to God. And I would imagine she would have no expectation of Joseph standing with her. But she said yes.

Mary believed God. And that belief came at enormous cost. That belief was risky.

Who would believe her?

What would Joseph do?

What would her family do?

What would the public think or do?

Her very life was at risk.

And yet….she said…Yes, Lord. May it be to me according to your word.

There are three things that came to my mind as I thought about Mary.

First – faithfulness is hard, and the road taken is usually the road less travelled. Last night I was trying to imagine myself as Mary. It did not go well. I have so many questions…and not just about the virgin part! All the questions I posed – and more – would have flooded my mind and spilled out of my mouth. The fear that would have gripped me would have been paralyzing.

I have no doubt that Mary felt fear too. I have no doubt that her mind whirled with questions. But she did not hesitate. She knew the road would be hard, treacherous even. And still she said yes.

Secondly – Obedience doesn’t always make sense. How much of what God had revealed to her through His angel “made sense”? Human sense. None of it. Did it make sense that Joseph would understand and marry her anyway? Would it make sense that her family wouldn’t seek to harm her? Did it make sense that she, an ordinary woman from a nondescript town would be chosen to fulfill the promise of God, a promise that is woven through the entire fabric of Israel’s history up to that point? I mean, women dreamed of being the mother of the Messiah. Why would God choose Mary?

Why does God choose any of us? I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t make sense that I am a child of God. It doesn’t make sense that He saved me out of my misery and sin. But He did. And when He blesses me with the gift of ministry, when He showers favor on me, it makes no sense. The only thing that makes sense in that moment is to say Yes, Lord.

Thirdly – Obedience belongs to God, not to other people. Mary’s ultimate statement: I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me according to your Word. This is the battle cry of a woman of valor. A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Mary is praised, is called blessed among all women because she feared God more than man; she sought to obey Him, and not other people.

Had she been consumed with the potential consequences of say yes – even the very clear and present danger of being STONED to death – she would have shrunk back. She would have hidden. She would have said no. God’s plans would not have been thwarted – but she would have had no part in them.

What does this mean to us?

Mary displayed deep faith and enormous trust in God. She was confident, but not in herself. She was confident in her God. Confident in His character, His power. Confident that He would do what He promised. This is not something that can be mustered at the snap of a finger. This is a heart that has been shaped by the Word of God, belief in God, love for God – over time. So the first thing it means for us is a slow, steady walk with the Lord that is day by day. It’s kind of like a marathon. If I were to try to run a marathon tomorrow, I would probably drop dead after half a mile. But if I spent the next six or seven months training and slowly working up to that 26.2 miles, I would probably be able to run a marathon by July or August. Don’t know why I’d want to….but you get my drift. Slow. steady. Consistent. In the everyday and the ordinary. This is where you prepare; this is how you prepare.

Yesterday I watched the state funeral for George HW Bush. One of the eulogizers said something that cracked me up: “Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington do not encounter heavy traffic”. To which we all could say a hearty AMEN!

But is that no less true in our everyday lives? What do we hear from our culture. Our celebrity culture is omnipresent – and we all want to capture some sliver of it – hence the term “15 minutes of fame”. Limelight looks good on any complexion. Or so we think. The one on top is blessed, favored, etc.

But the life of humility is much different. It is hard, it can be painful. It can be dangerous. But this is the life that God commends. Mary was said to have found favor with God. I often hear the phrase “Favor ain’t fair”. It usually refers to something awesome happening, as if to say, “Don’t be mad; it’s favor”. But sometimes favor doesn’t feel good. Sometimes favor is hard. Sometimes you want to ask God to stop favoring you so much! But those moments and seasons in life are often where our greatest blessing are born.

Mary traveled the road of humility; a quiet, ordinary, but faithful life. So the second thing, which flows from the first is realigning what we value to match what God values. His values are completely antithetical to what the world values. So that slow, steady walk with God reveal His will and ways to us, rewiring us as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts.

God may indeed call us to extraordinary things. He might not. But regardless, our lives should be under-girded with a faithfulness to God and a desire to follow Him where He might lead – be it in the unseen, everyday of life, or the giant and amazing. In whatever God calls us, our heart’s cry should be “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me according to your word.”

Where I am whole and free…

My journey has been a story of searching. Searching for identity, searching for belonging. Trying to figure where I fit. As my previous post explains, my “frochronicles” have been about more than hair; they have been about owning who I am, as I am, how God designed me. From head to toe. No apologies.

When I first began this blog, I toiled over a name. I have tried blogging for years, and have always hit a wall, not quite sure where the process was leading. Was there a purpose to my writing? What is my primary message? What is the mission or vision behind the words? The title I settled on was “Encourage to Wholeness”. But what does that even mean?

In my pursuit to figure this out, I’ve made fruitless attempts to emulate different styles of bloggers. The social justice blogger; the political commentator blogger; the how-to-be-a-godly-woman blogger; the theology professional blogger; the God’s-got-a-plan-for-your-life blogger. Each attempt ends in failure. Because I am none of these. And trying to fit into these molds has left me feeling awkward, frustrated. Because I was not meant to be any of those bloggers. I’m saying nothing against them in affirming that; we need all these various voices and more. But that is not the voice I’ve been given. That is not the fire that burns in my belly. Strands of all the above mentioned styles run through my writing; but none are my true heartbeat.

Back to my title…

Encourage to Wholeness. What does that mean? It means to encourage a move toward an identity that is fully rooted in Christ, not in the various identities of this world. It means living into the freedom we have in Christ.

That is my true heartbeat.

There is nothing new about this message. It is the Gospel message. We are new creations in Christ; we are one in Him; we are children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ. If you name the name of Jesus, your primary identity is child of God. By ourselves, we are broken and fragmented by all the identities and categories put upon us by our culture. It is the result of being broken by sin, and living in a world broken by sin. My personal struggle with identity originates here. But in Christ I find peace. In Christ, I find joy. In Christ, I find refuge, a place where I am whole and free.

That is the vision of this blog. That is the mission of my writing.

A few weeks ago, one of the elders of my church preached a message about identity. His primary text was Galatians 3:26-29:

“..for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (ESV)

He used the imagery of buckets to describe the different identities we carry with us. We have a gender bucket, a racial/ethnic bucket, a familial bucket, a friend bucket, a work bucket, and so forth. The point of this passage is not that we lose these identities when we come to Christ, or that they somehow disappear. The message is that all these other “buckets” are now placed inside the larger “bucket” of being “in Christ”. How I choose to live out my other identities must be shaped by and subordinated to this primary identity of being in Christ, so that, no matter what “bucket” I am drawing from, people see Christ’s character in me. My life should be hidden in His; my life should be all about Him.

Again, there is nothing new about this message. But it requires repetition and reminder. We so easily forget. We get consumed by what is right here before us and lose perspective on what is true. We forget what makes us whole and free. That is why we need encouragement. We need to encourage one another to wholeness.

So as I take my steps along this journey, I want to encourage you, my fellow sojourners, to continue on toward freedom and wholeness in Him.

Until next time, grace and peace…

 

I am (not) my hair…

In 2006, Soul artist India.Arie released a song called “I Am Not My Hair”. I. LOVE. THIS. SONG. Check out some of the lyrics:

“I am not my hair,
I am not this skin.
I am not your expectations, no…
I am not my hair,
I am not this skin.
I am the soul that lives within.”

There were times when I felt the need to sing this song at the top of my lungs, to remind myself that I am more than what you see when you see me. My hair, my skin…they mean something, many things that I have never asked for them to mean. But beyond and beneath the exterior package is a real person who defies the simple definitions and stereotypes given to me. And so, this refrain is my soul song, proclaiming that “God don’t make no junk”. I am not an accident, and who and what I am is absolutely okay.

Hair – oh yes. The Black woman and her hair. That relationship is special. I had what was termed “good hair” – which basically means my hair was relatively easy to straighten. Or code for, “your hair is almost as good as White hair”. This, combined with my fair complexion was the bane of my existence. “A shy, nerdy Black chick with fair skin and “good hair” must be stuck up, must think she’s better than everyone else. And she ‘talks White’ too? Uh-huh, she think she White…”.

No, I think I’m just who God created me to be. No better, no worse. Just – me. But back then, I didn’t see it that way, couldn’t see it that way. Shame dwelled where contentment should have lived. And so, when this song hit the airwaves, it struck a chord in me (pardon the pun) that still rings in my heart. It gave voice to something I could feel but not articulate. And it made it okay for me to be confident in everything about who I am.

‘Fro Chronicles
Fast forward 10 years to the summer of 2016. That was the point at which I had reached the end of my patience with my hair. For most of my life, I had straightened my hair. Some of my earliest memories are of me sitting in front of a stove on a little wooden stool, while my mom worked through my hair with a pressing comb. As I got older, she transitioned to chemicals to straighten my hair. The natural coils were forced into submission by these chemicals. This was just the thing to do. Most of the Black girls and women I knew were either pressing or “relaxing” their hair.

But years of such abuse left my hair a hot mess. My hair was thinning, breaking off, and looking dry and lifeless. Something had to give. After years of debating back and forth, I decided to take the plunge. I went to my friend Valena’s home and let her do the “big chop”. All the processed hair fell to the floor and I was left with a little baby fro (picture on the left above) to start my journey. A journey into loving my hair just the way it was meant to be.

Loving My ‘Fro
I love my ‘fro! It is fantastic! My hair loves it too – I have not put heat or chemicals on my hair in two years, and my hair is thanking me for it. Breakage and thinning are no longer a problem, and it is growing like crazy! It has taken me most of these two years to really get to know my hair and how to treat it properly. I’ve learned that I have at least two different hair textures, which makes the curl pattern tighter in the back than in the front. I’ve spent crazy amounts of money trying to find the right mix of products that keep my hair and scalp healthy and keep my curls poppin’.

I have also developed a renewed and deepened respect for my mom and the drama and travail she went through taking care of this stuff when I was young. She should be sainted.

I’ve been asked a number of times if my decision to rock the natural is a political statement. It’s kind of sad to me that my hairstyle preferences must carry so much weight and meaning. It’s just hair! But it is a big deal. Back in the day, natural hair was looked down upon. Even with my so-called “good” hair, the idea of keeping my hair natural bothered my grandma so much she went behind my mother’s back and straightened my hair when I was two. Proper young ladies didn’t wear their hair like that, she said. She was the product of her generation, and many generations before her being told that what was intrinsic to our African heritage was ugly or wrong. Practically uncivilized.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the fro was a sign of Black pride. The image burned in my brain of Angela Davis with her beautiful coily crown and raised fist makes me stand a little taller. Yes, I do believe that ‘fro made a statement – I will not bow down to European standards of beauty or femininity. No doubt a political statement. No doubt a statement of identity, in a kind of pride in identity that makes no apologies for it.

My initial desires were not political in the least. They were practical – I didn’t want to be bald-headed! But as I have journeyed through this process, it has morphed into something more for me. Not a political statement so much as a spiritual one. Yes, a spiritual one.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God knit me in my mother’s womb. He gave me my physical features, my skin, my hair. Yes, even my hair. He knows how many hairs are on my head. And He knows how He created my hair. It’s no mistake. It’s not a defect. It is what it is. In all its glory. For His glory.

My hair, my skin, my nose, my eyes, my forehead – my being carries the history of my family. There is beauty, toil, pain, joy, sorrow, violence, love, hate, bondage, and freedom written into the coils on my head and the hue of my skin. All that my ancestors lived and died for lives on in me. I am not ashamed of these things. That history combined with my experiences are knit together just as truly as my physical being and form the foundation of my life as “ministry”, my life as a witness and testimony to God’s infinite patience, grace, and love. I will not live out who I am supposed to be in my generation until I claim all that transpired in the generations before me.

So, I am (not) my hair. I am (not) my skin. The soul that lives in me is shaped by the way God made me. And I will not be ashamed of it anymore.

A note about the border…

Stephen Colbert makes such a beautiful and convicting point in this clip. How unfortunate that a late-night talk show host is acting as our voice of conscience here, but here you have it…

I am not an expert of, well, anything. I am a simple small town girl, a citizen of the US who is appalled by the things that are happening in my name at our southern border.

I say that to say this is not a treatise on the merits of our immigration policy, or policies surrounding those who flee to our borders seeking asylum. To argue from that vantage point would be foolish on my part. I know enough about the process to know that those who present themselves at our border seeking political asylum have not in the past been immediately processed as criminals and separated from their children. This has not been our practice under any other administration. Characterizing asylum seekers as “criminals” is wrong. To assume that every person who approaches our border asking for help is a criminal is atrocious. Separating children – including nursing infants! – from their parents is barbarous and cruel to an extreme.

And common sense would tell you that a person seeking to illegally cross our border would not present themselves to any authority, but would find another means of entry, away from the watchful eyes of the government. Targeting this population, which is made up of mainly women and children, is just inhumane. I cannot countenance any other argument.

And most assuredly cannot countenance the use of the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 13 to justify this action. I nearly came out of my skin when I listened to these words spilling out of AG Sessions’ mouth yesterday. A cherry-picked verse that did not account for the circumstances into which Paul was writing or the context of that verse to the rest of the chapter. It was not lost on me that this same passage was used to justify slavery not so long ago in this country, a fact that directly affects me and mine as a Black woman. To say I was triggered wouldn’t explain the half of it. But my trigger was not pulled exclusively or even primarily because of my ethnicity.

My allegiance to Christ and His Gospel bears down on me with even greater force than my ethnicity ever will. It is NOT biblically justifiable to destroy families to uphold a broken, flawed, and deeply discriminatory immigration policy. I am not even talking about the fact that all of these men, women, and children being detained at our border are Spanish-speaking and Hispanic. Let’s lay aside the race card here and speak strictly on the grounds of common humanity. The fact that, as a Christian, I believe that the Word teaches that we are all created in His image, after His likeness, to reflect His glory. There is no distinction.

Romans 13 calls for us to submit to governing authorities and do what is right. The people seeking asylum are following the rules our government set forth long ago; they are not breaking the law. As such, this argument is meaningless to what is now happening. The administration has capriciously decided not to honor the rules and laws our government have set forth for those seeking to come here for protection. There is no law governing what our government is doing.

But aside from these things, Paul is speaking to Christians living under a very different form of government than we have here in America. And he is speaking to Christians and how they ought to respond to these authorities. His point was not to give justification to Rome for their persecution of Christians and their authoritarian empire; his point was to teach Christians how to live in this setting. Just prior to this chapter, Paul goes into great detail in Chapter 12 about how we ought to live in light of our faith and in view of the great mercy and grace showered upon us by our Lord. Chapter 13 is a continuation of this discussion. Ultimately, we can submit to this authority regardless of what is done to us because it is the Lord’s to avenge, not ours. The Lord’s justice is ultimate good and ultimately just.

But destroying families and traumatizing children to make a point is not a Christian response, and it is an atrocity to use the Bible to justify it.

And lest you think this is a blind screed against the Trump administration, the Obama administration was dinged for a similar practice in 2015 and was ordered to stop (see here for details). The only difference was that they did not separate mothers and children. But their actions were determined illegal then, and these should be even more so for the sheer inhumanity of this added trauma.

That’s all I have to say…for now.

Rabbit trails and winding paths…

I think this post should just be called “Random Stream of Consciousness”. All the thoughts flowing through my mind today spilled into my journal. I thought I’d share a sampling, just to give you some insight into the person behind the blog.

When I was in seminary, blogging was a relatively new phenomenon. I loved it; it helped me flesh out all the ideas and concepts I was learning prior to committing them to paper for a grade. My first “digital journal” if you will. Blogging then was much different than blogging now, but I still feel the need to wade into the blogosphere waters. It seems that in my pursuit of seeking understanding, I have lost my way as I try to get myself out of this theological sludge that presently surrounds me. I am tired of living for other people, but I feel trapped in this pattern. What do I do?

This is what I do: I begin to redefine what it means to follow Jesus, incorporating what I have learned, and letting go of things I cling to that I know are not correct. And it is time to own my faith, for better or worse, instead of looking to everyone else in the theological universe to tell me what to believe. The balance is delicate because I am not advocating closing myself off from all voices of influence and wisdom. What I am saying is that those voices of wisdom can come from different corners of the Christian world, and I need not be so dogmatic about it all.

Example from my political life: Although I tend to lean left, I am not a hardcore liberal. In terms of public policy and the definition of government protection of its citizens, I am what would be considered liberal. Protection in this view would be more than just military might, but also programs that provide safety nets for the least and most vulnerable. I find it ironic that organizations that scream the loudest that we need to reclaim our “Christian heritage”, poo-poo such liberal ideas – ideas that Jesus Himself spoke about when talking about separating the sheep and the goats. But, I digress…

Where I depart from liberal ideas are the social issues of marriage and family. In those areas, I am a conservative. I have tried to twist the Bible into a pretzel to justify SSA and marriage and I just can’t. I also cannot countenance the myriad justifications for abortion. None of them hold water for me.

However…I am not a social crusader for either of these issues. What I mean is, I cannot jump on the conservative bandwagon of trying to legislate homosexuality or abortion away. Quite frankly, I don’t think it can be done. More importantly, I don’t think that is what Jesus meant when He commissioned us to go and make disciples. To the contrary, I believe that this combative stance that is constantly railing about what we’re against undermines our true purpose as followers of Jesus, which is to show Christ’s love as He draws people to Himself. This is not a capitulation to the world’s ideas and ideals; it is a bit a realism that laws can only go so far. I am fully convinced that our mission as believers will necessarily clash with the society in which we live. We seek the welfare of that land; but for me, the cause of winning people to Jesus overrides the need for a society that matches my own moral code and is actually a deeper and more fruitful way of seeking its welfare. We simply cannot legislate belief.

And so, to those on the left, I do not go far enough in my liberalism. But to those on the right, I go too far. But for me, my desire is to love people and share God’s truth with them. I don’t need a law to do that, and to some degree, I believe that laws will actually hinder that process, especially when the people behind such laws are fellow believers. Love them into the Kingdom; let God do the hard work of changing them. We can’t do that, and no law ever will.

I digress again…

I use this as an illustration of the grey areas that bridge the distance between black and white answers on so many issues. In theory, things can be clean and neat; but life is not theory, and things are never so clean. Decisions have unintended consequences; lives and hearts and minds and feelings make life messy. Beyond the pages of a blog or a book, or beyond the steps of a platform or a chamber of Congress, life bears out the marks of those consequences, intended or not, in stark relief. We can never know all the consequences of a given decision or action; but we must own them all the same, regardless of intention.

The consequence of my own decisions is the big ball of confusion that is my inner life at the moment. I’ve chased the rabbit trails through winding paths, tossing to and fro with every wind of doctrine, seeking solace in this truth or that system. I want all the answers; I want the systematic categories to perfectly fit together.  If there is a sermon outline, I’m the one who must have all the blanks filled in or I have a breakdown. Doesn’t quite matter as much that I actually understood what was said. How completely backward, right?

I live in my head much of the time. I love figuring things out and systematizing ideas and beliefs. I want to be consistent from one issue to another. I don’t like loose ends and unanswered questions. But faith does not always satisfy the desire for certainty. By its very nature, it cannot – faith is not needed if you know all the things. Never mind the fact that I am a finite created being that can’t possibly know all the things. Minor detail.

Perhaps this current path to wholeness requires that I give up my quest for certainty in all things, answers to all questions. Perhaps this path to wholeness is acceptance of mystery, unanswered question, and paradoxical truth. I find myself in utter dependence on God when I understand the least; I cry out to Him when the questions are the most pressing. I reach and stretch and hope and pray and desire when He is hidden in mysteries.

Christianity is not merely a set of beliefs, but a way of being, a way of living, a way of being present in this world. Something I can’t quite grasp apart from living it out with brothers and sisters, no matter how many systematic theology books I digest or Bible translations I read.

This turns everything on its head for me, for my current categories do not fit the direction I’m going…

To be so bold…

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Gal 1:10 NIV)

I’ve read this verse many times. But during this last read through of the letter to the Galatians, this verse popped off the page of my Bible and smacked me across the face. I had to stop for a moment and think through what Paul was talking about, what he would be talking about, and why, seemingly out of the blue, this one verse seemed to be grabbing a hold of me with no plans to let go any time soon.

Just prior to this verse, Paul is discussing the reason for his writing to the Galatians, namely the fact that the church in Galatia was being influenced by a group called the Judaizers, who were teaching that Gentile believers had to obey the Law and become circumcised in order to be truly saved. In other words, they had to become “Jews” before they could become fully Christian. Paul called this “another Gospel” and strongly rejected this teaching (“let them be accursed” – that is about as strong as rejection as you can get!).

After making this declaration he writes the words I quoted above. I can imagine that speaking against this group of teachers and bringing curses on them was not going to win Paul any popularity points. But his devotion was to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not to the teachings of man. He was called to be faithful to God, not to the Judaizers, or even the Galatians for that matter. His single-minded focus on that one thing caused him to be bold in his assertion that this teaching and any other that goes against what Paul and the other apostles had taught from the beginning be soundly rejected.

Oh, how I long to be so bold.

True confession: I’m not always so bold.

Many times, I waver, hem and haw, or just plain keep my mouth shut out of fear. Fear of being wrong. Fear of being humiliated. Fear of being rejected. Not by God, but by man. By people. It seems that so many times I am good at dishing out the opinions and commentary, but I don’t really want to take it. I like being right too much to be told I’m not, even if it’s true. How prideful and short-sighted.

Much of the time I wonder if there is something wrong with me. That I am somehow not smart enough, not spiritual enough, or I don’t believe strongly enough. But the questions, all those pesky questions, never go away.

I want to know all the things. And by all the things, I mean ALL the things. But there is no possible way for me to know ALL the things. In order for that to be the case, I’d have to be God. But wait a minute – isn’t that what Satan wanted? Isn’t that what got him thrown down to earth? Isn’t that the line he used to tempt Eve – you will be “like God”, knowing ALL the things (my translation)? How did that work out for us? Not so well. Knowing all the things is not what it’s cracked up to be – and we don’t even know it all! But what we do know is enough to get us into a mess of trouble.

Everyone believes that their set of particulars are THE way to know all the things. Well, maybe not all of them, but all the things we can know. It’s amazing to me how many people I read are so fully convinced they are correct and others are wrong – where does one find such confidence? Half the time I am flailing in the water, crying out for Jesus to help me.

But I don’t want to be seen as uninformed, even though information comes at me far faster than I can ever hope to process it. I don’t want to seem flaky, even though half the time that’s exactly what I am. I want to continue on with the illusion that I can know all the things, even though deep down I know for certain I cannot. So, I sit silently in fear. Fear of what others will think of me, as if they are thinking of me in the first place (that pride thing again…I can’t get away from that pesky pest!).

I don’t know what I don’t know, but I do know this much:

I am saved only by God’s grace shown through our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am not saved to simply sit in a safe little church house and receive my blessings.

My salvation redefines my identity.

My redefined identity changes my priorities.

There is no conflict between speaking of right belief and right practice. It is possible – and in my view important – to talk about both at the same time.

I can’t reconcile believing in Christ and not caring for and about the disenfranchised and oppressed. And by caring for and about, I mean doing something as the body of Christ to alleviate the suffering.

God is bigger and grander than our systematic formulations of Him. We should never stop seeking understanding, but we should also not depend solely on our intellect to acquire knowledge and understanding of God.

Emotional and intellectual faith can and should coexist – in the same person.

Ultimately, my primary desire should be to please God. If I am still trying to please people, I cannot be a servant of God…

Oh Father, help me to be so bold.

Default position…

Initially, this was going to be a series of tweets. But once I started writing, I could not stop…

I am not an SBC member. But I am a Christian woman who has encountered unwanted advances from a “pastor”. Thankfully, I was not assaulted, but it could have easily happened. The thought of bringing the incident to the attention of the deacon board of the church was so incredibly frightening to me that I refused. Instead, I and my father confronted him privately. But although he confessed privately to us that what he did was wrong, he would never acknowledge it before his congregation. So, I left. He remained, and continued on with his behavior, ultimately leading to disastrous consequences. When I learned this, I felt guilty. What would have happened had I come forward?

The same thing that is happening to all of the women coming forward today. I would have been shamed. I would have branded the whore, the seducer, the liar. I would not have been believed. And the wounding that had already occurred by his initial action would have been compounded by the character assassination I would have endured. In the end, sadly, the outcome for him would have likely been the same: he would have remained and continued down the same path that led to his downfall.

It saddens me that I can predict this with such certainty. But I know how it works. And it is wrong.

We are taught that to be good, Christian women we must submit to our male authorities. We are further taught that men are given the charge to shepherd and lead. But what happens when a man does not shepherd and lead well? What happens when a man uses his leadership role to abuse and exploit? Is there any safe space for a woman to testify to abuse at the hands of someone who is supposed to protect and lead? Are we honoring the image of God in either the man or the woman when we shove such sins under the rug, instantly assume the woman is lying, or traumatize women into silence?

And if this is the culture we inhabit – one in which a woman who does come forward is further dehumanized and debased by those whose purpose is to protect the reputation of the man and the fragile hierarchy of the institution – why are we then surprised that women choose to stay silent? If the outcome can be predicted with such brutal precision, self-preservation will cause someone to shy away from exposing herself to further abuse.

If the first instinct when I woman comes forward is to demand to know why she waited so long, or question if she is “sure” she was assaulted, or to simply call her a liar, why would a woman ever come forward? Would you? Why must we “wait for the facts” before judging the man (even if all the facts are laid bare before us in stark relief), but instantly judge the woman coming forward and brand her suspect?

Would you come forward in such an environment?

There so many qualifiers I could place on what I am seeking to convey here; so many “What about”, or “What if” scenarios that can be put forward. No one would say such cases are easy, or that wisdom and discernment are needed to separate truth from fiction. But if the default position is always to suspect the woman and protect the man, then there is a problem with how we are doing things.

My heart is sick about what I am witnessing in the SBC. Even though I am not SBC, my solidarity with believers transcends denominational boundaries. This is a wound on the body of Christ. It is a self-inflicted wound. And it hurts all of us.

We are supposed to be the light of the world. We are supposed to be pointing people to Christ. But we are acting just like the world.

Shame on us.