Deconstructing my deconstruction…

Can we talk? I need to vent for just a sec…

I have to be honest about this. I am tired of deconstructing everything. It is exhausting. It is exhausting to be constantly in flux. It is downright demoralizing to be enraged by every single thing that comes across my path. This is not about being close-minded, or unwillingly to think of things differently. I don’t particularly like the idea that a person is somehow morally or spiritually superior if he or she is in deconstruction mode. It seems that these days, if you have come to a place of resolve, it is implied that you are bigoted, close-minded, unloving, unable to think for yourself, etc. For all the lament in the progressive Christian (PC) world about the arrogance of conservative Christians (CCs), PCs have their own brand of arrogance. Some are proud of their uncertainty in a way that some CCs are proud of their certainty. They lord if over others and judge people based on how willing they are to question everything. I would argue that is not a biblical view – on either side – but rather a symptom of the spirit of the age.

I’m just mouthing off here, and generalizing to a certain degree. But firsthand experience of this very situation has me up in arms today.

This is my thought here – there is nothing wrong with doubts and questioning. I suppose because I was born with the natural inclination to be nosey, I have never shied away from asking questions. “Why?” is my personal favorite. I also have a (sometimes) annoying need to figure things out, to figure how things work. I am like a dog with a bone when something is confusing: I will not stop until I feel I’ve mastered it. I met my match when the Lord apprehended me – He is beyond knowing and He reminds of this daily. But I digress…

When I first went to college, my career objective was to be an investigative journalist. That questioning, inquisitive mind is just a part of who I am. And I take that into every area of my life. I thrive on learning and developing new skills and knowledge. It can get me into trouble for sure; I want to explore every new idea that I encounter. I want to dissect it and study it. I will analyze something to death and then resurrect it so I can analyze it more. Some people get caught up in fear of missing out; I get caught up in fear of not knowing all the things. Which isn’t exactly a “thing”, but it’s my “thing”, and it can make me crazy sometimes.

Although I did have a very distinct and emotional moment during what you could call my “conversion story”, I didn’t start there. I started where I start most adventures – researching and questioning. I grew up in church, but had essentially become an agnostic in college. A number of “coincidences” in my mid-20s led me back to a familiar place: church. So I started off by studying about the reliability and authority of the Bible. I researched how the Bible is translated, how textual criticism is used in the process, and how we got the manuscripts used in translation. I learned about translation philosophies, read treatises about the value of word-for-word versus thought-for-thought translation, and the role of interpretation in the translation process. The evidence I found gave me confidence that the Bible I held in my hand was reliable in what it said. Were all my questions answered? No. But that journey formed the basis for my eventual surrender to the truth of the Gospel.

I don’t say all of this to brag, but to point out something that many of the deconstructionists – myself included – out there seem to forget: Not everyone who believes in all these things we are busy deconstructing do so blindly or thoughtlessly. Faith has its reasons. It is reasonable to believe in Christ. But because our reason has limits, faith is required to accept the evidence presented. There are thoughtless believers who just want someone to tell them what to believe so they won’t have to work hard figuring it out. But there are also thoughtless doubters, who are seeking something to believe that is easier to stomach, or feels less constricting. I don’t want to be either. And we should not be so quick to assume that the only expression of authentic faith is one that glories in our doubting. Faith brings assurance, even when doubt exists.

I have begun reading a book called Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt and Certainty by Lesslie Newbigin. This particular quote is fantastic:

One does not learn anything except by believing something, and — conversely — if one doubts everything one learns nothing. On the other hand, believing everything uncritically is the road to disaster. The faculty of doubt is essential. But as I have argued, rational doubt always rests on faith and not vice versa. The relationship between the two cannot be reversed.

I love that. “If one doubts everything, one learns nothing”, but you can’t believe everything, so “the faculty of doubt is essential”. For doubt to have any meaningful end, it must rest on faith. Otherwise you live in a swirl of doubt with no hope to be found. In my view the question lies in what builds that foundation of faith upon which doubts can be constructively worked through. If everything is up for grabs, what is the centering point? What is the True North?

In this journey, I have left behind many things I have believed to be true that really are not. I have laid down certain convictions and sworn them off forever, only to pick them back up again after deeper study and reflection. I have been challenged by folks who believe differently from me to see things from a different angle, to consider another path. But if I had no True North, I would have no way to navigate those different ideas without losing my faith altogether. There is a sense in which I do not have a say on what “True North” is – the Christian faith is not simply a set of propositional truths, but there are certain truths I must affirm to rightly call myself a Christian.

There must be a rock upon which I stand, so that when waves of doubt and downright unbelief come crashing in, I will not be completely lost. So I must take a step back here and deconstruct my deconstruction. What exactly am I trying to prove? Is it healthy or necessary for me go through this practice, or am I doing it merely to prove how authentic I am (i.e., for self-centered motives that have nothing to do with truth-seeking)? Who exactly am I trying to impress and why?

Thank you for indulging me. Back to regularly scheduled programming soon…

Grace and peace…
m.

A solid place to stand…

More random ramblings about men and women and church and all that stuff…

One: My greatest frustration with this whole Complementarian discussion is that the vast majority of what I read is focused on telling women what to do and what we can’t do. Precious little of what I have observed takes time to exhort men to be men worthy to lead.

Two: The major freak-outs that happen (especially on Twitter) are focused in on a woman stepping out of her prescribed lane and doing something the Comp crowd has forbidden. But there is no equal freak-out when men are found to be less than worthy to lead, or have blatantly abused their position of authority and harmed women. Why is that so?

Three: I am still on the fence and have so many questions. I have, however, come to an important conclusion that I personally am not “called” to be ordained, or lead in a church setting. But what about women who do have that calling, and are clearly gifted to do so?

My quest has led me to revisit the first three chapters of the Bible. This is what I have observed so far:

  • I can’t help but notice that the man was called upon to answer for their misdeeds, even though it was the woman who was deceived.
  • It’s also noteworthy that in the first chapter of Genesis, God commands both the male and the female to be fruitful, multiple, “have dominion” over creation and subdue it. He said this to them not to him. Later in Genesis 2, where a more detailed account of the creation of humanity is given, the command given to the man only has to do with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The command to “have dominion” is not discussed in that context. That’s interesting to me, although I have yet to really dig into what that might mean. But it’s worth noting.
  • It is also notable to me that the man was there as his bride was being led astray and did nothing to intervene; and that he did not take ownership of that when he was called to account. At that point, it was the woman *God* gave him that was to blame for all his troubles. Sound familiar? Ultimately, the consequences for disobedience fell upon both. It’s interesting to me that God called out to the man to answer first, perhaps because He was given the command about the tree in the first place.
  • The man “ruling” over the woman was a consequence of the Fall, not a result of creation. Even if man is called to a “role” of leadership, “ruling over women” is not what it should look like (see Eph. 5:22-30). Note also that this is spoken of in the context of a marital relationship. Woman’s desire shall be for her husband; man’s desire will be to rule over his wife. Read in context, that cannot possibly be seen as a positive outcome for either the man or the woman.

My next task will be to take a look at how New Testament authors spoke about men and women, and how they interpreted Genesis 1-3 in their treatment of the subject. But that is for a later day.

All of this leads to a whole host of secondary questions. For one, how does this translate to men and women who are not in a marital context? I’ll use myself as an example. I am single. I have no husband to “submit” to. So what does this look like for me? Am I to submit to any man? Even Paul doesn’t say that – he calls upon women to submit to their own husbands (Eph. 5:22). So how am I to understand that command as a single woman?

And that’s just one set of questions! Here’s another thought: If it is true that the Holy Spirit gives His gifts as He wills, and a woman is clearly given gifts of leadership, teaching or shepherding, did the Holy Spirit make a mistake? How is that woman to exercise those gifts? One could argue that is her function with her children – but what if she has no children? Or, as is my case, cannot have children? Even if we grant that men are called to be the pastors and elders in the local church context, how is a woman so gifted to use those gifts? And are the elders really doing something wrong if they call upon that woman to share her gifts with the local body?

A final observation: All of this looks and feels so much like our current political climate in the US. There is no such thing as middle ground or compromise anymore. Neither side is willing to give an inch, or concede anything. If you walk into the fray from the right and even suggest someone on the left has a valid point, you are branded a traitor and banished. The left has a similar sifting system. No room for nuance, for possible correction, for learning anything from folks to the right. This is, admittedly a generalization, but one that I think holds true in so many situations.

This is hard for me. Most days I’m too conservative for my liberal friends and too liberal for my conservative friends. I see the black and white issue – but I also see the many shades of grey in between. Sometimes a lot of truth lives in that grey. But when ideological purity is the promised land you’re seeking, the grey is your enemy. I’ve witnessed this same phenomena in theological debates. This makes finding a solid place to stand on this subject all the more difficult.

That’s all I have for now…thankfully. And of course, I have more questions than answers, as per usual. More to come…

Grace and peace…

m.

Praying for our leaders…

I will make this brief.

Franklin Graham has issued a call for all Christians to pray for our president because of the so-called unprecedented attack he is under. There is much that could be said about that reasoning; I will only say this:

The leaders Paul admonished Christians to pray for were dictators. There was no democratic government in that time. Christians were being persecuted and killed because they refused to worship the emperor. And yet Paul called on them to pray for all – all – who were leaders.

ALL.

I believe in praying for our leaders because it’s, well, biblical. But there are no qualifiers in the biblical calls to pray for people in positions of power. We are not called to pray for just the leaders in our preferred party, or with whom we agree on most issues. We are not called to ignore or actively pray against leaders whose political positions do not match our own. We are called to pray for our leaders. Period.

I continually pray for the president, but not for the reasons Mr. Graham has outlined. I will continue to pray for him because that is what I am called to do by Holy Scripture. I have prayed for every president since becoming a Christian, regardless of their politics, and will continue to do so. Because it is…well…biblical.

I also have to say this: Major Evangelical leaders have sold their birthright for a bowl of soup and a few federal judges. They seem to willfully overlook inappropriate conduct in this particular president that would have driven previous presidents out of office. The lack of consistency or integrity that I have witnessed causes me to look upon this appeal with cynical skepticism. I tire of partisan politics infiltrating and overtaking our Christian witness.

To that end, I pray all the more for the Church. I pray that we will become more devoted to Christ than we are to our political preferences, and trust in His power to accomplish His purposes without our having to resort to actions that do not represent the faith we profess.

More later…until then, grace and peace…

m.

Full stop…

I am a Christ follower – I believe in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe in the virgin birth, the sinless perfection of Jesus Christ, the God-man, and His sacrifice for our sins. I believe in His bodily resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven, where He now sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high; and the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son and indwells me and enables me to see Truth in the Word, both written and incarnate. I believe in Word of God, that is the measure for life and faith. I do not worship the Bible; I worship the God to Whom it points. I believe Jesus is coming again to consummate His kingdom, and make all things new. In Him are truth, righteousness, and justice, and He will establish these at His return. I, along with all my brothers and sisters who have called on the name of the Lord, will reign with Him forever. Amen.

My life’s mission is to love Jesus and love people. To help people draw closer to Him. To magnify His name as I seek to follow after Him. To share the good news of the Gospel to those who do not know, and trust in God to do the work in their hearts that bring them to repentance and faith. I am to bear witness –  that is all I can do – to the wondrous works of our Lord. I am called to share His truth to all who will hear, and pray that all would come to know Him. All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.

It does not say all who call on His name – and believe in Complementarianism/Egalitarianism, and cessationism/continuationism, and Calvinism/Arminianism, and…fill in the blank. It says ALL who call the name of the Lord will be saved. Full stop. It is okay to have convictions on these finer theological points, and to decide which make better biblical sense. But don’t hang my orthodoxy and ESPECIALLY my salvation on pet theological positions on secondary or tertiary doctrines. I am willing to be taught; but I am unwilling to be manipulated.

I am not a Calvin follower. Or Arminius follower. Or MacArthur follower. Or TGC follower. Or Strachen follower. Or Moore follower.

I am a CHRIST follower.

Full. Stop.

The broken places…

This past weekend, Rachel Held Evans died. She went into the hospital a few weeks earlier to be treated for the flu and an UTI. She developed a strange reaction to a medication they were administering to treat her infections that caused constant seizures. They placed her in a medically-induced coma to stop the seizures and seek to determine a cause.

Last week they began the process of weaning her off the coma meds. Unfortunately, this was not successful. Her brain began to swell, and the damage done was irreversible. She died early Saturday morning. An incomprehensible tragedy for family and friends. My prayers are with them.

Ever since I learned who Rachel Held Evans is I have struggled with her. She was a compelling writer and passionate advocate. She fought for her faith and faced her questions and doubts head-on. I did not always agree with her conclusions, and as someone who clings to the need for certainty, her ability to be comfortable with her doubting were both maddening and challenging to me at the same time. Sometimes I met that challenge with steely resistance, unfollowing her and others like her or swinging wildly to the opposite end of the theological spectrum to prove that I was a good, doctrinally pure Christian.

Of late, I have begun to question this clinging tendency of mine. The quest for pure, pristine doctrine has left me a crabby, dry woman who sees heresy at every turn. Instead of engaging others’ views with an open heart, I interrogate them to determine where they have strayed from what I have decided is orthodox Christianity. And many times, the things on which I judge are merely personal preference.

The historic creeds of the faith – the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedonian Creed, Athanasian Creed – are the benchmark for orthodoxy (small o) in my book. We have added layer upon layer to these core doctrines over the centuries, and find ourselves twisted up so tightly it is difficult to breathe – or let others breathe. Hear me when I say this: I am in no way saying that doctrine is not important. But doctrine and life have a way of becoming complicated. When we get to secondary and even tertiary doctrines and viewpoints, the grey areas become much harder to nail down.

Paul determined to preach nothing but Christ and Him crucified. But that did not mean he didn’t wade into the murky waters of what that implied to everyday life in the churches to which he wrote. Much of our debates about doctrine stem from how we understand his admonitions to churches with reference to things like women in the church and home, or marriage. Were his responses culturally conditioned or hard and fast rules for all time? How do we tell the difference?

Women in ministry, human sexuality, the church’s response to social injustices, just to name a few are important issues that press in on us every day. What is the Bible’s message in these sensitive areas and how do we determine that? These are the questions we wrestle with in this generation – and I don’t think we are unique in our struggle.

On a personal level, the question for me is: where is the line to be drawn? There are beliefs that I consider “non-negotiables” of the Christian faith, meaning, things that must be believed and embraced to be called a Christian. That list is informed directly by the creeds I referenced above, and do not go beyond them. However, there are other, secondary doctrines, that are derived directly from these core beliefs that carry a fairly hefty weight – I am thinking of the doctrine of the Trinity – that are implied but not specifically named within the creeds, but logically follow from them. But even beyond that, there are tertiary issues that are directly impacted by those core doctrines, like the women in ministry issue, that are largely based on how you read the Bible and how you define the term “literal interpretation”, among other things.

The further you move out from the core, the greyer things become. And this is where I live right now.

I like the core. It’s certain, safe, and secure. I can fill on all the blanks in the core. The core is what holds me together. But I cannot escape these grey areas of faith, even though I try very hard to do so. This is not doubting for doubting’s sake, or being “authentic” and all those buzzwords. This is real life for me. I am a 46-year-old single Black female with no children. I am a bookworm and theology nerd. I am stubborn, highly opinionated, and given to melodrama from time to time. My idea of relaxing is reading a book on the five perspectives of the end-times.

I am also barren – meaning, I don’t just not have kids, I physically can’t have kids. I question God about why He has kept me single for so long, even though my passionate heart’s desire is to be married. I am fair-complexioned and at times can look racially ambiguous. Blacks and Whites alike question my “Blackness”, and I don’t feel comfortable in homogeneous settings of any race. I am not “Woke” in the current theological or social sense, but I also am very aware of real issues of racism, sexism, and oppression that still exist in our society. I believe the Bible means it when it says marriage is between one man and one woman, that God created us male and female by design, and this His design is best. But I don’t know how to reconcile that with friends and family I dearly love who are LGBTQA, and how to love them well and show them the beauty and grace of our Lord Jesus.

I bring all of this into my relationship with Jesus and ask Him to heal the broken places. But what does that mean?

I don’t want pat answers. I am an investigator; that is how I am wired. I pick things apart and put them back together again in order to understand how they work. I dig into the why of things just as much as the what. I am a hardcore Gen Xer, whose opinions are rarely sought after, and who do not live in the petri dish of sociologists like Millennials do. But my generation paved the way for our Millennial friends, mastering the art of skepticism and cynicism, and refining the language of snark. Mine was the generation of the rise and fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Jerry Falwell’s Christian Right. TBN become a mainstay, and televangelists, faith healers, and prosperity gospel gurus began to rule the Christian airwaves. Authority became a curse word.

None of these things are excuses for non-belief. But they are stumbling blocks that should be seriously considered. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit regenerates the heart and brings repentance. But loving my neighbor dictates that I take these things seriously and not brush them off or immediately label people who struggle with them. I have to walk through the grey areas to get to the core, and be okay with the fact that the grey will always be there until our faith becomes sight.

It is sad to me that it has taken the death of this courageous woman of valor to find enough courage within myself to even give voice to these things. But here I stand – I will take on my mantle and become a woman of valor as I was meant to be.

Thank you Rachel. You have run your race well; it is time to take your rest.

An ordinary measure of success…

Can I publicly process for a moment?

It seems odd to blog about blogging, which seems to be what I’ve been doing on this page at a torturously slow pace. But over the years, I have questioned the need for blogging – in particular, the need for me to blog. What is the point?

Today I came across a post on Tim Challis’ blog about the slow death of the personal blog. He wants to encourage a revival of this genre. Reading through the compilation of blog posts about blogging was a much needed encouragement to me. Many days, even as I think “I should write on my blog today”, I simultaneously ask the question why. My life is not spectacular. There is nothing profound or earth-shattering about my experience. I am not an expert of anything. What do I add to the cacophony of voices that litter the Internet landscape? It is quite small and humble, I assure you. Nothing that will get me a million likes or follows.

And I think that’s is quite alright with me.

So much of what the blogosphere has become of late is a screaming match between opposing views. Our social media saturated selves feel like we have a right to dress down anyone with whom we disagree, without concern of the impact of our vitriol on their lives, livelihoods, or emotional health. There is no such thing as grace, even within the Christian sphere of the Interwebs, for any mistake, no allowance for growth and change, no mercy when someone obviously screws up and recognizes it and owns up to it. No matter how you apologize, someone seems to think you haven’t apologized enough, or used the right words, and so on. It all gets a little tiring.

Writing is a deeply personal exercise. And yet I feel compelled to share it with others. But when you lay your heart out to bear for others to see, you run the risk of being trampled upon. Thus, the hesitation in reaching out at all.

But what if I look at this from a different angle? Here’s what I mean: Perhaps this seemingly endless state of writer paralysis (I’ve gone beyond writer’s block at this point) is that I am asking too much of myself. As I mentioned above, I am not a mover or shaker in any sense of the word. I’m just a person who loves to write. And I love to share how God is working in my life. I want to encourage and exhort for sure, but my goal is not to “blow up”, get a book deal and be a “professional Christian”. When I began blogging, my main objective was to help me work through all that I was learning as a seminary student. Somewhere along the line,  the goal changed, and now it seems I feel this pressure to want more of my writing. What’s my “niche”? Who is my audience? Is my introductory line catchy enough? What about branding? There are ministries out there that can help me craft my message and build my blog to be something that will draw in the readers. Illusions (or better delusions) or grandeur float around in my head. And while it would be cool to get published someday, my measure of success is much less dramatic than that.

I just want to write a coherent blog post that says something of substance that helps me and any reader grow. Even if it’s just one. I want to share the extraordinary love of Jesus that He has chosen to shower down on this remarkably ordinary person, a deep abiding love of which I am so unworthy. The goal is not be the next big thing in celebrity Christianity. I going for a more ordinary measure of success – doing something I love to do, to the glory of God, praying that in some way He will use it to bless others.

So at some point, I will get this writing life together and start writing about something other than writing. Until then, thank you for your patience…

Grace and peace…

m.

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.