“Dana”

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A friend of ours, while we were visiting him, invited a stranger into his home to stay while she figured out her next move.  This lady, who called herself Dana, had been on a cross-country tour by foot for at least a year. Essentially, she was homeless and, perhaps, on the run from the evil in her past. We had the opportunity to meet Dana and found her to be charming, intelligent, and well-spoken. A vegan, she enjoyed cooking and cooked the four of us a wonderful Thai-inspired meal.

Dana, wearing a hoodie inside our friends home with the hood up (which, to me, is a classic form of  self-protection), was understandably guarded around us. However, she became relaxed enough around our friend to remove her hoodie and open up to him a bit about her abusive past.  Dana, unfortunately, also demonstrated some mental health issues, in the form of extreme paranoia.  Did you know a large percentage of the homeless population are homeless due to mental illness?

We commended our friend on housing Dana; she stayed with him a week.  He wasn’t afraid to “get his hands dirty” helping someone.  We also appreciated getting to know her a little bit; someone who, due to her homelessness, I may have been nervous enough about encountering to cross to the other side of the street to avoid rather than engage.

My friend’s parents, on the other hand, weren’t so happy with my friend taking her in.  My friend’s parents are more comfortable addressing problems such as mental illness and homelessness by making monetary donations rather than one-to-one assistance such as my friend provided.

What is the appropriate response to someone in Dana’s situation? As Christians? As fellow human beings?   Sure, there’s personal risk involved (which is what my friend’s parent were worried about) in doing something like taking in a “Dana” versus throwing money at the problem.

My friend inspired and motivated me! On our recent road trip, a vanful of young people had ran out of gas and were at the gas station fundraising.  I convinced my husband that we could buy them a $25 gas station gift card.

Matthew 25:40 New International Version (NIV)

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Depression and the Church

Yesterday, I read this article how church can help the depressed on how the church can love those in its’ congregation who suffer from depression.  While the points made in the article were good (educate yourself, listen, and pray), I felt the article barely scratched the surface of what the church can do to help those in need.  I’d like to add a few more points for consideration:

  1.  Eliminate Christian-ese and platitudes when talking with someone who’s depressed.  Comments like “you just need to get out more” or “if you just exercise, you’ll feel better” or “you’re not praying enough” or even “you have a demon inside you” are not helpful at all.  The depressed person wants to get better, no doubt about it, but simply has no resources within themselves to do so. Certain types of depression are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.
  2. Cultivate ties with Christian counsellors experienced in treating depression. Have a list ready of psychologists  (including contact information) to provide the individual who is coping with depression.  If a person comes for pastoral counselling, something a pastor can do (since pastors are not necessarily trained as therapists) is to help the individual set up an appointment with a Christian therapist.
  3. If you are a friend to someone who is suffering with depression, know that while this may be a difficult time for you to be their friend due to their depressed state, try not to “dump” them (this happened to me…which hardly made my depression better).
  4. Have a guest speaker come in, such as a Christian counsellor, to talk about mental illness.
  5. Keep  a list of emergency phone numbers handy such as the local Suicide Prevention hotline. Take any talk of suicide seriously.
  6. Acknowledge the need for lament. Perhaps a sermon or two on lamenting would be helpful.
  7. Anyone else notice there seems to be a lack of authenticity in church; we all put on a plastic grin? Not only depression is hidden but all wounds, scars, shame, and flaws.   (If you really knew me would you still love me?)   This song by Casting Crowns says it much better than this post.

If everything is objective and there is no room for subjectivity (not relativity, but subjectivity), there is no room for true human experience. And so we are left denying our experiences, which are not always good ones, in the face of the hard objective truth that God is good. We’re often not really given the permission to do otherwise.

Quote From – Need For Lament

 

My Own “Coming Out”

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On #dayofpink I’m coming out. As a believing Christian who’s welcoming. and non-homophobic. I’m coming out as a Christian who’s proud to #wearpink to celebrate diversity. I’m also coming out as one who has both been bullied as a teen, and, regrettably, been part of a group in elementary school who bullied another person.

I’m tired of Fundie Christians bashing the LGBTQ community. Jesus loved them, why can’t we?

I’m nervous about pushing publish on this post.  What will the ramifications be? Negative or positive? Haters gonna hate I guess.

Not Quite Welcoming

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We participated in a book club discussion recently at church that discussed the book “Welcoming but not Affirming, an Evangelical Response to Homosexuality”.  That discussion sure revealed there were two camps in our church body:

Book Club Discussion, Camp Number One:

The fundies, who believe “sure homosexuals can come in the door, but oh no, they can’t  become members” (so, only so “welcoming” I guess). However, cynical me says these same fundies are probably happy to take their financial offerings!   Anyways , to continue,the fundies in our midst that morning further thought that once a homosexual set foot inside our church, we should descend on them like a pack of wolves to try and turn them from their “gayness”, including, but not limited to, forcing a Christian, committed, gay couple – even a gay couple who was abstinent – to live apart. To which I responded that was a non-starter if that’s the first thing we do the minute a homosexual enters our midst, they will walk out the door and never return.

 

(I suspect these same fundies would force a heterosexual couple who started attending our church and who were living together – whether they had children from that union or not – to move into separate dwellings until they married. And membership? Well, forget that.   That’s right, rip a family apart.)

 

“He who is without sin let him cast the first stone.”

 

But I Digress..On To …

Book Club Discussion, Camp Number Two:

The second camp – the one we were in (which was a pretty lonely place, just my husband and I and maybe one other person) – believed, as the author of the book seemed to state, that we are to come alongside homosexuals and love them and accept them and let God /Jesus/Holy Spirit sort out the rest.
Thanks to said discussion, we contemplated revoking our church membership.
Sigh.
We have been a part of that church community for approximately ten years. Leaving anything one has been a part of for that long — be it church, job, a relationship, or a community — is not any easy decision to make, yet is one we are contemplating.
Nonetheless, at the moment our decision is to stay, to continue to help out in small ways, attend occasionally, and discontinue going to church meetings. I believe in our food distribution program our church has for example, and have taken a larger role in that recently.
We feel like we don’t belong anywhere, church wise.  It’s clear we don’t fit in with the fundies (which is most of our current church) because we are quite progressive, and yet we are not quite liberal enough in our beliefs to attend other churches.
Rock, meet hard place.
Jesus loves all, accepts all, died for all, and rose for all.  Both those who identify as insiders (i.e. believers) and those who identify as  outsiders (non-believers). Isn’t it time to end the “us vs. them” mentality so prevalent in Christian circles?
All means all, people. Wouldn’t it be nice if this Easter if the fundies could finally get that?

Skipping Christmas

I basically grew up in foster homes. I had no family of my own .  After my mother died, my father remarried and abandoned me to an institution and the foster home system.

I think I spent one Christmas with my father and his second wife before being institutionalized.

I don’t remember much about my childhood or teen Christmases.  It’s unlikely they were of the story-book, fantasy kind, however.  In Canada, we celebrate Boxing Day as well, which is the day after Christmas.  I remember one singular visit from my father on Boxing Day when I was in the FHFH (“foster home from hell”). That being said, he could have visited more and I just don’t remember. I don’t even remember Christmases at the foster homes.

In early adulthood, after my first marriage fell apart and I was single, at Christmas I’d “borrow” another family to spend Christmas Day with. No-one should be alone at Christmastime. Other than that, I didn’t put up a tree or acknowledge it in any way. I didn’t really even have anyone to buy gifts for.

Eventually Christmas got a bit easier and I started celebrating it in small ways. A tree, some decorations, like Mr. and Mrs. Claus, antiques I inherited from my mother.

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One year, a guy I was dating took it upon himself to meet with my father. I guess he was appalled at “my story.”  My father gave him a token gift to give to me, I forget what it was.  My boyfriend gave it to me Christmas morning and I burst into tears. Overwhelmed and in shock, I said to him: “You shouldn’t have done that, you shouldn’t have done that.”  [I just remembered this and it happened years ago; seems like I’m pretty good at forgetting anything to do with my father.]

Still, I don’t get too attached to Christmas. More like, I go through the motions of it.  The shopping, putting up a tree and other decorations, celebrations, and attending church services where there’s the usual mundane skit about “How many times can we re-tell the Christmas story in new, fresh & exciting ways.”

I spend Christmas and Boxing Day with my second husband’s family.  I get a bit worn out by all the visiting.  Typically on Christmas morning, the Christmas story from the Bible is read. One year instead I read a chapter from a Brennan Manning book.  The chapter was called “Shipwrecked at the Stable”:

The world does not understand vulnerability.  Neediness is rejected as incompetence and compassion is dismissed as unprofitable.  The great deception of television advertising is that being poor, vulnerable, and weak is unattractive.  A fat monk named “Brother Dominic” is cute and cool because he conquers vulnerability and helplessness by buying into the competitive world with a Xerox machine.

The Bethlehem mystery will ever be a scandal to aspiring disciples who seek a triumphant savior and a prosperity Gospel.  The infant Jesus was born in unimpressive circumstances, no one can exactly say where.  His parents were of no social significance whatsoever, and his chosen welcoming committee were all turkeys, losers, and dirt-poor shepherds.  But in this weakness and poverty the shipwrecked at the stable would come to know the love of God. ~ Shipwrecked at the Stable, from “The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus” by Brennan Manning. You can read the full chapter here:  http://thevalueofsparrows.com/2012/12/20/advent-meditation-shipwrecked-at-the-stable-by-brennan-manning/

One year at Christmas we stayed home because it was held a province away and we didn’t want to drive in unpredictable winter weather. Staying home that year was such a relief.

Mostly I’d just like to skip Christmas.  Our massage therapist suggested to my husband we create new traditions of our own like attending the Nutcracker.  Yeah, no.  Ballet? Not a fan.

A tradition of Christmas I’d like to create is the one where I pull the covers over my head on December 24 and take them off on December 26.  Especially this year.  That’d be okay, right?

THE SHACK – By Wm. Paul Young

A MUST READ

An allegorical work of fiction, along the lines of works by C.S. Lewis or Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, this is an excellent book that is all about God’s grace, mercy and love.  Written originally for the author’s six children, and self-published, this book has now over 2 million copies in print. This book affected me, and challenged me, deeply and takes God out of the box so many seem to put Him in.

The over-riding “theme” of the book, if you will, is about being in relationship with God, Christ & the Holy Spirit, who all dwell within you, and being in relationship with others, which does not involve power trips and hierarchies.

Mack, the main character, has suffered a great loss and is angry, sad and searching for answers.  A Christian, Mack’s faith is shaken by what he calls “The Great Sadness” which descended on him and his family after this tragedy:  “He realized he was stuck and Sunday prayers and hymns just weren’t cutting it anymore, if they ever really had” …. “He was sick of God and God’s religion, sick of all the little religious social clubs that didn’t seem to make any real difference or affect any real change”.  Needless to say, Mack wanted more.

After a note left in his mailbox by “Papa” (Mack wife’s name for God) telling Mack it had been a while and that He would be at The Shack next weekend if Mack wanted to get together, Mack wrestles with both who the author of this preposterous note is and whether he should go.  The Shack, you see, was near where The Tragedy occurred.  Eventually Mack decides to go to the Shack.   His time there was about to turn what he knew, thought he knew, or was taught about “God’s religion” on its’ ear.

At the Shack, Mack experiences the life-changing transformation of God’s mercy and grace.  Along the way, Mack learns forgiveness and what forgiveness is all about:

From “Papa”:

“Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive, that will destroy your joy and your ability to love fully and openly”.

“Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive.  But should they fully confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation.” …  “Forgiveness does not excuse anything.”

“Forgiveness does not create a relationship.  Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible.  When you forgive someone, you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established.”

On the author’s blog, www.windrumors.com, he discusses some of the criticisms and  controversies surrounding this book and denounces claims he is a Universalist.  In particular:

“After two weeks of theological review, Lifeway Bookstores (Southern Baptist) has mandated that The Shack be returned to their shelves nationwide because they found nothing theologically unorthodox that would warrant the book being removed.” {Well, DUH)

Apparently it is a favorite read among Chinese University students who might never be able to read “the Truth” any other way in their country.

This should be required reading for all Bible School/seminary students. In fact, in my opinion, it should be the ONLY book on the reading list!

c. 2008 Big Noise Writing, a division of Big Noise Enterprises.  All quotes from The Shack reprinted with the permission of the author.

Check your brain at the door???

DH and I were @ our Bible Study the other night – though the Bible wasn’t opened nor passages of Scripture even referred to in the study.  We are studying the book “Do Science and the Bible Conflict” from the “Tough Questions” series from Willow Creek.

This series “primary audience is the not-yet-convinced seeker, these guides are designed to represent the skeptical, along with the Christian perspective.” [from the book]

First of all neither Dh nor I are getting a darn thing out of it.  Secondly,  discussion #2 entitled “Why are so few Scientists Christians” states “…There’s something in our psyche which imagines that the skeptical, questioning scientist does not fit with the faith-filled anti-intellectual religious person.  The scientist takes nothing for granted; the religious person believes what he is told to believe.”  [emphasis mine].

Trust me I am not making this up.  This has actually really peed me off.  Is this spiritual abuse or just extremely demeaning and insulting to Christians to imply we are all a bunch of idiots who follow our Leader blindly without question [wait a minute isn’t that a cult?]

If I was a “not-yet-convinced seeker”, studying this book wouldn’t entice me to becoming a Christian – if it meant that I had to check my brain at the door.