This Is How God Handles Our Doubts (by Ed Cyzewski)

Today I am excited to share a guest post from my friend Ed Cyzewski, adapted from his new book, A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth, which is just $2.99 on Kindle/Nook today through Friday. Ed is one of the wisest and kindest writers I know. He lives in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and two sons where they obsess over New York style pizza and organic gardening. Check out his blog, or connect on Facebook or Twitter

I figured this post might generate some discussion. Enjoy! 

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“Faith is a way of waiting—never quite knowing, never quite hearing or seeing, because in the darkness we are all but a little lost. There is doubt hard on the heels of every belief, fear hard on the heels of every hope, and many holy things lie in ruins because the world has ruined them and we have ruined them. But faith waits even so, delivered at least from that final despair which gives up waiting altogether because it sees nothing left worth waiting for.” 
- Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark

A few years ago I felt like prayer had stopped working. In fact, I began to doubt whether it had ever worked at all. 

I was just talking to myself in an empty room. Quieting myself to “hear” God really didn’t work either. In fact, that just made things worse. The longer I waited with nothing happening, the more my anxiety kicked into gear, worrying that God really wasn’t going to respond.

I know that some Christians go through a season of doubt like this and can’t survive. They can’t find God and have to give up. In my own case, I held on. I can’t make it sound like I did something better. I just ended up in a different place after seeking prayer and counsel from trusted friends and family who walked with me through that season. 

However, I know that many Christians and former Christians haven’t found the same resolution for their doubts. In fact, admitting your doubt feels like admitting failure, if not giving fellow Christians a reason to condemn and judge us for unbelief. 

I’ve been on both sides of doubt, playing the part of judge at one point and doubter at another. 
It’s easy to be dismissive toward those who have doubts because we really, really don’t want to have the same problems. It’s disturbing to hear that someone who grew up in the same church as you and attended all of the same Bible studies and prayed all of the same prayers is either doubting God or thinking of leaving the faith altogether. Let’s be honest about the problem here: If this person is about to leave the faith or has already left the faith, why can’t the same thing happen to you as well?

What should we do about doubts?

We don’t want doubts to linger, but we need to address them patiently and honestly. Where do we begin?

The Abridged, Doubt-Free Bible

If we removed from the Bible every person who doubted God, it would be a very short book. At times doubt is presented as a problem that brings about dire consequences, and there certainly are plenty of stories where doubt led to trouble. Jesus told his followers that they should pray with confidence and James wrote that those who doubt are double-minded and will not receive anything they ask for from God.

We get the impression that a little bit of doubt can ruin everything. A lot of doubt is a sure recipe for disaster.

There certainly may be times when doubt can prove extremely problematic for a Christian, but let’s take a look at a few key Bible stories to see what God did when people struggled with doubt.

We read in the book of Judges that Gideon really didn’t want to fight the Midianites. How could God beat such a powerful armed force with “warrior camels”—the tanks of the ancient world? The horseless and camel-less Israelites would get trampled for sure. But God promised Gideon the victory. This promise wasn’t good enough, and so Gideon “fleeced” God—twice. While we may imagine God sending a thunderbolt to smite Gideon, he played along, soaking and un-soaking the fleece until Gideon ran out of ideas for his fleece.

When the entire nation of Israel turned away from God, God still reached out to them through the prophet Elijah. Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel while the people stood back watching. We don’t read about the people doing anything beyond toe-tapping spectating. They weren’t willing to offer their allegiance to either side unless something happened. We usually think that faith must precede every act of God, but sometimes God surprised the Israelites with an extraordinary act to win them back.

Moving on to the disciples of Jesus in the New Testament, let’s just say that Jesus wouldn’t have had a single disciple if doubt disqualified anyone from following him. While the women who followed Jesus had a relatively reliable track record, persevering through some of Jesus’ darkest hours, the men he chose were all over the place. We give Thomas a hard time as a doubter, but let’s face it: those guys were all a mess. Jesus’ catchphrase became, “Why do you have so little faith?” (Matt. 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20). 

They didn’t know he was the Messiah for quite some time, and even when they started to believe it, Jesus ended up being a completely different Messiah than the one they’d hoped for. When faced with potentially losing their lives alongside Jesus, they all ran for it. Didn’t they have faith in Jesus?

Is doubt a good thing? Well, it’s certainly not God’s ideal. However, the consistent theme throughout Scripture is that God can work with people in the midst of their doubts. Doubt is not a deal breaker. God is patient and powerful enough to wait out our doubts and to win us back, although we should be wary of holding onto our doubts instead of the promises of God. The key for my faith has to do with the math of doubt.

The Math of Doubt

If you’re struggling with doubt, then you’re in a place where your belief and unbelief are held in conflict with each other. It’s not a comfy place to be, but, as we’ve seen over and over again in scripture, Jesus can work with it. While we are warned against “doubting” Jesus, doubt does not disqualify us. 

We tend to think that a little bit of doubt can erase a lot of faith. Is a little bit of faith wiped out by a lot of doubt? All of that doubt must be stronger, right?

That’s not how the math of faith and doubt works.

When a man brought his demon-possessed son to be healed by Jesus’s disciples, his faith was certainly wavering. Everyone had failed him. Perhaps Jesus was his last shot before giving up. His doubt and frustration came through loud and clear to Jesus. When Jesus rebuked him and told him to have faith, the father said one of the most honest things ever in the history of humanity, “I believe; help my unbelief.”

He knew that he was struggling with doubt, but some part of him still believed. He had brought his son to Jesus after all, so he wasn’t completely lost in apathy or despair. He had a tiny bit of faith left, even though he felt overwhelmed by unbelief. You could say this little faith was like a mustard seed. It’s comforting to see how Jesus honored the father’s small, faltering faith.

I used to think that the mere mention of doubt was the end of prayer time. Who could “believe” in Jesus or ask Jesus to do anything while still harboring doubts? That guy! Jesus healed his son even though he confessed doubts.

The math of faith and doubt goes like this: A little faith > a lot of doubt.

Doubt does not necessarily cancel faith. There may be times when doubt will hold us back from God, but there is a process and a tension to faith and doubt.

What would James say about this?

James wasn’t a big fan of doubt. He wrote this about prayer: “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do” (James 1:6–8).

Perhaps this is too fine a line, but there is a huge difference for me between someone who is completely convinced that God doesn’t exist and the person who prays and confesses struggles with unbelief. The mere mention of our doubts to God shows that we are at least admitting there’s a chance God can do something about them. 

Sometimes the most faith-filled thing you can do is to tell God about all of your doubts, even if you aren’t sure what’s going to happen next.

What if we let God become a part of the process of our believing? What would happen if we spoke with complete honesty to God about everything we don’t understand or struggle to believe? Doesn’t it take faith to just admit to God that we can’t pray in the first place?

It’s not like faith is a commodity that someone can buy and own—something that you either have or don’t have. Faith isn’t instant all of the time. Faith is often a process. Perhaps we overemphasize dramatic conversion stories to the detriment of those who have struggled for their hard-won faith over a series of conversations or after years of struggling with Scripture. 

Surviving Doubt

My current pastor has seen so many people come to faith in Jesus because he gave them space to process their beliefs. He welcomes them where they’re at, pointing out the common ground between them and Jesus and then welcoming them to look into the details further. Perhaps we’ve overemphasized the importance of making sure everyone is on the exact same page or has prayed the same prayer. 

We all find God through different questions and processes. The end result is that Jesus saves. The catch is that sometimes faith comes in an instant, sometimes it takes years, and sometimes it’s lost and only found many years later.

As serious as we need to take doubt as a long-term threat if it’s allowed to grow and overshadow the voice of God in our lives, doubt also simply comes with the territory if you’re living by faith. Doubt is the dark side of the coin for Christianity. We won’t have 100 percent perfect faith all of the time. Have you ever worried about God’s provision or doubted God?

You’re in good company.

Nearly every person who followed Jesus in the New Testament passed through a time of doubt and even struggled with doubts after discovering that Jesus truly was the Messiah. If you haven’t ever doubted something about God, you will eventually. It’s a good thing we know that God answers prayers that confess, “Help my unbelief.” The tiny seed of faith in that prayer is more than enough to help us survive when doubts threaten to upend our faith.

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Don’t forget to check out A Christian Survival Guidejust $2.99 today. 

 

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Mental Illness & The Church: An Interview with Amy Simpson

Last month, I asked readers what topics you wanted to read more about on the blog, and one of the top responses was mental health and the Church. So I scheduled this interview with Amy Simpson days before the tragic death of Robin Williams revealed just how much we need to talk about this. Amy  is author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission and Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry. She also serves as editor of Gifted for Leadership, Senior Editor of Leadership Journal, a speaker, and a Co-Active personal and professional coach. You can find her at AmySimpsonOnline.com and on Twitter @aresimpson. Hope you learn as much from this interview as I did: 

 

Tell us a little about your mother and how her struggle with mental illness inspired you to write “Troubled Minds.” 

My mother had mental illness from the time she was a young adult, before I was born. But her illness was somewhat hidden and she was able to function well enough, with some challenges, until I was a teenager. She showed symptoms of a serious disorder, but they weren’t recognized for what they were. After a period of extraordinary stress for our family, her symptoms became much more pronounced. When I was 14, she began having serious psychotic breaks, losing touch with reality and losing the ability to function. After that, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

In the decades since then, Mom has spent time in hospitals, homeless shelters, jail, and prison. Her illness affected my family profoundly, but we didn’t talk much about what was happening with her at home. We didn’t feel it was OK to discuss mental illness with others, so we mostly kept quiet about it when we were away from home too. The church, like other places, was mostly silent on this issue and didn’t offer much of the kind of help we needed. We felt very isolated, as if we were the only ones going through the experience.

As I got older and pursued healing for my own wounds, I sought to understand my mom’s illness and how it affected me. I started learning about how common mental illness is—my family was far from alone in our experience. I read other people’s stories and realized how similar they were to ours. I began to understand that the church’s lack of engagement was affecting many more people than just my family. God began to nudge me toward writing on this topic as a ministry to others and a challenge and encouragement to the church.

Your father was a pastor for many years. What did your church do right in responding to your family’s situation, and what did your church do wrong? And what can we learn from that? 

My mom was affected by her illness while Dad was pastoring, but when she became severely ill, Dad had recently left what turned out to be his last pastoral position. So we went through the really rough stuff as active laypeople. My family has always been very involved in church and dedicated to our Christian faith, but we did not receive the help and support we needed from the church. Like other families, we were affected by stigma and a sense of shame that kept us mostly silent about our problems. And church leaders who wanted to help us, for the most part, didn’t know how to help. I don’t blame them for this; they must have been as confused and uncertain as most people are when it comes to mental illness.

In my own experience, what churches have done wrong is mostly remain silent—just ignore mental illness altogether. As a young teenager, I would have been helped tremendously by discussion of mental illness within the church and even within the context of my youth group. My whole family would have benefited from extensions of friendship and offers to help when we were at our lowest. Instead, we felt pressure to pretend as if everything were fine and to put on our best face at church. This had the effect of making me feel as if I needed to do the same in my relationship with God and kept me from really trusting him for a long time. It also forced me to seek answers to my deepest spiritual questions on my own; I didn’t feel I could go to anyone with them. 

The learning, in my view, is that talking about it (and doing so in a way consistent with sound Christian theology) is a great place to start and might accomplish 50 percent of what people need from the church. For people isolated by stigma and fear, it’s powerful to hear an acknowledgement that this kind of suffering exists, that it doesn’t mean God has abandoned them, and that people in the church might be willing to walk through it with them.

One of the most painful elements of mental illness is that it’s marked by isolation, which is exactly the opposite of what people need. Everybody needs community and loving friendship and a place where they belong. And one of the things people with mental illness most need is for this kind of loving community to tighten around them, not to loosen. 

This is one of the things the church can provide. In fact, the church is one of the only places left in our society where community is built in and readily available—at least in theory. So when we do know someone is suffering, we need to draw toward them, not away. It goes against the instinct we often have to pull back in an effort to keep from getting involved in something we’re not sure we can handle. But we can all handle being kind, being loving, extending a hand of friendship.

LifeWay Research recently found that a third of Americans—and nearly half of evangelical, fundamentalist, or born-again Christians—believe prayer and Bible study alone can overcome serious mental illness. I’ve heard stories from many friends and readers who say their pastors discouraged them from taking psychotropic medication, and even shamed them for it, suggesting that getting help for depression, anxiety, or even bipolar disorder represented a spiritual weakness. Why are teachings like these so dangerous? 

There are two big dangers here. These teachings perpetuate serious misconceptions about what it means to be a Christian. And they discourage people from seeking life-saving help. Most mental illness is highly treatable, with some treatments up to 90 percent effective. But only about half of people who need treatment actually receive it. 

Experts say more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a mental disorder. About 38,000 in the U.S. die by suicide each year, and some of that blood is on the hands of Christians who have discouraged, or even prohibited, their sisters and brothers from receiving help and hope in a mental health crisis. 

But suicide is not the only risk; this teaching perpetuates darkness and pain. Thousands of people live under a cloud of untreated mental illness, believing they are doomed to misery, their potential and purpose suppressed, and we are all poorer for it. 

I’ve also noticed that many churches discourage members from seeking professional counseling, urging them instead to receive all counseling “in house,” through the church. Why is this problematic? And how can pastors remain personally and pastorally involved in the lives of those struggling with mental illness while also recognizing when it’s time to make a referral? 

Churches need to understand that mental illness is not simply a spiritual condition. While it may be related to a spiritual issue, mental illnesses are real diseases and disorders with biological and environmental causes. People should not be expected to “get over it” or to be cured simply by reading the Bible, praying, and trying to have more faith. There is no reason churches should feel more qualified to address mental illness than other types of illness. I’m not aware of any churches in the US who do heart surgery or physical therapy in the pastor’s office. Churches should address the spiritual needs of people who are receiving help elsewhere, but that help should complement appropriate therapeutic intervention, not replace it. 

Churches can build relationships with mental-health professionals. Most Christian counselors are eager to work in partnership with churches, and many people in treatment will sign consent forms for their doctors or therapists to consult with pastors or other church leaders. When a loving, trusting, and supportive relationship is in place, the church can actively participate in helping people pursue their own health. And when those consent forms are not in place, church leaders can still consult professionals for general advice on how to respond to various types of illness within their congregations. 

You’ve described mental illness as the ‘'no-casserole' illness, meaning faith communities don’t always rally around a person or family suffering from mental illness the way they might a family walking through cancer. What are some practical ways Christians can better respond to their brothers and sisters dealing with mental illness? 

When someone comes to us and says, “I have cancer” or “I broke my leg,” we don’t freak out and think, “I have no idea how to fix that, so I’m going to tell the person to get professional help and walk away.” No, we don’t feel a sense of obligation to cure cancer or reset the person’s broken bone. We know what to do. We pray for them. We ask them what they need. We bring meals to their house to feed their family. We give them rides and make sure their kids are taken care of and even do the laundry.

But when someone is having a mental health problem, our first thought is more likely to be something like “I don’t know how to help with that.” We might tell the person to get professional help and figure we’ve done our job and there’s really nothing more we can do. Why don’t we offer casseroles to people who have a family member in a behavioral health hospital or a depressive funk? Why don’t we make sure they and their families are taken care of? There’s no reason we can’t, and it’s a great place to start because we already know how to do it.

There’s so much more the church can do, but I encourage people to start by thinking about the things you already know how to do for people in crisis.

In Troubled Minds, I profiled 4 churches that have programs specifically designed to offer support to people with mental illness. And there are many more programs out there. But not nearly enough churches are doing that kind of ministry. I hope and believe we are soon going to see many more churches doing so.

For those churches that are ready to do something bigger and more intentional to minister to people affected by mental illness, there are examples to follow. And one of the things many of them have in common is that they are led by people who themselves have a mental illness that they’re managing well, or who have a close family member seriously affected by mental illness. People’s own experiences help them see the desperate need for ministry in this area, and if they have done some healing and they’re not in crisis, they are perfectly positioned to do ministry to other people who are going through the same thing.

 In Troubled Minds, you speak with Christians battling a variety of mental illnesses. What have you personally learned about faith and life from them? 

Those conversations were educational and inspiring. And since the book released last year, I have had so many more. I speak at churches and conferences around the country, and I hear people’s stories. People send me emails. These conversations have deepened my faith and reinforced my belief in God’s incredible power of redemption. I feel like I have a front-row seat on God’s gracious work, and I am more convinced than ever of the truth of Romans 8:35-38. Absolutely nothing can separate us from God’s love. If death and hell themselves don’t have that power, mental illness certainly doesn’t.

I can’t help but think of my own family, who has been through a lot. All six of us are following Christ. All of my siblings are healthy, whole people engaged in ministry. And all of us are more compassionate, more ready to be used by God because of what we’ve been through. My mom is currently living in an assisted living facility. When my family visited her at Christmas time, we met some of her friends. One of them told us about the tremendous influence Mom has had on the other residents there. This man was not a person of faith, but he recognized the presence of Christ in my mom’s life. Because of her, he said, the other residents had more hope and joy in their lives. Because of her, people felt listened to. They felt like they had a friend. Because she had made it for him, he had a Christmas ornament hanging in his apartment: simply an artistic rendering of the name “Jesus.” And it wouldn’t have been there if she hadn’t been there. 

God has a purpose for everyone, and our limitations don’t limit him. People with mental illness are precious to him, and they should be precious to the rest of us.

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Be sure to check out Troubled Minds and Amy's blog.  Or follow Amy on Twitter

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On Race, the Benefit of the Doubt, and Complicity

The morning after the jury reached a verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, I watched the sun rise over snowcapped mountains from the coffee shop at the Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park.  Dan and I were vacationing there with friends, and I’d arrived at our designated meeting point a little early so I could  "pray and meditate" [read: drink my first cup of coffee without having to talk to anyone].

At the Many Glacier Hotel, we had no TV, no Internet, and only spotty cell phone coverage, so I learned the news by eavesdropping on the conversation happening at the table next to mine. 

“Not guilty,” a middle-aged man wearing a North Face fleece said to the group of four—all men, all white. 

His declaration was followed by nods and murmurs of assent from the rest at the table. Something was said about self-defense, something else about “thugs.” 

Then, “Those people need to learn some respect.” 

Those people? 

Surely I had heard him wrong. 

I turned to face the table and opened my mouth to speak.  

And then I closed it. 

Surely I had heard him wrong.  

I’ve been doing this all my life—giving white people the benefit of the doubt, imagining that racism is largely a thing of the past, not nearly as bad as others say.

I did it when, on a double-date, my friend’s boyfriend used an ugly variation of the n-word to describe a group of Black children at the park. Surely I’d misheard him. No one says that sort of thing anymore, right? 

I did it when a Black friend in college divulged to me how difficult it was for her to be a minority on a Christian college campus. Surely she’s just being oversensitive. People aren’t racist here; she must be reading into things. 

I did it when Trayvon was first shot. We need to wait to get all the facts before we react, right? No need to jump to conclusions; there are two sides to every story. 

And I do it every time my first response to a report about police brutality or a story about racial prejudice is,  well it couldn't be THAT bad.

...But it is that bad. 

I do it thinking I’m being careful and gracious and deferential, when the truth is, I’m only being careful and gracious and deferential to the people who look like me. I’m more likely to believe a white person than a black person, to give the former the benefit of the doubt. Thus, I become part of the problem. I am complicit—via ignorance, via unchecked privilege, via selective curiosity and engagement—in a culture that places more value on the stories of the fair-skinned than the stories of the dark-skinned. 

Robin DiAngelo describes the problem as racial illiteracy, and she puts it like this: 

“Like a nontechnical user trying to understand a technical problem, our racial illiteracy limits our ability to have meaningful conversations about race. Mainstream dictionary definitions reduce racism to racial prejudice and the personal actions that result. But this definition does little to explain how racial hierarchies are consistently reproduced. Social scientists define racism as a multidimensional, highly adaptive system — a system that ensures an unequal distribution of resources among racial groups. The group that controls the institutions controls the distribution and embeds its racial bias into the fabric of society.”

I’ve been told all of my life that we live in a post-racial culture, that my generation is essentially free of racial prejudice. And from my small, predominantly white town in East Tennessee, that’s an easy enough lie to believe. It’s a lie I want to believe. 

But wanting to live in a just world is not the same as living in a just world. And as the events in Ferguson this week reminded us, our country is far from just. Racism isn’t simply an insensitive comment your elderly relative makes here and there, it’s a pervasive, unjust, and ongoing system that actively oppresses millions of people. And white Christians have absolutely no excuse to ignore it. 

In the U.S., African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites. And even though five times as many white people use drugs as African Americans, the latter are ten times more likely to be sent to prison for drug offenses. 

One study suggests that in 2012, a black man was killed every 28 hours by police, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes.  This week, it was Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager from Ferguson, Missouri. Last week, it was John Crawford, shot and killed for holding an airsoft gun inside a Walmart. The week before, it was Eric Garner, choked to death by police after he was caught selling cigarettes illegally. And as many parents of Black children will tell you, their greatest fear is that it will be their sons or daughters next, so much so that they often give their kids ‘The Talk,’ warning them that they will be treated differently by police because of the color of their skin. 

If you’ve never had to give your kids that Talk, think twice before you call this an “isolated incident” to which our brothers and sisters are “overreacting.” 

Multiple studies have confirmed the presence of racial bias in law enforcement, and yet Pew reports that when asked the question, ‘Do police treat blacks less fairly?’ only 37 percent of whites said yes (while 70 percent of African-Americans said yes).  How can this be reconciled with this week’s images of a highly-militarized police force using tear gas on peaceful protestors? How can it be reconciled with the stories our Black brothers and sisters tell us about being harassed and treated with suspicion? 

“I have no criminal record,” writes Ryan Herring at The Ghetto Monk, “however I have had numerous run-ins with the police, none of which my actions provoked. The most common of course is being followed around a store. I have never committed a traffic violation but I have been pulled over several times. A few of those times I was asked to step out of my vehicle to be frisked and forced to sit on the curb in humiliation while being verbally intimidated and having my car searched. The reasons I was given as to why this type of action was necessary or to why I was even pulled over to begin with were always made up out of thin air.” 

What has perhaps struck me the most in the six days since Michael Brown was shot is the difference in my social media feeds. Among my white friends and followers, things pretty much carried on as usual up until Wednesday afternoon when I began to see more tweets and Facebook statues about the events in Ferguson. But among my friends and followers of color, this story elicited a passionate, focused response, right from the start.  

This is not to say white people don’t care, or that delayed responses should be chastised as “too little too late.” Not at all. We’re all learning here, and we all communicate our concern in different ways. I just wonder if it simply reflects the painful reality that one group’s “let’s wait and see” is another group’s “not again!” Perhaps if we, the privileged, were in a better habit of listening, the response would have been more universally shared. Rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep happens more naturally among those who have listened long enough to know the depth of one another’s stories, and to know their context. 

I was reluctant to post this article when so many others are writing better, more practical things about race and reconciliation. To be honest, I’m scared—of saying the wrong thing, of revealing my ignorance, of detracting attention from the voices that really ought to be heard.  (And I think, in the long run, the best thing I can do is share my platform with others through guest posts and interviews.) But several friends encouraged me to go ahead and speak up. “Show solidarity with the oppressed,” they said, “and challenge the privileged.” 

Well, that means challenging myself. 

To listen better. 

To educate myself. 

To remain open to correction. (That one's hard!) 

To speak up, even when it’s risky. 

To confront my own privilege, even when it’s uncomfortable. 

And to actually believe that racism is real and pervasive—present not only in the power structures of the Empire, or in the conversation around a neighboring table at a restaurant, but also in the dark corners of my own, dangerously-biased heart.  

Lord, have mercy. Forgive us our sins. Light the path to change. 

[For some great insight on how white allies can best respond to this situation, check out "Becoming A White Ally to Black People in the Aftermath of the Michael Brown Murder" by Janee Woods.]

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Pay Attention to #Ferguson: Some Resources

Social media has transformed the way we talk about injustice, and as events unfold in Ferguson, Missouri, we’ve been reminded once again of the pervasive and systemic racism that is present in the U.S. and that affects millions of our brothers and sisters every single day. I am at once grateful for the power of social media and disturbed by the uncomfortable realities it often forces me to face. I’ll write more about that next week, but in the meantime, some ways to listen, learn, and act: 

Follow on Twitter…

Antonio French

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Sunday Superlatives 8/10/14

Around the Blogosphere…

Funniest:
Pete Reynolds at McSweeney’s with “A Meteorologist Works Out Some Personal Issues During His Forecast” 

“Are you going to want to die because of how hot it is outside? Yes, you will want to die. I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you. If you want someone to sugarcoat it for you, somebody to tuck you in at night and tell you that there’s a cold front on the way, that the sun-sweetened summer days of your youth haven’t been transformed by global warming and a lifetime of crippling mistakes into a pit-stained heat-hole of suffocating regret, then maybe you should just switch right on over to Kevin O’Dell and the Channel 6 Weather Squad, because you won’t find it here. I’m not Kevin O’Dell, folks. I’m Tom Sykes, and I’m just giving you the straight dope here at Channel 3. I tell it like it is. And what it is, folks, is extremely hot outside.”

Wisest: 
Sarah Joslyn at She Loves with “Lazy is a Four-Letter Word”

“I’m learning something about my need to say YES—it comes from a deeply rooted need to prove I’m enough. I need to prove I’m not lazy. I need to prove I’m worth having around. You know what I want to say yes to more often? Nap time. I want to shut down my computer all the way because I have completed my work and I can rest. I want to say yes to rest.” 

Cutest: 
Noah Ritter steals the show during interview 

Coolest: 
Julie Fletcher photographs Australia’s remote Southern region

Most Liberating: 
Christena Cleveland with “Farewell, StrongBlackWoman”

“My name is Christena and I am a StrongBlackWoman. I am beatable and human, and I am okay with that.  I give myself permission to scream when I am angry, cry when I am hurting, ask for help when I need it, and remove myself from communities that can’t or won’t care for and nurture me as a black woman. Every day is a struggle to put down the StrongBlackWoman façade and take up authenticity, true strength rooted in God and community, self-love, and mutual love. But today I choose to face that struggle and receive the help I need to overcome it.” 

Most Enlightening (nominated by Shirley W)‏:
Jeremy Courtney with “Learning to love the ‘enemy’ in Iraq” 

“The world may watch from afar and denounce all Iraqi Muslims as militants bent on conquest. But up close, the reality is very different. It was a Muslim cleric who may have saved this Christian's life. And I'm not the only one. Even as jihadists justify their atrocities in the name of Islam, millions of Muslims are standing in solidarity with Christians who have been expelled from their homes.”

[Related, be sure to check out and share Karima Bennounce’s TED Talk on people of Muslim heritage challenging fundamentalism. I shared it a couple weeks ago in Superlatives, but it seems freshly relevant in light of recent news.] 

Most Thoughtful:
Kristen Rosser with “The Feminization of the Church”

“Ultimately, ‘feminization’ isn't the real problem.  Women aren't the problem.  Let's face it, in the vast majority of churches the decisions aren't getting made by women-- but Adam's tendency to blame ‘this woman You gave me’ for his choices is still visible in male church leaders today. I firmly believe that if churches will just preach the gospel of the kingdom of God, both its comfort and its challenge-- Christ will take care of the rest.  Men will rise to the challenge to pick up their crosses and endure the stigma of gender contamination in order to identify with Christ.  And this will in time erase the notion that church is a ‘women's thing.’” 

Most Heartbreaking (nominated by Kristin Selby
Stacia L. Brown with “When parenting feels like a fool’s errand” 

“I do not want to talk about this anymore because I was happy this month and you just turned four on the first and all I can think about is the promise I see in you. I think about how well you’re hearing these days with the tiny aids that screech when you hug me and hiss when the batteries are weak. I think about how much easier it’s become for you to simply say, “Help, please” instead of throwing a frustrated fit for the language you cannot find. I think about how often I keep you near me and how many people take umbrage with that. She has to learn, they say, how to live in this world. But how can you learn at 4 to do what still makes me flail and falter at 34? And how can I let you go when a girl a year younger than you was gunned down in our city last week and a boy who would’ve headed off to college for the first time on Monday was executed within steps of his Ferguson, MO home on Saturday?” 

Most Convicting: 
Rev. Erin Wathen with “#BecauseJesus” 

“…Tangled up in each of these contradictions, we glimpse the dark soul of a nation in love with its own comfort, and often indifferent to the suffering of others. And while the Christian tradition may not have conceived this rhetoric of chilled apathy, it has certainly aided in its birth and consequent upbringing.” 

Most Eye-Opening:
Marianne T. Duddy-Burke with “A Lesbian Mother on the Discriminatory 'Inclusion Act'” 

“Adopting these two strong, resilient, loving, generous, talented girls is probably the best thing my spouse and I have ever done. We knew that children who have been in the foster care system would bring scars with them, and that those scars would cover deep wounds. But nothing in the months of training, interviews with social workers that at times felt more probing than doctor's visits, or the reams of paperwork we completed before being certified as foster parents fully prepared us for what lay ahead. We have spent countless hours with trauma therapists, family coaches, physical and occupational therapists, teachers, principals, mentors, tutors, adoption support agencies, physicians, psychopharmacologists, and other adoptive parents than I'd ever want to tally up, all in hopes of finding ways to support our kids.”

Most Challenging: 
Michael McBride (at Amy Julia Becker’s place) with “In Christ there are no racial stereotypes” 

“Along with pastoring The Way Christian Center in the Bay Area, I serve as the director of the LIVE FREE Campaign, a faith-based movement committed to organizing the moral voice and actions of the faith community to end gun violence and mass incarceration. I remember speaking to a largely evangelical audience about the destructive impact that gun violence and mass incarceration are having on the youth and families in my congregation and neighborhood. I explained how these families are largely working class, black and Latino families who find their kids and loved ones caught in a maze of broken systems and structures as soon as they make a bad decision or mistake in judgment. At the end of my talk, a pastor, who described his congregation to me as white suburban dwellers, said to me, 'You know Pastor Mike, I am just gonna' be honest, why don't your people just get a job, stop asking for a free pass and stop committing crimes? My people are struggling just like yours and we are not looking for anyone's help!..."

Best Writing:
Jessica Bowman at Deeper Story with “His Hands They Heal, His Hands They Bruise”

“His fists fly frantically and I raise my arms in protection. He batters against my weak barrier of forearms and fingers, unconscious to the struggle. He isn’t fighting me. He’s fighting someone far away, in deserts of trauma, in wars without hope. A wrist, a shoulder, I manage to cling to him.” 

Best Response: 
Michael Gungor with “I’m With You”

“But listen, huddle people… I’m for you. I really am. And I’m with you. I was raised in the huddle. Some of the best people I know are in the huddle. But you don’t need to be so afraid. You don’t need to repress your intellectual ability to ask questions and seek truth in order to stay in the shadow of the huddle. Because, let me tell you something, there is light outside. In fact, God is both inside and outside of your huddle. And you can still love God and love people and read those early Genesis stories as myth with some important things to teach us. Not all of you will be ready to do that, and that’s perfectly ok. But know that if you create these dichotomies where we force people to either fall into the camp of scientifically blind biblical literalism or a camp where they totally write off the Bible as a complete lie, you’re going to rob a lot of people of some of the richness that the Bible offers. You’re going to create a lot more jaded, cynical people that are completely anti-religion out there. And you are going to continue to repress the questions that lurk in the back of your own mind. And that’s just not healthy. That sort of thinking actually quashes and limits human thriving in the world.” 

Best Reflection:
Richard Beck (quoting Cornel West) with “Love Your Way Through”

“I think a lot of theological conversation ends up in absurdity. In the face of pain. In the face of suffering. In the face of death. In the face of things we know nothing about. In the face of all that absurdity I think Christians talk too damn much.  Me included, given the flood of words on this blog. But the main reason I am a Christian is that it gives me a way to ‘love my way through.’” 

Best Interview: 
Grace Wong interviews Helen Lee and Kathy Kang in “There’s No Such Thing as Passive Aggressive Peace” 

“’It’s hard to be a peacemaker if you don’t have an understanding of the different ways of communication and wrestling with different conflicts and styles,’ Lee said. ‘Diversify your own relational circles. Ask yourself if you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to interact with people who are different from you.’” 

Best Question:
Kathy Schiffer with “Should the Catholic Church Sell St. Peter’s Basilica to Help the Poor?”

“If the great art of the Church were sold, it would most likely be preserved behind closed doors, in private collections of the very wealthy.  Better, I think, to allow everyone–even persons of humble means–to enjoy the works of the Masters, to allow their hearts and minds to be drawn upward toward heaven by the rich imagery of the saints, by the glow of alabaster and the sheen of marble and the intricacy of fine metalwork.  The Church has been a repository of great art, and has made its treasures available for all to enjoy."


Best Perspective:  
Elizabeth Esther with “Some thoughts on what it means to forgive our abusers” 

“Forgiveness means I have no more resentment or the desire for revenge. It DOESN’T mean I tolerate more abuse. It DOESN’T mean I must “accept” empty apologies.”

Best Step in the Right Direction: 
Acts 29 Removes Mars Hill, Asks Mark Driscoll To Step Down and Seek Help

Best Point: 
Rachel Marie Stone with “Inclusive language for God does not equal heresy” 

“Beneath all this, I can’t help wondering: Surely God is not really so fragile as to need all this defending? ‘I AM WHO I AM,’ God says to Moses. God gets to define who God is, and no one else does. If God is pleased to express God’s nature in female metaphors, as a birthing, nursing, comforting mother, who are we to object?” 

On my nightstand…

Julian of Norwich: A Contemplative Biography by Amy Frykholm

I’ve long been interested in the life and writings of Julian of Norwich, and Amy Frykholm brings her world to life in this lively and accessible volume, which I devoured in a matter of hours. Highly recommended for fellow Julian fans. 

Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength by Chanequa Walker-Barnes 

 
yoke-3.jpeg
 

I was so moved by Christena Cleveland’s review of this book I decided to check it out myself, and I’ve not been disappointed.

Walker-Barnes seamlessly weaves together the academic and pastoral in this book that has me rethinking everything I thought I knew about race, womanhood, and even the Trinity. I’m hoping to feature an interview with the author on the blog later this month, so keep an eye out for that. 

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen

This book has been recommended to me about a thousand times, but since I have never been the victim of serious spiritual abuse, I figured I wouldn’t have much to learn from it.

But since we’ve been discussing the subject so much on the blog, I finally delved in. This is such a wise, instructive, and enlightening book, I wish I’d read it sooner. I recognize so many of your stories in its pages. We will definitely be discussing this one in the weeks to come. 

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson 

Because some books are just worth reading twice…or three times…or four times. 

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So, what caught your eye online this week? What's happening on your blog?

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