Going Where I’m Needed

I’ve learned a lot this past year about myself, particularly that I enjoy making myself useful. When I was first hired on, I was told that there was always the possibility that I’d be sent to other places in the area to fill in where they had a need. As it turns out, I’m rather good at it. I’ve been sent to so many places I’ve lost count. I’ve worked in at least three counties. Even though it’s something of  hassle to go the distance, it feels rewarding to be helpful.

Then I think back to my days in church where I was primarily expected to do nothing. I was supposed to show up, stay quiet, listen, and leave. I couldn’t really do the sort of things that I wanted to – and what was left, well, they didn’t give me much training and I had to figure out what I could as I went along. It was in those areas that were out of sight and out of mind, and not only that, but not really interacting with others.

Not really interacting with others was something I’d done a lot of for a long time. I just thought I was bad with people. So this past week when a few different people admitted: “My kid really likes you.” or “I think you’re nice.” I wasn’t quite sure how to take that compliment other than to say, “Thanks, that means a lot.”

Even as my church would sing Audio Adrenaline’s “Hands and Feet”, “I want to be your hands, I want to be your feet, I’ll go where you send me, I’II go where you send me …” It was pretty much understood that this didn’t really apply to all of us. Sure, the big mission trip once every few years was the one chance that most of us would ever get to be sent somewhere we were needed. Sometimes it was in another country, sometimes it was somewhere in the states. But being what it was, it wasn’t something just everyone could do – only small teams could go and many would be excluded.

Perhaps a big difference is that each church is insular and doesn’t interact with local churches. They don’t talk to each other and say: “Hey, we could use some help. Can you send somebody?” The places where I work at – they’re connected together. The managers know each other and help each other. Their employees work together and build friendships even though it can be awhile until the next time they work together again – which is perfect because they can do a lot of catching up the next time they meet. Each church seems to be territorial and fears loosing people to another church or a different denomination. Looking back at my churches, they didn’t really interact with other area churches very often. I think once the youth group of a different church did an interpretive dance for our church – but I don’t think the idea went over too well because we never went to other churches or other churches after that came to ours.

Out of this week, I’ve spent (or will have spent) five days at other places than my own workplace … and I love it. I will have made myself useful by helping those who need a little assistance. I will have met a lot of new people – each with interesting stories and quirky personalities. I will have worked with all sorts of people, lifting their burden as much as I can. I’ll learn new tricks that make the job that much easier. Sometimes though, I just wish that Christianity was a little more like the world in this way – it’s not the most awful thing that they’d make it out to be.

 

 

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Encourage One Another

To edify is to teach someone in a way that improve their mind or character.

To encourage is to make someone more determined, more hopeful more confident, more likely to do something, to tell or advise someone to do something, and to make something more appealing or more likely to happen.

To console is to try to make someone feel less sadness or disappointment and to alleviate the grief, sense of loss, or trouble of another. It means to comfort in a time of grief or distress.

To edify, encourage, and console is to prophesy. Prophecy is a task that both men and women are expected to fulfil in the church. Paul said that it was the most important gift; that it was even better than the gift of speaking in tongues.

I know I’ve been discouraged lately. A lot of it is because of Christianity, how it’s taught, how limits are placed, how little it speaks into my day-to-day life. Nobody prophecies; too many are out-right forbidden because it involves teaching and instruction and some people don’t want to encourage the wrong sort of people to teach others. We’re also a faith that’s pretty terrible about tolerating grief and distress in others and knowing what to do or say about it. Every morning, we shake each other’s hand, ask: “How are you doing?” If your response isn’t “fine” you have given the wrong answer. I also know that there’s a limited amount of edification going on; the prodigies who show some skill or talent are encouraged; everyone else is left to their own devices.

Now speaking in tongues is all the rage; has been for the longest time – but prophecy-based churches are few and far between. I guess it depends on what your focus is – showing the power of the spirit through amazing displays. Or living out Christ-like love by edifying, encouraging, and consoling one another. One lets you keep all the rules you want, the other asks you to choose which ones are worth the fuss.

Opportunities

The last time I was presented with an opportunity to teach, it didn’t work out quite as well as I would have hoped. I remember that there was a sort of Hyacinth Bucket – a woman who knew exactly what her vision was and how exactly I ought to realize it. It was more of a ‘warm body’ that was needed to push the play button and read out the questions from the book and less of a “I need you to use your knowledge and skills to teach the class” sort of thing.

Today the pastor mentioned that he had heard that I was being considered to teach, that is, if I get involved in Sunday School a little bit more. That’s nice, really, but I’m not sure I really want to teach. Especially if it’s yet another ‘warm body’ sort of thing. So I’ve had a few brilliant insights (apparently, I wouldn’t know,) here and there, but is that enough to make me a teacher? I’ve had all kinds of teachers and I just don’t think I’m like any of them. All I’ve really done is examine various teachings through this blog – which no one in my church even knows about. If they could look through it, they’d probably realize that what I do know is enough to make me dangerous. And yet, I don’t know nearly enough to do a proper job of teaching.

If I had my way, I’d begin the class with some contemporary music to break up the silence. I’d probably have it playing on low as people walked in. I know I’m not a people person – but I have to figure that everyone else is, so they’ll talk. And talk. And talk some more about the earth-shattering excitement that has happened in the past six days. Then I’d take a Bible and question everything in it and about it. I might refer to books such as “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes” to point out that our tendency to approach the Bible from a plain, literal reading is fraught with peril. I’d look at what the original languages have to say and how what was said makes a world of difference in meaning. But this is a Methodist church, they have things like the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and other ideas that I have heard of, but don’t really know what they mean. I still feel a little too Southern Baptist to do them very much good. I don’t know what I could teach them that they don’t already know.

I think that first experience also took a lot out of me in terms of wanting to teach – being told that I had an opportunity to teach was an exciting thing … but it didn’t work out. Then being told that I had an opportunity to teach – it was like … “I’ve been there before, but I was disappointed. I don’t want to go through that song and dance again.” For one, it sounded as if I’d have to get more involved in Sunday School first. I already felt a little out of my element the last time I was in a class because almost everyone who will be in it will be nearly twice my age. Not to mention that they outnumber people who are near my age ten to one. Also, there’s the problem of the church itself – it’s been getting harder to attend and I’m not sure I want to commit myself to a church that I don’t really completely like. The only part of the church that I can stand is the preaching and even then some days it’s just easier to not go.

Which is sort of why I thought the teaching thing was odd – perhaps they had read that millennials tend to disappear from churches that don’t offer a place for them and decided to open the door to me to teach just so I’d have something to stick around for? I wish they’d make it an easy decision and just add a contemporary service – then there would certainly be a reason to stick around. As it is, I just don’t know. Teaching is a big deal and it just may be a bit more than I can chew.

 

 

Voluntold

While reading comments, I noticed one of a young mother who was frustrated that nobody seemed to want to step up and watch her children during church services no matter how much she begged and pleaded for help. My first thought was an incredibly unhelpful statement which I decided not to post. I have my reasons for not doing childcare. I suspect some people think they’re too old, too tired, and don’t have the energy or strength to chase around the under five crowd. Some realize that they really aren’t that great with kids and only like their own or their own grand kids, figuring they’ve done their time and deserve to retire from the business. To be honest, when something isn’t your cup of tea, it sucks to be stuck doing it without any real choices or acceptance of the thing that you really are good at.

It was a typical Sunday, almost exactly like the ones before it and the ones that followed after it, with ever so slightly discernible changes in the songs that were song or the theme of the message being preached as the most notable. The pastor’s wife stood up and announced that a volunteer was needed to watch the children, which consisted of her three sons and no other children. During the meet’n’greet, the woman in front of me turned around and said: “You should teach the children!” How she arrived at that conclusion was something of mystery. I hadn’t interacted with the children the whole time I was at that church. They didn’t know my name and I didn’t know theirs. I hadn’t shown any interest in children or mentioned children at all. In fact, the only way she could have come to that conclusion that I was a suitable teacher was if she believed that young women are innately experts at childcare. After all, I was both young and a woman. I matched the criteria completely.

My previous church pretty much believed the same thing – that young women ought to plug-into church ministry by serving in the nursery indefinitely. Once on the rotation, there was this unspoken expectation that they would continue to serve. There were two exits – one was having a child of their own and the other was quitting the church in some form or another. To remain in a church and quit doing childcare was to be constantly guilt-tripped about being selfish, hating children, and hating our brothers and sisters in Christ. It was almost a constant imposition based on the belief that all young women ought to take care of young children. There never seemed to be a viable alternatives.

Not watching kids was turning my back on whatever was meant by biblical womanhood. It was as if I was the pot declaring to the potter: “You can’t use me like that! I won’t let you.” There was never a moment to consider what my gifts and skills and talents pointed to another reality of something else that I made for, because having been young and female, then I could only be a nursery worker because the Bible says so. These days, when I ask about what the Bible teaches about Biblical womanhood, there’s a lot of quiet, beating around the bush that ultimately says that my role is that of wife and/or mother, preferably both. It says I can be/do anything so long as I’m submitted under the authority of my husband (preferably, if I had to I could be submitted to my father as long as I remained single but ideally I’d eventually get married). It says I’m defined by my relationships – somebody’s daughter, somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother and that I’m never a somebody in and of myself. Related to the video – it bothers me that I refer to these people just that same way – somebody’s mother, the pastor’s wife, the elderly woman who sat in the row ahead of me next to her husband. I couldn’t tell you what their names were. Their names are less important than their role and it shouldn’t be that way.

These days, I’ve learned not to rely on the church. They can’t see what’s in front of them. While they would have me serve in the nursery, they ignore my increasing skills with foreign languages, my increasing knowledge of church history as well as ancient cultures, the finer points of theology, and my interests in other things. Obviously, I can’t be trusted to teach other women and children because I might corrupt them into questioning what the church is telling them to believe about their role in the church. These things would make me a great candidate as a potential teacher – if I were a guy. But I’m not. So obviously, the only thing I can do, and should do, in order to serve God is to watch children indefinitely because God never made women with another plan in mind of how they could best serve the church. Except for maybe as a missionary, but the idea that women can’t teach white men because they would deceive them and yet can teach foreign men suggests sexism and racism is alive and well. But hey, what do I know?

Antichrists Unite

It was a tall order for me to try to post new things about Lent, at the moment there doesn’t appear much more that I can say for the moment, so it’s time to go back to what I do best.
As I was reading my Bible – I noticed something in this passage:
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:18-19)
I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. (2 John 1:7)

I wonder if John had even fathomed a time such as this – the church is divided and fracturing. Whole generations of believers are now going out of the churches in search for an authentic faith. One might be tempted to read these verses and assume that all of the nones and dones, the prodigals, nomads, and exiles – are turning their backs on the institution that is church because each and every one of them harbor the spirit of the or an antichrist, who are sinning sinners deceiving themselves by failing to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the church presents him.

One warning that appears all over scripture (2 Peter 2, 2 Timothy 2, 1 Timothy 1, 1 Timothy 3, and towards the end of Acts 20,) that false teachers would be a problem. The Bible promises that the false teachers will reap what they sow, but the advice it offers can be difficult to implement in order to remedy false teachers.

For one, false teachers often draw a group of followers who believe the teaching is genuine. We don’t have to deal so much with people not acknowledging Jesus – but we do have Word of Knowledge, Word of Faith, Seed-Faith, Healing, Prosperity Gospel teachings that often do much more harm than good. It seems as soon as one televangelist disqualifies himself (or more rarely, herself) others rise to prominence to replace them.

I can tell you from experience that sitting under false teaching is spiritually detrimental. To recognize that untruths are being said, to have to expend energy reminding yourself that “this pastor is not quite right” or “this teaching over-emphasizes God’s sovereignty but demotes His love, it’s not accurate” is wearying week after week, month after month, year after year.

I don’t think that the numbers will bear out that antichrists are leaving the church because they don’t belong and are sinning sinners. Far too many people have stories about how their church failed them. When a victim went to elders of church for help, she was ignored or the situation was mishandled. When a young person had ideas about drawing more people to church, every single one of them was rejected and they felt as if they weren’t being taken seriously because they were young like Timothy who couldn’t get enough elders on his side to fix some serious problems. When a child has serious questions about evolution and creation and the church isn’t giving them the best possible answers, making them doubt creation and everything that follows. Countless more stories from all walks of life …

Could John have foreseen that the Church would create this darned if you do, darned if you don’t situation? Would he have wanted believers to remain in a church where false teaching was believed to be solid, Biblical teaching? The thing about the corrective advice – “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,” it doesn’t work when the people already believe that their teaching is sound, to them, any opponent is living a lie because they do not believe exactly as the preacher indicates the Bible says they should. Suggesting possible other interpretations of Scripture is seen as rebellion against the inerrant, infallible Scriptures and plain reading thereof.

A lot of us ‘antichrists‘ just want to try to figure out what it means to be a part of the one church that is the body of Christ just without the experiences that prompted us to leave our former churches. That means in my case, I don’t want to be branded as a heretic and driven out to wander wilderness until I come back to my senses and stop being like the prodigal son. I don’t care if you craft the most biblical list of beliefs one can believe in from the Bible with a complete list of scripture references to back it up – I’m not going to sign my name to some document as there’s no mention of such a practice in Scripture.

The interesting thing about being left to my own devices is that without the constant pounding of Biblical teaching I’ve come to see a much clearer picture of who Jesus is in the gospels. The tide has changed to tell another tale – not one where a sovereign God created a world full people to punish – one of a servant who came to seek and save the lost. Without the crashing waves of emphasis, I’m sailing on calm waters that gently rock me in the rhythms of God’s grace in action. Had I not been cast aside, I’d still be in that big boat, fighting God’s grace by believing in the doctrines of Grace. Being taught about God so sovereign over this world that he controls the pattern of dust swirling in light and everything good or bad that ever happens is rooted in his omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent will. I wouldn’t have come to know the servant who seeks and saves the lost. I’d know another version of him whose sole purpose was to model obedience to enact the plan of salvation. Day in and day out, this particular emphasis would mold and shape my beliefs and drive me forward through the storm.

In this way going out from the church has been the best thing that has happened in my spiritual walk. I get to meet Jesus as he his, not some presentation of him that emphasizes some of his aspects and ignores others. Maybe I’ll do what my ancestors did with “Sooner” or “Yankee” and own the term “antichrist” not as something derogatory, but turn it around into a badge of honor. “Anti” can mean “against” or “opposite of” but it can also mean “in place of” and as a follower of Christ, I am in the place of Christ in a world of people who lost who need to be sought out – though I’ll leave the saving to Jesus, there’s bound to be ways I can help, provide food, clothing, shelter, a kind word, encouragement, that sort of thing. I wouldn’t mind being that kind of antichrist that was a friend of sinners, who brought healing, mercy, and forgiveness, who challenged religious authorities for being legalistic and losing their way. I could live with being that kind of antichrist .

Generation Gaps

When a pastor resigns, chaos reigns. Well, perhaps not that dramatically, but what follows is a time of uncertainty. We had spent a year trying to establish ourselves at a rather small church where everyone related to each other – except for us. The pastor was also new – having arrived the month before we did. His last sermon ended with the announcement that the decision had been made for him and his family to step down and to move on. We decided not to stay.

As I said, the church we visted just had the same thing happen to them, but he served between 10-15 years so there’s a lot of emotion going on. There’s the betrayal: “I expected you to be the pastor here until the day you die, how can you do this to me?” There’s the blame: “I bet it was so-and-so with their incessant questions that put him up to this!” There’s the confusion, shock, talk, and out-right hurt about it all being so unexpected.

In my church, it was probably the result of a young pastor not able to get the older congregation on board with his vision. In this new church it was probably the opposite case – an older pastor who was not on the same page with a younger congregation. Some degree of internal conflict seems to be inidicated – perhaps the pastor wasn’t happy with the recent changes or his advice being ignored. His last sermon indicated that he had been through a tough week; I imagine things haven’t gotten easier in the week since it was delivered.

This tug-of-war grudge match between elders and youth has to end. Elders set the example – insist on having things their own way and make no compromises. The result is one that the youth have followed all too well. But youth has an expiration date that demands that it’s millenials step aside for the next generation all too soon. So on the one hand, the elder-run churches are dying out more quickly than it’s non-existant youth can take over; and on the other hand the youth-run church has to push out it’s eldest to keep the youthful appearance and vibe going. Both churches have missing generations and are quite disconected between the generations it does have.

Either way, the approach that works for one generation isn’t reaching the other. It’s creating deeper divisions and mistrust in the church as neither side is willing to meet the other half-way. It’s just one more of the many reasons why we lose so many, both members and pastors.

To The Journey

Exactly ten years ago, I started TheUnmaskedAvenger. I eventually ran out of things to say and stopped blogging. Two years ago, I returned to it; this time it was just for me. It is amazing to see how many of the things I’ve said have struck a chord with others. Church can be an amazingly wonderful mountain-top experience with a great view of the bright sun; and church can be a dark, deep valley with steep sides. Church can make beautiful music; and it can make a noisy din that vaguely resembles music. Church can be a close-knit family of supportive brothers and sisters in tough times; and it can be an isolated group of insiders who routinely exclude others who aren’t on the same page. It can be anything and everything; both good and bad.

The church I remember from when I was little is totally different than the one I know now. And I’m a different person, because of it. I’ve weathered quite a few storms over the years. I had to figure out a lot for myself, but thankfully other bloggers were seing some of the same issues that I had. So I knew that I wasn’t alone and I felt like that there others out there who understood. I had to learn to learn a lot of things. I learned to stand my ground, I learned to defend my beliefs and I learned to hold fast to them when the storms raged at their fiercest.

I would have loved for my ground to have been the same ground as the church’s; but it didn’t turn out that way. I’ve attended a lot of churches and they’ve taught me a lot, but it wasn’t always what was right or best for me. In general, I still feel somewhat let-down by church, and that’s probably my ‘stuck on the seemingly endless plateau’ experience talking at the moment. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective, compared to the valley, the plateau is a mountain and so I should celebrate the view that I do have.

My current church is doing a series on Ruth and I’m learning that she’s not the – well, actually I don’t remember what my former pastors would have said about her probably because she’s usually mentioned in passing; Like, “Ruth is one of the women mentioned in the ancestry of Jesus; and so is Rahab the harlot, Bathsheba the wife of Uriah, and Tamar whose story shall not be named.” Being listed among ‘the harlot’, ‘the adulteress’, ‘the deceiver’, it doesn’t suggest that Ruth ‘the foreigner’ or any of the other women are of upstanding moral character; but they were as much as was possible for the times they lived in. Not only that, but there’s a chance to study something called Lectio Divina and it seems absolutely fascinating. I think that some of my problem is that I’m expecting the church of my youth – one that was built around me, my needs, what I wanted, and anticipated the sort of things I’d like. This church isn’t like that and that’s what makes it difficult to adjust to. But so long as they’re willing to meet me half-way, that’s better than most churches in this area. So I think we’ll do just fine for now as long as they let me listen to my MP3 player so that I can enjoy my music while they’re enjoying their own.

I don’t know what the next ten years will have in store for me. I expect there’ll be times when I’m further up the mountain or have fallen into the valley, but blogging helps me climb my way through it all, the thick of it and the thin of it. I’m grateful for each and every one of you who have chosen to join along in the adventure, to encourage me, to keep me honest, to challenge my perspective, and to share your stories. For facing whatever is in store, faith, hope, and love will see us through – this year, the next, and ten years from now.