“Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching. And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed—keep that dusted off and in use.
Cultivate these things. Immerse yourself in them. The people will all see you mature right before their eyes! Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it. Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation.”
(Paul’s first letter to Timothy 4:10 – 16 MSG)
Four of my grandchildren are in French Immersion schools. They all speak better French than I do, even the five-year-old.
I attended a school where French was taught conversationally and where only French was allowed to be spoken in French class. The experimental “immersion” method tested on us turned out to be much more effective than the traditional memorization of conjugation tables. I’ve used the words learned in that class to sing and to teach singing, but not as a part of regular conversation. Most of it has slipped away like the names of people from the past with vaguely familiar faces. I couldn’t assemble a grammatically correct essay en français if my life depended on it, not without supernatural intervention anyway.
When my granddaughter was only six, and in her second year of speaking only French all day at school, she asked me not to speak to her in my broken second language anymore. Part of the problem was the difference between my Parisian pronunciation and her Quebecois teacher’s accent, but more than that, she was simply more proficient.
“Grammie, do you mind not speaking French to me?” she said one day as I drove her to school. “I’m only a little kid and it’s embarrassing for me to correct a grown-up.”
She’s in high school now, writing short stories, giving speeches, and mastering courses in biology and mathematics, all in French. She has been immersed in the culture for ten years and doesn’t need to translate her thoughts like I do. She thinks in French as well as she thinks English. Perhaps better.
Last year I asked the Lord for a word that would show me where he was taking me now. In a dream, I saw the word “instill.” It means “to cause to enter, drop by drop.” I read and study as much as I am able. The quest for knowledge still provokes me to leave smoking pots of food on the stove while I look something up.
I believe the concepts the Lord has been teaching me about himself but, at times, they feel awkward and foreign. Effort is required to sit still as he instills a language of grace, love, and trust at a level where I can think differently and respond more automatically. (The delete key is the most worn key on my keyboard, I think.) I am learning a new language in which my actions are motivated by God’s love and not fear of condemnation. I’m learning to live in the freedom Jesus gave his life to get back for me.
This year, beyond the concept of instilling something into me, I realize there is more: the concept of instilling myself into the depths of his love. An immersion into his heart. A stepping into deeper experiences of his grace. Abiding in the place of rest he has prepared right in the middle of trying circumstances.
Standing on the familiar shore of rugged debate, theoretical platitudes, and pebbly doctrinal pickiness feels comfortably normal. What if I stop trying to understand everything and give up the need to prove myself “right” and instead trust Him to surround me and lift me up. What if I step into God’s culture and totally immerse myself in his grace. Will he hold me up? Teach me to breathe under water? Send a boat?
Sometimes I float. Sometimes I thrash about in a panic when I realize I’m in over my head and I don’t have all the answers. Then I remember Paul’s advice to Tim. “Just keep at it. Stay at your post. Read the scriptures. Don’t neglect the gifts God has given you.”
Maturity is something he brings about as I yield to his ways. For a person learning to let go of the baggage of a lifetime of trust issues, this is deep water.
This part of the journey is about more than the occasional Bible study class. This is about living, all day, with a new language, in a different culture than the one more familiar to me. At the moment I feel more quasi-lingual than bi-lingual. I’m trying not to compare myself to much younger people who are more advanced in understanding than I.
But I am learning.
And it’s true, you know. God is love.
Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small: Love so amazing, so divine Demands my soul, my life, my all.
In the way that texting while driving is a bad idea, blogging while wrestling with anger is also a bad idea. Both are dangerous distractions with the potential to put serious dents into bystanders.
I’ve not been posting as frequently lately because anger has been flashing like a check engine light on my car’s dashboard. Something needs tending to. I submitted to self-imposed silence and listened instead (well, mostly.) With the Lord’s help, I’ve needed, again, to examine what was going on under the hood before going any further.
I think it started with reading an innocent hashtag on Twitter: #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear. What followed was an unexpected mass chorus of voices expressing the pain of living in a religious system that kept -or still keeps- women voiceless. I may have added a few tweets myself. A lot of dashboard lights flashed on the internet last week. Not everyone was comfortable with the spontaneous outpouring that exposed more misogyny than they realized was a normal part of many women’s lives. Exposure is embarrassing and uncomfortable for everyone. Push-back from onlookers called for cover-up or, sadly, invalidation.
Here’s the thing, you can’t forgive what you don’t acknowledge and you can’t clean up corruption when it remains covered up. (We learned that lesson when our son-in-law almost died from undiagnosed flesh-eating disease.) Sometimes healing involves mess or pain first.
I discovered I still had more forgiving to do because listening to other women’s (and men’s) painful memories triggered some of my own. There were still some lingering lies I accepted about God liking men more than women. They were planted in my soul as a result of observing the way women of my mother’s generation were treated, and their resignation to silence and subservience to men as the norm. The seeds grew as I was taught to interpret scripture in a way which ignored the character and practice of both Jesus and Paul. (Paul wrote the words to Timothy I was told imposed a gag order on all females for all time in all places, but he also praised women like Phoebe, Junia, and Priscilla who were obviously not silent.) There was still some toxic residue in the unseen corners of my heart that kept me from saying with all honesty, “I thank God he made me a woman!”
The Lord and I have been working on that together. He is the one who establishes my identity. And he likes me.
Then Christianity Today published an article which asked the question, “Who is in charge of the Christian blogosphere?” The author suggested that female bloggers who write about spiritual matters should be under the supervision of denominational or institutional authorities who are credentialed and better educated in matters of proper doctrine. (Which proper doctrine the author doesn’t say.) The article, and responses to it, triggered another memory.
One of the most difficult times in my life was when a physician who specialized in voice problems prescribed a season of silence. I was less talkative then, but people who know me will understand the enormity of the challenge.
I had finished studying, rehearsing and performing the role of Amina in Bellini’s opera, La Sonnambula, a few weeks before. I caught the flu before ensemble rehearsals began. It morphed into a long-lasting nasty cough monster that barked in a register much lower than my usual coloratura soprano range.
The role of Amina is a kind of vocal high-wire act involving agility, stamina and a lot of very high notes. I was onstage most of the opera singing not only solos but duets, trios and other ensembles. A run-through of my music took nearly 90 minutes. You can imagine how much time was involved in practice to learn the role.
My voice was not recovering fast enough. It sounded okay in short sessions, but it didn’t feel right, and I was worried about stamina. Reluctantly, I spoke to the producer and director about my doubts in my ability to perform. The response was not what I expected. The director said, “I believed in you. You disappoint me! If you don’t sing I stand to lose $10,000 of my own money I invested in this production.” I felt the pressure and forged on.
Nerves were a bigger problem than usual on opening night. I knew I was forcing at times. Except for one embarrassing note on the final night, I made it through the performances though. The standing ovation and bravas from the audience almost made up for the burning pain in my throat.
Two weeks later I sang with another orchestra and choir. I had only two solos in a Bach cantata which should have been easy, but I struggled. My voice was not responding as it should. I made an appointment with the laryngologist.
He said I had the beginning of nodules. That statement feels like a death sentence to a classical singer. I was scared. He told me to rest it completely for several weeks – no talking and definitely no singing. I followed his advice and my vocal folds did heal. I didn’t need surgery, but I learned some things in that time. 1) I yelled at my kids more than I thought I did. 2) People don’t talk to you if you don’t talk to them. 3) I didn’t appreciate submitting to authorities who were more concerned about their own project than my long-term well-being. 4) Being voiceless made me feel powerless.
You may express yourself in other ways, but perhaps you can still relate. My voice was my strength because it made me relatively unique. I could sing over a full orchestra and eighty voice choir without a microphone. My voice allowed me to comfort others and bring the joy of music into their lives. My voice was my vehicle for creativity and emotional expression. I was wrong, but at the time I felt like my voice justified my existence. People listened. They asked advice. Musicians I admired included me, gave me a place among them on the stage, and treated me as though I had value. Without a voice, I had no place in that world.
About ten years later chronic health problems meant I had to give up singing almost completely. I grieved deeply. I hated being voiceless. But my heavenly Father can use all circumstances and I grew because I learned instead to lean on the Lord as my source of justification for existence. Eventually, he led me to fill the void with other creative expressions. One of them is writing and blogging. I had a voice again, but this time it served a larger purpose.
When I read the CT article it felt like the people who were willing to sacrifice my voice to serve their own agenda had shown up again. I believe in the wisdom of an abundance of counselors. I believe in mutual submission, and yes, my husband does read and approve of my blog, not because he is my master, but because I respect his perspective. I have deleted and revised and parked articles in the draft file indefinitely on the advice of people I trust. But that’s the operative word – trust.
I wonder if the strong backlash to the article could be coming from people who have also lost their innocence when it comes to the lack of transparency of “experts” in positions of power. Yes, we need to forgive, but forgiveness does not mean trust is automatically restored. The type of servant leadership Jesus demonstrated is something we still need to strive to attain when it appears the response to error is more silencing control instead of more healing grace and better communication of love. We need more of the kind of discipleship training that encourages believers to have their own senses trained to discern right from wrong through practice.
The point of leadership is to produce competent graduates, not more dependent children in pews.
The point of the exposure of corruption in the body and submission to the kind of correction the One who loves us perfectly brings is to purify and build up this Church of living stones.
I almost posted two previous versions of this blog article. In them, I gave more evidence for the reasons for my distrust of some ecclesiastical hierarchical authorities (not all!) and defended my educational qualifications. Twice I felt the Lord saying to let it go, deal with my own heart issues, and start again. Learning to hear God for ourselves means responding in obedience. Sometimes submission to his advice means speaking up and sometimes it means hitting delete. Holy Spirit provides the fruit of self-governance in his gift basket for a reason.
The internet is like the printing press that triggered the Reformation. Blogs provide more people with the freedom to speak up. I believe we are on the brink of another Reformation in which greater numbers of the priesthood of believers will rise and raise their voices in praise to the God of our salvation who sets all the captives free.
I am not voiceless anymore. I don’t need the approval of people I don’t trust. I do need the approval of my Lord.
May the words that come out of my mouth and the musings of my heart meet with Your gracious approval, O Eternal, my Rock, O Eternal, my Redeemer.
(Psalm 19:14 The Voice)
To my fellow Christ-centered female bloggers, and to all my brothers and sisters in Christ no matter the form your expression takes, I urge you to use your voices! May your sound go out into all lands and your words unto the ends of the world.
Happiness held is the seed; happiness shared is the flower.
A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery while on a detour.
Happiness is a direction, not a place.
-Sydney J. Harris
I wasn’t expecting to see my favourite wild flowers blooming so early. It’s been a harsh winter in the eastern part of the province. We all feel a bit traumatized. Spring flowers, understandably, are also reluctant to poke their heads out.
I found myself in the Okanagan this week on a bit of a detour from the usual routine. There, beside the pioneer’s cemetery on a hill overlooking the city, happiness turned its face to the sun and bloomed its heart out.