When Kindness Isn’t Kind

 

“PRAISE GOD! I’M FREE!” he shouted as he leapt onto the grassy bank from the back seat of my car.

poke kids fighting IMG_0047My grandson threw his arms in the air and did an enthusiastic Pentecostal two-step right there. I laughed, but I understood the feeling.

I took my young grandchildren to the splash park this week. We had a marvelous time and I was impressed with how well the children got along and looked after each other.

Then we drove home.

Securing three car seats in a space usually taken by jackets and stuff that won’t fit in the trunk of my car was a challenge, but we did it. It meant my grandson was squished in the middle seat between his sisters though. Opportunity for boundary violations abounded. All three took advantage of those opportunities.

Finally, after a useless lecture on the dangers of escalating a conflict with over-reaction, I put on my stern voice.

“No! You may not poke each other! If you continue this I am stopping the car right now!”

That was a useless threat thirty years ago and its effectiveness has not improved, but you know, tradition.

Finally I commanded, “I want you to do one kind thing for each other, right now!”

That’s when the kissing started. Big sister planted a sloppy wet one on brother’s shoulder. His eww inspired another then another. He leaned away but that put him in range of little sister who covered him with similar passive aggressive affection. The girls giggled. He protested. Loudly.

Ten blocks to go. Nine… eight…

Later, as I was telling his Dad about my amusement at his son’s actions (the joyful exclamation part, not the misbehaving part – that’s between us) I remembered times when I was equally as happy to be freed from the “kind” ministrations of people with a self-serving agenda. False kindness can be like sending truckloads of used junk to disaster areas that have no place to put it as an excuse to clean closets and feel good about ourselves at the same time. Perhaps well-meaning, but not well thought out.

Boundary violating kisses I have known often started with:
~I’m telling you this in love.. (because even I realize the action is not exactly communicating “love”).
~I have a ministry opportunity for you…
~This worked for me so it will obviously work for you…
~I know you have a weight problem, but I made these cupcakes just for you…
~I read this on paranoid tendencies.com and you need to implement the findings immediately…
~Thus saith the Lord, if you do not heed the advice of this, his servant, it will not go well for you…
~This is what you need to do because, in my opinion, this is how a good Christian dresses, or worships, or prays, or votes, or diets, or donates, or handles Hallowe’en…
~I’m just protecting you. These are the teachers/preachers who disagree with me or give me an icky feeling. Shun them.

One day I finally realized I was free to jump out of the confines of that harassment. “Praise God! I’m free!”

Kisses can be loving and kind. Sometimes these were about good things the speaker learned and wanted to pass on. He or she meant well, but, it was still a bit self-serving. It’s difficult to untangle a desire to help from a desire to be in control. I’ve done it too – and suffered the consequences. When you remove people’s power to self-govern they tend to express exasperation in unexpected ways. We with a yearning to teach also need to learn to share knowledge and still honour people’s ability to think and decide for themselves. One size does not fit all.

I have noticed in the scripture that Jesus responded to individuals differently. He didn’t heal the same way every time. He didn’t use the same tone of voice with everyone. Even now he speaks to his beloved according to their needs and temperament and meets them where they are.

Maybe a brother or sister needs a kiss. Maybe they need to be noticed and a friendly poke or a holy kiss, or a culturally appropriate side hug is the perfect response. But maybe they need respect and space to work it out with the Lord on their own. Maybe they need freedom.

You are perfectly free to ignore this if it doesn’t minister to you. Just sayin’.

A Good and Spacious Land

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I will gladly rejoice because of Your gracious love
because You recognized the sadness of my affliction.
You felt deep compassion when You saw the pains of my soul.

You did not hand me over to the enemy,
but instead, You liberated me
and made me secure in a good and spacious land.

(Psalm 31:7-8 The Voice)

There’s a difference between sympathy and compassion.
Sympathy says, “Aw, you poor thing. That’s too bad. You really have it hard. But I guess it is what it is.”

Compassion says, “I see your pain. I know it’s hard, but I will walk with you until you see “the instead.”

Jesus Christ goes beyond powerless sympathy. He has suffered everything we have and knows what it feels like, but he goes beyond sympathy to compassion that brings us into wide open meadows of freedom.

He came to set the captives free, not to merely sympathize with their pain.

Voiceless No More

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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.

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Outflow

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I read somewhere that the Koine Greek word translated as “head” (as in Christ is head of the church) in most English versions of the Bible, carries the connotation of head as in headwaters.

This thought came to me as I came across a photo I took at the south end of Columbia Lake. These are the headwaters the mighty Columbia River that eventually supplies water for irrigation and shipping systems for much of the western USA.

What’s behind that mighty river is a beautiful lake in our backyard that collects the abundant run-off from the mountains.

Christ taught servant leadership.

Jesus: You know that among the nations of the world the great ones lord it over the little people and act like tyrants. But that is not the way it will be among you. Whoever would be great among you must serve and minister.  Whoever wants to be great among you must be slave of all.  Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to be a servant—to offer His life as a ransom for others. (Mark 10: 42-45 The Voice)

It is what flows out of a person that makes them a great leader. If they are in alignment with Christ as their living head, Christ’s love can flow through them. As others join in unity of the Spirit a confluence grows that pours out in an increasingly deeper and wider outflow, providing for many downstream.

When a leader, any leader, demands homage and lords power over others the direction of flow is reversed. When it becomes all about respect for titles and offices and need for recognition coming his or her way the stream dries up. Submission to the type of leadership Jesus demonstrated is cooperation and confluence, not slavery. It produces much fruit.

We love Christ because he first loved us. Our love and worship is a response to him. Love must be voluntary or it is not love at all. It is something else entirely devoid of freedom.

Freely you have received. Freely give.

FREEDOM!

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Christ has risen! He has conquered death by death! The veil separating us from God’s presence has been torn from top to bottom! Jesus lives to intercede for us! He is our only mediator!

But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:16-18)

This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. (Ephesians 3: 11, 12)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

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No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Amazing love!

(from Amazing Love by Charles Wesley)

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Ecce Homo: Behold the Man

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I had something else in mind when I started writing an entry for Good Friday. I was impressed by the phrase “the time when the power of darkness reigns” in Luke 22:52-53:
“Then Jesus spoke to the leading priests, the captains of the Temple guard, and the elders who had come for him. “Am I some dangerous revolutionary,” he asked, “that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there every day. But this is your moment, the time when the power of darkness reigns.”

At that particular moment, Jesus allowed himself to be taken captive by those powers that worked in the dark, away from the eyes of the few who would insist on proper protocol, and accountability and the checks and balances that are meant to thwart the misuse of power.

This was a misuse of power.

This morning as I woke I heard: He came to set the captives free.

I’ve been too impressed by the reign of darkness. Jesus said later that his submission to those who would kill him was voluntary.

Love is always voluntary, or it is not love.

This morning the words I heard, “He came to set the captives free,” struck me with the full beauty of irony. Jesus became a captive so he could set the captives free. Jesus died to overcome death.

Jesus died so he could overcome death.

I found a photo I took in Jerusalem at Lithostrotos (Roman Paving) under the Convent of Ecce Homo (Behold the Man – Pilates words when he handed Jesus over to be crucified). In a dark low-ceiling room now underground, it is thought to be the place where Jesus’ trial was held and where the Roman soldiers tortured him.

Our guide told us it was unusually quiet that day. I sat on a stone bench and sang, “My Jesus, I love Thee… If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus ’tis now,” with tears streaming down my face.

Of all the places we visited in Israel this place had the most emotional impact on me. I could feel the darkness, and yet I could also feel the light that rose out of this powerful yet powerless environment that once echoed with the sound of whips and jibes, knowing that it is by his stripes that we are healed.

His wounds became our health.

Jesus entered darkness to bring light. He became a man of sorrow that we might share the joy set before him. He gave up his liberty to set us free. He became sin that we might be free from sin.

Behold the Man

 

Moving Steadily Forward

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Injustice infuriates me. I hate it when the wicked prosper at the expense of the weak. I’m so tired of seeing demonstrations of the abuse of power in the media, in education, in scientific research, in religion, in families, in politics, in… well, in every sphere of life.

With the Psalmist I cry out, “How long, Lord? How long?”

Lately I have been drawn to Psalm 37, as my agony increases over the abuse of women, and especially children, who are victims of sex trafficking. I’ve known about it since I overheard people I worked with say that part of the cost of getting a producer to consider their project involved buying a boy for his use for the night.

They laughed.

I cried.

Now even more is coming to light despite many cover-ups. Sometimes this world is so ugly. Why do the wicked prosper?

I am reminded of William Wilberforce, who spent his whole adult lifetime working for the abolition of slavery in Britain. Sometimes change is a very slow process, at least by our concept of time, but what an example of endurance and perseverance!

In the late 1800’s and into the 20th century American doctor, Kate Bushnell, and her colleagues worked tirelessly to expose government sanctioned sex trafficking in the brothel camps provided for British soldiers overseas. Later she uncovered similar practices in logging camps and mining operations in North America. With day by day dogged determination she pursued and shamed authorities until laws and policies and were changed.

Sometimes it feels like a dreary long road, but David understood when he wrote: The steps of the God-pursuing ones follow firmly in the footsteps of the Lord. And God delights in every step they take to follow him. (Psalm 37:23)

In the end Kate Bushnell realized that real change required more than revised laws and policies. She saw that what was required was a heart change. Without it the demand for human beings who could be used and dominated continued. It’s not just a matter of prosecuting the people who sell captives, it’s a matter of changing the hearts of the apparently massive number of people who pay to use them. And those people are often also slaves – slaves to lust. Many, many people are realizing they are held captive by an addiction to pornography and illicit sex and cry out for freedom themselves.

A heart change is what God promises when people turn from their own ways of coping with personal pain and disappointment or feeling out of control and instead trust in Jesus Christ.

This is what we pray for. Freedom for all captives and an awakening of the realization that our hearts can only find healing and restoration in the heart of the One who created us for greater things. An awakening to new life as the Holy Spirit moves through our land.

So we press on, day by day cultivating faithfulness, trusting His promises, walking in his path and praying without ceasing.

So don’t be impatient for the Lord to act;

Keep moving steadily forward in his ways,

And he will exalt you at the right time.

And when he does, you will possess every promise,

Including your own inheritance.

You’ll watch with you own eyes

And see the wicked lose everything (verse 34)

But the Lord will be the Saviour of all who love him.

Even in their time of trouble

God will live in them as Strength.

Because of their faith in him, their daily portion will be

A Father’s help, and deliverance from evil.

This is true for all who turn to hide themselves in him!

(verses 39 & 40 The Passion Translation)

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