Monthly Archives: April 2012

Choosing Church: A Lament (Part 1)

Last week two of my dear friends were accepted as candidates for ordination in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  One was passed by the committee without any difficulty.  The other was required to complete an extra step by writing a statement in defense of the biblical basis for being called to ordained ministry.  One was accepted immediately.  The other was accepted only by secret ballot.

These two friends, we’ll call them Adam and Amy, are a married couple who met in seminary and have been walking through the ordination process together.  Can you guess which candidacy experience was Adam’s and which was Amy’s?

This kind of story is not uncommon, but it should be. When it comes to the issue of women in ministry and leadership, the question often revolves around teaching or preaching in the church.  Should “they” be “allowed” to do “men’s work?”

But what about those of us who are not called to such obvious leadership roles?  How do we advocate for ourselves or learn to find our own voices when even those women whose voices are gifted and called to vocation in the church are criticized, treated with suspicion, or even silenced?

Ideal vs Real

Consider the formation of the early church at Pentecost in Acts 2.  When everything was new and just beginning, “all the believers were together and had everything in common.”  In fact, “they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” At that moment, as the community of God was being formed, everyone one was invited to the table, without regard for race, gender, or class.  The excitement and joy over being first filled with the Holy Spirit superseded everything else.  They had a common purse, a common purpose, and a shared trust in one another.

Then, as the church began to grow and as the first glow began to wear off, issues began to arise–issues of class, organization, leadership, rules, gender, and race.  People began to argue, disagree, and divide.  By the time of Martin Luther, the community of God was so broken that it could not remain unified anymore.

Since the emergence of Protestantism, the community of God has divided over issues of doctrine and church practice.

Gone is the unity believers once enjoyed and valued above all disagreements.

Gone are those first days of innocence and trust among fellow believers.

Gone is the ability to trust in the movement of the Holy Spirit in one another.

How can we regain our connection with the ideal, the beginning, the first bloom of the coming together of the community of God? 

To be continued… (Read part 2 now!)

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Friday Forward: Guest Post on Letting Go

Tammy Waggoner is a recent grad of Fuller Theological Seminary. She enjoys writing about the things that affect her life and ministering to women who have been abused. She is a trailblazer in this area and enjoys helping other people understand the complexity of sexual abuse as well as helping survivors get freedom and true healing.  For more from Tammy, check out her ministry, Fractured Wholeness, and read her blog.

On Wednesday, Tammy shared about having a healthy body image by letting go of lies we believe about ourselves in response to Monday’s post, “Against the Flesh, Part 1.”  Now she’s back today to share her very own Friday Forward exercise with you lovely readers.

One way of letting go of lies and self-hatred and believing the truth is to get out post-its and a pen. First write down the lies. If you have a cross at home or at church put the post-it on the cross and ask God to take it. If you don’t have a cross at home or at church that you can use then rip up the post-it and as you do ask God to take this thought from your mind and to never let it in again.

Then (no matter if you have the cross or have torn up the post-it) ask God to show you or tell you what the truth is. Close your eyes and wait. If you have trouble hearing God pray this prayer with someone else in the room and ask them to listen for God’s truth as well. Once you hear the truth or are told the truth by someone else write the truth down on another post-it (I like different colors for lies and truth but use what you’ve got) and put the post-it somewhere you will see it daily. Ask God to remind you of this truth every time you see it.

I have done this activity or prayer in my ministry before and it is interesting how once the post-it was left on the cross and the truth was said aloud the lie could no longer be remembered. There was freedom in leaving it on the cross and the truth had already begun to sink in.

Letting go of self-hatred and the lies we believe about our bodies can open us to the freedom of loving ourselves and seeing ourselves as God sees us.

So, how’d it go? Come back and share your experience in the comments below.

“Already” in the Flesh

If you missed Against the Flesh: Part 1 and Against the Flesh: Part 2, you might want to go back and read them first.  You’ll definitely want to check out Tammy’s awesome response posted yesterday.

Like Tammy said yesterday, we all have internalized lies about our bodies that have distorted our self-image and our approach to relationships and sexuality.  But we don’t have to live in that place anymore.

It’s time to embrace the truth about who we are as children of God.  It’s time to spend a little time in the “already” of the kingdom of God.

So today, even just for an hour or a few minutes, allow yourself to really believe and live into the “already.”

Tell yourself in the mirror, or grab a friend and take turns telling each other the truth about who you are.  Allow your body to hear your words, receive them, and begin to transform your life–as Tammy said–from the inside out.

Are you ready?

 

 

(Better get ready…)

 

 

Here we go!

Truth #1: You are precious.

4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give nations in exchange for you,  and peoples in exchange for your life. 5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;  I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar  and my daughters from the ends of the earth— 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”  Isaiah 43:4-7 (TNIV)

Truth #2: You are priceless.

19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (TNIV)

Truth #3: You are chosen.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12 (TNIV)

Truth #4: You are the dearly loved child of God.

1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (TNIV)

Still don’t believe it? Take some time to review the list of “already” verses from Tuesday. I also encourage you to revisit some of God’s truth about your identity in this list.

What’s your favorite truth about who you are?  How are you living in the “already” today?

 

Guest Post: Inside Out

Tammy Waggoner is a recent grad of Fuller Theological Seminary. She enjoys writing about the things that affect her life and ministering to women who have been abused. She is a trailblazer in this area and enjoys helping other people understand the complexity of sexual abuse as well as helping survivors get freedom and true healing.  For more from Tammy, check out her ministry, Fractured Wholeness, and read her blog.

This post is in response to Monday’s post, “Against the Flesh, Part 1.” In this post, Laura talks about the lies that people believe about their body. I had mentioned to Laura that if we want to get freedom from the lies, we need to not only understand where the Bible stands on such issues but also acknowledge and dig into the root of such issues.

Society tells us what the ideal body image is and until recently, with the influx of plus size models, that was size 0 without curves or blemish. Who really wears a size 0? Even plus size models are the ideal at size 14. As a woman with curves I have had to embrace my curves and really step into that but society alone is not to blame.

How we see ourselves on the outside is directly related to how we see ourselves on the inside.

Some people’s insides are damaged or broken. As an abuse survivor I can tell you that I have some distorted views of my body. My body reacted to abuse when my mind was screaming that it wasn’t right. My body let me down and in some instances I am plagued with ideas that my body is bad.

To admit that the first time was hard but now I know that my body was not to blame. Do you blame yourself for attraction? Do you blame yourself farting? Our bodies, made in God’s image, have natural functions that we cannot blame ourselves for.

Poor body image is directly related to self-hatred. I hate myself so I also hate my body. Women who have been abused spend lots of time trying to hide their bodies, the idea being, “If I can become ugly or invisible no one will try to take advantage.” This outward need to become hidden is sad but when this is broken it is beautiful to watch.

In my ministry I have seen women go from wearing all black and covering their bodies from head to toe to wearing bright colors and new cuts and no longer hiding behind dark clothing but stepping into who they actually are. It is the rewarding part of my job and my ministry. Watching women come out of the shells they have hidden behind is awesome.

How you view your body is directly related to how outside forces have told you to view your body. What did your parents tell you about your body? Often parents who scold their children when they catch them masturbating instill in them the idea that their genitals and their sexual drives are bad.

What did your first boy/girlfriend tell you about your body? What happened in the locker room in middle school? What have past dating partners told you?

Each person we interact with tells us something about our body and we take that image in. Sometimes we are lucky and the people in our lives nurture our love of our bodies but often times we are not as lucky and each interaction further distorts our body image.

So how can we possibly see beyond our distorted body images? It takes time, a good support system full of loving people who see us as we actually are and a loving God to guide you along the way.

Letting go of lies and self-hatred takes time and is not a quick process but it is totally worth it.  Letting go of self-hatred and the lies we believe about our bodies can open us to the freedom of loving ourselves and seeing ourselves as God sees us.

Against the Flesh: Part 2

Yesterday, we looked at a list of the negative treatment of “the flesh” in the New Testament.

The Flesh = The Sinful Nature

When the gospel writers and Paul write about “the flesh,” they are not making general statements condemning our physical bodies.  Fleshly, earthly, and human are all descriptors used in reference to the sinful nature.  For example, you’ll notice I used the NIV for the Galatians 5:16-18 link yesterday because it uses the translation “flesh” rather than the updated TNIV translation “sinful nature.”  The scholars working on the TNIV decided to update the translation to help illuminate the point Paul is trying to make.

It is the desires of our sinful nature that are against the Spirit, not the desires of our physical bodies.  Our bodies’ need for basics like food, sleep, and sex are not evil or filthy desires in and of themselves. God created us with these desires and designed our bodies to function this way.  Paul’s point is that the sinful nature corrupts these desires.

Paul’s Already/Not Yet Theology

But the list I shared yesterday is not the full story.  That list was only the “not yet” of Paul’s argument: that we are still battling the sinful nature and must fight to follow the Spirit and bear fruit.  The battle is ongoing and will not be fully realized until we die or Jesus returns. 

There is another part of the story, the “already” of Paul’s argument.  The battle has already been won.  We can experience the fullness of redemption right now and forever.  There is nothing to struggle against anymore because Jesus came to live among us, was crucified as the ultimate sacrifice for our sin, and was raised from the dead in final victory.

Here are some “already” verses for you:

We Christians are really good at living in the “not yet” part of the kingdom of God.  We struggle and try and work out our salvation with sweat and tears.  We put the burden on ourselves to do the work of capturing every thought, renewing our minds, and beating our flesh into submission.  We are still being saved.

What we can’t seem to learn is how to live life in the “already.”  This part of the kingdom of God is just as real, just as available to us as the “not yet.” This is where we have already been saved.  The battle is won, and we are now heirs with Christ Jesus.  We can approach the throne of grace with confidence.  We are clothed with righteousness.  There is no condemnation for us because we are under Christ Jesus. We are dead to sin and alive to Christ.  We have taken off the old and have put on the new.

Old Testament Sacrifice and Jesus

In the Old Testament, the blood sacrifice of a pure, unblemished animal was necessary to purify the sinful flesh of the people of God.  Every time a person sinned, another blood sacrifice was necessary to make the person clean and pure again.

When Jesus died on the cross, our pure, spotless lamb, his blood purified the sinful flesh of the people of God forever.  No longer are we bound to the need to sacrifice an animal for each of our sins. Our sins have already been paid for.  Jesus’ blood has already purified us.  We are called righteous because of what Christ has already done.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the implications of this “already” theology for holistic body theology.

Against the Flesh: Part 1

One of my pet peeves is when people talk about fighting against their flesh, beating their flesh into submission, or some other allusion to the flesh/spirit (sometimes also earthly/heavenly) dichotomy present in a number of New Testament passages–mostly in Paul’s letters.

It bothers me because people often use these passages to support an unhealthy–or at least unbalanced–body theology, one in which the body is something wholly other, something to be forced into submission, blamed for failures, lamented, battled, beaten, and regarded as dirty, filthy, and something to get rid of and be finally, blessedly free from after death.

I am not my body, people seem to acknowledge.  I am my mind, my personality, and my spirit.  I am pursuing God, but my body pursues evil.  I am good, but my body is bad.  I am purified, but my body keeps contaminating me. “What I don’t want to do, I do, and what I do want to do, I don’t do”; and it’s all my body’s fault.  Stupid human flesh holding me back from the glorious, Spirit-filled Christian life.

I get a little upset.

That is not the truth about who we are as children of God.  These are lies we believe, perpetuated by a consistent misreading of scripture.  Just as we can’t read Romans 3:23 without Romans 3:24, or Colossians 3:22 without Galatians 3:28, or Ephesians 5:22 without Ephesians 5:21 — so we can’t read Galatians 5:16-18 without Ephesians 6:12.

The Bible is meant to be read collectively as the revelation of the story of God for the people of God.  We need a holistic hermeneutic by which to read the entirety of scripture. Otherwise we get caught up in a verse here and a verse there and end up so far away from the point the author was trying to make, or the truth the Holy Spirit intends to reveal.

Scripture is easily twisted to fit our preconceptions and presumptions.  We are so used to reading scripture through the lens of our own understanding and experience that we are often unable to recognize when a beautiful spiritual truth — intended to free us and bring us into the fullness of life and completion of joy promised to us — has been distorted into a horrible lie — intended to steal, kill, and destroy us.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at some of the scriptures below through the lens of holistic body theology.  This is not intended to be an exhaustive list but representative of the New Testament’s negative treatment of “the flesh.”

To be continued…

 

Forward Friday: Finding Your Spiritual Practice

This week we explored the spiritual practices of sleeping, eating, and exercising.  Sometimes we can experience spiritual significance through these simple, daily activities.  Other times, these activities in themselves can teach us about the value of maintaining spiritual practices as part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

1) This weekend, identify one life-giving activity. 

It could be a daily walk, making dinner, reading a Psalm every morning, taking the scenic route to work, or anything else natural or intentional.

2) Notice what about that activity makes it life-giving for you. 

Is it a break from the hectic rush of your day?  Is it an activity to share with someone you love? Does it give you renewed energy? Does it affect your mood?

3) Consider ways to apply what you enjoy about this activity to other parts of your daily life. 

Should you share more activities with a loved one?  Do you need more alone time?  Would you prefer to increase the time spent in your life-giving activity?  Do you need to plan ahead to create space for more of the same or similar activities?

4) Come back and share your experience here. 

What life-giving activity did you choose?

The Spiritual Practice of Exercise

Now that we’ve thought together about the spiritual practices of sleeping and eating, let’s look at one more: exercise.

I am not an exercise kind of person.  I do not like going to the gym, walking on treadmills, lifting weights, or any other repetitive activity that takes place in a small, sweat-smelling room as a substitute for actual physical activity.  Give me a bicycle, and I’ll take a ride around the neighborhood, but what exactly is the purpose of a stationary bike?

If I’m going to get any exercise, I need to work it naturally into my normal routine.  Instead of finding the closest parking spot to the door, I’ll park in the back of the lot and walk a few extra steps.  Instead of rolling my groceries out to my car in the cart, I’ll carry them out. Instead of taking the elevator, I’ll take the stairs–two at a time.

At least, that’s what I did until I hurt my back last year, discovered I have scoliosis, and began a regimen of medication, ice packs, and chiropractic visits to manage the pain.  What I wasn’t very good about doing were my daily stretches and exercise-ball activities that my chiropractor recommended once the majority of the pain subsided.

I have the ball and the yoga mat, but they live under the stairs.  I have the Pilates videos, but they live in the DVD drawer.  I got out of the habit of exercising because of the pain, and I haven’t been able to get back into it.

My husband is forever encouraging me to go bike riding or hiking with him, but the pain in my back and leg win out over the benefit of exercise every time.  I know the pain would lessen if I exercised more, but I’m stubborn. I find excuses to stay in bed and watch TV.

Here’s what I’ve learned by refusing to exercise:

  1. Exercise is a choice. No one is going to make me do it.  It is for my benefit alone, and I am the only one missing out.
  2. Muscles atrophy with lack of use.
  3. Bad habits are hard to break.
  4. Excuses, rationales, and justifications are many and readily available.
  5. If I don’t make time for it, I won’t have time for it.
  6. Exercise is easier with a friend to keep you accountable (and company).
  7. I’m much more likely to take a walk on the beach in the evening to watch the sunset than I am to walk aimlessly around the block.
  8. Sometimes it’s worth paying for someone to train and guide me rather than trying to do it all on my own for free.
  9. If I don’t exercise, my body isn’t prepared for fun things like backpacking with the hubby or a day at the zoo.

Having a healthy body can go a long way toward adding to a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle. But exercise isn’t just about the physical benefits.  It’s also a discipline we can learn and apply to our spiritual lives.

Some spiritual practices are easy and enjoyable. They fit with our personalities, natural giftedness, and interests.  Other spiritual practices are hard work. That’s why they’re called disciplines.

Not every spiritual discipline is necessary for vibrant spiritual growth and maturity, but sometimes we can benefit from learning a little self-discipline.  Who knows when that might come in handy?

How might your life benefit from a little more discipline?

The Spiritual Practice of Eating

Yesterday we talked about the spiritual practice of sleeping and what we can learn by listening to our bodies.  Today, I want to continue that topic with a new subject: eating.

It’s no secret that fasting is a spiritual discipline.  Especially as Lent has just passed us by, we are more acutely aware of the relationship between denying the body and preparing the soul.  But what about eating? How does indulging in the “desires of the flesh” promote spiritual pursuits?

I have never been a breakfast person.  Perhaps it has something to do with being a night owl and an insomniac, but I just can’t seem to digest anything right after I wake up in the morning (or the afternoon).  Say what you will about the “most important meal of the day,” but even the thought of consuming food in the morning is enough to turn my stomach.

In high school, I used to force myself to eat the lunch I brought with me every day because I was afraid I would be accused of having an eating disorder if I didn’t present at least an effort at eating.  I developed a habit of eating as fast as possible in order to finish my lunch before my body had time to realize what was happening and complain.

In college, I actually passed out once after going more than 48 hours without food while studying for midterms. I had been so busy holed up in my room that I didn’t even realize I hadn’t visited the dining hall in two days.

I’m still not a good eater.  I forget to eat all the time, and when I do remember, I am either too busy or too tired to eat well or even at all.  But along with my Lenten fast from being awake, I have been making a concerted effort toward listening to my body to find out when it’s hungry.  Here’s what I’ve been learning about the spiritual discipline of eating:

  1. Eating is a good and necessary aspect of human living. It is not something to be despised or beaten into submission but something to be cultivated.
  2. When I ignore my body’s messages about being hungry, it stops telling me what I need.
  3. I have to re-teach my body to experience hunger by providing consistent food. I am teaching my body to trust me again.
  4. Just eating isn’t enough. My body needs a healthy and varied diet.
  5. When I eat properly, I actually lose weight because my body is no longer in starvation mode.
  6. My body learns unhealthy habits like craving chips and chocolate just as quickly as it learns healthy habits like craving fresh salads and fruit.
  7. Not all my body’s messages are healthy.  I have to discern the difference between being hungry and just having a craving for junk food.
  8. When I listen to my body and give it healthy food on a consistent basis, my digestive issues magically disappear.  Imagine that.
  9. It’s also easier to go to sleep and stay asleep when I am eating well.
  10. Eating isn’t about gaining or losing weight; it’s about making healthy choices to help bring wholeness and balance to my body.
  11. Making the time to eat, and taking the care to choose the best food rather than whatever is easiest or quickest, is like making time for God.

When I am able to make healthy, balanced choices for my body and discern among the messages my body sends which ones are necessary and which are not, then I am better prepared to live my life in a healthy, balanced way. Learning to listen to my body is teaching me to be more discerning, more conscious, and more intentional about my daily living.

The spiritual practice of eating is hard work, and I’m not always very good at it.  I tire easily and fall back on ignoring my body or feeding it with whatever is easiest.  But I know that learning to make good choices and put more effort into what I put into my body is teaching me the value of intentional living.

How are you living your life on purpose? What are you intentional about?

The Spiritual Practice of Sleeping

Sleep and I have a love-hate relationship.

I battled insomnia for most of my childhood and adolescence.  In grad school I slowly began to settle into a routine of sleeping 5-6 hours each night.  When I graduated and found myself sleeping 6-7 hours on a regular basis, I thought I had arrived at a normal sleeping pattern.

Then I discovered I actually need more like 10 hours of sleep per night, which means every night I sleep 7 hours, I wake up sleep-deprived.  So over the course of the Lenten season, I put real effort into sleeping 10 hours every night.

Here’s what I learned about the spiritual practice of sleeping over the past 40 days:

  1. New habits do not form overnight.
  2. I am allowed to be imperfect, fail, and fall short of my goals.
  3. Sleep is good for my body.
  4. I’ve never actually slept enough in my whole life.
  5. Listening to my body is hard work, and I often miss the first two or three messages.
  6. When I listen to my body and do what it says, I actually feel better, healthier, and more awake.
  7. When I don’t listen to my body, we both suffer.
  8. I’m not as young as I used to be.  Wow. That makes me feel old.
  9. Getting enough sleep improves my mental and physical energy, my digestion, my attitude, and my motivation to enjoy daily activities.
  10. Not getting enough sleep makes me grouchy and lethargic.
  11. I am allowed to prioritize my need for a good night’s sleep above being available for work opportunities or hanging out with my hubby.
  12. I am still way more likely to prioritize being available for work or hanging out with my hubby above getting a full 10 hours of sleep every night.
  13. How I treat my body, and what I do with it, affects my spiritual life.
  14. This spiritual practice of listening to my body is hard work.

Now that Lent is over, I’m tempted to fall back into my old habits of forcing my body to live and do as I say without regard for what is healthy.  Learning to listen is an ongoing lesson.  I’m slowly realizing that when I disregard what my body says, I suffer. But when I do listen, I am able to achieve more health, wholeness, and balance in my life.

I can’t expect to find healthy balance in work or relationships if I am unwilling to first achieve balance within myself–body, mind, and spirit.  It is up to me to choose my priorities, to choose self-care, to choose to listen to my body and follow through on what is necessary to be a healthy, whole person.

In this season of life, how is God calling you to find health, wholeness, and balance?

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