#LetHerSpeak

Momentum is gaining for the recent social movement for rights for women, with a series of hashtag quotes to promote justice for women especially those suffering various forms of abuse. While these gain popularity on social media, they do not seem to influence change where it is needed.

It seems to take a Royal Commission for fairness, justice, and equality to get a hearing. We are led to believe that the church, the Christians of this world, are the ones to uphold morality and ethics and be a shining light in society – however, since the #metoo, #churchtoo #missiontoo exposure, this has proved to be incorrect. The horror of the reality of this situation will continue as long as victims are not heard. There is currently a court case to investigate a former Church Leader in my state, for a cover-up of abuse that spanned decades and led to offenders claiming more victim’s livelihoods. Yet, due to the Leader’s poor health, the court case has been suspended – leaving victims without any opportunity for justice.

Justice vs Justifying

When confronted with serious errors of judgment from our church leaders, who are meant to guard and guide the ‘flock’ we would hope there would be repentance, as we are often told – to turn around and commit to another course. There seem to be two responses – a case for justice or to justify behaviours.

When a long string of offenses spanning many years is presented about a church leader the tendency is to defend the leader and justify the behaviours. What does this do to the victims of abuse? It silences them, it denies the authenticity of the claims, it leads to the further demise of their social, emotional, mental wellbeing – it reoffends the victim.

A test case – if a list of a leaders’ offenses were to be published in the newspaper, would the Church Leader be mortified to the point where all credibility is lost, character questioned and career coming to a standstill? If yes, then the behaviours require a consequence that includes demotion. This enables victims to continue to live a normal life. Otherwise, it is the victim’s credibility that is lost, character questioned and career coming to a standstill. It reoffends the victim 70 times 7. When the Church Leader tries to question the character or emotional health of the victim to use as evidence for the offender’s innocence – this is a tragedy. Such a Church Leader should step down and allow a more competent person to guard and guide the flock.

Often it is a church worker/volunteer or attendee who is abused by the leader – here the leader has a paid salary and benefits (= right to protection by fellow leaders/authority). However, it is the church worker/volunteer or attendee who has sacrificed their time and potential salary for building up the church. In speaking out, there is no goodwill in this scenario – only lawyers and litigation. It is a crying shame when abusive leaders are protected so as not to bring public shame or humiliation on the church – because that would harm ‘gospel growth’. Conversely, it is very difficult for church attendees to want to bring friends or family to church when it is a toxic environment. Instead, having safe leaders means a growing church – based on the love of Jesus and not the power of money and authority.

Blindness to offenses is not part of ‘forgiveness’ – when a person in power denies justice to the vulnerable, they are using their power to re-abuse.

What kinds of behaviours have you experienced that continue to cause you harm?

What can be done to break the silence on these issues?

 

Lament – the dark side of the church

For the past few years, we have heard from the media reports from anonymous people who have had the courage to speak out about the sexual immorality of priests. These men were allowed to hold spiritual power in communities of faith for decades, their sins were covered up and if it caused a problem, they were moved on to another community. If anything is to be considered an abomination it is the actions of those who abuse their power over the vulnerable, causing lifelong damage.

Here we stand on new unsteady ground, where the sexuality of consenting adults is threatening the stability and unity of the church. Christians who are same sex attracted and wish to receive spiritual care and participation in sacred moments are being denied. Why? Because the church authorities deem it to be unacceptable. If people want to be fully fledged members (or ministers) of the church, or even to receive the marriage rites that are received by any person of any faith all over the world – do they need to change their sexual orientation?

So, why is the celibacy of gay Christians a vital public issue when the sexual abuse by priests has been covered up for decades? This is the definition of hypocrisy. The morality of institution of the church is at an all-time low and yet it still decides to wield the stick toward the vulnerable and marginalized.

The ‘progressive church’ is not denying the existence of Jesus or the fact that Jesus was God, the fact that Jesus died and rose again or the fact that all are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. To do this, it would be considered heretical. Instead, they are seeking to offer Jesus’ gift of grace and forgiveness to all people, regardless of who they are or what they have done. No strings attached.

Some might consider that ‘Repent or die’ is good news, but many would beg to differ. The ‘stain’ on the church due to sexual (or other) abuse that was not reported, not dealt with, not taken seriously is the dark side of the church that is afraid to deal with sexuality.


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Welcome Stranger

Many of my friends have moved around the country of Australia for work, especially those in Defence jobs. We often share observations of local culture, especially how hard or easy it is to acclimatize socially in our new context. These interesting comparisons mature with age and are strengthened by a chorus of witnesses who have shared the same experiences.

Notably, in many places, you find friendships and success in your endeavours because of ‘who you know.’ This puts a lot of pressure on making friends fast, often the most ‘popular’ or influential people in your context can help with networking – to begin to feel ‘at home’ in a community of like-minded people. However, this pressure has some problems:

Firstly, when opportunities come because of ‘who you know’, many experienced and talented people miss out on opportunities, whether for a job or a part in a local play, because they are not well-known.

Secondly, when the most influential or popular person is the one who gives newcomers a leg-up, introducing them to the people ‘in the know’ – it gives those people a lot of relational power. We get a situation where certain families become ‘local royalty’ based upon nothing other than ‘who you know.’

Thirdly, the pressure to get ahead can cause individuals who are perhaps feeling insecure about this whole arrangement, to feel like it’s some competition to know the most people and know the ‘right’ people better than anyone else. It’s a kind of game like in politics where there is smoozing and doing favours for people, and perhaps shouting others down, whether to their face or behind it. This leads to some very unbecoming human behaviours, all for the sake of moving up in the world, or at least ‘fitting in’.

If you’re thinking this is sounding like schoolyard politics, then you would be right. It is only through a healthy autonomous relationship with others where accountability and character development are encouraged can societies thrive. If people are afraid to achieve because they will be ridiculed, like a pecking order in a hen house, this leads to a community that is in drudgery, the doldrums, with limited opportunities and unhealthy relationship dynamics.

For all human history, people have been suspicious of outsiders and competitive with one another for attention or success. This is never more apparent than in communities where there is a long generational line of inhabitants. This can happen on a grand scale with the way that we treat outsiders from other countries. Just like the small communities who recognize a familiar face because they are perhaps related, and this is their basis for trust; we can also be suspicious of an unfamiliar face and guarded about allowing opportunities to come their way.

If we can recognize our biases and prejudices, we are a big step closer to overcoming them. This happens in our workplaces, our social groups, universities, schools, churches and social action groups. We can be amicable and embrace one another’s differences, overcoming the challenges begins with our attitudes and behaviours. If you are an influential person in your context, you can be the force for change by modelling these behaviours, rather than feeling challenged and threatened. Healthy communities have a balance of looking inward and outward, to learn and grow by welcoming the stranger.


Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

‘to lead to excel’

This was the motto of the Academy where I trained and studied from the age of 19 to 22. After graduation, I spent three years at sea in the Navy and served in ministry in my local church while ashore. Those six years were foundational for my sense of leadership in the church and in the world.

Studying alongside others is a great leveler, those who I served with at the Academy will forever be my classmates, no matter what rank or heights of achievement they attain. At Bible college, where I have been studying for 10 years now, the students and lecturers place themselves at Jesus’ feet, in submission to God’s word and will. When a student surpasses their master, it is often considered an honour and expression of the master’s teaching skill. However, we cannot forget Darth Vaders’ words to Obi Wan Kenobi: ‘When I left you, I was but the learner, now I am the master.’

Both the students and lecturers at bible college are ministry leaders in their own church. When students consider me to be one of their peers, or when lecturers speak to me as a fellow learner and a brother or sister in Christ, it is dignifying and yet commands great respect. We all experience similar trials and temptations in ministry and life and are accountable to the same God. We search the scriptures and pray fervently for God’s guidance and direction. This also is a great leveler.

My experience of church leadership has at times been reminiscent of the military, reliant on rank, with the domination and control of subordinates; and yet many Christian military leaders I’ve observed would excel as ministers of the gospel, because they are humble and show respect for the professionalism of others. They also have a strong sense of identity, calling and wariness of the ‘sins’ of the institution.

The leadership style that uses rank for authority tends to resort to domination and control and does not consider self-reflection or care of others a necessary part of their role. This leadership may be captured in the phrase ‘He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows’ (Psalm 120:4) This phrase is speaking about God’s justice exercised on those who deceive and accuse God’s people. Yet, for those who equate a leadership rank with ‘being God’, submitting to their authority may lead to some arrows being fired. This is spiritual warfare.

It is not the vocation of ministry or military leadership that commands respect, but their submission to God’s will and their treatment of others. The vocation of the church is to live out the gospel, but what does this look like? In the eyes of society, its status is a non-profit and charitable organization; that is to provide support to people, to encourage, to help, to seek justice and serve. Our leaders must model this vocation and be willing to hand on the baton to the next generation through this same encouragement, help, and service to others.

I joined the military and the ministry to be a peacekeeper, yet even in peacetime, people feel threatened and attack others, in these situations submission to authority can lead to distress.

Listen to this: God is the one who answers those in distress, we know this because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. He is also the role model, empowerer and enabler of leaders in the church and has dominion over all worldly authorities. Rather than seeking to be God, as leaders we must come alongside God’s people and sit at Jesus’ feet. The way toward growth in leadership points toward the task of discipleship and the encouragement of one another, we grow by lifting up others. Our spiritual direction is to be a follower and a leader, that is, to point to Christ.

Reference: reflection on Psalm 120 by Michael Jenson, St Mark’s Darling Point Sydney.

Photo by Raul Petri on Unsplash

 

This Present Anguish

Being in nature, we are provided with persistent reminders of God’s word and its significance to our lives. Working on the land, there are seasons where the thistles and weeds dominate the landscape if left unattended. Once the weed has flowered and gone to seed, it is said that another 100 years of weeds will be sown on the wind – spreading across the surrounding landscape. To engage in the exhausting work of pulling out weeds by the roots year after year leads to the establishment of a pleasant and productive landscape for all to enjoy. In the bible, weeds are indicative of a problem in a persons’ heart – what lies in the heart often comes out in their speech and behavior and grows to become evident in the person’s character, their public and private life.

Listening deeply to another person’s heart takes some effort, patience and resilience when caring for others. Importantly, it is not acceptable to weigh and judge the words of others but to examine our own hearts by listening to God’s voice. You see, the unresolvable questions and burden of unpleasant experiences, if left unchecked can cause a contagious illness to spread among the hearers. This illness is described as ‘bitterness’ in the bible and is like a weed in the good soil, with the potential to destroy the crop or harvest.

Take a look at the verse in Hebrews, how the context of this verse shows that bitterness may prevent us from living in God’s grace due to unforgiveness, it destroys peace, is a barrier to living a holy life and can corrupt those around us.

Hebrews 12:14, 15 – ‘Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.’

For an excellent article on bitterness, I’ve chosen two articles, one from a woman’s perspective and one from a man’s perspective. I like Erin’s concluding sentence, indicating that we cannot dig up the weed of bitterness ourselves. For, it is only God who can cleanse our hearts and revive our communities.

Erin Davis – ‘4 Ways to Spot a Bitter Root’ on the Revive our Hearts: True Woman blog.

https://www.reviveourhearts.com/true-woman/blog/four-ways-to-spot-a-bitter-root/

John Piper – ‘What is a Root of Bitterness?’ on Desiring God, 1 April 1997.

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-a-root-of-bitterness

We see the fruit of bitterness in people’s lives; anger, malice, slander, gossip, grumbling – it steals our joy, stunts the growth of the fruit of the Spirit and can even change us physically over time.

Recently, reading ‘Crime and Punishment’ by Dostoevsky, spending over 400 pages in the mind of a bitter and tormented man who longs to know God and the love of another; I found this interesting summary of what it is like to live in anguish… (emphasis mine)

“He kept tormenting himself with these questions, even taking a certain delight in it. None of the questions was new or sudden, however; they were all old, sore, long-standing. They had begun torturing him long ago and had worn out his heart. Long, long ago this present anguish had been born in him, had grown, accumulated, and ripened recently and become concentrated, taking the form of a horrible, wild, and fantastic question that tormented his heart and mind, irresistibly demanding resolution… Clearly, he now had not to be anguished, not to suffer passively, by mere reasoning about unresolvable questions, but to do something without fail, at once, quickly. Decide at all costs to do at least something, or… ‘or renounce life altogether!’ he suddenly cried out in frenzy. ‘Accept fate obediently as it is, once and for all, and stifle everything in myself, renouncing any right to act, to live, to love!’ (43)

‘He was pale, his eyes were burning, all his limbs felt exhausted, but he suddenly seemed to breathe more easily. He felt he had just thrown off the horrible burden that had been weighing him down for so long, and his soul suddenly became light and peaceful. ‘Lord! He pleaded, ‘show me my way; I renounce this cursed…. dream of mine!’

In spite of his weakness, he was not even aware of any fatigue in himself. It was as if an abscess in his heart, which had been forming all that month, had suddenly burst. Freedom! Freedom!” (57)

We are all subject to torment and anguish, we are all exposed to unpleasant experiences – though some more than others. It is a consolation that ‘no temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.’ 1 Corinthians 10:13.

When we consider the character of those who have been a voice for the oppressed and led the way for change throughout history, we are strengthened in our own difficulties, no matter how small they may seem in comparison. For example, the words of Nelson Mandela speak of triumph over evil and sin, his relentless self-examination to root out any bitterness towards his oppressors is the true source of inner freedom. His selfless act to speak out for the justice of many, regardless of the consequences, leads to growth in character and opportunities for a nation’s people to be given the right to act, to live, to love – in freedom.

‘It is in the character of growth that we should learn from both pleasant and unpleasant experiences.’ – Nelson Mandela

‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.’ – Nelson Mandela

What can be done to save the harvest as it is so susceptible to weeds, besides guarding our own hearts and bringing our burdens to God each day for his grace, mercy and forgiveness? We can be a gracious and merciful listening presence among others who experience this present anguish and the torment regarding the difficulties of the past. We can speak out as Christ’s love compels us, to challenge evil and oppression, the abuse of power and be a voice for the vulnerable. God’s love is revealed to others when His people come alongside another person in their life’s journey, as we pray for one another, asking God to show us the way.


Nelson Mandela on character, Foreign Correspondent’s Association’s Annual Dinner, Johannesburg, South Africa (21 November 1997). Source: From Nelson Mandela by Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations © 2010 by Nelson R. Mandela and The Nelson Mandela Foundation

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by R. Pevear and L. Volokhonsky, Penguin, 1993.

Featured Image: Spear thistle (UK)

Dreaming of Raskolnikov

If you would allow me to speak frankly, in the way my thoughts are naturally carried, I feel as if these past 10 years have been like a dream, an out of body experience even to reflect back on them. My sleep is an escape from it, when I wake I recall the insanity of this waking dream and lament.

Let me tell you that some time ago, when I was in my prime, in my element in life, several friends laid upon me their own waywardness. I became their scapegoat. It is a curious motif in Scripture that I’ve dwelt upon heavily in this dream-state of daily living.

I would not (at all) call myself spotless, but most definitely innocent of the crimes and vices projected upon me. I felt exiled, though truly the burden of it caused me to exile myself from certain social circles. I went to the fringe of society and felt comforted by those around me – extraordinary people.

A question arises about the ancient times, what would have happened if there was no scapegoat? The leaders would bow before the holy of holies and die. (Leviticus 16:7-10)

The questions still remains, then, what happens when the scapegoat returns from the wilderness and seeks to dwell again among the people? Those who cast her out feel shame, disgusted, their holiness questioned, they are more than put out.

They may well unleash their fury upon the creature and sacrifice it – lest it open its mouth to proclaim the horrid truths. You see, the biblical advice tells us there are dark things lurking within humankind, things that ought not be spoken.

However, that is what I did, I spilled it all to the highest on high in the spire. It was such a wild and lurid story I told – it was simply unbelievable, both to myself and to the keeper of the crook.

Again, we return to the question of what happens when the goat returns to the town. I was sacrificed, yet again I must say I sacrificed myself so to have the ordeal come to an end. I’d left the extraordinary people in the wilderness to return to the town, to be met with an inhospitable welcome and sarcastic frown. So, I continued to the city where all types and manners of humankind meet. The whispers in the backrooms drowned out by the heavy music, the chatter of the crowd, the beat.

A stayed, buoyed kind of happiness returns to me. As we consider that God makes a much better Master than men. So, I have no choice but to continue to offer myself as a living sacrifice – so to speak. For God gave all burdens to Christ, even mine, even the ones I carry that do not belong to me. So I can only say to Christ, I love thee.

‘Even in the wilderness, nature is not so stern as man.’

William Hepworth Dixon in ‘The Holy Land’

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Image credit: Photo by Alex Forestier on Unsplash

Isaiah 40:3-4; John 1:22-24

 

Wilderness: 

2048 érēmos – properly, an uncultivatedunpopulated place; a desolate (deserted) area; (figuratively) a barren, solitary place that also provides needed quiet (freedom from disturbance).

In Scripture, a “desert” (2048 /érēmos) is ironically also where God richly grants His presence and provision for those seeking Him. The limitless Lord shows Himself strong in the “limiting” (difficult) scenes of life.

[2048 (érēmos) in the strict sense expresses a lack of population (not merely “sparse vegetation”). This root (erēmo-) does “not suggest absolute barrenness but unappropriated territory affording free range for shepherds and their flocks. Hepworth Dixon (The Holy Land) says, ‘Even in the wilderness nature is not so stern as man…]

Strong’s Greek Concordance

 

A Study in Prudence – Part 2. Loving your neighbour

A quiet little street in suburbia, surrounded by many more like it. Wandering the streets searching for a friend, a playmate, a conversation, I would stray into my neighbours’ houses from about the age of 10. It was a window into the entire world for me.

Our next door neighbours, the James’ were in my top 10 favourites. I would pick their strawberries and snapdragons, hear stories and wisdom from their 70 years while they made me a tomato, salt and pepper buttered sandwich. I surely tested their patience when I found their kangaroo shaped money box and hopped it all over the house, clanging the coins and singing out loud.

Another friend, Michelle, born on the same day as me, with strawberry hair, we played with Care Bears and My Little Ponies and she always offered me an Uncle Toby’s muesli bar when I enquired as to what was in that pantry…

There were many other houses I visited, young girls who played shop and barbies, elderly ladies with a lolly jar; families from Argentina, Russia, Korea, Greece, Malta, Lebanon, Italy and Croatia. I ate their delicacies and drank their tea and listened intently to their stories while focussed on the character in their faces. Then… Dasvidaniya, we would say.

I spread my love of neighbour around the whole suburb, you could say. Not all my neighbours were a good influence, as my family can attest – but we’ll leave that for another post. There were also a few apparent protests about my visits from parents or siblings, but spoken in a language I could not understand; mostly I was given genuine and generous hospitality. I was that kid from next door, up the street, around the corner – coming through the front/back/side door.

Seldom set foot in your neighbour’s house – too much of you and they will hate you. Proverbs 25:17


One particular friend always laid out the welcome mat. She was a gentle and kind friend, an only child, her family migrated from South America. I’d watch her dance ballet, we’d play in her tree house, dance to ABBA records and make gnocchi. Even when she moved to another suburb far away she would visit and we’d meet and play. I marvelled at the melodious ring in her parent’s accents when they called out her name. We find one another online years later to discover we have a mutual love for Jesus. We are delighted, yet somehow it is no surprise to me.

Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find? Proverbs 20:6


It was pertinent for me to find a conclusion to this post in the writings of a ‘neighbour’ and faithful person…

…God gave his salvation for the world. In this sense, we must not seek to limit the command to love our neighbour by asking ‘Who is my neighbour?’ (Luke 10:29), but rather should seek to be a neighbour to all without discrimination (10:36-37)… Jesus teaches… that love must not be restricted only to those who love us in return: (see Matt 5:43-47). – from ‘The Good Life in the Last Days‘ by Mikey Lynch, p.60.


Image Credit: Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

Finally…

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