Category Archives: Book Review

On New Beginnings and Old Battles

IMG_3252Long time, no blog!  The Perrys have made it through another busy summer in touristy coastal Maine, and a month ago today, we pulled out of our driveway and headed south to central Virginia where my husband has taken a pastor position at New Beginnings Ministry. Big changes!  Although saying goodbye to our friends and church in Maine broke my heart, I am excited for the adventure of a new hometown, new friends, a year of homeschooling, new ministry opportunities, and getting back to Kingdom work here on the blog!

After so many busy months, my tank is on empty.  I am refueling with some good, nourishing books.  First, I read Jen Hatmaker’s book, Of Mess and Moxie, whose essays go from deep and convicting to belly-laugh-inducing.  Such a worthwhile buy, and I would highly recommend her podcast, if you’re into those. Second, I was thrilled to get my copy of Brené Brown’s newest book, Braving the Wilderness, a week after arriving in our new home. The timing couldn’t have been better, as I feel a bit like I’m living in the wilderness in this in-between phase of saying goodbye and not really feeling at home here yet, and also feeling the worry of being my authentic self as a pastor’s wife.  I was a pastor’s kid growing up, so the church has always been my second family, a deep love of mine, and also the source of much of my deepest pain.  I sat reading Braving the Wilderness in the bleachers while watching my sons’ football games that Saturday, shamelessly public-crying at multiple points throughout the book, as Dr. Brown demonstrates her findings on true belonging through touching and often heart-wrenching stories.

A section that has been on my mind over the past couple weeks, with the controversy over whether or not NFL players should kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality and a criminal justice system that is rigged against people of color, was when Dr. Brown discussed the dehumanization process that is necessary for oppressive systems to subjugate others.  She describes the process as beginning with our language and escalating from there, and warns us to be vigilant against using demeaning, derogatory language towards others.  Quoting from the book:

An important example is the debate around Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, and All Lives Matter.  Can you believe that black lives matter and also care deeply about the well-being of police officers?  Of course.  Can you care about the well-being of police officers and at the same time be concerned about abuses of power and systemic racism in law enforcement and the criminal justice system?  Yes.  I have relatives who are police officers—I can’t tell you how deeply I care about their safety and well-being.  I do almost all of my pro bono work with the military and public servants like the police—I care.  And when we care, we should all want just systems that reflect the honor and dignity of the people who serve in those systems.

But then, if it’s the case that we can care about citizens and the police, shouldn’t the rallying cry just be All Lives Matter?  No.  Because the humanity wasn’t stripped from all lives the way it was stripped from the lives of black citizens.  In order for slavery to work, in order for us to buy, sell, beat, and trade people like animals, Americans had to completely dehumanize slaves.  And whether we directly participated in that or were simply a member of a culture that at one time normalized that behavior, it shaped us.  We can’t undo that level of dehumanizing in one or two generations.  I believe Black Lives Matter is a movement to rehumanize black citizens.  All lives matter, but not all lives need to be pulled back into moral inclusion.  Not all people were subjected to the psychological process of demonizing and being made less than human so we could justify the inhumane practice of slavery. (Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness, pp. 76-77

I love the term rehumanizing.  It sounds like a synonym for redemption, or restoration.  A biblical vision for healing and shalom.  Beautiful Kingdom Warriors have been waging an age-old spiritual battle for the rehumanization of those who have been disenfranchised, abused, subordinated and made powerless to restore to them their God-given dignity and authority as humans made in the imago Dei.  It is extraordinary that we can be partners with God in this great work of redemption!

Evil is very real and very present in our world.  Our current age is marked by conflict.  “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus taught us (Mt. 5:9).  What a challenge in our day!  In order to be a peacemaker, I believe we must be good listeners, to strive to understand the perspectives of conflicting sides in order to facilitate reconciliation and peace.  Being a peacemaker involves restoring justice and shalom for all.

However, as social beings, we instinctively gravitate into tribes, and in our sinful nature, we instinctively consider our tribes to be better than others and to draw lines of inclusion and exclusion.  Yet we all belong to one race, the human race, we all bear God’s image, we are all equally loved by our Savior.  As Christians, our deepest place of belonging and identity should be in the Kingdom of God, as God’s beloved children.  We should not be so tied to a church denomination, political party, race, nation, etc. that we fail to love our neighbors (Mt. 22:39) and consider others better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3).

colin kaepernick 4

Google these names, bear witness to their stories, imagine how you would respond if these were your loved ones.

Additionally, we are told by the Apostle Paul to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). I cannot help but grieve with my black brothers and sisters when men and women and children are murdered through police brutality.  Blood cries out from the ground for justice, and God hears those cries.  We should be angry about the injustice black men and women face in our criminal justice system.  We should lament our nation’s history of dehumanizing the lives of people of color in order to become “great.”  We should fight racism and white nationalism for the evil that it truly is.  One of my favorite quotes is from the founder of Samaritan’s Purse, Bob Pierce, who prayed, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”  Racism surely grieves the heart of God.

The Church that I love so much has wolves in sheep’s clothing, abusers preying on the vulnerable.  On a weekly basis, I read a story of a pastor caught molesting children, or a deacon who has murdered his family.  I sometimes post these stories to TBKW Facebook page.  Some of the highest rates of domestic violence by career are in the clergy, military and police.

An example of “bad apples” in the Church from my own life is that during a three year time-frame while my family served with New Tribes Mission, three men were dismissed for sexually abusing children.  Three out of only dozens of missionaries in those contexts.  And they were dismissed, not reported for their crimes, and surely went on to harm more victims.  Injustice that grieves the heart of God.

If the Church is not immune to evil, why do we think our police force is?  There should be reform and training and consequences for abuses of position in our police force.  Yet white Evangelical Christians statistically get caught in the either/or tribes of being pro-police or pro-patriotism rather than the Kingdom vision for justice and shalom for all.  We can want what is best and safest for our police as well as for private citizens.  We can have a more nuanced position than the options that are presented to us.

I don’t really know much about Kaepernick.  But I agree that Black Lives Matter, and I protest injustice and the dehumanization of black people in our criminal justice system.

As Beautiful Kingdom Warriors, we are partnering with God in the work of restoration and healing of this broken, fallen world.  The most powerful way that we accomplish this mission is in loving God and loving our neighbors, and that extends beyond our tribes.  I am thankful to Dr. Brené Brown for the language of rehumanizing those who have been diminished by injustice.

I think this Beautiful Kingdom Warrior and American patriot has the right idea in joining the #takeaknee movement, explaining his support as “wanting to be like Jesus”:

“The world is broken. But God is not done yet.  God’s work of restoration is not yet finished.  This is our hope.  God is our hope.”  – Pastor Eugene Cho

Amen.


I am so happy to have you here!  Please leave a comment with your own thoughts on loving our neighbors and being peacemakers in this broken, conflict-ridden world.  I’ll approve if you’re respectful.

I have written about racial reconciliation before here.  I pray that white Evangelicals will begin to listen well to their black brothers and sisters.  I would encourage you to follow black theologians and authors, listen to their podcasts, read their articles and books; for instance, this year I have read Lisa Sharon Harper’s “The Very Good Gospel” and have listened to the podcast Truth’s Table, “Midwives of culture for grace and truth” with Michelle Higgins, Christina Edmondson, and Ekemini Uwan.

And “Like” us on Facebook!  I may not always blog, but I have a daily stream of articles from around the web that I have found to be interesting, helpful, or important for raising awareness of gender issues in the Church.

God bless and come again!

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Book Review: The Road Back to You

Today is launch day for a very exciting book, a collaboration of author Ian Cron and Enneagram expert Suzanne Stabile.  “The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery” explains this ancient personality typing system and how using the Enneagram can help you to understand yourself and others better, leading to greater compassion and empathy, and deeper, healthier relationships.  In addition, understanding yourself better is key to growing in relationship with God.

A big part of my life is listening to podcasts, as I work alone and enjoy having “adult conversations” to keep me company.  I started listening to Luke Norsworthy’s podcast last year.  He interviews fascinating Christian authors, pastors, activists and theologians.  In one of his conversations with Richard Rohr, they chatted about the Enneagram and later that night, I Googled “Enneagram” and read through The Enneagram Institute’s site.  Then this summer, he did a podcast with Suzanne Stabile and Ian Cron about their upcoming book and podcast.  I have since been listening each week as they interview guests about their Enneagram number.  I jumped at the opportunity to read an advance copy of their book and share this review with you.

In the first chapter, Ian Cron describes his introduction to the Enneagram in seminary when he came across a Richard Rohr book, and his professor’s adamant rejection of its credibility.  Later on, after burning out in pastoral ministry and finding a spiritual director, Brother Dave, to help put the pieces of his life back together, they discussed using the Enneagram together.

“It’s too bad your professor discouraged you from learning the Enneagram,” Br. Dave told me. “It’s full of wisdom for people who want to get out of their own way and become who they were created to be.” “What does ‘getting out of your own way’ entail?” I asked, knowing how many times I’d wanted to do just that in my life but didn’t know how. “It has to do with self-knowledge. Most folks assume they understand who they are when they don’t,” Br. Dave explained. “They don’t question the lens through which they see the world—where it came from, how it’s shaped their lives, or even if the vision of reality it gives them is distorted or true. Even more troubling, most people aren’t aware of how things that helped them survive as kids are now holding them back as adults. They’re asleep.”

“What we don’t know about ourselves can and will hurt us, not to mention others,” he said, pointing his finger at me and then at himself. “As long as we stay in the dark about how we see the world and the wounds and beliefs that have shaped who we are, we’re prisoners of our history. We’ll continue going through life on autopilot doing things that hurt and confuse ourselves and everyone around us. Eventually we become so accustomed to making the same mistakes over and over in our lives that they lull us to sleep. We need to wake up.”

“Working with the Enneagram helps people develop the kind of self-knowledge they need to understand who they are and why they see and relate to the world the way they do,” Br. Dave continued. “When that happens you can start to get out of your own way and become more of the person God created you to be.”

trbty-4
I wrote a post in March of 2015 about my journey to finding healing from codependcy.  I experienced church and family trauma and I was in a similar broken place that Ian Cron describes.  I didn’t have a spiritual director like Br. Dave to guide me, but God did provide spiritual guides both in the flesh and in books and on the interwebs that helped me find my footing again.  I share that story and links that were helpful in the post.  If I had read “The Road Back to You” at that time, I would have included this resource.  I have personally experienced the change in my relationship with God as I understand myself and others better.  I feel unconditional love and acceptance from God.  In reading my old post, I see how my personality has always been an Enneagram 9, but I was unhealthy and now I am more self-aware.  I have a deeper understanding of my healing.

I believe that churches would be healthy and productive and safe if only there was more self-awareness in parishioners.  Ian and Suzanne always repeat on their podcasts that their passion for sharing the Enneagram is in seeing compassion grow. In reading the chapters explaining the nine types, I was blown away as I recognized myself, my husband, my children, my relatives and friends.  I see clearly where my work needs to be done to be a healthier, safer person.  I see where the behavior of others stems from, which gives me a greater ability to be gracious and forgiving and also to communicate with them in a meaningful way.

I don’t want to give away too much about this book.  I just want to urge you to buy a copy or request that your church or library purchase a copy.  Pass along “The Road Back to You” website to your pastor and friends.  Listen to Ian and Suzanne’s podcast on your commute or while you work.  This is an important resource for spiritual development and will bear much good fruit in your life if you use it as a spiritual discipline.

Here are the links one more time:

To purchase a copy: https://smile.amazon.com/Road-Back-You-Enneagram-Self-Discovery/ (using Smile.Amazon.com gives you an opportunity to give back to a cause that is important to you.  If you’d like, you can choose “North Harbor Community Church” – my church in Maine).

The Road Back to You website: http://theroadbacktoyou.com/


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Book Review: Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar

Oh man, oh man, do I love me some Kathy Escobar!Faith-Shift

I started reading Kathy’s blog a couple years ago, and I was hooked.  I don’t have too many blogs that I read EVERY.POST.THEY.EVER.POST.  But I wouldn’t miss anything from Kathy!  Her stuff is pure gold.

In late 2014, she published a book, “Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart”.  I had it on my wish list for a long time, finally purchased it with birthday money in September, and FINALLY had a chance to read it a couple weeks ago.  I devoured it.

“Faith Shift” is a book of hope for “spiritual refugees, church burnouts, and freedom seekers.”  In it, Kathy maps out stages of a faith shift, giving language to the painful experience of fundamentally changing from a faith that is certain and features strong affiliation and conformity with your faith community, to a faith that is freer, more mysterious and diverse.

Kathy’s stages, Fusing-Shifting-Returning or Unraveling-Severing-Rebuilding, resonated deeply with my own experiences over the past several years, as well as my long-time love of stage theory and psychology.  In Evangelical Christianity, there is a skepticism with secular fields of psychology, sociology, etc.  There is a push towards Biblical Counseling rather than listening to liberal, humanistic psychobabble.  I made sure to read the two negative reviews of “Faith Shift” on Amazon to see what concerns others may have with this book, and they were primarily along those lines.

If I hadn’t been so focused on becoming a missionary or church musician when I went to college, I probably would have studied psychology.  In hindsight, I realize I hadn’t even considered other pathways to ministry because of the complementarian church culture that I was raised in.  Deep down, I wanted to do Kingdom work.  The only women I had seen doing Kingdom work (that was OK and celebrated in my tradition) were missionaries, musicians, and Women’s Bible Study authors and speakers.  Oh, and let’s not forget mothers, the hands that rock the cradles.

During my freshman year at Gordon College, I took Psych 101 as an elective and loved it.  A lot of my college education is a blur now, but I remember what I learned in that entry-level Psychology class.  So I made sure to take the Psychology elective offered when I was in seminary.  We read a book by James Fowler, “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning“.  This is one of my favorite books from my seminary education.  Fowler maps faith development in similar ways as Kathy, from assimilation and certainty to “the wall” to a more open, gracious, loving perspective on faith and others.  In a similar vein, I often send an article to friends by Rich Vincent, “Stages of Faith: A Map for the Spiritual Journey“, when I feel they are struggling and need some perspective that they are in process, that it will all turn out OK.  Shorter and easier to read than a book!

As much as I have appreciated Stage Theory and how Christian authors have related this theory to faith development, I could never personally relate to the middle stage, “the journey inward,” or “the wall,” the season of doubt.  My faith had been strong and sure most of my life.  My Fusing stage lasted about 28 years, I would say, and Affiliation, Certainty and Conformity describe those years beautifully.  There were bumps in the road, like when I was afraid that my faith would not mature if I continued to have a “perfect” life, so I prayed for hardship.  Soon one of my best friends died at age 21 and I felt responsible and walked through a deep depression.

Then some more bumps came.  Pretty traumatic ones.  My home church chewed my family up and spit us out (at least that’s what it felt like).  I was rejected by the people who were so much a part of my identity.  My “perfect” family was imploding. God called me (a complementarian!) to pastoral ministry.  I began reading about women in ministry and was warned about the “slippery slope” that I was on.  My affiliation, certainty and conformity were being compromised!

I was Shifting and I didn’t know it.  I wanted people to be real (Authentic), I was baffled to learn that my favorite theologians had said misogynistic, sexist things while I was beginning to see God’s vision for equality and partnership between the sexes, which led me to be uncomfortable with authority figures (Autonomy), and I felt like I needed to study EVERYTHING.FOR.MYSELF (Uncertainty), while again, being real about my struggles and weaknesses–no more projection of perfection.  I became an Ex-Good-Christian-Woman (my FAVORITE Kathy Escobar post!!!).

The way that Kathy writes is utterly gracious.  She never categorizes any part of a faith journey as bad, or better than, or wrong, or anything.  She just lays it out.

Are you experiencing this?  Here is some language to help you understand.
You are not going crazy and you are not alone.   

There was a profound change in the way that I saw God a few years ago while I was watching Brennan Manning preach on YouTube.  I wept as he poured out God’s love and grace in his message that God loves us just as we are, not as we should be.  I have always believed that God is love.  But I think Affiliation, Certainty and Conformity were chains that kept me from experiencing God as love.  There were always rules and expectations and pressures and systems that kept me in check, that made God’s love seem conditional.

Because God’s love is unconditional, I can ask questions without fear or guilt.  I utterly Severed from my Fused faith as I let Brennan Manning confer a God of grace and freedom to me.  I am Rebuilding my faith around this new understanding and am seeing things through this new lens.  I expect to make mistakes and to be a work in progress.  I am full of gratitude to God for being bigger than any box that I had ever put Him in, for loving me and pursuing me and holding me safe.

And I am thankful for Kathy Escobar’s writing and this book in particular, that has helped me to understand my faith development and trust that change is a natural part of being in relationship with God.  Kathy closes “Faith Shift” by saying,

Trust the path ahead, even though you aren’t sure exactly where it will take you.  You’re not lost.  In fact, you’re on a road toward a bigger, better relationship with God, others, and yourself that will continue to develop.

The world doesn’t need more fear-filled, insecure Jesus followers.  It needs more peace-filled, secure ones.  It doesn’t need more people deciding who’s in and who’s out on earth and in eternity.  It needs more men and women who are passionate about drawing everyone toward the love of God.

Throughout the years, I have seen over and over again how this path leads to new beginnings, not endings, if we just keep walking.

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The Ragamuffin Gospel: Chapter 1 – Something is Radically Wrong

As I promised on our Facebook page, we will blog ragamuffin gospelalong with our small group discussions of Brennan Manning’s book, “The Ragamuffin Gospel,” Amazon’s number one best-seller under the category of Christian Discipleship.  Now is the perfect time to pick up a copy – it is on sale!  Last April, I blogged about listening to Brennan Manning’s sermons during Lent and how I was impacted by his message of God’s unconditional love.  You can read that post here.  Our group is meeting the first and third Fridays of the month, slowly discussing “The Ragamuffin Gospel” chapter by chapter.  So April 3rd we talked about chapter 1, “Something is Radically Wrong.”

This chapter in a nutshell is talking about American Christianity’s tendency to talk grace but walk works.  We preach a Gospel of grace – “the total sufficiency of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on Calvary” (pg. 15) – but our lives tell a different story.  We have “twisted the gospel of grace into religious bondage and distorted the image of God into an eternal, small-minded bookkeeper” (pg. 16).  We are all striving, striving, striving for approval from God and from our faith communities, emphasizing personal effort over grace.  There are different classes of Christians, where some are given special status because of their works and charisma while others are ignored altogether for their ordinariness.  We hide our darker side from each other and live in a constant state of “existential guilt…[and] Sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufficiency.  Our security is shattered and our bootstraps are cut” (pg. 17).

GUILTragamuffin guilt 1

This was the word that we danced around the most in our conversation, and I have been keenly aware of its presence in conversations with others over the past week.  Guilt is a huge issue for men and women alike, but from a woman’s perspective, I see how guilt has become a perpetual state of being for many of us.  Yet our feeling of guilt–that we are not doing enough as Christians, as parents, as spouses, as family members, as employees, as citizens of the world–is a blatant rejection of the gospel of grace.  The solution is to admit our “shadow side” and accept that there is nothing we can earn by works.  All is a gift.  We must find our identity in our acceptance and love from God and not in how we perform.  Manning expresses this beautifully in this quote from page 25:

When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes.  I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty.  I am trusting and suspicious.  I am honest and I still play games.  Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark.  In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.  As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”

The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes.  It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches.  For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift.  All that is good is ours, not by right, but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God.  While there is much we may have earned–our degree, our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite, and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love.  We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh.  We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt.  This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer.  Even our fidelity is a gift.  “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.”  My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.

ragamuffin guilt 2

Let me leave this post with a few more quotes:

“Justification by grace through faith” is the theologian’s learned phrase for what Chesterton once called “the furious love of God.”  He is not moody or capricious; He knows no seasons of change.  He has a single relentless stance toward us: He loves us.  He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners.  False gods–the gods of human manufacturing–despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do” (pg. 20).

The kingdom is not an exclusive, well-trimmed suburb with snobbish rules about who can live there.  No, it is for a larger, homelier, less self-conscious caste of people who understand they are sinners because they have experienced the yaw and pitch of moral struggle (pg. 23).

As a sinner who has been redeemed, I can acknowledge that I am often unloving, irritable, angry, and resentful with those closest to me.  When I go to church I can leave my white hat at home and admit I have failed.  God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am.  Because of this I don’t need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to Him.  I can accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness (pg. 23).

Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted (pg. 28).

Often I have been asked, “Brennan, how is it possible that you became an alcoholic after you got saved?”  It is possible because I got battered and bruised by loneliness and failure; because I got discouraged, uncertain, guilt-ridden, and took my eyes off Jesus.  Because the Christ-encounter did not transfigure me into an angel.  Because  justification by grace through faith means I have been set in right relationship with God, not made the equivalent of a patient etherized on a table” (pgs. 30-31).

Finding Healing from Codependency

There is a proverb that says, “I went up to the rooftop to find relief from my pain, and saw that all the other houses were on fire.”  I have learned over time just how true this is.  Even those who appear the most put-together are dealing with pain, symptomatic of the brokenness of our world.  We all need healing and restoration to God’s intended fullness of life for His beloved children.

You are God's delight

We live in a fallen world and are socialized from a tender age to believe many lies about who we are and what we should be and do.  Our parents may have the best intentions to protect us from these lies, but there are lies deeply embedded in their own psyches.  We strive to attain cultural standards of ideal womanhood and manhood in ways that can be contradictory to God’s plan and design for our lives.  We are all hurt by messages that are antithetical to the Good News that Jesus has redeemed His creation and we can live a life of wholeness and abundance.  In John 10:10, Jesus says,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

I read this post last week about how Christian girls and women are socialized to be codependent doormats in the name of “biblical womanhood.”  The author says,

Most materials and sermons I got from Christians in my girlhood emphasized that the only way a girl or woman could be pleasing to God was to be a doormat to other people. Meaning, many hallmarks of codependency are present in this teaching, such as:

  • It is biblical or good for a girl or woman to be passive

  • Getting one’s needs met is selfish; showing or feeling anger is wrong and un-Christian

  • One should always care about other people’s feelings, needs, and wants more than one’s own

I was reminded of one of my favorite posts of all time, “Ex Good Christian Women” by Kathy Escobar.  She shares two lists of qualities present in “Good Christian Women” and “Ex  Good Christian Women” that are spot on.  She says,

“Good Christian Women”

  • rarely engage in conflict
  • are terrible at saying “no” because it feels selfish
  • know how to say the right things, do the right things, to keep the peace
  • continually strive–and i do mean strive–to be a better wife, better mother, better christian
  • live with a feeling that God is disappointed with us somehow
  • feel a lot of shame for who we are and who we aren’t (but rarely say it out loud)
  • doubt our leadership, feelings, gifts, dreams
  • dwell on the things we should be doing differently or better
  • view anger as sin
  • always seek permission

“Ex Good Christian Women”

  • are learning to show up in relationship instead of hiding
  • engage in conflict instead of avoid it
  • say “no” with less-and-less guilt and say “yes” more freely, more honestly
  • tell the truth
  • respect anger
  • are honest about shame
  • live in the present
  • are beginning to believe we are “enough”–here, now
  • open ourselves up to dreams & passions & living out what God is stirring up in us
  • lead & love & live in all kinds of new ways, with or without permission
  • are discovering that God is much bigger than we were ever taught & loves us more than we ever knew

Self-care-steps

Oh, how I relate to these posts.  I was raised in a patriarchal church culture that negatively impacted my understanding of God’s will for my life.  I was a poster girl for these ideal qualities:  being always sensitive to the needs and feelings of others (while being completely out of touch with my own needs and feelings), deferring to others (while not developing my own gifts of leadership), a helper (who could never ask others for help), an empathetic listener (who was always stoic and would never open up about my own emotions).  I always believed that I was living up to “biblical” ideals of femininity and God’s design for women.  I now understand that many of the cultural messages I received about “biblical womanhood” were actually lies and were stealing, killing and destroying me rather than giving me an abundant and full life in Christ.

Codependency is “the disease of the lost self.”  When you are arranging your life around the thoughts, feelings and needs of others, you completely lose touch of your own identity.  Another phrase to describe this is “people-pleasing.”  I have slowly found healing and have found my own voice through many years of reading.  Here are the books that have had tremendous impact in my life, leading me away from codependency and towards fullness and finding my identity in Christ as a beloved daughter, just as I am (listed in the order that I read them):

prodigal god

Logan’s cousin who ministers in a homeless shelter in Philadelphia gave us a copy of Tim Keller’s book, “The Prodigal God” when we were visiting over Christmas five or six years ago.  I read it aloud to Logan as we drove back to Maine, and my mind was blown away with a new understanding of this parable.  We are taught “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” but really Jesus was telling a story of two brothers whose hearts were in the same condition, one who broke all the rules and one who obeyed them all with the expectation of receiving something in return.  Jesus’ story demonstrates that both were loved by their Father with a prodigal (i.e. extravagant, generous, lavish, etc.) love.  This book began to chip away the performance, works-based religion that I was living.  I recognized my similarity to the second brother who was obeying all the rules on a conditional basis.  “I do for you…what will you do for me?”

safe-people

Around the same time, my church family was in turmoil and conflict, and I was hurting deeply because church has always been my second home and I was facing rejection and shunning that was traumatic beyond words.  I don’t remember how I found this book…but I do remember devouring it and buying copies for everyone in my family.  I had always been a trusting and open person and was for the first time realizing that there were toxic people in the church who could be abusive, controlling and manipulative.  “Safe People” describes characteristics of emotionally healthy/unhealthy individuals.

boundaries“Boundaries” taught me even better that in the name of loving others, I had drawn very loose boundaries in my life, allowing the needs of others to trump my own needs.  I was always saying “no” to myself and “yes” to others, with no limitations to what I would give up for others.  I had to learn that there are personal property rights around my physical, mental and emotional boundaries.  I do not owe other people control over my choices, feelings, thoughts, and words.  I do not need to feel selfish or guilty for saying “no” to taking others’ responsibilities on myself.

why you do the things you do book

I picked up this book, “Why You Do The Things You Do”, from my niece’s pile of books she brought home with her from college one holiday break.  This book taught me that there are two questions we all come into the world asking:  Am I worthy of love?  and Can I trust others to meet my needs?  According to our first relationships as helpless infants and into childhood, we internalize answers to these questions that affect us for the rest of our lives.  Using research and data, the authors describe four primary patterns of relating to others that stem from our upbringing in our family of origin.  In reading this book, I learned about myself and others in a powerful way, and there is  a lot of helpful information on “emotional coaching” for your own children.

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A couple years ago, I went through a phase of listening to several TED Talks every day while I was working, which introduced me to the amazing Vulnerability and Shame talks by Brene Brown.  So when I saw that she had written a book to share her research and findings in a comprehensive message of how to “live wholeheartedly”, I ordered it immediately, and then couldn’t put it down!  I learned to be kind to myself, to show up in life rather than cower behind insecurities and fear.  I learned priceless lessons on teaching worthiness to my children.  I learned how shame will keep you living small while vulnerability will not make your life perfect, but it will make your life great.

I know that it was God who directed me to EHS-bookCollette Pekar’s Tuesday morning Bible study.  While these books and many other videos and articles online have helped me to find healing from codependency, it was being in small group with a wise counselor who helped me to verbalize and process the things I was learning about healthy relationships that really made the greatest impact.  I cannot encourage you enough to find fellow warriors to pursue healing with.  One fall, our group read this book together by Peter Scazzero.  He demonstrates that we bring the dysfunctional patterns of our family of origin into our adult life despite our “new life” in Christ, and there is work to be done to shed the lies that keep us from living in an emotionally healthy spirituality.  In learning to do the work of chipping away these issues and in learning healthy habits of caring for yourself, you will begin to experience an abundant life!


It is our hope here at The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors that we will be a help to you in your spiritual journey, as we journey together.  Please add your recommendations for healing from codependency and other family of origin issues in the comments!  And “Like” us on Facebook for regular posts on gender issues in the world and in Christianity.  Thank you for stopping by!

Book Review: “Undiluted” by Benjamin L. Corey

I read this book in October and have meant to review it on the blog, but have been consumed with life transitions (also the case for Becky, a busy working mother who is expecting number 3!).  It’s really hard to conceptualize blog posts when your brain is overloaded with learning a new job, facing big life decisions, caring for children, and trying to make radical self-care a priority (i.e. sleeping normal human being amounts).  But Benjamin L. Corey (I’ll just use BLC for the rest of this review) posted this pic on FB this week and I LOVED it and it has inspired me to meet you here for a little book talk:

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As usual, BLC does not shy away from controversy, as you can see in the comments if you click on the pic and go to the original FB post.  I agree 100% with his observation and was encouraged to see him make such a bold, public statement.

When Becky and I started this blog, I realized I didn’t know anything about blogging and that got me into reading blogs in a very big way.  I found BLC’s blog, formerlyfundie.com, and also his podcast with Matthew Paul Turner, That God Show, sometime early last year and have been learning a lot from him regarding pacifism, enemy love, living a life that displays God’s love to the disenfranchised and hurting, etc.  I appreciate his perspective on current issues in American Christianity and regarding the harmful aspects of fundamentalist culture.

I also discovered that we have a few things in common:  BLC lives in Maine, is a Gordon-Conwell alum, and we have a some mutual friends.  Logan and I have been able to meet BLC and his wife on a couple of occasions.  I am always thrilled to make new friends, but especially am happy to meet some local Progressive Christians in a state that is #1: the most unchurched state in our country, and #2: churches here are typically very fundy or very liberal.  There is a desperate need for Christians to examine our culture and why it is that our neighbors are not recognizing Jesus in our lifestyles.

In addition to being a two-time Gordon-Conwell graduate, he is currently working on a Ph.D. in Missiology from Fuller Theological Seminary.  His writing has appeared on various platforms including HuffPost, Red Letter Christians, Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action.

So that brings me to BLC’s book, “Undiluted” (click on image for link to Amazon).

download

Here is the description as it appears on Amazon:

Are you ready to begin experiencing an undiluted Jesus?

Benjamin Corey confronts our vision of Jesus head-on, asking the hard question: Is what we see and hear in the modern church all there is to the message of Jesus… or is there a more radical side to Jesus than we have been led to believe?

Get ready to encounter a Jesus that is determined to turn over the tables of a stale, ineffective and boring gospel that seeks to escape from the world instead of transforming it.

This radical Jesus and His message…

  • Invites us to reorient our lives not on Christian religion, but on the person of Jesus
  • Calls us to live out faith in the context of authentic community with others, instead of isolation
  • Includes the excluded and invites the outcast to have a seat at the table
  • Responds to enemies with a radical, unexplainable love

Undiluted will invite you to step out of your comfort zone and into a process of rediscovering the radical, counter cultural, and life-changing message of Jesus. As you do, you’ll discover a more vibrant faith as you embrace an undiluted Jesus and His radical message!

What I most appreciate about this book is its autobiographical presentation.  BLC takes us on the journey of his spiritual transformation from fundamentalist to progressive, with all of the highs, lows and traumas along the way.  I was able to relate to so many of his experiences, coming from a similar background and going through a similar faith shift in my adulthood.

One of the most unfair assessments of progressive Christianity is that it dilutes God’s Truth in an effort to be culturally relevant.  BLC demonstrates throughout his book that peeling away the layers of American Christian culture actually undiluted his faith in Christ rather than weakening it.  When there are rigid, prescribed positions on all issues, as is the case in very conservative churches, there is little room for examination, humility and debate.  You cannot even consider other points of view.  This dehumanizes people whose experiences and knowledge have led them to differing positions than your own, as you do not even give them the gracious gift of a listening ear.  You are always approaching conversations as a battle to be won, rather than seeing the nuance of complex issues and differing points of view.

I am not personally throwing my hat in the Progressive Christian ring (yet).  But I am deeply appreciative of BLC and others sharing their experiences as Christians of my generation, examining the strengths and weaknesses of the Christian culture that we grew up in, and doing their best to be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ to their neighbors and the world.  I would encourage you to pick up a copy of “Undiluted”, check out FormerlyFundie.com, and let me know what you think in the Comments.


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Book Review: A God I’d Like to Meet by Bob Edwards

I am excited to share a review of Bob Edward’s book, A God I’d Like to Meet, especially today as Amazon has dropped it’s Kindle price to $1.99 for the week.  You only have a few days to take advantage of this deal, and I HIGHLY recommend that you purchase this one!  Also, check out Edwards’ amazing blogs, God is Love, and Biblical Equality for Women and Men in the Christian Faith.  I first found Edwards through his blogs, and have been truly blessed by his knowledge and scholarly writing on the roots of Christian patriarchy and complementarianism (the ideology that God has ordained male-dominated authority over the Church and Christian homes).

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THIS WEEK ONLY!

Let me share the “About” blurb from one of his blogs:

Bob Edwards lives with his wife and two children in Ontario, Canada. He holds degrees in Religious Education, Social Development Studies and Social Work. In 2013, he received the Delta Epsilon Chi award for intellectual achievement, Christian character and leadership ability, from the Association for Biblical Higher Education. Bob has been a Social Worker since 1996, providing psychotherapy in a variety of settings. He was the Director of Counseling Studies at a multi-denominational Bible College, teaching courses in Psychology, Sociology and Counseling. His hope is to share a vision of God’s impartial love towards women and men everywhere.

Bob is also the author of the best-selling book entitled, “Let My People Go: A Call to End the Oppression of Women in the Church, Revised and Expanded.”

“A God I’d Like to Meet” is an example of what Edwards does best: a scholarly dissection of Calvinist theology, demonstrating its roots in Plato’s philosophy, and the damaging effects that have resulted from reading the Bible from a worldly perspective.

Here is the description of the book from the dust jacket:

Throughout history, prominent theologians and church leaders have made sense of the Bible through the interpretive lenses of ancient Greek philosophy.

As a result, our traditional beliefs often portray God as an all-controlling deity that frowns on emotion and subjects women to male authority.

Throughout this book, the author explores the origins of these theological traditions, and seeks to restore a vision of God as depicted in the New Testament — a vision of God as love.

Calvinism is a prominent strain of Evangelical Christianity today, as noted in this New York Times article from January of this year. Notable Calvinists include Mark Driscoll, John Piper, and Tim Keller.  Calvin’s “Institutes” was required reading in my seminary Intro to Theology class.  Edwards’ insights were very eye-opening to me personally.  In answer to the question, What is Calvinism? Edwards writes,

Simply put, it is an interpretive framework that tells people what to look for in the Bible, where to look, and how they should make sense of what they find.  This interpretive framework consists of what Calvin referred to as “the principal matters” of “Christian philosophy” (p. 16)

A valuable aspect of Edwards’ writing is his background as a counselor.  He explains many psychological processes that impact the lens through which people understand their world.  In Chapter 1: Bad Religion, Bob says,

I’ve been a Social Worker and Psychotherapist for nearly twenty years now.  During this time, I’ve provided individual, family and group counseling to thousands of people.  Many of them have told me that they have difficulty believing in God.  Most of them have experienced horrific forms of abuse: physical, sexual, psychological, emotional and spiritual.  Many of them were told, at one time or another–often by well-meaning Christians–that the terrible things done to them or to their loved ones were either allowed or caused by the “Sovereign Will of God” (p. 6).

Edwards wraps up chapter one, where he has described how Christians have explained the problem of pain, with this paragraph:

We now have a picture of a God that is allegedly in control of everything, causes evil to befall humans because they (in their vileness) deserve it, or because we are expendable in the accomplishment of “the greater good.”  Of his servants, this God requires the death of self, and the rejection of what it means to be human.  In particular, human beings must apparently deny that they are sexual.  Historically this has led male leaders in the church to project blame for their vilified sexuality onto women.  This projection has led to the subjection of all women to male control.  I submit that this is a portrait of a God who is controlling, abusive, unethical, unloving and sexist.  Simply put, in the minds of many, this is not a God they would like to meet (p. 10).

This book is not a long, cumbersome read.  I couldn’t put it down once I started, and finished the book in two hours.  He explains how, in setting up “the principal matters of Christian philosophy” as an interpretive lens for the Bible, Calvin was facilitating “top-down processing,” and how “Rather than seeing new information objectively, human beings are strongly inclined to perceive and interpret the world around them in ways that confirm what they already believe” (a “psychological phenomenon known as ‘belief perseverance'”, p. 18).  A very brief explanation of the lens through which Calvin made sense of the Bible is through his high opinion of St. Augustine, who made sense of the Bible through his reading of the Greek philosopher, Plato.  in his 8th book of Confessions, Augustine wrote:

Simplicianus congratulated me that I had not fallen upon the writings of other philosophers, which were full of fallacies and deceit, “after the beggarly elements of this world,” whereas in the Platonists, at every turn, the pathway led to belief in God and his Word” (p. 21).

The rest of the book unpacks how this Platonic philosophy impacted St. Augustine’s and Calvin’s interpretation of Scripture, and thus how Calvinism “impacts the way some Christian leaders today understand, preach and practice Christianity” (p. 24).  Specifically, how Calvinism makes God responsible for evil (chapter 3), how Calvinism confuses emotion with sin (chapter 4), and how Calvinism leads to the subjugation of women (chapter 5).

Edwards leaves off with the redeeming message that “the distorting lens of Platonic philosophy can be removed from our perception of God.  When we remove this lens, I believe that we have an opportunity to see God in the way the biblical authors intended.  We are able to perceive that God is love” (p. 98).

If you are an Evangelical Christian, there is a good probability that you have come across Calvinist theology at some point, if not regularly in your faith community.  I emphatically encourage you to pick up this book for the low price of $1.99 and consider the implications of Edwards’ research into the roots of Calvinism.


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