A Note to the Young’uns

Gentle Reader,

…set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.

– 1 Timothy 4:12b (CSB)

You thought you were going to escape, didn’t you?

No, the elders are not supposed to despise you. We are supposed to come alongside you, build you up, encourage you, empower you. We are not always good at this. In fact, we often fail at this. We are short-tempered, easily frustrated and stuck in our ways. Because, you see, we have not arrived. We have not figured it all out. We’re still in process with Jesus, still needing Him to shape us into the people He wants us to be.

But.

You knew that was coming, right?

Our failures are not an excuse for you.

You, dear one who is often confused in the middle of the growing and the learning and the raging hormones but really does want to follow Jesus, are called to a higher standard. You don’t get to do whatever you want and then get mad when someone with a little more experience, a bit more wisdom, corrects you. That’s just not an option. It’s not the good or right option, anyway. In all the chaotic mess that is your thoughts and emotions, you have to make the choice to learn how to slow down and listen.

It’s hard. It doesn’t seem fair. But in a year or five, you’ll back and realize, “Wow, okay. That person loved me. And maybe they did know what they were talking about.”

I was the teenager who had big fights with her parents. I broke curfew. Spoke disrespectfully. Got so tired of hearing about how I needed to be responsible. Threatened to not go to college because…I really don’t know why, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. And that’s the key phrase: Seemed like a good idea at the time.

I was the teenager who tasted alcohol long before she should have. (Never was that into it, though my dad once asked why I skipped beer and went straight to vodka. I honestly don’t know). Who had dysfunctional relationships. Who looked okay on the outside, but everything inside her was screaming, desperate to be real but not sure how to do that. Full of the correct answers when asked, but really a hypocrite.

I was the teenager who let fear rule her life. The plain fact is that I could have gone to school just about anywhere I wanted to. Harvard was an option. If I had continued in journalism, I could have pursued a Marshall Scholarship and gone to England to study at Cambridge or Oxford. Now, at this point, I’m relieved that I made different choices and am not hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, but that practicality isn’t why I made the different choices. I was insecure and scared. I chose not to believe that I was capable.

There were people in my life who pushed me to step up and step out. I chose to ignore them. I let an opportunity to attend Samuel School, an Evangelical Friends retreat offered to students who have been identified as future leaders by church elders, pass me by. I didn’t pursue a summer internship with a local newspaper, even though my adviser and mentor assured me that I was shoe-in. Every time someone noticed me, pinpointed something in me or about me that God had planted there, I turned tail and ran away.

Sweet one, listen to me.

Don’t follow my example in these things.

Yes, we fail, hard and often. But there are adults in your life who really do care. We really do want to see you flourish. We really do believe that you have been placed in this context for a reason. We get on your case about certain things, like your addiction to your smartphone (yeah, we’re addicted, too), because we know, via our own stupid decisions and the radical, amazing grace of God, that there is more and better for you. Not one of you has to settle for the paltry, stale crumbs the world offers.

And there’s more.

Do you know that you are an elder, too? There’s always someone younger than you, looking at you, watching all the things you do. They want to be like you. They think you’re beyond cool. They love you so much. While you are one-hundred percent not responsible for choices that they end up making, you are meant to set a good example. A holy example.

You can do that. By staying connected to God through the words on the page (yes, the page, because those notifications are so distracting, even if you are sincerely trying to use your Bible app) and through prayer, especially those, “Help me, Jesus!” prayers. By finding a mentor, someone who has permission to call you on your crap and point you toward the good and the right. By sticking with church, even though it’s a real pain sometimes.

I believe in the God who made you, so carefully and tenderly. I believe that you can walk through life with your head up, neither looking down to or upon anyone. I believe that there are things that only you can do, special work designed and planned for you long before the stars began to flame. I believe that you have great value.

I believe in you.

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A Note to the Elders

Gentle Reader,

“Don’t let anyone despise your youth…”

– 1 Timothy 4:12a (CSB)

I’ve heard this verse so many times. When I was fourteen, a traveling preacher came to my school and spoke during chapel. Most of us hated chapel; it was boring but required. This particular day, however, was better than most. This man was engaging. He was funny. He had a passion for truth. And he seemed to think that we, lowly teenagers, could actually have a positive impact on this world.

The school was rooted in the soil of Pentecostalism, so at one point he asked anyone who wanted prayer to come forward. That was fine and dandy, something that all traditions do, but he started speaking in tongues and I regretted stepping forward because, honestly, it scared me. Not something I’d experienced before. Almost fled back to my seat. But when he got to me, he stopped doing that and looked at me for a long time. Everyone in the room got still. He took my hands and said, quietly, “You are a woman after God’s own heart. Never forget that.”

I never have. Never will.

Much wandering and insecurities across the years, but I can tell you that the Holy Spirit never let me go. The voice was always there. Always drawing me back to His love. To His truth. To His grace.

I watched Him do the same with others this past weekend. Young men and women, of various ages and backgrounds. They bounced and danced in the aisles as the worship music played, free in their movements. They listened attentively to the speaker, full of insights and questions after each session. Played truly competitive dodgeball. Flung themselves happily into a service project. Got hangry and tired, but who doesn’t?

And I thought, “Yes. The church is going to be okay. These people truly want Him, even if they don’t all fully realize that yet.”

So, elders, whether an elder by many years or just a few: Don’t despise them.

That’s the implied command in Paul’s words. He’s aware that some will not respect Timothy because of his age. He tells his protege to set an example for them by conducting his life in a Christ-pleasing way. All very straightforward. In the roundabout, he’s also saying that Timothy shouldn’t be disrespected simply because he’s young. He shouldn’t be despised.

I’m a Millennial, set to burn the world down while clutching my avocado toast. At least that’s what all the think-pieces claim. That’s what some of the elders in my life have communicated to me in the past. You can’t do this. That’s a dumb idea. I don’t get you. Get back in your place. It sucks. It hurts to be shot down just because you haven’t reached certain milestones or you have a different way of approaching situations.

And, if I may, it’s an arrogant and fear-based attitude.

Battles between the generations are as old as Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel. (I wonder what they fought about)? But here’s the thing: We don’t have to keep repeating the cycle. We who have the Spirit of Christ within are enabled to make better choices. We can approach the younger with open hearts. We can say, You can do this! And then teach them how to do it. That’s a crazy idea and I love that you came up with it! And then, slowly, patiently, show them how to implement those crazy ideas. I don’t always get you, but I love you. And then genuinely, truly love them, just as they are. Your place is right here, with me, doing this thing. And then actually, really, integrate them into the life of the Body.

Teenagers aren’t some separate, scary species. They don’t need to be tucked away in a basement room, cut off from everyone else. Their awkwardness, enthusiasm and ideas breathe life into the church. They are our brothers and sisters. Sure, little brothers and sisters, squirrelly brothers and sisters, but equal participants in the Kingdom of God.

Let them in.

Let them do.

Let them be.

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Who is a Hero?

Gentle Reader,

Continuing from here.

Webster tells is that a hero is “an illustrious warrior; a person admired for achievements and noble qualities; one who shows great courage.” Much broader than our usual understanding. In our minds, heroic acts generally occur in the physical realm. Often we think of police officers, members of the military, or people who do something out of the ordinary, like rush into traffic to push someone out of the way of a speeding car.

This seems to be what the author of the article I referenced in the previous post focuses on, to the exclusion of all else:

The ideology that sends Brie Larson soaring fictionally around outer space has sent our real daughters, mothers, and sisters — devoid of such superpowers — to war to serve and die in place of men. Real wars, the kind where “horribly smashed men still [move] like half-crushed beetles” (Surprised by Joy, 240). Real wars, the kind C.S. Lewis elsewhere describes as the amalgamation of every temporal evil.

Unquestionably, men ought support women’s desires to be affirmed, respected, and honored. But indeed, few actions display our resolve to honor our women more than excluding them from the carnage of the battlefield. Where can we more clearly display our ultimate resolve to love our women as queens than to step into hell on earth as sacrificial pawns in their defense? Generation after generation has mobilized its men to be devoured — that its women might not be.

Yeah…that’s a weird turn to take when discussing a movie about a superhero. Obviously Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Scarlet Witch, Supergirl, Black Widow and all the rest are going to go to war – because that’s what their characters do. They are, to belabor the point, superheros. This is how they’re written. (As an aside, written largely by men). To say that these movies make a case for anyone going to war, not especially or specifically women, is a major stretch. It’s escapism. It’s fantasy.

The author, not the MCU, oddly glamorizes war here. Lewis wrote about the horror of war. About its great evil. The author quotes him, but then turns the idea on its head, making it sound as if men marching off to battle is always, without question, the honorable and noble and right thing to do, never mind what history, particularly recent history, teaches us. Because that, exclusively, is heroic.

Even when we say, “You can’t go into the lion’s den for us”; “You won’t risk a brutal death to protect us”; “You shouldn’t expose yourself to the bullets bearing our name” — even then, the deprivation still causes offense. But our God, our nature, our love must firmly say, You are too precious, my mother, my daughter, my beloved. It is my glory to die that you may live.

Who, exactly, is the enemy here? Because if one is a Christian, then surely one must keep Ephesians 6:10-17 in mind? But, to insert a little levity, what do I, the woman who believes the message of the Gospel and the life of peace go hand-in-hand, really know about anything?

You best believe that I would go into the lion’s den for the men in my life – because that’s what love does. I would go into that same den for the women in my life – because that’s what love does. I will not carry a gun, nor will I throw a punch, but long ago I resolved that, if it comes down to it, I will put myself in harm’s way in order to protect someone else. Frankly, I don’t see Scripture giving me any other option.

We’re supposed to do these things for each other.

I know that, in this section, the author is writing primarily about wars between nations and the controversy over whether or not women should be subject to the draft. Here, he and I agree, but not in the way he wants me to. The draft is, to use a technical term, deeply uncool. Nobody should have to register for it. Nobody should enter the armed forces without having the freedom to make that decision for him- or herself. Nobody should put on a uniform without thinking through the consequences, potentially good and bad, of doing so. And, please, nobody should be allowed to make such a huge decision before their brains are fully developed, which doesn’t happen until around age twenty-five.

(For probably the millionth time in my life, I pause and say: I do not question the faith or integrity of my fellow Christians who choose to serve on the police force or in the military. Yes, I am a convinced and convicted pacifist, largely because the Holy Spirit is always talking to me about my own very bad temper and the need to control it; because of this I cannot help but see the root of evil in all violence. No, I don’t understand how someone comes to a different conclusion than I have, but I recognize that there is space within orthodoxy for this disagreement. It need not keep us from firm fellowship. Moving on).

We must learn to think differently. We must move beyond the view of heroism as strictly belonging to a physical battlefield or space.

One example of great courage: My cousin, diagnosed with cancer at a stupidly young age. She faced the awfulness of chemotherapy and the derailing of her college plans with faith, grace and humor. Of course she had bad days. Of course she struggled. But through it all, she was determined to fight. Determined to win. She is a hero. Quiet. Unheralded. A hero nonetheless.

Another: My father, who has worked hard every day for years at a job that isn’t lauded or recognized. He’s not a CEO. He’s never made a lot of money. But he put in long hours and did without some days in order to see to it that his family was fed, clothed and sheltered. He’s far too modest to claim the title “hero” for himself, but that’s how I see him. He showed his love for me by making sure I got both the best medical care (we joke that I own him hundreds of thousands of dollars) and education possible.

Another: My mother, who endures chronic, excruciating migraines, yet had a successful career on the administrative side of medicine for many years. Who, when my brother and I were little, knew how to make a little seem like a lot. Who does a lot of behind-the-scenes things that she’s rarely thanked for (I’m sorry, Mom). Who leaves a bowl of leftover spaghetti in my refrigerator because she knows that my most favorite meal in the whole world.

There are heroes all around us. People who choose, each day, to do the right thing, even when the right thing is the incredibly difficult thing. Or maybe just the boring thing. Either way, not always the fun thing.

The beauty is, even though usually fail to notice the heroism in the mundane, God notices. The, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” that we all long to hear does not belong only to those who do the great deeds or have the big following. Those words will be said to all who daily, momently, take up their cross and follow the King.

And that – that’s the real war. The one that truly matters. The one that rages in the mind and soul. The one that is unrelenting.

Thankfully, there is grace for this.

A grace that flows from the heart of the True Hero.

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P.S. – If you would like to know what pacifism looks like in practical action (because it’s not passive, not in any way), please watch the movie Hacksaw Ridge. The story of Desmond Doss is one that has impacted me greatly.

She Can be Your Hero

Gentle Reader,

Ah, the internet. Where the hottest of hot takes thrive.

Came across this piece over the weekend. A sampling:

I do not blame Marvel for inserting the trending feminist agenda into its universe. Where else can this lucrative ideology — which contrasts so unapologetically with reality — go to be sustained, if not to an alternative universe? Verse after verse, story after story, fact after fact, study after study, example after example dispels the myth of sameness between the sexes. The alternative universe where an accident infuses the heroine with superhuman powers, however, seems to stand as a reasonable apologetic for the feminist agenda.

What?

I’m reminded of similar complaints about the character Rey in the new Star Wars movies. And the same complaints about Wonder Woman. Any time a woman steps into the hero’s role, someone feels offended. The radical feminist agenda! Look at Hollywood, working to tear the family apart! These man-hating liberals!

A woman performing heroic deeds does not, in any way, detract from or diminish a man performing heroic deeds. The desire to control and dominate the opposite sex is rooted in sin, and it’s something we need to battle. We aren’t in competition with each other. The flourishing of men and women alike is directly tied to us seeing each other as equal partners, bringing unique perspectives and skills into every situation.

This article highlights the problems of complementarianism. There is, of course, a spectrum of thought and practice here. I know that many who ascribe to this particular framework were annoyed by the piece, and expressed their annoyance. And I don’t for a second believe that everyone who thinks that a woman shouldn’t preach would turn around and advocate for the squashing or outright abuse of women. That is as ridiculous as those who accuse egalitarians like myself of being blind to differences between the sexes.

But.

When complementarianism becomes rigid, utterly focused on who is doing what and when and how, an article like this is the inevitable result. A woman must always be/do this, a man must always be/do that. And this, my friend, is harmful to everyone.

Am I nitpicking? It is a movie after all. I wish it were. Instead of engaging the movie’s ideology as mere fiction, a fun escape to another world, we have allowed it to bear deadly fruit on earth. Along with Disney, we abandon the traditional princess vibe, and seek to empower little girls everywhere to be strong like men. Cinderella trades her glass slipper for combat boots; Belle, her books for a bazooka. Does the insanity bother us anymore?

What is the “traditional princess vibe?”

Is it Elizabeth Tudor, locked in the Tower of London during the reign of her sister, Mary I? Confronted by Bishop Stephen Gardiner, Elizabeth denied any knowledge of Wyatt’s Rebellion, which sought to overthrow the Catholic Mary and place the Protestant princess of the throne. Day after day she answered questions, her quick thinking and ability to play politics keeping her head securely on her shoulders for another hour. When she ascended to the throne, her name would be splashed across an age of exploration and cultural revival, one of the highlights of which would be her speech to the troops at Tillbury:

I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

Or is it Mary Tudor, commonly called “bloody,” who was wrenched from the arms of her mother, Catherine of Aragon, when her father, Henry VIII, decided he was going to marry Anne Boelyn with or without the blessing of the church? Mary endured the indignity of having her royal rank stripped away, her household and income drastically slashed, and even served as her new half-sister’s lady-in-waiting for a time. She clung to the Catholic way of faith at risk of her life. When the reign of half-brother Edward VI ended, it was Mary herself who climbed into the saddle and rode toward London, gathering an army of supporters as she went, ready to take her place as the rightful queen.

Or is it Catherine of Aragon, schooled in the art of statecraft by her parents, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, the first monarchs to unite the country? She traveled to England to marry Arthur Tudor, who died just five months later. For eight years she existed in limbo, unable to return home but lacking any clear position in England itself. Then, in 1507, she was named her father’s ambassador, the first woman in European history to hold a diplomatic position. After marrying Henry VIII, Catherine served as regent for six months while he was away fighting a pointless war in France, during which the Battle of Flodden, the largest battle between England and Scotland, was fought, with England emerging as the victor. In the midst of all this, she found time to commission a book, The Education of a Christian Woman, written by Juan Luis Vives, which argues that women have the right to be educated just as men are.

Or is it Elizabeth of York, beautiful daughter of Edward V and Elizabeth Woodville, who stepped into marriage with a man she’d hardly spent any time with in order to bring the civil wars that had ravaged her country to an end?

Or is it Margaret Tudor, heiress to an enormous fortune, who bravely bore marriage to a man in his twenties and being shipped off to a castle in the Wales, where, at age 13, she gave birth to her son, Henry, an experience so traumatic and damaging that she was never able to have another child?

Or is it Margaret of Anjou, wife to the mentally ill and and politically deficient Henry VI, who, upon being driven from England, mounted an invasion force in order to restore her husband and ensure the rights of her son?

Or, even further back, is it Matilda, whose father Henry I made his courtiers swear an oath of loyalty to her and her successors, thus setting the stage for the first queen regnant in England? Who then had to fight her cousin, Stephen, after he stole her crown?

These are all examples from English history, particularly the time of the Tudors, because that story is endlessly fascinating to me. These women endured arranged marriages, the constant threat of death in childbirth, long hours spent in the saddle, and the unending pull of various factions vying for influence. They were not mere lovely ornaments, decorating the arms of their powerful husbands or living as meek servants to their family interests. They were movers and shakers in their own right. They had real power, real authority.

We could, of course, get into an even longer list, detailing the exploits of biblical lady heroes. Rahab. Jael. Ruth. Abigail. The unnamed woman in 2 Samuel 20. The woman praised in Proverbs 31. Esther. Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary Magdalene. Martha. Priscilla. Lydia. Junia. Phoebe.

I have more thoughts about this article and topic, but we’ll end here for now: In the Kingdom of God, there is a completely different agenda and way of living. That agenda and way does not include obsessing over what women “should” do. The point is to follow Jesus as He leads, empowering and encouraging others in the freedom of the Gospel, wherever we go.

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