Get Off Your Butt

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

Context before we begin:

Many thoughts swirling in my head.

I’m a teacher. No, I don’t rule a classroom. I don’t have a degree in education. I simply love to learn and can’t help but share what I’ve learned with others. I have been told more than once that I have the ability to distill complex subjects down to their basic parts, something for which God gets all the credit. I love digging into Scripture and my brother told me just last night that, if I ever tried to preach, I’d probably start by saying, “Okay, so we’re going to go over the entire Bible.” (I laughed. It’s true. And it would be so fun).

For better or worse, this is how God has chosen to gift me.

So let’s talk discipleship. Let’s talk learning.

A disciple is a follower. One who submits to the authority of another (in the Christian context, God), learns his ways and passes that knowledge onto others. As we hear so often, a disciple makes disciples. Basically, it’s, “Hey, Jesus saved me and I love Him and you should join me in this because it’s awesome.” Really, there’s no neat formula in this disciple-making. No, “Do x, y and z – then you will have arrived.” It’s messy. There are steps forward and steps back. There isn’t a single person who gets it right all the time. Never, ever, should it be about one human being looking to another as the be-all, end-all, but rather the one who’s a little farther down the path pointing the newbie to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. It’s every believer everywhere becoming more and more enraptured with His presence, rather than seeking only what He provides. (There is a difference).

As Paul wrote:

Copy me, my brothers, as I copy Christ himself.

– 1 Corinthians 11:1 (Phillips)

Discipleship, then, is the process of growing in Christ. It’s mature believers putting their arms around the spiritual babies, helping them learn to walk God’s path. Those babies grow and strengthen, eventually putting their arms around those who nurtured them in a display of mutual love and support, then going on to repeat the process with new babies. It’s the Body doing what the Body does, in all its stumbling and variety. It’s deep, rich Bible study and doctrinally correct songs springing from tone-deaf but joyous congregations and hard conversations and liturgy and people not always getting along because we’re human and we suck sometimes but figuring out how to not get along in a Christ-honoring way (it can be done). It starts with God, centers on God and ends with God.

At least, it’s supposed to.

I am heartbroken over the state of discipleship in churches across the United States. (Really, I’m heartbroken over the church in general. When evangelicalism is known for its support of, at best, a deeply and troublingly flawed president, rather than for the spread of the Gospel, then it’s time for some sackcloth and ashes). It bothers me greatly that men and women abandon their Bibles as “boring” or “too hard” (or, perhaps worse yet, “irrelevant”). It sickens me that so few seem interested in doing the work of spiritual motherhood and fatherhood, picking those babies up when they fall and raising their down-turned faces to look upon the ultimate Father who smiles upon them. I roll my eyes at “rah-rah” women’s events aimed at inflating the self for a few days instead of teaching women to get in there, roll up their sleeves and finally get beyond the surface, a surface that infantilizes us more and more each day. I sigh when men lament the “feminization” of the church because nobody can really explain what that means and if a man doesn’t go to church, it’s because he doesn’t want to. My mouth drops when I hear someone dismiss a certain Scriptural tenet or command, for he fails to see how that dismissal logically leads to other dismissals and the entire thing falls apart. My lungs drain when I hear of some Christian leader not having the sense to recognize that praising a Mormon “prophet” isn’t good. I loathe how services are timed just so because we’ll be damned if anything goes past noon and interferes with lunch, no matter how the Holy Spirit might be moving. I hate that people can manage to make time for favorite television shows, movies or hobbies but are “too busy” for Bible study. I think it’s stupid that few are willing to lead Bible studies, or even to serve in any way at all, because they’re “not knowledgeable” enough or “there’s just too much else going on.” It disgusts me that much of what passes for Bible study is just pop-psychology laden, relationally focused, fuzzy-wuzzy gobbledy-gook. Or straight-up gossip time. I’m dismayed at how the sick, infertile and unmarried are often cut out of church life by default, because they don’t fit into “what works.”

There are thousands of think-pieces on why the church stinks. I can summarize them all in one sentence:

The problem is us.

I know that spiritual abuse is real; I’ve experienced it. I know that there are many unhealthy, unsound churches; I’ve been in more than one. I would never tell anyone that she should stay in a church just because. I definitely don’t think that church attendance is a factor in entering Heaven. There are real issues of misogyny and racism and false teaching.

All of those problems continue to exist because we aren’t engaged in discipleship.

That is, of course, a very broad statement. There are many thoughtful Christians, men and women who take the faith seriously, love the Lord deeply and do their best to serve Him daily. These people are, I suspect, quiet. Hidden. Behind the scenes just doing the thing. Not seeking glory or applause. But…overall…

We aren’t knowledgeable.

We aren’t teachable.

We aren’t imitating Christ.

This is our problem. Our issue. Together, the bad and the good. The pain and the beauty. We no longer have time to pursue “feel good” things. We don’t need to “have a political voice.” (Oh, Lord above, please let the Johnson Amendment be preserved). We have got to put on our big kid undies and deal. Stop whining. Get on with it. Study the Bible, raise our voices in worship, invite others to ask us hard questions, submit ourselves to the authority of the Holy Spirit each day.

We aren’t supposed to stay babies forever.

The “too long, didn’t read” conclusion for all you ADHD folks: Christian, get off your butt and grow up.

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Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Five Minute Friday: Mom

Along the way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

I went to bed at 7:45 p.m. last night.

Par-tay animal.

Linking up with Kate and The Gang.

Go.

It’s the most a-awkward day of the yeeeeaaaaarrrrrr…at church.

“Happy Mother’s Day!” comes flying out of well-meaning, enthusiastic mouths seconds before the look of horrified realization – “Oh, craaaaaaaaaaap. You never carried a baby in your womb-pouch thing that you don’t even have anymore and does that maybe make you less of a woman and you haven’t adopted anyone that doesn’t have fur and I shouldn’t have said that and now I feel weird and did I make you feel weird and how can I get out of this please put me out of my misery right now I’m going to back away slowly and go get a doughnut.”

I nod. I say “thanks” and wish him or her the same in return. (Yeah, weirdly, lots of men). I’m sure a smirk crosses my face because the entire exchange amuses me.

And, oh, the Mother’s Day sermons. No matter how hard I try, I tune out. Or read the footnotes in my study Bible. Jael’s brief story is particularly interesting. Not because I’m angry or hurt. I’m not. I just don’t know why there must be special Mother’s Day sermons and services. Or any recognition of any secular holiday – Father’s Day, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, President’s Day, May the Fourth be With You. Isn’t the point of our corporate gatherings to worship the Lord? To focus on Him? Can’t moms and dads and just people be encouraged and uplifted in the normal course of that worship? Must the spotlight be shifted?

This is an unpopular opinion, I’m sure, but I don’t want church to be about anything or anyone other than God. I don’t like it when groups of people are invited to stand so all can applaud. Save it for another time, another place.

Between the above period and the “b” that starts this sentence, I’ve been staring at a blinking cursor for a good few minutes. Time is long up. I want to end this with some bit of wit or wisdom, but I haven’t got any. Just go hug your mom or your mom-figure. Or call her if she’s not close by. Because of course I don’t hate Mother’s Day and I don’t want to tear down moms. I love my Mom. The older I get, the more I appreciate all the sacrifices she made for me.

What I want is space for suffering. Space for the lack of the American Dream fulfilled. Space for weak bodies and complicated situations and marriages that have taken a beating. Space for tears. Space to think that women are insane for not using any and all pain medications available during labor because I’ve had surgery and ain’t nobody got time for that. Space to roll my eyes over the fact that every little thing in Western Christianity is oriented around children, around the family, thereby leaving out significant portions of the Body. Space to be the cool auntie with the good fashion sense who lets kids eat the candy their parents don’t allow. Space for questions. Space for bruises and blood tests and surgical scars. Space to raise my hands in worship, in an unspoken message that my Creator hears: I am not what many think I should be. I do not have what many think I should have. But You – You are enough.

Stop.

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Hollow Outrage

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Twitter lost its collective mind over the last week.

At least the part of the tweet stream that I swim in.

CT Women, an arm of Christianity Today that bills itself as “news and analysis from the perspective of evangelical women,” launched into a two-month long series called #AmplifyWomen: A New Conversation About Leadership and Discipleship. The first entry, “Who’s in Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?,” written by Tish Harrison Warren, stirred up an incredible amount of ire. I confess that I felt that ire at first. I’m as egalitarian as they come. “Feminism” is not a dirty word to me. My knee-jerk reaction after reading the article was to wonder why men weren’t being called to the carpet. Men like Douglas Wilson, Mark Driscoll, John Pavlovitz. Men – conservative and progressive – who teach harmful things. Why were women being labeled the “bad guys?”

Thankfully, I watched the responses before adding my voice to the cacophony. Often wisdom is found in waiting. I took the time to pause and reflect. The more I thought about it, the more I liked Warren’s article, for several reasons:

  • First, she’s an ordained minister. She’s hardly out to silence women’s voices.
  • Second, her call to accountability is appropriate. Anyone who dares take to a public platform had better keep the words of James in mind: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (3:1, NKJV).
  • Third, she never once asks women to submit to oppressive, misogynistic church cultures (as some claim).
  • Fourth, she doesn’t dismiss laypeople (again, as some claim).
  • Fifth, everything in the piece is applicable to men, just as many (if not most) things geared toward men are applicable to women.
  • Sixth, this is the first entry in a series. Anyone who thought she should or could cover every facet and concern of women in ministry ever had hugely unrealistic expectations.

Do I think that it’s practical or workable for every blogger to submit every piece he or she writes to some “board of blogging overseers?” Of course not. I don’t believe that Warren thinks that’s a good idea either. A large portion of accountability should be left to the readers, who need to know the Scriptures well enough to be able to discern when someone is “off.” (I’m talking about unorthodox “off” here, not legitimate differences in interpretation). Those readers should attempt to correct that author, and then stop following that author and warn others about him or her if he/she refuses to be corrected. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with or oppressive about going to our pastors and saying, “Hey, could you check this out? Have I written anything heretical lately? Would you come around me and support this ministry I’ve got going?” That just makes sense. That’s the Body doing what its meant to do.

The main objection to Warren’s piece appears to be her inclusion of one particular author as an example of the blogosphere phenomenon and the questions surrounding it:

One of the most prominent recent examples of this crisis involves the popular blogger Jen Hatmaker, who last year announced that her views about homosexuality have changed. She was cheered by some and denounced by others. LifeWay stopped selling her books. Aside from the debate about sexuality, broader questions emerged: Where do bloggers and speakers like Hatmaker derive their authority to speak and teach? And who holds them accountable for their teaching? What kinds of theological training and ecclesial credentialing are necessary for Christian teachers and leaders? What interpretive body and tradition do these bloggers speak out of? Who decides what is true Christian orthodoxy? And how do we as listeners decide whom to trust as a Christian leader and teacher?

The accusation, coming fast, heavy and from multiple voices: “You’re trying to tear down Jen Hatmaker!”

Please.

There’s nothing offensive in that paragraph. Absolutely nothing. No name calling, no shaming. Just the facts. Hatmaker did announce a change in her views. Some did cheer. Some did not. Lifeway pulled her books.

Apparently stating the facts is now a mean thing to do?

Jonathan Merritt published a scathing retort,  “Why I’ll take courageous Jen Hatmaker over her cowardly critics any day,” over at Religion News Service. Phrases like “conservative mafia,” “evangelical aristocracy” and “institutional machine” litter the piece. I don’t condone nastiness and I have no doubt that Hatmaker has encountered some – but there’s a massive difference between nastiness and disagreement, between character assassination and parting from someone over irreconcilable doctrinal differences. It isn’t wrong to say, “I don’t agree with this stance you’ve taken and here’s why.” It isn’t horrible to tell your friends, “I don’t think you should follow this person and here’s why.”

Warren wasn’t attempting a shade-throwing take-down. There was no need for “progressive Twitter” (not my phrase and I can’t remember who coined it) to scream bloody murder. And in that scream is an important, unspoken claim: I should feel sorry for Hatmaker. I should defend her.

Why?

Between Facebook and Twitter, she has 757,563 followers. Her books are (and will probably continue to be) bestsellers. She had a TV show. She’s a featured speaker with the Belong Tour (if you can figure out exactly what that tour is about, you’re smarter than I am). Her articles for the Today show’s parenting site have been read by almost seven million people (if I am interpreting that statistic correctly; go here and decide for yourself). She testifies to a happy family life. By all accounts, she is beloved and successful.

I’m supposed to feel bad because she’s taken some heat? I’m supposed to buy into the “Christian machine” conspiracy theory?

I don’t.

Call me callous if you like. Shrug.

No leader is or should be immune to criticism.

Most fascinating to me about the whole brou-ha-ha is the near-complete lack of response to the second entry in the series, “The Great Female Commission,”  because another supposed fault of Warren’s piece had to do with her not addressing the lack of opportunities for women of color in ministry. She, a white woman, wrote from a place of “privilege.” Again, it was impossible for her to cover everything in that article, but I do recognize the validity here. The Church has a terrible track record with women in general, and an even worse one with women who aren’t white.

But…”The Great Female Commission” is an interview with an African-American woman who’s doing cool things in women’s discipleship.

And there’s very little engagement with it.

I see you, Twitter. I see you complaining about hashtag appropriation (#amplifywomen rose out of the Women’s March back in January), which has to be one of the dumbest, most nonsensical things ever. I see you mercilessly laying into a woman who dares to express a view different from you, the very thing you vociferously condemn others for doing to your preferred Christian celebrities. I see you talking a big game about supporting and uplifting women of color and then refusing to engage with Natasha Sistrunk Robinson and her thoughts on discipleship.

Your outrage is hollow.

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Addendum: Warren posted a follow-up to the CT Women piece on her personal site. April Fiet shared a thoughtful response, as did Hannah Anderson.

Photo credit: Anna Demianenko