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Yesterday, this beautiful poem was shared:

life is complicated

there are complexities that are difficult to identify

your experiences and perceptions are unique to you

disappointment, disillusionment and fatigue have all played their part

and you left the church

maybe you’re sick of fighting

maybe you can no longer believe

maybe the inconsistencies were too heavy

maybe you bought into something that no longer rings true

my friend, hear me when I say:

you are not disqualified

you are not forgotten

you are loved

you are needed

God is not limited to what you’ve experienced in church

God is not restrained by the immaturity of His people

and just because you left the church, does not necessarily mean that you left Him

your questions are valid

your doubts are real

let us walk in them together

because I know He calls for you

the thought of darkening those doors may be sickening

the judgmental looks and awkward conversations

do not be dismayed

prodigal or not, God welcomes you

where we go from here, I do not know

what church looks like in your life remains to be seen

but one of the most earnest prayers I know is:

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

this journey is to be walked together

and you are not alone

let’s stumble along this path together, falling towards the light

I have left the church at various stages of my life.  There have been times where I’ve felt so disconnected I wondered how I might ever find my way back.

I’ve now realized that finding my way back is not the point; the point is to move forward.

I don’t want to go back to those days when I didn’t have questions, where I believed what I believed because I was supposed to, when I somehow felt better than others for going to church.

How arrogant was I?

Really, it was a means of protecting myself, because I felt that if I lost my beliefs, I’d lose my faith.  And as Kathy Escobar points out, the loss of one does not necessarily lead to losing the other; it’s not a slippery slope or a zero-sum game.

Honestly, I’ve never been happier faith-wise than I’ve been in the last year, even though I’ve wandered off the set path I was on, into the murky forest of unanswered questions and grey, foggy areas.

I’m forging a new path, a new way, a new ‘me,’ and a lot of that involves experimenting, trial and error.

I am lucky in that I’ve had a supportive church family which has aided my spiritual growth in a lot of ways.  But that doesn’t mean my church is perfect.  Churches can’t be perfect because they’re made of people, people who aren’t perfect.  And yes, churches often equate perfect religion with perfect faith, even though the two aren’t necessarily related.  Believe me, there have been times over this past year where I’ve sat in my pew, biting my tongue over what has been said.  And I’m sure people have done the same when I’ve said something.

But for me, my church family is really an extension of my family.  And I am blessed in that way.

Others, unfortunately, have not had the same mostly positive experiences I’ve had.  They’ve been part of churches that have hurt them so badly that they will bear scars for the rest of their lives.  Some people simply can’t get over the hypocrisy between what is practiced and what is preached.  Yet others just don’t have faith in anything anymore and would rather go it alone.

And that’s okay.

God does not live in a church, because a church is just that – a building.  Going to church every week does not make you better than anyone else.  Not believing exactly what your religion says you should believe is okay; you need to figure out your faith for yourself.  And if you have no idea what you believe, or if you even believe in anything at all, that’s okay, too.  The trick is to stop comparing your journey to others.  It’ll never be the same, and it shouldn’t be because you are different.

So whatever church means to you, live that.  Be true to what your heart and soul are telling you and you’ll find what you need.

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So this month I’ve been leading a series at church on women and the Bible.  Notice it’s women *and* the Bible.

For centuries now, people have used the Bible to basically tell women that they’re inferior to men.

“Biblical language, biblical stories, and biblical ideas underlie high and low culture, political rhetoric, conceptions of self and community, of duty and justice, of denial and aspiration.  The Bible’s gender mythology provides ample raw material for popular culture.  Indeed it does.  For example: did you know that Apple’s corporate logo recalls Eve’s bite of the forbidden fruit (fruit from the tree of knowledge)?”

No, I did not.  But I do know that the interpretation of the Bible and the Bible itself has had a profound influence on gender inequality.

The first week, we looked at the story of Adam and Eve and how what was initially an equal partnership between a man and a woman was reinterpreted over the years to become a story of man’s dominion over women.  I demonstrated this through a look at the writings of various influential Christian theologians and philosophers, and what I found was enough to make me want to find their graves and spit on them (Martin Luther’s especially).  Luckily, there are a lot of feminist biblical scholars and researchers (both male and female) who’ve done a lot of work in this area over the last couple of decades who’ve pretty much dismantled all of the arguments the dominionists (my name for them) use.  Unfortunately, we still live with the consequences of these centuries of misinterpretation.

During the second week, we looked at those lovely passages in the New Testament that basically tell women to sit down and shut up.  I’d never sat down and actually studied the passages before; I simply ignored them, believing they were relics of a previous era.  Well, once again I learned the importance of context.  Those verses do not mean what they say.  In the context of the passages where they come from, they are specific instructions written to specific churches about specific problems within those specific churches, which means they aren’t universal instructions.  Those instructions did not mean that women couldn’t and shouldn’t participate in church and should instead submit to their husbands whenever and however.  Besides, if everything in the Bible was meant to be an instruction that we’re supposed to follow forever and ever, we’d all better stop wearing cotton blends and start stoning adulterers (Tiger Woods goes first).

Last week we looked at the issue of violence in the Bible.  Unfortunately some men use those lovely verses about submitting to your husband as a means of justifying abuse.  And there’s no doubt that a lot of the imagery about God’s relationship to the people of Israel is pretty misogynistic: Israel was portrayed as a whore on many occasions.  Then we looked at Judges 19, that horrific passage where a woman is pushed out into the street by her master and is gang-raped all night by a group of men, only to have her master possibly kill her and then dismember her and send parts of her body out to the 12 tribes of Israel, who then seek revenge for her death and end up slaughtering thousands of men and kidnapping hundreds of women.  The master conveniently leaves out his part in the woman’s death.  I came across some writing by Greg Boyd that gave me some hope in that others are struggling with synthesizing the violent images of God found in the Old Testament with the merciful and benevolent God found in the New Testament.  How can you reconcile divine love and divine wrath?  I don’t have a clue, but it’s an issue I want to continue exploring.

And that leads me to this week’s session, which is on leadership and valour.  Here’s a primer on female pastors in the Adventist church.

I LOVE this video.  And yeah, they’re ordaining women as pastors in CHINA of all places.

Some people think there’s a biblical basis for not ordaining women, based on those passages about women being silent and the supposed idea that there aren’t any female apostles in the Bible (Dear Catholic Church and other churches that won’t allow women to be pastors: let me introduce you to Junia).  I’m not convinced there’s anything in the Bible that outlaws women becoming pastors.

But Adventists are a little weird in this respect.  We allow female pastors, we just won’t ordain them.  And that means that they can’t officially represent the church nor aspire to church leadership.  I remember when I first realized this.  I was 7 or 8, I think, and I was PISSED.  The church and I just about broke up that day.

Needless to say, I was a little surprised to find this recent article: “WANTED! More Female Pastors.”

It’s about damn time.

If you look at the Bible, you see amazing examples of female leadership.  The first person who comes to mind for me is Deborah.  Deborah was a bad ass.  She was the only female judge found in the book of Judges, and Barak wouldn’t go into battle without her.  She was fierce and brave.

What about Esther?  She stood up to the King and risked her life for her people.

Ruth did not wait for a guy to ask her out; she went after what she wanted.

Huldah lived at the time of the mighty prophet Jeremiah (who has an entire book named after him in the Bible), yet she was the one that King Josiah trusted.

Mary of Nazareth carried a so-called illegitimate child and had a faith that we’ve admired throughout the ages.

Then there’s Phoebe, Priscilla, Miriam, Hannah, Abigail, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Tabitha.

Don’t tell me that women aren’t capable of leading because aren’t any examples of women in leadership positions in the Bible.  There are TONS, and besides, leadership doesn’t always mean standing at the front of a group of people.  Leadership doesn’t mean yelling your own point of view at the top of your lungs.  True leadership involves understanding people, inspiring people, challenging people and pushing forward.

All of these women were leaders in their own right.  They challenged their circumstances and followed their hearts, all while inspiring those around them.  Churches need more women like them.  Churches need leading ladies.

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