Learning Redemption…

April 17, 2012

During my time in the wilderness I have come to reevaluate much of the theology that I grew up learning. I came to this reevaluation slowly as my husband and I tried to use our previous knowledge to create a healthy ministry environment.

Let’s just say we got really great at failing at creating a healthy ministry environment. I would go as far to say that we learned how to cultivate the discipline of failing.

Our first year in the wilderness was a disaster from the start. The reality is that the previous pastor who had spent nine months living within this community had been asked to resign for different reasons. His response was no, so the church had to take his resignation to the congregation. This previous pastor figured he could win over the congregation , however, he did not. He was fired on that Sunday and shortly after “planted” a new church within town. Now, our town has 3500 people living within the city limits, and our church actually split from the first Christian church within town thirty years before. So, we now have three Restoration Movement churches within a rural town, along with the Catholics, the baptists, and the charismatic church that meets in a store front on our main street.

Being naive, young, and optimistic we figured this church split would have very little impact on our ministry experience.

Like I said, our first year of ministry was a disaster. We were not prepared for this kind of ministry experience. Not only were we walking into a very messy situation, we were also newly married, which was a strike against us. We did not know each other, and so our efforts to try and invest in anyone else was very difficult.

All this said, after our first year, we were ready to get out of ministry. We had tried everything we had learned in school and within our prior experience and nothing seemed to be working. We were drowning.

I was dealing with trying to support my husband, while trying to figure out where the Hell God had stuck us. I was also going through my own personal crisis, as I had just graduated Bible college with a preaching degree and we were involved with a community that did not, and does not support women in leadership or in the pulpit. I did finally find a full time job, but I was miserable. I gained thirty pounds and would come home from work and crawl into bed everyday.

So, we did what any normal depressed and frustrated married couple should do, we went on vacation! We flew to Colorado Springs and stayed with one of Waylon’s relatives and spent some well earned time together.

My experience within this wilderness had led me to some questions that I have never gotten answers to.I sat for a year and half and watched this previous pastor help divide this small community. Where was the church discipline? Where was the church magistrate to stop this man from creating such chaos? I mean this guy graduated with his Masters from my Alma mater…shouldn’t someone have found out about this situation and taken away his ordination certificate?

I also had questions for the church we were at like; why are we electing elders who can’t/won’t read the Bible? What is the real point of communion? Why was I, a 23-24 year old leading a group of women who were all in their fifties and up and should be teaching and leading me within the faith? What was the point of church if the members did not participate in any kind of discipleship?

As I have to had to wrestle with these questions and these issues, I have come to reevaluate my view of God and his role within the local church. At first I resented Him, and wanted to know why He would move us to such a challenging and heart wrenching place. My anger turned into sadness, which in turn led me to a deeper understanding of His character and His love.

I don’t think God had much to do with the sin that had gone before we entered into the wilderness. However, He was in the interest of redeeming the damage, as well as redeeming the sin within my life. Which is one of the main reasons we are still invested in this wilderness. We are not here to “do” ministry, but to partner with God in his redeeming work. If we are going to do this kind of work, we should never have expected it to be easy, let alone clean. While I still have many questions that have gone unanswered, I do know that redemption is taking place, even if it is only taking place among a small group of people.

 

 

 

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The Start of the End

April 16, 2012

When my husband and I moved to our new home almost three years ago, we were just recently married. We were living next door to my in laws and the original plan was to attend Seminary and work until we both graduated. By the middle of the summer my husband felt the itch to provide for his new family. I encouraged him in his journey towards vocational ministry. 

He sent three resumes out. The first was a reject. The second church showed interest. We started the interview process and waited patiently to hear positive news. We had just received an annual contract from this church when the third prospect called us asking for more information. We were high on positive thoughts from our interview process and we ignored the third prospect. 

We decided within a month’s time to take the job and move into the wilderness. 

We found a house to rent that would allow us to have our two dogs and rented a Uhaul. The owner of the house told us that his previous tenants would have vacated the premises on a certain date, so we showed up with our Uhaul, our car, and our two dogs. We even had a group of church members who kindly volunteered to help us move our stuff into the house. Well we found out very shortly after being in the driveway of the house that the tenants had not vacated the premises and it would still be a day or two before we could move into our house. 

We had a couple from the church volunteer to host us while we waited the extra day or two. While, the church member’s hospitality did not go unnoticed I had a huge problem with this plan. I moved all my stuff down to find out we are temporarily homeless. This did not sit well with my neurotic, controlling self. 

The next day we were able to move our stuff into the house. I feel like I will never truly be able to put into words how awful the house itself was, let alone my suburban reaction to it. It was over ninety degrees in the middle of August and we did not have air conditioning. The house held a musky smell that should only be really experienced when reading a Stephen King novel. The bathrooms were carpeted and full of mold. The kitchen was filthy. The carpet had not been cleaned in years, or so it seemed. We did have a gracious number of volunteers who came during that day to help us clean our house and to help us move.

Looking back two and a half years later, I feel like that house was the physical representation of what our ministry experience was going to be during this wilderness time.

I cried that night. I wept for my selfish desires of wanting to have an air conditioned, clean, and mold free environment to live in. But, when God calls you to the wilderness he does not promise a clean or cool environment.  

When God calls you to abide in His obedience, He doesn’t promise the American dream. 

When we moved down I was determined to find work, but this was a difficult venture as we had moved to one of the most poverty stricken areas in the state. So, not only did I live in a place that I felt was unsuitable, I had to spend the majority of my time in this place. I hated the smell, the dirt, and the fact that I had to wear flip flops in the shower, because there was a stain on the floor that wouldn’t come off. I hated that since our toilet leaked, the carpet in the bathroom was always wet and always smelled. 

This house was a representation of how I was feeling in every other aspect of my life as well. I hated where we were and what we were doing. I started to resent my husband for moving me to such an awful place. I started to resent this “loving” God who put me in such a place. I grew up in a church where God’s plan was so big and powerful, and he wanted us to be apart of it! How could this negative experience be apart of that plan? 

Little did I connect that my own life was the true representation of the house in which I was living in. My heart stunk like mold, my soul was stained with dirt and muck, my physical body was not a healthy representation of a Christ follower, and my mind was soaked in a narrow view of God and his Kingdom.

I was the messy house. 

God had called me to the wilderness to let me abide in my filth so that I could truly recognize that I was in desperate need of the Spirit to come and cleanse me. 

This messy house was the start to my own end. 

Lesson number…

April 15, 2012

I am often learning new lessons within this foreign culture. Some of these lessons are painful, some are comical.  I teach a women’s Bible Study every week and I often am confronted with new lessons.

The last two weeks we have been studying the book of Ruth, which has shown me once again that Yahweh continues to show up and create a refuge for the outcasts. Ruth seems to be less about a romantic love story and more about the steadfast love Yahweh tries to share with His people. Ruth and Boaz are powerful examples of this divine steadfast love during a time of moral and spiritual destitute.

So, we get to the end of the book on Thursday night and I ask the question; Well what did you all learn from this story?

Now, I must bring up some important factors before continuing to the answer that I was given. My women’s group is made up of women who are in their fifties and up, and many of the women who are in their fifties are mentally much older. I am by far the youngest women in the whole church. 75% of these women have never lived anywhere but their hometown, which is no bigger than ten thousand people. I have one Mexican American within my group, the rest are Caucasian, and are not friendly toward outsiders.

I give you a small glimpse of their worldview so that you may understand the generation dialogue.

Now to the answer: what these women gleaned from this powerful story of redemption and love is that the “younger generation” are all entitled brats, who don’t work for anything and are not loyal to their families. Ruth of course, was a young women, who was very loyal to her mother in law, and worked hard to get where she got to. When I confronted this generational accusation by suggesting they meant my generation, I was quickly told “no, it has nothing to do with you…”

So, being my confrontational self, I denied them the right to complain about another generation. I spoke into the text and stated that the beauty of the book is that it’s not about how hard Ruth works, but that God provides and protects Ruth and Naomi because of his steadfast love for them. I then went and preached on how we as the people of God have the opportunity to give to the less fortunate all of the time because we know and want to take part of this steadfast love.

As I stated these things I noticed complete silence from the group. I had touched a wound and would probably hear about it later, but I had learned two lessons in that moment. The first being that when we, no matter young or old, accuse another generation of a crime, we are dividing the church. I try really hard to respect every elderly person I meet, while still keeping in mind that our worldviews are very different.

The second lesson I learned was that when someone makes an accusatory statement against a generation, they are usually thinking of someone specific within their own lives. This happens to be the case, at least within my Bible Study. For two years I have sat and listened to these women, and learned about their family dynamics, and I know now that when someone makes a broad statement they are thinking of a specific person within their family who is causing chaos.

Knowing these two lessons teaches me how to better pastor these women in their family situations, while still trying to let the text win.

A new start

April 15, 2012

For the last three years I have lived within a foreign culture and I have attempted to “do” ministry.  This foreign culture is riddled with racism, tribalism, superstition, and a crooked theological framework. While living in this new culture, my own theological framework and paradigm has stretched, twisted, and been broken. Not only is this place I am abiding different and foreign to me, but it has also represented a wilderness time for me. I have spent almost three years in a wilderness that has been riddled with desert time.

Desert time; a time of complete thirst and hunger for life.

Through these last three years I have also started a marriage, started my first full time job, quit my first full time job, went back to Seminary, quit Seminary, and gotten pregnant. In six to eight weeks we will be meeting our first son.

I have encountered many new theological experiences, some comical, some heart wrenching.

I kept a blog from my Senior year of high school up to my Senior year of college. I blogged consistently about my theological reflections while attending a conservative Bible college. When I got married and moved to my new home I stopped writing both personally and publicly. 

This is where I start new again.