The Year of the Big Wait: Bruce Barnard

This month’s post was written by esteemed NazToo member, Bruce Barnard. Bruce is a pastor, adjunct professor, doctoral student at George Fox Seminary, and currently President/CEO of the Manhattan Initiative as well as Chief Operations and Financial Officer for the Metro New York District Church of the Nazarene. Bruce’s calling is to speak for the disenfranchised, the societal outcasts and those whose lives have been marginalized by mainstream Christianity. He’s a pastor, husband, dad, son, brother, student, and friend to many. Bruce and his wife Amy lead Nazarene church planting in Manhattan and have their own house church. This has been a challenging year for them as NYC was ground zero of the global pandemic, working remotely, and the loss of Bruce’s mom. In the midst of that, he’s still giving THANKS and WAITING!

“Waiting is our destiny. As creatures who cannot by themselves bring about what they hope for, we wait in the darkness for a flame we cannot light. We wait in fear for a happy ending that we cannot write. We wait for a ‘not yet’ that feels like a ‘not ever.’” Lewis Smedes

TLDR: 2020 is the Year of the Big Wait

2020 feels a bit like we’ve just been waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

  • We’ve been waiting on a virus we couldn’t see. . .
  • We’ve been waiting on a return to normalcy that won’t feel normal. . .
  • We’ve been waiting on a US election that has the potential to change the world. . .
  • We’re still waiting on a vaccine for a virus that we believe will be a game changer. . .

For many of us, we’ve been waiting as well to hug someone, to hold hands, to bump fists, to kiss, to feel the touch of a loved one that is far away. For some of us we’ve been waiting on celebrating a marriage or memorializing a death. Nothing, literally nothing, in 2020 has looked like we thought it would, nor as we hoped it might. 

So too we enter Advent.

I’m not sure what I thought Advent might be like this year. I know for a fact on March 13th, my last in-person day at my office (the Metro NY District Church of the Nazarene) I warned our staff, “Let’s be prepared for this to last a few weeks, maybe a month. In fact, take what you need to be able to work from home for a month or two!” Those were my encouraging words, and I totally believed them.

As the days turned to weeks, and weeks to months, and now months to almost a full year, it’s clear we misjudged the pandemic before us. And as money ran out, and as bills piled up, and as food became scarce and we spent hours waiting in lines, our patience for waiting ran out.

Then, November 3rd in America. With a global audience tuned in, our country went to the polls (well, about 45% of the country). We watched and read and listened all day to exit polling, then we watched and waited all evening, and then we moved into November 4th still waiting. It would be two full weeks before some media outlets would “call the election” and even longer as some states counted and recounted and re-canvassed their ballots. And now, December 1, we are still waiting for the electoral college vote on December 14th. (I realize here that I’m writing from a US-centric perspective but that’s my current context).

I don’t know your context, but I’m tired of waiting. And yet here I am, entering Advent, being told by church history to do just that – WAIT. ANTICIPATE, but WAIT. And how does that bring me to NazToo?

NazToo seems to be made up of a large group of friends who have spent the better part of their adult lives waiting – waiting to be accepted, waiting to be encircled with love, waiting to find answers to questions of their lives, waiting to find love, waiting to discard baggage, waiting to be included, waiting on a church to believe in them. And to most of you, I have no clue what that feels like. But I know you have found a safe harbor here in this group. And for that I’m eternally grateful to the creators. And so this year, as 2020 comes to a close, to those of you still waiting, I offer this transition from THANKSGIVING to WAITING:

To those called friend — for you, for your commitment to live openly and honestly and transparently, for your love of those labeled “outsider,” for your willingness to dialogue across difference, for your passion to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, as this season of THANKS draws to a close and a season of WAITING begins, I give thanks to the Lord for you. . .

Raised by Wolves: Brandon Brown

November’s post comes to us courtesy of Brandon Brown, who writes of himself: I am a District Licensed Pastor, serving in the Hendersonville Church of the Nazarene as the volunteer Discipleship Pastor. I have almost completed the course of study at NBC and have an undergrad in Bible from Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN and have been in the greater Nashville area for over thirty years. My wife Christi (who is infinitely smarter than I) and I have been married for 24 years and have dogs and cats we adore as well as nieces and nephews; we are also caregivers for Christi’s parents. I have a day job as an engineer for a technology company and enjoy almost any music but especially jazz (and NOT country), film, TV, books, cars, and many more things I can learn about.

I was raised by wolves. Academics, actually, but from outside it may have seemed like wolves. My brother and I were pushed to think for ourselves and work things out. Direct answers were not the specialty of our home and I thank God for that fact because it helped shape my interaction with our world and culture to be one of curiosity. While we were not given answers directly, we were exposed to a plethora of information and ideas. We also observed the way our parents interacted with those around them and it gave us a profound understanding of the value of each and every human being we encountered in life. (Not that I have been a good example of that at all times.) My mother demonstrated deep faith while my father was not a man of faith. However, we were allowed to work out our faith ourselves. Ours was a home in which questions were welcomed even when answers were wanting. We were never asked to quit asking questions or to just accept things as they were.

The Church should be like my experience growing up. A safe place to ask questions, express doubts, challenge the status quo, and learn from one another. Will there be silly questions or inappropriate questions asked? Of course; but those questions can be dealt with by mature members without causing embarrassment or pain to the questioner. There is a young man in the church in which I am serving who likes to ask questions. I embrace his asking and enjoy the conversations we have about those questions. A conversation may start like “So, the atonement, let’s talk about that. What is penal substitutionary atonement? We don’t really like that one do we?” or “Postmodernism… is that how I think? I like the idea that truth does not equal fact, can we discuss that?” Honestly, I can’t always answer his questions and I believe it is alright that I sometimes must say that I really don’t know the answer or even how to begin answering.

Somewhere along the line, the Church began to equate questions and doubt with unbelief. So the former were treated as things to be ignored, converted, or eradicated. The unity of love began to be supplanted by a uniformity of ideologies which included those of a social, cultural, and even political nature. Jesus in the Gospel of John says; “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35 NRSV). Jesus doesn’t say that his disciples will be known by the way they talk, look, or vote but by the way they love. When we love with the love exemplified by Jesus, we allow people to ask tough, uncomfortable, and even doubtful questions. The Church seeking to create disciples who pray daily for the Kingdom come here and now is one who knows that faith and doubt can coexist because doubt is not equal to unbelief.

Back to being raised by wolves. I wonder if we take the analogy of sheep too far at times. I fully agree that we are sheep led by the Good Shepherd but maybe in our local community we can be wolves living in a pack radically following Jesus with just a tinge of danger. The danger of being willing to ask questions, entertain questions, and answer doubt with understanding rather than apologetics. Maybe, just maybe, we should be wolves raising peculiar people willing to upend our world with the radical discipleship of love. In the end, it is not our philosophy, sociology, or politics that matter; it is our love.

Running A Mile: Hannah Jones-Nelson

NazToo-er Hannah Jones-Nelson brings us October’s post. Hannah writes of herself: I am a fourth generation Nazarene, currently district licensed and serving as Youth Pastor at Manteno COTN in Illinois. I am halfway through my M.Div at NTS. I am married to my high school sweetheart, David, who claims to be the Assistant (to the) Youth Pastor. We love all things Kansas City!

Confession time: I have a really hard time doing things I’m not good at. A really hard time. In high school PE class, I chose to walk the mile extremely slow – we’re talking almost a crawl – because I would rather have a bad mile time on purpose than a bad time because I wasn’t good at it. As a serial overachiever, early in life I made it my goal to never be bad at something unless I could control the outcome. Running has never been one of those things; I am definitely not built to run.

In the spirit of trying to overcome horrible habits and behaviors I developed as a child (isn’t that just what adulthood is?), I decided to start running. I needed to do something that was difficult, something I may fail at over and over again, in order to realize that this does not change my value as a human. I wanted to be able to learn and grow and love things that are outside of my comfort zone! So, after starting and stopping a few times in college, I picked it up again last fall. I tried everything under the sun in order to get better at running, but literally nothing was working. I was close to giving up and accepting the fact that I may never be able to run more than a short distance at a time.

Around this time, I had traveled to Kansas City to complete a weeklong module at seminary. I started to talk with a new friend about my constant struggle with endurance and my inability to run longer than a few minutes at a time. I explained how frustrated and overwhelmed I was, knowing that I may never be able to enjoy this hobby. She shared a simple but life-changing piece of advice (one that is so obvious you’ll laugh at me for not realizing it sooner): if you can’t run a mile, you’re running too fast.

That’s it. And I kid you not, the next day I ran a mile without stopping!

Why did it take me so long to figure that one out? Why did I spend hours trying to figure out the secret trick that made everyone else good at it? Why was it this easy, but every expert blog and post and article failed to mention it? I think that sometimes we do this with our faith, with our ideas on changing the world, with our desire to seek justice. We complicate it and struggle and get distracted by everything except this simplest thing. Maybe we are running too fast. Maybe we are forgetting to set our sights on what matters, maybe we are trying to impress others or follow certain rules because we think that’s the best way to get where we’re going. But maybe there is a simpler answer.

Maybe we are really just called to love, and we complicate it by asking who our “neighbor” is or by sticking labels on others that makes it okay to not love them as much. We complicate it by explaining that loving God can only be done through a strict set of rules instead of recognizing the freedom Christ offers. We avoid doing things outside of our comfort zone because we are just not sure what to do with them. Are we making this harder than it should be? Are we choosing to stay away because it makes us uncomfortable? Are we hiding behind answers that don’t really help us to love? Maybe…probably.

Maybe we are really just called to love, and we complicate it by trying to go too fast. Are we burning ourselves out by engaging in all things all of the time? We don’t have to be the greatest at changing the world around us. We don’t need to go the farthest or last the longest, but we are called to do our part. It is overwhelming to see all of the brokenness around us in our communities, governments, systems, and churches. What can I do as a single person to fix this mess? How can I make the world a better place when there is so much to do? All I know is that a simple piece of advice has helped me grow more physically and mentally than I had in a few years of trying to run. Maybe today you need a simple piece of advice. Love others and do it even if it’s uncomfortable; Love others and slow down if you need to.

Blessed are the Homeless in Spirit: Patrick Taylor

September’s post comes to us from my good friend and ex-NazToo admin, Pastor Patrick Taylor. Patrick is an ordained minister pastoring Ebenezer Church of the Nazarene in Aiken, SC, where he also teaches Sacred Studies at Mead Hall Episcopal School. A proponent of Christian Pacifism, he enjoys working with Nazarenes United for Peace, and relieves stress by focusing on his hobbies of stand-up comedy and his growing collection of bonsai trees.

Seeing your childhood home empty is an emotional experience. Faced with the lack of anything, you are suddenly aware of everything that occupied that space all at once: every picture that hung on the wall, every conversation shared, every holiday celebrated. Every game played, every friend made, every early morning and late night. Even the most insignificant moments can strangely be so vividly visualized, all living and dying in an instant, cruelly leaving you both painfully aware of its deep meaning for you, and your grief for the loss of it all.

You’ve grown and done so much, protected and shaped by this place in particular, your place, and now it is as if the only thing left for this place and its moments to do is to fade from memory, little by little, year by year, until it is gone.

I first penned those words when my parents moved out of the house in which I grew up, not two years ago. Today, I experience a similar melancholy walking through the empty church where my local body would gather for worship on Sundays before words like lockdown, pandemic, and death rate became part of our liturgy.

To me, the empty church stands as a palpable metaphor for the feeling of homelessness so many of her children feel these days, and not due to the pandemic. (Though, if you ever have the chance to pastor through a pandemic, go ahead and take a hard pass on that.)

I hardly need to recite the many and painful reasons why many evangelical Jesus-followers feel homeless these days. Political polarization, increasing Christian nationalism, wildly different ideas of worship and liturgy, and a myriad of social issues have fueled the spiritual crises for many.

Now, if our newfound homelessness simply meant emancipation from an unhealthy relationship, or a newfound freedom, perhaps it would be good news- a “clean break,” a fresh start, or a mutual break-up. But the terror of our homelessness is compounded in the realization that we are ruined: Christ has ruined us, and we will never be “free.” Christ refuses to leave us alone.

Of my home, Flannery O’Connor has said that, “while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.” In grieving the death of what once was our idea of our spiritual “home”, we have become Christ-haunted, hounded by the spectre of the savior in our questioning, wandering homelessness. Salty as we may be, we cannot help but look back towards something in that city on a hill that raised us, even as we flee the destruction that pushed us out. 

The Spirit of God is not the only thing we are haunted by. Ironically, in our homelessness, we become haunted houses full of spirits. Peter Rollins paints this image when he says, “we are all haunted houses. Haunted by the memory of those we love and those who have loved us. People that we have hurt, and people who have left us scarred or in pain.” Homeless I may be, but I find I cannot truly let go of the faith that the church has given to me, nor can I abandon the people who show up in both my fond memories and my nightmares.

People like me experiencing this spiritual homelessness articulate feeling they are not understood, either by the church where we used to be at home, or by the world, for whom “faith” is a relic at best and a delusion at worst- not that I can begrudge them that view of faith, as we have often presented it. And so we exist in this kind of homeless “in-between.”

I’ve taken to imagining this homeless relationship with the “church” as a kind of frayed string pulled in two directions, holding on by a thread. The tension in my heart and life constantly experiences this gap:

Between church and world.
Between assurance and unbelief.
Between fury and gratitude.
Between hope and despair.
Between heaven and hell.
And I am aware of all of them at once, and know they all exist in me.

And sometimes it’s too much.

But sometimes… just maybe… that space between is where real Christian faith becomes possible. Maybe that’s where Jesus has existed all along. Outside of our comfort, the Christian faith takes courage even for privileged Americans. It requires us to face the imperfection of ourselves and to dare all over again to believe that Christ can and does save us even still- and if us, then perhaps the empty church, too?

Sam Wells says, “We’re still God’s creation, we’re still God’s beloved, so we’re worth saving; but we’re still cowardly, cruel and crooked, so the saving costs God everything. Jesus is the violin string stretched out between heaven and earth. And the music played on that string is what we call the gospel.”

I admit this image appeals to my fondness for Kierkegaard, who offers this view of beauty in suffering: “What is a poet? A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music… and men crowd about the poet and say to him: “Sing for us soon again”; that is as much to say: May new sufferings torment your soul.”

The hope of our wandering and even our suffering, I believe, is this: Perhaps in our journey, as we pray and seek God, we are given moments where our eyes are opened, and we realize that we are not accompanied by God’s ghost at all, but by the resurrected body of Christ who meets us on the road, walking with us, towards wherever we may be going. The Son of Man has no place to lay his head either, after all. And maybe in our homelessness, walking away from what seems to us now an empty tomb, we can dare to believe the absurd news: the body of Christ is alive. The Church is on the move. 

Some of us are haunted for sure. Our pain, worries, trauma, and failures are real. The ghost of churches past comes to visit us some nights. But as we allow ourselves to face those things that haunt us, says Peter Rollins, those poltergeists become holy ghosts.

And so to my “homeless” siblings, May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through, ghosts and all. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

What’s in a Name? : Jaci Tarrant

August’s post comes to us from NazTooer Jaci Tarrant. Jaci is a District Licensed Minister serving as Associate Pastor at Govan Nazarene Church outside Glasgow, Scotland. Originally from Ohio, USA, Jaci has lived in several countries through missions, continuing education and following a desire and call into ministry. She likes tattoos, food, languages, and she has a passion for giving a voice to the voiceless.

When Stephen and I found out we were pregnant—and really, even before that—we talked about names for our future children. We processed many different options, taking into consideration what our child’s initials would be, possible nicknames our child might be given, and the meaning behind the name. We settled on a couple options, and when our daughter was born and I saw her for the first time, I remember saying to Stephen, “It’s Tirzah! Of course it is!” As if I had always known it was her.

“TIRZAH” means “she is my delight.” We chose from the very beginning of her life to claim love, joy, acceptance, and empowerment for our child. She is a very wonderful 5-year-old who knows what she wants, and it is my privilege to journey together with her. It’s adorable because, as a well-spoken child, she introduces herself by first saying her name; second, spelling her name for someone to understand better; and third, telling you the meaning of her name.

At five, my daughter knows that we are delighted in her. Not in what she does or how she behaves, but in who she is. She knows that we are proud and thankful to be her parents. She knows that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, she is loved.

While working as a Social Worker in Ohio several years ago, I was told about a few kids involved with social services whose names were outside my previous context and were therefore names I was unused to hearing. The first two names were—“Lemonjello” and “Orangejello.” But the third name particularly stuck with me– “Shithead.” It was pronounced “Shuh- theed.” Culturally, at the time, I understood that these names were likely acceptable and even appropriate—which, unfortunately and regrettably, built up a narrative in my mind that was prejudiced and racist. But the truth is, I didn’t actually meet these kids. I was only told about them from co-workers and, to be honest, I cannot actually confirm if it was even true or if this was just part of some urban legend being passed along, and I was the unaware recipient.

However, this story, even as urban legend, demonstrates the power of names to subjugate others and promote racist stereotypes. If it was true, this third child would have had to write “Shithead” as his mark of identity every time he applied for a job or filled out a form. And if it wasn’t true, the legend succeeded in promoting stereotypes and racist mindset against God’s amazing creation.

It is my responsibility—our responsibility—to change the narrative. To allow all names to speak life and love without being judged and subjected to someone else’s standard of comfort or expectation. To make sure the truth we speak is actually the truth, and that it is always spoken in love.

It is common to meet new people and introduce ourselves first by our names. It’s something we have been given to indicate to others what they can call us, and historically it would have been something that also indicated where we came from and with whom we were related. If we don’t like the name we have been given, some of us might choose to be called by another name or even legally change our names.

We have names given to us at birth or that we choose later in life for ourselves. But then we also have names that people call us… names that refer to religious beliefs, occupation, geographical location, family heritage, sexual orientation, financial circumstance… and these names are often not loving. In fact, quite often these names take away the joy and love we are meant to experience. Rather than names of endearment, we are subjected to unwanted and unjustified hatred.

We cannot control what others say to us. We cannot control the names we are given by others. But, through Jesus’ love and freedom, we can choose not to own those names as our identities.

I grew up hearing the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Which is absolute rubbish because so much of our identity is wrapped up in the names we call ourselves and others call us. But we are called to speak life, love and truth into our lives as well as the lives of others. And that starts with the names we call people.

Jesus came to speak life. And as Jesus followers, we are called to join in that mission. We do not have to always agree with people. In fact, the church needs more healthy disagreement. But in all things—we are called to speak in love. We are called to identify first and foremost as a follower of Jesus Christ and as a representative of his love to this world. As such, any name we give others should reflect that love.

Several names make up my identity. The most important one is loved.

And I’m Nazarene, too.

Why I say, “Black Lives Matter”: Steven “Stew” Martinez

July’s very timely post is brought to us by active NazTooer Steven “Stew” Martinez, who is pastor of the San Bernardino Bilingual Church of the Nazarene located in San Bernardino, California. Recently it was rated as the 5th worst metro area to live and raise a family in the United States. His family immigrated to the United States during the Spanish Civil War as his family were traditionally ranchers from the Barcelona region. A fan and supporter of FC Barcelona he believes that Leo Messi is God’s second son and that futbol is the only sport that will be played in Heaven. For this and probably a dozen or more reasons, he will never be elected to high standing positions in the Church of the Nazarene. He is supported in ministry by his wife and two children.

For as long as I can remember I was told that being brown was a bad thing. It was never stated directly. It did not have to be. One just had to look at our names. The generation who immigrated to the United States had names like Benedicto (my grandfather), Felicità (my grandmother), Efraìn, (great uncle) and Maria (great aunt) while those who were born here were given the names of David, Dorothy, Diana, and Darrell (my father). These four then gave their children names such as Michael, Sherrie, Erin, Genny, LeeAnne, and Steven… or Stevie as I was affectionately called. I was the “güero” or white boy in the family, most Latino families have one. In many ways I was the chosen one, the one who could break the curse of “brownness” that the older generation carried with shame. My grandma was especially elated. She carried the double curse of being the offspring of a forbidden relationship where her Spanish father married a Navajo woman. Her complexion was darker, and she was shorter, a sign of her indigenous, mixed heritage. In me, she saw hope, a future where her family could become successful… to be American.

Spanish was only spoken when the older generation were arguing or when they did not want the kids to know what was going on. It was another thing that they were trying to protect us from. At that time in East L.A. no one imagined that billboards would be printed in Spanish and that being bilingual would open doors and opportunities. The rules of the game were to hide as much as you could. The worst thing was an accent you could not hide. Learning Spanish meant that one could slip up at an inopportune time. For example, my grandparents struggled to pronounce my name (even though they gave it to me) by pronouncing it “EStevie.” Eliminate the names, eliminate the accent, eliminate the language and with a bit of luck one could get a job at the Mattel factory like my cousin or become a union UPS driver in Beverly Hills like my father. Play the game correctly and you can pass as a white person with a nice tan.

That is how I lived the first half of my life, constantly reminded that brown was something to be ashamed of. The idea that I would identify myself as Hispanic or Latino was an insult to myself and my upbringing. When my parents divorced and my relationship with father deteriorated (his choice not mine), it became easy to associate brown as the problem. Stereotypes are often based on some semblance of fact. The stereotypes of Latinx culture that are displayed in media were true in my family. My uncle was a cholo gang member and heroin addict. My father was an abusive alcoholic whose life in drug trafficking led to stints in prison and an early death. Many of the women in my family got pregnant at an early age and suffered in abusive relationships. While some grow up being able to identify such issues as sin or personal responsibility, it was difficult for me to see it as anything else than the plight of being brown and the fate of those who cannot escape it. However, God desired for me to see something else.

Looking back into the history of my Christian faith a few things stand out. One of the most prominent features in it was how brown it was. I did not grow up in the Church let alone the Church of the Nazarene, however, I was first introduced to both by my third-grade teacher Mrs. Arias. Already headed down a path of what I believed was my family destiny, she reached out to me and invited me to attend the Nazarene church where I went to day-care every day. She has prayed for me and encouraged me ever since. As a matriarch in the Western Latin American District, her name holds significant weight in the Latinx Nazarene community and has opened many doors for me. In fact, the Church of the Nazarene has been the one place that seemed to encourage my “brownness.” It provided pastors who encouraged me to pursue my calling in multicultural ministries while providing opportunities to minister in Spanish with other Latinx communities. The Church even provided me the last $2,000 I needed to go to college. Perhaps the best thing the Church provided was other brown people like my college roommates Andres and Josue Aguilera who helped me to see that brown was not a disablement but a beautiful aspect of God’s creation in me.

Four years ago, I was called and tasked with starting the San Bernardino Bilingual Church of the Nazarene. Since our first service, the vision of the church has been to provide an inclusive community that serves a diverse neighborhood. Along with this primary vision is a secondary vision where Latinx families can worship together regardless of which language they are proficient in. We work together to help each culture to find their unique beauty and value as we journey in the Kingdom of God. It is my personal goal to make sure that every child sees their culture of origin as something to cherish and not be ashamed of, especially my own children. It warms my heart that my son, the güero, identifies as Latinx while my daughter embraces her brown skin and sees it as beautiful. Both are starting Spanish lessons this summer.

So, why do I say, “Black Lives Matter?” I say it because it is the truth. Black lives do matter. I say it because it needs to be said. There are black children who need to hear that their blackness is beautiful and a gift. There are black adults who need to hear that their struggles and pains inflicted on them due to their blackness is not the Will of God. I say it because we can honestly never say it enough. I can only imagine how much pain could have been averted in my family if they had heard that brown lives mattered. What if I heard it earlier that I mattered? What would have happened to me if I never heard it? I say it because it is a starting point. Justice must start somewhere. What better place than the People of God?

I understand that my experiences are not the same as others. I understand that my experience with the Church of the Nazarene is also not the norm, especially for people of color, women, and LGBTQ+, and others. I was fortunate in many ways. One could even say that I am privileged. As a person of privilege, it is my duty and responsibility to help those in need just as I was helped. This is the role of the Church. Those who know Christ are convicted by love to use this privilege to better the lives of those on the margins of society. When the Church declares that Black Lives Matter it is a declaration that the Kingdom matters for the Kingdom was created for black lives. If black lives are not fit for the Kingdom, then what chance do brown people have? What chance to does anyone have? When Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah that fateful Sabbath, He declared that TODAY the scriptures were fulfilled; that the favorable year of the Lord was upon us. Who was it that needed that proclamation? The poor, the captive, the disabled, and the oppressed were given the keys to the Kingdom that day. Who needs those keys today in this time and in this place? Right now, I look in my pocket and see a key, so I am confident in my standing and place. Therefore, I say again, “Black Lives Matter!” Oh, and umm… And I’m Nazarene Too! (Thank you, Mrs. Arias!)

Brother, We are Going to Die: Evan Abla

I’ve been looking forward to June’s post for a long time, because it’s brought to us by Evan Abla, who, despite being a long-time NazToo admin, is actually an all-around awesome guy. Evan is a former Nazarene pastor, a Nazarene pastor’s son, Nazarene pastors’ grandson, Nazarene pastor’s spouse, and 5th generation Nazarene. He enjoys hiking, camping, Lego, hot sauce, but he is most adept at watching television. He lives in Sheridan, Wyoming with his first wife, Julia, three daughters, a mother in-law, and a jack-weiler named after a goddess of the Tuatha Dé Danann (Celtic pantheon) of healers, poets, smiths, childbirth and inspiration. The dog’s name is Brigid Wiggle-butt Abla. When asked who is his favorite daughter, he answers Brigid. His favorite comedians are Mike Berbiglia, Jim Gaffigan, and Dave Chapell. His favorite place in the world is Hagia Sophia, located in Constantinople (what you people call Istanbul), but that’s nobody’s business but the Turks.

I am privileged. That’s it. That’s the end of my blog. . . not really. But it’s the recognition that I need to make as a former Nazarene pastor who came home to the Orthodox Church. I recognize love and work in the time of coronavirus brings serious and deadly consequences to the other. I am privileged to be an “essential worker.” And I’m not just talking about being an essential worker who works in health care where I actually am at risk. I’m privileged because I’m an essential worker who doesn’t have to have any physical contact with people at all. Privilege is not what this is about. My privilege is where I start.

In monasteries, both Orthodox and Roman Catholic (RC) all across the world, there is a brother assigned to remind the other brothers and fathers of their mortality. “Brothers and fathers, brothers and fathers, let us take thought for ourselves, since we shall die, we shall die, we shall die.” But why would we need to be reminded of our mortality?

It begins with the Fall. In Western Christianity, because of Adam’s sin, a person not only receives the consequence of “Original Sin,” but the person receives the guilt of “Original Sin” as well. It is as if a person were in the Garden doing the same thing Adam did even though the person was not there. This is just not true of Christians in the East. In Orthodoxy, the person only receives the consequence of the Fall. We deal with the consequences because Adam put is in this predicament. And because the wages of sin is death, we must be concerned with Death. However, Death is not our lot as Christians; it is not what God had in mind for us when God created us.

There is a beautiful hymn, the Paschal Hymn, of the Orthodox Church. “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” We sing it at midnight just after the Matins procession on Holy Saturday. All is dark in the temple. We each have candles. We walk around the building three times in silence. Bee’s wax candles are the only lighting in and out of the building. After the third time around we stop at the door. Each of us then duck under the Antimension, symbolizing our own death and resurrection as we stand back up. At this point all the lights in the temple are lit, the lilies have been placed around the ambo, and it is Pascha. We sing the Paschal Troparion.

Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee from before his face!

As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish; as wax melts before the fire,

So the sinners will perish before the face of God; but let the righteous be glad.

This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,

and upon those in the grave bestowing life.

This is all, of course, after 46 days of fasting (no meat, no wine, no oil, and no dairy), Holy Week full of services both dark and hopeful, a glut of prostrations during each service not on Saturdays and Sundays during Great lent, and a vigil of Psalms readings from Vespers on Good Friday until Matins on Great and Holy Saturday night. The 46 days of Great Lent draws upon images of temptation in the desert, humility, and our own mortality, death. Pascha draws upon new life and it leads us to Pentecost, and what Nazarenes call sanctification or what we call union with God.

Union with God is the whole, entire purpose of Christianity. Not righteousness, or holiness, or purity, or sinlessness, second blessing, baptism by fire, or getting to go to heaven, or “Kingdom building,” etc. When we are unified with God, we become like God. We take on God’s energies. Think of it like a blacksmith. A blacksmith shapes iron by placing the iron in the fire. The iron, in the fire, takes on the energies of the fire, the heat, the glow, and it becomes malleable, but it does not become the fire (think essence). And it is this union with God that is disrupted by the consequences of Adam’s sin.

“Adam did not fulfill his vocation. He was unable to attain to union with God, and the deification of the created order. That which he failed to realize when he used the fullness of his liberty became the impossible to him from the moment at which he willingly became the slave of an external power.” (Llosky, Vladimir. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 133.)

Death, in the Orthodox Church, is not natural. It is not something that is a normal part of life. Death is the Enemy. Death is evil. It is not the natural state into which we were created. It is an aberration. Death is the consequence of receiving the knowledge of good and evil.

The consequence of Adam’s sin is death. Death is not normal, yet it is expected. Death is not the intended state, yet death is inevitable. We all die. What is that old cliche? The only certain things in life are death and taxes. So, if death is not natural, why is there so much death? And why are the Orthodox so genuinely obsessed with death? Why do Orthodox monks whisper into the ears of their brothers and fathers, “Brother, we are going to die”?

In Orthodoxy, we are not obsessed with death. We are obsessed with one thing, union with God. Athanasius said in his little book, On the Incarnation, “God was made man that man might be made God.” Nazarenes call this thing Sanctification. In Orthodoxy, it’s called Theosis, Deification, or union with God. There are differences, primarily because we begin at very different points. However, the intention is the same.

Because Jesus the Christ IS God, and because, as Jesus states in John 12:24, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” We must die. We are called to die.

The one who clings to life is bound for death. But Christ has trampled death by death. Death is a threshold. Death is THE threshold. Death is the Threshold to resurrection. But Christ has not promised us Nirvana or some pie in the sky life beyond the grave. We are promised something different that is a cooperative work, a work that God works hand in hand with us.

The Saturday before Palm Sunday is called Lazarus Saturday. In the Orthodox Church we celebrate the Divine Liturgy and commemorate Lazarus’ resurrection, an incident that leaves Jesus in tears and desperation. He raises Lazarus, though not permanently. A week later, we celebrate Pascha, the Great Resurrection, the trampling down of death, but we must follow Christ through death, the Threshold.

In his book, Christ the Eternal Tao, Hieromonk Damascene writes, “He who wants the things of this life/Craves for this life./He who wants the things of this life, but cannot have them,/Craves for death./But he who has quenched desire/Craves for neither life nor death./The two are the same to him./And he passes from one to the other/Without fear or agitation,/As from joy to joy./He is like the Way of Heaven Himself,/Who “creates and nourishes life,/Yet creates without possessing.”/Because the follower of the <Tao> does not take possession of life,/Death does not possess him.”

Brother, Sister, we are going to die. Coronavirus be damned. It matters not the manner or time, we are going to die. What matters is how we treat our acceptance or rejection of this life. There are many things in this world to care for, but none of it is for our possession. In fact, when we care for the other, whether by wearing face masks at our substantial discomfort, socially distancing, giving financially to a charity that cares for the poor, or as I am doing tomorrow (at my and my family’s health risk) delivering food and basic supply boxes to two indigenous people tribes in Montana, we are giving the evil of death the middle finger. We are saying “Death, where is thy sting?” But at the same time, we are whispering in our brothers’ and sisters’ ears, “We are going to die.”

Power Grab: Paige Tilden

May’s blog post comes to us from NazTooer Paige Tilden. Paige is an Intersex mother of two and lives in San Diego with her family.  When not taking care of the kids at home, she also volunteers at the local LGBT center as an advocate for Intersex people by going out and educating others in school settings and other public presentations.

One of the most in-depth conflicts that we see from Scripture is that of Jesus and the Pharisees.  It’s perfectly understandable given that Jesus came to throw a wrench in the entire system as the harbinger of the second Adam.  Through the many interactions they had in public, Jesus always made the opposition look foolish and narcissistic, not because his goal was to hurt them, but to teach them God’s way to love.  To change their mindset, it required a full and complete renewal of their religion, which they did not want to change or otherwise surrender any piece of.  But what was the reason for their refusal?

The first thought is that they had generations of tradition of the Abraham- and Moses-led faith. Human nature is to avoid change because we like comfortable and knowing where we are.  Why would they question what their great-great-grandparents were taught?  For every time they were conquered and exiled, it was when they returned to YHWH that they were able to return to the lands promised to them, often with the next generation.  Given that it happened time and time again, we can tell that there was a clear failure to learn from past mistakes of previous generations, but that they did know who to return to when they had gone astray.  But if this was the primary or only reason for the conflict with Christ, why would the general masses go out to hear His teaching?  Why was He hailed like a king when He entered Jerusalem on a donkey?  Alone, we cannot presume it was just a subversion of traditions that the Jewish people and faith had.

Another could be the fact that the Pharisees saw the immense knowledge that Christ had and were jealous that they would never be able to accomplish the same feats.  Every time they went to question Him on any topic, especially on things like the law, Christ had the exact answer necessary to shut them down.  People swarmed around Christ to be healed, just from the hem of His cloak.  His miracles were known throughout the land.  While clearly both Pharisees and teachers of the law were among the intellectual elite in their society, they had to realize they were outclassed.  Surely they knew the stories of the young Jesus who was teaching in the temple but was only barely considered a man.  And while we know they were looking for the Messiah to come forth and save them, Christ certainly did not fit the mold they wanted for their salvation.

But that is not the one that is clearly the primary reason.  Power.  They were the ruling class of the Jewish people.  Who enforced the laws of their religion?  Who could add or remove laws?  Even though we know Pilate was above them, as they were subjects of the Roman Empire, they were the religious authority.  We know that Christ called them out for their elaborate prayers in public, stating those that did had already received their reward from the eyes of men instead of God.  They also were in a constant plot to find a way to dismiss Him, as they tried to do intellectually as well, but that clearly continued to fail.  Likely, they had already felt the lack of power from having to bend the knee to the Romans, and did not want someone else to come in and knock them down a peg again.  Change is hard, but knowingly losing power and privilege that you had is harder.

What we know more than anything about why Christ came, it was not to seek power.  At least, not earthly power.  We know that He would be tempted not only to be given all of said earthly power, but also to test the godly powers that He had been given to throw Himself off the temple.  He knew what He was capable of, and even moreso what God was capable of.  A sign of the desire to continue living as a humble man instead of embracing the reality that He was also fully God.  As we work our hardest to emulate Christ and all the teachings He gave us, we have to look at what the end goal was of His life.  He gave up all of His power to be our sacrifice.

When we say we want to be like Christ, we have to remember the examples we’re given: the selfless acts, the intentional community, being light to the world.  These are what we need to be concerned about as Christians.  Too many times, especially with the chaotic state that the world is persisting through today, we are far more likely to follow the Pharisees.  Searching to maintain our own power and comforts.  Control becomes the focus, as we can make everyone like Christ if we can enforce it, right?  But this was not the example that was presented to us.  Not by Christ, nor the apostles.  If we are to continue to be an example for the world of God’s love, it cannot be forced upon them by any means necessary.Jesus said: “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself”.  In doing so, He summarized the entirety of the law and prophets.  Using control as a means to be like Christ is a direct contradiction to what Christ taught with those two lines.  We need to focus on being an example of love to those we interact with. In making that love known to those around us, we will be the influence and light in the world that we want to see, and not become an earthly power that rules over others to dictate who is and is not worthy of God’s love.

Who Makes the Rules? : Brendan Arnold

For your stay-at-home enjoyment this month, our blog post is brought to us by NazToo-er Brendan Arnold. Brendan is Associate Minister at Restoration Community Church and a student at Trevecca. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jessica, and their two kids. For fun, Brendan enjoys running sound, working on computers, and getting in arguments on Naz2.

            I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we decide what the rules are. “We” in this case being the peculiar community of the Christian church. Christians throughout history have had a strange relationship with the rules; we love to make, debate, and break the rules. Sometimes we say these rules are directly handed down from God, sometimes we say the rules are what we hear God tell us in our hearts, sometimes we say there are no rules, — only love. Depending on when and where we grow up, we inherit various rules for being a Christian person, and various assumptions about how important those rules are and where they come from.

            But I want to focus on that question of how we decide the rules. Because I don’t think it’s something we think about very much. And when we don’t think about things often, we tend to just go with the flow, without really assessing if the course we’re on is best. I think the default answer for many people is essentially fundamentalism. And being fundamentalist about where the rules come from doesn’t mean one is necessarily a fundamentalist overall. I know quite a few people who don’t see themselves as “fundamentalist Christians” (and I agree with them) who would still probably give a fundamentalist answer about where the rules come from.

            The fundamentalist answer is an easy one. Something along the lines of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me,” is much easier than trying to critically think through the various issues surrounding Christian rules. It takes work to think about where our rules come from, where our scriptures come from, how we know any of that, how sure we can be in that knowledge. And the point of this post isn’t to criticize fundamentalism. I, personally, am not a fundamentalist, but I know many devout, loving Christians who are. Fundamentalism in its various forms has been an answer for many people in the church. And that’s one answer to the question of, “Where do the rules come from?” It’s an answer many of us probably grew up with. I certainly did.

            But if we move away from fundamentalism, if we decide that the rules for being a Christian are not just directly handed down to us from God, then what? I think for many people, the first option that comes to mind looks something like the guy in that Little Caesar’s commercial who immediately rips off his shirt and screams, “There’s no rules!!!” Especially for those who grew up with fundamentalist logic drilled into them at a young age, it can seem like the logical consequence of removing a fundamentalist rationale for Christian morality, ethics, action, etc. is some sort of anarchy. And while I’ve personally seen this more as a straw man argument from fundamentalists (and at times I’ve even made these arguments to myself to keep myself inline with the fundamentalism I grew up with), I do believe there are people who truly believe this. I think a lot of people function this way, even if they haven’t consciously thought it through. I hear echoes of it in the kind of “relationship over religion” language which is sometimes popular. The idea that our faith is somehow “just between us and Jesus.” Again, the point of this post isn’t to dismantle such a position, but I will say that the communal nature of the church seems to make such “personalized” views of Christianity pretty problematic.

            What I actually want to do, however, is propose a “third way” between the extremes of fundamentalism and anarchy. A mentor of mine, Steve Hoskins, referred to the church in Acts as “council-ors,” and I think he’s onto something. I’ll say more about what I mean, but first, I want to let you know where I’m coming from: I believe that God is real, and that he really acted in history, and I believe God’s action is most clearly revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. I believe that the Bible is the attempt of a particular community, the people of God, to wrestle with the experience of encountering God’s action at various times and places. I believe that the Bible collects those diverse experiences and attempts to understand them and pass them on to future generations of the People of God. I believe that those diverse, human explanations of God’s work are the result of various “councils” at different times: sometimes those councils had different answers.

            That last point is what I’m driving toward here. I think it’s easy to prove this was the case in the New Testament and beyond. In Acts 15, the Apostles meet to discuss issues of Gentile believers and circumcision. The church has had numerous councils, importantly those that formed the Creeds. But I think you can see this process play out in the background of the Old Testament as well. If you closely examine the different lists of laws in the Old Testament, (say, in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy), you will see lots of similarity, and lots of repetition. But interestingly, there are differences that pop up as well. It’s as if the community giving us these laws, these sets of rules, are updating things for their own time. Perhaps a law did not go far enough to protect the innocent before, or a new issue has risen. I won’t bore you with too many details here, but I think these differences are significant, and I think they point to a way forward for the church today.

            If we are not going to be fundamentalist, but think there should be rules to guide us as we live out our faith, perhaps we should see ourselves as “council-ors.” Perhaps we pray, learn, study, and discern all we can as individuals, and then meet together and decide the rules as a community. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is truly at work among us and will guide us as we do so, and perhaps this will allow us to come up with better rules than if we went with the simplicity of fundamentalism or anarchy.

            As our society changes, especially in the face of rapid technological advancement, the church will find itself facing many obstacles, and having many debates about what the rules should be, and how much they should matter. I think the church will do well to face these issues as a council — a body of equals who discuss the issues in depth and decide how to move forward — guided by the Holy Spirit and the work of church councils before us.

End the Stigma: Lois Haley

This month’s post comes to us from Lois Haley, who says: Hello everyone in NazToo land, my name is Lois Haley. I am located outside of Portland, Oregon in a lovely town called Scappoose. My husband and I have been married for 3 almost 4 years now and during that time we have been foster parents to 9 kids (not all at the same time, 2 at the most at one time). I currently work at JOANN fabrics and love my job there. I am working to finish my bachelors degree in Behavioral Health Sciences with an emphasis in Trauma. No clue what I will actually do with it but it is a start. My dream is to help people that have been impacted by trauma. In my free time I love to be crafty, I love to sew and create things. 

First off I am completely honored to be asked to write this blog post. I was asked to write this post because a certain admin wanted to hear more of my story since we’ve started to become friends *cough*Taryn*cough*.

I am not an ordained elder or graduate from a Nazarene university. I did briefly attend Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) but was asked to leave after mental health issues arose, I’ll get into that later. Being asked to write this feels like an honor that I am not worthy of, but to save the arguments from Taryn, I accepted. There are triggering topics of abuse, self harm, overdosing, and mental health crises. 

 I was born and bred Nazarene in the same church, though as of this writing I am not attending but have not given up my membership due to some background workings of potentially starting a church plant. I was baptized in the Nazarene church, received my membership when I turned 15, and was excited to vote in annual meetings. I attended 2 district assemblies as a delegate, and Mission convention as well. I went to kids camps, teen camps, attended NYC’03, attended Caravans from Papoose to Adventurers, was on the teen quiz team, and later a quiz coach. I felt I was a typical Nazarene, I loved the church and what it stood for. Looking back on it, I threw myself into the church because it was a safe and stable place.

Growing up I was a victim of child abuse from my biological father, the emotional scars of which are still there and I am working through them now as an adult. My parents divorced when I was young, and I witnessed domestic violence between my parents. My mom was then a single mom taking care of two young girls. Some of the church members did help and provided for us – they provided scholarships for me to attend camps, because my mom could not cover the cost, and they would help us with Christmas gifts and the like.

Looking back, I can notice a trend of the church not knowing what to do when mental health events happened. When I was eleven my biological father died. Oh man, that messed me up mentally, all those issues about his abuse towards me now going unresolved. For his first birthday after he died I was able to fly to my aunt’s home in Anchorage to spend some time away from all the shit going on. During my stay there one day I had a fall from 7ft loft and later was a victim in a hit and run car accident. Sadly I did not have medical treatment until I arrived back home, nothing was broken physically but something was triggered in my body, fibromyalgia, but at that time we did not know it. My mom commented later that I was never the same after that. Something also came out that we were not expecting, depression. Here I was an eleven almost twelve year old wanting to kill myself. How did the church respond? They did nothing. When my mom had breast cancer how did they respond? Food trains, drivers to her chemo and radiation appointments. Did we have drivers to our grief group, or meals delivered, or even rides to my mental health appointments? No.

Going around during youth group asking for prayer requests and asking to have prayers for my mental health, I remember one fellow student remarking, “I would have never thought you had depression.” This would have been back in the early 2000’s when mental health was still an unspoken taboo. Here I am, asking for support from my peers, and not feeling like I am receiving any, or that they believe me. 

Fast forward a few years, and I was given the opportunity to attend NNU, freshly out of high school and first time living away from home. I was not prepared at all. Depression hit me again, and, well, my grades were horrific. I came home at Christmas break and was put on an antidepressant. I went back to classes with hope and a new medicine, with the dream that the medicine will help, as well as accessing counseling on campus. Unfortunately the medicine did not help; in fact, it made things much worse. 

In my darkest time at NNU, I self-harmed by cutting myself and the next week I overdosed on Tylenol. I was in the emergency room within an hour of taking them because I told my counselor and they came with me to the emergency room. If you have never had the experience of needing to drink charcoal, count yourself lucky. And don’t ever mix charcoal with cola; it doesn’t make it better. After going through the procedures of the emergency room and talking with the State’s traveling mental health provider, he and I both deemed it best that I would be admitted to a mental health unit for observation for a 72 hour hold, at least. What happened from there: I was transferred by police officers – supposed to be handcuffed but I was willing to go so they did not handcuff me – to another local hospital with a mental health unit. I was admitted and thought I had hit the lowest point in my life. But that came later when I was forced to withdraw from NNU. I was crushed. I had worked so hard to attend NNU – my dream – and now I was being forced to withdraw because of my mental health. I am thankful in hindsight for this.  

So how did the church respond to this mental health situation? I was 600+ miles from home and my mom’s vehicle most likely would not have made the drive there and back. Luckily, the youth pastor at the time was able to use the church van and bring my mom to help pack me up and take me home. After coming home I dealt with full blown anxiety attacks, even while at church, a safe place for me. No one helped me with getting to my daily appointments, or brought my family food. It was like after this great event no one knew what to do. 

Fast forward to 2019, my husband and I are foster parents and our daughter is dealing with her own mental health issues and was in the hospital for a month, and residential treatment for the next 4 months where we would drive at least two times a week for visits/therapy appts, as a whole our church did not respond or help us. In previous events with my sister and her family people dropped everything and supported her with gift cards to the cafe or gas cards, meal trains etc. We did not receive any of this, inside I was crushed.  Luckily I have such a great support system and some great friends who reached out to us and saw our need. After much discretion between my husband and I we decided to leave our church, the church I was born into, grew up in, and got married in, the church I poured myself into, knew more of the history and inner workings of than some of the board members, because we did not have the support we thought we were going to receive during this difficult time. 
Something needs to change. I have found an online resource that seems to be appropriate for our context. For Community and Faith Leaders. My own thoughts on what would be helpful when I was younger is having someone invest into me and be a mentor and being open and honest about their struggles with mental health issues. As for when I’m an adult, I tend to isolate myself from people, but having someone to text or talk to has been the most beneficial knowing that someone cares. 

I hope this post challenges our collective response to those in need of support during some of the dark times in their lives.