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.

The Next Right Thing: Gerron Showalter

I’ve known Gerron Showalter for more than 35 years. If you had told me 35 years ago, when Gerron was a goofy teenager (maybe he wasn’t even a teenager yet) and I was a goofy student at Trevecca, that we’d both be Nazarene pastors someday, well, I would probably just laughed at the idea. And yet, here we are. Gerron writes: Hi, I’m Gerron. I’ve been in the group (NazToo) for a while. I grew up in Nashville and went to Trevecca Nazarene. I’m married to Jennifer Showalter. She’s just about the best thing that’s happened to me. We have two amazing girls, Emma and Henley, and a dog that’s pretty cool, too. Currently, my wife and I serve at Port Orange Church of the Nazarene in Port Orange, FL. I love the St. Louis Cardinals, running (ok, walking) half marathons, Duke basketball, malted milk balls from Southern Season Store, Denver Broncos, all things Disney, watermelon milkshakes from Cookout, the writings of Henri Nouwen (Return of the Prodigal Son was transformational for me), playing poker, Blue Bell ice cream, and a few other things.

2020. I remember laughing at Conan O’Brien when he and Andy would tell us what things will be like in the year 2000. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 20 years since those skits.

Time flies by. There’s no denying it. As I have been doing my end-of-year evaluation of where my time has been spent, I’ve been keenly aware of how easily I am distracted…by other people’s emergencies that they push onto me, by my lack of motivation, by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, by good ideas that often squeeze out the best ideas.

Last year was a great year, don’t get me wrong. But I wonder how much of my time was spent doing things on the “Well, I guess this is what I’m doing today” list when I really should have been more focused on the “This will bring life to somebody today” list.

To that end, my January began by using a planner notebook. Yes, that’s right. Although I love tech items and would prefer to quickly type things into my iPhone, I am practicing the art of writing things down by hand (and, I’ve got to tell you, I think it kind of sucks but I’m not going to give up just yet).

I think a lot of what has driven this decision comes from two main places: (1.) a song from the movie Frozen 2 called The Next Right Thing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6g1yQV0dIY), and (2.) a podcast that I’ve listened to for years with the same title, The Next Right Thing (https://emilypfreeman.com/next-right-thing-podcast/). Both address the problem of what to do when you feel stuck; when you’re dealt a bad hand; when you feel like your life is Groundhog’s Day. When you stand paralyzed by simply not knowing what to do next.

So I asked for one main thing for Christmas. It was called the Full Focus Planner (https://fullfocusstore.com). It’s a planner on steroids (so, I guess it’s technically banned from MLB and other competitive events). It helps with short range and long range planning, with the intention of creating rhythms that will help a person achieve the large goals by determining the smaller “next right thing” goals in the daily routines. It’s a macro/micro type of thing.

I thought I’d share a few of my long range goals for 2020. Some of these are goals that will happen by the end of the year. Others are goals that I hope will happen daily or weekly throughout the entire year.

UNPLUG ONE FULL DAY/WEEK

If you’re like me, unplugging is a difficult thing to do. Someone always needs you. Work, spouse, friends, church members…people and things contantly pull at us. Whether it’s the phone or the computer, I’m amazed at how much time is spent looking at a screen. My phone notified me the other day that I had reduced my screen time by 10%, but I was still looking at my stupid phone for close to four hours a day. That’s ridiculous. And, yes, I see the irony in looking at my phone for it to tell me how often I look at my phone.

My goal this year is to take a full sabbath once a week. I usually try to have a day off (out of the office and not working on church things), but I rarely take a full day off to simply BE. To be with my family. To be with a book. To be at home resting. I’m hoping this year is a year of change.

READ TWO BOOKS A MONTH (1 FICTIONAL; 1 ON LEADERSHIP)

I slipped into a poor rhythm last year. I read a lot…but I didn’t have focused reading. I read my Bible. I read as I prepped for sermons. I read Facebook posts (big mistake, FYI. People are nuts). Although I read a lot of things, I didn’t read many things that added value to my personal life. I didn’t read a lot of things from start to finish, allowing myself to process through an entire book. 

I’m hoping to read more this year with the object of my reading being squarely focused on my personal growth or enjoyment. I have many friends that have read dozens of books in a month. I read from dozens of books. That’s not the same thing. I knew it. I just ignored it. Not this year!

SPEND 30 MIN EACH WEEK TEACHING MY GIRLS TO PLAY AN INSTRUMENT

Both of my girls love music. Both Emma and Henley dabble in piano, guitar, and ukulele. They are constantly asking me to teach them something new. I have some ability with each of these instruments, but I often push them off and tell them that I’ll work with them later. 

Not cool. They’re actually begging to spend time with their dad. I know this is a phase that will end soon enough. Why am I not taking full advantage?! I can be a real bonehead sometimes.

So I spoke with each of them and told them to come up with a specific time each week where we can work on music and hang out. It will be on my calendar and I’ll view it as something that can’t be squeezed out for other events. I’ve already started this and have loved it! 

AND SO IT BEGINS

There are other goals that I have for this year.

Jen and I are praying about two church plants that we would love to see happen through our church one the next three years.

I have a weight goal for the year.

I have a church goal of 20 baptisms this year (which would be more in one year than in the past 5 years combined).

We want to host a dinner event each month, just inviting friends into our house with the intention of simply connecting with people.

I want to memorize the Sermon on the Mount in its entirety.

There are more, but you get the idea.

My hope is that 2020 is one of great intentionality. I hope to care less about what I accomplish and more about living my life on purpose. Some days will be easy. Other days may feel like my plans have to take a backseat to everyone else’s. It’s my hope that as I focus, plan, and execute each day to its fullest, my year will be lived in the sweet spot of working hard, growing deep, and finding beauty in the journey.

Peace, y’all. Find your next right thing. Get focused. And buckle up, because it’s gonna be a great year!

Being Known: Ryan L. Kuehl

The first blog post of the new year, and of the new decade, comes from NazTooer Ryan Kuehl. Ryan is the pastor of Calvary Church of the Nazarene, in Crestwood, IL. He’ll tell you more about himself below. Happy New Year!

Just a quick bio: I am currently the bi-vocational pastor of a small church in the south suburbs of Chicago. During the week I am an adult special needs instructor/teacher for a nearby school called Elim Christian Services. Henri Nouwen is by far my favorite author because his work was often informed by the special needs communities he was immersed in. My love of cats means that St. Gertrude is my favorite saint. I have two of them, Dixie and Daisy. Gardening helps me maintain a level of peace and sanity so enduring winters in Illinois can be a challenge. I grow food so that I can give it away. Basketball may wear out my two surgically repaired knees but it brings me joy to be around early 20 something young men and showing off what skills I do have left. My loving wife Lori puts up with me in all of my oddities. She is a crocheter of all things yarn. She also helps act as a filter so that I don’t say inappropriate stuff from the pulpit since I did not come with a factory installed filter. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. I was invited into NazToo years ago by my dear friend Scott Christensen who has for years been instrumental in helping me think in ways very much out of the box in comparison to my first 20 years on this spinning globe. Very blessed by him and others in this lifelong venture!

Twenty years ago, I was an introverted college student preparing for ministry who was terrified at the prospect of having to preach messages to people 20, 30, 40, and 50 years older than myself. The internal thought at that time was basically, “What in the world do I have to say to these people that they haven’t already heard numerous times from other people who can say it much better?” Feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt have long been companions along the path of life but I have managed over the years to find ways to tell those voices to shut up long enough for me to write. When last month’s post came out by Thomas Jay Oord and I knew I was on the schedule for January I had to chuckle and those internal voice companions chuckled with me. The immediate thought was much the same as 20 years ago: What do I have to offer up to this group that they couldn’t get from virtually anyone else who could say it much better? Fortunately, today I woke up at 3am and those companions weren’t awake yet and so my mind was busy and productive enough to get me out of bed to get this started. So here we go.

Being Known

Just the other day I had my 2-year pastoral review and one of the comments by a board member was that they were impressed by my fluidity when it came to relating to people of all ages and a variety of backgrounds. It was probably one of the greatest compliments anyone could ever give me because finding ways to relate to people is so important to me and it has been for a long time. Mostly because I routinely feel like I don’t belong and don’t fit in and so I know how much that feeling sucks when people can’t relate to you. And so I find myself working as hard as I can to find a way to relate to the people I meet in the hopes that somehow someway they know they are beloved and belong.

When I was in the 7th grade a good friend of mine committed suicide and the few days that followed were some of the most alone days I’ve ever had in my life. The deep sense that nobody knew how I was feeling was supported by the fact that literally everyone was asking, “How are you doing?”. Being in the midst of trying to process such a tragic situation meant that I didn’t have the words to even attempt to tell them. “How are you doing?” wasn’t a question that brought me comfort. While the people asking me that question genuinely intended to communicate to me that they cared and that I could come to them to share, it only made me feel more alone in my grief that I could not put into words.

My friend was buried on a Friday morning and it just so happened to be a Good Friday. In the midst of everything in my world being flipped upside down, the fact that it was Easter week was not something that remotely entered into my thought processes until Friday afternoon when I was alone in my room with those thoughts and feelings I could not articulate for those people unable to relate to me in my sadness. When it did dawn on me that it was Good Friday my internal thought was, “This is the worst day of my life. What possibly could be ‘good’ about this day?” In that moment the prevailing sense of aloneness that had been looming for days was immediately gone. The realization/revelation in that instant that I was not alone in my grief was the gift of a God who knew full well how suffering felt. A God who knew how loss felt. A God who knew how death felt. A God who knew how I felt even though I hadn’t been able to articulate it in human words. I wept in that moment not because the grief was lifted but because there was relief in the midst of it. Knowing that you are known by the God of the universe is a priceless treasure in a world where it is all too easy to be unknown by others.

One of the lifelong struggles that I deal with has been the deep desire to be known by others and conflicting desire for privacy. On the one hand I imagine that it would be absolutely freeing to be fully known by another person or group of persons, but on the other hand the fear of rejection has always been strong enough to make me either proceed slowly with caution or hide my story altogether. For years I chose the latter.

Not long after I graduated from Olivet in 2001 with the goal of entering into full time ministry my life quickly veered off track. Welcome to the real world of life and consequences! I found myself in a relationship I had no reason to be in and a few months later had the sense enough to get out of it, but that wasn’t the end of the situation. When I got the news a couple months later that a baby was on the way, ministry was a dead deal. The only pastors I had ever known up to that point had pristine life stories. I had never known a pastor with a baby mama story so I thought that was it for me and the call I felt I had on my life. For months after getting the news I was once again back to being scared and very very alone. I didn’t even tell my parents until just a couple weeks before my daughter’s arrival. Later on, when I started dating Lori, who is now my wife of 15 years, I had to do the task of sharing my story with her and then with her family. And then that was it. I didn’t want anyone else to know my story. I would go to Sunday School and church and I would feel alone because I was surrounded by people who didn’t know me or what I was going through and who never asked the kind of questions that indicated they wanted to know me in any real and substantive way.

And that’s how it went for the good part of 7 years. Alone and unknown by most of the people in my life. And then I get a call from some guy I had only met once before because our wives wanted to have dinner together. He was calling because he was wanting to start a small group where people actually lived life together in more meaningful ways then he had experienced in regular church gatherings. As he described the small group he was wanting to be apart of, it was simultaneously the thing I most wanted and the thing I most feared. I told him I would talk with my wife and we would let him know later. The question I asked my wife was, “Are we ready to really do this?” We did end up being apart of that group and the rest of that story was transformational. The bar was set high from the onset in regard to being real and genuine and transparent. It was reassuring to hear other people willing to share their stories which helped me in sharing mine. It was an absolute honor and sacred privilege to be allowed entry into the inner rooms of people’s lives in a way I had never experienced before.

It is only because of that small group experience and the small group experiences later on when I helped start and lead small groups at my church that I was later on able to endure the district licensing process in the Church of the Nazarene. Having to go through the kinds of questioning that the licensing process entails is still intimidating but I’ve been able to practice transparency while sitting on couches in living rooms with people who consistently displayed the grace of Christ. Over the past 2 and a half years I have also been surprised time and again with a tiny and fairly conservative leaning congregation that called me to be their pastor. Still working on the transparency thing there for sure. My hope is that my willingness to be vulnerable and accessible would be contagious. There are always limits to being transparent but most people can be more transparent then they already are. I still regularly hear people say, “You’re not like any pastor we’ve had before.” I think that’s a good thing so I’m going to keep doing that.

All of that leads me to why I very much appreciate what happens here in this #aINT group. While I do really wish that it were possible to interact with the members of this group in a different context that involved coffee and a couch, I am happy that there is still a level of true openness and transparency that is non-existent in more churchy contexts. I am always very excited when there is the opportunity to meet a fellow NazToo member in the real world so that I can put a human voice to the typed words. I wish that it were possible to get to know each and every one of y’all and hopefully this helps some of you get to know me just a little bit better. I’m just your ordinary run of the mill gardening cat daddy pastor with a baby mama story who is known at the recreation center as Scoop. Because every pastor needs a baller name.

Peace and Blessings!

Pastor Scoop

The Finally Impenitent: Thomas Jay Oord

I couldn’t be more pleased about this month’s blog post, brought to us by one of NazToo’s many resident theologians, Thomas Jay Oord. Tom is also a philosopher and scholar of multi-disciplinary studies, as well as a best-selling and award-winning author, having written or edited more than twenty-five books. A twelve-time Faculty Award winning professor, Oord teaches at institutions around the globe. He is the director of the Center for Open and Relational Theology. Oord is known for his contributions to research on love, open and relational theology, science and religion, and the implications of freedom and relationships for transformation.

“The finally impenitent are hopelessly and eternally lost.”

The Manual of the Church of the Nazarene includes these ominous words. The phrase “the finally impenitent” precedes the denomination, however. And other Christian groups currently include these words in their belief statements.

“Impenitent” refers to those who do not repent from sin to embrace God’s ways of love. “Hopeless and eternally lost” can be interpreted variously. Many consider the phrase a reference to eternal conscious torment in hell. But being “lost” can mean other things, and biblical writers use the word in various ways.

Finally?

I’ve been thinking about the word “finally.” How and when are the impenitent “finally” unrepentant?

I suspect most people think “finally” comes at a person’s death. But this raises many questions.

Do those who have near-death experiences have more than one “finally?” Are those pronounced dead but are later revived spared of “finally?”

Might “finally” come before our bodies die? Can one become finally impenitent at age 5? 12? 25? 55? 99?

Do we get another chance in the afterlife? Is purgatory the process of coming to a “finally impenitent” moment?

Does God Give Up?

Even more important is this question: Would an everlastingly loving God decide some people are “finally impenitent?”

Does God say, “Well, I’ve given her 44,837 chances to repent? This next one is the final chance?”

Does God say, “He’s done so many unrighteous acts that I will not resurrect him?” Or “I’ll resurrect her but then annihilate after judging her?”

I have come to believe the God who “gives up” on anyone cannot be a God of steadfast love. This God does not always forgive. This God does not always turn the other cheek.

A God who annihilates or sends some to eternal conscious torment is not a God of perfect love.

Universalism?

The phrase “finally impenitent are hopelessly and eternally lost” does not rule out universalism or the ultimate redemption of all things.

“Universalism” comes in many forms. Most think of it in terms of a sovereign God accepting all creatures (and all creation?) into eternal bliss/ heaven. This accepting God annihilates no one and sends no one to hell. No matter what we’ve done, the universalist view says God forgives, and we enjoy everlasting life beyond bodily death.

(For an accessible defense of universalism, see Jesus Undefeated, by Keith Giles. For a much less accessible case for universalism, see That All Shall Be Saved, by David Bently Hart. For a strong biblical appraisal, see Her Gates Will Never Be Shut, by Brad Jersak.)

The usual views of universalism have major problems.

First, they ignore the freedom of those who do not want to be with God for eternity. The common view of universalism says, “You may want something else, but you have to embrace the ways of heaven and love… even if you don’t want to.”

Second, if God has the power to force some into eternal bliss against their will, this God would have the power to prevent evil. The God who can control later has the power to control now and thereby prevent the genuine evil we experience. And yet we endure genuine evil.

Third, if eternal life in heaven is inevitable for all – no matter what we do – how does what we do matter? Our lives and choices have no ultimate significance if God will rescue us all despite ourselves.

Fourth, what real incentive might we have for avoiding evil, fighting corruption, fighting climate change, etc. if none of these efforts ultimately matter? If God sends everyone to eternal bliss, what’s the point of self-sacrifice in the present?

A Better Way

I think there’s a better way to interpret “the finally impenitent will be hopelessly and eternally lost.”

This better way says God never gives up calling us to love. God never gives up while we live in these bodies. And God never gives up in the afterlife. God’s steadfast love endures forever!

It also says, therefore, that God does not annihilate or send anyone to hell. God never acts to kill or torment.

This better way also says God doesn’t force anyone into a relationship of loving bliss. God always calls, empowers, and inspires us to love. But we can resist, refuse, or not cooperate. And God won’t – in fact, can’t – force us to accept and express love.

Natural negative consequences come from saying no to love. Those natural negative consequences aren’t divinely imposed, as if God spanks us from time to time. Instead, natural negative consequences are simply the destruction that comes from failing to cooperate with God’s life-giving love.

Relentless Love Eschatology

I call the better way I’ve briefly laid out, “Relentless Love Eschatology.” I’ve explained it in various academic presentations. Find an accessible presentation of it in the final chapter of my book God Can’t: How to Believe in God and Love after Tragedy, Abuse, and Other Evils (SacraSage 2019).

Relentless Love Eschatology says God steadfastly loves now and after we die. God’s love always empowers and calls us to respond in love. God literally loves everyone and everything forever!

Those who cooperate with God enjoy the abundant life that loving God, others, and self provides. Those who don’t cooperate experience the natural negative consequences of saying no to love.

Our mode of existence in the afterlife will differ from our existence now. The Bible and theologians offer diverse speculations about the nature of this existence. But they agree that our future state of existence will not endure the evils, death and destruction that affect our present bodies.

So…

Will Anyone Be “Finally Impenitent?”

Relentless Love Eschatology says God never forces anyone to salvation. So theoretically at least, some may never repent. And God won’t force them.

This isn’t classic universalism.

Because God never gives up on anyone, however, it’s also possible everyone will eventually repent. Resisting may be possible, but God’s relentless love may finally persuade all to embrace love. We have hope but not a guarantee all will be saved.

Is it likely everyone and every choosing creature — the whole world — will eventually cooperate with God? Or should we assume at least one chooser — if not more — will be finally impenitent?

John Wesley seemed to think the whole world would repent. I close with Wesley’s words:

“In the same manner as God has converted so many to himself, without destroying their liberty, he can undoubtedly convert whole natures or the whole world. And it is as easy for him to convert a whole as one individual soul.” (General Spread of the Gospel)

Knitting a New Sweater: Michelle Knotts Gill

I (Steve) am so pleased that this month our blog post is brought to us by a friend I’ve known since we were both students at Trevecca Nazarene College (as it was known then). Michelle graduated from Trevecca, when it was still just a college, with a degree in Accounting.  She is married to her high-school sweetheart and  fellow Trevecca grad, Murphy.  She’s followed him to Georgia, Texas, Indiana, Michigan , and finally back home to Nashville, TN.  She was a reluctant (at best)  pastor’s wife.  Her greatest blessing and accomplishment is her son Daniel.  She’s living the introvert’s dream working from home.  Her reading list is long and will never be completed.  She and Murphy have started a ministry for LGBTQ people who have been pushed out of church called The Vibrant Edges.  She loves all things PBS and BBC and football (Titans, Tennesee, Vandy, Auburn, MSU).

I was a compliant child. I didn’t break the rules. If you told me something, I didn’t question it. That seems a lifetime ago and it would surprise many who have only known me the last five years or so. There are so many things I never questioned. I’m not sure how I came to start questioning. Mid-life crisis? Maybe. I really don’t know. I think it was a gradual thing. I pulled on a thread one day. Then I found another, and I pulled it. Before I knew it, my sweater had unraveled. I’m learning to knit now out of necessity.

I grew up in the evangelical church. I was treated to a special kind of trauma by attending Nazarene church camp and being treated to an annual showing of A Thief in the Night. If you didn’t grow up in the 70’s or 80’s, the premise is the rapture came and you screwed up and now everyone but you is in heaven. Don’t you wish you had been better? I guess maybe I was scared into compliance. Questioning was never part of being a believer. If you question that’s doubt and that isn’t going to get you to Heaven. I came out of the “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” camp.

It worked alright for many years, except I generally felt I wasn’t trying hard enough or really investing enough effort to please God. I was a child of divorce before it was common. My dad left the evangelical church and my mom. He drank (yes, alcohol) and smoked and I was convinced he was going to hell. It broke my heart. And it was impressed upon me over my growing up years that I was my responsibility to “bring him back into the fold.” And I also needed to convert all my friends. I was an evangelical failure. I was not winning souls for Jesus and I got guilted about it frequently. In 2011, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. There was a huge cloud hanging over our time together before he passed. I had to convince him to pray the prayer so he wouldn’t go to hell. But I couldn’t do it. I really was going to have the talk about his soul with him, but something stopped me. I think it may have been that I was starting to pull on that first thread. He was a good man and he believed in the Divine. He didn’t attend church or follow the manual rules, but told me that he was at peace. I believed that. When he passed away, I too was at peace. I do not believe he is being tormented eternally. That belief did not square with anything I was taught in all my spiritual formation.

I had become good friends with some “unchurched” people. They were queer. They were also really, truly good people. When my friend Kate told me she was getting married to her partner, my Nazarene upbringing kicked in. Uh-oh, she’s going to hell. Why is it, then, that I am happy for her? I looked at church polity on the subject and came away with the conclusion that God is kind of a jerk because he creates people who are queer and then he tells them that because they are queer, they don’t get to participate in life and marriage and family like the people who he created to be straight. Then I start reading things about context and translation and those few verses don’t really seem to mean what I’ve been told they mean. And what about that Ethiopian eunuch? And why didn’t Jesus mention it? My sweater was becoming quite a mess.

When I really thought about atonement theory, it just seemed off. Why does God send his son to save us from the wrath of Himself? Why did Jesus come? Was it incarnation or to pay our debt and save us from his Father? Was he crucified because I would fail God 2000 years later or because he called out oppressive systems? Was he a gruesome blood sacrifice to a vengeful God or was he showing the ultimate love and being the ultimate peacemaker? How is it that God is good and yet he hates us because we somehow got born with sin because Adam disobeyed? Jesus said if we’ve seen him, we’ve seen the Father. My picture of the Father (thanks to some really bad theology) looked nothing like Jesus. His parables over and over contradicted the picture of a wrathful God of judgement and separation. There goes another thread.

Richard Rohr writes, “Much of Christian history has manifested a very different god than the one Jesus revealed and represented. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, but this ‘cultural’ god sure doesn’t. Jesus tells us to forgive ‘seventy times seven’ times, but this god doesn’t. Instead, this god burns people for all eternity. Many of us were raised to believe this, but we usually had to repress this bad theology into our unconscious because it’s literally unthinkable. Most humans are more loving and forgiving than such a god. We’ve developed an unworkable and toxic image of God that a healthy person would never trust.” Now there’s a big pile of tangled yarn in my floor.

So, now I’m starting over on my sweater. My unraveling of this sweater has taken me outside our tribe and now I have joined the ranks of former Nazarene NazToons. I still love my tribe and the good things it does in the world. I had to step outside the tribe, partially because I married an ordained elder who also unraveled his sweater and the tribe said “no” to him. But I think I had to step away because before I started tugging on strings, I noticed that sweater didn’t fit well and it was itchy. I am certain of a few things, much fewer things than I used to be. God is love. Questions are good. Grace is scandalous. This song is where I find my heart these days: God Is. . .