The Chilly Light of Epiphany: Mitchel Modine

Our first blog post of 2019 comes to us from Mitchel Modine, a charter member of NazToo. He and his wife Marnie, a native of the Philippines, serve as missionaries for the Church of the Nazarene. Mitch is Professor of Old Testament at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary near Manila. Marnie is currently the Asia-Pacific Regional Secretary for the Church of the Nazarene. They met on the seminary campus after Mitch arrived in 2008, and will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary on 7 July 2019.

When Steve Fountain first asked me to do this a year ago, I was in the middle of several writing projects, but I still thought I would be able to do this in time. Over the next few months, I scratched out a few thoughts here and there, but did not really get a lot going. In April, I talked to Steve again, and I told him I was making good progress. He kidded me that I was too early; at that time, my post was scheduled for October. Steve wrote me again in September asking if I could delay publication a few months, and I said it was no problem, because my post was not season-specific. (At that time, it was not, but now, as you will see, it is.) So, I put it on the back burner while I worked on the other thing that is due—was due—in December, which still is not done when I am writing this, but it will be, I think, I hope, I pray.

Unless a loved one is a writer, or you yourself are a writer, I suspect you do not really care about the process. Nevertheless, I went through a number of different drafts before I finally settled on what you see before you. None of them made me particularly happy, so my thoughts returned every so often to this post and I became a little more anxious about it, even as my anxiety over the other project increased apace. As late as the middle of December, I was left without anything, and now the deadline was looming closer. In the other December 31-due date project, I finally figured out a good plan and started working on it in earnest a few days into December, but for this I had nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. I was in the dark. I had no light. I had no idea what I was going to do, until…

Until a friend of mine posted a yearly retrospective thing on Facebook. I didn’t see it until the morning of December 12, but he wrote it on the evening of December 10 from his home near Philadelphia. This friend is someone I knew in graduate school. He was a few years ahead of me and on the “other side” of the Biblical Studies Area: New Testament. A bit of background on him is necessary. He was raised in the Restorationist Movement (Church of Christ), and had actually studied for pastoral ministry before turning his attention to serious academic study of early Christianity. In a way, his story mirrors mine: I also had been preparing to be a pastor, and changed focus toward pursuing a PhD in Old Testament while in seminary. When we were in school together, he called himself a “committed secularist,” meaning he had left Christianity and religion altogether. Some years after I came to Manila, I learned that he had converted to Judaism and I remember being so happy that my friend had returned to faith. This point should not be missed: I am happy that my friend returned to faith, and my friendship with him is not at all dependent on what faith he returned to.

Anyway, at the time of writing, my friend had just completed the Festival of Hannukah, the Festival of Lights. He wrote a long post about friends, those whom he has seen recently and those whom he has missed seeing for some time. He included a delightful phrase that set me ablaze: a nice metaphor for Hannukah if ever there was. Come to think of it, it’s also a good metaphor for Advent. They usually occur around the same time, of course. He wrote: “If you’ve celebrated Hannukah, I hope you’ve left the table full. If you’re still in the chilly dark of Advent, I wish you well in your coming celebration.”

The chilly dark of Advent.

Every now and again, I read a phrase that really takes my breath away. I read a lot—this comes with the territory of being an academic—and like many I make copious notes in the margins of print books. One of my common marks to make in a book is to underline a nice turn of phrase or particularly apt metaphor or vivid image and write, in the margin, GQ, my shorthand for “Great Quote.” I usually then forget about whatever it was that caused me to call that quote great. If I happen to pick up that book again, I linger over these GQs, only to forget them again once I turn my attention to something else. But, on occasion, one such GQ sticks with me, and I suspect that it will continue to arrest my attention, especially whenever the thing it was associated with happens again, whether or not I again pick up the book where I first read and marked the thing.

I am convinced “the chilly dark of Advent” will be one of those phrases that will never leave me. I doubt I will ever read my friend’s Facebook post again: a testament to the impermanence of that medium, even less substantial than an e-book (to which, incidentally, I do not typically add many comments). Though I did screenshot his entire post, I might not even keep those pictures (it required two). But the phrase will stay with me. The chilly dark of Advent. “If you’re still in the chilly dark of Advent, I wish you well in your coming celebration.”

The chilly dark of Advent. “If you’re still in the chilly dark of Advent, I wish you well in your coming celebration.” Where I live, it never gets chilly. Though some places in the Philippines like Baguio City in the northern mountains do get rather cold, in Manila the temperature almost never falls below 25 C (77 F), and for eight or nine months in the year it is typically much hotter than that, and oppressively humid besides. It also does not seem any darker here during this season than it does other times of the year. The Philippines does not observe “summer time” or “daylight savings time” or whatever one may call it. Also, because Manila is only 15 degrees north of the equator, the times of sunrise and sunset vary as little as a half-hour one way or the other all year long.

Nevertheless, every year I and all of the Christian world experience “the chilly dark of Advent.” Aside from my friend’s delightful phrase, I find his acknowledgment of other religious traditions and their special days heartwarming. He ended his post by saying that he would see us on the other side of Solstice, which is yet another nod to the divergent ways people mark the time. I once reposted a meme which suggested that one should say “Happy Holidays” because, in this time of the year, some x number of religious traditions celebrate y number of holidays and “mine aren’t the only ones that matter.” I got some pushback from expected quarters on that, but I still think it is right.

The chilly dark of Advent. As the candles get lit—at the time of writing it is the middle of the Second Week, so just under halfway to go—the darkness increasingly fades away. Advent is chilly and dark, but the lights come in, quietly, slowly, building up to the grand celebration of the Nativity and the lighting of the big white one in the middle, the Christ Candle. The Christian season of Advent mirrors the Festival of Hannukah in that way, though with fewer lights, lit more slowly, and for a different reason. My friend cited the rabbis, who suggested that the point of the miracle is not the light that lasted the whole eight days, but the hope of the first day, when all seemed darkness and grim and hopelessness and death. He wrote: “the holiday is the firm, determined, ‘no,’ spoken by the sound of a match strike in a dark room.” The hope of lighting the lights, whether the lights of Hannukah or the lights of Advent and Nativity and Epiphany, is a defiant shout into the darkness, that the darkness has not overcome the light (John 1:5), and that those who walk in the light, as Jesus is in the light, know the blood of Jesus cleanses them from all sin (1 John 1:7).

I knew very little about the Christian Calendar until I came to seminary. I was, in a phrase I like to use, a “Christmas and Easter Christian.” I intend by this not the usual meaning among pastors: fringe members of the community who only attend on the two most important times of the year. Instead, I take this phrase to mean a more-frequent or even most- or all-Sundays attender, who nevertheless only recognizes those two. I do not count myself among those who sniff at confusing Christmas with Advent, but I do share with them a deep appreciation for the fullness of time, so to speak. Though I am not and never will be involved in pastoral ministry, I enjoy the rhythm of the Christian year, which connects the content of key seasons to the experience of the physical year. For example, Advent, Nativity, and Epiphany together form a complex of principal celebrations during the winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Yes, it is not cold and snowy everywhere in the world in this time, but this triad does occur in the Winter in Israel, where the events these seasons commemorate took place. The average temperature in Israel during the months of November–January is 15 C (59 F). Snow and cold are often associated with death and dreariness and darkness. Or, in a phrase, chilly dark. The chilly dark of Advent.

“If you’re still in the chilly dark of Advent, I wish you well in your coming celebration.” Now that I have pondered over my friend’s greeting some more, I think if I met him for coffee or some other potable, I would offer him a gentle critique of his wording, on two levels. On the one hand, Advent may begin in the chilly dark (in the North and the West anyway), but it does not end that way. On the other hand, Advent is a preparatory time for the coming celebration, but then it is in its own right a celebration, a growing, slow advance of hope. We experience a waning of the light, as the days grow shorter, closer and closer to the shortest day of the year, ironically just a few days before Nativity. We experience increasingly cold and bitter days, when we would rather stay in yet we cannot because responsibilities do not end even in Winter. But then…

Then we strike a match. Then we say our defiant No! to the dark. To borrow and slightly alter my friend’s words again, the season of Advent “is the firm, determined, ‘no,’ spoken by the sound of a match strike in a dark room.” The lights are lit slowly, painfully slowly, one per week for four long weeks, as the darkness of the short days grows ever deeper. The Advent candles are not the same as the Hannukah candles, and Advent is not the same as Hannukah, but both of them are, in the context of the religious traditions in which they participate, a shout against the dark. The lights of Advent move slowly, deliberately—unlike the shout of God into the dark of creation: “Let there be light!” The lights of Advent move slowly, deliberately—unlike turning on a light when you enter a dark room. The darkness at creation fled away at the shout of God, and the darkness in a room flees away at the approach of the light: there is no struggle between them; there is no certainly about whether dark or light will prevail. But Advent is a struggle. The lights of Advent move slowly, deliberately—unlike the rapidly approaching, suffocating darkness which is Holy Week. Especially in Holy Week, but now in Advent and in Epiphany—when, respectively, the lights are quickly marching out, choked by the darkness; and slowly marching in, invading the darkness—I always try to adopt for myself the same mindset as John Wheelwright in A Prayer for Owen Meany: “I am terrified that, this year, [the Resurrection] won’t happen.” For Advent: maybe, this year, the Baby will be still-born. For Epiphany: maybe, this year, the Wise Ones will report to the king rather than helping to protect the King.

The lights of Advent move slowly, deliberately, until on the Feast of the Nativity we light the big white Christ Candle. Then the Nativity Season has finally begun, running through January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany is Christianity’s answer to Hannukah, the festival of the light shining in the darkness. The strike of the match is the sound of hope, hope shouting its defiant No! against the dark. Dylan Thomas wrote to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” but the triad of Winter celebrations—Advent, Nativity, Epiphany—represent the slow, steady, deliberate march of the light into, and against, and over, the darkness. When the lights are all lit, we should leave them lit at least until the Epiphany. For Epiphany is the rage for the dying of the dark. The dark of Winter comes to a shining, flaming, gleaming, radiant end with the Epiphany, also called the Theophany—the revelation of the Christ to the Gentiles. The three seasons go together, inextricably. If they are celebrated separately, their worth is tarnished, and the light is put under a bowl.

The chilly dark of Advent leads into the chilly light of Epiphany: there is still darkness and dreariness and death all about, but the match has been struck. It is still cold and the days are still short, but the darkness and the bleakness do not have the last word. At the Winter Solstice, the days are at their shortest, and immediately begin their inexorable journey toward their highest point six months later at the Summer Solstice. Yet even at this darkest point of the world, we rage against the dying of the light. And we rage for the dying of the dark. This struggle between the light and the dark is part of the rhythm of life, which the Christian Calendar, among other things, recognizes. It reminds me of the despair turned into defiant joy of the hymn, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day:”

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep,
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

As we journey into the chilly light of Epiphany, may we strike a match in the dark. Life is a struggle: let us rage against the dying of the light, and rage for the dying of the dark.

Lament, Advent, and Welcome: Erin Moorman

The NazToo blog welcomes the Advent season with a post from our own Erin Moorman. Erin is a district-licensed minister in the Church of the Nazarene, currently co-pastoring a local house-church-plant and working full-time in the city to support her family of five. She collects fair-trade nativities from around the world, the newest of which is from Russia (but she promises it had no influence on the most recent elections whatsoever). She also continues to annoy her friends and family by celebrating her “40th Birthday Year” through the remainder of 2018.

A couple weeks ago I shared with some friends that I was having a hard time appreciating the “Name something you’re thankful for” Thanksgiving memes that had started going around in November.

I didn’t feel thankful.

It’s difficult to think of something to say “thank you” for when one thing after another, then after another, and then two more for good measure, pile up around you – weighing against you daily, weekly, for months, with no resolution in sight. Whether it’s finances or health or relationships, or all three at once and then some, at some point “I’m thankful for the basics” or “I’m thankful things aren’t worse” lose their luster when you just want things to feel normal again. And “I’m thankful I’m not as bad off as that person” just feels joyless, as well as selfish and heartless. No. Thanksgiving memes weren’t doing it for me.

The Sunday before Thanksgiving, we attended a Thanksgiving Service and the pastor preached from Philippians 3:1 and 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord! Rejoice in the Lord always.”

Near the beginning of the service the pastor led us in prayer specifically for those suffering in the midst of the California wildfires. During the message I found myself wondering, even if I were able to rejoice myself, how would that message be received by the people being devastated by the fires that very day? Would that message truly carry hope for them?

“Paul’s words carry weight because he wrote them in the midst of his own suffering.”

OK, sure. But it’s one thing to choose to rejoice myself. It’s another to tell others to rejoice in the midst of their suffering. In the midst of my thanksgiving-meme-induced slump, someone telling me to rejoice wasn’t actually encouraging. It brought no resolution for my needs or answers for my questions. It brought no hope that a resolution would come. It brought no peace to my anxiety. It was just words. Words which wanted to silence my lament so that others could enjoy their own moment of rejoicing.

OK. I realize that’s not completely fair. That, of course, is not their intent. But the result feels the same.

The pastor continued: “It’s not about rejoicing about all circumstances. It’s about rejoicing in all circumstances. We can rejoice in all circumstances because of the Lord! We rejoice in Him!”

Oh, that’s right. We rejoice In The Lord. It’s not about what I’m dealing with, but rather Who is with me.

So I wondered some more: Who is with me?

For me the answer was an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, holy loving Savior who knows my every need and can fix them if He wants to. But He sure is taking His time. If He’s not answering desperate prayers, what is it exactly that I’m rejoicing in Him for? The things He’s done in the past? Those are said and done. Should I be thankful for the works of the past? Yes. But the works of the past aren’t answers to prayers now. God isn’t just “was”, He “is”, and I need Him now. The people in California need Him now. The families at the border need Him now. The kids in cages and the vets on the street and the lonely outcasts contemplating suicide need Him now. Is “Rejoice in the Lord” more than just sentiment? Are we really OK with His presence feeling so distant?

The pastor then invited the congregation to share in a time of testimony. For anyone who has experienced testimony times, it wasn’t anything unusual. Short, long. Calm, emotional. Specific, general. Praises for recent days, praises for decades of faithfulness. But there was one testimony which stuck out to me.

An older gentleman stood and shared that he had preached at another church the previous week. He said the title of his message was “The God of Tears”, and that his message was about how God speaks the language of tears.

And my heart rejoiced.

The God Who is with me is the God who understands the language – the “wordless groans” – of tears. He (unlike so many people) is not afraid of lament. He knows that rejoicing and lamenting aren’t an “either/or” endeavor, but a “both/and” journey. That makes it more than sentiment. That makes God near.

Which made me think of Advent.

Advent holds a special place in my heart. Advent restored my joy at a time when Christmas began to lose all meaning for me. At some point in my early-adulthood, I’d found that all the usual Christmas preparation and expectations felt empty. If Christmas was really about Jesus, why was my church “business as usual” except for a Christmas sermon, a few Christmas carols, and a little added pageantry? If Christmas was really about Jesus, why was it a struggle to get my family to set aside time to read the Birth Narrative on Christmas morning? If Christmas was really about Jesus, why did our family’s schedule say that it was really about food, family and presents? I learned what I’d been shown, and what I’d been shown wasn’t doing it for me.

It didn’t feel like it was about Jesus.

It didn’t feel special.

It didn’t feel joyful.

“Great,” I thought. “I’m going to become one of those ‘Grinches’ people hate to be around” and figured it was probably time to claim the “Bah Humbug” hat someone had given to my mom as a joke several years before.

But through thoughtful prayer I was guided to learn more about the history and traditions surrounding Christmas, and in that learning I found Advent.

Advent is all about that near/far, rejoice/lament tension.

All of the incessant “Joy, Joy, JOY!” from Thanksgiving through December 25th had taken away my permission to lament. The “Christmas season” (as I then saw it) seemed to want to silence my lament so that others could enjoy their own moment of rejoicing. “Joy” was the expectation, and if I didn’t feel it, I was lesser. Not being “in the spirit of Christmas” felt almost “not Christian.” But the Christian walk is more than mere sentiment, and I must have felt that Christmas was, too.

Then Advent whispered, “God speaks the language of tears.”

And my heart rejoiced.

The God Who is with me is the God who recognizes that waiting is hard. He isn’t afraid of lament. Even though I may not feel joy, He (unlike so many people) is with me anyway. It was no longer mere sentiment. God was near.

And that made me think of Welcome.

In a service orchestrated to tell me I needed to feel joyful when I really didn’t, I felt out of place. The preacher’s testimony made me feel welcome.

In a season orchestrated to make me feel joyful even if I really didn’t, I felt out of place. Advent’s message made me feel welcome.

I felt welcomed by God and God’s people in my lament, and that gave me joy.

* * * * * * *

As I was listening to the sermon the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I realized that I’d had a sense of peace that week that hadn’t been there the week before. I had no “right” to the sense of peace I felt. Not much had changed in my circumstances. But through the words of that preacher’s testimony, God had spoken to my heart and restored my hope. In restoring my hope, He gave me a peace that “passes understanding.” In finding peace, I once again could rejoice. In being able to rejoice, I was better able to love those around me. God had given me the gift of joy by welcoming my lament.

Like all Israel, the shepherds in the fields had waited for God to fulfill His promises. God’s presence must have felt distant. I imagine that there were many times they struggled to have hope, peace, or joy; or to recognize God’s abounding love. And then one ordinary night, the angels spoke to them. The angels didn’t speak to everyone in the world. They didn’t even speak to everyone in Israel. They told a few lowly, poor, outcast shepherds. And those few rejoiced. They were welcomed by God to share his Word.

And it has been that way for Christ’s people, since. God speaks, and in speaking He welcomes and restores us. The Word sneaks up on us and speaks powerfully and deeply to our hearts in ways we can’t always explain – one faithful person at a time sharing with another.

And that word doesn’t just say “Rejoice!”

It says, “I understand your tears, and they are welcome.”

Welcoming suffering makes God near.

Welcoming those who suffer makes God nearer.

So what might be the message we have for the people in California? The families at the border? The kids in cages and the vets on the street and the lonely outcasts contemplating suicide? Maybe it’s that God understands their tears, and that both they and their tears are welcome by God and God’s people. But it has to be more than just sentiment. It has to cause us to be near to them, and allow them to be near to us.

The things God has done in the past are worthy of praise, but they are a sign-post telling us we can hope in the things to come. The Creator God continues to create. He continues to work. And He asks His people to work creatively with Him in the lives of those around us. For those who have lost everything, we share our abundance. For those seeking asylum, we share our security. For those who are separated, we give restoration. For those homeless and sick, we give stability and health. For those who feel ostracized and unwanted by those they know, we wrap our arms around them and share our love. One faithful church at a time sharing with others.

And we remember that true welcome does not require them to feel joy if they don’t. But maybe – just maybe – as they are welcomed with their tears and lament, the gift of joy will find them, too. For joy comes in the moment of a hope fulfilled.

* * * * * * *

As we wait this Advent, I pray that the never-endingly patient God of hope, peace, joy and love will be with us all, and give us hearts of welcome to those in need.

Grace in Place of Grace: Emily Greenhalge

November’s post comes to us from Louisiana, courtesy of NazToo-er Emily Greenhalge. Emily is Pastor of Discipleship at GracePointe Church of the Nazarene in Shreveport, LA, where she has served for six years.  She blogs intermittently at https://theostoria.wordpress.com/, and is the mother of three amazing kids.

“As Christ followers at GracePointe, we are called to bless others with the grace we have received so we can point them to Jesus.”

We say this together as a congregation every Sunday before the benediction.  I’ve heard it and said it so many times over the past seven years as a part of this body of believers that it’s become like blood that flows through my veins.  It comes to my mind every time I begin to feel self-righteous and “holier than thou.” It is the answer to my judgemental spirit and critical attitude. Luke 12:48 says, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.”  

Grace.  Undeserved favor of God.  A gift freely given. Something completely out of our hands, but something we’ve been called to give to others.  It’s by grace we have been saved, not by works so we have no reason to boast (Eph. 2:8). It is grace that goes before us and chases after us as we are pursued by a loving God.  It is grace that empowers us to love our enemies and forgive when we’ve been wronged. Grace. Marvelous grace.

So if that’s what we’re called to, why do we keep hearing stories of people who have been deeply wounded by the Church?  Growing up, it was the warring factions of the conservative holiness movement. My own family is still bleeding thirty years later from the legalistic battles of the 80s and 90s. In my high school years, it was the worship wars, where style was the focus and substance was an afterthought.  In college, it was the image of the institution that mattered most. Grace was given until someone got caught and it was made public. In the past few years, we’ve heard over and over about how our “big tent” only stretches so far, and often only in one direction. And in recent months, heartbreaking stories wearing the hashtag #churchtoo and #SilenceIsNotSpiritual have shown again that grace is sometimes limited to those whose power and privilege we feel the need to protect.  

Fortunately, these aren’t the only stories we have in the Church. For each tragic failure, there are also beautiful tales of redemption. You see, I have a story that is still being written.  I was given the wise counsel as a young minister to “preach from your scars, not your wounds,” and I’ll admit my wounds are still healing. So rather than bleeding on the proverbial page, I’ll take this opportunity to write about the grace I’ve been receiving, and the grace I feel the Church is being called to give to those who are hurting and broken among us.

I have received such grace recently, at a time when I needed it more than words could express. When I was broken in a million pieces, my local church leaders surrounded me in prayer and support, and grieved with me as I grieved.  I was challenged to think through my feelings and decisions, and they ultimately trusted that God was leading me in the way I should go. My district leadership counseled my pastor to love me through my pain, and then brought my story to their leaders.  I arrived at our District Ministry Preparation weekend prepared to sit before the board of ministry and be told I wouldn’t be granted a license renewal. Instead, my letter to the district board of ministry was received with love and compassion, and my mentors laid hands on me and prayed for me.  At district assembly, one of those dear leaders asked how I was doing. When I told her what my fears had been and how the Church had loved me so well, she hugged me and I heard through my tears as she said, “Emily, the Church believes in you. I believe in you.” Grace in place of grace already given.  

In John’s Gospel, we read about the incarnation of Christ, how God became flesh and entered into our world as one of us, feeling our pain and knowing our struggles.  It’s one of my favorite passages, as I tried to convey to the teens I teach in Sunday school when we studied it.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:14-17)

The logos of God, God’s thoughts, God’s person, God’s very being, became flesh and (as the late Eugene Peterson paraphrased) “moved into the neighborhood.”  God’s holy Self became one with God’s creation, experiencing all of the joys and all of the sorrows, all of the victories, and all of the struggles of humanity. Before the Church was ever exhorted to weep together and rejoice together in Romans, Jesus showed us what it means to enter into the broken story of humankind and become a means of grace.  And it is by that grace that God calls us to do the same.

We are a broken people.  We are often a broken Church.  Even as I rejoice in the grace God has given me through the body of Christ, I grieve with brothers and sisters who have not experienced the Bride of Christ at her best, those who have been cast out in an attempt to protect the institution of the Church.  I weep with my friend whose story was not heard when her marriage ended. I mourn with the women who have been told they have no mentors in ministry. I’m wounded with those we have given up on instead of walking with in discipleship. And I suffer with those who have suffered abuse at the hands of those tasked with spiritual leadership. As we hear the stories of such failures of the Church in recent years, we cry out together in a lament of “Christ have mercy.” We grieve with those who are grieving, and it is with great hope that I say we learn from our past failures and grow into the opportunities God is giving us.  

Out of his fullness, we have all have received grace in place of grace already given.  May we give as freely as we’ve received.

This is the One That the Lord Has Made: Taryn Eudaly

October’s blog post comes to us from NazToo admin Taryn Eudaly. Taryn is a recently ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene. She and her husband have three daughters and fondly remember sleep and privacy. She’s currently in the MDiv program at Portland Seminary and spends her time trying to feed her kids while doing homework and working to topple the racist patriarchy that built America. She grew up in Open Bible and Evangelical Free churches but became a Nazarene when she felt a call to ministry. She may not be a fourth generation or have roots in Texas or Kansas City, but she is Nazarene, too.

When I was asked to write a post for this blog, my initial reaction was a mix of pride and terror. My brain constantly swirls with so many furiously fluttering ideas that I can never manage to grab one before it flies away. Should I write about my disability? #metoo? Church abuses and sexism? I ended up backing out for a couple months.

All of those topics are just ways of talking about me. Look what I’ve overcome. Look how special I am because of what I’ve suffered. But the fact is I am special. Truly, gloriously, amazingly special. And it is by the grace of God that I can believe that at all and I hope you recognize that you are gloriously, beautifully, fearfully, wonderfully special, too.

After my husband and I were baptized in 2009 we moved to Mississippi. I knew that I was called to ministry but I had no idea what churches would allow women to do the work. Thanks to Google, after a couple of months I found a local Church of the Nazarene. There were a lot of issues in that congregation but the power and love of the Holy Spirit is there, too. We stayed and I fell in love with the holiness theology that affirmed my experiences as real and holy.

After 8 years in the church I love her more than ever. She is a cheap whore, selling off her body for status, reputation, and butts in seats. But she is also a caring mother, nurturing babies into maturity and growth, feeding and comforting and sending off her children. The Church of the Nazarene has taught me about sexism and racism, about grace and love.

When I read about the lynching of Christ it is because of Nazarene brothers and sisters in SoCal that I can understand the truth of that statement. When I see LGBTQIA members hurt and outcast it is Nazarenes who have taught me the holy humility of apology and acceptance. These things are proof to me of the reality of prevenient grace, sanctification, and being transformed into the image of Christ – of being made truly and fully human.

And that’s the beauty of what I’ve learned in NazToo. When the Bible says we were chosen before the foundations. Before we were conceived in our mothers wombs, we were conceived in the mind and Creative imagination of God. Our existence is not just accidental. Your life is not an accident. Your call is not something extra hanging around that God throws at you hoping it fits.

Your existence is on purpose, for a purpose.

Have you ever fallen in love? My husband is, to me, the most incredible man. I could list a hundred wonderful things about him and he wouldn’t really sound all that special, just like a good man. But he is. He is the ONE person I want as my spouse. And that is how Christ feels about every one of us. He lists the things about us that make us uniquely ideal and wonderful and loveable, down to the number of hairs on our head.

Once, not long after I was saved, I was sort of just sitting with God. Praying, listening, just thinking. And I asked, “Why did you create us?” I mean, really, it’s a hell of a question that I think anyone who has experienced trauma will ask. Why did you create us, why did you allow horror, why did you even bother with it – not because it makes me think you’re a bad God, but because I wonder what even is the point? It seems ridiculous. There was no anger or sadness attached to the question, but the answer I received blew me out of the water. I heard a voice say “to delight in you, my daughter.”

Dude. Just. . . dude.

To have someone truly delight in my existence, delight in my personlity, delight in my joys and recoveries and work. To delight in the fact that I am I, is, honestly, something that I am still working to accept. But realizing this truth, that becoming more like Christ is also becoming more uniquely humanly me, is the core of our spiritual journey. Nobody is going to be the same as anybody else when they work out their salvation with fear and trembling.

I don’t know why this is the topic I’ve chosen. I know that I wish someone had convinced me of this truth, of this gospel, far sooner. Maybe this will help someone on the path to recognizing the good news that Christ is for them. But I do know I wouldn’t have managed to hold this truth so well if it weren’t for the loving church I found on Facebook.

The people of I’m Nazarene, Too walked with me through fear and anxiety, joy, disappointment, discouragement, and distrust. They gathered around me and sent me to a conference to make me a better pastor, they gave me housing and food. They sent gifts for the unexpected baby who sleeps next to me as I write this. They have lifted me up, challenged my assumptions, given grace as I grow, and discipled me in ways that have been missing at every church.

It is this surety in who I am and in their love that has allowed me to work through the pain of my mentor and pastor admitting to an abusive sexual relationship (although he doesn’t admit it was abusive), and his wife blatantly lying to me about it to try to cover. This surety has helped me reach out and work with a therapist to deal with my PTSD. It has allowed me to be vulnerable and open and resilient and flexible through the triggering reports during the Ford/Kavanaugh hearings.

However, the greatest joy for me in knowing how adored I am, how intentionally I exist, and how unique I am, is recognizing that it is pure grace that made, surrounds, and fills me. I can pour that grace out on others. I can pour it out on those who incite righteous anger, and those who draw out pity. I can pour it out on those who vote in ways I find irresponsible and practically violent. I can pour it out on those who stand by and wring their hands. On those who wear hats and march and yell and scream but don’t love their neighbor. And I can pour it out on myself, a libation poured out to God, humble and thankful grace for the daughter in whom he delights. And I can talk about me because I am someone worth that love and attention, because God made me worthy. And you are worthy of that same care, attention, and grace.

Today my prayer is that you will be opened to the truth of who you are, who you are in Christ, and the joy with which the God Who Sees You (El Roi, Gen 16:13) delights in your very being.

Broken into Beautiful: Audra Foltz

September’s post is from NazToo-er and brand-new Mom, Audra Foltz. Audra says of herself: I am a stay at home mom with two little boys (James and Jonathan) and now a baby girl, too (Junia). I’m not really your typical pastor’s spouse. I am not a great piano player and enjoy straight legged pants and leggings 😉. I do enjoy music and attended MVNU as a performance major and psychology minor only to graduate with a BA in General Music, focusing on voice as my instrument, with a Drama minor. I also love sports, specifically softball, and enjoy fishing and camping. My outlet is mostly music and singing. Let’s not forget my love of using GIFS to bring humor to heavy situations. I didn’t grow up in the Nazarene denomination but joined shortly after my husband took an assignment 8 years ago. I’m still Nazarene too.

I admit, when Steve approached me to write a blog post, I panicked. I started saying “I am not as theologically educated as. . .”, “I am not a good blogger as. .. .”, “I don’t have as interesting a topic or story as. . . .” I soon realized that I just need to stop it and write my story.

You may be curious about my title, and would probably think it’s confusing. My hope, is that at the end, I have encouraged someone who has had similar life experiences, and shown them that they are never alone. I hope they are inspired to tell their own story, and find healing in the process.

I’ll start with my childhood. I was born in Mansfield and grew up in Galion, OH. To those of you that are unfamiliar, that is in North Central Ohio, about an hour north of Columbus. My mom was a teacher at that time and my dad, a grocery store stocks person. From what I remember they seemed happy up until our world turned upside down one evening at a softball game that my dad was playing in. I recall after the game, mind you I was only three years old, my mom started yelling at another woman. I was scared and confused. My oldest brother was quiet and crying. Next thing I know, my mom put us in the car in a hurry and started chasing this woman all the way to her home. Then a cussing match happened, my mom yelling from our little Blue Chevette, and the woman from her house. Later on that week, my dad packed up and left.

We immediately became a “Dysfunctional Family.”

Fast forward to about a year later, my dad married this woman. I didn’t know at the time, but later on in life, I found out my dad cheated on my mom with her. To make it worse, my brother went with my dad to visit her one evening and witnessed my dad and her kissing, he asked my mom about it, and that’s why confrontation happened. She seemed really nice up until they said “I do.” Not long after, she started saying hurtful things about the clothes my mom sent with me on visitation weekends, my hair, my tomboyishness. I can go into many details, but I will leave it at the fact that she verbally abused me. I struggled at a young age figuring out who I was simply because I had someone that tore me down behind closed doors when my dad was working and my brother was out with friends in the neighborhood. One damaging memory I had was when I was around 4, she had an issue with how I wiped myself after going to the bathroom and had all of her nephews and my brother come in and she shamed me. It is why, to this day, I don’t really like anyone in the bathroom with me. Fast forward to several years later, a struggling elementary student, no confidence, no faith or trust in many adults, my dad found another woman and then I witnessed his infidelity and was asked to keep it a secret. Interestingly enough, it happened twice, and he ended up leaving wife number two and his two daughters he had with her, for wife number three.

So along with “Dysfunctional Family” I add “Dysfunctional Family and Verbally Abused Childhood.”

Fast forward to high school. I became heavily involved with youth group at the church we were attending. I also was heavily involved with activities at school.
I played softball, cheered, played in concert band, twirled as a majorette for marching band, sang in show choir, concert choir, and for the jazz band, and even became involved with student council. I did everything that I possibly could to keep my mind busy. That helped me pushed a lot of my past down and gave me some fulfillment. I also met a guy my freshman year. I fell hard. He played basketball and our flirting started when my cheer practices were the same time as his basketball practices, so we hung out at school with a group until they started. He said the right things and was the biggest sweetheart. We had an awesome honeymoon period of about two years, until things started to go south towards the end of our sophomore year. Peer pressure of doing certain sexual acts happened. We didn’t go “all the way,” but enough to where those were not enough to quench his sexual tension. I wanted to stop doing those things all together, simply because of the guilt and shame, the convictions of the sex talks in youth group at the time. He wasn’t having it. The physical abuse started small. Pushing me into my locker when no one was around. Threatening by raising his hand to me when I said “no.” It grew worse and he would punch me in places where I could easily hide them or make an excuse that it was a bruise from softball practice or running into something. He cowardly hit me to where only he could have pleasure of power. I know some of you are asking “Why did you stay?” Well. . . as a high school girl that simply wanted a boy to love and like me, I believed his tear-filled apologies every single time. I was also manipulated with “I love you so much, I won’t do it again. Please forgive me.” I sadly believed it every time, until one day after a softball practice. This is where hurt gets deep. On that day he decided no wasn’t enough and raped me. I would go into details, but instead of ripping open past scars, I simply will say that was sadly the last straw for me. We broke up the end of our senior year; yes, I went through two years of abuse, and I never told him where I was going for college and even have had a restraining order put against him after numerous attempts of trying to contact me, thanks to the help of some officers that I became friends with later.

I now became “A Rape Victim and Damaged Goods.”

Attending MVNU was not my first choice; however, they were offering a softball scholarship, which I later turned down simply because of the conflict with my major, and I was also still healing from a softball injury. I dated a lot of guys my freshman year. Some of them are in this group, and I simply want to say that I appreciate your patience with me, since you absolutely had no clue what was going on in my life. I shoved a lot of my pain down from high school with weekend partying which turned into some middle of the week partying. My grades suffered throughout college because there were moments where I simply didn’t care. The heaviest of my drinking started after my grandpa died. He was my father figure. The only man in my life that fully trusted. That was right before my sophomore year had started. I ended up getting involved with praise team, which ended up being the start of a turning point. I ended up one day telling a few of them my story and also opened up to the team I was a part of and my praise team leader’s boss, who later becomes one of the most impactful women in my life. They loved me where I was at. Helped me find counseling services. Helped me by simply being there for me. They could have easily shunned me, but they didn’t. They continually prayed for me and checked on me.

One day in chapel, after a binge night of drinking due to some things that triggered some of my pain, God spoke to me in the most beautiful way. No, it wasn’t an audible voice, but simply some perspective. I was extremely hung over. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if my friends near by didn’t smell the alcohol coming from my pores. I was only at chapel so that way I could get my credit and leave. I remember staring at these beautiful stained glass windows in R.R Hodges Chapel. I remember finding it unique how someone can take these beautiful pieces of broken glass and make a breathtaking window with them. Then it hit me. The epiphany. God can take someone so broken and turn them into a beautiful masterpiece. The artist makes a purpose out of that broken glass and turns that purpose into something beautiful. I am God’s “broken and beautiful masterpiece.” So as the song “In Christ Alone” played. . . I took some friends down and laid it all on the altar. I accepted God’s love for me, that I felt undeserving of, because I have been told I am damaged goods, and I just let that love take hold and surround me. That is where my healing journey with God started after years of hating and not trusting.

I didn’t share this story to feel pity. I only share it to hopefully inspire some who are scared to share their own story. I also share this story knowing that everyone’s healing process isn’t the same as mine. I also admit that I still have triggers. I still have had moments where I had and still have to communicate to my own husband why I shut down. I will also end my story with the fact that even though my dad ended up marrying for the fourth time, he has recently found Jesus. Thanks be to God. As my healing journey continues, I see God turning a broken past into a beautiful future, and I am forever thankful.

Thank you for this opportunity to allow me to share with you, for taking the time to read this, and for allowing me to be vulnerable for a bit. As you go throughout your day, know that you are loved.

God Bless,
Audra Foltz

A New (Old) Revival: Rich Shockey

NazToo is fortunate to count among our number Rev. Rich Shockey, who brings us a particularly challenging post for August. Rich is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene and works in non-profit. He feels especially called to advocate for and defend the most vulnerable among us. He mostly joined NazToo for the exit posts and plans to stay until he comes up with a crafty enough one for himself.

“What the church needs is revival!”

It’s a mantra oft-repeated by well-meaning evangelicals. I can imagine this very phrase was common among those early Nazarenes who sought a more embodied spirituality than they found in their Methodist churches.

And I agree. We do need revival. But maybe not how you might think.

Language of revival is endemic to evangelicalism. For the Church of the Nazarene, revival is connected intimately with the holiness camp-meetings and “revivals” that birthed the denomination. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries “revival” in the fledgling Church of the Nazarene came to represent that move of God that calls people to a deeper spiritual life, marked by devotement to God and service to neighbor.

And so it’s no surprise that many Nazarenes today call for “revival” when they seek a greater move of the work of God in the life of the church and the world, recognizing that it is only through the new life given by the Spirit that we can move deeper into the divine life.  

But, for many, revival simply means a large-scale wave of consecration, making salvation something highly privatized and disconnected from the wider scope of the Kingdom of God.

Of course, seeing greater devotion among saints and sinners is a noble thing. But I’m not so sure that this fully captures the breadth and depth of the new life that the Kingdom of God proclaims for the world.

Perhaps the kind of revival that God wants to bring is not private, highly individualized, and esoteric, but grand, far-reaching, cosmic, and for us all.

God wants to bring moral revival to God’s creation, and God is calling the church to be the vessel of that revival.

But moral revival threatens to undermine the reigning empires of power, seeing the valleys raised up and the mountains made low–the rough ground made level and the rugged places made straight (see Isaiah 40:4).

Any revival that ignores that our black children are being killed, our brown neighbors are being alienated, and our native neighbors are being further marginalized is no revival at all, for it operates in a culture of death, which is by definition anti-revival.

Real revival is difficult to have while our neighbors—even parts of our own body—are dying.

And this is part of the problem of the way we remember the revivalism of days past (especially in the mid-20th century), one that thinks of salvation only in terms of punching a golden ticket to “heaven,” yet neglects the redemption of our bodies and the social systems that can either hold them captive or liberate them. A revival that calls for escape from this world is a kind of Gnosticism at best.

On the contrary, a true, incarnational revival should draw us deeper into the world, embracing our connectedness, both to one another and to God’s creation. It will recognize that sin is both personal and systemic, and that Jesus is the remedy for both.

Declaring personal freedom from sin is worth little if it speaks no hope for the sinned-against.

And so my pastoral vocation has drawn me further into a much more embodied evangelism, one that requires those of us with power and privilege to use our very bodies and resources to proclaim sight to the blind and release from bondage to the captives.

I first realized that this kind of revival might come with an actual cost to me as I stood with 586 clergy at Standing Rock and bore witness to the state-sponsored harm of both indigenous bodies and the creation itself.

We burned the Doctrine of Discovery in ceremonial fire and repented of the colonialism that declared that white bodies mattered more than any other.

Through clouds of tear gas, cascades of water cannons, and the barking of menacing German Shepherds, I saw that this revival may require a more literal interpretation of giving one’s life for our neighbors than I had ever thought necessary in my comfortable, American-Christian subculture of relative safety.

It seems that more Nazarene clergy than ever are donning their clerical garb and realizing that both their priestly and prophetic dimensions of their vocation are calling them to the streets, speaking “truth to power” and proclaiming that the reign of the Kingdom of God often stands in direct opposition to Caesar and his cult of emperor/empire worship.

This kind of moral revival is decidedly Nazarene, embedded in our DNA of care for the marginalized from the beginning.

This moral revival will require that all of us, called by virtue of our baptism to enter into those waters that drown with Jesus, must recognize that the Spirit of God beckons us to notice the places where God is working in the world: with the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, those affected by war, the immigrant and refugee. It will require us to recognize that being pro-life means using our bodies to defend the life of every person.

And we will have to embrace the cruciform path of the Prince of Peace, laying down arms, prejudices, and our very lives for one another.

So, practically speaking, what can we do? While bickering on the internet with strangers may be fun sport for some, here are a few modest suggestions for us:

  • Join the work of the Poor People’s Campaign. This is the extension of the work began by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is their work, led by Rev. William Barber, that first helped me embrace the language of moral revival. You’ll learn about effective use of civil disobedience and how to be arrested in a protest.
  • Connect with your local Interfaith alliance. In Kansas, I serve on the board of Kansas InterFaith Action, and we work in both education and advocacy for compassionate concerns in Kansas. Don’t have one in your town? Start one. Find other peace-oriented clergy to join you. Learn the language and culture of protest and find ways to speak out collectively.
  • Enter into the stories of the marginalized and help amplify their stories. Use your privilege to be a voice for the voiceless. Bear hope for the hopeless; e.g., find out who oversees the refugee resettlement work in your community and see how you can help. Matt Soerens of World Relief is always an eager partner with the Church of the Nazarene.

So, yes, may God—through the power of the Holy Spirit—revive our hearts, but may God also revive our collective moral conscience, helping the church witness to a kind of holiness expressed in love for others not yet seen.

Phil Hoy’s Guide to being a ‘Traitor’: Philip Hoy

July’s post is brought to us by NazToo’s Philip Hoy, a nearly-21-year-old from Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. He attends church in his neighbourhood and is the NYI Vice-President for the British Isles North District. He is currently studying Music and Audio Production at Queens University Belfast and doing grassroots reconciliation and starting work at a castle.

Dia duit. Cad é mar atá sibh? Is mise Phil Ó hEochaidh. Ta mé í mo chonaí í Carraig Fhearghais, Aontroma,Tuaisceart Éireann.

Translation: Hello (literally ‘God be with you’). How are yous? My name is Phil Hoy. I live in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

The first couple of sentences you just read were Gaeilge (in Irish). That is one of the many reasons why the majority of my town and about half of Northern Ireland would consider me a traitor.

To understand Ireland and its culture (and also to get the full significance of this blog) you need to know the history of Ireland. Unfortunately for yous, it is long, confusing and full of bloodshed. Luckily I’ve compiled a short history of Ireland, particularly that of the North, that will help you out should you choose to read it. I’ve added it as an appendix.

(Please note: when the terms ‘Protestant’ and ‘Catholic’ are used, this doesn’t necessarily and usually doesn’t mean practicing Jesus followers but culturally affiliated people groups. Here are some other terms and their definitions.

Unionist- Someone who wants Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK.

Loyalist- Extremist subgroup of unionists. Have and are prepared to use violence

Nationalist- Someone who wants NI to be part of the Republic of Ireland

Republican- Nationalist version of Loyalists)

I grew up on the kinda border between lower middle class and the upper end of the working class. I went to school and church in a very working class, loyalist council estate which is just across the road from my housing estate. ‘Hood adjacent’ would be the American equivalent. Every day on the short drive or walk to school or church I seen the large paramilitary murals of men in balaclavas with machine guns spouting pro-British and anti-Catholic rhetoric. Many of my classmates da’s were in the UDA (Ulster Defence Association, a loyalist paramilitary group). I was told from a young age that I was British and other people around me would say that Catholics weren’t like us and that they wanted to get rid of us. People would sing inflammatory songs about Catholics and the Pope and use the derogatory terms fenian and taig despite the fact that very few of us had ever met a Catholic to see if these prejudices were true. We would go to the 11th of July Bonfires, with giant piles of stolen wooden pallets (seriously, Google some of them, they are huge) celebrating the 12th and shows of superiority over Irish Identifying Catholics. This was when I was about 8 years old. My parents never taught me to be like that; it was the culture around me.

But as I got older I started to notice things. I realised my next door neighbour (who my family is good friends with) who was from Muff, Co. Donegal was probably a Catholic. And he was just the same as us. Any ‘Catholic’ I ever met was always the same as me. Any time we went on a church trip to Scotland or England everyone always called us Irish no matter how often we protested that we were NORTHERN Irish or that we were British. I started to think that if the British didn’t consider us British then what were we? In high school one of my only friends at school was a Catholic and we got on really well. I began to get interested in social justice and learnt some of the history of the Troubles. Then from September 2016 to August 2017 I lived in the south side of Chicago with an organisation called Mission Year (which is a story for another time). I was able to look at back home from the outside. I began to see how silly the divisions in Northern Ireland really are. I then started to look into the history of Ireland and realised that Protestants until the Partition of Ireland considered themselves Irish.

I started to research my family history. My da’s side were all rural, farming Presbyterians for hundreds of years back, but the names in the family tree were a lot of them ‘Mc’ (‘Mac,’ meaning son of, was usually shortened to ‘Mc’ in Ireland) names and from the Highlands and west of Scotland which means they were originally Irish. Even the name Hoy which although was possibly Scottish was actually an Irish name and was the anglicised version of Ó hEochaidh (pronounced O Hoey). It was very possible that an O hEochaidh due to either marriage or persecution or both converted to Presbyterianism and anglicised the name to Hoy to appear more ‘Protestant’? The fact that there were ‘Mc’ surnames meant that my ancestors spoke Irish! Having grown up thinking this was only for Catholics I realised that many Presbyterians in Ireland during the 16, 17 and 1800s only spoke Irish and it was a prerequisite for ordination in the Presbyterian church. The culture of rural County Antrim was Irish in character. On my mum’s side, her granny’s last name was Adrain. On researching this name I found that it was originally O Drean and were chased out of County Roscommon during the 12th century by the Normans and the MacDermotts into East Antrim which is the only area in Ireland were the name occurs today. Those that remained Catholic shortened their names to ‘Drain’ whereas those who converted to Protestantism changed it to ‘Adrain.’ So I started to think that maybe if I was ethnically Irish and lived on the Island of Ireland then maybe perhaps I was Irish after all. I began to see that, culturally, Northern Irish Catholics and Protestants weren’t actually that different other than where most people DON’T hang their hats on a Sunday morning. After working for social justice in Chicago seeing racial reconciliation between white and black Americans I really had a heart for reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants back home. I started to change politically from a soft Unionist (someone who wants Northern Ireland to remain a part of the UK) to an Irish nationalist (someone who wants Northern Ireland to join the Irish republic free of British interference) and identified as Irish. I’ve also started to ‘decolonise’ my Christianity as have a lot of indigenous peoples around the world. All this made me to people back home a ‘traitor.’

This September I started Queens University to do a degree in Music and Audio Production. I quickly befriended Catholics and started going to play Gaelic football and learning the Irish language at an extra-curricular class at uni. I dread to think about what people from my primary school and the estate would say to me now. I know for a fact that if I was to wear my County Antrim Gaelic football tracksuit bottoms around the housing estate at the least I would get slandered and intimidated or beat up or worse. Around the estate are Union flags and paramilitary flags to mark territory to show Catholics aren’t welcome. If I were to get caught taking these down I would more than likely get beat up at best or kneecapped at worst. Carrickfergus has the most paramilitary presence of any town in the North of Ireland. They practically run the housing estates. They sell drugs through dealers to young people and then beat up or kneecap young people for having drugs. They extortion local businesses for ‘protection money’ and if that isn’t paid the business is burnt or chased out. The politicians and police and the people who live in the estates are too intimidated to do anything about it. If people in my 98% Unionist town knew of my cultural and political leanings I would not be made welcome. The Church is apathetic at best about reconciliation. Many Protestants don’t consider practising Catholics as truly Christians. Ecumenism is at the back burner. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one seeking to bring unity. I found a small cross community church group which meets once a month but we are few and I’m the youngest there by about 40 years. We have no government and Brexit is throwing a spanner in the works due to the fact that Northern Ireland will be the only touching part of the UK with the EU. If a hard border is enforced then Dissident Republicans will threaten violence. If a border is placed on the Irish Sea loyalist paramilitaries will feel isolated further encouraging their siege mentality and threaten violence. Some farmers’ fields run through the currently invisible border. It’s a nightmare. And we have no one to plead our case in the UK parliament except DUP members who are extremists and pro-Brexit even though Northern Ireland as a whole voted to ‘remain.’

It’s coming up to the 12th of July. The bonfires will be burnt and the bands will march through Nationalist areas to intimidate them. There are often recreational riots from disenfranchised, working class young people with nothing to do over the summer months, added to by the sectarian tension. Most people in Northern Ireland are only culturally religious and don’t actively follow Jesus. Protestant and Catholic are really used as an identifier for British Unionist and Irish Nationalist. Since I’m a mixture of both I suppose I’m a kinda Proddy Fenian. There has not been a functional power sharing government for 530 days. Please pray that the politicians would work together for the sake of the people. Also pray for me as I seek to bring peace and reconciliation in my small realm of influence with God’s help. Please pray for this small corner of the island that it’ll once again become a land of saints and scholars instead of the land of hatred and intolerance it currently is.

Appendix

Here is a brief (!) history of Ireland. I would encourage you to read it as most people I come across outside of Ireland (and many in it) know very little of our history and so cannot understand our conflicts and problems.

In the early centuries AD, the islands of Ireland and Britain were Celtic (this is pronounced like a ‘K,’ never an ‘S’ btw; the only time it’s is pronounced like an ‘S’ is the Glasgow football team). This is not so much an ethnic group but more of a cultural one. The people were tribal. The peoples of Ireland were Gaels and Q Celtic whereas the peoples of Britain were P Celtic. During the early centuries AD some Gaels led by Fergus Mor MacErc (the same Fergus my town Carrickfergus is named after). He was returning to Ulster looking for a holy well to cure his leprosy when his ship struck a rock and he died. The rock is where my town developed became know as the Rock of Fergus) traveled to the Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland settling there bringing their language, culture and Celtic form of Christianity with them founding the Kingdom of Dal Riada comprising some of County Antrim in Ireland and the west of Scotland. By the 7th century or so the Highlands and Islands were Gaelic in ethnicity, language and culture, and Christian in religion. Meanwhile the area of Britain now known as England had been invaded and subsequently abandoned by the Romans with the Angles and Saxons bringing an entirely new Germanic and pagan society to Britain that was very different to the native Celts. They pushed the indigenous peoples into Cornwall and Wales whilst the Kingdom of Alba or Scotland as it is now known was still Celtic.

Flash forward to 1066 AD. The Battle of Hastings. The Normans (a group of Vikings who invaded, settled and intermarried with the native French forming the area of Normandy in the north of France) invade England and take over. They then, under the encouragement of the Pope (which will become very ironic centuries later), set their eyes on Ireland. They first captured the area around Dublin known as the Pale. Ireland is split into four provinces: Leinster, Munster, Connaught and Ulster (of which the current day Northern Ireland comprises 6 out of the 9 counties of Ulster). Ulster was always the most rebellious province so in order to get a stronger hold on Ireland they sent a Norman Knight (John De Courcey) up North who built a large castle on a rock, and aye, you guessed it, that rock was Carrickfergus. Now the Normans, as of all Western Christendom, were Roman Catholic so the only differences between the Normans and the native Irish were cultural. Things, however, were about to change. During the 1500s England became Protestant and a large part of Scotland became Presbyterian (differentiated from Protestant here by the term Dissenter). The Normans in Ireland, or the Old English as they were soon to be called remained catholic and had their power taken off of them so many assimilated with the native Irish. Ulster was still very rebellious so Queen Elizabeth I and later James I began to ‘plant’ Ulster with Scottish Presbyterians and English Anglicans. The Scots Presbyterians were persecuted because of their faith in Scotland and so sought a better life in Ireland. The mostly English Anglicans sought land and wealth. There was now a religious as well as cultural divide between Irish Catholics, Scottish Presbyterians and English Protestants (read Anglican). Cromwell came and slaughtered hundreds and thousands of natives, telling them they had the choice between going either “to hell or to Connaught’. After the Restoration of the Monarchy James II came to the throne of England. And he converted to Catholicism. This made the Protestants of England and Ireland nervous but gave hope to the Catholics of Ireland. So what did the Protestants of England do? They invited a Dutch king (William of Orange) to come and take over and drive King James II out. James fled to Ireland and started gathering an army. King William (or King Billy as he’s known here) landed by boat in Ireland to fight James and by now you’ll have probably guessed where he landed. That’s right. Carrickfergus. Then the battle and the date that’s engraved on the minds of every person in the north of Ireland’s brains happened : the Battle of the Boyne, 12th of July 1690. King Billy won the battle and the war which became known as ‘The Glorious Revolution’. Ever since the Orange Order (although founded in the late 1700s/early 1800s) has marched on the 12th as celebration and to lord it over in superiority against Catholics. But what both sides don’t want people to know is that the Pope actually sent King Billy a letter of congratulations due to it also being involved with the King of France (told you Irish history was confusing). The victory of King Billy paved the way for the Protestant Ascendancy. This was the Irish parliament in Dublin comprised almost entirely of English descended Anglicans. They ruled over the native Irish Catholics and Presbyterians persecuting both under the Penal laws. Catholicism was outlawed, many forced to hold mass out in the fields or in hiding. Presbyterian marriages and Eucharists weren’t held as valid and all were forced to pay tithes to the established Anglican Church :The Church of Ireland. Things were getting so bad that in 1798 the United Irishmen Rebellion took place. Ironically in Ulster this rebellion was led by PRESBYTERIANS! The oath of the United Irishmen was to set aside the divisive names of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter (Presbyterian) in favour of Irishman. Many on both sides of the sectarian divide don’t like to mention that the founders of Irish Republicanism were Presbyterians and Protestants. The rebellion was squashed. Many were killed as a result. In order to stop this from happening again, the Presbyterians were given more privileges similar to the ‘White Bribe’ to white indentured servants in the United States. The Presbyterians were still not well off but in the eyes of the state ‘at least they’re not Catholic”. They became ‘Protestant.’ The ironic thing is that ethnically and culturally many of the Scottish settlers were technically Irish, descended from the Dal Riadans who left Ireland to Scotland with King Fergus. Many still spoke Gaelic with some even being monoglots in it and were able to converse with the Irish with little difficulty. Some even intermarried although this was slightly rare. However after the failure of the rebellion there was an attempt at collective amnesia. The Scots Presbyterians ‘forgot’ their role in the rebellion, their Celtic culture and language and started to identify as ‘British’ instead of Irish. Ireland was added to Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) in 1801 to form The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

In the mid 1800s the Great Famine happened when the potato crop failed. This mostly affected Catholics and Presbyterians and the poor in general. The English had brought the potato to Ireland from the Americas and introduced it as the staple diet. Meanwhile they exported all the other food such as crops and meat out of Ireland to England. To make matters worse there was a very large storm that year that blew many of the fish away. So when the potato blight hit there was nothing to eat. There was other food but it was all exported to England or given to wealthy Anglican landlords. Poor families starved. 1 million died and over 2 million emigrated over the next 100 years due to the famine. The English government did very little to help. There’s been cases of families being forced to walk for 20 miles to get food from a alms house and being turned away and found dead with grass in their mouths. Many see this as a genocide against the Irish people through British colonialism. Ireland was in fact the practice ground for the British Empire. The native language and culture was beaten out of school children. The land was confiscated and given to absentee landlords who rented the land back at extortionate rates. In the late 1800 hundreds the Catholic Emancipation laws were passed.

Now that Catholics were in parliament there was a growing demand for the Irish people to be governed by themselves. The Home Rule bills were sought to be passed. However the Protestant majority in the North (due to the Plantation of Ulster) but minority in the whole island feared that Home Rule would mean ‘Rome Rule’. The 1916 Easter Rising happened which paved the way for the Irish War for independence in the early 1900s. Ireland won her freedom from the British however the British minority in the north wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom. Consequently they smuggled guns from Germany and threatened war with Britain if Britain didn’t keep them. That makes sense. Obviously. Britain agreed and the island of Ireland was partitioned to create the state of Northern Ireland separate from the Republic of Ireland. ‘A Protestant country for a Protestant people.’

For the next 50 years Catholics/Irish identifying people faced similar injustices to black people in the States during the 60s. Catholics were discriminated against in jobs, housing, voting and were burned out of their houses by working class loyalists. This came to a head in the late 60s with the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). At a NICRA protest the RUC (the mostly Protestant comprised police force at the time) started to attack the protesters in what is known as The Battle of the Bogside. This is what is considered the birth of the Troubles.

The Troubles were a civil war like conflict between Irish identifying ‘Catholic’ Republican paramilitaries, British identifying ‘Protestant’ loyalist paramilitaries and the British Army. Many atrocities were carried out over the 30 years of the conflict including Bloody Sunday, Bloody Friday and bombings carried out by the IRA and the UDA and UVF. The conflict officially ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement. This was officially the end of the violence but it has continued on an off on a smaller scale since. British Identifying ‘Protestant’ unionists and loyalists are separated culturally and proximity wise from Irish Identifying ‘Catholic’ nationalist and Republican. Walls known as Peace Walls separate Unionist and Nationalist areas of Belfast and Derry. Schools across the whole country are segregated on sectarian lines. Unless you go to an integrated school most children will never meet a child from the other community. The way the government works here the people vote for political parties not based on policies but to keep the ‘other side’ out. Last year votes were almost split 50/50 between the Unionist DUP and the Nationalist Sinn Fein. The few smaller parties got the rest of the votes. This is the first time ever since NI was formed nearly a hundred years ago that there hasn’t been a Unionist majority. The way Stormont works is that there is a First Minister and a Deputy First minister who are pretty much equal but one is from one community and one is from the other. With the two most extreme parties (DUP and Sinn Fein) filling these positions tension is Leah’s rife and after a botched renewable energy scheme which lost the country £500 million along with arguments over Irish Language rights the government collapsed and as of writing Northern Ireland has been run by unelected civil servants for 530 days. The 50 politicians who are part of the assembly receive £131 a day without having done a day’s work since the collapse.

 

 

A Memoir of Racism and Repentance: Andrew Arp

June’s blog post is provided by NazToo’s Andrew Arp. Andrew is a part-time pancake chef/child wrangling father of four. He and his wife Crystal have been married for almost 16 years and he currently teaches Science at a local middle school and serves as the Lead Pastor at Odessa First Church of the Nazarene in Odessa, TX.

November 28th 2006 is a day that is forever burned in my memory. It was a Tuesday morning and I was sitting in my office looking at my computer doing who knows what to pass the time. All of a sudden the secretary patched a call through to me. “Mr. Arp, this is Chris from Bethany Christian Services” (the adoption agency we had been in process with for seven months). “I wanted to let you know we showed your profile to a birth mother.” My internal monologue was buzzing. “Yes Mr. Arp, and the birth mother chose you.” This is awesome. Most of the time you get 6-8 weeks to prepare for the baby’s arrival. I was ecstatic. “And he was born yesterday.” My reply, “So it’s a he . . . ” The next week was a blur as we prepared to welcome our first born. We were collecting supplies and buying every preemie outfit we could get our hands on as we found out he weighed a little less than five pounds. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle we really had no idea how much welcoming an African American son would transform our world.

Anyone looking from the outside would have never picked me to be the father of someone who was black. I grew up in Rossville, GA, at the foot of Lookout Mountain. A locale so historically racist that it warranted mention in Dr. King’s, “I Have a Dream” speech. I didn’t even learn until later in life that my great-grandfather was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. But inherent racism wasn’t so much taught, as it was just a part of the fabric of society. Many of our schools were still mostly segregated not by law, but by county and city lines. There was even common understanding about which parts of town you could go to and which parts you didn’t need to be caught in after dark if you were the wrong skin tone. I grew up surrounded by rebel flags and friends whose given names were even Robert Lee or Jefferson Davis.

Under the shadow of this culture I really wasn’t exposed to much else in terms of diversity. It wasn’t that I was necessarily hateful, but the implicit superiority complex was expressed in different terms. I even recall being a junior high student at church camp where the late night jokes we shared in the cabin were of a racist variety. I still remember the delight we took in saying the n-word as a punch line where we proudly enunciated the final “r” as if it was our divine right as Southerners. After all, we had been educated regarding the war of Northern Aggression from an early age and we knew the way the world worked. We knew that extended to us white southern males was a divine right to look down on other races because that’s the way God made us. I shudder to even write the words today. But as I grew older I fortunately grew wiser. I was able to travel and I was exposed to various cultures and got to know specific people from other races. It began to rock my world a little bit. But I still had on blinders. I remember even hearing the song “Colored People” by DC Talk and thinking, “Yeah, we’re all in this together. We can be color blind and the world will just magically fix itself.” It wasn’t until that 4lb 8oz baby came bursting into our lives that we realized the world isn’t so easily put back together.

The first eye-opening experience that we were privy to was losing a job. Prior to the arrival of my son I had been a youth pastor at a church for about a year and a half. It wasn’t the healthiest of working environments, but we were managing and the youth seemed to still respond to us. When we brought our son into our home and the church for the first time everyone was so excited because we had adopted an African child. “Um, correction. He’s actually African American.” “Oh.” A few weeks later I was brought in on a Monday and told to have my office cleaned out that Tuesday. I didn’t even get to address the students. We honestly thought the laundry list of complaints they gave us for the termination seemed petty. And when my wife was telling her boss at Pottery Barn, who happened to be black, about it, her boss began weeping. She said to my wife, “Crystal, you’re in a different arena now.” Later we even heard that some parents were apprehensive because since we adopted a black child might mean that we support inter-racial dating…mind you, this was 2008.

Then February 26th, 2012 happened. My son was four years old and an unarmed black child named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Florida. All of a sudden my world was rocked again. I knew that life for my son was never going to be the image I had in mind for him. I knew that eventually I would have to have conversations with him about how he interacted with authority figures outside the house. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to let him play with guns in the front yard. Even today I am terrified of how he is perceived as he is a 5’4” 11-yr-old who wears a size 11 shoe and looks so much older than he is. I am always careful to tell him to obey any authority figure until mom or dad can get there and sort things out…but I feel like I have been a complicit part of this society. Even last year when he was learning about the Civil War the teacher kept referring to “us” and “we” in the class notes when speaking about the Confederacy. Don’t you know that “us” and that “we” fought to keep my son in chains? Don’t you know that I am a part of that history and for that I can never repent enough?

I am a white male living in twenty-first century America. I have been raised from a place of privilege and power and have taken it for granted most of my life. But now my family consists of a son who is black, another son who is Latino and one who is bi-racial. I have sought forgiveness for the heritage and hate of which I was a part in my youth. I have come to terms with the implicit racism that defined my early years. But now I am learning to listen and participate in a community different than the one that raised me. I have engaged in the Black Lives Matter movement. I attend Martin Luther King Jr. day festivities. I even go to a barber shop where I am usually the minority. I realize these actions are small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but my son is only now eleven. I have a lifetime with him to continue to repent, continue to relearn and continue to embrace cultures different than my own. And maybe that’s how I begin to see the Kingdom come.

God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

The 80%: Sam Jean

April’s post is brought to us by another dear and highly regarded member of NazToo: Sam Jean. The son of two Nazarene Pastors, Sam is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College and the Boston University School of Law. Sam practiced entertainment law for two decades before turning his pursuits to Real Estate and political consulting. Sam is living his best hippie life in Southern California. 

I am AFRAID of 80% of Evangelicals.

There. I said it.

It feels liberating to say it out loud. I thought I would be sadder about it.

Please forgive me.

I have started at the end.

Buried the lede.

Let me go back to the beginning.

Past may just be prologue.

It was in college that I first saw the face of Evangelicalism.

I wasn’t scared then. While all of it wasn’t my cup of tea, there was a consistency there I could follow. Besides, some of my best friends were Evangelicals.

I went to class with them, I ate with them, I lived in dorms with them, I went to church with them. We engaged in lively political, theological and philosophical discussions. We supported and encouraged one another. Even though I sometimes saw flashes, sparks, hints of something else — something that made me feel uneasy, I was never afraid.

As the years passed that feeling of uneasiness turned into what philosophers, sociologist, and even theologians sometimes call “alienation.” While I still called many Evangelicals my “friends,” I knew I could never be part of the new Evangelical movement.

I’ve buried the lede again.

Given a conclusion.

Let me back up again.

As my college years came to a close, I watched Evangelicals justify racism, sexism, homophobia, unregulated capitalism, destruction of the poor in the name of God. I watched them judge who was and who was not a “Christian” based on political beliefs. I watch them encourage persecution as they lamented their own persecution.

I must admit, it made me bitter. But I didn’t give up hope. I recalled some of the wonderful experiences I had with Evangelicals and longed to return to the comfort of that camaraderie.

In my first year of law school, Bill Clinton became President much to the consternation and ire of Evangelicals. Mr. Clinton was apparently a cad, a serial adulterer, and a womanizer. I learned a long time ago that “moral human beings” live in an “immoral world.” Politics was often the living embodiment of that dictum. I never expected perfection, especially, moral perfection from my politicians. Studying history does a fairly good job of laying one’s heroes open and bare.

The Evangelical casus belli against Clinton rang something like this, “Bill Clinton is morally unfit to be President. As a Christian, I cannot in good conscience vote for him.” When Clinton was exposed for having an affair with a young intern and lying about it, all the Evangelicals’ concerns about Clinton were seemingly vindicated. The “I told you so” chorus sang in perfect harmony.

Clinton was impeached.

Evangelicals applauded.

It was time to right the ship.

Evangelicals helped usher in the Bush II era with glee. Now we had a truly “Christian” President. Someone morally fit to hold the Presidency: Someone who was going to recapture the morality that had been lost and bring back integrity, respect, and honor to the White House. After 9/11 Evangelicals ran straight into the waiting arms of the hawkish wing of both parties.

Evangelicals loudly and boisterously supported an unjust war.

After all, someone had to pay.

Evangelicals loudly and boisterously support torture in the name of safety.

After all, someone had to pay.

Evangelicals supported unfettered, uncontrolled and unrestrained capitalism and war profiteering.

After all, someone always gets paid.

The Bush II presidency ended in disaster, scandal, and ruin. The war in Iraq propped by false intelligence and the desire of Republicans and Democrats to “out patriot” each other left Iraq a mess. Domestically, our underregulated financial industry wrecked the economy. As the 2008 election loomed, the conventional wisdom was that the party favored by Evangelicals was in trouble.

But then, Obama came along and Evangelicals found a new political foil to demonize. I watched Christians stoke conspiracy theories, bear false witness, exhibit blatant racism and promote incivility. I watched Evangelicals challenge the “Christianity” of a man who regularly attended church and openly spoke about his relationship with Jesus Christ. His crime wasn’t only that he wasn’t a Christian, but he was a … Muslim. A double-agent of that other murderous religion sent to destroy America. A claim that even John McCain silenced in a town meeting during his own campaign due to the outrageousness of the allegations.

All this materialized before the election. I hoped things would improve after the election.

I was wrong.

During Obama’s Presidency, I observed Evangelicals loudly accuse Obama of being an abortionist, a socialist and unrepentant liar. I watched Evangelicals circulate conspiracy theories about Obama and his family. I watched them caricature Obama and his wife as primates. I watched them hang him in effigy. I watched them explicitly and emphatically state that he wasn’t really an “American.” All the while loudly proclaiming their love for God and country.

My feeling of alienation grew.

My hope faded.

The seed of my fear of that 80% of Evangelicals was birthed.

Having grown up in the tri-state area, I have long been familiar with the real estate baron, Donald Trump. I know his history of successes and failures. As a lawyer, I have negotiated leases for clients in his buildings. My mentor lives in a Trump property in Florida. Clients have been guests on his television show. When he burst onto the political scene with his the demand for Obama’s birth certificate and his lie that he had sent in a team to Hawaii to uncover the nefarious events surrounding Obama’s birth certificate. I assumed he wanted attention. I never imagined he would actually get it.

When Mr. Trump became one of a legion of candidates vying for the Republican nomination, I laughed. Surely the Evangelicals who dominated primary voting had better “Christian” choices. There was Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, Scott Walker, Pataki, Jindal, and Graham.

They picked Trump.

Have I mentioned that 80% of Evangelicals scare me?

Even after his vile, racist, sexist, xenophobic attacks, 80% of Evangelicals voted for Trump.

Of course, they had their reasons:

The Supreme Court.

Hilary.

Economic Anxiety.

A desire to make America “great.”

Political correctness.

Liberal elitism.

I asked them about Trump’s “moral fitness.” For them, anyone was more morally fit than Clinton. Moreover, all the awful things Trump had done and said, especially, regarding women were before he was a Christian.

80% of Evangelicals deny being racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-Muslim. They point to their missionary work or their black, gay, or Muslim “friends.” They blame these accusations on political correctness run wild. The thought police. Snowflakes.

80% of Evangelicals scare me.

I’ll tell you why.

80% of Evangelicals scare me have been corrupted by a virulent form of politics. The politics of hate. The politics of deceit. The politics of patriotism. The politics of capitalism. The politics of hypocrisy.

They support the insupportable.

They defend the indefensible.

They preserve what should be destroyed.

The “moral unfitness” arguments used against both Clintons don’t apply to Trump. The politics of hypocrisy.

Truth is malleable. Lies are acceptable as long as the candidate says he is what you want him to be.

The politics of hate. Creating scapegoats of the “Other.”

Worshipping at the altar of country. The politics of patriotism.

Deregulation as long as taxes get cut. The politics of unfettered capitalism.

80% of Evangelicals have demonstrated that they live by bread alone. They tempt the Lord their God. They have thrown themselves from the highest mountains in order to gain a seat on the Supreme court. And for whom? A narcissistic, egomaniac who viciously attacks the morality, integrity, and honesty of others while engaged in a lawsuit to silence an adult entertainment performer for having an affair with him. This is the best “Christian” they could find to inhabit the White House?

I would be less afraid of them if they showed some of that consistency I remember from my college years. But, they haven’t. He is even more popular in the circle of the 80%. If the election were held today, they would vote for him again. He is an instrument of God. An imperfect but necessary figure who deserves our understanding, compassion, and forgiveness. They will continue to support him because they have been corrupted.

I have never been afraid of conservatives, but 80% of Evangelicals scare the hell out of me.

Saved by Grace, Extend Grace: Merideth Densford Spriggs

This month’s guest writer, Merideth Densford Spriggs, joined the NazToo group for the memes but stayed for the excellent discussion. She graduated from Nazarene Theological Seminary with a MDiv in 2004. She founded and currently is the Chief Kindness Officer at Caridad Las Vegas, a homeless outreach agency. Caridad’s staff of nine help homeless on the streets of downtown Las Vegas. Caridad uses a customer service approach as they provide a concierge service to the homeless, guiding them to resources around Southern Nevada. In October 2015, the City of Las Vegas recognized Merideth and the work of Caridad and awarded her Citizen of the Month. Spriggs is also the federal lead for homeless outreach in Southern Nevada under the federal Built for Zero initiative.

The Nazarene church is such a dichotomy for me. I was adopted before I was born; my brother and I were always taught we were a blessing from God because my parents couldn’t have children of their own. I was raised third-generation Nazarene. I am proud of my heritage.  Yet some of the wounds I carry to this day have been inflicted on me by members of the church. I value the teachings of my faith but, I must confess, I remain wounded by its members.

As a child and young adult, the church defined my way of life.  I attended services on Sunday, Wednesday, and revivals in between. My father’s parents, the Densfords, helped start their local church in Norwood, Ohio.  My grandfather was a leader and Sunday school teacher. He mentored a young Paul M. Bassett. My father and his brothers became leaders and Sunday School teachers in their respective Nazarene Churches.  For years, my Aunt Sharon led the choir at PazNaz, including co-directing the Young Minstrels with her good friend Dee Freeborn. She and my uncle, along with Dee and Vi Freeborn brought to Christ and mentored a young Janine Metcalf.  On my mother’s side my grandfather started a bus ministry to care for and bring children from the inner city projects to our church.  My grandmother was often controversial, as she would host baby showers for women having babies out of wedlock when the church was too ashamed to host one.  My parents were youth ministers for years in my church.

Proudly, I used to sit by my grandfather in church. When I visited other Nazarene Churches or attended district events, people knew my family and our reputation for service. That aside, my youth pastor and teens in the youth group would often bully me. After the youth pastor left, my mother told me she had talked to our senior pastor and suggested that the struggle with the youth pastor over bullying was preparation. He told her, “Maybe God is getting Merideth ready for bigger things.  Maybe he is calling her to a life of ministry and he is making her stronger because this whole time her faith has never faltered.”

I felt called into ministry. I chose Christian Education as a degree.  While attending Olivet, I was encouraged and challenged by my professors. Two of my favorites were David Wine and Craig Keen.  I was blessed with an internship and served on staff under the leadership of Dan Boone for three years.  David and Dan encouraged me as a woman in ministry.  “You’re a real pioneer Merideth. You are blazing a trail,” David would tell me. I would do a secret eye roll in my head. I had no idea what he was talking about.  I was after all a third generation Nazarene that was super connected.  I believed I could get any job I wanted when I wanted it based on my pedigree and my time on staff at the second largest church in the denomination.

Feeling a call to seminary, I applied and was accepted at Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS). There are three things I really enjoy in this life: Taco Bell, rap music, and fashion.  I prided myself on keeping up with current fashions on a thrift store budget.  On the first day of Seminary, I pulled up to the seminary eating Taco Bell, blasting E-40, and wearing a carefully picked outfit similar to a tear sheet from W Magazine. Excited and nervous, I got out of the car and it was as if the record stopped.  People scattered from the parking lot to the door. They stopped talking and stared at me. All eyes watched me as I walked up to the doors of the seminary. I said hello and some nodded but most followed me with their eyes and they were not approving eyes.

“What are you doing?  You are undoing all the good we have done here for women,” one of the girls at seminary hissed at me.as she pulled me aside with another classmate.

“What are you talking about?” I asked in bewilderment.

“Look at what you are wearing it’s just inviting the guys to see you as a sex object. They can’t stop paying attention to you.” The other girl squinted her eyes looking at my outfit from top to bottom.

“Wait, what? I thought I got here because I qualified to enter the course of study. I don’t want any of these guys to hit on me. I’m here to learn and because God called me to ministry.” I said.

I had a serious boyfriend, one I had known through college student government retreats.  I got him into Jürgen Moltmann and introduced him to Outkast.  He introduced me to liberation theology and political activism.  He also believed in communal living and he invited me to partake in his space and he shared resources with his neighbors. I was so happy. I thought this was the guy for me.  He was respected among his peers and had a great reputation in the general church. I was sure we could be an unstoppable ministry team.  I had dreams about him being the senior pastor somewhere while I led the youth program. I talked to him and his mom about where I wanted our wedding. However, I started noticing some signs that were disconcerting.

“Where are you?” I asked him over the phone. I called him because he told me to wait for him outside his Sunday School class.

“I’m so sorry, I’m at home.  Let me head back and get you.” He went on to say, “I was talking and forgot about you.”

As we pulled up to his driveway he apologized for forgetting me at the church. He put his arms around me and pulled me close to hug and kiss me. However, this wouldn’t be the last time he would forget me. He did this a number of times.

A female seminary colleague called out his name as she popped her head out of the door to his house.  He flashed a bright smile and pushed me away as he hurried toward the door which she held open.

“I’m sorry I forgot I had to give Merideth a ride.  What were we talking about again when I left?” The door slammed shut and I was on the outside.

Explaining his rude behavior several days later, he said, “You will always be in my life and I love you, but I really respect her for her intellect and I don’t want to hurt her feelings because she has a huge crush on me.” His words stung.

Hurting, but wanting to extend an olive branch, I invited her out so we could do something together. Perhaps a trip to Taco Bell on me would show her that I wanted to be her friend. (For purposes of the story, I will call him Tom.) His friend looked at me and she said, “I don’t like you. I think you are cheap. I hate that Tom likes you and you are an idiot.  We will never be friends so please leave me alone and quit trying.” I felt my lip quivering as my friend that had been standing next to me, leaned over and whispered, “We need to pray for her sister.”

Fast forward to my colossal break up with Tom.  He moved and was an associate pastor at his home church.  I visited him frequently as much as I could afford to.

“This would be easier to do if you weren’t so hot.  I thought I loved you but I realized you are just the hottest girl that has ever been into me.  I’m sorry, I hope we can still be friends.  I also am going to stay at your place when Jürgen Moltmann comes to town next week.  I can’t wait.” He held out his hand for me to hold it.

I sat numb in a daze as I realized he was breaking up with me.  “Do me a favor.  Promise me the next person you date you will think before you speak. What you just said to me was very damaging. I thought you respected me for my intellect.  Out of respect for you and both of our careers let’s agree to not discuss this with anyone. I don’t want to be fodder for gossip at seminary.”

He agreed and said, “I don’t want to seem like a bad guy so please just tell people it didn’t work out between us.” He then went in for a kiss. “What, is this not okay?  Why can’t we still make out? I love your lips.” He said to me as I smacked him away.

Devastated, I went back to my seminary apartment that I shared with his former roommates. I cried myself to sleep. I listened to my seminary neighbors and roommates speculate downstairs why we broke up. I had barely eaten because my anxiety went through the roof as I anticipated his arrival at my house the following week.  He tried to kiss me and hold my hand and I told him we were done and he could never be in that same space with me again.

I wanted to phone and spill my guts to Janet Benefiel. She orchestrated us becoming a couple. I didn’t want her to be mad at him. I confided in my friend and boss at Nazarene Headquarters. I cried to her and told her the truth and begged her to keep my secret. “That jerk, you know that isn’t Christlike behavior,” she reminded me.

A male colleague at seminary said to me, “You need to pray about what you have done.  How dare you crush a man of God like Tom.  No one will date you now; you know that everyone knows that you are a cheater.” The seminary gossip mill assumed I cheated on Tom. So I was labeled a harlot.  I dropped 20 pounds after the break up. I wanted to quit seminary. Roger Hahn listened as I burst into tears explaining I would be withdrawing.  He encouraged me to at least finish my Masters.  I’m thankful he did. I got my Masters of Divinity and things were now looking better.

I bounced back from the bad breakup, got hired on at Mid America College Church in Olathe.  I absolutely loved my time there. I worked under senior pastor JK Warrick and directly with Chris Launius.  Chris gave me the freedom to be creative and write lessons, speak up front and create fun events for the entire youth group.

Some of my closest friends became a random group of service industry workers, owners, members of the LGBTQ community, KU cheerleaders, and Chiefs players.  I felt overwhelmed by them and their interest. I loved that many of them wanted to hear my sermons or borrow my books from seminary.  They loved bragging that they had a pastor friend.  I remember sitting in Ed Robinson’s office rambling on and on about how God had just called me to be a youth pastor.  He listened and brilliantly responded, “Did you ever think that God has called you to be more than just a youth pastor?  Don’t limit yourself and don’t limit God.”

Another set of wise words that forever stuck with me came from Dr. Paul M Basset. I said to him, as I ranted back and forth in his office, “How do you deal with it? You are so smart and people in the churches are so dumb. I can’t believe they want to do a patriotic service.” Paul M Basset did his infamous little giggle, then he settled down and looked me in the eyes, “Miss Merideth, do you think you are saved by grace?” He asked me.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Do you believe you deserved that grace?” He asked his second question.

“No.” I replied.

“Then why don’t you extend that same grace to others? Grace that you were so freely given, grace so undeserved.” He said folding his hands calmly atop a pile of papers.

I joke that I don’t remember how I got out of his office that day. I may have crawled; the floor may have swallowed me up or I just melted into a puddle of humility on the floor.  That lesson would help me over the next trials in my life.

“I give up. I’m never getting a job.” I said nearly in tears as I walked into Ed Robinson’s office back in 2004. I was about to graduate from NTS and every interview I had, I was asked if I was about to get married. The next question – was my current boyfriend called into ministry.  I was told over and over again that if I was a youth pastor at a church, it might cause men to stumble.

I was so fed up at my last interview when the pastor kept bringing up my appearance. “You are very attractive and single. I see your resume but I think you won’t work for our congregation as we may have people fall into sin because of you and how you dress,” he said to me.

I looked down at my mid-calf length skirt. I had chosen a high collared shirt and a blazer.  I’m not sure how much more I could have covered, but after he kept repeating the insult of I wouldn’t work because I was attractive, I blurted out, “Well clearly you are preaching on sexual immorality in your church because you are obsessed with it, but you shouldn’t leave out gluttony. If our bodies are a temple you certainly have let yourself go. Have a good day.” I had said as I stomped out and straight into Ed Robinson’s office.

Having interviewed and been passed over for numerous jobs in favor of my male counterparts, my then boyfriend offered to teach me a trade I could use. He owned numerous bars and restaurants in Kansas City and offered to teach me event planning.  The word got out and a new bar and restaurant interviewed me to be their VIP host. You couldn’t have scripted a more bizarre job for a new seminary graduate.  But I ended up landing the job, and some of my first celebrity clients I worked with were the Backstreet Boys.

My parents bought a retirement home in San Diego and a pastor friend had moved and offered me a job at his church. Happily, I gave two weeks’ notice to the club and moved across the country to San Diego.  After I relocated, I secured a job at Point Loma Nazarene University. I was so happy to be back into the Nazarene fold.

I continued to work some VIP events on the side and returned to my old profession of modeling. I worked all the time and landed jobs doing television and print work. I was happy to pay off my student loans.

The market crashed in 2008 and I lost everything. When I tell you that the bottom fell out on my world – that is an understatement.  A pastor I had worked with sent out by email my modeling photos to the University president, my boss, and my boss’s boss.  He was the web administrator at our church. He then created an email account in my name and sent emails to the DS telling him my good friend, the senior pastor, was going on job interviews. I got called in about this by my friend and I pointed out that my name was spelled incorrectly each time. Ten years later I found out it was him that created all those emails and sent them out.

Simultaneously my cousins and sister-in-law emailed me telling me they would send my modeling photos to my mother and tell her I was hooking if I didn’t come clean to her.  They said in the email, they knew I was lying about why I was going to Las Vegas and were sick of me putting on a front of being a good Christian.

“No need to tell my mother anything,” I wrote back in my email. “I have included her here on this email chain.  She can see my photo; I will save you the trouble. As for my Las Vegas trips, I was a VIP host, I won’t bother explaining what that involved.  You wouldn’t understand, and it’s not my fault that you are too fat, mean and never have done anything nice for anyone in your life so no one wants to do anything for you.” I signed off the email annoyed that I had written such horrible things.

Soon after, I got a call from my mother, “You are a disgrace.  You lied to us and you embarrassed your family.  What would your grandpa do if he were alive? How can I even show my face in public? You were working at bars! I wish we would never have adopted you, then none of this would have happened.” She hung up on me and I had to later deal with my father telling me my mother was suicidal because of me.

I was fired from PLNU over the photos.  I called my Aunt and Uncle, my godparents, hoping for some sort of comfort but my Aunt said, “We agree with the decision honey you shouldn’t have modeled.”

I was at a youth event and my friend from Seminary came up to me to hug me.  I cried to her and she consoled me telling me she was there for me.  After she left me, 30 minutes later, I received a call from a seminary girlfriend upset that I had done nude modeling. I was stunned and explained I had never done anything of the sort.  She explained the friend who had just comforted me was calling all of our friends asking them to remember me in prayer because I had been fired over nude modeling photos.

PLNU took me to court and took away my unemployment. I was devastated and broke in San Diego. I worked part time at a coffee shop and in retail. I couldn’t pay my rent so I got kicked out of my place and lived in my car.  I felt I could trust no one.

Barely hanging on by a thread I went to my ministerial renewal for my district license. I was anxious and afraid of what they would say because of what had passed through the rumor mill. I was happy to see a female pastor and what I thought was a friend in the room.  Any hope for understanding soon disappeared when she opened her mouth.

“You are in a bit of scandal are you not?” She went in hard. She explained that I could cause men to stumble and said I needed to have an accountability partner, go to counseling, and stop modeling.  I agreed but left that day feeling shame and lost.

I sat and stared over the cliffs at Point Loma as I revved my car. The two things that were my entire world, family and the Nazarene Church had been stripped from me.  I was no one and no one cared about me I thought.  I floored the gas pedal and my hands began to sweat as I tried to work up the nerve to switch the car to drive so I would plunge off the cliffs to my death.  A funny thing happened, the radio came on. I know I didn’t touch it, but it came on and it was loud.  The song by the David Crowder Band, “How he loves” played.  In that moment I took my foot off the gas pedal, turned my car off and sobbed bitterly. I felt so foolish. I realized that God had me in his arms the entire time and that’s all I needed.

One night while my homeless friends and I were sitting together on the sidewalk, a group from Point Loma came by. I knew the professor; it was his wife that had grilled me in our district interview.  The students were passing out sandwiches.  The group was the 5th of the night to come by with food. I didn’t want any and I can’t eat sandwiches because of an allergy. I told the student politely, “No thank you.”

He kept insisting and said that I wasn’t being grateful for turning down food that was given to me. My homeless buddy took the sandwich and said, “I’ll take it. Thanks and God bless you!”

“See he gets it.  You need to take a lesson from your friend and be more grateful.” He said.

My friend turned to me and said, “Do you get it? This isn’t about you.  All the people that come out and give us food don’t care about us. They are just doing it to feel good about themselves. Just take it and you can throw it away when they leave.  Say ‘God bless you’ and they are happy and will leave you alone. All they want is to feel good about themselves.”

I was disgusted, “I’m going to start a charity,” I said, as we sat on the sidewalk that night.  “I will do it if I get back on my feet. I want to tell our stories.  I want to humanize the homeless. You know, fact versus fiction. It won’t be one of those sad charities where it’s an old guy looking pathetic.  I’m going to do it.” I promised them.

A year to the day of losing my job I got a call with a job offer at the San Diego Rescue Mission. I called my bartender friend immediately after.

“Congrats Mer,” he said…

“Wait what?” I replied.

“You call it God; I call it the universe.  Whatever it is the world told me today that the job you just got will change you and be what you do for the rest of your life.  So tell me what it is.” He said happily.

The job at the San Diego Rescue Mission was just the beginning. Over the next few years I created my charity, Caridad. I got hired by another agency to be a director. I also met my future husband. Caridad and my volunteer team helped hundreds of homeless. I created advocacy and awareness through videos, educational panels and events. Caridad did a yearly sock and underwear drive for shelters, and when I reached out to PLNU, I got turned down as a potential partner.  My professor friend told me, “I don’t see how our students would benefit from doing a sock and underwear drive.” Caridad was so much more but I realized God was using me and the organization and would do great things with or without PLNU.

I heard that the same female pastor was going to recommend that my license not be renewed at the district credentials review.  I prayed and went in confident that day that God had me no matter what would happen.

“How did you save 746 people this past year?” she asked as she looked over my paper and at me.”

“Let’s see 73 people were placed in permanent housing, 150 put into transitional beds, 36 were detoxed from alcohol, 15 from heroin…” I started flatly explaining.

“This interview is not a joke,” another pastor stated.

“I’m quite sure that those homeless I helped didn’t think it was a joke either.  I saved their lives.” I said firmly.

“This has gone on long enough.  We can’t keep letting you slide by without doing fulltime ministry in the church of the Nazarene.”  She said, “You need to decide – do you want to work at a church fulltime or keep working on Caridad?” She went on, “And didn’t you do some modeling before.  Don’t you have some nude photos out there?” She smirked and looked around.

“I do not nor have I ever had nudes.  And I have asked for forgiveness for modeling.  I didn’t think that grace was a constant yearly thing you had to ask for if you have already been forgiven of something,” I replied.

“Well, you aren’t doing full-time church work,” another pastor said.

“You know every church in San Diego is partners with Caridad but the Nazarene Church.  I have strippers and bartenders that are now plugged into churches because they came to as volunteers but wanted a purpose in their lives. They don’t go to Nazarene churches because they wouldn’t be accepted.  So I don’t need a little piece of paper to tell me I have been doing ministry.  God has called me to Caridad and is blessing my ministry and he is bigger than all of you, this district, and even the Nazarene church. So thank you for your time. Have a good day.” I walked out of the room head held high.

I moved to Las Vegas in 2013.  Caridad was given a $40,000 donation by a good friend to get started in Las Vegas.  We secured a contract matching that amount from the City of Las Vegas and later another from the Fremont Street Experience. I was the lead on a federal initiative for our community and we helped end Veteran homelessness.  I have pounded on tables and camped outside of lawmakers’ doors till they would listen to me.

A year later I got an email from my old church. “People that don’t go to church here keep coming on the campus.  They want to volunteer or help out in some way.  Can you please tell them Caridad is no longer in San Diego?” she said in her email.

“I’m sorry,” I wrote. “I can’t believe people that don’t go to the church and aren’t involved in any way are coming and wanting to help or get involved in something.  That must be so annoying and distracting. I will make sure they quit coming to the church,” I sarcastically wrote to her.

I literally laughed out loud when she replied back, “Oh thank you so much for understanding.  It will help us so much if they quit coming to our church.”

In September 2017, another call and email would change my life for another reason.  I had been nominated and was one of three finalists for the American Heroes Red Bandana Everyday Hero Award.  My story was featured in People Magazine on October 18, 2017.  The American Heroes Channel filmed me and ran a special about my homeless journey and the creation of Caridad.  As painful as it was I shared how I almost committed suicide and how without a doubt I knew that God had saved my life and led me to my ministry Caridad.

I smiled to myself when I was recognized by the general church and NTS. I saw what they wrote as it said, “Nazarene Pastor, Merideth Spriggs.”  I thought, oh my how God has a sense of humor.

My story is one of ups and downs. I’m thankful for the Nazarene church, if it weren’t for the church, I wouldn’t have been homeless. If I had not been homeless I wouldn’t have Caridad. I’m so thankful God uses me. God continues to bless me and the work of my 9-person team at Caridad. It is truly because of God that I am anything and so I pray daily, “God help me to go where you lead, to lead with love, to listen to a hurting world around me and to extend grace to those around me. Grace that was so freely given to me although I didn’t deserve it.”