Why I’m Not Done With the Church: MB Boesch

June brings us an uplifting and challenging post that comes to us courtesy of NazToo-er MB Boesch, who says of herself, “I am currently serving as the Associate Pastor of New Hope Community Church of the Nazarene in Chandler, AZ. I have a passion for my call to preach, and I have been searching for a lead pastorate for the past year. I also work for an inner-city ministry in Phoenix, AZ, and I am a full time seminary student at NTS. My husband, James, and I live with our dog, Dobby, and our cats, Yzma and Kuzco.”

Over the past ten years, I have lost count of how many times I have said to myself, “I am done with the Church.”

I was done at the first church that I called “home” when I realized that the only form of discipleship I ever saw there consisted of a scare tactic that convinced everyone to seek God in obedience more out of a fear of going to hell than anything else. I was done when a rumor that was spread about me made its way to church leadership and I was told that I was no longer welcomed at this particular church. I was done when I became just another face in the crowd on a Sunday morning. I was done when I received rejection after rejection from churches as I attempted to find some sort of ministerial position.

I’ve been done when I have seen the hurtful ways that Scripture has been taken out of context and used as a reason not to love others. I’ve been done when I have seen the Church fail to welcome the LGBTQ community. I’ve been done when I have witnessed firsthand just how much power there is in the idolatry of patriotism. I’ve been done when over and over again, I have listened to churches list off everything that they are against instead of showing and telling what the Kingdom is for. It seems that the longer I have been with the Church, the more consistently I have found myself in tears over the damage she has caused.

I’ve been done with the distorted, perverted portrayal of Christ and the Kingdom of God that the Church seems to have become.

Even so, here I stand. No matter how many times the Church has hurt me personally and deeply; no matter how many hours I have spent trying to comfort my loved ones after they have been deeply hurt as well; no matter how many times I have helplessly witnessed the Church hurt people I have never even met, here I continue to stand. Sometimes I stand broken and bruised, but I remain with the Church. Sometimes I stand weeping for what she has done and who she has become, but I remain with the Church. Sometimes the hurt is so deep and powerful that I cannot even remain standing and must instead fall to my knees in lament and prayer, but I remain with the Church.

The majority of my friends are either non-Christians or non-churchgoing-Christians, and I oftentimes find myself in conversation with these friends where they are asking me why I continue to stay with the Church. Recently, a dear friend of mine who identifies as an Agnostic said to me, “Your faith is strong enough that I don’t think you need the Church.” When I graduated from college, my husband and I actually went through a period of months where we began to ask ourselves if we even wanted to continue the search for a church to call home. We had many conversations about whether or not we even wanted to stay with the Church.

Honestly, the Church has hurt me and the people that I have loved often enough and deeply enough that I have had more than enough reason to have left at this point. Even so, I remain with the Church. Why?

Because I do need the Church. I am homeless without the Church. And ultimately, I do not believe that I have the right to criticize the Church unless I am a part of it – nor can I hope to personally witness and participate in the reform of the Church unless I am a part of it.

Before I go on, allow me to clarify and explain that the Church I am referring to is not the broken institution that takes Scripture out of context to attack others. The Church I am referring to is not the institution that is better known for what it is against than what it stands for. It is not the Church that is controlled by the powers and principalities of this world.

No; the Church that I need – the Church that is my home – is the Church that cannot be established, maintained, or reformed without the work of the Holy Spirit. In his commentary on First Corinthians, Richard Hays says, “The Church is not merely a human organization; rather, it is brought into being by the power of the Holy Spirit, which binds believers into a living union with the crucified and risen Lord.” This is the Church that I think we all so desperately need.

The Church that I need is the community of people who really have no business being together, but somehow, by the grace of God, we belong together. It is the community where, only by the grace of God, all things are made new. It is the community where regardless of our individual identities, we are all given the same identity by the power of the Holy Spirit through our baptism. It is where we all come together to feast at the same Table regardless of our backgrounds, status, age, jobs, appearance, or anything else. I need this community. I need this Church. And so do you.

The church that so many of us have abandoned at this point is in the business of condemnation and harm, but the Church of the Holy Spirit is in the business of healing and reconciliation. The church that we have abandoned is interested in using the Gospel as a means of exclusion, but the Church of the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel as an invitation to the inclusivity of the Kingdom of God. The church that we have abandoned divides its members into categories of “us” and “them”, but in the Church of the Holy Spirit, there is only us.

I desperately need this Church. I desperately need this community of accountability, prayer, and encouragement. I need to know that I have a home, and by the grace of God, I find that home in the Church.

This is why I am so thankful that no matter how many times I have been done with the church, the Church has never been done with me. It is why I continue to remain with the Church. I believe that the Spirit is already actively involved in the reformation of the Church even if we do not immediately see the results. For some of us, we may never see the results of reformation; but as long as the Church cannot exist without the Spirit, the powers and principalities will never prevail against the Church. That is good news.

A Poet, Too: Ted Voigt

I’m happy to announce that May 2019 brings us our first poetic blog post–well, the first one to contain poetry in the strictest sense. It is brought to us by NazTooer Ted Voigt. Ted and Sarah Voigt live in Wicklow, Ireland with their two kids, Abigail and Simon.  They have worked for the Nazarene Church in various capacities since 2006 and currently hold the title of “Missionary.”  Ted is @jtvink on twitter and instagram. He is an enneagram 9. His first book of poetry, “Pages Called Holy” is available on Amazon.

It was an honor to be asked recently to guest blog, and I was delighted with myself until I sat down to think about what I could possibly say to you folks.  My social media use these days is primarily a mode of listening and learning from the experience of others, and I struggle to see the ways in which my voice is needed in “the conversation.” I’m not sure what I have to add that isn’t being said a thousand ways already. I could talk about my experience as a Nazarene Missionary to Ireland, working in an evangelical context within a larger context of 1,600+ years of christianity.  I could talk about my views of the Nazarene church as an organization, the bright spots and dark corners we’ve wandered through in our time here. I could talk about being raised in the UMC, the formational role of liturgy and corporate worship in my younger years.  I could talk about the time I spent in Antarctica working with climate scientists, or my years learning group dynamics and team building and the role of adventure and retreat in spiritual formation. Some of those would make an okay blog post, but I’m not writing about those things at the minute.  

Instead, I want to share a passion of mine, which is poetry.  If you’re not sure what to make of poetry, if you don’t think you really “get” it or you think you’re not “smart enough” let me first say, you’re not alone, but also, that’s ok.  You don’t have to get it. You don’t even have to be smart. You wouldn’t react that way to a complicated melody or a technically challenging painting; you enjoy them. Or you don’t!  I think this is the key to enjoying poetry; if you don’t like a poem, move on. Just as you don’t have to love every song you hear, or you don’t have to sit pondering ever painting in the gallery, you certainly don’t have to love every poem that you read.  If you don’t enjoy a poem, move on, but don’t stop trying, and don’t forget to go back sometime. That T.S. Elliot from high school might mean more to you now than it did then.

If you need to start somewhere, I always recommend Billy Collins.  His poem Introduction to Poetry is both a fabulous poem as well as a great description of how I experience reading poetry:  water skiing across it. Am I missing some deeper meanings? Maybe. Sometimes. But that’s life, you can’t get everything.  If you like that, keep reading his stuff, he’s great. I’ll also recommend a guy I recently found called Scott Cairns, his Idiot Psalms are so, so good, and his poem Possible Answers to Prayer has become a kind of meditation for me.  

And now, after I apologize for a paragraph about poetry in which I mention only two white American men, a crime for which I do honestly owe the universe some penance, I offer a few pieces I’ve been working on.  I hope you like them, but maybe you won’t, that’s ok too. Just don’t give up on poetry!

Moonmoon

Somewhere in space

they say there’s a moon

with its own, smaller moon.

a moonmoon

they call it,

a satellite of a satellite

a celestial body attracted

to the wrong kind of body

a lunar love triangle

orbits tangled

gravity making fools

of us all

because who hasn’t fallen

into the wrong earth’s influence

objects mooning

over objects obliquely

looping in ovals, bravely into space

but pulled back in by a

moon

or a planet

or a star

or a smile.

Memes of grace

May this be the age

when the prevenient goes viral

when our outward signs are pixelated and

the sanctuary wifi will amplify memes of grace

may our children

as indigenous disciples

of digital connectivity

lead us forward

to like and share the peace of Christ and also with your friends

and also with your followers

and also make public.

No Telling

Beneath shoes, crumbled

bits of boulders and

cliffs mix with

what’s left of the great

carved high crosses of Downpatrick.

Tough to know now,

as you walk through the grove,

which bits of granite

once told a story

and which only listened.

An apostle’s foot

or deposit of quartz

a crown of thorns

or cluster of feldspar

no telling.

Once eternally etched

preaching a

gospel of granite to

illiterate masses

now scattered

the grinding

beneath feet

their only sermon.

A Share in Self Care: Elizabeth Criscuolo

April’s post comes from NazTooer Rev. Elizabeth Criscuolo. Elizabeth is the Senior Pastor at Schenectady First Church of the Nazarene. She has a background in mediation, having worked with a non-profit center, ACCORD, in the Binghamton area for 4 years as the Training, Volunteer, and Small Claims Program Coordinator. She currently serves as a mediator for the New York State Court System through Mediation Matters in Albany. She received her B.A. from Eastern Nazarene College in 2006 and her Master of Divinity from Nazarene Theological Seminary in 2011. Elizabeth also has a background as a certified CASA and Restorative Justice Facilitator. She has led trainings that specialize in conflict resolution, de-escalation tactics, and positive communication techniques. She and her husband were both born and raised in Fairfield County, Connecticut. They have two dogs, Trooper and Tucker, that keep them busy, and are both competitive bowlers.

Congregational Church (Easton, CT)

I was raised in Easton, CT, a small suburban town that has many characteristics of Stars Hallow from Gilmore Girls.  The house I grew up in was built by my great Grandfather who was a well known mason during his working years.  It is an affluent area that prides itself on Christmas tree farms, apple orchards, and pumpkin patches.  I went to the tiny “church on the hill” as everyone in town referred to it, it was a congregational church built at the end of the 1700’s.  The church and town are rich with historical stories from the Civil War, Industrial Revolution, and the Underground Railroad.  This town was an incredible place to grow up and I count myself very fortunate to have lived in such a place.

Silverman’s Farm (Easton, CT)

When I was 14 years old I started dating a guy who wanted me to go to his youth group at a Methodist Church about 20 minutes away in Stratford, CT. That is where I met the women who would change my life. Silverman’s Farm, Easton, CT Pastor Julia Yim was a young Korean woman in her early 30’s and had just been transferred to Stratford, CT from a Korean Church in Flushing, NY. She was amazing! I had never met someone with so much energy, love, and pure joy. It was through her ministry that I was born again and within that same year felt the call to become a pastor. From that point on she did everything within her power to disciple me, love me, and empower me to pursue the call God had placed on my life.

Fast forward to me at 19 years old, I had just ended my sophomore year at Eastern Nazarene College and was back home for the summer. My best friend and her boyfriend were determined to have me meet their friend, Gabriel (which I wasn’t crazy about doing). Finally, we “somehow happen to end up at his house” one night (I was set up!). I tried to fight it, but there was no chance. I went inside his house and it changed my entire life once again. We met in 2004, married in 2008, and have been laughing together and loving each other since. He has been an important source of support, love, and motivation continuously. Even moving half way across the country to KC, MO so that I could attend NTS and graduate with my M.Div.

He has always spoken words of encouragement and positivity into my life, but there was a problem… Often times I could not do that for myself. I was used to being too hard on myself, not living up to my own expectations, and being overly critical of everything I did. Criticism was used to push you further and make you better in my family, and so naturally I felt the need to do that to constantly do that to myself.

So now that you have a tiny glimpse into who I am I will get to what I want to talk about most in this blog post: self care. After NTS I received a job offer to be an Associate Pastor of a church in Binghamton, NY. I was so excited at the chance to move closer to home, but even more excited at my very first position as a pastor. I was ready to apply all that I had learned in the past 9 years of life! I had been hired as the Associate Pastor with an emphasis on Young Families Ministry. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that that was where we were supposed to be and was so excited that Gabriel and I would get to start a family with all of these other young families who were having this baby boom in the church. I put my heart and soul into everything I did there trying to create more moments for connections with young families, and ways for us to connect with families in the community. Eventually we wound up having several new young families join our church because of the amount of outreach our families were doing through the young families ministry, it was so exciting! I was in a constant state of GOING and DOING, there was so much enthusiasm and anticipation wrapped up in it all. I felt like everything was going so smoothly and so well, I had even given myself room to not be overly critical of what I was doing because I knew that this was my first rodeo. The honeymoon period was a long one, perhaps somewhere around 1.5 years, and I am incredibly grateful for that.

The excitement of ministry and trying to have a baby was all thrilling until one day it wasn’t. When I realized we had been trying to have a baby for well over a year and I still wasn’t pregnant. I started to think about all these other women in the play groups talking about trying and getting pregnant within 4-8 months, and here I was wondering what was going on with all that.

There was immense moments of panic: what if I didn’t have a baby… how would I continue to be the young families pastor (and not have any kids)? What if I could never have a baby? How would the church see us if we didn’t have children? Is this going to impact how I connect to others in the church with kids? What if everything I thought my future was going to be would never happen? And the questions got deeper and darker and harder as my fears began to overwhelm me. I began to feel somewhat isolated from the other young families as I came to the realization that this might not happen for us.

I was still in ministry, working hard to meet the needs of families there, and still putting in 100%, but I started to notice that my connection to them wasn’t as strong as what they had with each other. I started to beat myself up and criticize myself (As strange as that might sound) for not having kids and for not going into debt to try anything and everything to try to have a baby. Because that’s what I should have been doing, right? Spending thousands and thousands of dollars on adoption, fertility treatments, and the like. That’s what everyone suggested as the remedy, although no one ever offered to pay for it. I was at a point where I felt stuck.

We felt lonely. We felt sad. We felt isolated. We felt friendless.

One day Gabriel and I found ourselves at a bowling alley in town. Just figured we would go and have a little time out together and the guy behind the counter started talking to us about joining a summer league. I looked at the guy like he was nuts, because I don’t even think I broke 100 during my 3 games that day (for those unfamiliar with bowling, 300 is a perfect game, and it is typical for open bowlers to bowl under 100 or thereabouts). Gabriel was convinced we should do it, and once again my life was changed for forever. We started bowling in the summer of 2014 and began to meet people who would impact our lives in the most beautiful and meaningful way.

As we immersed ourselves into the bowling community I began to realize that this was a community filled with all different kinds of people. Older people, younger people, people with money, people with limited money, people who worked, people who were unemployed, people who were physically fit, people with addiction, people with kids, people without kids, people who were divorced, people who were depressed, all sorts of people (not much unlike the church). And actually it didn’t really matter what kind of person you were as long as you were there to lace up those bowling shoes, get onto the approach, and give your best attempt at putting 10 in the pit (a strike).

Gabriel, Jaymo, Dina (her family owns the center we bowled in most), and me

These people who had no idea who we were accepted and loved us right where we were and never questioned it for a moment.  The connections we made with these people were unlike we had ever shared with any other community group, and it truly is unexplainable.  We were home.  We had finally found a place where we felt rest and comfort.

Some more bowling buddies. This was at our going-away party prior to moving to Schenectady, NT (Brooke, Ryan, Me, and Kevin). The had a live band, food, and well. . . bowling of course ❤

It was a sanctuary.  It was our weekly respite.  It was so much fun! And as we began to settle in more and more we began to live life with friends at the bowling alley in deeper ways.  We started staying after league to all practice together, started going out to dinners, even started competing in tournaments with them, and eventually having some of them over to the house for video games and dinner.

Gabriel bowling the National USBC Tournament in Syracuse 2018. He will be bowling the National USCB Tournament 2019 in Las Vegas in a few weeks.

As we entered into these amazing relationships I started to notice that we quickly became the ones people would come and talk to when they were going through divorce, going through addiction, dealing with depression, sick in the hospital, and all because they knew Gabriel and I loved and cared about them.  We noticed that our space of self care had quickly become an easy way for us to be filled up but also where we could pour back out.  It never became a drain and I noticed that because I always felt I could pour back out onto them when I needed to.  Whenever I needed to vent, cry, or get aggressive with the pins there were multiple people around me to listen. 

When we walk into any local house (bowling alley), we would be met with tons of hugs and lots of love.

Final standings for my first win in a tournament

Bowling was and still is our resting place.  A place for us to connect with each other and with friends.  It is our place of self care, where we let loose, and feel free to just be.  It has become a passion and now also a competitive piece of our lives (I won my very first tournament, The Schenectady USBC Women’s 2019 Championship just a few weeks ago), but it has and always will be about the people who allowed us to just be Liz and Gabe.

I want to be sure to emphasize that this is not to put any negative light on our first church, they loved and cared for us well, we needed to have something outside of that to connect with each other (for fun and some sort of release) and other people. 

SELF CARE PART II:

The second part of my act of self care has been a more recent one. Recently I became the lead pastor of Schenectady First Church of the Nazarene. I decided after hearing/reading painful statistics about lead pastors who struggle with depression, fatigue, disconnection, burn out, and much more I decided to be proactive and intentional almost from the moment I stepped in as the lead pastor. I decided it was time to hit the gym.

Part of going to the gym 4-5 days a week was also to learn to love myself. I have always had insecurities about myself, being bullied as a young girl and several other things from my life, and I decided part of what working out needed to be was me owning who I was and learning to love myself better. I will spare you the ugly details of things I used to think about myself but I will say this: YOU NEED TO LOVE AND CARE FOR YOURSELF BECAUSE YOU ARE WORTH IT! I kept coming back to the scripture: love your neighbor as yourself. I decided I could love people better if I could learn to love myself better, and here I am doing it through what I can only attribute to God giving me this time, strength, and opportunity.

Since December 10th, 2018 I have been going to the gym 4-5 days a week. I currently just finished my 16th week of working out. I am down 19” and 22 pounds. I have never felt stronger, more empowered, or loved myself more.

This is my before and after picture. The left is me on November 2nd, 2018, and the right is me on March 15, 2019, getting ready to bowl an all day St. Patrick’s Day bowling tournament with new bowling friends in the Schenectady area.

Conclusion:

Wherever you are in your life, it is definitely the right time to learn to love yourself. I haven’t perfected this, by any means, but I am well on my way to owning my uniqueness (as many would call it.. hehe), loving my body, and putting myself in a thriving community of friends who show care in ways I have always wanted and now realize that every human deserves (even those of us who are always trying to be that for everyone else). 

If I had to give some words of wisdom or advice I would say this: Don’t wait until tomorrow to care for yourself or show love to yourself.  When you look at the whole picture it may seem impossible but take it one very small step at a time and celebrate all the little decisions you make for your care and for loving yourself. 

Becoming Myself in a Rather Fight-y Community: Tyler Brinkman

March 2019 is a good month, because it brings us a post by Tyler Brinkman. Tyler is a current student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary pursuing an M.Div with a concentration in History, Theology, and Ethics; he enjoys teaching all the Anabaptists about Nazarene polity, and he tries to bring up the ‘real presence’ of the Eucharist as much as possible. His intellectual interests include theological anthropology, eschatology, neurobiological effects of trauma, and, well, pretty much anything in the humanities–and some of the sciences. He continues to be proud of his illustrious athletic career on his high school’s walking team until his career ended when he failed the requisite sports physical. Mostly, he’s just thankful for his wife, Crystal, who helps him to not lose his wallet, keys, books, and sanity.

I am excited that Steve asked me to write the blog post this month. I think I offered it to him early last year, and he said he had my name written down already. So I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to write something. Occasionally, I would think about what I would write when given the opportunity. And even now when I am writing this post (and when I’m supposed to have it done two days from now), I am unsure what I should write about.

But I am Nazarene. I’m one of those 5th-generation Nazarene types whose whole extended family are Nazarene. It is the spiritual soil in which I was nurtured, and I am forever thankful. It gave me tools to survive. I struggled a lot as a teenager; things were… difficult. Way too difficult. I had too much stress and responsibility, and I was constantly afraid that I was going to fail and the people around me would get hurt. And even if I were to fail others and they DIDN’T get hurt – well, I was still a bad person who deserved to be punished. This was my belief for a very, very long time. But thanks be to God – God called me to ministry.

I know it sounds weird to say – particularly for someone who has never actually been paid staff at a church. I’ve been a lay leader, and I’ve been a leader with a local ministry license. But I’ve been called; it’s just taking a seemingly too long time to get there. See, I was first called to ministry when I was 16; I was at a summer camp– TiP (Talent Identification Program) which was a 3 week program for “gifted students” (whatever that means) at Duke University. I do not think it is merely coincidental that I was called to ministry at a place of higher education; I have always grown the most spiritually from my participation in communities of learning. But it was there that God spoke to me saying “Go give hope to people who don’t have it.” Immediately, I was enthralled by that calling, but I had no idea where it would lead me. I still have no idea where that calling will lead me, and I am exceptionally glad about that. That calling – to give hope – helped keep me alive in times when I didn’t think I was going to make it. Times of despair when relationships were exploding, imploding, and just generally being broken. But that vision of hope is what gave me the hope I needed to keep fighting.

I often defined myself by what I was fighting – fighting depression, anxiety, mental health stigma, and just being a contrarian in general. This was how I saw myself, and that’s still true. But there is more stability. I’m still pretty fight-y, but I am not nearly as angry. NazToo helped teach me that I can be good even if I’m not great. It helped teach me that I am really kinda good at all this theology stuff I love to study, and it helped teach me how utterly ignorant of so, so many things I am – of how much there is still to learn. It helped give me confidence in the midst of some rough depression after I lost my job. The two times I’ve been able to get to hang out with a number of NazToo people – once at General Assembly and once at the 2018 Wesleyan Theological Society conference – I’ve gotten to meet so many good and wonderful friends for the first time. I remember telling some people before I even left to go to that conference “I’m going to meet them for the very first time, but it’s going to be a reunion.” And that’s what it was.

I have always found I have learned about myself in and through my relationships with others. That is still true today, and I have learned so much about myself through this wonderful band of freaks, weirdos, and ragamuffins. Even though I learned a lot about gut bacteria and microbiomes, church iconography, what movies have the best Christ figures, democratic socialism, and so many other topics – knowing myself is what I have learned most of all. I have learned, and I am continuing to learn how to understand what it means that I am loved by God. How do I make sense theologically, spiritually, intellectually, existentially that I, Tyler Brinkman, am loved by God? These are not the abstract questions of a seminary student; they are the most profound questions which have haunted and shaped the whole course of human history. I am not deluded to think my answers are unique or really encapsulate the totality of how we find our identity in God.

I was chatting with a dear friend just a few weeks ago about this very topic. She teaches me about grace and kindness every time we meet and interact through her words and actions, and we were talking about how we find our identity totally in being a beloved child of God. Can we even really claim any other kind of identity? I wanted to end by sharing what I said in response to that question. I was only able to come to these tentative, seeking, questioning conclusions through this little community on-the-outskirts. So this is a “Thank You” to NazToo for helping me to believe what I have always proclaimed. This is what I said:

“I agree with you that we are all God’s beloved, and God’s unconditional love is constantly poured out on all people – individually and corporately. What I would encourage you to think is how God’s love is constant, but not static, and that God never loves us abstractly.

Rather than saying God’s love is unchanging, I want to say that the love of God is always perfectly changing. This is not to say that God loves us in different degrees or in different ways. But rather than there is within the love of God an inherent movement, a dynamism. I think of the Trinity and perichoretic union of the three persons: God in Godself gives Godself to Godself – eternally. It is a divine dance, and it is this dance which constitutes the love which God is. But it isn’t static. There is genuine movement, but the love of God is so vast and so deep that in all that eternal pouring out God’s love will ever be diminished or depleted. In the same way, God’s love (which is God) is poured out in an infinite number ways to meet whatever our needs are in the moment. The identity of God is found in God’s love – God is Love. God’s identity is grounded in that Trinitarian union, and, in Christ, God identifies with us. We are taken up into the identity of God.

In the same way, we demonstrate the love of God by continuing to pour out our love for God, God’s people, and God’s creation. So we too find our identity in what we love. We aren’t defined by our actions, experiences, beliefs or words. In reality, I don’t think humans are ever ‘defined’ at all, at least not totally. But I think we can say that we are, in part, constituted by what we love and how we love. I think this works because, in the act of love, we open ourselves up to God, God’s people, and God’s creation. In loving, we take these people into our hearts and into our lives. I think of Crystal; I am who I am today because of Crystal. Not to say she’s responsible for everything I think, do, say (I would never wish to lay such a curse on her!), but rather that she opens herself up to me so I can become a part of her and she is a part of me. I think this is what it means when it says ‘the two will become one flesh’ (Which I don’t think is solely limited to marriage).

With this, I think we can find our identity primarily in the Love of God while also saying that what and how we love shapes who we are.

Because God’s love is never abstract. I think turning identity and/or humanity into an abstraction is an act of violence to human personhood. In the end, it tends to be oppressive for marginalized communities – just look at the denial of racism under the guise of ‘colorblindness.’ You said, ” I think of myself as a daughter, a sister, a mom, a wife. I think I’m somewhat creative. I try to be kind. However, all of that could be taken away”. I think you’re right in that those identities are provisional. But I also want to say that you will always be a daughter, a mother, and a sister as long as you are alive. Even the death of those beloved ones cannot rob you from being a daughter, sister, and mother. But what if instead of saying God unconditionally loves you regardless of who you are, we say God loves you exactly as you are? God loves you as a mother. God loves you as a daughter. God loves you as a sister. God loves you as a pastor. God loves you as an American (clearly God’s love is undeserved!) God loves you as a friend, a woman, your personality, your sense of humor, your kindness, your peacemaking, your hair, body, and eyes. God loves those things specifically about you. God takes joy in those things. So rather than diminishing your identity as you are actually in the world, God’s love affirms who you are in the concrete – the person found in the every-day drudgeries of life: The frustrated pastor, the exasperated mother; the one who can only do eyeliner on one eye a time.

I think this matters because of this: I am not an abstraction. God loves me in my whiteness, in my ignorance, in my Americanism, in my marriage, in my familial relationships (in which I include close friends). God loves me not because of those things nor in spite of those things, but God does love me as I am those things. But the concrete reality of my existence oftentimes turns me into an abstraction. Sometimes I feel that in reality that I, as myself, cannot connect with people. Instead I have to play the role of somebody else for the sake of affection and familiarity. This is exhausting.

I feel most comfortable in myself and my relationships when I am embracing the concrete identity of who I am. And I feel most secure and loved in my relationships when I am loved as myself – the unabridged, sometimes insightful, typically frustrating, occasionally angering person. I cling to those relationships because they are life-giving to me. But I do have a couple of relationships where I can do that. It is in those where I find myself best able to open myself up to others and wherein I find myself in others. This doesn’t mean we are defined by others; it means that we find our identity in God in the world.

These relationships are where I experience the greatest joy, the greatest contentment. It is where I feel like I best embody the embracing and love of God towards myself and others. As I’ve continued this journey – the less I’ve come to hate myself, be disgusted with myself, and generally been more at peace.

In short, it’s where I experience the greatest belovedness.”

A Worldview, Ever Changing: Serra Barrett

serraThis month’s contributor, NazToo’s Serra Barrett, is a writer, actor, director, and teaching artist in the Central Ohio area. She lives in Mount Vernon with her husband Jeremy and three beautiful children. She is currently working on earning her Master’s in Theatre. Serra is an amateur foodie and loves to experiment in the kitchen. She also believes that coffee is life. Her house is usually a mess because she is busy doing homework or making dinner.

As I have been pondering what to share with all of Naztoo these last few weeks, I have thought a lot about what I should say! When a writer is given the prompt: “write about whatever you want,” it is both a blessing and a curse. I tossed many ideas around and quickly discarded most. But I think I have settled on something you haven’t heard before, but that will feel familiar to you. It’s my story.

This is a paper I recently wrote as part of my Master’s studies at Regent University. I was asked what my worldview is, and that question took me back through my life to explore the events that have formed me; the experiences that have broken me and remade me again. I left the citations because I am, at heart, part English teacher so forgive me if they are distracting. Thanks for reading.

I remember the first time I became aware that I had my own worldview. I was in high school, at an international youth retreat with my church. It was the first night of Nazarene Youth Conference, 1999 and I was there with thousands of other Nazarene high school students from around the globe. It was an electric night, with the best worship band I’d ever heard, and a speaker who held the attention of every person in that stadium. But by the end of his talk, I found myself searching my heart over the challenge he had laid before us: “What is your worldview? How does following Christ shape how you see the world and those around you?” I had never before considered how or why I viewed things the way that I did. I was always striving to live a Christian life and love others, but I was less than aware of where my perceptions came from, or how they had been shaped. This realization led me on a journey that I am still on today, nearly twenty years later.

As I began to explore my worldview for the first time as a high school senior, I considered my roots: both of my parents had been raised in parsonages and moved around their whole lives. Because of that, we moved into a house when I was three and there we stayed for twenty-five years. The stability of my parents’ relationship and the knowledge of the multi-generational Christian heritage I came from were probably the two biggest influences on my worldview as a teen and young adult. I believed that most people were good, that hard work was the way to achieve what I wanted out of life, and that the noblest goal a person could have was saving souls for the Kingdom. My worldview drove me to attend Mount Vernon Nazarene University, study music, and seek a career in ministry.

But life has a way of taking a naïve, bright-eyed youth with all her grandiose ideas and leaving behind a disillusioned, weatherworn woman in its wake. I soon found that ministry was harder than it looked, people were unreliable and deeply flawed, (in and out of the church), and God didn’t always show up for me in the ways I thought he should. Because of the road I’ve walked, these days I am just as likely to be praying fervently as I am to be questioning everything I ever thought I knew. And while that may sound extreme or paradoxical, holding these two practices together in dynamic tension has brought me to a deeper faith than I have ever known before.

Eight years ago, I went through the darkest time in my life. I had recently left a position leading worship at a church without another job lined up, I had suffered a devastating miscarriage, we were struggling to pay the bills, and I was completely removed from the church community in which I had grown up. Even though I had a supportive husband and two healthy children, I was angry with God for allowing me to dream of a future that now seemed unreachable. I reached bottom when I realized I wasn’t even sure there was a god to be angry with at all. My worldview, which had been firmly rooted in my faith, fell apart. And I was in no hurry to rebuild.

For about a year I drank and ate whatever I could get my hands on, avoiding at all costs anything that had to do with religion, spirituality, or self-awareness. Looking back, I truly believe I was a functioning alcoholic during those dark days. At this point in my life, I did not care what my worldview was. I did not care about myself or my future. Of course, deep down I really did care; I just could not yet face the unanswered questions I had about it all. If anyone had asked me then, I would’ve said my worldview was simple: live and let live; forget about trying to please some divine power that probably does not even exist. But God was working on my heart, even then.

In the spring of 2012 we found a new church home that seemed to be a good fit for us. I was still questioning everything, but because this church and pastor welcomed my questions and doubts, I kept going back. Through my questions, I found myself drawn back to God. He was there, in the bible stories I had known since childhood. These stories tell us of unreliable and deeply flawed characters who still experienced the grace of God in their lives. They remind us how to live with hope in the midst of our struggles, and they show us how to love.

As I found myself discovering my faith anew, my worldview came into focus once again, but changed from what it once was. I no longer viewed the world through the rose-colored glasses of youth, but instead saw it in its messy, imperfect, beautiful state; worth saving, and worth loving. I saw that for myself and for others, there is hope and promise in trusting God, as Paul says in Romans:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-9, NIV).

Viewing others and myself in light of this passage guides my thoughts, my relationships, and my goals. It allows me to pursue relationships without ulterior motives, and to forgive myself when I fall short.

These days, my worldview is also shaped profoundly by motherhood. Having three lives dependent on me lends a responsibility, not just to my own children, but also to the children and citizens of the world. Becoming a mother taught me how we are all responsible to each other. As Mother Teresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other” (O’Connell, 2018). This idea that we belong to each other has become central to how I look at the world. We owe it to each other to love well, to be good stewards, and to seek justice. We cannot qualify life by making judgments on who is allowed into the Kingdom and who is not. Our only job is to be conduits of God’s love to those that need it most: the widow, the orphan, and the outcast.

Lastly, my current worldview is shaped by my aesthetic as an artist. When I look at the world, I see a place that needs great stories, great interpretations of myth, and creative presentations of truth. As humans, we are drawn to story, and I would say, we need it. Story defines us: the stories we hear, the stories we tell, and the ones we pass from generation to generation. I am thankful to be attending a program that agrees with me. I was happy to read that Regent University’s Department of Performing Arts and Music believes “…that we are called to tell stories both descriptive and prescriptive in nature” (Regent.edu, 2018). I believe that telling stories is innate to being human, and beyond that, telling stories is how we can know God.

Based on my worldview, I believe it is my calling as a Christian artist to tell stories. Stories from my unique point of view that encompass the truth of who we are, and call us forward to be who we are meant to be. A good story, well told, can have “characters… more ‘real’ than people… [and] a fictional world more profound than the concrete” (McKee 21). In story, we can get to the core of who we really are, and who we want to be.

Works Cited

The Holy Bible: New International Version. Zondervan, 2017.

McKee, R. (1999). Story. London: Methuen, p.21.

O’Connell, C. (2018). 12 Mother Teresa Quotes to Live By | Reader’s Digest. [online] Reader’s Digest. Available at: https://www.rd.com/true-stories/inspiring/mother-teresa-quotes/ [Accessed 22 Sep. 2018].

Regent.edu. (2018). Regent​ ​University College​ ​of​ ​Arts​ ​&​ ​Sciences School​ ​of​ ​Communication​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Arts Department Handbook. [online] Available at: https://www.regent.edu/acad/schcom/docs/theatre/forms/Departmental_Handbook_FALL_2017.pdf [Accessed 22 Sep. 2018].

 

 

 

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