Saturday, November 19, 2016

Prayer changes

This morning I read one of those well-meant phrases that Christians are known to say, and say often.  "Prayer changes things."  I know I said it for years - but my view of prayer and what happens during prayer has changed in recent years.  I used to think that when someone had a need or a physical problem, we were supposed to pray to God for them to have it resolved or healed ... but as I've learned more, I really don't think that's what prayer is for. Besides, I've really listened to some of the prayers that have been prayed for people who are sick with this or that disease, and I hardly think that they sound like "the prayer of faith" that James talked about when he said for the sick person to call on the elders of the church for the laying on of hands. Rather, those prayers sound like worries, and pleading, and doubting ... as if God must be placated. And the usual result of those prayers has been exactly the opposite of what the person believed himself or herself to be praying for.  I've seen it happen far too many times for it to seem like coincidence, so much so that I hesitate to ask for prayer except from a chosen few whom I know to NOT pray like that.

Off and on for the past few years, I've been examining the ministry of Jesus when He was physically here on the planet, and I've discovered something about prayer by doing so.  Jesus very rarely prayed publicly. Most of His praying was done in private, or when He was alone, while He was in public ministry. So I looked at the most famous time when Jesus prayed in public ... and what I saw rather shocked me.  

It's in one of my favourite stories in the New Testament - the raising of Lazarus from the dead (this is in John chapter 11). You'll recall that Jesus had heard that Lazarus was sick and then stayed two more days where He was. He then told His disciples that they were going to go to see Lazarus - that Lazarus was dead and that He was glad He was not there when it happened ... so that they would believe.  (Keep that statement of purpose in your back pocket). 

When Jesus got there, all He seemed to find was unbelief -or belief to a certain point and then ... nothing (that is, they believed that He could have healed Lazarus when he was still alive, but now that he was dead, all bets were off). Eventually Jesus convinced the family and friends to roll the stone away from the tomb door. ("Didn't I say that if you believed, you would see...?")  And then He prayed.  But it wasn't the kind of prayer that we often hear in healing services, which sounds like ohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease.... as if God has to be cajoled or convinced to do good to us. No, Jesus didn't pray like that.  Here's John 11:41-42 -

Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me. (NASB)

From this prayer, I can draw these conclusions: 
(1) Jesus knew that God had already heard Him; 
(2) Jesus knew that God ALWAYS heard Him; 
(3) Jesus never once asked God to raise Lazarus from the dead; and 
(4) He only prayed aloud in front of people in the first place because He wanted the people who were standing around Him to believe that God sent Him. 

What does all that tell me? 
(1) Jesus had complete trust in God's goodness, and didn't have to gather it up and strain and grunt and groan to produce it or to convince God that He had faith; 
(2) Jesus got that faith from the hours alone He had consistently spent with God in private (more about that in a bit); and 
(3) Jesus was demonstrating that you never ask God to do what He has delegated TO YOU the authority to do yourself

Then He turned toward the tomb and called - ONCE - to Lazarus ... to come out of the tomb. And Lazarus did. Lazarus was dead - he had no faith - he wasn't even there; he was in Abraham's bosom, beyond caring what happened to his body. His family and friends had the kind of faith that believed in platitudes, and they had no faith that Lazarus would be raised. JESUS believed. JESUS called to the dead man. And that, my friends, is how you heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons ... because remember folks, Jesus had laid aside His divinity.  He was fully human and relied on the living, eternal Holy Spirit to live out His life through Jesus ... to the world.  He modeled how we could rely on the Spirit too, just like He did.

The source of Jesus' faith was (is) in the relationship that He and the Father had (and still have!) Over and over again, we read in the gospels how He got up long before daybreak and went to be by Himself... to pray to the Father. What was He doing during that time? Some have said He was getting His "marching orders" for the day. Having lived in the Spirit - I really don't think that's it. Living in the Spirit is like getting the "marching orders" (so to speak) right at the time they're needed. It's a lot like flying by the seat of your pants ... so again, what was Jesus doing in prayer? 

I have a radical suggestion.  What if Jesus was simply maintaining closeness with His Dad? 

Image "Couple At Sunset" courtesy
of piyaphantawong at
Think about it.  What if prayer is simply developing and maintaining intimacy with God? and by virtue of that very intimacy, there develops a deep, inner knowing that God is with you, for you, in you, caring for you, loves you without reservation, and longs to connect with you - and with everyone - on that level?

So does that kind of prayer change things? Hmm, for me, that's up for debate.  I don't think that it's true in the sense that most people think about when they refer to "things" - that is, events and so forth.  Things may not change; other people may not change; circumstances may not change.  However, I'm more inclined to think that this kind of prayer changes the pray-erInside. I believe that prayer aimed at developing and maintaining intimacy  grows faith and confidence, and strengthens the person who prays (who draws close to God) so that the Spirit can do His work in and through that person. The purpose of this kind of relationship prayer is so that the person, in drawing close to God, accepts God's unconditional love and is able to recognize the leadings of the Spirit. With that kind of confidence in God, we won't need to ask Him for anything, or to do anything. We will know He is with us.  We will rely on the Spirit, and with His leading, we will speak to whatever problem presents itself in the way and at the moment that He chooses.

This is how Jesus lived His earthly life. As I have come to ponder this reality more and more, I have changed; my prayer life has changed.  I no longer pray like I used to pray. I just enter His presence and deliberately become aware of His love for me. I meditate on His love and His goodness. I start to grasp His good intentions toward me and toward all people. I remember that He has already given to me all things (including HIS faith!).  

I remind myself that He has given me the authority that Jesus had when He was here on the planet ... authority to speak to the mountain, to speak to the sickness, to speak to death, to speak to demons in the name of Jesus ... and expect these things to be dislodged and banished because He wills it. I don't have to drum this authority up (it's already given to me!), I don't have to dig down deep to access my own faith (Jesus already believes for me!) and I don't have to raise my voice.  I don't have to be theatrical about anything.  I just trust in His love.  Then my whole life becomes a prayer - a song of dedication - an act of worship.

In this way, the practice of prayer is not so much about me, but about Him, about His love, His goodness, His passion, His desire to bond.  That is what I am learning.  This realization is removing all that pressure that I used to feel that it was somehow up to me to pray harder and believe more, because it would be my fault if I didn't do it right and somehow someone got sicker or the dark side won.  It's not about that at all. It's about Him. If I enter the picture at all, it's in the area of realizing how greatly He loves me - how amazing He is - and in the area of growing in intimacy with Him.  Only then can I grasp onto the power that He has given to me and use that power to do His will: loving and speaking life into a dying world.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Broken Hallelujah

There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

                        - - Leonard Cohen (1984)

I like Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" better than any other version I've ever heard.  I've heard a couple of different versions where someone (because it's in the public domain and because they liked the tune but not the words) has put different words to the music - words that they thought would be more uplifting - and while the new words were more uplifting, something inside me somehow felt like singing other words to it was being (for me) ... disloyal or wrong at a core level.

Okay, part of it is because I'm a songwriter and I know what it's like when someone takes your song and puts words in it that aren't there. It's like someone pronouncing your name wrong. Every. Time. It grates. It just does. 

But most of it (in keeping with the whole author thing) is that the original song has a message that a lot of people miss. It's about the broken hallelujah.  

Photo "Sad Woman Sitting Alone In Room"
courtesy of FrameAngel at
As most everyone knows, the word hallelujah means "praise the Lord."  Cohen was inspired by King David's story of brokenness  -  how he fell into adultery and lost his throne over it - and still worshiped God.  David's hallelujah was a broken one. But it was a hallelujah nonetheless.

Something I heard at a worship conference years ago may help me explain what I mean.  Internationally known worship leader Bob Fitts came to lead worship at our church once, over 10 years ago, first by talking about what worship is and isn't, and then by doing it and inviting us to join in.  In his talk, he was saying that all worship is precious to God, but that the worship that arises out of our brokenness is the kind where He draws closest to us, whether we are aware of it or not. That we choose to worship Him during those times, when our hearts are breaking, touches His heart. It takes far more courage to worship God when one's world is caving in than it does when everything is going right. Especially when the worship is not asking for anything ... except possibly for an awareness of His presence.

Hence the broken hallelujah. I've been there - broken, I mean - ... many times. One important time comes to mind especially today, the 3rd anniversary of our family being informed of my daughter's death the previous night.  It's been those kinds of times when I've reached up like a drowning person only to grasp nothing but emptiness, when I have felt alone and frightened by the intensity of my emotions, when I have depleted my strength and my ability to withstand the harsh, accusing voices in my mind, that God has reached out to me and in love, mercy and grace, reminded me that He is with me and that he really loves me. His love is so great - and the worship - born from trust in that love - rises from me even through the pain. It's a broken hallelujah ... gurgling up from blubbering lips and a throat that feels swollen and choked, sobbing past hot tears and a broken heart.

Here's the secret though.  It's both a broken AND a holy hallelujah.  That's how I see Leonard Cohen's message, even if he might never have intended it that way. His original message was that the holy and the broken hallelujahs were of equal value - and in a way, yes they are. But the broken ones are holy in themselves, maybe even the most holy ones

There's a blaze of light 
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken hallelujah -

Sunday, October 2, 2016


Of all the lies ever perpetrated by organized religion, perhaps the most insidious one is that we are unworthy worms, vile creatures, wicked and repugnant to God. Intended to spark humility and the fear (i.e., respect) of God, this idea of wretchedness has been the enemy's number one tool to incapacitate believers around the world for centuries! It is a killer. It kills faith. 

The logic goes like this: "I'm so unworthy, I don't deserve to lift my face toward the heavens, and God surely wouldn't listen to such a filthy rotten failure like me. Even if I dared to pray, there's no way He would ever consider saying yes to me because I'm so ugly and dirty to Him.  And even though Jesus has made me clean and acceptable because of the cross, well, that's still not enough because I see all too well what I'm like, and I just know that there's no way He'll ever listen to little old me. After all, just look at what He had to go through to redeem me!"

It's a cleverly devised lie, because it is mixed with truth. Yes, Jesus went to the cross and endured such a horrible death to redeem us, but not because we are worthless worms.  He went there because He values us so greatly that He would do anything to prove to us how much we are worth to Him!

Remember the story of the ugly duckling, the cygnet (swan chick) who was hatched in a family of ducks and never felt good enough?  That is a metaphor - a symbolic picture - for us.  The reality was that the "ugly duckling" was not a duckling after all, but a swan, regardless of how unworthy he felt. Keep that picture in your mind.  Not the taunts of the so-called siblings, not even his own reflection in the water compared to those of the 'brothers and sisters', not the revulsion that he saw in the eyes of the adult ducks, changed the fact that he was a swan - destined for far greater, born to beauty and majesty. The day he knew his worth was the day he heard the swans calling him from on high, and caught a glimpse of his reflection (now transformed) in the water just inside the broken ice prison he had made for himself.

That's us.  Born to beauty. Worthy.  Valuable.  Loved.  Called.  Yet so many of us still unaware that we are His treasure, that we are the apple of His eye.  We always were.

It makes no difference to its worth whether a diamond is in a crown or in a pigsty.  It's a diamond.  It has intrinsic worth - that is, it has a value that is in and of itself, and isn't dependent on its surroundings.  We are His JEWELS!

Photo "Ring With Stone" courtesy of
Boykung at
Another - and perhaps more meaningful - metaphor is the (modern) story of Rapunzel.  (Even though Grimm wrote the original story [which is AWFUL by the way], I prefer the version that Disney did recently, because it ends WAY better!)  Never mind the romance piece for now - that's a different story to tell.  Let's look at Rapunzel herself: a princess who doesn't know she's a princess. Hear me?  Not only a princess - but one with magical giftings to heal and rejuvenate, but which are used by a selfish, cruel power (Mother Gothel) who pretends to be her mother.  Yet at every turn, this woman belittles her, tells her she is fat, or stupid, or lazy, or demented (crazy).  She uses the girl's bestowed power (expressed through her long, magical hair which must never be cut or it will lose its power - can we see the symbolism of Samson here?) for her own purposes and intends to keep her imprisoned forever.  Gothel builds a culture of shame and mistrust, and yet Rapunzel longs for something more - and eventually is drawn to see the lights that appear every year on her birthday.  For far away, the heartbroken King and Queen lift the lanterns to the skies in her honour every year, hoping that one day she will return to them and take her rightful place.  When Rapunzel sees these lights up close, she feels like she belongs there somehow.  Soon, she puts it all together and realizes that she IS the 'lost princess.'  And knowing who she is changes everything about how she perceives her upbringing; she sees the witch for what she really is.  

That too is us.  We have been sold a bill of goods and we have just accepted those voices (often voices we hear expressed in those old self-hating, self-torturing hymns and the fear-based traditions of the organized church) that tell us that we must be crazy to think that God would hear us, that we are delusional to think that He would care about the little things of our lives, or that He would love us unconditionally and beyond measure.  Or the voices say that yes, God loves us but only if we behave ourselves.  Or that He hears and answers prayer but that if we don't receive answers, then we must be doing it wrong.  

No.  We are the King's sons and daughters.  We are precious to Him, worthy to Him. He dotes on us, and hears our faintest heart's cry because He delights in us.  We cannot offend Him!  We cannot! And why would we want to?  Being aware of a love that great can only produce love in return ... (another post for another time).

Can we grasp this? Is this not good news?  Can we accept that He is far greater and far more loving and accepting and GOOD than we have ever allowed ourselves to dream?  The Word says that He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think --- so basically, more of every one of those wonderful things (like love, acceptance, and goodness) than we can imagine!  Well I don't know about you, but I can imagine A LOT!  A WHOLE LOT!! If we could conceive of a greater, more loving God than God Himself, would that not mean that the god we have been believing in isn't really God at all?  Because, in order to BE God, He'd have to be so far beyond our capacity to comprehend or imagine that we couldn't think or imagine of anything greater!

Yes.  Yes He has set His love on us.  We have laboured in the sun, but He finds us beautiful, ravishing.  

We are worthy in His sight.  We are. Oh that we might be able to SEE His love - to experience it in our deepest heart - it would transform every moment into something sacred!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

I See You

A few weeks ago, our family shared the movie "Avatar" with a friend who had never seen it.  It was wonderful to see the spectacular visual effects of the film again, and the story line was compelling.

Although some would look askance at me for even watching a film that glorifies a 'mother-earth' type religion, I find the connection that The Na'vi have with their deity Eywa extremely real; it touches every aspect of their lives.  The Na'vi come to accept Jake (the hero) as one of them - but not without some misunderstanding.  Jake is a paraplegic, but when he sleeps, his consciousness is in his Avatar body - in which he can interact with the Na'vi. They know from the outset that he is a 'dream-walker' - a human in Na'vi form, and yet because Eywa has chosen him (a powerful scene that literally saves his life), he is brought to the village and assigned a Na'vi guide or teacher so that he may learn their language and their ways (in other words, their culture).

One of the most striking things about the culture of the Na'vi is their greeting for each other: "I see you."  As one of Jake's cultural mentors tells him when he is awake, this is not merely physical vision but a seeing of the person, the spirit inside, the individual's heart or character, all that makes them who they are.  It implies an intimacy that in our culture is usually only reserved for family and close friends, but there is something inherently real and right about this kind of connection with each other that resonates with me.  There are no barriers, no pretenses, no fake smiles. They feel what they feel when they feel it and they are open with each other. I think it is all a part of how they interact with Eywa and with the world around them. As Jake learns to interact with Eywa as well as with his Na'vi teacher, he begins to "see" the Na'vi, and consider himself one of them, one of "the people." 

Photo "Eye" courtesy of graur codrin at
The greeting "I see you" is one I have adopted in my relationship with my Creator. Prayer has now become for me more of a heart attitude or focus, a knowing that I am loved and heard, more like petals opening in the sunlight than a spewing volcano of pleading words, eyes tightly closed and fearing destruction or refusal. 

In the middle of the night, when I awake and all is dark, all I need to do now is to acknowledge the fact of His presence and of His love for me.  I know in my deepest heart that He "sees" me - knows me intimately, loves me passionately and completely - and my desire is to know Him progressively, to "see" Him in the same way. All that really stands in the way of that "seeing" is my own difficulty in becoming consistently aware of that vital connection. 

I've also started to use this expression with my family (that is, my husband and my daughter) from time to time.  It always brings a smile because they know what it means!  It means that I understand them, accept them completely, love to spend time with them, and so much more.  

Over the past year or so, my life has become so much more about experiencing and reflecting love, and so much less about rules and obligations.  That's not to say I don't relapse into the Abyss Of The Should, but when I spend time meditating on His love, I find that there is no need for The Should.  I naturally want to live every moment of my life in the light of that all-seeing, all-accepting, no-holds-barred love.  

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The pressure and politics - and pleasures - of isolation

One day recently, I was having a discussion about something with an acquaintance, when the topic turned to something on which the person and I did not share the same opinion.  

She asked me about it, so in spite of my better judgement, I gave my opinion, which I backed up with anecdotal (based on personal experience) evidence.  It stopped the conversation cold, and both of us commented on how awkward it felt, how inappropriate it was for us to even be discussing it. 

After that, I sensed a coldness, a withdrawal of respect, if you will, between us.  And it got me to thinking about the subtle pressure that comes to bear when two people don't agree on something - the social pressure to conform, for one side to convince the other and failing that, the removal of that thing from the list of things where one feels "safe".  

There is a lack of acceptance that is inherent in such differences of opinion; one side is unswayed by the other, and a (silent or voiced) agreement takes place where both parties resolve never to bring up that topic again.  Whether that is from a fear of confrontation, or from an unwillingness to entertain the other's point of view (belief, doctrine, attitude) again based on fear of being proven wrong or anger that someone holds to a different viewpoint, the result is the same: the walls go up and a whole other area is cordoned off with a big "Do Not Enter" sign posted, a "demilitarized zone" - a no-man's-land or an emotional mine-field.

I've been giving this idea some thought since deciding to leave the institutional church last summer.  And I've noticed that in some ways, and with some people more than others, the same process has been happening with people who had said to me that we were part of the family of God.  Yet when we decided to leave the physical house where they felt (to one degree or the other) comfortable, and where we did not, there was that same awkwardness, that withdrawal, that "let's not go there" mentality that just ... appeared.  Out of nowhere, it seemed, people who would laugh and joke with us simply avoided eye contact, or promised to keep in touch but didn't, or if they did keep in touch, there were awkward silences, things they felt they couldn't share, things we felt that we couldn't share - because we were in different worlds.  

And slowly, that resulted in isolation from a community we THOUGHT was based on more than just the name engraved on a plaque or painted on a sign near the church entrance.  It made us question whether the relationships that we had spent years developing were nothing more than a sham - whether they were based on whether we kept up our end of the contract, or whether we were "of use" to the community.  It all seemed so ... superficial, petty, and ... conditional. 

We made it clear that we were not leaving our relationship with God, but that we no longer subscribed to living life by traditions, rules, and the fear and shame that is behind those things.  We thought that those who knew us best would understand that this was not a rejection of them, but a personal decision.  And perhaps some of them did.  

Yet ... here we are.  God sets up times when we are in community with one or two other people and seeking His face - and He shows up; these times are wonderful and remind me of what the early church must have been like.  Yet for the most part, it's like we have died as far as relationships with some people are concerned.  

Don't get me wrong; our relationship with God has deepened and we are experiencing peace and joy more now than ever before.  Yet even that makes some folks uncomfortable; after all, aren't we supposed to shrivel up and waste away to nothing if we don't slap our fannies on a church pew somewhere? 

Photo "Bald Eagle Close Up" courtesy of
Tina Phillips at
More and more, I don't think so. I think that that mentality limits God in ways I am not comfortable with.  And truth be told, while there are some aspects of church attendance and traditional ministry that I do miss at times, in those moments, I usually just play the tape all the way to the end and realize that for me, it's not worth going back for just those few things.  

I kind of feel like Neo in "The Matrix" - I've swallowed the red pill (those who've seen the movie know what I mean) and now, things just don't look the same anymore.  And it IS isolating.  The very nature of that realization means that there ARE going to be topics I won't be able to discuss with certain  people, and there are going to be some people who won't feel comfortable being around me either. It isn't that they are wrong and I am right; it's just that we are in different places with different needs. Yet, for someone who all her life wanted everyone to like her and approve of her, it's a big deal that some people now ... don't - or they don't act like they do.

Accepting that is probably one of the hardest things about this past year.  As liberating as this lifestyle is, as wonderful as it is to look at life through the lens of God's unconditional love, it is still sometimes a lonely place - but one dear friend of mine turned that thinking around when she called it "the aerie" - the eagles' nest.

I like that.  True, there is isolation, but there are also many more updrafts, and the advantage of a bird's eye view, so to speak.  Things that seemed so huge: political wrangling, position, petitions, placards, pleading, proselytizing, pontificating, and pseudo-pious posturing ... seem so puny and piddling compared to the simple truth that God is God and I am not.  And I'm okay with that.

In fact, I'm better than okay with it.  I like it just fine!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A culture of beggars

A few years back, there was a small movement in christian circles that had people wearing bracelets that said "WWJD" for "What would Jesus do?" It was geared toward works of service for others, ways to treat others, etc. As I draw closer to Jesus, I find myself not asking Him WHAT He would do; I KNOW what He would do (He would love unconditionally. Period.)  Instead, more and more I ask Him HOW He would do something - and I look to scripture whenever I can to give me guidance on things ... things (and especially religious traditions) that for years I just accepted as the way things were done.

Recently, I have noticed that the way we pray for people is not the way He prayed for them, and the way we deal with the sick is most definitely not the way He did.  In case I was mistaken and the idea came up that "Well, that was Jesus. Of course! He had the authority to do that as God the Son!" ... I looked at what He authorized us (as His disciples) to do on His behalf. What I saw shocked me.

Before I share that with you, let me share what I see happening in the church when someone gets sick ... especially very sick.  People start to pray. But they don't pray the way the disciples did.  Here's what I hear typically when Western christians pray for someone who has any kind of need (minus all the "oh Jesus"es, and the endlessly repeated words like "God" and "Father" - He knows Who He is...):

"Would You just touch his body and heal it?"
"Just wrap Your arms around that family (that person) and bless them..."
"Have Your will in their lives, just hold them close..."
"Just pulverize that sickness."
"Just be with the doctors as they operate, just guide their hands..."

Did you catch the word "just"?  Do you know what that is?  It is a beggar's word.  "If you could give me a quarter. Just a quarter. It's not much, it's all I'm asking for."  It conveys the message that the person you are asking is not generous, not compassionate, that you have to work hard to wring even that much from them.


Now let's look at what Jesus did and HOW He did it.  We know that He healed people.  But HOW?  

Jesus didn't pray to the Father for people to be healed.  He did it Himself, and in a very specific way.  He spoke - not to the person, but - to the sickness. The sickness was invading that person's body (or spirit) and He told it to get out.  Plain and simple.  And it left. No ifs, ands or buts.

Now before you raise your objections, (because I had the same ones!) let me remind you that Jesus divested Himself of His divine powers when He became human.  He only operated in His ministry by the power of the Holy Spirit, and in doing so, He demonstrated that any other human being on the planet can do it too.  And then (get this) He explicitly authorized His disciples to do the same.  Look at Matthew 10:8, which is near the beginning of Jesus' instructions to the disciples to go out and preach the good news to the towns and villages surrounding them.  "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons; freely you have received, freely give."  

Photo "Boy Patient In Hospital"
courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at
He didn't say, "Pray for the sick to be healed, pray for the dead to be raised..." and so forth.  He said, "Do it."  He implied that they had the authority to do it (in His name.) And so they did.  They had every authority over sickness, leprosy, demon-possession and death that Jesus had as a human being filled with the Spirit.  He gave the same authority to the seventy whom He sent out two by two.  And on the day of Pentecost, He ensured that the same dynamite power - the Holy Spirit - who was in Him, now could inhabit and control us the same way He did for Jesus ... with the same results! 

What the western church tells us is that we are so unworthy, such worms, that we don't have the right to raise our eyes to Heaven.  We need to smash that idol of self-hatred and unworthiness that we have fashioned in the name of spirituality and humility. It is NEITHER.  And we christians have forgotten our heritage as sons and daughters of the most high God.  We aren't to use that heritage to selfishly amass fortunes for ourselves, but rather to stand - loved, freed, and holy in His sight - to stand on behalf of those who are laid aside through sickness, oppression, and yes, even death. We are authorized to speak to that problem - directly TO it - and know that it will go because He has authorized us to be His voice, to be His hands extended. 

Look through the gospels. Look in the book of Acts.  It is there, over and over again.  Speak to the problem.  Command the sickness to go.  

And before you cite the case of the demoniac child whose father cried, "I believe! help my unbelief!" where Jesus said, "This kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting..."  Think.... had Jesus just been fasting?  Did He pray to God right there for a half-hour or two hours and ask for God to cast out the demon?  NO.  It's clear that by this He meant a lifestyle of prayer (that is, communion with God in intimacy) highlighted by fasting - which is meant to focus the person on pressing in to God, not to get something out of Him but to feel closer TO Him.  

It is time for us as believers to put the big C back into the word Christian. To remember that "as He is, so are we in this world." (1 Jn. 4:17).  We need to realize just how deeply, just how intensely and unconditionally He loves us, to shed our dragon-skin of religious self-demeaning ritual, and that beggar's mentality that dares not ask for more than scraps. We need to rid ourselves of the "oh please please please please please" - endless repetitions that essentially say that we don't believe that God is good.  Or that He loves us unconditionally. Let's rise up to our heritage and to our calling as believers.  Let's go about doing good.  Let's change our culture for the better ... not only for our own good but for the good of the people who so desperately need GOOD news.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Straight trade

I trudged up the hill, towing my two suitcases, with my computer bag balanced precariously across the slide-out carrying handle of the largest bag, and my purse slung over my head and down my right side.  Every 20 to 30 feet I would stop, winded by the hill, the extra weight, and the altitude - 3500 feet above sea level doesn't sound like much unless you're from sea level - I could feel myself perspiring heavily. My hair stuck to my face. Fortunately ... it wasn't raining. 

Someone had given me these directions and I was following them to the best of my ability. I hadn't reached the top of the hill when I saw a man carrying a blue, lightweight tote on the other side of the road, going in the opposite direction. I was puffing and panting by this point. All sense of dignity had been lost. I was in refugee mode - quite literally - fleeing a situation of my own making which had gotten wildly out of control. 

The man slowed down. He stopped. "Could you use a hand?" he called to me. 

 My pride was nil.  "Wow! I sure could!" I stopped and rested my bags on their wheels on the concrete sidewalk.

He came over and asked me where I was going. "Student Residence B" I said, indicating my first stop: residence services where I would get my key.  He took the heaviest bag with the computer bag resting on it.  Then he gave me his tote bag - it literally weighed only a few ounces. I hitched up my purse and reached for my wheeled duffle bag. "No, you've carried that long enough," he said. "I'll carry your bags and you carry mine. Let's enjoy the rest of this walk."

I was so flustered and grateful that I knew that if I wasn't so exhausted I would have cried... I just didn't have the energy; it had been a tumultuous week.  Meekly I let him carry my load - some good thirty-five pounds worth of it - while I walked easily beside him.

He made conversation, asked me where I was from and when I told him, he said that he had lived there for 20 years and started a company there.  I had heard of the company!  He asked about my family (this happens all the time where I live, it's called "who's your father?") and it turned out that he knew of some people who were related to my husband.

When we got to the destination, he opened the doors for me and set my luggage back down on the floor, and asked for his tote back.  We parted ways and I thanked him once again for having compassion on me.  And after he was gone,  I thanked God for the kind detour this man took because he saw I was in distress. (By the time I got to my residence, I was beet red in the face from exertion.) 

That was the first of many kindnesses I was shown that day. A kind cabbie who took my bags, another who helped me with my groceries and gave me a discount because he got lost and I didn't have the precise address, etc.,  but the thing that sticks out for me is this man who traded his light package for all of mine.  He did so, in order that I might enjoy the walk.

Photo "Loving Father And His Baby" by
David Castillo Dominici at
I could not help but draw parallels between that experience and the invitation of Jesus: "Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke (my helping, my partnering with you) upon you, and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly, and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11: 28 - 30)

Can it be that simple? giving Him our burden in exchange for His? Apparently so.  He can understand the most anguished cry, the smallest whimper, the silent pleading, tears in the dark, everything. And He invites us to trade that load for His, which is easy, because it doesn't burden people with shoulds and rules; His load is simply love. He invites us to come to Him and - if we need to - fall apart in His arms; He will hold us. He already took all that hurt away anyway.  Let's let ourselves be loved. It's okay. It is really okay.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The most important kind of healing

More and more in the news, it is unmistakable - terrorist activity in Paris, police violence in Ferguson and elsewhere, school shootings all over the place, RCMP officers being killed by someone who called 911 just to get them to come so they would be shot, a rapist whose crime was witnessed by two other people getting handed a slap on the wrist, and most recently, some gunman entering a bar in Orlando and shooting over a hundred people, at least fifty of which died - and the victims' only "crime" was that they were gay. 

Whenever something tragic (like these things and more) happens, social media and news coverage around the world express outpourings of concern, even outrage, and a lot of folks request prayer for the place where it happened, and for the families of those most affected. I lost count of the Pray for Paris posters I saw on Facebook after the Paris attacks.  This sort of reaction is what I have come to expect.  And yes, it is needed; people need to feel as though they are doing something significant to help people they have never met in response to such events.  And yes, it is perfectly fitting to pray for a community that is reeling from some atrocity. 

But let's not stop there. 

Let's also pray for an end to the attitudes and beliefs that spawn such heinous acts. Let's pray to become part of the solution by refusing to succumb to the bigotry that some people still hold in their hearts.  Let's resolve never to stand idly by and allow hate-talk to continue, or victim-blaming talk for that matter, or worse yet, participate in it. 

This is not about whether this or that lifestyle is good or bad, or whether this or that skin colour or gender or religion is better than the next one.  This is about how people like us perpetuate an atmosphere that gives license to violent people to think they will have support for doing the horrific things that they do.  Innocent bystanders are we - but are we?  As long as we ascribe right and wrong to who people are - regardless of gender, race, sexuality, religion or size - different from us, we give silent consent to the people who use violence against their own kind: humankind.  People are fragile - that which makes us human is tenuous at best. We can be self-righteous all we want, but it will not stop the reckless onslaught of hatred.  It might make us feel better - but it also makes the perpetrators feel more at ease about wreaking havoc in our world.

Jesus is not like that, folks.  Jesus accepted people who were different from Him - even healed them.  Take, for example, the man of whom Jesus said that He had not seen such great faith in Israel.  The man wanted Jesus to heal his young male love-slave, folksAnd Jesus did.  No judgment of lifestyle, no little "digs" to drive home His point.  Jesus' "point" was love. Pure and simple.  I'm just saying ... it is not up to US to judge anyone.  

Photo "Rows Of Butterfly Cocoons"
courtesy of xura at
And judging people can lead to disastrous consequences.  Surely Jesus' own death proves this.  A bunch of well-meaning religious people got some self-righteous ideas about what Messiah should look like, and they decided that Jesus was wrong - and not only wrong, but subversive - and they did the unthinkable, and thought themselves to be doing the right thing.  There is no difference - the process is the same.  People can justify their own actions with whatever twisted ideal they might hold to - but the fact remains that violence in and of itself is rarely if ever justifiable.  

The healing needs to start on the inside.  And it needs to happen to those who are hurting so very much because of these disasters ... but it needs to happen as well in our own hearts.  Until we begin to comprehend the unconditional love of God not just to us but to ALL people, and can therefore have compassion without judgment, it is we who need to be healed. 

Now. And the sooner, the better.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

If only people could see

Today, as usually is the case, my husband, my daughter and I went out for breakfast to our favourite breakfast restaurant.  We look forward to this family time together, and we rarely miss the opportunity, unless prevented by sickness or distance.

This time, we were enjoying our breakfast when a middle-aged fellow, whose face we recognized as being one of the "regulars", walked in and sat at his usual spot.  This would not have been a problem, except that we had been assigned a table which placed me five feet away from this man's usual spot.  It was then that I noticed the billowing waves of after-shave or cologne emanating from this man like Pigpen's dust clouds.  It was cloying.  It was so strong I could taste it on my tongue (when I immediately started breathing through my mouth to slow down what is usually an immediate neurological reaction.)  I groped for a napkin and held it over my nose and mouth as I ate, lifting it up only to put food in my mouth.  I finished my meal as quickly as I could, and tried switching my seat - but it was too little, too late. Leaving my coffee only half-consumed, I ended up having to leave the restaurant to sit in the car while my family hurried through their meals to join me.  

I have explained the condition I have (multiple chemical sensitivities or MCS) a few times, and I have had to re- and re-explain it to every person individually, because until you suffer from this, you have no idea what it is like or how all-encompassing, all-limiting it is.  

Chemical scent is everywhere, and it is toxic.  Some brands of perfumes contain as many as 300 chemicals, some of which are classed on Hazardous Materials sheets as neurotoxins.  These chemicals include such nasties as benzine (listed on shampoo bottles as "sodium benzoate"), toluene (closely related to benzine), and aldehydes (in the same family as formaldehyde, AKA "embalming fluid.") These toxins are cumulative in the body, and one day, usually after a concentrated exposure, the body says "ENOUGH!"  Basically, the body has been taking in so many toxins from being around so many people over the years wearing them, using them, cleaning with them, "deodorizing" (should be called RE-odorizing) with them, moisturizing their skin with them, spraying them, drying them into their clothing, and plugging them in (yes, even Glade plug-ins and Febreeze products) that it rebels.  And MCS is born.

These are not mere allergies.  With an allergy, the body decides something is an attack on itself and creates a histamine response: the nasal passages get congested, the eyes get watery, and so forth). One can take anti-histamines to relieve the symptoms, and that is the end of that.  However, with MCS, there may be an allergic reaction, but that is not the primary reaction.  It is neurological - there are nerve symptoms like headaches (up to and including migraines), dizziness, disorientation, "brain fog", even muscular cramping and the formation or aggravation of trigger points - such as is common in fibromyalgia.  And taking an antihistamine might clear up the nasal congestion, but that only allows more of the toxins to reach the system and cause more reaction, not less.  

The last seven-plus years for me has been about self-care, and educating people about this illness is part of that.  Granted, due to a bona fide miracle back in the fall of 2009, where a good 70% of my symptoms just "poof" disappeared as someone was speaking words of encouragement and love to me, I do not suffer nearly as much as I once did.  Before, I had to pretty much wear a hospital mask to work and to church, anywhere there were people other than my own family.  (I remember in early 2009, one adolescent boy at church thinking that I had the H1N1 influenza virus until his mom explained it to him.  And then he got mad for me.  It was touching, actually!) 

Photo "Female Doctor Wearing
Surgical Mask"
by stockimages at

The problem is NOT the smell.  That is only secondary - and in a way I am grateful for the smell.  It alerts me to what is coming ... and that is the ingestion of the chemical into my body, which results in those nasty symptoms I mentioned.  The real problem is the fact that companies no longer exclusively use natural scents when they make their products.  Synthetic or artificial scent is what most companies use because it is so inexpensive.  

Which leads to the questions I get.  "Well what about skunks? don't you react with them?"  The short answer is NO - not like I do with perfumes.  Of course the skunk smell is entirely unpleasant, and it might even cause me to stuff up and be all teary - like it is supposed to do with every other creature on the planet.  But I don't get brain fog from skunk spray.  "Oh - are you allergic to flowers?"  Ummm, NO.  Like I said, it's not an allergy.  I might have a reaction to the bug spray you put ON your flowers but not to the blooms themselves.  

And one more question, or should I say a statement I get a lot. "I use unscented products, why are you having a reaction?"  Simply this: unscented products contain chemical scent, and something else: a chemical product designed to take the SMELL away.  So in reality, unscented products actually have more chemicals in them than scented ones do.  Again I say that the SMELL isn't the thing that is bothersome - it's the CHEMICAL.  

And the chemical, dear friends, permeates the surrounding area, is carried by people who walk through that cloud to other areas of the room, and stays in the air long after you have left the premises.  Artificial scent has those chemicals in them because those toxins are proven to linger in the air and on the skin.  That's why they use them: staying power.  For those of us with MCS, that's a game-ender.

So by now you're wanting to know (or I HOPE you are wanting to know) how to pick products that are not toxic to me ... OR to you, whether you have a reaction or not.  And I do have some suggestions, but with a warning - beware product loyalty.  Sometimes a product can be fine and then the company goes and changes the formula (this happened before with one kind of soap we used, and then most recently with Pantene Shampoo & Conditioner 2 in 1 "Sheer Volume").  

Anyway, here are the suggestions:
  1. Look for the words "Fragrance Free" on the bottle or tube.  If it doesn't, see suggestion number 3.
  2. Perfume isn't the only thing that contains chemical scent. Be aware of laundry products, room freshener products, personal care products, skin care products, sunscreens, cosmetics, etc.
  3. If choosing lotions, shampoo and/or conditioner, or other liquid products, take the time to read the ingredients listed. If one of the first eight to ten ingredients says one or more of the following: parfum, sodium benzoate, laurel sulfate, or toluene, those are neurotoxins that will cause a reaction in people like me. Choose carefully. It might take a while to find something that works for everyone.
  4. A word about any product that claims to be "unscented" - it isn't.  For example, Dove Unscented bar soap causes me to have a reaction.  Dove SENSITIVE doesn't. It says "Fragrance Free."
  5. Consider using alternative solutions for your personal hygiene products. About 6 years ago, I switched to a fragrance-free Crystal Rock product instead of underarm antiperspirant ... it's mineral salt-based and works as well as most deodorants. And it lasts SO much longer (my first rock lasted 4 years), so you'll save yourself a bundle of money. I bought it at the Bulk Barn for EIGHT DOLLARS.
  6. Anything that says "deodorant" ... ISN'T.  It is merely another word for fragrance that is used to cover up another odour.  This includes underarm deodorants, soaps, and deodorizing sprays, the three biggest offenders.
  7.  By far the biggest suggestion I have is to re-examine why you wear or use products with artificial scent if you know that this is going to cause yourself and others to build up a toxicity in the body, leading to such related illnesses as fibromyalgia, chronic pain syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome. These are all interrelated with MCS, which means that a large percentage of those with MCS also have one or more of these conditions. Is your health really worth it?  Are you that insecure in your own acceptability that you feel that you have to cover up your own body's scent with something else?   

One last word about this issue, since my audience in this blog is largely believers.  There have been well-meaning people who have reacted - usually badly - to me talking about this issue.  Some don't want to change; others ... I don't know what they think or IF they think about it at all.  However, from some of the reactions I get, I do have a few things to say. 

  1. I do want to be healed, because I am suffering and because I am limited in where I can go and who I can hang around with.  But I don't want to be healed to make you feel more comfortable around me, or so that you can continue to wear your favourite product.  Be considerate.  Leave it home, or better yet - throw it out.
  2. Don't assume that because you don't wear perfume or cologne, that you aren't wearing or using scent.  Many products contain it, not just the ones I've named but also mousse, styling gel, foundations, lipsticks, hair spray, ... the list goes on and on.  And it could be something that you have in your home that is clinging to your clothing and causing a reaction.  Educate yourself. Please.
  3. For those who pray for me, for those who reach out in love, and for those who refrain from wearing "product" because of me and people like me, I am truly touched by the loving care you demonstrate; it does not go unnoticed. I pray that whatever load you carry is lightened. 
  4. Finally, if your solution to the "problem" of me not being able to be around scent is staying away from me, then I fail to see how that is truly demonstrating love - although if you ARE going to continue to wear and use your products, I'd prefer that you stay away, thanks.  A more appropriate way to show that love, though, would be to refrain from using or wearing chemically scented products - not just around me but around everyone.  It not only does good in a gathering where you KNOW I will be there, but it also prevents me from entering later, and running into a cloud you might leave behind long after you are gone. I go to the grocery store, the department store, the clothing boutique, the hardware store, and the pharmacy too.
I have often wished that people could physically SEE the clouds they leave behind when they use these products.  I'm sure it would shock them.

People stay outside of Pigpen's dust cloud (in the Charlie Brown comic) because they can see it.  At least his cloud moves away when he does. And it's natural. I'm just saying.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The "quid pro quo" fallacy

For those who may not be familiar with the term quid pro quo- it is an ancient Latin expression meaning that if I do something for you, I expect to get something (of approximately equal value) in return.  It is usually associated with business, but has been used in social situations and relationships (usually business relationships). 

And sadly, it has seeped like e-coli bacteria into the groundwater of Christian doctrine, causing spiritual diarrhea, dehydration, and death.  Let me explain.  

Spiritual quid pro quo is the idea that in order to get something from God, we have to give something to Him. In such a mind-set, faith is no longer an expression of love (as the scriptures say) but currency - spiritual cash - to be used to bribe God into doing what we want Him to do.  

Oo. That sounds harsh, doesn't it?  We don't really do this, do we?  But we do!!! Here is what Joel Osteen said on his FB page recently: "God never promised that life would be fair, but he did promise that if you will stay in faith, He will take what’s meant for your harm and use it to your advantage."  (emphasis mine).  What he said really jumped out at me. Really. And not in a good way. 

Now, I think that what he was talking about was Romans 8:28 - that God causes all things to work for good to those who LOVE Him (remember we love Him because He first loved us!) and who are the called [ones] according to His purpose.  Romans 8:29 goes on to say that the "good" that God works all things together for is that we are conformed (not that we conform ourselves) to the image of His Son.  There is nothing in that passage about "staying in faith" - whatever that is. OR anything about OUR advantage (in the sense that is implied in the Osteen quote). 

Or maybe he was referencing 1 Corinthians 10:13 - you know, God doesn't allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation make a way of escape, so that you are able to bear it.  OOps, well, there is nothing in that passage about "staying in faith" either - or anything about turning bad things to our "advantage". It just promises an escape hatch, a way out.  Because He loves us. And He wants us to succeed. Not so that we will be victorious (that's a fringe benefit) but so that we will know deep inside that He is interested in every single thing that happens to us. Because He is head over heels gaga about us, in the same way that a good daddy is gaga about his little baby, who, by the way, is unable to do anything for itself. (That's another blog post.)

Photo "Hand Holding Dollars" by jannoon028 at

The underlying premise of that Joel Osteen quote - the way it sounds to me - is that if WE keep believing, God will rig the game, and hoist people or circumstances on their own petards and bring them low so that we end up on top. But only if we keep on believing.  The emphasis is on us and our effort, and encourages the "what's in it for ME?" attitude.  The onus (or responsibility for the outcome) is ALSO on US ... and frankly, that seems to go against the love of God, the initiative He took in looking for the first, best, and most inescapable way possible to prove to us that He loved us all along.  It doesn't fit.  The self-centred, quid pro quo way of thinking is more like a transaction than an interaction, more narcissistic than intimate. It's religion and not relationship.

Okay, just so you know, I'm not picking on Joel Osteen.  I'm just using one of the things he said recently, because it seems to reflect and represent a lot of the teaching and thinking in Christian circles ... teaching that has been around ever since I can remember, and not just in one small slice of one denomination.  It's in the whole church.  It's formula-based thinking: A plus B has to equal C.  Put another way, you pray (that's A) and you believe (that's B) and therefore, God is obliged to (HAS TO) deliver on His promise (that's C).  Strange ... that's not what I read in the examples left for us in scripture.

Job prayed for his kids every day. They still died - at a party I'm sure Job wouldn't have approved of.  Sure, he had more kids at the end of his story - but every parent instinctively knows that having another child can NEVER replace, or heal the pain of losing, the first.  It is there. Always.

Moses, Gideon, Samson, Jeremiah, even King David ... these people knew from experience that it doesn't matter how much faith you have or don't have, or how long you pray or don't pray - God does whatever He wishes and chooses whomever He pleases ... because He is God. He is sovereign.

The three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace? Yes, they were delivered. But they didn't believe they WOULD be necessarily. They knew God COULD deliver them - but they were willing to be put to death.  They said to the king, "...even if [our God] does not [deliver us], we still will not bow."  That speaks to me more of passion for the God they loved rather than an "if we - then He" kind of thing.  Doesn't it?  

The same thing happened with Daniel and the lions - Daniel was willing to die rather than stop his relationship with God. God was that important to him. That he was delivered was a bonus.  He didn't expect or demand deliverance; he didn't go around the palace anointing everything with oil for protection before his prayer time.  He just prayed ... as usual.

And let's not forget that the most anguished, heart-felt "deliverance prayer" by the most righteous Person ever ... ended by saying, "Not my will, but Yours be done."

We can slip so easily into self-focused it-all-depends-on-how-hard-we-believe thinking, because it feeds the lie we have swallowed whole ever since the first Lie: that there is something that WE can do to better our lives, to cover our nakedness, to appease His anger (because after all, WE feel inadequate so He must see us as inadequate, right??) or to gain a reward (or keep ourselves from losing a reward - yikes!).  But the simple and amazing truth is that He has loved us the whole time, and continues to love us, and will never STOP loving us NO MATTER WHAT.  Until we begin to grasp how deep and unconditional that love is, all our efforts will have been for the wrong reasons, and we will have missed out on something very special.

The Bible is full of examples of God intervening into the timeline, and something about those interventions that strikes me almost more than anything else is that He never does the same thing the same way twice.  It follows, then, that we cannot expect Him to operate the same way He did last week or last month, or forty years ago.  It doesn't matter how long we pray, what words we say or don't say, what places we go or don't go, what format we use, how much we tithe, how many verses we read, how many Bible studies we attend, how many positions we hold in the church, or how many good deeds we do. There is nothing that WE can do to twist God's arm.  The brownie point system does not work.  In fact, it misses the whole point.

Let's think about how this fallacy translates into what church has become. We chase that elusive "presence" and tweak the song service ("worship time" - as if worship only gets penciled in for maximum 45 minutes once or twice a week) like it depends on US whether God shows up, as if He needs just the right atmosphere ... and as if it is up to us to create it.  Wow ... what arrogance. There is not something "anointed" (read: magical) about this song or that song, this speaker or that worship leader or those flags or that bottle of olive oil.  We can't manipulate the conditions that we think produce the results we want, or even the ones that "worked" the last time. We cannot manipulate God; He won't have it!  He will find a way to break out of the box we have put Him into.  Or (worse yet!) He will withdraw, because (after all) we think we have it all figured out, so why do we need Him?  Either way, He won't play our little self-constructed games designed to prove to each other (or to ourselves) who is His favourite. (Don't we know better than that?)  

Our spiritual disciplines and good deeds are not currency.  We can't treat them like bargaining chips (or bribes) to get what we want. If we do, we have it all backwards.  We have bought into the mammon myth - the I-scratch-your-back-and-you-scratch-mine lie.  This is relationship with God. This isn't the world system. God isn't some CEO to impress, He's the One Person in this whole universe who loves us just the way we are, no strings attached.

God is not about sticking gold stars or "good job!" stickers on our chore charts.  He invites us into His embrace - to clamber with glee onto His lap - and experience His love for ourselves: unfettered, unashamed, unafraid ... like children.  There are no agendas, no conditions.  He is about relationship; there is no need to feel obliged (or required) to add anything of our own to what He has already done to the uttermost.  To do so, in order to qualify for the benefits He has already freely given, would be falling from grace.  All that means (contrary to popular belief) is that we would be missing out on God's highest purpose for our life - intimacy with Him - and settling for what we can (try to) get out of Him.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Building mighty walls

She's ten years old.  She has been coming to kids' church since she was three or four. And she has never felt like she fit in

She's not overly shy, but she thinks deep thoughts and feels things deeply.  She's a loyal friend - to those who take the time to be friends with her.  But people don't.  Not her peers, and not the children's ministry leaders. You see, they think of her as a troublemaker, even though she's not a bully and not misbehaving. She just wants to understand ... and a lot of things about what they are teaching don't make sense to her.  How, if God is love, He could command people to kill entire towns filled with people and animals (as He did in the Old Testament).  How, if God is just and wants only our good, He could let people die of cancer.  

Her questions are tough, but they are valid. That the teachers don't have the answers (nobody does) is not her fault.  But the frustrated teachers make her feel like it's her fault, that she is somehow spiritually defective for not taking things on blind faith. Because they disapprove of her, she thinks that God disapproves of her too.

Her parents are poor.  They cannot afford to dress her in the latest fashions, and sometimes the dresses she wears are stained in places, or there is a run in her tights.  She hates that she has to conform to a dress code, but she does it to please her mom and dad.  She doesn't tell them how the other girls in her class snub her because her clothes are not designer, how they wear things from the high-end stores and show them off to each other and to the teachers, and she watches wistfully from the sidelines while the teachers play favourites.  And after a few times of coming home and telling her folks about an upcoming event or activity (for which the admission fees are beyond her parents' budget) she doesn't even bother telling them about those things anymore.  

She is not slim like the other kids. She's kind of overweight.  She has health problems that have made her unable to be an athlete, and while she can keep up with them in the games in the gym, she doesn't excel and is not super competitive.  She feels keenly the rejection of the other children as they pick everyone else for their teams except her.  And more and more, the teachers pick events and group activities that revolve around athletic ability: skiing, skating, rock-climbing, and hiking, that pander to their favourite (slim) students.

The leaders also emphasize Scripture memorization and give candy prizes for bringing a Bible, and more candy for bringing a friend. She soon wonders if this - this expectation of performance, and the underlying idea that God is all about following the rules and not questioning - is all there is.  If it is, she must be a horrible person. But she can't stop the questions ... those unanswerable questions that make a lot of Christians uncomfortable.  After a while, the frustration of the teachers (and of their favourite helpers) turns to open animosity toward her.  She starts getting singled out and punished for things that are not her fault. 

She puts up with it only until it is considered legal to stay home without supervision... 12 years old. And then she lets her parents know how she feels.  Her parents, wisely, do not force her to keep going to a place where she feels attacked every single time she sets foot inside the door. 

The church workers had turned her against the church, and against God.  She did eventually have a relationship with God, but in spite of them, not because of them. And she still has a deep and abiding resentment against the church. 

Yes, the above example is based on a true story which really happened in a church that preached the gospel, taught that God is love and emphasized the infilling of the Holy Spirit. This church welcomed people of other races, and had outreaches to immigrant communities. The leadership seemed to bend over backwards to be welcoming toward people from diverse communities. 

So what went wrong in the children's ministry? Let me break it down for you.  

Racism is wrong.  It is wrong, wrong, wrong. And it hurts not only the victimized, but also the racists.  But there are other things that are equally as damaging.  And unfortunately, they are rampant in the church.

When you think of someone else who comes from a family that has a lower income than yourself as "less than" yourself, that is CLASSISM.  It's just like racism, only the "difference" is dollars, not skin colour. 

When you treat someone who is not as slim as you are as "less than", that is FATISM.  It's discrimination against someone on the basis of body type, and it hurts just as much as racism does

When you single someone out and punish them for things that are not their fault, exclude them, nitpick, contradict, or dismiss what they say due to one or more differences between you and them, that is BULLYING.  It has no place in the church. NONE.

When you reward children based on their performance (be that scripture memorization, Bible-toting, "evangelism" through dragging a friend to church) just so they can get some goodies, you send the message that God is more about people toeing the line than He is about loving people just as they are for the sake of loving them (i.e. that behaving is what life is about and that people are so depraved that they have to be bribed to behave). You are perpetuating RELIGION and undermining RELATIONSHIP.  You are saying that God has no power to transform people's lives and that they must obey rules to be accepted by Him.

God is not interested in religious robots.  He is looking for real people - warts and all - and by not accepting people (and children ARE people!) as they are, you are actually (a) encouraging the formation of robots and (b) driving away the very people that could bring life into the church and make the message that "God is love" really relevant to those in their world.

Photo "Teenage Girls Gossipping" by Ambro at
Many (but not all) churches do not understand the dangers of these sorts of attitudes creeping in and destroying the sensitive spirits of those who are vulnerable, rejected, and searching for answers.  Many (but not all) children's ministries are carried out in the week-to-week reality by people who are undertrained, overworked, and sadly unsupervised. Children's ministries in mainstream churches have typically been treated as glorified babysitting services where one or two teachers have the responsibility of overseeing dozens of children ranging in age from (four or) six to twelve: an impossible and thankless task!  Plus, the unspoken purpose of many children's ministries is to get the kids out of their parents' hair while they do their [boring] adult worship/giving/sermon rituals in the sanctuary, and the only qualifications that the children's ministry volunteers have are (a) membership in the church and (b) a willingness to plunk their behinds in a chair for an hour once or twice a week. 

The fact is that those who work with children in a church setting are determining the future of that church.  If they display intolerant, insensitive, and bigoted attitudes, the children will get the idea that God is intolerant, insensitive and bigoted ... and some of them (most likely the ones who stay) will buy into that fallacy and get the idea that it is OKAY to be intolerant, insensitive and bigoted - and will pass this on to the NEXT generation.  

What am I saying? Simply this - it doesn't cost anything (except perhaps pride) to be kind and compassionate to those who are different from us in some way.  However, people need to be aware that these (and other) ugly attitudes do exist (and not just in the church) and that they need to be exposed for what they are.  If they are not, then be prepared for church after church to close their doors as more and more of the founding fathers and mothers pass away. 

We are - without meaning to, I believe - building mighty walls, as Russ Taff sings in "We Will Stand" (yes this is a link).  Can we not see that this is damaging to the cause of Christ? Can we not see that labels and liberty are incompatible?

The cycle must stop.  Those people who are drawn to (any kind of) ministry need to examine themselves and determine if they are prone to any of these (or other) attitudes.  Church leadership must invest resources into not just the technical (how-to) training of their workers, but also discipleship and sensitivity training.  Pastors and children's pastors need to just "drop in" unannounced to the kids' classes.  Children need to be given feedback tools (like a child's version of a suggestion box) to describe anything that made them feel unwanted or uncomfortable in class without being singled out. If we foster acceptance and discourage exclusion, maybe we have a chance of seeing our children embrace our faith ... instead of pushing them away from it.