Tuesday, February 23, 2016


"Disunity distorts truth, wastes resources, hinders witness, impoverishes worship and discredits the gospel." Statement by an anonymous Irish Methodist; quoted by the Most Reverend George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury at ecumenical vespers, 2000-MAY-17.

Three years ago when the controversial book, “The Shack” came out, I was reticent to read it myself, for fear it would be heretical.  A trusted friend talked about how much it challenged her preconceived notions on religious topics, so I decided to tackle the infamous tome myself.  It was a roller coaster ride of emotions, but one that I was thrilled to take, for it opened to me a new world of understanding of who God is.

Years ago a counselor recommended “Your God is Too Small” to me, by J.B. Phillips.  As the title attests, my God was in a box, and I needed to let Him out and know Him as He really is.  This was the start of a journey of rediscovery, of breaking the bonds of legalism.  The places that say, “We are the only right church,” or “we are the only right Christian organization.” 

No matter where I go, I seem to attract people who want to keep God in a box.  First in a church that literally said, “We are the only right church.”  Then, in a college organization whose secret agenda was, “we are the only right organization.”   I had had enough confusion to last me a lifetime. 

Unfortunately, I have experienced a new wave of boxed in believers.  And in my own church, of which I have been a faithful member for seventeen years.  I know my church and the leadership within it are not like my predecessors.  Even so, there are some who have created dissension and division, and have put God securely in His box. 

Another controversy that has played out in the last few years, including now, is Rob Bell.  If spoken, it is as if one had said an offensive word, as it is to some, I presume.  After personal experience of others making false judgments of me without getting to know me, I decided to read his work for myself.  “Get it from the horse’s mouth,” as it were.  Although I don’t agree with everyone Bell writes, I find his writing style refreshing.  He only says out loud what most of us are thinking.  Bell doesn’t purport to give the final answers, but to challenge us, like “The Shack,” to open the box and discover God and who He really is.  As I like to say, “You can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.”  As well in this case, Bell makes some eye-opening statements that bear thinking. 

The boxed in believers like to accuse my church and others of becoming emergent churches.  As I said before, I need to go to the source itself to get the truth.  The Emergent Village is a specific organization.  The emerging movement is a postmodern movement in the church community at large.  There are different understanding of the emerging movement, so it is confusing at best, mind-boggling at worst when one is trying to defends one’s church against accusations of being an ‘emergent church.’  I don’t purport to be a seminarian, so I will try to explain this in terms that make sense, I hope.

The first question to ask is do they believe in absolute truth?  There is absolute truth, but our doctrine is also affected by our culture, our times, and our communities.  Our Christianity is Americanized.  Another question to ask is how do they worship?  Most churches have a minister, sermon, pews, and once a month communion.  The emerging church seeks a more experiential worship, not one that has been so sanitized to be devoid of any emotionality.  Another question is what does one believe important?  Of course, but another necessary component of Christianity is not only right beliefs but also right behavior.  In the story of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus explains the meaning of the parable in that we will be judged by how we treated those who we consider the lowest of society.  In being helpful and merciful to the least of these, we are doing the same to Jesus.  Another question is who is in and who is out in regards to heaven and hell.  The emerging church seems to state that it is not always clear who is on or out.  The dividing line is not always so clear.  It is not up to us to determine that.  Finally, the emerging church tends to lean left politically.

I don’t know if my church is emergent or not.  I don’t think that emergent churches are necessarily a bad thing.  All I know is that when I discovered Church of the Open Door seventeen years ago, I felt I finally came home.  The spirit was alive, and the truth was spoken.  Some in the church think things have changed over the last few years. I don’t think so.  I just think these same people, the boxed in believers, have anger in their hearts, a padlock on their brains, and an unwillingness to embrace the power-under kingdom that Jesus talks about.  Instead of going to the staff at my church, they have chosen to spread their perceptions to others, creating confusion and division in the body.  In fact, this is the very thing that Jesus prayed about in John 17: 20-23, that we would live in unity as the Godhead three-in-one, to demonstrate to the world that God loves us.  I can see why nonbelievers have trouble trusting us, how can they when we are so divisive?  This is not love; it is anger, in which we are called to put aside in Colossians 3:8-15.  Instead we must put on love, humility, and patience.  In addition, we are called to peace, knowing that Christ is in all of us, all of those who believe.

What can be done about division?  I know my church has given sermons about such topics lately, and I don’t know if it has seeped into the boxed in believers’ minds yet.  I have known of members who have gone to the church for years and yet still live with such a mindset.  This boggles my mind.  It’s Church of the ‘Open Door!’  I know I must pray, pray, pray, as Jesus did, so that our witness isn’t ruined.  I know I’m not perfect, and have been guilty of this same divisive behavior in the past.  It saddens me now, to know how I distorted the truth and portrayed God as an ogre.  I still regret that.  I need to remember to ask God to help me love those who are angry, instead of being angry myself.  Why was I a boxed in believer?  I think I wanted to be god, I wanted to control everything and make sense of everything, so I could rest secure in myself and my rules, and be perfect.  How deluded I was!  I was the epitome of an idol, I idolized myself.  I thought I had it all figured out, until division happened while at college.  I realized I was my god, and I didn’t know the one and only true God.  I had to start over, just reading His Word.  I so love the Word, for I can rest assure that it is truth, and it sets me free.  

I don’t think division is a problem that can go away.  We can’t control what others think.  I do think it is the greatest tool that the devil uses to ruin our witness.  As I always say, God gave us a brain, and He expects us to use it.  Some people just don’t use it.  They’d rather let others make decisions for them.  That is much easier, but I’d rather be true to myself and God than to an idol.  All we can do is pray, and defend the truth, share God’s love, and be free. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Half the Sky

I am thankful to be born in a country where I have the right to vote, as guaranteed by the nineteenth amendment to the United States Constitution.  I am protected by law against abuse and neglect.  I received compulsory education.  I have access to health care.  I didn’t earn these benefits; they came by default by way of place.  I am born in a place where I am free and equal in the eyes of the law. 
Others are not so lucky.  They are born in a place where they are not free or equal.  They don’t have protection by their country’s founding documents.  They are not protected by law from abuse or neglect.  They don’t receive an education, at least not equal to their counterparts.  They don’t have access to health care, at least not equal to their counterparts.  They are not being punished by any action on their part.  It is, be default, by way of place.
There is an ancient Chinese proverb that states “Women hold up half the sky.”  Maybe in industrialized, democratic countries they do, but in developing dictatorships they are not allowed to.  An African proverb affirms, “If you educate a boy, you educate an individual.  If you educate a girl, you educate a community.”  This is so telling, for in countries where girls are not educated, the nation is stagnant in its economy, violence is rampant, and society never enters the 20th century. 
Because of place, a girl is mutilated in the guise of keeping her from promiscuity.  She doesn’t have the right to say no to this brutal act.  Because of place, a woman is molested by a soldier fighting a civil war.  No one hears her cries as she is just another enemy to destroy. 
Because of place, a girl isn’t educated.  She doesn’t have the opportunity to bring her community into modernity.  Because of place, a woman doesn’t get prenatal care, and dies trying to give birth to a baby, leaving her children motherless.
There are more slaves in the present slave trade than there ever was during the African slave trade.  These are enslaved in the sex trade, being bought and sold as a piece of property to be used, abused, and left for dead.
Literacy is the path to empowerment.  Thus, in countries where men hold and enforce power, girls are handicapped by their inability to perform these basic skills that we take for granted.
Women without access to maternal care are force to give birth unattended.  Prolonged labor can result in fistulas, which weaken the muscles of the bladder and anus, causing the mother to not be able to control her urination or defecation.
Women who are not allowed to work deny their communities half the resources it could use to help the very ones who need it: families.  If they work and control the family funds, the family is provided for, and the money is saved. 
Of course, we in developed nations don’t always have freedoms and equality.  It has only been near 100 years since we gained suffrage in America.  But we are getting there, slowly but surely, to the point where half the sky is not only a quote but also a reality.
In developing nations in Africa and Asia, due to the government, or lack thereof, women and girls are still living in the harsh reality of abuse, neglect, death, and horror.  But there are a few shining lights in the darkness of this hell.
Edna Adan built a maternity hospital in Somaliland.  This place has the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world.  Not only does her hospital provide maternal care where there is none, it also fights against genital mutilation.
Rebecca Lolosoli founded the Umoja Uaso village in Kenya, a safe refuge for women and their children to escape the abuse and neglect from the men in their lives.  They raise chickens and sell native crafts to sustain themselves and provide an education for their children.
Somaly Mam rescues girls and women from brothels in Southeast Asia, and provides these victims a home, education, health care, and vocational training. 
Urmi Basu provides education, health care, vocational opportunities, and legal aid to women and children trying to escape prostitution in the red light district of Kolkata, India. 
There are many more, countless numbers of brave women who decided to, in one way or another, live out the old adage and lift the sky, for all of their fellow countrymen, and women.   They defied the constraints they face, in their place, to enact a better place for the generations to come.  Because of these brave women, maybe someday all women around the world will be able to join us, in this place, to “lift the sky.” 


Thursday, February 11, 2016

All Because of My Body

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In a vintage Twilight Zone episode, a woman is coming out of anesthesia after cosmetic surgery.  As she impatiently waits for the doctor to remove the bandages around her face, she nervously anticipates the results.  As the doctor slowly unwinds the wrappings, the nurses surrounding the patient look on, trying to hide their feelings.  For when the camera pans to the woman’s face, we see a beautiful face, and wonder why.  We finally see the faces of the medical professionals, of who have the faces of a pig.
This television episode explored how beauty is relative.  To us in the real world, pig people appear rather hideous.  Here, pig faces are the epitome of beauty. 
I was born with a physical disorder that affected the way I look, move, and sound.  My body is asymmetrical, including my face, limbs, and crooked spine. Due to my cleft palate and resulting surgeries, I sound like a child with a perpetual cold.  Because of my crooked spine, causing parts of it to be naturally fused, my movements are stiff. 
Throughout my lifetime I have been stared at by all ages, from a brief moment to throughout a meal at a restaurant.  I have been followed in stores, mocked like a monkey, and treated as if I was intellectually delayed or about to break. 
All because of my body.  It betrays me, the mind, heart, and spirit within.  I am so much more than my body, but yet I am judged solely by it.  I have been rejected by men, discriminated against in school and in the workplace, and bullied in said places.
My body is a science experiment, an anomaly in the world of genetics.  I have been poked and prodded by medical professionals, displayed naked in the doctors’ office as if an animal in a zoo, and a constant sense of wonder and surprise for any new doctor I meet.
All because of my body.  It is only a suitcase, to take me from Point A to Point B.  It holds in all my organs, bones, muscles, and cells, and protects me from the elements.  And yet because of my disfigurement, I have been treated as if I am an alien from outer space.  I come in peace.
In God’s Word, it tells me that God created me, wonderfully and beautifully.  People say, “God don’t make no junk.”  Yet I struggled with my body for forty years.  I did all I could to look and sound as “normal” as I could.  I walked straight as a board to belie my crooked spine.  I wore make-up and had long and curly hair, to hide my face and crooked neck.  I wore fashionable clothes that accentuated my skinny form.  I did all I could to create a “false” me.
Not that there’s anything wrong with doing any of those things.  It is good for your back to walk and sit straight.  Make-up, styled hair, and fashionable clothes can exude confidence in a woman.  But nothing I ever did could hide this body of mine. 
So I gave up on make-up.  I cut my hair to shoulder length.  I still get it colored and permed (due to genetic factors I also grayed early).  I don’t wear fancy clothes anymore.  I wear jeans and tops.  Comfortable clothes that still manage to look good on my body. 
I started instead to eat better and exercise.  Instead of my body being a curse, it was something I needed to take care of.  It’s going to be with me until I die, so if I want quality of life, I better be healthy. 
Now I like to look at myself in the mirror.  I focus on the good parts: my figure, clear complexion, hazel eyes, full lips, slim body, hands and feet.    I still can’t see myself on video, my stiff movements, or hear myself on audio, my stuffy childish voice.  But I love me and like me.  After forty years. 
I like to think that in Heaven, I’ll get a perfect body, with perfect voice, and perfect movements.  I’ll finally be able to sing without anyone yelling at me to shut up, and dance without looking like a robot.  Until then, I will just have to pretend I have the voice of an angel and the dance of a ballerina.   

Monday, February 1, 2016

Dr. John Lonstein

Having had pain in my arm and hand for the last 8 months, and not having found permanent relief, I decided to finally see my spine specialist, Dr. John Lonstein, to see if it had to do with my Klippel-Feil syndrome. But when I called to make an appointment, I found that he had finally retired.  It was not a surprise, he is is probably my parent's age, but I was hoping to see him again one last time.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe just a feeling of accomplishment on our part, that I survived and didn't have to have spine surgery.  Something that neither of us wanted, knowing the danger of such a drastic step.  

I wonder if pediatric doctors think about their patients.  Do they worry about them?  Do they doubt themselves?  Do they wonder how their patients are as they grow up and are no longer needing their services?

I was always afraid of doctors.  Afraid that I would have to have yet another surgery.  Lonstein was from South Africa, so he had a strong accent that I couldn't understand, so my mom was the interpreter for me.  I hated the doctoral students standing there in a clump, looking at me like an animal in a zoo, with their clipboards clutched to their chests, not saying a word.

I feel bad now about what an unpleasant patient I must have been.  I know I was just a scared little kid, but I hope that Lonstein knows that I turned out OK. I managed to learn to drive, graduate college, have a career, and live on my own.  It may not seem like much to others, but to me, it was a miracle.

A miracle made possible partly by Dr. John Lonstein.  He saved my life, and made it livable.  Thank you.