God has let me down. There. I said it.

by Joy

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“People will let you down, but your Father God will never let you down.”

At first, the idea wraps my soul in a warm blanket and I sink happily into its warm folds. Until I think about the two brothers I wrote about at work. The younger one has cerebral palsy, and since they live 4.5 miles from school down a deeply rutted dirt road impassable for his wheelchair (and too poor to own a car), the older boy carries his brother on his back to and from school every day.

I think about how their difficulties are exponentially greater than mine.

I can’t help but think of my daughter Elli, her heart defects, brain injury, cerebral palsy and seizure. How much tougher her life would have been had we lived in another country. I think of her death more than five years ago now. I think of my youngest’s physical issues and the bullies who go after my other children. I think of so much pain and brokenness and evil that I hurl the soul blanket to the floor and stomp on it.

How can such a saying comfort me?

We can argue about expectations, do theological contortions, and trot out still more cliches like “God’s ways are not our ways,” but I can’t pretend to waltz serenely through tragedy. It is agony to look honestly at the razor-sharp shards of this life, even more so to carry the burden of pretending it’s fine. Hiding my hurt, anger, and disappointment away in my hidden super-secret self is soul poison, and like all poison, I have to get it out.

God has let me down. There. I said it.

My faith tells me that God is not in a hurry. God gives us freedom to make beautiful or terrible or self-serving or self-sacrificing choices. And maybe this freedom applies to forces of nature too. My faith tells me that I’m called to be part of bringing good out of evil and tragedy, even when it’s so slow we can’t see any progress.

My faith gives me hope for redemption, even for my own terrible choices.

But my faith doesn’t know how to respond when my oldest says, “I have tried praying, but I get no answer. People say they hear God, but I don’t.”

My child is so young and already disappointed by God. All I can do is hold him and whisper through my tears, “Me too, honey. Me too.”

But did God really let us down? Maybe. Probably. But maybe it was other people — the ones who coined these tired out cliches in the first place.

The problem with nice-sounding ideas like “God won’t let you down” and “God answers prayer” is that they aren’t universally true, not when taken at face value. Bad things happen and God stays silent and too many people die for no good reason. These sayings might be true in certain specific narrowly-defined cases, but they aren’t rules that apply to everyone everywhere all the time.

I think I know what they are trying to say: God is there, a constant in a life characterized by change. But even that rings hollow when God doesn’t feel close.

I’m not the only one. David poured out his grief, frustration, and loneliness in the psalms. Even Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

If even Jesus, Son of God, experienced God’s distance and refusal to answer his prayers, why do we expect any different? And why do we keep parroting these phrases to each other? Why do we tickle each other’s ears with empty promises?

Do me the courtesy of telling me the truth. I think unmet expectations are worse than low expectations.

I need to know that it is common to feel like God has turned away or simply won’t speak. I need you to tell me that prayer isn’t a secret potion to getting my way, nor is it a transaction guaranteeing results. Most of all, I need to remember that God being God doesn’t mean waving magic wands and instantly changing things; God being God more often means that God, who exists outside of time, appears to be in no hurry to those of us chained to the tick-tock of the clock.

I need you to resist tying a nice neat bow on top of my pain. Let me ask my questions. Wrestle hard with how to talk about these things without giving the wrong impression. Ache with me when I don’t understand this silent God. Make it safe to share my individual experience. I will do the same for you.

image source

I'm Not a Revolutionary. I Just Play One on the Internet.

by Joy

joy bennett :: revolutionary

 

image source

I turned 38 in February. I feel like I’ve earned every one of those 38 years. But it’s strange to look back at those years and see a Joy I barely recognize.

I’ve been changing all my life. You’d think I’d know how to do it by now. I think I should, anyway.

You and I are fluid as the clouds. Never still. Sometimes racing, other times languid. Sometimes heavy and dark, others wispy and delicate. I envy the clouds” effortless change. Becoming ourselves is damn hard.

If you knew me Back Then, you knew a different me. But I never leave any previous Joys behind completely. They’ve left their fingerprints, or sometimes scars, behind.

It’s the same for you. But somehow, we never get over the surprise at the way we all change, become new versions of ourselves. We forget that everyone is more complicated than they appear. Surprised that we all change.

Some of us leave more traces of our earlier selves than others. I’ve blazed quite a trail of words across the internet over the past almost-decade. Those old words and the old Joys they represent drag at my heels like Jacob Marley’s chains. And they represent yet another version of Joy – my online self.

I have always been ready to give the finger to the establishment and fight injustice. I am to this day filled with fire to repair what is broken, right wrongs, and make it all better. I can see potential and cannot stand by and let that vision melt under the blazing sun of apathy and that’s-how-we’ve-always-done-it.

But my online persona exaggerates and amplifies the Warrior for Justice part of Joy. Online, you see only that one part in isolation, without any tempering by the rest of who I am. Read me online and you might think I want to be the next Joan of Arc.

Sometimes I think we’re all caricatures online, all hard edges and chiaroscuro.

My first blog title, back in 2004, was “Joy’s Little Soapbox.” It is a humiliating memory. Fortunately, I quickly smelled the hubris and changed it. But the attitude that led me to that initial choice – the desire to spew opinions and tussle over issues and demonstrate the superiority of my ideas – remained. I delighted in generating long threads of debate on Facebook.There is a large variety of different Blackjack free online casino games that you can play within the online gambling industry and each game is completely unique all on its own. I enjoyed thinking out loud and reading other people’s thoughts and playing mind games.

Thank God, I didn’t stay there. As it does for all of us, life didn’t go easy. It chewed me up and spat me out, leaving a tenderized Joy behind. Her words were still unflinching but shifted with the pain, growing heavy, fraught with emotion, theological, and critical.

People who met me during that time (maybe even today – self-awareness is clearer looking back) discovered someone much less intense than they expected. Once again, the online trail of words exaggerated one part and hid the goofy, quirky woman who enjoys a good potty joke and teases as a love language.

It”s a strange and disconcerting thing to change. We’re uncomfortable and clumsy, straining against persistent patterns stuck in the subconscious long after the conscious mind has chosen something different.

It is even more disconcerting to know that my trail of words is still there, leading to Joys who mostly exist in my rear view mirror.

Yes, I used to think I could argue you to my point of view. Today, I try to remind myself how long change takes, because I know how long it took me. Past Joys wanted you to change. Today’s Joy wants to understand and hopes that you will take the time to understand me, so that we can both acknowledge and honor the journeys that brought us where we are.

When I get the old longing to proclaim something online, I ask myself why (let’s be honest –I am aware enough to ask that on a good day). Do I want to express my own perspective and the ways I came to a conclusion? Do I want to convince you to conclude the same? Sometimes it”s both.

But I know this: it is much easier to honor your journey when I take myself out of the caricatured all-text-except-for-tiny-avatar world of social media into in-person. When I see you in living color, in three-dimensions, when I can hear and touch and see and maybe even smell (depending on your choice of cologne) you, I understand better how each of us became who we are today, where we got our baggage, and what resonates or sickens us.

It gets messy. Life sucks, people are complicated and sometimes make life suck worse. But walking it together reminds us that most quick fixes fall apart, most simple answers fail the real world test, and the people who appear two-dimensional online are flesh-and-blood people in the midst of their own evolution.

I remember not to judge you by your words alone because they may have been written by a different you. Neither of us have arrived, by any stretch.

I’m just another version of Joy, wondering when the next one will begin to emerge.

Is This the Real Life?

by Joy

joy image

We were in the midst of a heated tear-filled exposition of a fight. You know the kind. It”s a scene we repeat in our house almost daily, and I suspect in your house too. Someone messes with someone else, another one gets involved, and after a lot of yelling and crying and declarations of “you never” and “I always,” the adult trying to mediate finally judges: “This is one giant mess and each one of you has contributed to it.”

(Side note: This time, I heard myself getting louder and actually had the thought that the “experts” say if one person lowers their voice, it will bring down the volume and intensity for everyone. You guys. I tried it, AND IT WORKED.)

I thought we were done, until one of the kids said I hadn”t listened, that I didn”t know the whole story. It was like the scenes in Back to the Future in which Marty stops and says, “Nobody calls me chicken.” Nobody tells Joy she isn”t listening. I stopped, looked at the child, and said “Ok, tell me what you think I”m missing.”

Once again, the story came tumbling out, this time with the speaker owning their mistakes instead of making excuses or insinuating that the others should be tougher and less sensitive.

And then he said, “I”m not able think before I speak, Mom. That is impossible for me. I just react.jameshallison casino There”s no such thing as “Think before you speak.” That”s the way it is.”

My heart ached as I heard those words I”ve thought to myself, pouring out of my child”s soul with the same desperation and frustration I share.

“Honey, I know it”s tough. But that”s why we have to practice. This is good practice for later. You”re going to have to learn how to deal with coworkers, roommates, and friends who are sensitive or inconsiderate or whatever.” It was a speech I”ve given a few (dozen) times. I saw him roll his eyes.

And then the bomb dropped. This boy, my 11-year-old almost-grown mature-in-so-many-ways beyond his years, looked me in the eyes and with tears in his, said something that in an instant justified the eye-rolls and blew the doors off a key part of my mothering.

“Mom, you always say that. You say this is practice. But it is real. This is real life, Mom.”

In seconds, I saw what he was saying. When I told the kids that these disputes and disagreements with each other were “practice,” I demeaned and trivialized the very real relationships in our family, the conflicts and our work to find resolution, and both the pain and healing that took place.

I have no idea what the other members of the family were thinking that moment. I just know this: I took a breath, then quietly answered, “You are right. This is very real, and I”ve been wrong to say it isn”t.”

I tried to comfort without making false promises: shared how change happens so slowly we can”t see it, that talking things through might help us start to think differently, and that I learn things from experiences today that will help me navigate ones tomorrow. He”s still skeptical, but we cried and hugged and said “I love you” and “I”m hungry, let”s get some dinner.”

As we pulled on our coats, I thought how grateful I am that even though the process is flawed and very much in need of further improvement, my son was willing to speak. He taught me something Real.

“We Are Not Here To Make a Minister”

by Joy

I don’t think we should ordain people at all,” Tony declared. The other passengers on the bus shifted and braced, as they did when he made his contrarian pronouncements. He continued, “It can be a power play, a way of separating and manipulating people. I created an app called ‘Ordain Thyself’ to try to make that point. You know anyone can be ordained, right?”

Meg laughed. “Our churches have all had extensive processes for ordaining men.”

He gave his wry sarcastic smile. “Oh, I know. But you don’t have to do it that way. Seriously. Anyone can be ordained, by law. It’s easy.”

“I should have you ordain me.” She was flip, light, laughing. It was a joke, right? Women can’t be ordained.

“I would ordain you.”

“Really?”

“Absolutely. I see it in you.” He wasn’t joking. The others chimed in affirmation.

She was still laughing, but now it was to hide how big this moment was for her. “Okay.”

His nod was like a judge ruling on a case. “Consider it done. Friday night, we will have an ordination service.”

***

Joy's ordination

On Friday evening, the breeze blew warm and sticky, despite the hour and the dark. The wait staff had pushed several tables into one long banquet table for the group and pulled screens across the restaurant to provide a little privacy. Tony and a couple other men had ventured out into the city on the hunt for bread and wine. He placed it on the table next to his laptop, where he’d prepared a service.

Meg was a tangle of anticipation, fear, and happiness. The group’s willingness to do this was an affirmation greater any she’d experienced before. She had no doubts, but she had fears.

How would it go, telling others about this? Would her husband be disappointed that he wasn’t there? Angry? What would people at their new church say – they did not ordain women or permit them to preach. What did this mean for the future?

After dinner was cleared away, Tony stood to speak.

“As with many things, I think that in its purest form, ordination is a recognition of something that God has already done. Meg, what we do tonight is affirm that the Holy Spirit is already working through you, that you have been specially gifted for ministry.

“I’m going to read the words of one Reverend Luther Lee, preached on September 15, 1853 in South Butler, New York. He preached this at the ordination of Miss Antoinette Brown, the first woman ever ordained in modern times.

“I do not believe that any special or specific form of ordination is necessary to constitute a gospel minister. We are not here to make a minister. It is not to confer on this our sister a right to preach the gospel. If she has not that right already, we have no power to communicate it to her. Nor have we met to qualify her for the work of the ministry. …

“All we are here to do, and all we expect to do, is in due form, and by a solemn and impressive service, to subscribe our testimony to the fact, that, in our belief, our sister in Christ, Antoinette Brown, is one of the ministers of the new covenant, authorized, qualified, and called of God, to preach the gospel of his Son Jesus Christ. This is all; but even this renders the occasion interesting and solemn. As she is recognized as a pastor of this flock it is solemn and interesting to both pastor and flock to have the relation formally recognized.”

Tony turned to the ordination vows for deacons in the Church of England. He explained that he would read each and Meg was to respond, “By the help of God, I will.”  Then at the end, he would ask the group to affirm a few statements as well.

She felt the weight of this settle on her shoulders, responding quietly to each. Then he read, “Will you accept the discipline of this Church and give due respect to those in authority?

prayer at Joy's ordination

She paused. All her previous experiences with authority figures in churches rushed to her mind. The church is fallible because it’s made up of fallible people, including herself. “I’m not sure about that one.”

He smiled, said “Me either,” and moved on to the next one.

At the conclusion of the vows, Tony asked everyone to reach out to Meg as they prayed over her. Then, he handed her the bread, Carla opened the wine, and he asked “Would you share a passage of Scripture with us tonight, before you serve communion?”

She paused a few moments, thinking. She was unprepared for this moment. But then, she thought of one. “We shared this with our children each night at bedtime, and engraved it on my eldest daughter’s headstone. It’s simple and it’s all I can think of right now.

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“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Then she walked around the table, serving the wine and bread to each, unable to stop smiling.

serving communion

 

I am Meg, and this is a story of actual events which took place the week of August 30, 2012 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

In the months since that night, I have not found many answers to my initial fears. I still don’t know where I fit, what I am to do, or how people will respond. This story is so precious to me that I initially held it close to protect it from being spoiled by the criticism and opinions of others.

But I realized that I’ve gone from hiding it to hiding from it… and from you. I’m all too aware of my failures and shortcomings. I want my own way, my own space, my own life, and I get mad when I have to yield to others. I have not lived up to those vows, and I know those verses in the Bible about how those who lead are held to a higher standard. That has terrified me into silence.

But even when I confessed this to the team of writers present that night, they extended grace. Everyone present that night on the other side of the world stands by it and by me. When I spoke with him at the writing of this post, Tony said, “Rarely is something so spontaneous also so clearly right and inspired. Too often, ordination is misused. People hide behind it, and bureaucracies use it to reward some people and punish others. But I will say that yours was the purest, simplest, and most joyful ordination that I’ve ever been involved with. Truly.”

So here I am. Afraid. Weak. But knowing it’s time to come out of hiding. I don’t know what is next, but I am no longer hiding from it.

 

I’m Proud of You

by Joy

This scene in Despicable Me always makes me sad. Gru, one of the main characters in the movie, is a mean, unhappy man trying to become The Greatest Villain Of All Time. In the movie, a banker denies his request for financial backing for his latest diabolical scheme because his idea just isn’t good enough. That triggers this flashback to his childhood and all the times his ideas were dismissed by his mother. He never heard her approval. Ever.

***

“I just wish my parents could be proud of me.”

The words drip pain – rejection, disapproval, disappointment. Sometimes tears season that pain. I sit, silent. All I can do is be there with her in that pain.

“I guess I need to accept that my parents are who they are. They may never be what I hope they will be.”

***

I’ve had this conversation with so many friends. I am a fixer, but this I cannot fix. So I listen.

Some of my friends suffered abuse and mistreatment from parents suffering from severe mental illness. Others were raised by good people who for whatever reason couldn’t or wouldn’t demonstrate affection or approval. Or their parents stopped showing approval when they spread their wings. Other parents couldn’t handle it when a child chose their own path. Still others disown a child over disagreements of theology or practice.

We talk at length about why. What could cause a parent to withhold the unconditional love we all seem to universally agree is the standard?

Is it personal? Do they think their child’s choices are criticisms of their parents?

Or are the parents unable to make the transition from relating as parent-child to relating as peers?

Do some parents simply not know how to convey to their children that they are in fact proud of their children?

Do some parents think they need to keep parenting their children by withholding approval and affection, holding some sort of moral high ground?

Are some parents too unhappy and in pain themselves to give their children what they need?

***

Another conversation. This time, the speaker positively glowed as she told about her parents taking genuine interest in her life and work. Another friend responded, “We’re such children, aren’t we?”

We are. Despite our adult bodies, inside we are still that little girl or little boy running into the house to show mom and dad something we’ve made. We may be  grown up and appear confident, settled, and mature on the outside. But we still want our parents to be proud of us. When we think they don’t, it carves a deep pain that we can’t pretend away, no matter how hard we try.

***

My dad is a genius. He is an optical engineer who designs the cameras installed on satellites. He has patents on his designs. NASA buys them. My dad has had his work launched into space to track the weather and other things too classified for me to know about. He is a great teacher and can make even the most complicated things easy to understand for non-technical types like me. He has a graduate degree in physics, made his own telescope, and can answer any question you have about astronomy or space or how things work.

My mom is a genius. She taught three different grades simultaneously, ran a household, and raised three daughters to be fully functioning members of society. She has a keen eye for color and design and creates beautiful quilts and scrapbooks.

They love Jesus, and I get great comfort from thinking back over the spiritual journey they’ve taken. It is encouraging for me to remember that I’m not the only one whose faith changes over time.

We’ve had seasons where we communicated well, frequently, and easily. We’ve had other seasons where the relationship was strained.

The older I get, the more I realize how hard they worked, and still do.

The older I get, the more I understand them.

Every once in awhile, understanding crashes in the way my youngest barges into every conversation ever.

Like last night. A question: could parents want their children to be proud of them too?

i'm proud of you

I think about my own children, still young, still in the stage of life in which they proclaim I’m a great mom when I give them what they want. Seconds later, they declare I’m mean because I made them do chores. But I care what they think of me. I realized that it’s true: I want them to be proud of me.

I think of our daughter Elli, and I can’t stop the tears. The guilt I carried for months after she died comes back in an instant. Had I made a fatal mistake caring for her those last few days? Was it somehow my fault? What about alllllll the times I failed to be patient and kind towards her? Would she be able to look at me and say, “I know you did the best you could. I know you love me”? For a long time, I wasn’t sure.

I think maybe some of strain on the relationships between parents and their adult children could originate in a mutual desire to be approved of, appreciated, and loved for who we are, in spite of our mistakes and weaknesses.

I don’t think I’ve ever said it before. Mom and dad, I’m proud of you. You did the best you could, and you did a good job.

 

Charity’s Dirty Little Secret

by Joy

on the same team

Muslim imam, Catholic priest, Buddhist monks, working together.

It was 7am, and I was in professional dress, coffee in hand, headed into my first ever hospital board meeting. The executive conference room was full of CEO/COO/CFO types, the chief of pediatrics, some local politicians… power and influence. And they wanted me there, a lowly mother of four who worked just a handful of hours each week helping them understand the mind of a parent (and helping parents understand the minds of doctors and hospital staff). In many ways, my job was interpreting.

I will never forget the sick feeling in my stomach during that first presentation. The director of the Hematology/Oncology Department showed slide after slide of financials, emphasizing how much revenue their department brought into the hospital as an argument for why the hospital should invest in them more. All I could think was, “Children are suffering and dying a most horrific death. How can you talk about profit?”

But I stayed, quelled the waves of nausea, and learned that “profit” is the wrong word. The right word is “income.” They turn income around to invest in salaries, research, tests, and treatments. Money is essential to saving these precious children’s lives. Best of all, I learned that pediatric cancer research and treatment is highly collaborative. These specialists proactively share their discoveries. No matter which hospital or lab they work at, they collaborate with colleagues around the world because every one of them is passionate about saving children’s lives.

I no longer work for a children’s hospital. Today, I work for an anti-hunger non-profit, and I can’t help but be struck by the parallels between the two worlds. Our goals are very similar: save children’s lives, and make those lives better. What’s different is our methods. NGOs focus on things like clean water and nutritious food, improved health (deworming medications, basic first aid to prevent infection, and more), education, and livelihoods that can support a family. Our methods are also often the opposite of collaborative.

As one of my friends who works in the humanitarian sector told me, “Joy, you will not believe how nasty things get in the world of feeding hungry children.”

Our nation’s charities could learn a lot about collaborating from the pediatric cancer world. The current climate of humanitarian work is territorial, splintered, and fractious. We take defensive and competitive postures, talking and acting as if other NGOs are our enemies. And we slip into prioritizing our own survival over saving lives.

One of the first things I noticed about humanitarian organizations is the sheer number of them. As Eric Stowe, Founder and Director of Splash, says in the above Tedx Talk (you will find the stats around the 1:05 mark, but take the 13 minutes and watch the whole thing), today the United States is home to over 17,000 charities working internationally and representing over $30 billion in annual revenue. His story is all too common: he decided to invest himself in providing clean water to orphans, joined an organization, became disillusioned with their unsustainable approach, and left to start his own charity. While well-meaning, most of these new charities are started under the notion that a small-time new-kid-on-the-block can do it better than any of the thousands of charities already at work… which leads to giant egos and nasty competition.

When our egos get involved, we very quickly forget that the goal of a humanitarian should be to work herself out of a job, to be so successful in helping people achieve independence that he is no longer needed. We forget that we’re all on the same team. We forget to respect, value, and capitalize on the strengths of the others working at the same things we are, and we refuse to admit our own weaknesses, blind spots, and mistakes. We get defensive. We get territorial. We get greedy. And then, instead of making decisions that prioritize doing what’s best for the people we’re trying to help, our fight becomes one of self-preservation.

Thanks to Jamie Wright’s post a couple of weeks ago, many people have been talking about how NGOs work and how they talk about their work. This is an important conversation. But we also need a larger conversation about pride and ego, competition vs collaboration, when helping hurts, and how charities can and should try to work ourselves out of a job.

We are on the same team, so let’s act like it. We have the same goals. Let’s work together to achieve them. Children are dying while we fight about accounting practices, scalable models, proselytizing, and child sponsorship. Let’s remember that we are not here to waste time patting ourselves on the back, soothing our guilt, or winning awards. We are here to eradicate hunger, end human trafficking, and raise people out of poverty. We are here to save people’s lives.

Full disclosure: I had a blogging relationship with World Vision from 2011-2012. Today, I work as Director of Social Engagement for Feed The Children

Syria: An Overview and a Call to Action

by Joy

Syria is all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds, with arguments raging for and against a United States military response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syria’s troops against civilians. I know it”s the epitome of #firstworldproblems to admit this, but I haven”t paid attention the way I should. Kids, back to school, schedules, blah blah excuse-blah. But when people started yelling about war and Iraq and WMD, I knew it was time to educate myself.

It took seconds to discover just how volatile the situation was on Saturday. I read reports that civilians, the Syrian government, and the rebels (the Free Syrian Army or FSA) all were preparing to be bombed. People were off the streets, prices of gasoline and water were climbing, and across the world, people were demonstrating both for and against military strikes. As I read through The Guardian”s live blog of Friday and Saturday”s events, my heart raced, wondering if strikes were occurring at that very moment. As the world waited for President Obama”s press conference Saturday afternoon, I read as much as I could in an effort to get a bird”s eye view.

***

Here”s what I know.

1. The conflict in Syria is a civil war sparked in March 2011 by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s massive and deadly overreaction to peaceful demonstrations against his government.

In”9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask,” Max Fisher, foreign affairs bloggers for the Washington Post, explains.

The killing started in April 2011, when peaceful protests inspired by earlier revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia rose up to challenge the dictatorship running the country. The government responded — there is no getting around this — like monsters. First, security forces quietly killed activists. Then they started kidnapping, raping, torturing and killing activists and their family members, including a lot of children, dumping their mutilated bodies by the sides of roads. Then troops began simply opening fire on protests. Eventually, civilians started shooting back.

(The entire 9 Questions post is well worth your time, though you will probably want to do something that makes you happy after you read it – it”s a real downer.)

2. The rebels who oppose the Assad regime, or the FSA, are by no means innocent.

You will find good guys and bad guys on all sides (and it appears there are more than two sides). Dr Rodger Shanahan, former peacekeeper in Syria and non-resident Fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy explained this in an article posted by an Australian news agency, “10 simple points to help you understand the Syria conflict.”

“The militias were a combination of local area tribal groups, deserters from the military [who had been conscripted despite holding anti-government beliefs] and disaffected locals.”

Then a combination of Jihadists, some from Syria and some from elsewhere, joined the FSA. Some even came from the faraway Caucasus region – where accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev originally hailed from.

So in other words, you had genuine Syrian freedom fighters joined by people with their own Islamist agendas. But because the FSA was underarmed and undermanned, they had little choice but to form a loose coalition with these volatile new kids on the revolutionary block.

3. The situation inside Syria is desperate.

A Syrian colleague of mine, Mike Ghassali, described the situation inside Syria in a press conference this weekend. It is a real humanitarian crisis, and that doesn”t even count the thousands who have fled to refugee camps in Lebanon. Ghassali responded via email to my questions about the situation with this statement: “The west should be aligned to identify the third parties involved who are enticing the west to act with violence against Syria as a nation, not only against the government. Any act against Syria now will just make the country bleed even more without a good outcome.”

This was a plea I read over and over again – bombing Syria will punish the wrong people by increasing the suffering of civilians in the country.

4. Syria has strong allies, including Iran, Lebanon, and Russia, so many fear that air strikes on Syria could be the spark that sets the Middle East ablaze in war.

Al Jazeera reported in their article, “The rhetoric and the repercussions:”

Russia”s foreign ministry has condemned any possible military action: “Unilateral use of force without UN Security Council authorisation, no matter how limited, is a clear violation of international law, and will undermine prospects for a political and diplomatic resolution of the conflict in Syria.”

Turkey and Jordan are regarded by Damascus as hostile neighbours and could face repercussions. But it is Israel and Lebanon that are most vulnerable to any fall-out from a US strike against Syria.

The head of Iran”s Revolutionary Guard has said a US attack on Syria would lead to the “imminent destruction of Israel”.

Israel”s defence ministry says the Iranian-backed armed group Hezbollah has up to 70,000 rockets capable of striking Israeli targets.

Any attacks on Israel from Hezbollah could, of course, lead to retaliation against targets inside Lebanon. And sectarian violence in Lebanon, which has increased during the Syrian conflict, could further destabilise the country.

5. The United Nations sent weapons inspectors into Syria last week to investigate allegations that sarin nerve gas was used in an attack outside Damascus last week, killing at least 1,429 civilians, more than 400 of whom were children.

After drama over whether they would be granted access to the sites, and whether the delay would compromise the integrity of the samples, the inspectors did investigate, gathering tissue and soil samples. They left Syria for Belgium on Saturday, delivering the samples to laboratories for testing.

All last week, member countries of the United Nations argued over what to do in response to this alleged violation of international law. US Secretary of State John Kerry asserted that first responders had provided the US definitive evidence of the use of chemical weapons, but many other nations (including the UK, Italy, Germany, and Russia) insisted that any action must wait on the results of the inspections and be undertaken by the United Nations together, not independently.

The UN said it had asked the chemical weapons team to expedite its report into the use of the weapons. “The secretary general took note of the announcement by President Obama yesterday on the referral to Congress. He regards it as one aspect of an effort to achieve a broad-based international consensus on measures in response to any use of chemical weapons,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

“Use of chemical weapons will not be accepted under any circumstances,” he added, asking that the investigation mission “should be given an opportunity to succeed”.

6. Using chemical weapons is not only a violation of international law, it changes the rules of engagement in war in truly terrifying ways.

Max Fisher in the 9 questions article says,

War is going to happen. It just is. But the reason that the world got together in 1925 for the Geneva Convention to ban chemical weapons is because this stuff is really, really good at killing civilians but not actually very good at the conventional aim of warfare, which is to defeat the other side. You might say that they’re maybe 30 percent a battlefield weapon and 70 percent a tool of terror. In a world without that norm against chemical weapons, a military might fire off some sarin gas because it wants that battlefield advantage, even if it ends up causing unintended and massive suffering among civilians, maybe including its own. And if a military believes its adversary is probably going to use chemical weapons, it has a strong incentive to use them itself. After all, they’re fighting to the death.

So both sides of any conflict, not to mention civilians everywhere, are better off if neither of them uses chemical weapons. But that requires believing that your opponent will never use them, no matter what. And the only way to do that, short of removing them from the planet entirely, is for everyone to just agree in advance to never use them and to really mean it. That becomes much harder if the norm is weakened because someone like Assad got away with it. It becomes a bit easier if everyone believes using chemical weapons will cost you a few inbound U.S. cruise missiles.

This is the catch-22 of the crisis. Choosing to do nothing sends a message that the Geneva Convention ban on chemical warfare has no teeth. But, whether the strikes target the chemical weapons (assuming they are there), the troops or bases, or Assad himself, the risk of all-out war and of hard-line Muslim fundamentalists coming into power are great.

This article in the Wall Street Journal, “,” discusses the pros and cons.

“We better send a very clear message, in a unified way, that we”re not going to tolerate proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, let alone their use,” [House Intelligence Chairman Mike] Rogers said Sunday on CNN. [Rogers has strongly supported a targeted strike on Syria.]

Israeli and Arab officials, who have been the most aggressive in seeking to punish Mr. Assad, said Sunday they worried Washington”s delay could end up emboldening Damascus, as well as Iran and Hezbollah. ”Obama wants to stay neutral on everything—Egypt, Syria,” said a senior Arab official working on the Syrian conflict. “Sometimes middle ground doesn”t work.”

7. President Obama announced Saturday afternoon that he will not authorize air strikes against Syria without authorization from Congress.

This was a shocking turn of events based on the reactions (though many who have been following the situation point to the fact that only France was willing to join in such strikes, while Italy, Germany, and the UK all decided against it). The announcement was met by sighs of relief in the US, cries of dismay by Syrian rebels, and derision from countries aligned with Syria who insisted that this is a sign that the United States is no longer a world superpower.

***

I”ll be honest. Reading these stories made me cry, especially reading of the horrors experienced by civilians. This article by Matthew Shadle on the Washington Post summarizes in four sentences what has been provoking tears as I read all weekend:

More than 100,000 people have died in the conflict, at least half of them civilians. Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have indiscriminately killed the residents of neighborhoods and villages in their efforts to defeat the rebels. Rebel forces have massacred and tortured captured soldiers, most notoriously in an incident captured on video in which a rebel ate the heart of a dead Syrian soldier. Islamist groups forming part of the opposition have also allegedly perpetrated violence against non-Sunnis in the north of the country.

I don”t have any earth-shattering conclusions when it comes to the political situation. None of the options promise real solutions, though some have far worse potential consequences than others. But I don”t need to know. I don”t need to have an opinion on the politics of a situation to recognize that people are suffering.

What I do know is that as Christians, we cannot look the other way. We must not. But when seeking the right course of action, we must not confuse action with violence. Violence begets violence, not peace.

I know this isn”t easy to live out. While I believe that Jesus calls us to non-violence, I also know that he requires me to defend and help the widow, the orphan, and the helpless. When someone is being bullied, you take down the bully… but we ought not use the bully”s methods lest we become bullies ourselves. Which brings me full circle back to non-violent action.

What non-violent actions are open to us? Prayer, for starters. Pray for those making difficult decisions with no good options. Pray for peace, specifically that someone would rise up in the FSA to lead them to peace talks. Pray for those who stay in Syria in spite of the war and the violence, for those who have fled their homes, and especially for those who have lost loved ones to the war.

We can also give. Donate to credible organizations providing relief for refugees in the form of food, medical care, and permanent housing. Here are some places to start:

Find out if any refugees have been relocated to your area and if so, reach out to them. They are strangers in a strange land. We should make them feel welcome.

Let”s not confuse non-violence with inaction. People are suffering. We must act.

P.S. A bonus link for those interested in learning more: The 23 Twitter accounts you must follow to understand Syria

 

When God Hands You a Bloody Tampon Sandwich

by Joy

The new Netflix show Orange Is the New Black tells the story of Piper Chapman, a woman in her thirties who is sentenced to 15 months in prison after she is convicted of a decade old crime of transporting money for her drug dealing girlfriend. In the second episode, Chapman accidentally insults the prison chef, Red. Despite her real-world-sufficient efforts to apologize, the next day she unwraps food prepared “special for you by Red” to find a sandwich made of bloody tampons.

When I read the Bible, I occasionally feel like Piper in that scene. One page fills me with inspiration and motivation to go forth and use my gifts to do God’s work. A page turn, and God hands me a bloody tampon sandwich. HAHAHAH sucka!

tampon sandwich

Here’s what I mean. When I read 1 Corinthians 12 through 14, I find an eloquent and inspiring encouragement to value each person and their contributions, large and small. Over and over, Paul says “all of you” and “everyone” and “brothers and sisters” and “each of you,” using a powerful analogy of individuals to parts of a body.

Unity everywhere. See?

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. (1 Corinthians 12: 12-14)

So very similar to this, from Galatians 3:28.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Every call to work hard or be faithful or take risks or live a good story, whether given by Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, or any of the others who wrote the Bible, applies to all of us.

Paul even urges the brothers and sisters in the church “to try to excel” in prophesy (an old word for preaching).  

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy…”

But when you read verses 34-35 of chapter 14, you unwrap the bloody tampon sandwich. It comes out of nowhere with the command that “women must remain silent in the church.” As a woman, this gives me whiplash. One second I’m encouraged, inspired, and confident that God gifted me for a purpose and wants me to act on that. The next, I’m curled up on the ground gasping for air.

Honestly? This drives me to despair. I love Jesus, and I want to live this life in a way that he is proud of.  But my gifts are not silent gifts, y’all. It looks like a catch-22. How can I use my gifts to build up the body of Christ when I must be silent in the church?

My more well-read and higher-educated friends tell me that this is a specific message to a very specific church in a very specific situation. This church needed some uneducated and somewhat uncouth women to stop disrupting the service, but the overall message is what we should take away: to build up the body of Christ and do everything in order. The implication is that other churches could be instructed to have their wiser more articulate women speak out.

This moves my despair into anger. For centuries, these verses have been used to deny women the opportunity to use the gifts that the Holy Spirit gave them. They still are today. I shake my fist at the ghost of Paul and demand, “Why did you put these verses there? If we’ve misunderstood and misapplied them, WHY are they there?”

A wise friend suggested that I’m asking the wrong question. He hinted that I might ask why those verses are only there. Why does Paul not include this in his letters to the churches in Ephesus, Phillipi, or Colossi?

Huge sigh of relief. God didn’t set me up. The bloody tampons aren’t from Him. One or two sentences cannot override pages (or inches if you’re talking scrolls) of teaching. Paul wrote, just four verses later, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy…” he isn’t contradicting himself. Eight verses earlier, he wrote, “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” It’s about peace, harmony, and order. The Holy Spirit did give me [noisy] gifts (more to come on this). The Holy Spirit does want me to use them (terrifying as that prospect is).

This began as a post about being a Christian woman, but as I worked through it, I realized that women aren’t the only ones who feel like they’ve been set up. Men get the tampon sandwich treatment too. I saw it as I reread these chapters again.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

These verses are a far cry from the messages out there to Do Hard Things and Don’t Waste Your Life and Live a Better Story (serious eyes at Don Miller, Josh Harris, John Piper, and Inspirational Speakers Everywhere). The subtext in of all these slogans is “What you are doing now is not big enough.”

Let’s be real. This obsession with Bigger and Better Things comes off as a macho genital-measuring pissing contest. Disgusting. But worse, it has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus’ work to subvert manmade power structures and elevate the invisible, weak, foolish, and insignificant-by-the-world’s-standards.

Doing Big Things for God is a burden Jesus never intended for us to carry. It’s so clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that God sees our why, and why we do what we do matters more to God than what we do.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

she loved God with what she had where she was

Jesus said the same thing. Remember the story of the widow who gave two mites? Jesus recognized her, a person with little money, no power, and no social standing, but a heart full of love for her God, not the Pharisees who tithed herbs and spices and paraded around in all their finery. She didn’t do a Big Thing. She loved God with what she had, where she was. That’s a Significant Thing in God’s economy.

When we pursue bigger, flashier, louder, busier, or better, we undervalue the contributions of a single person, whether visible or invisible, weak or strong, large or small.

I am not saying that what we do doesn’t matter. It does. That’s what all these letters are about – why and how to do what we should do.

But we must not forget these two things: the Holy Spirit has gifted everyone, whether male or female, married or single, parent or child, old or young. And as we exercise those gifts, our why must be love – love for God, love for the church, and love for each individual part of the church.

One last thing: We must do a better job of building one another up. When our messages are contradictory at best, tampon-sandwichy at worst, we destroy both individuals and the church.

 

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