A Deeper Story Christmas Gift Guide

by Sarah Bessey

Deeper Story Christmas Gift Guide

Christmas is right around the corner and we couldn’t resist adding a few more items to your list. Call us biased, but we believe our writers here at A Deeper Story are the finest on the old Internet. Telling stories about everything from fatherhood to ministry, biography to memoir, feminism to materialism, the books on our list are critically acclaimed and changing lives.

Wrap up a few books for your friends and family this year – and maybe sneak one or two for yourself, too. You’ve earned a night curled up with a good book.

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker.

7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence. Food. Clothes. Spending. Media. Possessions. Waste. Stress. They would spend thirty days on each topic, boiling it down to the number seven. Only eat seven foods, wear seven articles of clothing, and spend money in seven places. Eliminate use of seven media types, give away seven things each day for one month, adopt seven green habits, and observe “seven sacred pauses.” So, what’s the payoff from living a deeply reduced life? It’s the discovery of a greatly increased God—a call toward Christ-like simplicity and generosity that transcends social experiment to become a radically better existence.

Any Day a Beautiful Change: A Story of Faith and Family by Katherine Willis Pershey. 

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the minister with the baby carriage. In this collection of interrelated personal essays, Katherine Willis Pershey chronicles the story of her life as a young pastor, mother, and wife. At turns hilarious and harrowing, deeply moving and gently instructive, Pershey’s reflections will strike a chord with anyone who has ever rocked a newborn, loved an alcoholic, prayed for the redemption of a troubled relationship, or groped in the dark for the living God.

Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life by Ed Cyzewski. 

Theology should breathe life and unity among God’s people, but today’s culture creates a barrier of ignorance and misunderstanding in the study of God. Author Ed Cyzewski seeks to build a method for theology that is rooted in a relationship with God and thrives on dialogue.

Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis by Kimberlee Conway Ireton. 

At midlife, some men want a Beemer. Kimberlee’s husband wants a baby. Another one. Kimberlee doesn’t. She already has two kids, her first book just hit bookstore shelves, and the only baby she wants to birth now is the young adult novel she’s worked on for six years. After nine months of trying-and failing-to land an agent for her novel, Kimberlee finds out she’s pregnant. With twins. By turns hilarious and heart-breaking, this debut memoir takes you on a roller coaster ride of hormonal disequilibrium, professional disappointment, hellacious sleep-deprivation, and the black pit of postpartum depression-only to bring you laughing back to the light. If you’ve ever wondered where God is in the mess of your upended life, come along with Kimberlee as she learns a whole lot about clinging to God (mostly by her fingernails) and finding grace and goodness in the darkest of life’s corners.

Drawn In: A Creative Process for Artists, Activists, and Jesus Followers by Troy Bronsink.

Bronsink shows how the rhythms of God’s creative work can be discovered through design thinking and creative processes. Exercises invite participation in God’s life and redemptive rhythms. This holistic approach will shift how Christian creatives think of mission, worship, collaboration, and everyday discipleship.

Dying Out Loud: No Guilt in Life, No Fear in Death by Shawn Smucker.

Dying Out Loud is the story of Stan, his wife, Ann, their children Elle and Stanley, and their dedication to following God no matter what the cost. They traded the comforts of suburban southern California for the crowded cobblestone streets of the Middle East. They explored remote areas and they befriended nomadic tribes people, courageously bringing a message of hope and freedom to those needing to hear it. But none of those adventures would compare to where God led them next: a journey of visions, revelations, and sorrow. A journey into stage-four cancer, and a journey that beckoned them to walk the shrouded path through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Yet even there they discovered peace, grace, and a new hope for the lost around them.

Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey. 

Gender roles have been debated for centuries, and now Sarah Bessey offers a clarion freedom call for all who want to realize their giftedness and potential in the kingdom of God. Through a thoughtful review of biblical teaching and church practices, Bessey shares how following Jesus made a feminist out of her.

Know When to Hold ‘Em: The High Stakes Game of Fatherhood by John Blase. 

Far from the conventional parenting book, Know When to Hold ‘Em will encourage readers as they see parenting and fatherhood through a new lens–that of adventurer, risk-taker. Blase moves into new territory to invite fathers and parents to look at the risk and challenge–and great rewards of parenting–as he invites readers into his imperfect, yet loveable home. Written with the raw prose of one who is there, smack dab in the middle of possibly the greatest challenge of a person’s life, Blase says, “What I’ve seen so far has convinced me that being a father is a lot like gambling–fatherhood is a risk-tasking venture.” Featuring an intensely personal voice and filtered through a brass-knuckled optimism, this book offers what very few books on parenting do–the real, true, raw reality and joys of fatherhood.

Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology by Mihee Kim-Kort.

Drawing on memories of making paper cranes with her mother at the kitchen table, Mihee Kim-Kort begins with one of her favorite stories from childhood about the tradition of making a thousand cranes. Intrigued by the symbol of the crane, she explores the migrations and movements of the community of Asian American women. What results is a theological endeavor that engages the social histories, literary texts, and narratives of Asian American women as well as the constructive theologies of feminist and liberation theologians. But, it is ultimately one young woman’s embrace of living into this community and identity, and articulating a particular theology that is hopefully accessible to all who have experienced powerlessness and marginalization. Simply put, Making Paper Cranes is about Asian American mothers, daughters, sisters, and women who courageously discover the grace in the struggle, the survival, and the song.

O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling by Jason Boyett. 

In O Me of Little Faith, author Jason Boyett brings you a transparent and personal account of his own of struggles with doubts and unbelief in living out his faith. With humor and frankness, Boyett uses personal anecdotes and a fresh look at Scripture to explore the realities of pursuing Christ through a field of doubt. After three decades of knowing God, understanding Christianity, and living a Christian life, Boyett has come to the place where he can voice the tough questions and travel the road of uncertainty with blinders off, candor on. The message along the way is one of encouragement: Relax. Rely on the grace of a merciful God, a kind father who realizes that his finite creatures must have doubts, should have questions, and will have trouble making sense of an infinite Creator. Ultimately, Boyett concludes that doubt and faith are not polar opposites, but actually work together, existing side-by-side. Uplifting, entertaining, hopeful, O Me of Little Faith will strike a chord with you and any Christian who’s dealing with the uncertainties of living life in pursuit of a God who occasionally seems to disappear.

Restless Faith: Holding On to a God Just Out of Reach by Winn Collier.

Let go of the deeply controlled, preconceived assumptions of faith to seek the God who seems just out of reach. Author Winn Collier challenges us to confront the unsettling edges of faith and discover a freedom to worship God in the midst of life’s chaos, even if He doesn’t seem to answer our prayers.

Run With Me: An Accidental Runner and the Power of Poo by Jennifer Luitwieler. 

This book is not about running. Approaching her 40th birthday, Jennifer thought running was stupid and running marathons was downright crazy. She thought the church had failed her. She thought she lacked worth because she couldn’t meet everyone’s expectations, let alone her own. She thought putting a writing career aside in favor of full-time mothering for over a decade meant she was no longer a writer. At first, running was merely a training vehicle for The Dog, to keep his mess out of her house. Running stopped being about The Dog the day she realized she was stronger than she ever imagined, more capable than she had dreamed. Then running stopped being about Jennifer’s feet hitting the ground, eyes roaming the horizon. Running became space to think, to wonder, and to examine her own mess. Down-to-earth, hilarious and thoughtful, this is a story of redemption told in a voice that is both deeply spiritual and slightly-irreverent. Anything but tidy and cliché, this wise and refreshingly-honest and hilarious book is about what it means to be human. Jennifer invites her readers to “Run With Me” as she chronicles a journey that is deeply inspiring: coming face-to-face with who we are, learning to value what we find within and calling forth the yet-unplumbed strength and potential that was there all along.

Spirit-Led Parenting: From Fear to Freedom in Baby’s First Year by Megan Tietz and Laura Oyer.

Over the years, a mainstream approach to Christian parenting has emerged, and it’s one that promotes sleep training and feeding schedules for infants, warns that spoiled children and marital discord are certain by-products of homes where newborns are over-indulged, and promotes these methods as the Biblical way to care for a new baby. Unfortunately, the message of mainstream parenting advice preys on the universal fear of new parents everywhere: the fear that if they stray from the program, their babies and their marriages will suffer. In Spirit-Led Parenting: From Fear to Freedom in Baby’s First Year, two mothers share their stories. They tell of a journey that began in fear-soaked, tear-stained days marked by an overwhelming fear of failure that eventually found redemption in discovering the freedom to ignore the wisdom of man and follow the direction of the Spirit. There is another way.  That’s what they wish they had been told as new mothers. And it’s the message they are passionate about sharing with new parents everywhere

Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith (I SPEAK FOR MYSELF) edited by Enuma Okoro and Erin Lane. (Deeper Story essay contributors are Grace Biskie and Micha Boyett.) 

American Christian Women under 40 are being theologically trained in unprecedented numbers, accessing leadership in their communities through both orthodox and unorthodox avenues, and balancing the roles of professional, wife, mother, girlfriend, and friend. With all of the perceived progress, why do they feel like their young voices still aren’t being heard? And if they found the courage to speak, what would they want to say? The latest book in the I Speak For Myself series addresses the experiences of faith, gender, and identity that remain taboo for American Christian Women Under 40. Is it our desire to remain childless in a Catholic tradition that largely defines women by their ability to reproduce? Is it our struggle with pornography in an evangelical subculture that addresses it only as the temptation of unsatisfied men? From masturbation, miscarriage, and menstruation to ordination, co-habitation, and immigration, this collection of essays explores the most provocative topics of faith left largely unspoken in 21st century American faith life. For women and their partners, faith leaders and their members, historians and their students, this book documents the voices of young Christian women and their refusal to be silent any longer.

The Wall Around Your Heart: How Jesus Heals You When Others Hurt You by Mary DeMuth.

Family members hurt us. Friends betray us. Fellow Christians deceive us. But Jesus provides a path through the pain—the Lord’s Prayer. In The Wall Around Your Heart, Mary DeMuth shows you that you can reach wholeness and healing in the aftermath of painful relationships by following the road map of the Lord’s Prayer. You’ll walk through story after story of hurt people who are led through biblical truth into amazing, life-sustaining, joyful growth.

When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over by Addie Zierman.

In the strange, us-versus-them Christian subculture of the 1990s, a person’s faith was measured by how many WWJD bracelets she wore and whether he had kissed dating goodbye. Evangelical poster child Addie Zierman wore three bracelets asking what Jesus would do. She also led two Bible studies and listened exclusively to Christian music. She was on fire for God and unaware that the flame was dwindling—until it burned out. Addie chronicles her journey through church culture and first love, and her entrance—unprepared and angry—into marriage. When she drops out of church and very nearly her marriage as well, it is on a sea of tequila and depression. She isn’t sure if she’ll ever go back. When We Were on Fire is a funny, heartbreaking story of untangling oneself from what is expected to arrive at faith that is not bound by tradition or current church fashion. Addie looks for what lasts when nothing else seems worth keeping. It’s a story for doubters, cynics, and anyone who has felt alone in church.

Why I wrote Jesus Feminist (+ giveaway)

by Sarah Bessey

Jesus Made a Feminist Out of Me

I imagine some people will be disappointed with my new book, Jesus Feminist.

After all, if all these smarter-than-me theologians, theorists, academics, scholars, thinkers, and leaders on both sides of the issue haven’t been able to put the debate to rest, what chance does a slim yellow book by a happy-clappy Canadian mama-writer have? (Answer: None, really.)

I’m under no illusions. I know I’m not an academic or a theorist or a theologian in the classic sense. Some people think I’m writing about a topic above my pay grade and they’re probably right. (That’s okay with me, by the way. I think that the body of Christ also needs to hear from the Everyday Disciples, too, those of us who didn’t go to seminary and don’t make a living from ministry. I like reading and hearing from the rest of us as well as The Experts.)

It’s probably obvious by now that I didn’t write Jesus Feminist to defend feminism or offer a Christian slant on feminist theory. I don’t care if anyone calls themselves a Jesus Feminist or not – labels don’t matter much to me. The book isn’t exhaustive. It won’t answer every question for a secular feminist or for a Christian complementarian. I didn’t write the book to point-by-point go through Scripture’s every mention of womanhood in an effort to prove something. (Other people did that already, and I appreciate their work too much to imitate it.) I didn’t even write the book to win an argument.

No, Jesus Feminist grew out of my life. I call the made-up thing I do “narrative theology” because in almost all of my writing, I’m exploring the ways that I encounter God theologically in my life as it stands. The best way I know how to do that is through storytelling. So, as Jesus Feminist began to rise up in my heart as a book, I knew that my purpose wasn’t to convince or argue or debate. Instead, the theology had to have a narrative for me. I wanted to tell of the ways that my family and community have formed my theology, I wanted to write a love letter to my complex feelings about church and community, marriage and mothering, womanhood and sisterhood  - and I wanted to tell our story.

One of my favourite quotes from theologian Frederick Buechner shows up in the book: “If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.”

I wrote Jesus Feminist because I wanted to give a glimpse of the Kingdom of God – the life I believe is waiting for us on the other side of those tired gender debates.

After all, once you answer the questions about identity, purpose, place, calling, roles, well - then what?

So I wanted to make some room in the book for asking and answering the questions, absolutely, they are legitimate, and I honour them. Our wrestling with Scripture matters. But I didn’t want to just write a book that could have doubled as a Q & A or proof-text cheat sheet for my arguments.

It’s the “then what?” narrative in the Kingdom of God that fascinates me. How do we live into the answers as disciples of our Jesus?  Once we have affirmed God’s radical notion that women are people, too, well, then what? What does that mean for you? for your family? for your relationships? for your church? your community? and perhaps even for the world?

I’ve been captivated by Jesus. I know it’s not that cool to say in some circles, but my discipleship of Jesus Christ is at the heart of me, so it is at the heart of the book. I wanted to write through how I have encountered the living God in my own life and how that has shaped my womanhood, my work, my vocation, my calling, my mothering, my marriage, all of it. It’s a deeply personal look at theology, I know.

Jesus Feminist is really a story – a story about how I am learning to set up a little outpost for the Kingdom of God in my real right-now life, as a sign and a foretaste of what it means to be human in God’s kingdom.

Above all, I want people to read Jesus Feminist and hear just a few things:

You are loved and you are free.

You are called to move with God’s redemptive purposes to rescue, restore, and redeem humanity.

And may we, as the Church, prophecy the Kingdom of God with our very lives.

 

And now, a giveaway!

Jesus Feminist CoverWe are giving away 5 copies of Jesus Feminist to the Deeper Story community!

Leave a comment on this post answering this question: Which woman has most shaped your own spirituality? It can be someone you know or someone you wish you knew, someone who inspires many or someone who works in obscurity. Along with your answer, make sure we have an email or Twitter handle to use to contact you if you win.

We’ll randomly choose 5 winners from the comments after 12 November 2013.

Or if you simply can’t wait, the book is available starting today wherever books are sold.

 

A Deeper Story Responds to #DOMA and Prop 8

by Sarah Bessey

marriageequality

There are many diverse views on same-sex marriage – and homosexuality itself – within the Christian community.

And we believe that the full diversity of the Christian voice is not well-represented by the 24-hour-news shows or online pundits,  so we want to make a bit of space here for that diversity to be well-received and heard. 

One of the wonderful things about our community here at A Deeper Story is the way we disagree beautifully. Opinions vary widely for our writers and for our readers on everything from politics to parenting, theology to sexuality.

We’ve tried to create a safe place here; a place to see your own self reflected and also to learn more about the people who you’ve perhaps misunderstood in the past. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail, but always, we are changed for the better by listening to one another.

Recently, the United States has made two major legal rulings related to marriage equality. First, the Supreme Court of the United States has declared the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, which clears the way for same-sex couples to receive the same federal benefits as straight couples (currently, only in the states where same-sex marriages are lawful). And the Supreme Court has cleared the way for same-sex marriages to be legalized in California by declining to decide the case related to Prop 8, a bitterly contested proposition that divided the state and even the country. Both of these cases are seen as landmarks for the ideological shift they represent in the country and many believe that these rulings will clear the way for more states to legalize same-sex marriage soon.

This news comes on the heels of the surprising news that Exodus International, the leading ex-gay reparation ministry of evangelicalism, has apologized to the gay community and will be closing their doors. (It remains to be seen what their new mandate will be.)

So today, the editors have asked our writers to respond to these particular rulings at the Supreme Court – not on behalf of Deeper Story as a whole, but for their own self. And we’d like to invite you to do the same in your comment. This issue will continue to be part of our conversations as a Church and we want to be a place for us all to gather and learn, share and move forward – together.

First, from our writers:

What is your response to the Supreme Court rulings regarding Prop 8 and DOMA?

 

Preston Yancey – My theological position has never and will never be determined at the discretion of the legislative body of a country’s government. Regardless of what I believe to be true of marriage in the sacramental context of Christian faith, I have been tasked by my Saviour to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and be the grace and mercy of God in the world. Denying partners hospital visitation or using immigration laws as backchannels to dissolve unions does not ring true of a people called to feed, clothe, and be. Theological disagreement must not translate into a denial of rights in a free society. My gay friends and their spouses are always welcome at my table; I expect at least that much from my secular government.

Erika Morrison – I felt the way people must have on the day the astronauts landed on the moon….and those famous words echoed in my heart: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. Because my belief can be simplified like this: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things there is NO law.” (Galatians 5:22-23, emphasis added) It is my opinion that there is NO law – perceived or otherwise – that holds up against two people to love each other.

Mihee Kim-Kort – This is one topic that is so controversial in my family that my parents and I can’t talk about it anymore without becoming really angry. I grew up in a traditional and conservative Christian home but “came out” in support of these peers in seminary who were on a similar journey as me. They were seeking to be wholly and genuinely faithful through everything God created in them. “There is no Jew or Greek…” We are called to be reconciled to all and the government – at the very least – is required to treat all with equal respect and rights. I’m deeply encouraged that our government is finally recognizing the need for parity in these basic human rights. We are on our way!

Adam Walker Cleaveland – I’m glad to see that we are making progress…as slow as it feels most of the time…and am glad that many of my LGBTQ friends will now have greater freedoms and more rights. It’s ridiculous that we should have to be pleased about this…everyone getting the same and rights being equal…but I am glad that we are finally moving in this direction. My hope is that my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), will be able to catch up to this and sometime soon change our definition of marriage as well.

Grace Biskie – I am theologically opposed to same sex marriage as a sacramental covenant being upheld by the Church, yet I am deeply, DEEPLY disappointed in how the Church has treated the LGBT community in the midst of bitter political battles.  It’s foolish to believe that everyone belongs to the Church or should be forced to live within the boundaries of the Church.  Therefore, I believe the LGBT community should have rights to marry, to see one another in the hospital, to adopt and enjoy each and every privilege that I have as a married heterosexual women.  The secular state’s denial of this legal contract between two consenting adults is a ridiculous injustice.  I pray that today’s decision will bring justice, relief, grace and hope to those living under the burden of injustice.  Let justice roll down… Also, everything that Preston said. =)

Micah J. Murray - To those for whom this is a day of celebration – I celebrate with you. You aren’t statistics or or an agenda or “them”. You are moms and dads and brothers and sisters and husbands and wives. And I am so, so happy for you. To those who feel like this is a point scored for the other team, I’d invite you to stop playing the game. Love doesn’t mean compromising your personal beliefs, but it does mean that people matter more than those beliefs. Love is a big circle with room inside it for all of us. Let’s make today a day for words of love. (for more, see: Why I Can’t Say “Love the Sinner / Hate the Sin” Anymore)

Tamára Lunardo - I began shaking-crying because “You are exactly as human and worthwhile as your straight friends” is what SCOTUS is saying to LGBTQ people today– and it is what Jesus has always said. And so I am overjoyed that this truth of intrinsic worth and equality is being proclaimed across our country because we are all– gay, straight, and everywhere on the spectrum– brokenhearted people, and I know firsthand that the Truth is the only thing that can heal our hearts and allow us to accept the perfect love of God. So when we say “love wins” today, I happy, shaky cry. Because the love I see winning biggest of all is the first love, the deepest love, the best love– the love that says, “You are exactly as human and worthwhile as I’ve created you to be.”

Joy Bennett - The Supreme Court’s ruling today to overturn DOMA is the right decision, and one that I welcome. It refers the definition of marriage and recognition of same-sex marriage back to states. It surprises me to hear conservatives, who ardently support states’ rights, bemoaning this ruling as “sin winning.” It is my personal position that any couple wishing to vow fidelity and faithfulness to one another ought to be encouraged in that endeavor. And any couple willing to make that kind of commitment and form a family ought to receive the civil and legal rights that naturally follow the formation of a family. I see the legal recognition of a marriage as a completely separate issue from the theological discussion of homosexuality. The Supreme Court did not change anything about so-called traditional marriage. The Supreme Court did not require churches or religious bodies to recognize same-sex marriage. It made a civil ruling. The theological question of whether homosexuality is a sin is completely separate from its legality, and it would behoove today’s American Christians to remember that fact.

Nish Weiseth - ”When I first heard the news this morning, I’ll admit that I cried a few tears of joy. I have family and friends who are directly impacted by the SCOTUS rulings – their lawful marriages and commitments to their spouses can no longer be viewed as “less than,” and their marriage is viewed as equal to mine in the eyes of federal law. Their federal rights are protected under the Constitution, and I believe that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is for ALL citizens, regardless of sexual orientation. Joy quickly turned to dread when I realized that this would still be a strong point of contention in the midst of the Church. So, it’s my prayer that as believers, we would come together, united under the banner of Jesus Christ and remember that this isn’t just an issue in and of itself… that this ruling deeply affects real people with real lives and real relationships. I pray that we can come together and love each other well.”

Emily Maynard - When I was growing up, I heard over and over again the dangers of the “slippery slope.” Every political decision or theological question, risked the erosion of the moral fibre of America, my family’s values, and my connection to God. I agonized over even the smallest decisions, because I believed that any hint of compromise was the way of death. It terrified me for years. But in the past few years, I’ve learned that I’d rather be on the “slippery slope” with the Holy Spirit than building any more social barriers. I’ve learned a lot about Love. I’ve learned to listen better to my LGBTQ friends, and hear what this means to them. Some see these public decisions as a moral landslide and I know it terrifies them, so I pray for peace. But some of us are grabbing handfuls of dirt and flinging them into the air like confetti, because every leap towards equality and love is worth celebrating.

Andrea Levendusky - Whether or not you agree or disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision, the question that remains is this: What IS the Gospel that you believe? Are you still the greatest sinner that you know? Today, arguments and accusations — of bigotry, of hatred, of injustice, of desecration — they’ll be thrown across both lines. Both sides will feel wounded. Both sides need Jesus, desperately. Today I raise one flag — not of American Pride, or Gay Pride, or Conservative Evangelicalism pride. Today I claim Jesus — the Gospel. The work of repentance and redemption for all. The invisible work of the Spirit in hearts I do not know. The power of love in the cross that as Jesus said “draws all people to Himself”.  I know someone whose actions I detest. They do things unimaginable and things that disgust me. At times, I wish this person didn’t exist. And I wonder if God’s love is big enough for their sin. They carry on as if what they do doesn’t matter; as if their sin is somehow not sin. I can barely stand the thought of the things they do. When I think of who is destroying the image of Godliness, I think of them. When I think of the person who mocks truth, I think of them. When I think of who deserves the suffering of hell the most severely, I think of this person. That person is me. 

Kelley Nikondeha - I’m all the way in Burundi and I heard the news. I felt deep relief, I let out a long sigh that grew into a smile. I’m so glad my LGBT friends can share in rights, freedom and protection under the law.

Elora Nicole - I use to believe all things needed to be categorized as “wrong” or “right” but now, I see a whole lot of grey and a lot more Jesus. I try to think of HIm in situations like this. How would He respond? What would He do? I’d like to think nothing would change, really. I imagine Him having a raucous meal tonight, joining others in their celebration, meeting them where they are and loving them in that way of His. This, to me, is grace. There is nothing to fear here. My marriage won’t change because my friends finally get a legitimate shot of living like I do. Even more beautiful? Neither will my faith.

Jason Boyett - Personally, I’m thrilled for my friends whose families are now being recognized as legitimate, and who see this as an acknowledgement of the very basic dignity and equality we all deserve. So I support the SCOTUS decisions today. As for my friends who don’t like this decision, I remind them that we’re a country that came together because we wanted freedom from a government that got all messily intertwined with religion. We need to remember that, especially when the state makes a decision that seems at odds with your religious beliefs.

Kristen Howerton - I am thrilled that my LGBT friends here in California have the same rights to marry as every other inhabitant of the state. I believe that churches should continue to have the right to offer covenant marriages as they see fit, according to their own interpretation of scripture. But I also believe that the state should afford legal rights to all citizens. I think that affirming marriage for all couples actually strengthens the family values in our society. I value family. I value marriage. I want it to be available to everyone who values it, too.

 

As a community, we’ve written about same-sex marriage before. You can read our posts here:

Jesus Loves the Gays, This I Know by Joy Bennett

I’m an evangelical Christian. And I think same-sex marriage should be legal. by Sarah Bessey

What Really Frustrates Me About the Gay Marriage Debate Is…. by Zack Hunt

When Rainbows Make You Uncomfortable by Sarah Markley

We are the Queer. We are the Whore. by Tamara Lunardo

Tara Needs Telling by Tamara Lunardo

Have a little faith. by Mandy Stewart

On defining a family by Allison Olfelt

This land is your land by Heather King

Just hear me by Ashleigh Baker

On love by Ashleigh Baker

Extreme Love by Sara Sophia

I Beg to Differ by Erika Morrison

The biblical definition of marriage and it’s relevance to marriage equality by Kristen Howerton

 Your turn, friends:  What is your response to the Supreme Court rulings regarding Prop 8 and DOMA?

(And please remember: we disagree well here with kindness. Personal attacks or hate-filled comments will be deleted.)

Announcing our new advice column: Dear Kristen

by Sarah Bessey

Dear Deeper Story:

I have questions about church and culture and life.

I have nowhere to ask these questions and I feel like I’m completely alone. 

Signed,

Anonymous

_________________________________________________________________________

Dear Anonymous:

You’re not alone. We often hear from our readers with deeply personal questions of spirituality, identity, culture, marriage, life, gender, community, faith, Scripture, all of it. It seems the more personal the question, the more universal the feeling behind it.  And sadly, there don’t seem to be too many places where we get to ask questions safely, without fear of judgement.

So we’ve decided to launch an advice column.

This isn’t etiquette for evangelicals. And it’s not three-Christianese-points-and-a-Jesus-Juke masquerading as sermon time. Nope. You know us better than that.

You’ve got real and complex questions. And you deserve thoughtful answers.

Enter Kristen Howerton.

Kristen is a marriage and family therapist and professor of psychology at Vanguard University. She is the author of the popular blog Rage Against the Minivan, where she explores issues of identity, race, adoption, parenting, and the sometimes embarrassing indignities of motherhood.

In addition to her own blog, Kristen is the editor of ShePosts, an online magazine dedicated to women in social media. She is also a regular contributor to Disney’s parenting site Babble, as well as to Huffington Post and OC Family Magazine.  Kristen has made numerous television appearances to talk about parenting issues, including CNN, The View, The Ricki Lake Show, Good Morning America, and The Today Show.

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Each month, our editorial team will choose one question from your submissions and Kristen will tackle the query with her trademark wit, humour, wisdom, and honesty.

If you want a no-bulls*t answer to your complex and real questions about that thin place intersection of Christ and culture, then Dear Kristen is for you.

And as always, our comment section will be open for you all to weigh in on these questions as well. If you disagree with Kristen’s response or wish to share your own story or wisdom, go for it.

You can submit a question anytime by emailing us at adeeperstory@gmail.com (Make sure your subject line says Dear Kristen.)

The first Dear Kristen column will be up on Tuesday, 26 February.

Signed,

Your editorial team at A Deeper Story    

 

P.S. We love you, you crazy kids.

 

The People Formerly Known As The Congregation

by Sarah Bessey

Jay Rosen created the meme of The People Formerly Known as the Audience – those of us who are no longer content to be content consumers – but have become content creators ourselves.

The people formerly known as the audience wish to inform media people of our existence, and of a shift in power that goes with the platform shift you’ve all heard about.

Think of passengers on your ship who got a boat of their own. The writing readers. The viewers who picked up a camera. The formerly atomized listeners who with modest effort can connect with each other and gain the means to speak— to the world, as it were.

Now we understand that met with ringing statements like these many media people want to cry out in the name of reason herself: If all would speak who shall be left to listen? Can you at least tell us that?

The people formerly known as the audience do not believe this problem—too many speakers!—is our problem. Now for anyone in your circle still wondering who we are, a formal definition might go like this:

The people formerly known as the audience are those who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another— and who today are not in a situation like that at all.

Let me introduce you to The People formerly known as The Congregation. There are millions of us.

We are people – flesh and blood – image bearers of the Creator – eikons, if you will. We are not numbers.

We are the eikons who once sat in the uncomfortable pews or plush theatre seating of your preaching venues. We sat passively while you proof-texted your way through 3, 4, 5 or no point sermons – attempting to tell us how you and your reading of The Bible had a plan for our lives. Perhaps God does have a plan for us – it just doesn’t seem to jive with yours.

Money was a great concern. And, for a moment, we believed you when you told us God would reward us for our tithes – or curse us if we didn’t. The Law is just so much easier to preach than Grace. My goodness, if you told us that the 1st century church held everything in common – you might be accused of being a socialist – and of course, capitalism is a direct gift from God. Please further note: Malachi 3 is speaking to the priests of Israel. They weren’t the cheerful givers God speaks of loving.

We grew weary from your Edifice Complex pathologies – building projects more important than the people in your neighbourhood…or in your pews. It wasn’t God telling you to “enlarge the place of your tent” – it was your ego. And, by the way, a multi-million dollar, state of the art building is hardly a tent.

We no longer buy your call to be “fastest growing” church in wherever. That is your need. You want a bigger audience. We won’t be part of one.

Our ears are still ringing from the volume, but…Jesus is not our boyfriend – and we will no longer sing your silly love songs that suggest He is. Happy clappy tunes bear no witness to the reality of the world we live in, the powers and principalities we confront, or are worthy of the one we proclaim King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

You offered us a myriad of programs to join – volunteer positions to assuage our desire to be connected. We could be greeters, parking lot attendants, coffee baristas, book store helpers, children’s ministry workers, media ministry drones – whatever you needed to fulfill your dreams of corporate glory. Perhaps you’ve noticed, we aren’t there anymore.

We are The People formerly known as The Congregation. We have not stopped loving the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nor do we avoid “the assembling of the saints.” We just don’t assemble under your supposed leadership. We meet in coffee shops, around dinner tables, in the parks and on the streets. We connect virtually across space and time – engaged in generative conversations – teaching and being taught.

We live amongst our neighbours, in their homes and they in ours. We laugh and cry and really live – without the need to have you teach us how – by reading your ridiculous books or listening to your supercilious CDs or podcasts.

We don’t deny Paul’s description of APEPT leadership – Ephesians 4:11. We just see it in the light of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10 and Matthew 20 – servant leadership. We truly long for the release of servant leading men and women into our gifts as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. We believe in Peter’s words that describe us all as priests. Not just some, not just one gender.

We are The People formerly known as The Congregation. We do not hate you. Though some of us bear the wounds you have inflicted. Many of you are our brothers and our sisters, misguided by the systems you inhabit, intoxicated by the power – yet still members of our family. (Though some are truly wolves in sheep’s clothing.)

And, as The People formerly known as The Congregation, we invite you to join us on this great adventure. To boldly go where the Spirit leads us. To marvel at what the Father is doing in the communities where He has placed us. To live the love that Jesus shows us.

Contributed by Bill Kinnon: a television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium. This post originally appeared on Bill Kinnon’s blog in 2007. A real conversation starter, as you can imagine, you can read the original post – and its many updates, comments, and follow-ups – here

I am damaged goods.

by Sarah Bessey

glass of water

 

I was nineteen years old and crazy in love with Jesus when that preacher told an auditorium I was “damaged goods” because of my sexual past. He was making every effort to encourage this crowd of young adults to “stay pure for marriage.” He was passionate, yes, well-intentioned, and he was a good speaker, very convincing indeed.

And he stood up there and shamed me, over and over and over again.

Oh, he didn’t call me up to the front and name me. But he stood up there and talked about me with such disgust, like I couldn’t be in that real-life crowd of young people worshipping in that church. I felt spotlighted and singled out amongst the holy, surely my red face announced my guilt to every one.

He passed around a cup of water and asked us all to spit into it. Some boys horked and honked their worst into that cup while everyone laughed. Then he held up that cup of cloudy saliva from the crowd and asked, “Who wants to drink this?!”

And every one in the crowd made barfing noises, no way, gross!

“This is what you are like if you have sex before marriage,” he said seriously, “you are asking your future husband or wife to drink this cup.”

Over the years the messages melded together into the common refrain: “Sarah, your virginity was a gift and you gave it away. You threw away your virtue for a moment of pleasure. You have twisted God’s ideal of sex and love and marriage. You will never be free of your former partners, the boys of your past will haunt your marriage like soul-ties. Your virginity belonged to your future husband. You stole from him. If – if! – you ever get married, you’ll have tremendous baggage to overcome in your marriage, you’ve ruined everything. No one honourable or godly wants to marry you. You are damaged goods, Sarah.”

If true love waits, I heard, then I have been disqualified from true love.

In the face of our sexually-dysfunctional culture, the Church longs to stand as an outpost of God’s ways of love and marriage, purity and wholeness.

And yet we twist that until we treat someone like me – and, according to this research, 80% of you are like me –  as if our value and worth was tied up in our virginity.

We, the majority non-virgins in the myopic purity conversations,  feel like the dirty little secret, the not-as-goods, the easily judged example.  In this clouded swirl of shame, our sexual choices are the barometer of our righteousness and worth. We can’t let any one know, so we keep it quiet, lest any one discover we were not virgins on some mythic wedding night. We don’t want to be the object of disgust or pity or gossip or judgement. And in the silence, our shame – and the lies of the enemy – grow.

 

And so here, now, I’ll stand up and say it, the way I wish someone had said it to me fifteen years ago when I was sitting in that packed auditorium with my heart racing, wrists aching, eyes stinging, drowning and silenced by the imposition of shame masquerading as ashes of repentance:

“So, you had sex before you were married.

It’s okay.

Really. It’s okay.

There is no shame in Christ’s love. Let him without sin cast the first stone. You are more than your virginity – or lack thereof – and more than your sexual past.

Your marriage is not doomed because you said yes to the boys you loved as a young woman. Your husband won’t hold it against you, he’s not that weak and ego-driven, choose a man marked by grace.

It’s likely you would make different choices, if you knew then what you know now, but, darling, don’t make it more than it is, and don’t make it less than it is. Let it be true, and don’t let anyone silence you or the redeeming work of Christ in your life out of shame.

Now, in Christ, you’re clear, like Canadian mountain water, rushing and alive, quenching and bracing, in your wholeness.

Virginity isn’t a guarantee of healthy sexuality or marriage. You don’t have to consign your sexuality to the box marked “Wrong.” Your very normal and healthy desires aren’t a switch to be flipped. Morality tales and false identities aren’t the stuff of a real marriage. Purity isn’t judged by outward appearances and technicalities. The sheep and the goats are not divided on the basis of their virginity. (Besides, this focus is weird and over-realized, it’s the flip side of the culture’s coin which values women only for their sexuality. It’s also damaging, not only for you, but for the virgins in the room, too. Really, there’s a lot of baggage from this whole purity movement heading out into the world.)

For I am convinced, right along with the Apostle Paul, that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any other power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.* Not even “neither virginity nor promiscuity” and all points between can separate you from this love. You are loved – without condition – beyond your wildest dreams already.

I would say: Sarah, your worth isn’t determined by your virginity. What a lie.

No matter what that preacher said that day, no matter how many purity balls are thrown with sparkling upper-middle-class extravagance, no matter the purity rings and the purity pledges, no matter the judgemental Gospel-negating rhetoric used with the best of intentions, no matter the “how close is too close?” serious conversations of boundary-marking young Christians, no matter the circumstances of your story, you are not disqualified from life or from joy or from marriage or from your calling or from a healthy and wonderful lifetime of sex because you had – and, heaven forbid, enjoyed – sex before you were married.

Darling, young one burning with shame and hiding in the silence, listen now: Don’t believe that lie. You never were, you never will be, damaged goods.”

image source, creative commons

Apostle Paul quote from Romans 8:38-39

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We’re suffering for Jesus! Let’s get matching t-shirts!

by Sarah Bessey

 

When Help One Now invited me to Haiti as part of a storytellers trip, I wanted to say no.

I wanted to say no because I was afraid of poverty, and I was afraid of my heart breaking. I wanted to say no because it was inconvenient, and I was reluctant to leave my tinies. And I wanted to say no because I had an aversion to the whole blogger trip phenomenon. I spent years of my evangelical church life avoiding mission trips – quite a notable feat for a woman married to a former missionary to Mexico and a youth pastor. “Oh, I have to work,” I excused myself, which was true, but I also thought Mexico hardly needed one more group of rich North Americans performing bad mime on their street corners, and the money spent going would be better spent in the hands of on-the-ground community development. Mission trips seemed more like a yearning for travel and adventure cloaked in pious language.

“We’ll spend four days painting rooms in an orphanage, and then we’ll go shopping and hang out on the beach! We’re suffering for Jesus! Let’s get matching t-shirts! It’ll be so rad. Last night is totally cry-night.”

So when Chris Marlow, the leader of the Help One Now tribe, asked me to join him on a short trip to Haiti with a group of bloggers, my first instinct was a simple no.

The western world, including churches, have a habit of showing up in developing countries with a lot of zeal and good intentions that ultimately end up hurting or crippling complex societies, and then wounding precious people through inadvertent ignorance. I had learned how helping can hurt, and I didn’t want to hurt Haiti economically, or relationally. I wasn’t interested in tidy, simple narratives for the purpose of raising money. I cringed at the thought of trotting Haitians out as props for fundraising. The phrase “poverty tourism” revolted me. It was easier and safer to do, well, nothing than it was to risk hurting any one or accidentally set foot into colonialism.

Yet I couldn’t seem to say no to going to Haiti.

Every time I tried to refuse, my “no” stuck in my throat. I wondered if that might be a nudge from the Holy Spirit, so I took a few steps back and, as I got to know Chris and the rest of the team, I learned they were centered on empowering and resourcing local leaders for the long-haul precisely because of their great love for God. They were focused on community development to combat the orphan crisis, instead of simple rescue aid or hugging smiling orphans one week before disappearing once the slide-show pictures were done, let alone performing feel-good “revivals” to fluff up statistics in church annual reports.

Chris and his team deferred to Haitian leaders, and purposefully kept all Americans associated with the project in the background. They took the posture of students, listeners, fellow-journeyers instead of saviours. They didn’t shy away from the complexities of Haiti’s systemic injustices and the long road ahead. They were not perfect but they were learning, because they were here to stay with Haiti.

So I said yes.

I was honoured to share my little platform, I longed to treat the stories of Haiti with dignity, and I began to see it as opening a door between my readers and these new friends. I was ready – I thought.

Give me a stat, and I don’t give a damn. Tell me a story, and I weep like a baby, said Chris.

I went to Haiti. I’ve heard that souls grow by leaps and bounds. If that is true, then Haiti was a catapult for me.  (I wrote about the experience here, if you’d like to read about it.)

Everywhere we went with Help One Now, we were greeted as “the ones who come back.” Chris and his team were not show-up-and-take-pictures Christians; they were we-are-with-you-always-especially-in-the-hard-parts Christians, they were thinking about long-term consequences of their decisions, they were thinking about community development and driven by relationships, they were planning on moving that mountain, one carefully chosen strategic stone at a time.

While we were there, I discovered just how thin the membrane is between helping and hurting, and how well-meaning aid can often be the undoing of a community. So those crews of painters from North America at the orphanage mean a few less jobs for local painters, and handing out cast-off t-shirts from last year’s mission trip deprives local clothing providers of their work. The years-worth of free rice from USAID and the UN after the earthquake put an entire region of Haitian rice farmers out of work, driving their families into abject poverty, and now their children are vulnerable to child trafficking. Every action has a reaction, a unintended consequence, however benevolent the motivation, however great the spiritual or moral awakening of the giver.

Haiti seemed like a mountain of complexity to me. Poverty, the earthquake, family, religion, economics, policy, corruption, housing, education – if you pulled out a single stone in an effort to help, there was a possible of an avalanche of unintended consequences raining down.

I can’t pretend I’ll be one of “the ones who come back” or that I understand Haiti. Not at all. I am not living alongside of Haitians, truly knowing them, truly becoming friends, in the same way. I’m not suffering for Jesus here. It’s not the same at all and I probably won’t be back in Haiti any time soon (although I’d love to go back – if just for a cold Prestige beer and a chance to finish about seventeen conversations). I respect Haiti too much to simplify her.

And yet: Haiti changed me with her stories.

Pastor Gaetan and his mountain moving faith.

Pastor St. Cyr singing How Great Thou Art in the largest tent-city of Port au Prince.

The 17-year-old new mama breastfeeding her baby at the midwifery clinic run by Heartline Ministries.

Lovely Manita at the orphanage and the feel of her arms around me, her refusal to let me go until the last heart-wrenching moment.

Little girls with bows in their hair, rubbing my leftover baby-belly with delight and snuggling right into me.

A little girl in a pink shirt sweeping the dirt of her tent into neat rows like a proud homemaker.

Women sitting in their tents of a city that used to be called “a rape camp.”

Richard the artist with his stunning work and micro-finance story.

Dozens of children sleeping in bunk beds together instead of being raised in families.

Pastor Jean Alix and his tireless work ethic on behalf of his community.

One of our translators whose mother was forced to abandon him to life on the streets due to her inability to provide a home for him.

All of them matter to me now. All of them stay with me.

I give a damn because I heard their stories for myself.

Maybe I should have been moved by the stats or the news. But I wasn’t, I’m hard wired for story, I needed to see them, I needed to feel them, and I needed their presence. I didn’t need souvenirs from a market day or a matching t-shirt. I needed names, faces, friends.

We sat around on our last day there feeling like we wanted to be part of the Kingdom work here for longer than just this little trip. We fell in love with Haiti. We wanted to be part of their story, somehow, for the long haul, too.

So Pastor Gaetan shared his big crazy dream with us. He wanted to build a school because 1 in 5 kids aren’t finishing secondary school. It is impossible to lift Haiti out of poverty with stats like that, he said.  He wanted kids to learn how to be leaders, he wanted them well-educated. He wanted doctors and teachers, writers and artists, pastors and policy makers to rise up out of Haiti. He wanted families to be strong.

We decided to help him build that school.

This school will create over 100 jobs in the next six months — all Haitian jobs.

It will serve thousands of children.

We are committed to building a first class building; it will be one that will last and give back to the community for a long, long time.

The school will also be used for Sunday School classes, discipleship training, counselling centre, and most importantly, it will be a safe shelter for the children and the community.

This building will be a center of Kingdom activity.  Everyday.  All day.  365 days a year. And we’ll be part of that story now.

I came home from Haiti a few months ago.

This school is one small thing, one small stone in that massive mountain of complex issues related to economics, social justice, community development, family, debt repayments, international policy, poverty, education, all of it. I can’t move the whole mountain. I can’t. But I can move this one stone, and I chose this small stone because the people that live there told me it was a good pick. And it’s moving, phase after phase, we’re actually really building a school in Haiti. And one after another after another, the stones move with the stories, the schools, the children, the mamas, the fathers, the pastors, the policy makers, and God will move the mountain.

I feel like I’m at the beginning of this story. I have no idea how it ends. I do know matching t-shirts won’t be required.

If you’d like to participate in building the school in Haiti, click here.

Every single bit helps.

Legacy Project // Sarah Bessy from Help One Now on Vimeo.

 

 


In which I am practicing

by Sarah Bessey

I have practiced cynicism, like a pianist practices scales, over and over.  I have practiced being defensive – about my choices and my mothering, my theology and my politics – until I was on the offense. I performed, with repetition, outrage and anger, the victim of someone else’s god, I jumped, Pavlovian, to right every wrong and defend every truth, refute every blog post, pontificate to every question. I called it critical thinking to hide my bitter and critical heart, and I wondered why I had no real joy.

It didn’t take long for my proficiency in cynicism to become obvious to others. My aptitude didn’t take a lot of work, I’ll be honest, it seemed to come rather naturally to me, maybe I was a prodigy. I practiced poking holes, deflating arguments, identifying the pill in all of the jam. My response to it all was, “yeah, but…” and I set up my piano on the border between Funny and Mean, playing sarcastic scales in the name of wit, you might be surprised by how much snark you can fit into 140 characters. And over and over and over again, I practiced and practiced, but no one liked to hear me play.

Give me just a moment here, follow me outside. I’m done with this grand piano, with this glossy stage. I’m done with the concert proficiency at Being Right, I’m ready to be Beloved instead. Here, now, let’s head for the Canadian wilderness together, I’ve got just the spot in mind, and wouldn’t you know it, out here, in the sunshine, there’s a battered old thrift store piano, just for me.

Look at me, clumsy, and learning to practice goodness and truth, like scales all over again, it’s like I’m born again. I want to practice gentleness and beauty, over and over again, until my fingers find the keys without thought. I am performing the bare basics, once more and then one more time and then again, boldness, discipline, silence, prayer, community, again and again.

I want to practice faithfulness, and practice kindness, I want to fill my ears with the repetitions of wide-eyes and open hands, and innocent fun, holy laughter. I want to practice, with intention, joy. I won’t desecrate beauty with cynicism any more, I won’t confuse critical thinking with a critical spirit, and I will practice, painfully, over and over, patience and peace until my gentle answers turn away even my own wrath. I will check the notes, ask for help, and I’ll relax my shoulders, straighten my spine, and breathe fresh air while I learn, all over again, the gift of grace freely given and wisdom honoured, and healing, and when my fingers fumble, when I sound flat or sharp, I’ll simply try again.

I’ll practice the ways of Jesus, over and over, until the scales fall from my eyes, and my ears begin to hear, and soon, my fingers will be flying over the keys, in old hymns and new songs, and on that day, when I look up, I bet there will be a field full of people dancing, beside the water, whirling, stomping their feet and laughing, and babies will be bouncing, and I’ll be singing and singing and singing the song I was always and ever meant to sing, the rocks will be crying out, and the trees will be clapping their hands, and the banquet table will be groaning with the weight of apples and wine and bread, and we’ll sing until the stars come down.

image source

 

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