“Light,” by Gungor

I (Helen) saw the video for “Light” by Gungor a while ago, but I recently listened to an episode of The Liturgists Podcast where Michael & Lisa Gungor shared more of their heart behind this song; the interview reminded me of how I was moved when I first saw their video and read their story, and made me want to share “Light” with you. On the podcast, the Gungors spoke about their beautiful daughter Lucie, or Lucette (which means “light”), for whom this song was written. Lucie was born with Down Syndrome and two heart conditions. On Youtube, Gungor describes “Light” as being written for her, and for “all the beautiful people on this planet with special needs. We think that you make this world a better place.”

“Light” is part of the first of three albums (entitled Soul) that comprise Gungor’s latest project, One Wild Life.

Book Review: Wearing God, by Lauren F. Winner

“How do our images of God – and our resulting images of ourselves…invite us to become (or interfere with our becoming) the people God means us to be?

How do our images of God draw us into worship, reverence, adoration of God?

How do our images of God help us greet one another as bearers of the image of God?” (Wearing God, p. 8)

Lauren Winner’s Wearing God attempts to answer these questions by examining a few of the metaphors the Bible uses to describe God, exploring how they inform our friendship with God. The figures of speech examined include clothing, smell, bread and vine, laboring woman, laughter, and flame. The book closes with a wonderful chapter called “In This Poverty of Expression, Thou Findest That He is All,” and with a thought-provoking (but somewhat disturbing) aside entitled “A Short Note from the Women’s Prison.”

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Though Winner ends her book with “This Poverty of Expression,” I (Helen) find it an excellent starting point for discussing Wearing God. Last week, when discussing the way God is described in the Psalms, I mentioned to those sitting at the lunch table something I have been thinking about lately: that all of our language for God is figurative. There is no language to fully encapsulate who God is, so we are left with the tools of comparison and imagery. We can say God is our Father, but God is not literally our Father. When we say God is Father, we are creating a picture of God’s character – a picture that works well for some (who have/had healthy, life-giving relationships with their earthly fathers), and does not work as easily for others. When we say the Lord is our Shepherd, we imagine a Lord who guides us, directs us, protects us, and cares for us, but we are not likely pondering an image of God dressed in the garb of ancient sheep-herder. Wearing God encourages readers to imagine God in some ways that are rarely spoken of from the front of our churches, in ways that may make us feel uncomfortable because of their unfamiliarity.

Just as the metaphor “Father” may not be comforting or helpful for those who did not have healthy, life-giving relationship with earthly fathers, some of the expressions Winner explored did not register with me to the same degree as others. The idea of God as clothing, however, resonated greatly, partially because I am studying to teach Colossians. In Colossians 3, Paul reminds the Colossians that they have put off the old self (v. 9), and have put on the new self (v. 10). He encourages them to put on, “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (3:12), and urges them to put on love above all else, “which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (3:14). The image of “putting on” Christ, is also invoked in Romans 13:14 and Galatians 3:27 – it is a repeated idea in Paul’s writing. Winner discusses how “putting on Christ” creates true unity – she compares the clothing of Christ to the school uniform that tears down boundaries amongst classmates. As Jesus’ followers “put on Christ,” they were made to see that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Winner’s exploration of the metaphor of God as laboring woman was another picture that was impactful for me (strangely enough, considering I have never been in labor! Perhaps it’s all the Call the Midwife I’ve watched, which of course makes me an expert on child birth!).  As an Episcopal priest, Winner leads her church through the church calendar each year, and as she described herself looking ahead to Good Friday, she says,

“I picture Jesus on the cross and I feel very little. The Crucifixion has become so sanitized in my mind, so normalized and familiar, that thinking of it does not shock me or disturb me or really produce much reaction at all, because I, along with much of the church, have turned a bloody state punishment into nothing more or less than tidy doctrine. Perhaps God as a woman in travail can remind me of God’s vulnerability, and the centrality of that vulnerability for my relationship with that God” (p. 154).

Winner goes on to describe in quite gory detail, a picture of a woman in labor (with all the moaning, writhing, and yes, even tearing, that childbirth brings) and this description makes me feel completely uncomfortable, especially when I think about it as a metaphor for the work of God, as per Isaiah 42. But this is precisely Winner’s goal. While the cross should shock and disturb us with its violence, it has become anesthetized by our very familiarity with it. The picture of God as laboring woman and all that entails, shocks my system and gives me a new understanding of God’s work in the world, and the price of that work.

At times Winner’s writing style was perhaps a bit too poetic for my personal taste, and she was somewhat inconsistent with her interpretation of various passages (though, to be fair, she was most often offering the interpretations of church fathers and mothers, which vary in and of themselves). Also, her “A Short Note from the Women’s Prison,” which address the metaphor of God as a “battering husband,” I believe, is taken out of context. (Winner is looking at passages such as Ezekiel 16, which, I feel, can be better understood as an expression of God’s hatred of idolatry.) Nevertheless, I do recommend reading Wearing God as a way to challenge and expand your own most-used and best-loved metaphors for God, as you explore what it means to pursue friendship with God.

Recipe of the Week (A Couple of Weeks Ago, to be Honest): Cranberry White Chocolate Scones

Is it a bit early to be breaking out the cranberry/white chocolate combination? Probably, but I couldn’t resist. It snowed in the last week of August (though it’s absolutely beautiful now!), and since then, I’ve had Christmas on the brain. I think I’m making up for last year when Michael and I were in Mexico for the Fall, and I missed out on all the lead-up to the holidays. Thus, I made cranberry white chocolate scones at the beginning of October.

You might be thinking, “Those don’t look like cranberry white chocolate scones.” And you’d be right. The original recipe by Pinch of Yum is for blueberry scones, and I have made them with blueberries a couple of times – they were delish (or so I am told). But this time I mixed it up and went with cranberries and white chocolate, and I suspect you could try out other combinations too. What about dark chocolate and candied ginger? Or with pieces of mandarin segments and chocolate (do mandarin segments bake well?)? Or you could go the autumnal route and try apple with cheddar chunks.

Whatever combo you try, this scone recipe is a great starting point for a delicious Saturday brekky before doing some early Christmas shopping. Or raking leaves, I guess.

The Legend of the Chessboard

Last week, we had a Skype meeting with the other staff of Titus Project Kyiv. As a school, we have accepted four participants, and we prayed about which participants would be on which teams (there are two teams, one of which Michael and I are leading). Titus teams are traditionally small, because each participant teaches a minimum of six hours per week. Team leaders attend the teachings of participants, to evaluate their work and to suggest ways of growing in teaching ability. Small teams also allow for easier, more discrete travel.

During our Skype staff meeting, our school leader, Angela, reminded us that though our teams are small, the impact we can have is great. She illustrated this by showing us the following video, the “Legend of the Chessboard:”

As our team teaches others how to study the Bible, we can have a great multiplication effect. If every person we teach teaches only two other people how to study the Word, we will see people pouring out of nations with a heart for Bible study, and covering the earth with the ability to understand Scripture. Sounds like “immeasurable impact” to me!

The Least of My Worries

The following is a list of things I’m worried about:

  1. Getting visas for our time in Central Asia.
  2. How we are going to pack for the below zero degrees C environments we’ll be in for the first part of our trip, and the 30 degrees C environment we’ll be in for the last leg of our trip, all under 20 kg each.
  3. Getting ready to co-teach the entire Bible overview, with only 4 hours of lecture time, including translation.
  4. Communicating with contacts who don’t speak English. Or maybe I should say my lack of knowledge of Russian?
  5. Being in a place of mental and spiritual health, so as to be the best team co-leader possible.

Of the things that keep me (Helen) up at night, that just about starts to cover it. I go to sleep wondering about the accuracy of Google Translate, the hoops we have to jump through for paperwork, and how in the world I’m going to handle two 11+ hour flights within the space of twelve days (I don’t really sleep on airplanes). The above list doesn’t include my worries about what I’m going to eat in nations where red meat and bread are primary food sources, how I’m going to stretch YWAM Turner Valley’s kitchen budget without making people scarred by the sight of a lentil, or how to produce a quality, helpful Colossians teaching for the end of November.

But I’m not worried about money.

Michael and I need another $6000 for our time in Ukraine, Central Asia, and Taiwan. Add to that our car registration renewal, that Michael’s computer needs a new battery, and the approaching Christmas season, and you’d think I would be concerned. But I’m not.

I don’t chalk this up to great faith. I attribute this lack of worry to evidence: miracle after miracle of God’s provision. Whether it’s been outreaches to Thailand, Nepal, or Mexico, or whether it’s been the increase in our monthly support, God has proven He is our Provider. It’s the little (and not so little!) extras, too. Well-timed random gift cards that have made it possible for us to go out for dinner when we really needed a date. The finances to set money aside so we could pay for concert posters for our Night of Music & Missions earlier this month. A house-sitting gig that makes it possible for us to save rent money, so we can have a few days in Germany to visit friends and have a rest between finishing our time with Titus Project Kyiv, and going on to Taiwan.

I may have a laundry list of worries, but finances isn’t one of them. I have ample evidence to believe that God will supply every need. Lord, help me let go of every worry, and give them all to You.

Privilege, & Gender Equality

For months now I (Michael) have been meaning to write about one of the best TED Talks I’ve watched in a while, but it’s been hard to find the time. When I think about sharing my thoughts on a topic that is incredibly important to me, I realize “lack of time” isn’t a good excuse, but I want to be focused and clear as I write. Before I delve in, I really encourage you to take 16 minutes to watch this TED Talk from Michael Kimmel:

When I watched this TED Talk, I had a similar experience to Kimmel, coming to the jarring realization of what it means that I am a middle-class white male. Like Kimmel, my status isn’t something I’m always aware of.  After watching this talk, I mentioned to Helen that unlike women, I don’t have a reminder of my gender the way women do – no time of the month that brings stark focus on my identity as a male. In college I remember being so offended at the subtle message suggesting being a white middle class male made me the “bad guy,” but my very offense now only demonstrates to me just how blind I was to the privilege of my race, class and gender. I’m not suggesting white middle class males are the root of all oppression in the world, but instead I’ve come to realize that when you are daily made aware of the color of your skin, or your social class, or (especially) gender through the way you are restricted, it would be easy to grow in resentment. After all, these are uncontrollable factors, and when contrasted with someone who gets to move freely through his day because he happened to be born a white middle class male, frustration is understandable. The closest I can come to sympathize with this frustration is the tendency towards dislike I have for those who have grown up in a bubble of inherited wealth, especially those who do not realize their privilege. When Kimmel quoted the African-American woman in his story as saying, “Privilege is invisible to those who have it,” I was overwhelmed by how true that was for me.

As I thought about the sense of entitlement that once made me resist issues surrounding gender equality, I am reminded of how grateful I am to be part of a faith community that values and champions those who are best suited for specific roles, regardless of whether they are male or female. I have so come to value this that I would fight for it at almost any expense. The vocational path I am on at the moment (as a Bible teacher) is not one I am entitled to, but humbled to be given by God; this perspective has helped me to see that we have no right to say, “that woman/man stole my job.” My hope is that those given roles of leadership are given them because they are best suited for the roles. At times, gender might come into play for the sake of balanced perspective, but that could also be said of ethnic diversity in a work place or even social background and political preference. I think about being in an international missions organization, and though it causes tension at times, there is value in a diversity of perspectives represented in the leadership of our community. Allowing for this diversity and sharing the roles among a spectrum of different perspectives has great benefit for the health of our community also.

There is much more I could say both on the topic of gender equality and thoughts that arose for me out of this TED talk, but instead I urge you to be honest about where your privilege has built a sense of entitlement in your life, and then attempt to look past that to empathize with those who are not like you. For myself, I know I need to remember that challenge as I look into the mirror each day, so I will not be so blind to the privilege that comes with being a middle class white male.

October Update

We’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus, but stuff has been happening! This “October Update” should give you some insight as to where we’re at as we get ready for our exciting “round-the-world” journey of Bible teaching!