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Made in the Image of God

November 28, 2012 1 comment

 

This term, I have been taking an Introduction to African Studies course which has been fascinating. But also perplexing – for there are so many times in history (including recent history!) when Africans were mistreated, particularly by white upper middle class Westerners. Throughout the term, I’ve had the question of how could this happen in my mind? Yesterday, in preparing for my midterm, I came across a line that spoke a potential, yet disturbing answer: In order to take a human being into slavery, you have to view them as less than human. If they were fully human, then they require respect that would not have allowed them to be treated like animals.

It made me think of something that I had read in the summer – that the trouble with sexual abuse is that it attacks the very heart of our creation, that we are made in the image of God. To use a child for your pleasure and to meet your needs is to negate that the child is a God-bearer, someone God has chosen and made in his own likeness. I’ve been trying to understand lately how anyone could hurt a child in this way and there seems to be two answers: 1) the abuser thinks of himself as more than being made in the image of God (that is, he thinks he is above humanity) or 2) the abuser thinks of the child as being less than made in the image of God. Indeed, I just wrote a research proposal on a cult leader who considered himself to be God’s instrument and with that assigned himself special privileges that basically enabled him to take any young girl he wanted to be his sex slave.

One of the most confusing aspects of my story, is that my parents are Christians – it was my parents who taught me that I am made in the image of God. They had me memorize Psalm 139 which is one of the most beautiful passages that speak of God’s intimate love and involvement in each person’s life – that he hems me in, behind and before, and wove me together in my mother’s womb. It is through my parents that I first heard of God’s love for me.

And yet at the same time, my dad treated me as an object that could be used for his own gratification at any time of the day or night. It makes sense to me now that I would feel less than human, and that somehow I am not loved by God. A common theme in the various support groups I have been involved in, is a deep feeling of being unworthy mixed with guilt and shame. Honestly, this makes it easier for coping strategies that end up causing more harm than good as if I am not loved by God, if I am less than human and do not bear God’s image, then does it really matter what happens to me? This has led me to dark places. And while I have written and spoken of God’s love over and over, I have always felt that somehow I was beyond God’s love, beyond his grace… until last winter.

And it has been through this love penetrating the deepest parts of me that I have found healing. It has been through a slow reclaiming of being a “God-bearer” that I have found life.

I wish my dad had thought more before crossing the line to hurt me. I wish he had seen that his actions would attack one of the most beautiful things about God’s love for me  – that God has made me in His image.

It’s amazing how viewing someone as made in the image of God changes how you treat them. As I was walking home, a street-involved, or perhaps homeless, man called out to me that I am as beautiful as the day is today. I’ve written about my friends who would be considered the lepers of society and when I am able to see them as fully human, I see God in them. I see God in the prostitutes, beggars, mentally ill and poor way more than I see God in the church. Blasphemous? perhaps. But these people have taught me more about God’s love, God’s grace and beauty than any Christian minister or teacher that I have ever known. And when I see Christ in them, I can’t simply walk by and ignore them without saying hello and asking them how their day is going. I can’t criticize them or treat them poorly. And when I see one of these beautiful people being mistreated, i feel it – like someone kicked me in the gut.

I do forget that the people around me are made in the image of God. And I do treat people as if they are less than that. And I do at times elevate myself to being more than made in the image of God.

But when I remember and see God in my neighbour – whoever that may be – things are different and love is the only approach. Kindness dominates. And nothing less will do.

May we seek to see others, as well as ourselves, as made in the image of God – nothing more, nothing less.

Gifts amid the wounding

Last night, I handed in a research paper on how childhood trauma changes the developing brain. Fascinating topic – and definitely one that needs more research as there isn’t much. I loved every minute of researching – and trying to understand complex physiological functions in order to write a clear and concise account. The past few days I have also been working on a research proposal looking at Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and probably most likely focusing on the cult-ish component and spirit possession, though I have not entirely decided yet. While the original book I read for this proposal was horrific to read and left me in tears at the end of each chapter, the rest of the research is fascinating and opening up all sorts of questions that I want to explore.

As I was walking to school today, I kept thinking about how much I LOVE research.

I’ve decided that I am very sick of undergraduate courses. Being 10 years older than most of my fellow students, I have a totally different perspective and approach to studies. Plus I know what I want to research in my masters and PhD. I can’t wait until I can devote my time to research.

My happiest days are when I can just read and read and write and write.

yes, I am a nerd. but I love research.

In psychology, there is an age-old debate over how much nature (e.g. genes) vs nurture (e.g. environment) contribute to who a person is. I think I am built to be a perpetual student – I have that desire to read and research and when I talk to other students who don’t have that desire to the extent I do, I am perplexed, as if I am talking to an entirely different species!

But nurture has also played a significant role.

My step-father was a researcher. He taught me to write. He encouraged the researcher in me.

I’ve said it before, many times in fact, but I don’t believe that there are evil people. We are people who do evil things. And as such, we are also people that have done good things. Loving things. Inspiring things even.

Today is my step-father’s birthday.

He wounded me deeply. And my life was irreversibly changed the moment he chose to violate me. The loss, the pain, the scars are huge.

But he also gave me some gifts – the love of research being one.

So today, in honour of his birthday, I thank God for the gifts he has given me.

The point of it all

over and over I am presented with my own utter humanity and sinfulness.
it rears its ugly head in places and at times least expected.
and I am humbled.
and return to God.
and then I wonder:
perhaps that was the point?
– me

Remembering – so we do not forget

 

Remembrance Day is a day that I struggle with and have many mixed feelings and thoughts regarding it. This week, I’ve had many discussions with people about the politics of war and remembering soldiers and it’s interesting to note the passion that goes into the various sides of the debates. My dilemma this week has been how do I honour those who gave their lives in the war – and in particular my family members who fought in the war – while also holding a pacifist stance on peace. Somebody posted a picture of a white poppy on facebook and that seemed to be my compromise, a third way. Sadly, I never found one and did not have time to make one for myself.

I thought I was going to escape any further wrestling with this day but the church where I work began the service with remembering those from the parish who died in the two world wars. I have to admit I was not a happy camper in that moment. I mean no disrespect. Honest. It’s easy for me to stand on my soap box of pacifism when I have not experienced directly the threat of war or been harmed by powerful people. It is easy for me to say that I would stand with my hunted brother while it remains in the abstract, but when push comes to shove, I do not what I would do. But I struggle with this day and have many unanswered questions: why do we only hear about the two world wars? if we are honouring veterans, why not honour those who have fought in less popular wars? why don’t we remember those who had the unpopular yet courageous stand against war? why do we set aside the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month to remember our veterans as we send more to war?

I remember when war was declared on Iraq and how angry my grandma was. I remember her saying to me, “Elizabeth, I have been to war. I have experienced war and its impact. War is an awful thing.”

To remember is to not forget – what is the point of remembering only to forget and do the same thing all over again?

I came across a slogan recently that I love – “Make love, not war!” A little risque, yes, but I love it’s shock value (a quick caveat – I am one of those old fashioned types that believes sex is for marriage…. my rationale for this is for another post, at another time… and I am not advocating that people go and sleep with everyone).

As I was coming home from work today, I was thinking about this slogan. Why is it that sleeping around in the name of love creates such a negative reaction while killing in the name of peace lends us to honouring those people?

Today was interesting though as I went from remembering war veterans to remembering Christ in the Eucharist. I’m not going to equate the two. But it was indeed an interesting transition. I got thinking about the passover – and how to this day, Jewish people remember what God did through it. And then the Eucharist, which is remembering with thanksgiving what Christ has done for us on the cross.

We need to remember these things – we need to remember so we do not forget. But we should not remember in a passive way – we need to remember and work towards peace, towards a way of life that does not include violence, oppression and war. We need to remember to spur us onto seeking justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God.

I began to think of my own story and how family members who do not support me have told me I need to “forgive and forget” and who have made claims about my continuing to speak out. Interestingly, we don’t tell a war veteran to simply “forgive and forget” and empathy is given when they tell their story and how it continues to effect him. I have a friend who is in his nineties and suffered greatly as a prisoner of war and he has nightmares to this day – I’m not sure that anyone would dare to tell him to “get over it” and “move on” and yet these are common words that survivors of sexual abuse hear over and over.

Childhood sexual abuse and other forms of family violence and addictions tend to be passed down from generation to generation. I wonder, if we told and remembered our stories more if this would actually happen? Generational abuse is something I honestly don’t get. But I wonder, if we called the gruesomeness of the actions that wounded us so deeply, would we act on urges to harm another in the same way?

I think we need to all remember our stories. Partly because each of us bears witness to God’s work, love and grace. But also, so that we all work towards a world in which violence is no more. We must remember – so that these things do not keep happening. We must tell our stories to stop oppression and violence. We need to listen to the breaking hearts of those around us so that we can know and take heed of what oppression, violence and war causes so that we do not repeat these things.

I do not think simply remembering honours those who have given their lives, but working towards peace does.

Today, in the moment of silence, many people who have suffered at the hands of others were brought to mind. Their stories need to be told and remembered. and today was a reminder for me of the need to remember.

We must remember. So we do not forget. So we work for peace. So we stop violence.

Embracing our common humanity

For my community engagement, I had to respond to readings for a week and I chose charity vs. social justice – and, sadly, I wrote this paper in a record time. And I’ve been pretty exhausted all day. So I don’t offer this as a masterpiece, but more some of my reflections from this course and from what I have learned from an amazing community!

Introduction

About a year and a half ago, I went to meet Erinn, the director of PNC to find out how I could volunteer. At that point, I just knew that they had a drop in for homeless people where they provided a meal. I’ve always wanted to help the homeless and this seemed like the right time to do so. I had sent a resume highlighting my experience working with people and had references lined up. It wasn’t a typical interview at all. Erinn told me about the various things PNC did throughout the week and said I would be welcome at any or all events. Genuinely wanting to care for the poor, I kept asking: “But what would I do? Where would I be most helpful?” Erinn smiled and said to just come. I was so completely unprepared and at lost with this job description!

Bickford and Reynolds acknowledge that it is easier to ask what we can do rather than why things are the way they are (Bickford & Reynolds, pg 231). As the readings in this course point out, it is very easy to donate time or money to a charity without addressing the root causes of the problems, (unintentionally) perpetuating power imbalances, and reinforcing an “us versus them” attitude. PNC is one of the communities that strives to be what the readings advocate. In this paper, I will use PNC to illuminate the challenges with the popular charity attitudes that are rampant in society. I will argue that one of the best ways to get involved in social justice is to recognize, respect and engage people we want to ‘serve’ as people who are every bit as human as us. As Choules writes, it is possible to frame switch from mere charity to social justice as a change “in the direction of the gaze” (Choules, pg. 463).

Addressing Root Causes

Bickford and Reynolds argues that the difference between charity and social justice/activism is that the former keeps people in need of charity while the latter addresses root causes that put the people of interest in the position of needing charity. Charity is often easier – you can give money and feel good about making a difference without getting your hands dirty in the messiness of people’s lives or the systems that have affected them. Working at the root causes takes time and energy and is a complicated journey that often requires some personal sacrifice. The task can be quite daunting when looking at root causes of homelessness and poverty. The causes are complex: mental illness, substance abuse, debilitating health problems, abuse growing up, teenage pregnancy, generational poverty, job loss, inadequate support, and likely many more.

Toronto has an abundance of services for homeless including shelters, soup kitchens and food banks. Each of these serves an important purpose – tonight, there are people without a home and food and there needs to be ways to help them right now and addressing root causes won’t deal with this immediate need.

While PNC doesn’t necessarily address the deep-seeded causes of poverty, it is a community that strives to be a safe place of belonging and relationships regardless of circumstances. Many services have providers and the homeless are the receivers. However, at PNC, anyone can be a volunteer – each person can contribute to the work by setting up tables, greeting people who come for the meal, playing the piano to entertain, or by actually cooking together. On my first day, I was still asking Erinn what I could do to help. She told me that I could cook if I wanted to, or just sit and relax, but that eating the meal and hanging out is the work that PNC does. I experienced a very beautiful, yet humbling moment at 1pm that day when the lunch was brought to the tables and a homeless man served me a generous portion of food before filling his own plate and wanted to make sure that I had enough. Throughout my many conversations with members of this community, I have discovered that while they might have great material needs, they also have social, emotional and spiritual needs that need to be addressed. A simple service provider and receiver model cannot address these needs.

(Unintentionally) Perpetuating Power Imbalances

There are people and corporations who give to charity in order to make themselves feel good, to ease the guilt they feel, or to impress others. There are also many well meaning people who are generous because they sincerely want to help. Regardless of intentions, charity can sometimes do more harm than good. Those who give to charity and are involved in charitable organizations are often coming from a place of privilege and are not personally involved with the community they want to help or affected by the same circumstances.

When people get on board with issues coming from a place of privilege, how they go about raising and distributing funds can keep people in the positions they find themselves in. For example, charitable campaigns often film the most vulnerable who have no voice to promote people to give money to their various cause. These pictures frequently perpetuate stereotypes and disrespect the rights of privacy that the poor also share. Martyn Joseph, a Welsh singer/songwriter who speaks out about injustice, says “We’ll film you in your wasting bones/ with your dignity and pride/ And we carry unexpanded, our brokenness inside” (Joseph, 2006). Brokenness is a common part of our humanity – and yet only those with visible pain get used in media without their consent. As Swanson writes, “[b]ecause charity is an unrelenting positive concept in the media, its unequal power relationships are assumed and accepted” (pg. 138). This can be one form of ‘poor-bashing’ (Swanson, pg. 140).

Disadvantaged people are not naïve to how power plays out. For example, “a prevailing attitude in many communities is that those who serve others might be righting a wrong rather than working to change the status quo” (Bickford & Reynolds, pg. 232). Many marginalized people have been bruised by people claiming to help them and are justifiably suspicious of intentions. Yet, sometimes they submit as a meal under certain conditions is better than being hungry (Swanson, pg. 142).

There is also an unequal demand for justification of one’s needs and choices for recipients of charity than there are for the privileged of society. Swanson writes that there is a “false assumption that people who need charity for basic needs don’t work, or refuse work” (pg. 136). A few months ago, there was a picture floating around Facebook that said, “If you can afford cigarettes, manicures, alcohol and drugs, then you don’t need welfare.” In Toronto, many services to the most vulnerable have been cut and nonprofits generally are suffering to make ends meet financially. While at the same time, greater tax cuts have been given to the rich. In some ways, this is just a redistribution of resources – only the rich do not have to justify their purchases, addictions or lifestyles like the poor do. Anyone who has had to go on social assistance knows the challenges as well as the humiliating and grueling interviews that establish whether you are ‘deserving’ of assistance.

At PNC, we recognize that we are all broken in some way and that we all have something to offer. We have open mic nights where the talent is tremendous and we’ve had art sales with some pretty amazing pieces. Many of the members have played a formative role in my life, and also have been some of the first people to come to my aid in times of need. I learned to overcome some of my fears and anxieties thanks to the love and support of my friends there. Moreover, each of us is entitled to basic human rights regardless of social status. Therefore, social justice is not merely a “choice and benevolence of the powerful” (Choules, pg. 469), but something that each of us must work towards.

Us versus Them Attitude

One of the biggest problems I find with charity – and this is argued well in the readings – is that it reinforces an “us versus them” mentality. Facing my own attitude was one of the many gifts that PNC has given me. When your brokenness is visible, I find that people seem to have a reduced need to hide it and instead are at times shockingly honest. In my early days at PNC, I was commonly asked if I was on welfare. I was always quick to deny it and quick to make it known that I was one of the volunteers – that I was somehow different, and perhaps even better, than them. Ironically, I was on social assistance at the time.

Somehow education, power, ability, socio-economic status determine ‘privilege’. Yet, Choules argues that the “major characteristic of ‘privilege’ is that it is unearned, arbitrary, an accident of birth, the luck of the draw” (Choules, pg. 472). Moreover, privilege is static and can easily be rupture by circumstances (Choules, pg. 473). I needed social assistance after being laid off and not qualifying for unemployment insurance, a situation that I as a young, capable and educated woman never considered would become my reality. Through hearing PNC members’ stories, I have come to realize that we are all only a few steps away from poverty. Martyn Joseph sings of our common humanity, stating that some of us are fragile while others are striving; some of us are fruitful while others are trapped. He sings of how arbitrary our lot in life can be: “It’s a journey, it’s a ramble, it’s a gamble, it’s a phase/ a corridor, a segue way, few hours and several days/ A legacy of poverty, a mishap and a dream/ A walk of benediction, a stumble in the feat” (Joseph, 2006). He concludes that most of us are restless for some reason.

Through hanging out at PNC, I have built meaningful friendships with the ‘outcasts’ of society: the mentally ill, alcoholics, crack addicts, prostitutes and homeless ‘bums’. As we enter the space together, we all are equal and share responsibility in caring and being cared for – so much so that I frequently now forget our differences and simply enjoy hanging out with friends. But this can only happen when we all acknowledge our common humanity – that each of us has strengths and weaknesses, problems, struggles and that each of us has need in some way. Social justice and activism does not require that we are all the same or that we deny the various inequalities that exist. Rather, social justice acknowledges that “[a]ll of us, as members of a society, are in relationships that produce difference” (Bickford and Reynolds, pg. 237).

Conclusion

It is in embracing our common humanity that we move from charity to social justice. That is, we move from an often patronizing position of caring for to standing with our fellow brothers and sisters. When we know these people’s stories and can see ourselves in them and them in us, we can no longer simply turn a blind eye at the systemic problems that continue to keep them in the same status. It is only then that real change can happen.

 

Bibliography

Bickford, Donna M. and Nedra Reynolds (2002). “Activism and Service-Learning: Reframing Volunteerism as Actions of Dissent.” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, 2(2): 229-252

Choules, Kathryn (2007). “The Shifting Sands of Social Justice Discourse: From Situating the Problem with ‘Them’, to Situating it with ‘Us’”. The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 29(5): 461-481

Joseph, Martyn (2006) Some of Us. Deep Blue. CD

Joseph, Martyn (2006) Yet Still this will not be. Deep Blue. CD

Swanson, Jeanette (2001). “Substituting Charity for Justice.” In: Poor Bashing: The Politics of Exclusion (Toronto: Between the Lines), pp. 130-150

I am no longer mine own, but Thine

For the past couple of months, I have been praying through the Northumbria Community’s daily office of prayer. They have morning, mid-day, evening and compline prayers and including at least one of these into my daily life has been a blessing beyond what I can put into words. I enjoy meeting with God and the prayers used seem to meet me where I am at. I don’t know much about the community yet, but I know that they are a dispersed community and at this juncture in my life where free time is limited and my need for a safe haven is great, this seems to be working. I’m going to a retreat on Saturday which I’m pretty excited about and looking forward to connecting with others and to (finally!) take a Sabbath.

Each day there are assigned readings and assigned reflections. Most of them have been beautiful and comforting and frequently very timely.

Yesterday’s was not one of those comforting reflections.

But it’s one that I cannot stop thinking about.

One of my housemates called me a saint and a prophet after bringing home a decorated cupcake for him. Joking aside, I have been told so many times over the past 10-11 years that I have a gift of prophecy – an ability to speak into situations with truth and love.

Problem is – this is not a gift I’ve wanted! I know you don’t get to choose, but honestly – I haven’t seen how this could possibly be a ‘gift’. Prophets aren’t popular. Prophets aren’t well received. Prophets are rejected. Prophets suffer. Gift? – I’m confused! So every time I hear prophet, prophecy, prophetic or any other related words I cringe and instantly repel any attachment to those words. I’ve told God many many times that he needs to find someone else for the job.

This was on my mind yesterday and has been present in many conversations as of late.

Well, wouldn’t you know, the Northumbria Community’s assigned meditation for the day spoke of total surrender to God:

I am no longer my own, but Thine.
Put me to what Thou wilt,
rank me with whom Thou wilt;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;

Now normally such things will make me laugh at God’s awesome sense of humour. But yesterday there was no laughter – but anger and resistance. I could not bring myself to say the words of the prayer. I could not surrender. I could not claim that I am no longer my own, but Thine. Sometimes it is easy to say prayers as a rote exercise. But I could barely read the lines of this prayer let alone pray them. Comfort was definitely not what I felt during prayer yesterday.

This morning, I went to “Wine Before Breakfast” which is a communion service at a ridiculously early time in the morning. It was pretty awesome and great to hang out with some good friends.

the sermon was on romans 5:3-5:

3And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

The preacher make a comment that stuck out to me – no one tells you when you are preparing for ministry that you will suffer. I don’t know what everyone’s experience is, but this struck a chord! ‘Ministry’ is glorified. I’ve been called a saint a lot too as I do good things and people notice. But I don’t remember ever hearing that serving others is filled with suffering! I mean, I have experienced some of that. But I’ve not been warned. Then the preacher spoke of how that suffering has shaped and transformed her and while she doesn’t want to go through those trials again she is thankful for them.

A light bulb went off as I kept reading these three verses.

After communion, a friend of mine sang Land of Hope and Dreams by Bruce Springsteen and tears formed as these words seemed to be meant for me today, right now, right here.

Grab your ticket and your suitcase/ Thunder’s rollin’ down this track/ Well, you don’t know where you’re goin’ now/ But you know you won’t be back/ Well, darlin’ if you’re weary/ Lay your head upon my chest/ We’ll take what we can carry/ Yeah, and we’ll leave the rest

Well, I will provide for you/ And I’ll stand by your side/ You’ll need a good companion now/ For this part of the ride/ Leave behind your sorrows/ Let this day be the last/ Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine/ and all this darkness past

I sat in the chapel and heard God’s promise to be with me. I heard God’s promise to be a refuge in my journey and calling. I heard that suffering is to be embraced for I will be transformed and experience God in new and deeper ways through it.

And I realized that I can now pray the prayer from yesterday.

And mean it.

THE METHODIST COVENANT PRAYER
I am no longer my own, but Thine.
Put me to what Thou wilt,
rank me with whom Thou wilt;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for Thee
or laid aside for Thee;
let me be exalted for Thee,
or brought low for Thee;
let me be full, let me be empty;
let me have all things,
let me have nothing;
I freely and heartily yield all things
to Thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am Thine.
So be it.
And the covenant
which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

 

 

 

Dressing up the Saints

November 1st is All Saints Day, and so this Sunday in Children’s ministry, we had an All Saints Day party. I was delighted to meet two children today – we went from 3-5 kids which is pretty super exciting for me. I’m not into numbers, but this was an event specifically to bring in more people and it worked! I will spare you my rant on institutionalized church and my struggles with it, and what I am finding as I work for a church again (and I should say, none of these struggles are specific to any particular church, but rather church in general).

we talked about some of the great heroes of our faith and why we remember them. We talked about how they can encourage us and how we can live lives pleasing to God now whether we are young or old. A particularly beautiful moment was when we were deciphering the meaning of the prayer of St. francis – and one of the children excitedly claimed “this is so cool!”. How beautiful is that? we played games, decorated cupcakes and made costumes.

I dressed up as St. Francis – one of my personal heroes of the faith. On my way home, I was thinking a lot about how we dress up the saints… our pictures of them leave us with a sense of awe for their holiness and greatness. But these people were as utterly as human as I am. think of paul – who persecuted Christ, Peter who denied Christ, St. Augustine who lived quite the party life prior to conversion and all the other saints who committed abominable things! They are people – with strengths and weaknesses, beauty and ugliness, who built people up and tore people down.

The life of the Christian is far more messy than the stained glass windows and beautiful choral arrangements depict.

Also, there is a cost. When Christ said to pick up your cross and follow him, he wasn’t kidding. Today, in my robe, I was thinking about St. Francis and how he came from a rich family that had their own business and he was to carry out the tradition of the family. Instead he chose poverty and to live among the poor and devote his life to Christ and those whom Christ loves. Sounds lovely. But he was disowned by his family.

I remember during my early university years, a young girl from a country where Christians are persecuted started hanging out with me. I had the huge privilege of being with her as she prayed for Christ to become the saviour of her life. But I remember feeling the pain in my heart at what she would experience when she headed home. Would she be able to tell others of her new found joy?

I struggle as a Sunday school director to think of how to best teach Scripture. I mean, Sunday school lessons tidy up messy stories so nicely. we pick verses that we like and sound nice and teach them while leaving out the rest of the verses. Whenever people quote scripture at me and construct a theology on a handful of verses, I like to bring up that scripture also speaks of bashing babies’ heads against the rocks. Funny, in a year of reading through the lectionary, I’ve never come across that verse.

My faith was mocked growing up. I remember sharp words of my parents both before and after I left home that cut deep. I stood up for justice, truth and peace. I said that something was horribly wrong and could no longer happen. And when I wasn’t listened too, I brought another person into the picture to confront my parents. And when all else failed, I invoked the justice system. The cost has been great. I lost my family. I have a brother who I have never met and whose birthdate remains a complete mystery to me. I’ve missed 8 1/2 years of my siblings’ lives and I see pictures and online videos of them – and while I beam with pride over them, my heart breaks for I do not know them, and they do not know me. I have struggled with faith – for how could a good God allow such suffering? And how could he not answer an earnest young girl’s pleas for safety?

Sunday school never taught me the messiness of faith. The cleaned up stories in Genesis ignored the constant brokenness and dysfunctional families. My growing up never taught me that my greatest experience’s of God’s love and presence would be infused into the worst moments of my life. I heard about the glorified saints ignoring their sinfulness.

I am not sure how you teach a child about the messiness of faith.

Sometimes when I think about the life I think it is complete absurdity. I remember the most vivid experience of God’s presence with, around and in me – it was in a brutal cross examination that just moments before I had said I give up standing. I remember the most vivid experience of God’s love and that was when I took matters into my own hands and attempted an complete end to my suffering. I remember the most powerful moment of God working in the midst of all the mess when my grandfather greeted me with a warm hug at my grandmother’s funeral at which I was definitely not welcome and not included in the “family”.

Faith is absurd.

But there is strength in the absurd. This was a gift given to me a long time ago by good old Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). I devoured his books during my philosophy years and he spoke of living on the strength of the absurd, a notion that inspires much of my life and also the name of this blog. God’s ways are a complete mystery sometimes – absurd even. But there is strength – so much strength – in living the life of faith with all its absurdity.

I used to have a quote on the door of my apartment to remind myself daily of Kierkegaard’s words of wisdom: “Faith, then, must constantly cling firmly to the Teacher”

As I think about the saints – what they seem to have in common is this – they strive to constantly cling to their Teacher. Imperfect, incomplete and inconsistent, albeit – but they seem to have the understanding that their strength came from constantly clinging to their Teacher.