If Not For Love

If Not For Love... project video thumbnail

Image used with permission from ifnotforlove.com.

Social media has become a bit of a scary thing in the last several months. The amount of hate, anger, fear, and animosity floating around in cyberspace is brutal. The most gut-wrenching part of the social media nightmare has been the fact that the loudest voices in the hate campaign have often been those who profess Christianity. It would seem that some have completely missed the Christ of Christianity in their frantic search of Scripture to clobber their neighbor and annihilate their enemies in the merciless war of us-against-them.

Hostile environments are poison to the human soul that craves love and acceptance, and possesses the distinct need to be valued. Up until recently, my experience of hate was confined to social media and I could just turn it off when it got to be too much. This is because, living in Toronto, I was fairly insulated from the madness by a friend circle of like-minded social justice enthusiasts, activists, and advocates. Kingdom minded individuals who love Jesus and love people wholeheartedly and without reserve. But moving away from my little community has been a rude awakening of sorts. Because even as a follower of Jesus, my questioning of status quo (see my previous few posts) has been strictly frowned upon. And the loss of a safe space to be myself has been painful.

Speaking of pain and struggle, some of the issues that have been at the forefront of my mind lately are the Black Lives Matter movement, the LGBTQ+ struggle, and the Syrian refugee crisis. All I know is that Jesus taught us to love our neighbor, to treat others the way we would want to be treated. And as it stands, I can only imagine what it would be like if I was a refugee, or a young black man, or a lesbian, or a part of a group that is systemically and systematically marginalized and alienated. If my questions about faith have raised a ruckus that I could not have foreseen amongst those who claim to be the most spiritual, I can only imagine what my brothers and sisters are going through in their struggle to be seen, heard, and valued.

And so, I want to add my voice to those of the few dissidents who preach another way, a shift away from the dichotomous rigidity of who’s right versus who’s wrong, towards a revolutionary understanding of the Kingdom of God espoused by the revolutionary Jesus of the Gospels. The same Jesus who loved all people including the children, the outcasts, the transgressors, the nobodies, the weirdos, the misfits, the untouchables, the unworthy, and literally everyone He came into contact with—or we could say He orchestrated contact with.

Jesus regularly crossed social boundaries and smashed religious customs to demonstrate a new Kingdom that revolves on “an axis of love expressed in forgiveness”, and valuing people no matter what their social location. The same Jesus denounced the religious leaders and self-righteous teachers of the law and deliberately demonstrated mercy and grace. Jesus revealed the truth that God the Father is not full of wrath and vengeance, but God is Love. Jesus showed us that God is Abba, merciful, gracious, and tender-hearted towards His children.

So why do I care about social media? Because it reflects real life struggles, and real life wars that being waged daily, and real human fear expressed as anger against real human pain. And because social media can be a tool for social justice and be force of incredible good in the world. And every so often, you will be presented with an opportunity to show love and make a tangible difference in someone’s life. You can’t solve every problem, but here’s one that you can do something about. And so, my original intent in writing this post (before I went on a bit of a tangent) was to highlight a brilliant opportunity. It’s a campaign that has been popping up on my social media feed lately called “If Not For Love”.

“If Not For Love” addresses one of the three issues I mentioned earlier—the Syrian refugee crisis. This campaign is a refreshing change from all the fear and negativity that seems to otherwise be a constant. Esther is a family friend and we briefly went to middle school together way back when my family lived in Portland, Oregon. She is also a singer songwriter and has been involved in some amazing work. I would encourage you to check out the “If Not For Love” campaign here. And get yourself, and a sister or brother seeking refuge, a sweater in this one-for-one type project. They deliver to almost anywhere so you can order if you live in the U.S., Canada, India, etc. I’m heading over to the “If Not For Love” Kickstarter page right now to do what I can. As some of you know, I am taking a sort of sabbatical and have no income to speak of, but this campaign is one bright spot in an otherwise dark situation. And so, I’m going to do the little bit that I can. And I encourage you to do the same.

A couple final comments. First, I’m generally not in favor of one-for-one campaigns (e.g. Toms, etc.) because pumping consumer goods into another country’s flailing economy is more harmful than beneficial. However, here’s what I found under the FAQ section, in answer to the question “Who is distributing these sweaters?”

“Our contact on the ground, Julia. She has been living in Germany working at refugee camps for some time. She has recently moved to Bulgaria and is aiding people in multiple places. She will personally be receiving the shipment and ensuring it not only gets to where it should go, but is handed out with the heart that we have. This has been one of the most incredible and special parts of the project.”

Basically, the sweaters are going to someone on the ground with firsthand knowledge of the people and the issues. Furthermore, I think the refugee crisis is a unique situation. And most importantly, Esther is not a corporation looking to score brownie points for social awareness. She is an individual looking for a way to make a real and lasting impact both for the refugees who are in need and the people who have a heart to help in any way they can. So there you go! There are two weeks left on the campaign and you still have time to be a part of it!

Lastly, the sweaters look awesome. And they come in a cool bag. And you even get a digital copy of the song “If Not For Love” written and performed by Esther herself. AND you get your name and selfie on the wall of thanks at ifnotforlove.com. So do it for the sweater, do it for the song, do it for the bag, do it for the people who could use a warm sweater this winter, and do it because you believe in Love. Because in a world full of hate and fear, love is the only antidote.

Grace and peace.

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Navigating New Realities

The hardest part about moving to a new place and having to start over isn’t so much the learning new things and adjusting to a new way of life. The hardest part is having to start all my relationships over again from scratch. Assumptions come easy when knowledge is lacking. I could make a seemingly outrageous statement to my friends, and they would be able to quickly file it within the context of their understanding of me. With strangers or acquaintances, even simple statements take on meanings that were never intended.

It goes without saying that being here has increased the love and appreciation I have for my amazing friends, supervisors, mentors, mentees, and well-wishers back home. To all of you dear ones who have been a part of my life for the past seven years of being in Toronto, you are incredibly loved, appreciated, valued, and missed.

There is a type of security in familiarity and that’s why new environments can seem threatening and overwhelming at times. You suddenly find that you have to explain yourself in situations that were previously settled. Or you suddenly have to defend yourself in situations where your friends would have naturally had your back. And yet, this is part and parcel of the relocation story. (Let’s be real though. A significant part of the struggle is the fact that I’ve moved into a culture that sees the world so vastly different that I do. The cognitive dissonance is off the charts. The double binds are debilitating. But I’ll save my thoughts on that for another post.)

Thankfully, I’ve been through this before and I can do it again. Thankfully, I know who I am better today than I did yesterday. And thankfully, I’m not invested in others’ opinions of me because that’s a losing game from every perspective. I keep having to remind myself that the journey never promised that I would be understood or appreciated. The journey only promises adventure, and a hell of a brilliant story on the other side.

So this is my journey. If there is some part of it that you don’t like or don’t agree with, take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is not your journey, it’s mine. You are welcome to walk some of the way with me, or the whole way with me, or none of the way with me. Your call. And for whatever part of my journey you share, whether two miles or a lifetime, I acknowledge your investment and extend my deepest gratitude.

What I’ve learned over the years is that approval is irrelevant and unnecessary. Stop waiting for it. It won’t get you where you want or need to go. And it will be like walking with weights on. The simple fact of the matter is that you can’t keep everyone happy with you all the time. So let go of your need for approval because it is exhausting carrying that load around. Trust your inner compass. It will not point you wrong. 

Lastly, if you’re out there and you’re going through a tough time, I feel you. And I offer you this closing thought: Adversity is the trial of soul that develops the grit of character. You may have to reach deeper than you have ever reached before to find the will to endure. But you must not retreat. Let the process refine you. You will emerge with a strength that you may not recognize as your own. But that strength is you, dear one. That depth, that grit, that overcoming spirit—that’s your God-given instinct. You’ve got what it takes. So onward.

Heart-Shaped Clouds

 
“Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” James 1:17

My brief encounter with agnosticism (described in my last post) was short-lived. And the reason why is simple. I kept finding God. Or I should say, God kept finding me. He didn’t need a preacher to preach Him back to me. He didn’t do it with an altar call with softly playing emotional music in the background. And I didn’t have some larger-than-life come-to-Jesus moment. The fact is that I found God in everything that was good and perfect in my life.

I found Him in the loving, supportive friendships that have blessed my life immensely. I found Him in fellowship over good food and long talks late into the night. I found Him on long drives and stopping to have solo picnics in random green spaces. I found Him in the calm that settled me during times of prayer, meditation, and contemplation. I found Him in the peace that was a constant in times of doubt and questioning.

I found Him in the skate boarding adventures and belly laughs with my niece Rochelle. I found Him in the brush of leaves on the tall trees along my hiking path. I found Him in the way my supervisor valued and appreciated my contributions at work. I found Him in the gratitude of clients whose lives were being changed. I found Him in the little blessings—the parking space, the stranger’s smile, bubble tea from Chatime, and the tickle of grass on my bare feet.

I found Him in heart shaped clouds and ladybugs that kept showing up all through the summer of 2015. I found Him in my quiet times. I found Him in sunrises and sunsets. I found Him in the serenity of the wildflowers that grew along the side of the road. I found Him every time I stopped to gaze up into the starry night sky. I found Him in how my Mississauga family loved, accepted, and cared for me.

I found Him in the new found freedom that I felt. I found Him in “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. I found Him in the “unforced rhythms of grace”. I found Him in recognizing the sacredness of the present moment. And as I write this, I find Him in the tears that fill my eyes as I think about how overwhelmingly good He has been to me.

I found Him.

I believe in a loving and merciful Father. One whom I can call “Abba! Daddy!” One who sees me as daughter and delights in me. His ways are higher. His thoughts are deeper. I don’t need proof of His existence. I’m okay with not knowing because having faith doesn’t mean having all the answers. In Him I live and move and exist.

When I love my neighbor, He is there. When I bless my enemy, He is there. When I give water to a thirsty person, He is there. When I smile at a stranger, He is there. When I care for the planet, He is there. When I hug a friend, when I affirm and value people, when I encourage another soul, He is so close. When I allow my heart to be broken for what breaks His, He is glorified in me. When I question and doubt and wrestle, He leans in.

Let me not end without telling you where I didn’t find Him. I didn’t find Him in the people who kept wagging their fingers and waving their Bibles in my face. I didn’t find Him in their admonishments and accusations of rebellion and backsliding. I didn’t find Him in the four walls of any type of exclusive organization, including the church. I didn’t find Him in the popular Christian one-liners and judgmental jabs floating around on social media. I didn’t find Him in “love the sinner, hate the sin”. I found Him in love. Period.

God will always and ever only be found in love. Because He is love. He loves us, and his love enables us to love ourselves and love others. And the invitation to “taste and see” that He is good still stands. It is not an invitation to sin less, but an invitation to love more. It is an invitation to accept the finished work of the cross, to make room for mercy and throw the welcome mat for grace. Because it is always God’s kindness that leads to a change of heart. Because mercy always triumphs over judgement. And because love conquers all.

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

May you find Him today in all that is truly good. May you open your heart to His magnificent love. May you come to know how much your Father takes pleasure in you, His precious child.

Grace and peace to you my dearly beloveds.

The Universe Washed My Feet

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“Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean.” – Jesus Christ

Unraveling

2015 was a significant year for me. During the end of 2014 and heading into 2015, I had hit an all time low, the circumstances of which are omitted for personal reasons. Essentially, I was angry, restless, hurting, and my faith was unraveling. I felt divided, conflicted, limited and frustrated. But in the midst of this deep emotional pain, I decided that 2015 was going to be a “year of soul-rest”. I had just finished reading “Soul Keeping” by John Ortberg and vowed that I didn’t need the hustle and the grind. What I needed was rest and a new way of being, of living in the “unforced rhythms of grace”. I was sick of American Christianity, Biblicalism, and happy clappy Pentecostalism that was useless for anything save for taking up all your volunteer hours and extra money.

Shift

In 2015, I decided to follow my heart. I decided to not care what people thought about it. I traveled the world and went on road trips. I spent all my extra time reading, writing, walking in the woods, and swimming at my local pool. I left my church and started doing yoga, meditating, and generally taking care of me and putting my own needs first. I called it “soul care”. And I refused to have any guilt about it.

I’ve heard plenty about sin, selfishness, rebellion, and backsliding. And I’ve had quite enough of it. I’ve come a long way from where I was, but I’m not completely healed from the wounds inflicted by controlling, fear-mongering religious tribalism. And those topics simply trigger traumatic memories for me. If you’re not where I am, that’s okay. I’m not saying you should be. I respect your position. I only ask that you respect mine.

Truthfully, this was not the first time I found myself in a dark place. It was familiar because I had been there before. Only this time, I was older, wiser, and more experienced. I was able to shift from simply an intuitive sense that something was wrong, to having the experience and the language to tell my story and hold my own. I didn’t have to succumb to people’s interpretations about the status of my relationship with God, and their pious admonishments to “pray about it”.

Deconstruction

Most significantly for me, I entered a period of deconstruction. I took apart my faith, piece by piece, statute and tenet, and stared the thing down to try and see it for what it was. I asked myself why I believed as I did. And whether it was producing good fruit in my life, or just more anxiety and depression. Were my beliefs leading me to become more like Jesus? Or was I becoming more rigid, close minded, resentful, un-loving, and un-forgiving? But more than all that, did all this stuff that I supposedly believed even make any sense? Because Christians were starting to become the very people I wanted to stay as far away from as possible. The hate, the mean-spiritedness, the self-righteousness, and the Bible-thumping, it was all too much.

In this process of deconstructing faith, I started having more questions than answers. My views on everything were starting to change. Or I guess I should say they had changed, and I was finally accepting it. This was scary and exciting all at the same time. I became fearful about how the people close to me would take it. And yet I felt relieved because the questions felt lighter than the weight I had carried around for so long thinking that it was “my cross to bear”.

I found Brennan Manning, Dallas Willard, Sarah Bessey, The Liturgists, Science Mike, Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, Gungor, and Brian Zhand to name a few. These amazing Christian people who I never knew existed helped me put words to what I was thinking, feeling, and experiencing. It was comforting to know that others had been in my shoes and shared some of my views, but my faith was clearly coming apart at the seams. Everything that I previously thought settled, was up for debate. And yet in the midst of all of it, the world was becoming a beautiful place again.

Godless

I distinctly remember one day when I was on one of my walks along a trail I regularly took. On this particular day, I left the trail to get close to the water. As I approached the stream that ran through the park, I watched as the water gushed past and the rock face on the far side stared back in all its majesty, juxtaposed to my smallness in such a grand space. For most of my life, in moments like these, my first thought is to pray and thank God for His Creation. I started to gather my thoughts, but could not do it. Because in that moment, I wasn’t sure what the meaning of prayer was anymore. I wasn’t sure if there was any Being on the other end listening to my deepest cries. I wasn’t sure if I even cared. In fact, I had no desire to involve God or the idea of God. I slowly came to realize that I wasn’t sure God even existed. And the mental gymnastics required to make it all make sense was silenced.

I thought it would be scary to lose God. But standing there at the water’s edge, breathing in the glorious Canadian air, I realized that it really didn’t matter. Because this earth was beautiful. This stream was life-giving. The rock face was gorgeous. The universe was fascinating. And my body is literally made of stardust and cosmos. How lucky am I to be alive and to be a part of it all, even if only for a fleeting moment, a tiny micro-blip of existence in the larger timeline! In all my thirty-one years of living, I had never doubted the existence of God. And yet, that moment of doubt was remarkably peaceful. The earth didn’t swallow me up. The sky was still as blue as ever. There was no fear. The simplicity of the moment was disarming. And I felt the weight of thirty one years of evangelical charismatic bible-thumping Christianity fall off my shoulders for the first time. I felt free.

Free

Free to be authentically me. Free to think my own thoughts and not somebody’s interpretation of what “God’s Word says”. Free from the crushing weight of “trust and obey”, original sin, eternal death, literal hell, the B-I-B-L-E, God’s wrath, missing the mark, missing the rapture, and even fear itself. I could let go of all the toxicity that was slowly killing me. I threw out all my ideas of “sin” and decided that I don’t want to keep seeing myself as intrinsically bad or depraved or evil or fallen. I stopped seeing myself as a “sinner” or even “saved by grace”, and started seeing myself as a human, perfectly imperfect, and figuring it out as I go along. Whatever I hadn’t already dropped along my journey, fell to the wayside now. Mostly, I stopped trying so hard to believe something I couldn’t even palate anymore. Nothing was certain, and that was okay. Because everything was left to be discovered and that was far more exciting.

The Universe Washed My Feet

Religion didn’t matter. God didn’t matter. Spirituality didn’t matter. Everyone’s opinions and ideas didn’t matter. The Book with all its translations and interpretations didn’t matter. It was just me, the sky, the trees, the clouds, the rock face, the flowers, the stream. I breathed deep of freedom and responded to the urge to slip off my sneakers and wade into the water. The rocks were slippery beneath my feet and the cool stream water washed over me, cleansing, purifying, and healing my soul. The moment was nothing short of ordinary and miraculous all at the same time. And strangely enough, I don’t see that as ironic. The old was washed away and I was made new, alive, whole, and free. I felt at one with myself and one with nature. The very breath of life was breathing in me.

I lost God. And the universe washed my feet. Because God was not lost.

God

God has always been there. And now, I no longer have to confine Him to the box of one subset of a subset of a faith tradition that has gone off the rails in recent years. God is bigger, more expansive, more awesome, more marvelous than my mind can contain and I discover Him daily.

Furthermore, I am open to learning about other faith traditions. I do not think myself to have the monopoly on truth. I am not here to convert anyone, which allows me to be genuinely interested in people and their stories without an ulterior motive. I’m here to engage dialogue. If you like who I am and how I live, you are welcome to join my journey. I do my best to love, respect and value people simply because we are all part of the human family, and not because we think the same and believe the same. We’re all here together on God’s pale blue dot, and we’re all figuring out this life together. So let’s be kinder to each other. Let’s forgive and show mercy. Let’s lift up and encourage each other. Let’s be more like the Jesus we claim to serve.

I am no longer cautious about saying that I am for justice and social progress. I affirm the LGBTQ+ community. I support marriage equality. I am excited about scientific discovery and progress. I consider evolution as the natural, scientifically verifiable method by which we are all here today. I view the Bible as a collection of personal stories of people and their experiences with the Almighty. And as such, I see the God of the Bible as ever always inclined to draw near to His children. In the life of Jesus Christ, I see the very image of God made human. In Jesus I see mercy triumph over judgment. I see acceptance and kindness. I see authenticity and truth. I see the purest form of Love that lays its life down for people. In Jesus, I see God.

I lost God. And the universe washed my feet. Because God was not lost. He is bigger than my being able to lose Him. He is present in the questions. He is faithful in the doubt. Because I don’t know what I don’t know. Neither can I pretend to know it. And that’s okay. Because even when I lost God, God was not lost. He had the universe wash my feet.

The Adventure Heart

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Hello again blogosphere! I’ve been in the midst of transition over the past couple months, hence the infrequent posts. I made the giant leap from my relatively comfortable, cushioned, Canadian lifestyle into the unknown of the bustling, glorious, and polluted city of Mumbai, India. This has been a dream of mine since forever ago, and it feels totally surreal to be finally here. Life and the day to day is vastly different in some ways and not so different in other ways. But here I am, hopes and dreams tucked carefully into my back pocket, and enough excitement to push through these first days and weeks.

A life change of this magnitude begs a few reasonable questions and a host of uninvited other questions that serve no purpose but to make you feel like an idiot. No, I don’t speak fluent Hindi. No, I don’t have some grand master plan for success. No, I have never lived in India before. Yes, I might run out of money. Yes, I might be insane. Yes, I might get sick, or hurt, or ripped off, or raped. (Yeah, I’ve heard about and considered it all.)

Let’s be real. The shift has been equal parts excitement and fear. Well, it started out mostly as excitement until a few well-meaning people decided to “help” by whittling away at my perhaps naive confidence with their own worries, fears, and insecurities. But I think I like my naivete just fine, thank you very much. It has lent itself to far more fascinating adventures than playing it safe ever did. In fact, I might not even call it naivete, it’s my adventure heart. That being said, after listening to everyone’s “advice”, I’ve decided that I’m dealing with enough of my own insecurities to be carrying around yours. So thanks, but no thanks.

If I’ve learned anything in the short span of life that I’ve lived, it is that failure isn’t a real thing. It’s simply a perception of a set of events. Think about it. Failure is an abstract idea that represents undesired outcomes. The one thing that keeps myself and a lot of people from taking chances is the fear of failure. That’s why I won’t give myself any ultimatums. It is what it is. Life is what it is. And it will be what it will be. I don’t think about failure. I think about adventure.

The saddest part of this process for me has been the discouragement coming from people who are “watching out for me”. Here’s the thing though, there will always be naysayers. The naysayers are there if you do everything right. They are there if you do anything wrong. The naysayers come at you with questions they think you haven’t thought about. The naysayers will tell you all about their own experiences of dashed expectations. The naysayers always start by claiming that they “want what is best for you” but the negativity they vomit into your life is hard to clean up. And even after you clean up, the stench is unforgiving. The naysayers show up and will continue to show up at the most inopportune moments with their pseudo-certainty to dissuade every adventure heart decision.

But with all my ranting about naysayers, I have to say that I am so very thankful to the encouragers, the cheerleaders, the you-can-do-it kind of people who embody the positivity that paves the way to revolution. Because sometimes the odds are stacked against you, but they don’t have to be a deterrent. The struggle is real but it is worth it. Because I will learn. I will grow. I will adapt. I will overcome. And I will thrive. If not right away then eventually. It would be accurate to say that the line between courage and stupidity is a fine one. But so be it. Because nothing great was ever achieved by playing it safe. And failure? Failure is nothing.

Grace and peace my dearly beloveds.

Partner. Not Helper.

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About a year and a half ago, I was talking about feminism with a very intellectual cousin of mine and he asked me whether I was egalitarian or complementarian. While I had heard these terms tossed around before, I actually had very little knowledge as to what they referred to and their implications. So I bumbled through my answer steering clear of big terms and explained how I saw marriage as a partnership between two people. And by partnership, I mean equal sharing of everything from tasks around the house, parenting, future planning, etc. and supporting each other towards our hopes and dreams. I also happen to think that fathers need to be just as present in terms of primary caregiving and childrearing as mothers (even the research supports this!). I am generally squeamish about the “homemaker/helper/helpmeet” ideal set forth by an alarming number of traditional Christians. And I sure as hell don’t think that motherhood is my highest calling. No offence to those of you who do.

And then I forgot about that whole discussion…until the beginning of this year when Nick and I decided to get back together (that’s another story) and get married. So it all started when one of his close friends and mentors started asking questions and wanted to provide him/us with premarital counselling. In this process, I got asked a lot of questions along the lines of how I can support him as a wife in the work that he is engaged in, what submission means to me, who had the final say in decision making, and discussions around how this mentor would raise girls a certain way and boys (a very different) certain way, etc. These questions and ensuing discussions came from a book on marriage by John Piper. I had alarm bells going off in my head but I did not have the words to describe my panic nor the language to hold my own in the discussion.

A couple months later, I discovered that the mentor had provided Nick with a copy of the book “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood” also by John Piper. If the title of that book isn’t enough to raise your eyebrows, I will take a moment to explain that John Piper is of the Reformed branch of theology handed down from the teachings of John Calvin from which we have Calvinism and the TULIP five points. Feel free to look it up. This book with its ideas and imaginings of biblical manhood and womanhood is the manual for what they call complementarianism, which is basically patriarchy repackaged for the Christian world. (For the record, Nick does not subscribe to this theology and we’ve had multiple discussions around us being a partnership and will continue to have discussions as and when these issues come up. Also, the mentor that I refer to is someone I have a lot of respect for, so we agree to disagree on these matters.)

Complementarianism purports the view that men have primary leadership roles and functions while women are limited to supportive roles and functions. Men are to “lead, provide for, and protect women” while women are to “affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership” from men. Piper even goes so far as to provide a list of ministry positions that are appropriate for men versus those that are appropriate for women. Piper says in Chapter 1, “To the degree that a women’s influence over man is personal and directive, it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s given order.” He goes on to use the example of a female drill sergeant who couldn’t possibly have male subordinates without “violating their sense of masculinity and her sense of femininity”. Are you effing kidding me?! I wonder what Piper would say to me if he ever found out that I discuss men’s sex lives with them, challenge their cognitive distortions, and give directives on a regular basis, for a living! It doesn’t get much more personal and directive than that. Based on this convoluted notion, I have been violating my sense of femininity for the past five years. Clearly, I fail at complementarianism.

In the preface of the book, Piper suggests that there are some people who call themselves “evangelical feminists” who would disagree with his ideals but that his way is the biblical way. On feminism, he laments that it is “a controversy of major proportions [that] has spread through the church”. Oh please! Let me just say, I am one of those “feminists” and I outright reject Piper’s propositions. Additionally, while his ideas may have been taken from a literal reading of Scripture, I do not believe that they reflect the overarching theme of Scripture and God at work in the lives of His children. In fact, when we trace history, we see the God of the Bible at the leading bleeding edge of social progress. Even those Old Testament passages that cause us to wince at their mention were advocating for justice that was ahead of its time. Hence, it is rather disturbing and disheartening that Christians in the 21st Century seem to be caught in a backwards spiral and are no longer the frontrunners in the movement towards social justice and progress. I would argue that it is precisely worldviews such as those of Piper around this so-called biblical manhood and biblical womanhood that have arrested the very developments that Christians have historically been known for.

Complementarianism is an idea so abrasive to me that if this misogyny is actually part and parcel of following Christ, then I want nothing to do with Christ. Thankfully, I don’t believe it is. And so, having lived my empowered feminist life as an independent woman in the big city, I would rather do a thousand other things than submit myself to such a backwards notion—biblical or otherwise. And so, needless to say, I’m a tad apprehensive of the world I’m about to step into. Many of the Christians I have met in India seem to be Piper fans, and if they haven’t heard of Piper, their cultural leanings are dangerously patriarchal. Does that scare me? Sure it does. But fear is not a good enough reason to steer clear of adventure. Never has been, never will be. My answer to the call of adventure is and always will be a clear and resolute yes! And so, it is likely that my way of being in the world will have to adjust slightly, but who I am fundamentally is not going to change. This may result in a tornado of sorts as pressure systems collide and cultures clash, but at least when the dust settles, I will know that I have been true to who I am as a woman, as a child of God, and as a wife and partner.

A Letter to Creativity

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Dear Creativity,

I’m sorry it’s been so long. You were my saving grace in childhood, before I dismissed you so callously and without consideration. I saw you in me as being somehow less than you in another. I disowned you by discounting myself as worthy enough to be graced by your presence. I ignored you and thought you were for the weirdoes, the underachievers, and the crazies. I curtailed my curiosity for fear of insanity, and ignored inspiration. I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I stopped drawing and singing, writing and crafting, doodling and fiddling with everything my hands could find. I’m sorry I stopped playing music and embracing silliness and daydreaming to pass the time. I’m sorry I stopped making up poems and plays and attempting improbabilities. I’m sorry I rejected the beauty of bewilderment for timidity and boredom for the sake of conventionality. I’m sorry I tamed my imagination and stopped taking risks. I’m sorry I exchanged adventure for the comfort of safety, and traded vitality for security.

But I want you back. I want reckless abandon and childlike wonder. I want to write. To innovate. To inspire. To create. To risk. To explore. To expose. To embrace. So let’s go somewhere we’ve never been. Let’s blaze a trail, explore a whim. Let’s dance and eat and fall in love all over again.

I promise I will do my best to nurture you, to hold you close, albeit loosely. I promise to love you, to cherish you, to savour you. I promise to unhinge the shame from my creative process. We don’t have to make amazing art, or amazing anything. We just have to make. We don’t have to wow the world. And we don’t have to be perfect. We just have to be.

We can be public or personal, poem or prose, primitive or sophisticated. We can be clean and proper. Or we can push the limits. We can be sensual and witty, and entirely extraordinary. But let’s run away together. Because the monotony of safety will be the death of me.

And dearest Creativity, thank you for finding me again. Thank you for giving me another chance and believing in me and helping me believe in myself.

So today, I reinstate you as part of my identity.

Your very own,

BGJ, Creative Soul

Healing Practices: Walking

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It all started with this iPhone app I downloaded last summer that tracks the number of steps I take in a day. My goal is 10,000 steps a day, which is what the app recommended for weight control. And so began the long walks, which quickly became a favourite summer activity, whenever I was able to make it happen. Ten thousand steps usually takes me about an hour and a half of walking and/or jogging, on top of my regular (mostly sedentary) day.

If you think that walking is boring, there are ways to make it a fun and interesting activity. One thing I like to do while walking is listen to podcasts. There are so many good podcasts out there and such a wealth of information. (I’ll write a post on my favourite podcasts soon.) If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that another thing I like to do on my walks is stop to appreciate the flowers and sometimes take pictures of them. I also like keeping an eye on the sky because clouds and sunsets take my breath away. When I’m walking a trail, I like listening to the sound of birds, the crunch of dirt on the path under my feet, the water rushing downstream, the leaves blowing against each other with the wind, and whatever else happens to be in the soundscape.

Long walks are rejuvenating for your body and your brain. Research shows remarkable mental and physical health benefits to taking walks. They help declutter your soul, bring clarity to your mind, and are good for your heart (both your physical heart and your emotional heart). And it’s a great problem solving activity. Sometimes, when I’m working on a paper for school, after I’ve done all my information gathering and just before, or midway through, the writing process, I leave everything and take a half hour walk. This activates a flow state and my papers turn out better than if I had sat there and worked straight through. Usually when I’m walking to help clear my mind or problem solve, I don’t listen to podcasts, instead I turn my attention to my surroundings and practice being mindful and completely present where I am.

I’d encourage you to find some time, today or this week, to leave your house, pick a direction, and walk. And while you’re walking, be in the moment and enjoy your surroundings. You will feel lighter, happier, more alive, and accomplished. And don’t take just my word for it. Steve Jobs walked. Beethoven walked. Darwin walked. Dickens walked. Jesus walked. Poets and prophets, gurus and pundits, business people, inventors, engineers, artists, scientists, musicians, the unemployed, and many other brilliant people made the practice of walking a part of their lives, and they were better for it.

Grace and peace.

Healing Practices: Yoga

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In the midst of everything that has been going on in my life (transformation, transition, deconstruction, etc.), I have been utilizing a handful of what I like to call healing practices to help my soul recalibrate and find center again. These healing practices, or centering rituals, or whatever you want to call them, are the activities that I am building into my life in this season in order to maintain balance and sanity. I will share each one in a different post and they will be part of a series that I’m calling “Healing Practices”. This one is about my path to participating in the practice of yoga.

My journey with yoga hasn’t always been a fond one. Growing up as a charismatic-evangelical-pentecostal-Christian kid, and my parents being Indian, yoga was strictly frowned upon as being derived from Hindu and New Age religious practices that would invite demons into our lives if we ever tried it. (I’m not even joking.) This (mis)information has kept a lot of people missing out on a valuable practice.

When I started working in the field of mental health five years ago, I learned that yoga is incredibly effective in treating trauma. Trauma is held in the muscles, bones, joints and sinews of our physical bodies. Traumatic experiences literally live in the body’s implicit memories, and is often experienced as chronic pain or other chronic conditions. The focus on body work, breathing, balance, etc. are all effective techniques for healing the damage of trauma and alleviating symptoms of anxiety, depression, and a number of other mental health related problems. But I was skeptical. My fundamental Christian worldview stood as a giant barrier to considering otherwise.

Eventually, I started hearing stories about people’s experience with yoga and noticed that none of them appeared to be demon possessed. And in fact, it was a great addition to their fitness routine and useful for coping with stress. So I considered trying it.

My first experience with yoga was joining a giant Sunday morning class a couple years ago at the Lulu Lemon store in the Yorkville area of Toronto. It was enjoyable in general, but my wrists (still weak from an old Starbucks injury) simply couldn’t handle all the downward dog poses. And, quite honestly, it seemed like white, young adult, hipster females had hijacked the practice, and I wasn’t too interested in joining the trend.

My second experience with yoga was when my sister invited me to go to a class with her. She had taken up the practice and found it calming and rejuvenating. I wasn’t convinced. But I went with her anyway because I had read and heard about all the theoretical benefits to yoga, and I trust my sister. This yoga class was less hipster but I couldn’t keep up with its pace and my wrists still hurt. I also didn’t feel very connected to the practice and mostly just felt like an imposter. At that point, I decided that yoga wasn’t for me and didn’t bother with it for another six months. Even after I took up meditation as a regular practice, I kept yoga at a distance.

About a month ago, I purchased a fitness membership at my local community centre. My plan was to swim, work out in the gym, and maybe take a couple group exercise classes when I was feeling brave and up to it. The first class I signed up for was half and half of low impact cardio and yoga. I will write about my experience in some of these classes in another post, but the ½ hour yoga practice was truly sublime. It connected with me in such a profound way that I had to seek out more. I found another yoga class the next morning and went to it. Even with a different instructor, it was soothing to my soul. So basically, I’ve attended a yoga session four out of the last six days. And my plan for this week includes a yoga class almost every day.

The most intriguing part of the process for me has been how it flushes out pent up emotion from my system. It helps me unwind from work and sleep better. It helps me process my thoughts in effective and positive ways. And it helps to clear and calm my mind. Sometimes, the slowing down and breathing process as I enter into a practice period is enough to move me emotionally. And as the session continues, I literally work and stretch and squeeze those emotions out of my body and out of my mind. Sometimes, at the end of practice, as I’m driving home, I’m overcome with tears. But they are tears of cleansing and renewal and healing. It’s beautiful and I am now a believer in the power of this ancient practice.

If you’re looking for something to work your body and mind, to promote balance and strength, and bring healing to places of pain or bad memories, I highly recommend trying a basic yoga practice. Sometimes, you need a few introductions before you get to know someone, and few roadsigns pointing to the path before you get to walking along it. I hope this can be a sign along your path. And I hope to keep yoga in my repertoire of healing practices for as long as it serves me.

Grace and peace.

The Shunning

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In light of the backlash that came with my recent post “7 Reasons to Leave a Church”, I would like to take a moment and say thank you to every single person who reached out by liking, commenting, sharing, or sending me a private message in response.

It turns out that something as simple as a Facebook “like”, in this situation, carried the weight of a public statement. And so to the brave souls who dared to stand up with me and endure the bullying and rejection, I salute you. Your courage inspires me.

To those of you who messaged me privately, I want to express my gratitude. Huge thanks to all of you who took the time out of your day to write to me about your own experiences. Your messages have been a source of encouragement and I cannot thank you enough.

Of all the emotions I’ve experienced since the big exit and trying to heal from that mess, nothing has been stranger, but also confirmation that I made the right decision, than the social media shunning that followed.

It’s a peculiar phenomenon directly related to the fact that we live in a world ruled by social media. It reminds me of the concept of excommunication, in which a person is cut off from the larger religious group by being deprived, suspended, or limited in their participation with, or membership in, the group because they did something that was frowned upon by the group. Today, it could be argued that excommunication is a virtual spectacle in which the offending party gets iced out on social media. No more likes. No more comments. Unfollow. Unfriend. Block.

Strangely enough, I’ve watched this happen before and have been a part of doing it to other people when they left. I even anticipated it happening, and so in order to soften the blow, I pre-emptively unfollowed a number of individuals who would likely not share my views. Despite all the mental preparation, however, it still wasn’t easy watching the very people who smiled and said they loved you, turn their backs on you because you chose to speak up. Thankfully, I’ve grown some thick skin over the years and people’s opinions don’t phase me like they used to. So that took all of maybe five minutes to get over.

The more upsetting part of this situation is not that I’ve become the black sheep, but that anyone remotely affiliated with me is also getting the big unfriend and block action that I’ve grown accustomed to. As silly as it sounds, I don’t make light of it, because it can be deeply upsetting and the social rejection can be damaging. When most of your social network, social activities, and weekly agenda revolve around church (because that’s how this particular group is set up and it is expected of you), it’s a painfully difficult and lonely process to heal. I know this because I have been there.

And so I would say to those of you who have stepped away, who are being shunned for being associated with me, and who are in the process of grieving and healing, please know that you are loved, accepted, and covered by our tender loving Heavenly Father who sees your heart and your pain, who wants you to be free and whole in Him, and who loves watching you, His precious child, explore and probe the ever expansive depths of His goodness and kindness towards you.

Lastly, may the strength of His unfailing love hold you steadfast. May you find rest in Him as He tends your wounds. And in the grip of His grace, may you find peace, and the strength to journey on.

Grace and peace.

[Disclaimer: Despite what is being said about me, I did not then, nor will I now, publicly call out or name anyone involved. I have not, nor will I ever, condone violent acts. I have no intention of taking the law or due process into my hands. And I am not responsible for the arrest that was made last weekend with regards to the incidents I alluded to in my post. I wrote that post as a way for me to process, not as any kind of means to a vicious end. I have no personal vendetta against anybody.]