Monday, January 26, 2015

The Valley of Achor - Door of Hope

If the story of the Prodigal Son was the story of a Prodigal Daughter

A number of years ago I pondered the thought of what if the story of the prodigal had been about a a prodigal daughter.  In other words, if there were a prodigal daughter, what would her story be?  What would her struggles, weaknesses, questions, fears, anxiety, and also her failures be?  As I thought about it, the story of the Prophet Hosea and his wife came to mind.  In the story of the Prodigal Son we often times focus on the son.  We never really focus on the Father and don't hear much about the brother.  In many cases we compare the prodigal son and the brother.  Perhaps because it gives us greater insight to the heart of Father and the incredible mercy the Father gives to his prodigal son and from the reaction of the brother we see just how extravagant the love, grace, and mercy this father extends to the disrespectful, arrogant, selfish, wayward son and meanwhile the faithful son who did everything right thought he deserved more as the son who served, who remained faithful, and was the son that could do no wrong.  None of us want to be compared to the brother of the prodigal son because he's often portrayed in a negative light but often times people can related to the prodigal son because that is their story.  although, there just might be more people in the church who could just as easily be compared to the brother of the prodigal son.  In the church we're great at being brothers and sisters, comparing one another, and saying "at least I don't do this or that, at least that's not my struggle,"  And then when people in their self righteous mentality and hypocrisy who can't help to say, "God only helps those who help themselves" as if to pour salt on an open wound.  There are fewer people who know how to be fathers and mothers in the faith.  However, that may be for a topic of another day. 

As I thought about my own story.  And as I thought about my own experiences with family and those around me including my church community I could relate to some degree with the prodigal son but with just one hitch -- it would be the story of the prodigal daughter.  As I thought about how a prodigal son and prodigal daughter would have similar and yet a different story the picture of the Prophet Hosea and his wife seemed to be the most profound picture that more than likely would be her story.  In this story she becomes the prostitute who is repeatedly unfaithful to her husband but her husband pours out this most extravagant love for his wife, more love than what most men would be capable of, and loves her despite her inability to love him in return.  In fact, he loves her and keeps on loving her until one day she finally understands what love truly is and finds it within herself to love him and probably in a way she had always wanted to.  The point to the story of Hosea is to mirror the relationship that God has with Israel and essentially the church and all of humanity.  We were and apart from God are incapable of loving Him and remaining faithful to Him and even in the sending His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross purchasing us to redeem us as His own, as the scripture says, "yet while we were still sinners Christ died"  In the story of Hosea, his wife becomes a prostitute and Hosea decides to literally purchase his wife.  It's like he said, "here, I'll pay you to be my wife, I'll pay you to stay with me instead of some strange man who's not your husband."  It's like he says, "I am your husband.  I am the one who will treat you right and not take advantage of you and will take care of you and treasure you. I am the one who will honour you and make it so that you don't have to sell yourself to other men and will show you how I see you and show you the value I place in you."  From this story we are introduced to the valley of achor which seems to me to be equivalent in that day and age for a Hebrew boy to literally be living in pig dung.  The prodigal son lost his identity and had forgotten who he was.  He lost his way, he lost his inheritance, and wasted all he had on things that only brought momentary gratification but nothing that would ever truly last.  She would give of herself until she ran dry.  She would forget her worth and value.  She would let other men use her for their own selfish gain to fullfil the lust of their flesh, she gives and gives and gives of herself and others will just take and take and take while using her as an object until she becomes desolate herself and not only desolate and spiritual barren but an empty shell and lifeless.  

Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, "You are not my people," it shall be said to them,  "Children of the living God." 
                                                                                                                        ~ Hosea 1:10

Therefore, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.  From there I will give her her vineyards, and make the valley of Achor a door of hope.  There she shall respond as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.  "In that day,' declares the Lord, "you will call me 'my husband'; you will no longer call me 'my master' 
                                                                                                                  ~ Hosea 2:14 - 16
Within the region of Jericho is this valley called the Valley of Achor.  If you read enough of the bible you will see Jericho mentioned.  Like the walls of Jericho.  It is said that inside the walls of Jericho aborted babies no doubt sacrificed to whatever god the people of Jericho worshipped.  Just before Israel conquered the land of Jericho you have the grand story of the walls of Jericho falling and back then it no doubt spoke to the people of that day that their god they sacrificed their unborn to was of no comparison to the God of Israel as God brought destruction basically to the alter of their god that existed within their walls. The blind man that Jesus healed who sat at the city gates - the city gates that is, of Jericho. The blind man that Jesus healed who shouted out, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" And inside this Jericho was located the Valley of Achor.  The Valley of Achor symbolizes trouble.  A ravine is caused by an erosion that takes place over a long period of time as a result of running water / river.  Having just viewed a few pictures of this valley it looks pretty desolate despite the water that probably had dried up only to make it a desolate place of great trouble. 

The Valley of Achor - Door of Hope

I have walked through a very desolate place.  I have endured pain and know suffering.  I have been through debilitating depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide.  I know the pain of rejection, dejection, self hatred, as well as toxic levels of shame.  I've been and continue to be a person marginalized and disenfranchised.  I have known and still know poverty. I know loss and grief.  I know mourning and I have cried many tears.  I know struggle and weakness.  I have known confusion and have been emotionally dried up and disconnected from all my emotions.  At times I withdrew and became isolated and in part isolating myself, rejecting others, and in my own poor choice would sabotage good relationships and good things.  Today I understand what motivated my behaviour in the past and gratefully I am not the same and have experienced healing in my life.  I know what it is like to have my tears turned to laughter and my mourning into dancing.  I have tasted sorrow and have had crushing experiences, and have at times fallen miserably and because I never go half way with things, when I fall it's a long hard fall.  I'm beginning to appreciate process and time.  My journey of healing will be a life long journey but in most valleys that's where you see all the life.  We race up the mountain to reach the top of the mountain but if you notice there's not much life up there.   Literally, the oxygen levels decrease the higher in altitude we go and life needs oxygen.  Well, we need oxygen if we want to live.  Something I have learned along the way is that there will be mountain tops and there will be valleys and some pretty darn low valleys.  

A doorway is meant to be something you walk through.  It's not a dwelling place.  

A doorway leads into a home or sanctuary or a room where you find your resting place.  Therefore, we walk through the valley and in walking through we find hope on the other side.  And in finding hope on the other side we find strength for the journey.  I think it was about ten years ago now I became a participant of this inner healing ministry.  I remember quite a few of the weeks in my small group and in the main session with everyone.  I remember encountering God.  I remember the times I'd be ministered to by others and sat in the presence of God hearing Him speak to me in profound ways.  Sometimes I'd be sharing what God has done for me in that time and I have to say a lot of time it was like God worked covertly in my heart but so covertly and so gentle that I experienced a change of heart.  I'm honestly, more often then not lost for words.  I went from this inability to receive to being given a new heart that was strengthened enough to be able to hold onto good things and receive from Him and others.  I'll never forget this word spoken to me from a leader in my small group.  She said to me, "As God healed the barrenness of Sarah (the wife of Abraham) so too will he heal your barrenness," Abraham was promised a son but for most of Sarah's life she was barren and unable to bear Abraham a son.  It was late in life when she finally conceived and gave birth to a son.  It took active faith and trust year after year to believe this word for Abraham and Sarah would come true.  Along the way they made poor choice and had to deal with the consequences.  Whenever I am struggling and I get tired and want to give up or try to make things happen in my own timing of things I return to this word spoken to me.  I then find hope in the valley knowing the valley I walk through and on the other side I find my resting place.  The choices we make as we experience these low valleys and high mountain tops will determine who we will become.  Thankfully God is for us and not against us and He has given us the grace we need to endure what we're called into as we journey this life towards holiness and wholeness in Christ.  

Holiness does not consist in not making mistakes or never sinning.  Holiness grows with capacity for conversion, repentance, willingness to begin again, and above all with the 
capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness.  
~ Pope Benedict XVI

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Place to Call Home

It's been nearly two decades since I've had a place I could call home.

I've  had places I could sleep and cook my meals but a home? Over the years I've had less than understanding roommates, some very odd, strange, and difficult roommates.  I can't say that I've always been the perfect roommate.  I know there has been times I haven't been the one mature enough.  I readily take the responsibility that is mine at times when roommate situations have ended.  I'd like to believe that I have since matured and grew enough in relational skills.  Being a single woman living on low income wages has not made things easy for me.  I had become so frustrated with roommates I decided to try living in an SRO (Single Room Occupancy).  After a year of living in an SRO that was located smack dab in the middle of our entertainment district and above a night club, suddenly having a roommate didn't seem half as bad.  I set out to find a place to get out of where I was living.  I found one person I thought would be an OK roommate.  I thought sharing a place with a guy would bring less drama.  I just didn't factor in that this roommate was a self identified gay christian man.  I should have known better.

Gay men can be the worst of all drama queens and this guy could probably win the crown!

When I first moved in I set out to not be the difficult irresponsible roommate.  I set out to make it work even if I was the one to be inconvenienced or more accommodating in this roommate situation.  I wanted to make sure that if this roommate situation didn't work out it would be his issues and not mine. I set out to make sure that none of the common issues complained about in roommate situations would be an issue with me.  If I leaved dishes in the sink I'd make sure it was just one or two things, rinsed out, and placed in the sink and would wash them when I returned from work.  When I would wash my dishes and saw my roommate hadn't yet washed his dishes I would without complaining wash and put away his dishes.  At the start of the roommate situation I told him, "I recognize this TV as your TV so if ever you want to watch TV just let me know.  I appreciate you allowing me to watch your TV so let me know if you want to watch something." The one week I missed my part of the chores I doubled up the following week and gave my roommate the week off from chores.  He usually preferred to do chores early in the week but with my work schedule I preferred to do my part of the chores later in the week like on my day off because usually when working I'd rarely have enough time to sleep.  Anybody who works night shifts enough will understand this.  There's be a couple of times my roommate would get antsy and tell me to do my chores and I'd respond with, "I'd do my part of the chores later today or tomorrow,"  but he felt most comfortable if he could control me and control the actual day of the week that chores were done.  I wanted to be as accommodating as possible but I do have some boundaries.  When my roommate eat my chips or my banana I wouldn't complain because they were just chips or just a banana.  Most of what I eat he didn't so it didn't bother me if he eat one of my bananas or my chips.  It just wasn't a big enough issue for me to complain about.  Well, when I first moved for the first month I rented both the SRO and paid rent for the new place I was moving into.  I wanted to make sure I had enough time to be able to move without bringing my new found friends the bed bugs with me.  After the first two months of living full time at this new place my roommate tells me he doesn't think this roommate situation is working out.  We had the following conversation:

Roommate:  I don't think our roommate situation is working

Me:  Oh?  What's the problem?

Roommate:  Well, I don't think I should always have to remind you to do your part of the chores

Me:  I missed one week and then the following week I doubled up and gave you a week off and this week I've been bed ridden sick.

Roommate:  I'm always doing your dishes! 

Me:  I will at times leave one or two dishes in the sink but besides that point, did you not see that I just washed and put away your dishes about a half hour ago? Which by the way, I do frequently. 

Roommate:  Well, we're always fighting for the TV!

Me:  I told you right from the start that I recognized this TV as your TV and told you that you could watch this TV whenever you wanted.  I'd ask you frequently if there was something you'd like to watch.  Who's fighting who because I'm not fighting you for the TV.  You're making a non-issue an issue.

::: There was a pause in conversation :::

Me:  Well, what is it that you need in order to make this roommate situation work?

::: Another pause in conversation.  He hummed and hawed :::

Roommate:  Perhaps I just find you annoying!

Me:  You find me annoying?  We rarely speak to each other and rarely see each other and you find me annoying?

Roommate:  umm well, what I meant to say is that we have a personality conflict.

Well... I couldn't argue with that.  The personality conflict was pretty much evident.  The only thing is, I never view personality conflicts as grounds to terminate a roommate situation.  In this there's always room to grow and mature and towards change wherever possible.  However, it takes a certain amount of healthy relating in order to navigate through conflict or personality conflict.  I don't shy away from conflict.  I'll tackle each and every conflict and do everything I can to resolve each conflict in healthy ways that won't insult or belittle the one in whom I have a conflict with.  I also don't try to control people and roommates.  It also takes a certain amount of healthy relating to navigate through conflicts or personality conflicts.  I don't believe that conflicts or personality conflicts are grounds to terminate roommate agreements but instead an opportunity to grow and mature.  Our ability to form healthy relationships / friendships are most readily seen not only in relationship or marriage but also in roommate situations.  How we deal with conflict gives us an idea of our strengths and weaknesses in relationships or friendships.

The day after this conversation this studio basement suit came available.  In my situation, knowing that came from an SRO should pretty much tell you that I don't exactly have the easiest of times finding a place to live.  This studio basement suit was affordable and best of all, so affordable that I didn't need a roommate.  This studio basement suit would be clean and a step up from an SRO so it was perfect for me!  I had my own place with my own kitchen and my own bathroom.  I didn't need to deal with odd and difficult roommates.  Most importantly if I didn't get this studio basement suit the likelihood of being homeless was a real possibility.  I didn't sign a roommate agreement with my last roommate so I had nothing legally binding me to give any notice not that I lack the integrity to not give any notice.  I knew to get this studio basement suit I would have to give only two weeks notice so I thought my damage deposit was a fare compensation.  My former roommate didn't consider it a fare compensation.  I didn't create any damage to his place and the damage deposit was equivalent to two weeks rent.  So in all fairness my two weeks notice plus damage deposit was equivalent to a months notice.  My last roommate just didn't believe moving in the middle of the month was typical or what's usually done.  All you have to do is scroll through Craigslist and you'll see often times rooms are available mid way through the month as well as on the first of the month.  I'm also a firm believer in consequences.  In every choice we make there are consequences.

Boundaries in Relationship, Friendship, and in Living with Roommates

In setting boundaries there are consequences.  These consequences include how people will respond to our expressed boundaries.  For better or worse there are consequences that are faced with every choice we make regardless if our choices are wrong, right, or appropriate.  So I thought through the choice I would have to make.  I factored in all the ways in which my last roommate could possibly respond.  I also factored in what could potentially happen if I didn't take the studio basement suit.  I weight out the pros and cons and in doing whatever it took to get the basement suit the pros far out weight the cons.  I had no choice but to allow myself to be vulnerable and do what was integral of me to do.  I gave the two weeks notice and my damage deposit for compensation.  I felt that was reasonable but my last roommate believed I was screwing him over so his response was to give me less than 24 hours notice to pack up all my things and move out.  In fact his response was, "You're screwing me over so I'm going to screw you over," No matter how justified one feels, tit for tat mentality is certainly not a mature response.  He had every right to give me less than 24 hours notice.  There was no legal agreement between us.  The question wasn't whether or not he had the right to make that choice.  The question is, was it an appropriate and fair response? Was his motivation in his response fair and reasonable? If roles had been reversed I personally would have extended a little grace and mercy and consider it all to be a win/win situation.  I'd have the damage deposit for compensation and be getting rid of the roommate I really didn't want.  One of the problems I saw early on is that my last roommate confessed he was dependent upon his roommate for everything and I had nothing he could take advantage of so maybe if he couldn't take advantage of me maybe he'd rather me be the kind of roommate that he couldn't see or hear and have me confined in my room.  In my opinion sharing a place with a roommate who'd rather me pretend I wasn't there and didn't exist is rather a degrading and undignified way to live.

I took responsibility for the consequences of my choices and thankfully I had a couple friends willing to help me out.  I embraced the losses of things accidently left behind.  Though I was tempted to post on Craiglist a warning about this guy to make it that much more difficult to find a roommate I chose to not give into the same tit for tat mentality expressed in this roommate.  I chose grace and mercy and while at first I was angry I gradually just accepted it all.  Again, the pros far out weight the cons and while my last roommate believe his choices screwed me over what actually ended up happening is that I some friends who helped me out and my new landlord allowed me to move in a day early so it was just an inconvenience for me and an inconvenience for my friends who helped me out.

A Place to Call Home 

I moved into my new place on January 14th of this year and I'm excited for the potential of having not just a place to cook my meals and sleep but after two very long decades I finally got a place where I have the opportunity to create for myself a place to call home.  I figure it will take a while before I can feel like this place is home but with a little investment and a little labour of love fixing up this place I will wake up one morning, make a cup of coffee, kick up my feet in my comfy chair and I won't feel this place is just where I sleep and cook my meals.  I will create a place I can call home and I will get a little dog and name him Rascal :)    

Monday, October 27, 2014

Theology of Her Body

Although our culture drives a wedge between what is sexual and what is sacred, God sees things differently
                                 ~ Pope Benedict XVI

A woman's body reveals profound truths about who she is as a person. Because she is made in the image and likeness of God, this also means that she reveals certain truths about God. 
                                              ~Jason Evert 

     Discovering the Beauty and Mystery of Femininity

A number of years ago I was involved in this ministry that reached out to and formed community with those who were marginalized.  This ministry was fantastic when it came to social justice issues but eventually I realized the ministry itself flaked out when it came to calling people towards not only wholeness in Christ but also, and most importantly, towards a life of holiness.  A ministry devoid of discipleship became a ministry I felt I had nothing in common with.  One core value of the ministry was suppose to be that each and every person has been created in the image and likeness of God and yet, the very leaders of this ministry sadly missed the mark when it came to understanding this profound truth and if there is no understanding of such truth it's impossible to convey that to others.  There came a few bible studies where I would briefly touch on the basics of what it means to have been created in the image and likeness of God.  Something so simple and yet so profound that it's very easy to skip over and even though to get this truth is HUGE not everybody will see this. "So God created man in His own Image, in the image of God, he created him; male and female he created them," (Gen 1:27) There has to be some correlation between how God designed His image and likeness to be revealed in man and in woman and what that means in the unity and complimentarity between male and female/man and woman. The coordinator of this particular bible study pipes up, "why on earth does everything have to be about gender with you!?" To be honest, not everything is about gender but when it comes to understanding who God created us to be our basic biology is important.  I understand now her objections to my thinking when it came to talking about being created in God's Image.  Not too long after she came out and now she's married to another woman.  In order to justify gay marriage one has to present a very fragmented and disconnected view of what it means for a woman or man to be created in the image and likeness of God.  God does not exist outside of community or relationship.  Everything has a purpose so it makes sense there is something intrinsically valued when man and woman come together... the two become one.  He gives himself fully to her and she receives him fully.  This can be the deepest connection emotionally, physically, and sexually.  In no other  union can this depth of connection on so many levels take place.  Some may try but it doesn't even come close. 

When St John Paul II became Pope he began a series of talks called Theology of the Body.  Jason Evert has taken the principles found within St John Paul II's talks and revised it so that any young person can take what St John Paul II teaches and apply these truths in their lives and relationships.  It was creatively put together. Both Theology of Her Body and Theology of His Body combined into one book. Just flip the book over and two booklets becomes one.  In one direction you have Theology of Her Body and in the other direction is Theology of His Body.  I have chosen to focus on Theology of Her Body.  With his intended audience being young people this book is well written. Obviously this isn't an exhaustive take on the Theology of the Body but even still, I do have at least one criticism, although I readily admit I have yet to read this book fully.  I can say that with what I have read so far there is a somewhat of a narrow view in his writings when it comes to Theology of Her Body.  It is possible the writer focused on what he sees is most common among women who respond to life's circumstances that seem to challenge her identity as a woman; a woman created in the image and likeness of God.  

He writes the following, 

"Because of the effects of original sin, a woman may cast aside her mysterious nature and elect to receive passing satisfaction from those who also lack patience.  Because she does not believe that she deserves to be pursued, she begins to pursue.  Instead of waiting to reveal herself to the one who is worthy, she exposes herself to those who have no right to see her.  This process may begin with immodesty in speech and dress, but it often progresses to sensual flirting and outright sexual aggressiveness.  While such a woman may assume that she is being confident and assertive, the only thing she is revealing is her insecurities.  Because she does not realize her own great worth, she accepts to be treated without reverence.  Perhaps without realizing it, she becomes, in the words of one blunt woman, "walking entertainment for men."  

There is a lot of truth to this.  A multitude of women have issues around body image and in our complex nature we will have complex ways of responding to various experiences from early childhood and as we mature into womanhood.  It is because of original sin our ability to see ourselves in the way God intended has been ruptured in more ways than one not only because of experiences we may have had with men but also because of media and the messages that media portrays to young women these days. As a result, as women, we'll form ideas about what it means to be a woman through the lens of our experiences and the culture we live in vs through the lens of God's intentions for us.  Some will bend into the cultural stereotypes influenced by misogynistic views and may accept it as their reality and grow to have such a low view of themselves that they come to believe the only way to receive love and affirmation is by giving into pressures created by the lust of men.  Still there are other women, who's low view of what it means to be a woman becomes such a low view there is a complete rejection of her femininity.  Either way, there develops this fragmented understanding of what it means to be a woman.  She either responds by exerting her sexuality towards men or in shame will not only reject her own femininity but will cover up.  Sometimes this will result in wearing baggy clothing and gaining weight.  She may even develop a pseudo masculine way of relating to the world around her which often times is reflected in her appearance and behaviour.  It ceases to be just a rejection of her femininity but the rejection of her body as well as her femininity.  The writer does touch on this a little but I realize it's impossible to really address everything in depth and in detail.  Again, for a scholarly book revised with young people in mind I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to encounter more fulfillment and joy in their lives.

I think it's important to say that when we talk about the church's teaching on sexual ethics people can sometimes develop the view point of it being restrictive and joyless.  This can't be furthest from the truth. These things are intended by God to increase our joy and to bring greater fulfillment in our lives.  After all, God is the one who created us, He created our bodies.  If I may use the language used in the Theology of the Body, God became the great architect of our bodies.  Perhaps, in knowing this, we'll view sex in a different light than what we see in our culture today. 

In Theology of the Body, we learn a profound truth.  That is, the inseparable quality between the physical and spiritual.  To believe otherwise is to align with Gnosticism, one of the oldest heretical teachings the church has ever known.  The sad reality is, with each passing generation or century Gnostic beliefs find subtle ways to invade not only our relationship with God but our relationship with one another.  We fail to see the sacredness of our bodies and physical acts while devaluing sex forgetting that sex is actually God inspired and deeply spiritual.  It's no wonder we read in scripture a calling to chastity and that the sexual union had always been intended to be between one man and one woman.  It's no wonder that our sexual identity is being subtly attacked by Gnostic beliefs.  A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon this blog post titled, Gnosticism and the Language of Sexual Identity. I highly recommend reading this blog post if you wish to dive deeper into what is being said here.

Thankfully, Christ did not come to condemn but to save.  He came to 
redeem not only our souls but even our deepest desires.  
There is no wound that cannot be healed, 
and there is no human longing that is not fulfilled in Him
~ Jason Evert
(Theology of Her Body/Theology of His Body)