So i recently finished reading the book Jesus Feminist by one of my favourite writery people, Sarah Bessey and thought i should share some of the highlight/challenging/interesting moments for me:

In chapter three, titled ‘Tangled-Up Roots’, Sarah starts the chapter with this great George Carlin quote:

Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist

And then, speaking from a time when she was employed full-time and realising that women’s ministry was largely aimed at stay-at-home moms, she writes this:

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‘During this season of my life, the more I learned about Jesus, the more I struggled with the iterations of Christianity around me. Much of what I saw or experienced in the modern church didn’t match up with what I thought I knew about the ageless God. My growing disenchantment was not limited to women’s roles in the church, though: these “lady issues” were merely one branch in the thicket of my frustrations with the Church.

It started with the small questions, the easy ones to stuff into the closet and ignore. I could drown the questions and the cognitive dissonance out if I quoted enough Bible verses, if I went to enough church services, if i got busy “doing hard things for Jesus,” made another casserole for another neighbour, led another youth retreat, hosted another Bible study, bought another leather-bound devotional with an unfurling flower on the cover, quieted down more, tried harder to fit into te getting-smaller-by-the-day understanding of following Jesus.

But my questions and doubts has the inconvenient habit of poking out the straining door, gathering friends, growing and intensifying as steadily as if my resolute denial of their existence fed and watered them.

I was drawn towards a life of redemptive peacemaking and justice seeking, yet the churches of my context and traditions were in a strange collusion with politics and just-war philosophy as the Iraq War began. I struggled with the cultural rhetoric against immigrants, homosexuals, artists, welfare recipients, the poor, non-Americans, and anyone who looked different or lived differently than the expectation. Cultural mores were passing as biblical mandates. The give-me-more-more-more prosperity gospel didn’t match up with my growing commitment to contentment and simple living. I wanted my pro-life ethic to encompass all of human life.

For the first time in my life, I was reading and learning about the Church’s mandate to care for the poor. I was reading voraciously about global issues such as clean water, community development, war, human trafficking, economics, disaster relief, the AIDS crisis, unjust systemic evils. Meanwhile, church budgets made room for a brand-new light show and a kickin’ sound system or a trip to Disneyland or a video venue in a saturated upscale neighbourhood – all in an effort to practice creative-experience marketing. And the rich got richer. The more I learned about the life and world and tragedies thumping along beyond pour seemingly missing-the-point building programs and Christian schools and drive-by missionary work, the more I ached and grieved and repented of my own sin and blindness. I questioned is all, including my own commitment to propping up this system.

The cracks were ricocheting and multiplying across my heart now, and when I turned to the Church for answers, I did not feel my questions were welcome. This may have been my own pride and willful blindness, but there didn’t seem to be room for me as a questioning woman within the system, as a seeker. I was straining to keep my barrage of questions stuffed in the closet. My stubborn faith was not lining up with the big, broad Church’s priorities and focus. The whole women-can’t-do-such-and-such or here’s-what-a-biblical/true/real-woman-does or submit-and-stay-home-and-have-babies subtext? Well, add that to the getting-bigger-by-the-day pile.’

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Naturally what follows is a bit of a crash and Sarah and her husband eventually left full-time vocational ministry and embarked on a ‘journey through the wilderness of my wonderings with a seen-it-all-before smirk on my face  and a profound ache in my soul’.

She continues a little later with this:

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‘We embraced a new understanding of church and community, of vocation and ministry, of organic faith and missional living. We were lonely. And then we began to heal, slowly at first, then faster and faster.

“You can’t be a Christian by yourself,” writes Sara Miles. Me? I tried.

I tried to be a Christian by myself. And in my deepest hurts from the Body of Christ, it did help to cocoon away in the in-between space for a while. It helped to step away from the institutions of church in a self-imposed blackout from the programs, from the self-perpetuating machine, from the politics, the religion, the expectations, the behaviour modification, the CEO-style leadership courses, the unstable pedestals for pastors and the way that the grind of modern ministry life seems to chew up and spit out again, and the easy consumer spirituality.

The wilderness transformed me in a way no “spiritual high” or certainty or mountaintop moment had ever done. I shed a lot of performance anxiety in those “in between” years. I reconciled what I believed and why. I embraced the glorious kaleidoscope of God at work in the global world. And most importantly, the wilderness was the birthplace of my intimacy with God. Jonathan Martin writes, “far from being a punishment, judgement, or a curse, the wilderness is a gift. It’s where we can experience the primal delight of being fully known and delighted in by God.”

I loosened my grip on my opinions. I entered recovery for being such a know-it-all. I stopped expecting everyone to experience God or church or life like I thought it should be done. In fact, I stopped using the word should about God altogether, I sought God, and He was faithful to answer me. I came to know Him as “Abba” – a Daddy. He set me free from crippling approval addiction, from my Evangelical Hero Complex, from the fear of man. He bathed my feet, bound my wounds, gave rest to my soul, restored the joy of church and community to our lives. I learned the difference between critical thinking and just being plain critical. And I found out He is more than enough, always will be more than enough – yesterday, today, forever.

Now, all these years later, I marvel. I marvel because God was there in the pain. I marvel because this life we lead back home in Canada is not what we would have imagined for our lives, but it’s so much better. And I marvel because I hold almost all of it loosely in my hand now, all of it but this: the nature, identity, soul, action, and character of God is love – lovelovelovelovelovelovelove.

Everything was resurrected on that truth. And now for me, faith is less of a brick edifice of belief and doctrine and right answers than it is a wide-open sky ringed with pine trees black against a cold sunset, an altar, a welcome, bread and wine, an unfathomable ferocious love, and a profound sense of my belovedness. ‘

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And more. Sarah talks about how her healing story won’t necessarily be your healing story so there’s no set formula she can write down that everyone just needs to apply to their own lives. But later on she writes this line which stuck out for me:

Hurry wounds a questioning soul.

And the chapter ends later with these inspiring words:

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‘My water in the desert arrived in cups fashioned by the hands of those who love the gospel. I found, right under my nose, people who love God and love others; their lives were a smelling-salts wake-up experience of grace. Sometimes they were the same people I lived alongside during those years of wondering and isolation in Texas. My loss is that, in my pride, I didn’t see them there at the time. Everywhere I look now, I see disciples who forgive and serve without fanfare or book deals, working quietly for justice and mercy. They love the unlovable, the marginalized, the hopeless; they wash dishes and raise babies; they work in Surrey and in Port-au-Prince and San Antonio because of their great love for God. They believe Jesus actually meant all that stuff He spoke while here on earth, so they are on a mission; they are peacemakers.

Jesus said, “You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.” You cannot be full to the brim with Christ’s love and peace without spilling over into the lives of others. You learn how to love by being loved. You yearn to heal once you’ve been healed. We receive goodness and bread, and them, of course, we want to point every other hungry beggar on the road to the source.’

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[If you missed the Intro to this book, click here]

For more from Sarah Bessey, get hold of her book, Jesus Feminist, or check out her website over here, or you can find her on the Twitterer @sarahbessey