Tag Archives: relationships

A Complicated Eulogy for Elisabeth Elliot

complicated eulogy elisabeth elliot

You died on Monday.

I confess, I’d forgotten about you until I started seeing your name flash by in my social media feeds. Elisabeth Elliot, Tenacious Missionary to Ecuador, Dies at 88.

All week, I’ve been thinking about you…about the way your story, already romanticized into evangelical lore by the time I started high school, collided with mine: You were the woman whose husband was killed by a tribe in Ecuador while you were missionaries there in 1956. You were the woman who stayed there anyway and kept doing her work.

It was an epic kind of faith story, and it had already been shaping and defining American evangelicalism for nearly fifty years by the time it began to shape me.

My sort-of-boyfriend at the time had Africa-shaped stars in his eyes…and what was it about stories of martyrdom that appealed so strongly to him — to all of them — that whole burning-for-Jesus bunch?

Whatever it was, he wanted to be Jim Eliot, living fearlessly in some jungle somewhere, which in my mind, mean that I was supposed to be you.

You — the woman who waited five years in patient purity for Jim to decide whether or not God wanted him to marry. You, who followed him to South America (though you had wanted to go be a missionary in Africa), who made a home among the South American Indians for your small daughter, who went back to the tribe that murdered your husband to complete the task of sharing the beautiful story of Jesus.

Yours were impossibly huge shoes to fill, but I wanted the missionary boy to love me…and so I tried. I read everything you wrote and underlined big swaths of text. And much of what you wrote was about relationships, purity and gender roles.

When I was fourteen, wavering in my own purpose and identity, hopelessly in love with an older missionary boy, I read your books, and you pointed me into the Garden of Eden when God created man, and then, from one of his ribs, woman. “You can’t make use of a thing unless you know what it was made for,” you wrote. And a woman, you said, was made for man.

And maybe if I’d been older or wiser or less desperate, I would have read something different in those words. But at fourteen, I took them to mean that I ought to devote myself to the boy, submit to his dreams and plans, nod and acquiesce and wait as he tried to discern whether God wanted us to be together…or, finally, not.

I’ve been re-reading those books this week. Somewhere, either in transition or in spiritual angst, I lost (or gave away, or destroyed) Passion and Purity, but I still have Let Me Be a Woman and Quest for Love. And your words still raises all sorts of complicated feelings in me.

You took the hard line on gender roles. You believed that the meaning of womanhood excluded women from church ministry. You had nothing but contempt for the Woman’s Liberation Movement, set yourself up against a “Them” that you believed were set on turning woman into “a caricature, a pseudo-personhood.” You did not particularly want women in “the workplace” and were appalled that they were being let into the army. You wrote in certainties and absolutes that make me bristle now.

“The way you keep your house, the way you organize your time, the care you take in your personal appearance, the things you spend your money on all speak loudly about what you believe,” you wrote to your daughter in Let Me Be a Woman. “‘The beauty of Thy peace’ shines forth in an ordered life. A disordered life speaks loudly of disorder in the soul.”

Oh Elisabeth. If you could see my house right now. There are so many crumbs on the kitchen floor that I have to wear shoes in there so they don’t stick to my feet. Also I have been wearing the same sweatpants for two days because our dryer is broken.

Also,  I have come to terms with the fact that my soul is in total disorder, and that the beauty of God’s peace is still there, floating above it all, like the dust from my living room bookshelf swirling around, catching the light.

I read your words, and they sound stern and unyielding and a little obstinate. There are things that I don’t agree with. Often, your words make me angry, and I’m tempted to write you off altogether.

But then…you had the most contagious smile.

Photo from elisabethelliot.org
Photo from elisabethelliot.org

Your photos tells a different story than your books. You are dimpled and braided hair and gap-toothed, standing next to Jim. Then, later, you are holding your daughter, and your face has taken on a kind sad strength as you hold your baby girl. You are wearing those sensible shoes and that dress in the jungle, still doing your work.

Then, you are older, then older still — still gap-toothed and grinning. You look like you might be a little sassy, but that could just be wishful thinking.

The way you spoke of feelings in your books, Elisabeth, feels cold, detached, and absolute. “Keep a tight reign on these emotions,” you wrote to a twenty-four-year-old woman who had sent you a letter about the man she liked. “A life lived in God is not lived on the plane of feelings, but of the will,” you wrote, and I remember, as an emotional teenage girl, trying hard to shove my feelings again and again into submission like you seemed to do so easily.

Reading now and looking at your photos, I see a different version of that story — a woman who I expect felt everything deeply. Who woke up every day in a tsunami of grief, and had to find a way to stand up and keep going.

I can imagine you then: You are a young widow, a single mother, living far away from family, helping to birth babies in the jungle. You are afraid; you are lonely and sad, and you’re doing it anyway.

You say the creeds when you do not feel them. You learn, year after year, to “hang [your] soul on those strong pegs, those ‘I believe’s’” and to find strength and shelter.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” You learn to say it like the orthodox Christians, like breathing — in, out, in out — until the wave of emotion had passed and you were still, miraculously, standing.

And maybe I’m creating a kind of fan fiction, reading things into your life that weren’t there so that I can make sense of you. Or maybe you were every bit as complicated and broken and untidy and emotional as I am.

Either way, as I look at your soft, time-wrinkled face in your final pictures, it occurs to me that we’d both say the same thing:

The most important thing about your life is not what you said about God or women or marriage or purity. It’s what God said about you. Beloved, beloved, beloved.

It’s what he says about all of us. What he’s still saying as you wander through the gates of splendor toward Him. As you smile that beautiful, gap-toothed smile, and make your way home.

 

(Bird Photo by Jonathan Ashcraft at CreationSwap.org)

One Small Change: Helping to Bridge Gaps

I had the opportunity to meet Benjamin Moberg of Registered Runaway last winter at a Prodigal Magazine meet and greet, and I’m still not over the fact that we became friends just before he moved away from Minnesota. He is a kind, brave, necessary voice in the blogosphere, and I love the grace with which he shares his story. So honored to have him here today.

Photo credit - puliarf at Creative Commons
Photo credit – puliarf at Creative Commons

Three things you should know about me:

One: I am a believer in a God that gets weak at the knees when he spots me bumbling around here on earth. He likes me. He loves me. It’s an embarrassing, head over heels kind of affection.

Two: I am gay. I’ve known this since I was little, but I only came out two years ago. The journey to this place of being Out was painful; the walk ever since has been holy.

Three: One and Two are not an odd coupling. “Gay Christian” is no oxymoron. Accepting my sexuality has transformed my faith more than anything else before. Coming face to face with my different, accepting that I am accepted and embracing the power of perspective I bring to the Body has made my faith a beautiful, thriving thing. I am gay and I am beloved and I am fully devoted to God.

When I came out to my parents, they never stopped loving me nor did they reject me, but they couldn’t deny that this was more than a little difficult, it was heartbreaking.

And they were sad for a while.

Part of me got it. Parents think they know their kids best, inside and out, more than anyone else in the world, even themselves. And there’s something incredibly painful about going from filling in an oval for traditional marriage to your boy coming out to you in a flood of tears. They believed that the Bible condemned gay people, they knew that the church certainly did, and they were struggling to hold onto me and the scriptures and the church all at once.

But another part of me wanted them to snap out of it. After all, I came out! A stone heavy secret that had been sucking the life right out of me for years- a decade- had finally been relieved, I was free of it. My heart was showing on the outside for the very first time. I could breathe. I was whole. And I thought it was time to celebrate. I thought it was time to move forward.

I gave them grace, but it was a colder kind. A quiet, distant kind.  A distance that eventually changed our conversations into passive aggressive talking points. I’d note something I read that was affirming of gays in the church and they’d share a testimonial of a person healed by God and made straight. I’d refer to myself as “gay” and one of them would clear their throat, correct me with, “same-sex attracted. Not gay.” And on and on we went.

I never equated their sadness with grief, one that would require the five stages of losing a loved one. They had to watch the future they had planned for me die, again and again and again. No wife, no kids, no traditional family for me. And I didn’t know that this grief would take time nor did I know that my grace was so limited.

And we grew quieter. The distance expanding more every day. We couldn’t figure out how to bridge this gap without hurting one another. I couldn’t make them understand and they couldn’t express how they truly felt and in the end, the killer was silence, and our inability to break it.

father son shadow - andrechinn
Photo Credit: andrechinn, Creative Commons

It was around this time that Andrew Marin came into our lives with his book, Love is an Orientation. The book broke our boundaries and pulled us into a shared space. It was one of the best things that happened that year. It changed everything.

Andrew is a straight man who describes himself as “a former Bible-banging homophobe”, a guy that used words like gay, faggot, and homo as insults, as weapons, utterly unaware that his three lifelong best friends would all come out to him in college.

In the aftermath of their news, he went on his knees before God, asking him what the hell was going on. God told him to go find out for himself.

Andrew moved into Chicago’s gay community, Boystown, with his best friends and spent a year immersing himself in gay culture. Today, over a decade later, he runs the Marin Foundation, a group that works to build bridges between the gay community and the conservative evangelical community.

What Andrew did, essentially, in my family, was become a translator. He took the collective themes of his gay friends’ lives and expressed them in a way that my parents and my friends could understand. Something I couldn’t communicate even when I tried.

Amazingly enough, my parents now see my sexuality as a blessing, as a gift. A tremor in our family that in the end, after a lot of growth, landed us closer than we ever thought we could be.

The work the Marin Foundation does is far and wide, but there is one thing in particular that makes me very enthusiastic.

They’re creating a Parent Resource Initiative, because they’ve received hundreds of calls from parents like mine who do not know how to be or think or handle the fact that their boy is gay. They don’t know how to handle a church that is cold to him, they want to know how to better protect him. They want to get our place of close, but they don’t know how.

And this initiative is so incredibly important. While we came close to falling apart, families are doing it all the time after a child comes out. Parents, often in the name of God, kick their kids out of the house; we have significantly higher numbers of LGBTQ homeless youth than of their straight peers, entirely new shelters have been assigned to address this population alone.

And I understand that there are those that disagree with same-sex marriage. Good and Godly people can end up in different corners on this. After all, we’re still looking through this glass darkly, still holding this wild sea of scripture in our hands, and we won’t always agree and we don’t really have to. But on this side of heaven, I think we can love one another better. Give out more grace than usual.

And I think we can all agree that saving kids from homelessness, educating parents on how to be better, is a call that we ought to respond to. Those areas of agreement are rare for us and when we find them, we seize them, because that is how Kingdom Comes. When we’re able to do something together.

And that is why I give $25 dollars a month to the Marin Foundation, because they are trying to make the family a safer place for everyone. They are working to build bridges within the church. They are giving hope to every child taking those terrifying steps up to their parents bedroom, pointing a way forward for parents stunned and heartbroken and wanting to be love. They are doing such good things.

And in the end, my one small change is more like repaying a debt. But maybe all one small changes are. Maybe, our one small change is our one gift back for the blessings we have received. Our own small bridge bringing good to a world that’s waiting for it.

*

Ben has graciously offered to give away a copy of Love is an Orientation — at his own expense — to one commenter here. I read this book several years ago — freshly out of Christian college, brand new to a graduate program filled with beautiful LGBTQ people that I had no idea how to relate to. I love Andrew Marin’s book for its gentleness and humility. He never pretends that this is not hard or complicated. He never really takes a “side.” But he offers a glimpse at what it could look like if we chose Love over everything else.

To be entered for a chance to win this book, simply leave a comment. (As usual, I require zero brilliance. You can even just say, “I’d like this book!” and it counts.)

I do ask that you keep in mind the purpose of this post — to talk about the distance between many parents and their LGBTQ children, and to highlight one beautiful thing being done to bridge that gap. Please do not hijack the comments to argue for or against same-sex marriage. That is an entirely different conversation than the one Ben has initiated here today, and I hope you’ll walk gently on this hallowed, broken ground.

I’ll use the random generator on Friday morning and announce the winner on Facebook. Don’t follow me there? You can fix that now!

*

benjamin mobergBen is a twenty-something young man from Saint Paul, Minnesota who authors the site The Registered Runaway, a blog about Life, Faith, and Sexuality.

Besides immersing himself in the online community, he enjoys working to build bridges within his local church, re-reading all of Brennan Manning’s books, and being a new Uncle to his little nephew Wyatt.

One Small Change: One LESS Thing

Heather Caliri is a beautiful writer, and I think her One Small Change post came at the perfect time. In the midst of a week when so many of us have been sorting through our “on-fire” pasts, remembering the feelings of never being quite good enough…never quite passionate enough for God, Heather offers words of grace. I hope you love this post as much as I do.

Photo by Kevin Carden, Creation Swap
Photo by Kevin Carden, Creation Swap

I have saved the world many times. Or—at least—I have tried.

I switched to organic vegetables, I subscribed to a CSA. I tried being vegetarian for a week–and ate a double bacon cheeseburger on day seven. I made all my Christmas gifts one year. I have volunteered for hospice and signed up for high school ministry. I have grown my own tomatoes. I have built houses in Mexico and considered going on staff with a Christian organization and inquired about volunteering in a slum and sent letters and pictures to a sponsored child. I have wrapped glass bottles in cardboard boxes; I have gone without a car. I have used cloth diapers, and even dried them on the line.

You can expend a lot of effort—and feel like you’re make very little difference—this way. You can search for the perfect cause and always come away feeling empty. You might start to avoid the news headlines because they expose your helplessness every morning.

I have tried to do more many times. Believe me, I admire those who seem to do more effectively.

But lately, I have been trying a different approach.

I am trying to keep still.

I am trying to do one less thing.

It isn’t easy. My children long to do sundry lessons during the week; there’s a playgroup we could commit to on Mondays. I could join a Bible Study or go back to volunteering with hospice. There’s a book club and my husband’s soccer league, and going to church each week. There’s school, and writing, and supporting our family business. There’s making all our clothes and food from scratch to avoid supporting the Corporate Behemoth. There are all those causes I know I should be helping.

None of these things are bad. Surely the activities in your life are worthwhile, too.

But at the end of all that doing, when we meet a new friend, I will have to tell them that three Thursdays from now, we’re available from 6:30 to 8:15, as long as there’s no traffic.

The world keeps telling me there’s no way to contribute unless I’m frantic with effort. That there are so many issues to worry about; so many worthy causes. The truth is, I want to do something, dammit.

Until I sit with a new friend at coffee—the coffee I almost told her I was too busy for—and hear her say how she has spent years feeling that no one had time to be friends.

Until I find that being available at the last minute means I am able to help a friend going through a family crisis or to pinch-hit childcare for a newly single mom, or to say hello to the homeless woman we see at the library every week.

A while ago, I heard about a study that gripped me. Researchers had forty seminarians fill out a religious questionnaire, then told them they needed to go across the campus where they were to give a talk. Some of them were asked to speak about the Good Samaritan. Some of them were told they were late.

On the way to the talk, each of them passed a huddled figure who cried out in pain.

Those who were in a hurry were much more likely to pass the person in need without helping.

It helped me sympathize with the Levite and the priest on that Jericho road. How many times have I passed a person holding a cardboard sign on an off-ramp because I’m rushing? How many times have I missed the chance to help a friend because I’m not available?

Let me be clear: I don’t think being still can happen if we’re feeling crappy about the life we’re really leading right now: overfull or half-empty, busy or languorous, working for justice or just dreaming of it.

No: stillness is staying put, right where we are, and choosing to notice where we are, and who is around us. Still is choosing to not do, in order to be available.

Photo by: Elminium, Creative Commons
Photo by: Elminium, Creative Commons

Now that I’m slowing down, putting my effort into stillness, I’m much more aware of how I could be helpful. I’m paying attention to people, instead of issues. I have more time to think. To pray, before I get carried away with some new scheme. To develop a relationship, to gain trust, to have energy for the long haul.

In the lack of effort, in the time and emptiness I was working so hard to fill before, I am trying to breathe. I am trying to remember Who it is that heals, changes things, and makes all things new.

One moment of stillness a day. Or one less thing a week. One less ongoing commitment. One more hour I consent to feeling bored, or helpless, or—with practice—expectant. One more moment to be whole, just as I am. One more chance to hear my phone ring and be present, now, with someone in need.

 

heather caliri

 

Heather Caliri is a writer and mom from San Diego. Two years ago, she started saying little yeses to faith, art and life. The results were life-changing. Get her free e-book, Dancing Back to Jesus: Post-pefectionist Faith in Five Easy Verbs (http://www.heathercaliri.com/free-e-book/) on her blog, A Little Yes (http://www.heathercaliri.com).

Connect with her on Twitter or on Facebook!

One Small Change: Small Things Grow On You

Ed Cyzewski is one of the kindest, most encouraging people I’ve met on the Internet. As I began my own, confusing journey into the blogging world, he was a consistent source of wisdom and guidance to me. I love this wise piece he’s brought to the One Small Change conversation, and I’m thankful for his voice on the Internet and in my own life.

garden

Our first real vegetable garden broke just about every rule.

We had zero sun and minimal fertilizer. We let everything go to seed instead of reseeding another crop. Don’t even ask me about weeding. I didn’t even know people did that in a vegetable garden.

Despite our failures, we grew some pretty nice lettuce for a short time. After that we gave the bitter lettuce to our delighted rabbits.

We could have become discouraged by this, but it emboldened us to try again and again.

When I talk to people about gardening, the non-gardeners say something like, “Oh I just kill stuff” or “everything I plant dies.” I always reply, “Everybody kills stuff. Every gardener loses plants.”

There are good years and there are bad years. There are some things that don’t grow well in certain climates or in certain soils or for certain people. We waved the white flag on cucumbers this year after four years of bitter disappointments. I still wonder if Ann Voskamp snuck a stock image of robust spinach into a series of pictures from her garden.

I didn’t set out to become a gardener. My wife started growing lettuce, and it took root with me. It was something I knew I should do, and I gradually caught on to it, taking one small step after another.

Some things grow. Some things wilt. Others never even sprout. That’s OK. That’s how gardening works. I’ve seen this in places other than my garden.

For instance, about twelve years ago I visited my girlfriend (and future wife) in Vermont, and her parents invited us to join them for a little outing—to a prison. I’m not the kind of guy who would willingly walk into a prison. I’m a sheltered child of the suburbs who still doesn’t know what pot smells like. I’ve never been in a fist fight. I grow pansies from seed.

Got it?

Nevertheless, I said yes. It was an easy introduction to prison life: three men where graduating from a Bible degree program. However, each time I visited they kept inviting me, and I kept saying yes.

I said stupid things when I tried to make small talk.

I screwed up plenty of songs.

I prayed some really stupid prayers.

Who knows if anything I taught from the Bible stuck?

I only made it over about once or twice a month when we moved closer to my in laws in Vermont.

Nevertheless, I befriended a few of the men. They always welcomed me with a smile—something that is rare in prison from what I’ve heard. I brought them chocolate bars for Christmas, which, by the way, meant the world to many of them.

I even saw several of them prosper after release. When we visit Vermont I always take our car to one man’s repair shop. Another man helped us move.

I don’t want to make anything I’ve ever done sound successful, spectacular, or super-sacrificial. Everything started with the most normal invitation: “Want to come along?”

I just had to say, “Yes” and drive a little bit.

I found a room of men who needed healthy relationships: brothers, parents, grandparents—anything that was life giving to counteract the counterfeits that had wrecked their lives.

I did very normal, unspectacular things: leading a few songs, praying, or sharing what I’d been learning from scripture. Everything I did in prison grew out of one small step, a decision to respond to an opportunity that I suspected God had placed in my path.

small changes grow on you

I used to think of service as this thing I budget for on my schedule. “Here are my two hours of community service.”

CHECK!

I thought I would start with one small thing and stick with it, keeping it boxed in and contained, safe and sound in one time slot. Instead, I’ve evolved and changed over time.

I used to look at a guy like Shane Claiborne and think, “Man, I’ll never be able to serve people like him.” Then I read his story.

While attending Eastern University in Philadelphia, Claiborne heard that a group of homeless women and children were being evicted from an abandoned church. Claiborne and his friends decided the church was on the wrong side and set out to stand with these women and children.

They said “Yes” and then they drove a little.

That experience led to the founding of The Simple Way.

I get annoyed when people criticize a guy like Claiborne for using a “radical” rhetoric. There’s nothing radical about pursing the relationships and challenges God has placed before you.

Every small step I’ve taken in ministry happens when I say “Yes” to a need God places in front of me.

Sometimes that yes leads to a second yes.

It takes the first yes to change your heart and to reshape the way you view your time and resources. Sometimes the first yes puts you in a position to see the next need.

We’re in another season of saying a small yes to serving meals in our community center, and that may lead to another yes for serving refugees.

Service is a rabbit hole, the red pill that changes your perception of the world around you.

Serving others makes you look at your time differently.

You start asking if you need to watch as much television or work quite so many hours or delete all of the extra games and apps on your tablet or whether you can bring your kids along to serve others.

The change can be gradual and dare I suggest organic.

You’ll plant something small, and you’ll see it come to life. Soon you’ll enjoy the harvest it’s given you and you’ll start wondering, Why didn’t I plant something like this sooner? Why not plant more?

Before you know it, you’re tilling up the weeds and brambles to make room for something new, beautiful, and life-giving for yourself and others.

 

EdC200Ed Cyzewski blogs at www.inamirrordimly.com where he shares imperfect and sometimes sarcastic thoughts about following Jesus.

He is the co-author of Hazardous: Committing to the Cost
of the Following Jesus and the author of Coffeehouse Theology.

Find him on twitter: @edcyzewski and on Facebook. Subscribe to his e-newsletter for previews of his upcoming books Unfollowers: The Dropouts, Detractors, and Doubters of Jesus and The Good News of Revelation.

^
Back To Top