On Speaking out about Domestic Abuse

I have a weird relationship with speaking out on things. I have no trouble ranting to my friends about things. But actually putting it out into the world of social media isn’t something I usually do. I’ve wanted to write about my experiences at college and some I have, but it’s been a slow process.

I spoke out yesterday when I saw that my former university had asked Saeed Abedini to speak at their chapel service.

If you don’t know, he is a pastor who was imprisoned in Iran for years until being freed earlier this year. His wife, Nagmeh, advocated for his release for years until five months prior to his release, she stopped her advocacy, speaking out about abuse in their marriage and filing for legal separation upon his release.

The church at large has always dealt horribly with domestic abuse, separation and divorce. So many are afraid to speak out in support of one person, they want to see a family unit stable. They think that with God, every marriage can be saved. Some segments of the church think that partners should stay with their unrepentant abusers.

The messages on social media when my friend spoke out were asking for forgiveness and grace for Saeed. That we are all capable of sin. Praying for the reunification of the family. The problem: Saeed does not seem interested in doing what it takes to reunite his family. Nagmeh wants to seek individualized counseling for them both and that was not something Saeed was willing to seek (that’s my understanding at the time of this writing, based on a report from Nagmeh herself). To reunite your family, you HAVE to be be willing to do everything possible to fix not only your marriage but your own flaws, your marriage cannot work otherwise.

I have always had a contrary view of divorce from the christian worldview (because I kinda had to). I see how it is, at times, necessary especially in cases of abuse. Or when a partner does not want to continue the relationship. Separation and divorce is not an easy decision. Leaving is not an easy decision. Often, it comes after years of trying and working hard in your marriage, only to realize there’s no way to make it work anymore. And I’ve only learned this anew over the years. To quote a woman upon her own separation, “You never go into a marriage thinking you’re going to get divorced.”

And I wish more Christians realized that. When I hear Nagmeh’s story and see the people urging her to see her family restored, I think of my Mom. Of my aunts, my best friend and the strong women in my life. I think of them being in a situation like that and hearing those words. It breaks my heart.

So Saeed Abedini, a known abuser spoke at Liberty University. But I guess it’s ok because he spoke on the persecuted church. I guess it’s ok because they prayed for his family. I guess it’s ok because his wife’s story of abuse doesn’t matter– we have to pay attention to his side of the story, right?

I hope one day, this kind of thing no longer happens in the church, because it’s the opposite of everything God stands for.

Recommended reading: A former professor of mine wrote an article about the christian double standard of how they treat domestic abuse, which I highly recommend.

When this is my Out of Sorts story

I was afraid but now I am me.

I love Sarah Bessey’s work. I found her blog in 2013, as I was beginning to understand that being a Christian feminist was possible. For many years, I’d embraced being very pro-women in many respects but never thought calling myself a feminist was ok. I had seen just how powerful, lovely and capable women are. And I was confused at why they weren’t allowed at pulpits, why I almost never saw them on stage at chapel and why there was only one woman in the Biblical Studies department (who taught a women’s only version of an evangelism class).

I went into Christian college knowing I didn’t fit with their ideals, knowing I probably wouldn’t fit with the theology of many of the people there. And at first, I was ok with that. But then it began to get to me. In my weakest points, I felt like I didn’t fit. Because I struggled with my assignments and didn’t want to leave the school engaged. Because I believed that women should be on the chapel stage just as much as men. (Aside: when I told a male classmate this, he said it was harder for men to relate to women. How do you think I feel buddy?)

But it was in one class where I embraced that I was a feminist. Because with every piece of theology I was presented, with every piece of worldview I was supposed to hold onto as a good christian, I found myself almost always believing the opposite and yet I still loved Jesus just as much. I believed women had as much rights as men and that egalitarianism was okay, that it was the best fit for me. I believed that we needed to listen to scientists when it came to climate change, instead of dismissing it. I believed that we needed to treat the LGBT community with respect and love, rather than shaming them or deliberately misunderstanding them.

I wish I could tell you that decision made me feel freer, but it didn’t. Not at first. I felt like a fraud, like maybe I wasn’t listening to the voice of The Spirit, but myself. This despite knowing that the whispers to my soul could only come from The Spirit. But now I do. I feel more like myself, like I am capable of loving the way I’m supposed to.

And there are still times I feel out of sorts. There are still things I’m working through. Hearing sermons are still hard. I can’t watch chapel from my old school, and I don’t know if I ever will be able to. I don’t worry, now is not forever in my journey. Instead I go forward, knowing I will go where I am meant to be.

This is a synchopost linking up to Sarah’s blog, in honor of her book release. Check out Sarah’s site and the other stories there. And be sure to check out Sarah’s new book Out of Sorts. My official review will be going up in the next couple days.

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Why I love Out of Sorts

“Once upon a time, you had it all beautifully sorted out.

Then you didn’t.”

Those are the words that beckon you into Bessey’s latest release, Out of Sorts.

I was very excited when I heard the title and synopsis of Sarah’s new book. In my teens and into adulthood, I had progressively felt like I didn’t fit within the sphere of the church. As a teen on a missions trip, I questioned why women couldn’t be leaders and the answers didn’t satisfy me. Actually, when I questioned a lot of theology, most answers didn’t satisfy me.

Sarah doesn’t try to give all the answers. She knows from her own story just how dissatisfying it is, to be given all the right verses. She tells her own story, of growing up in faith as a child and her shift through adulthood. The ways she began to feel out of sorts in church and with theology. And where she is now, the ways she fits and the ways she finds a home.

This book is a breath of fresh air for those of us who feel like we don’t fit into the church anymore. Sarah writes with beauty and grace about faith–why it is important and why we are important. She doesn’t minimize those who question and who struggle, instead saying that we are a strength. These words are a haven to anyone who has ever struggled when their faith has shifted. If you have undergone a shift in faith or love someone who has, this book is perfect for you.

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Here’s a link to order Out of Sorts on amazon or barnes and noble. (If you hail from Canada or the UK, you can find links to order here)

Be sure to check out the resource page, too. Sarah has printable quotes, a playlist and more on her website.

Review: Searching for Sunday

Searching for Sunday is the third book released by Rachel Held Evans. It’s also her best work to date.

Searching for Sunday is one of the most important books on millennials in the church to date. If you have ever wanted to know more about why the younger generation is leaving churches and finding new ones, read this book. If you are struggling with where you fit into the church, read this book. If you feel you can’t belong because you have too much doubt, read this book.

Parts of this book are Rachel’s own story, how she grew up in the church and fell in love with its people. There are also stories about the people she has met and experiences they’ve had. People she’s met through her blog, speaking engagements, church and airports. These are stories of real people, who are finding their footing in faith. Rachel gets a lot of flack online for her views but I never feel more inclusion for others more than when I read her words. She reminds me that the gospel is for everyone. My favorite chapters were the short ones, reflecting on what our faith truly is. Those were the ones that reminded me why I believe what I do.

The book is divided into sections based on the seven sacraments, which makes reading flow very smoothly. These words illuminated these sacraments and the church in a whole new way. I loved the way she examined loving, leaving and finding church so beautifully in these pages. Everything is cohesive and focused, to the point where the book is nearly impossible to put down.

I loved this book. I related to many things in Rachel’s story, like growing up in a good youth group and looking critically at my faith as an adult. I love the way she freely said her fears and her doubts. And I loved the way she affirmed her faith. I laughed, cried and wanted to hug this book. This is the kind of book that makes me want to keep writing, to keep sharing my story and to keep seeking out faith.

If you’d like to pick up a copy, you can find it here on amazon and here for kindle. If Barnes and Noble is your bookstore, here’s your link. I hear some that Barnes and Noble stores have been putting out their copies early. There’s a tool on the website where you can check and see if your store has a copy.

And if you’re looking for a book after this, I’d recommend When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman. Rachel’s book reminded me so much of Addie’s, with their reflections on faith in adulthood.

Under Vaulted Ceilings

I’ve had this vision in my head, of going to a church one day to talk, alone. The church I walked into is large and vast. The kind that people go to tour and stand in awe of its magnificence. With high, vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows covering most of the walls, casting a tainted, colourful light. The kind of place where the floors echo throughout the space and the wooden pews creak when you pass by. I pictured myself walking down the empty centre aisle, my shoes echoing with each step. Walking to a row just past the centre and to the right and sitting down. Letting all the words out, all the questions–saying every last thing until there is nothing left to say. Of a peace at the end of my speaking, a knowing that I knew the answers all along. Standing up, satisfied, and walking out of the room before someone found me.

The reality is something much different. It’s a small chapel I found myself in instead. The only similarity is the wooden pews that creak every time you sit in them. There are windows of stained glass but they don’t contain any grandeur, but serve to mute in the bodies inside and let in the light. The carpet shows its age, the blue darkened by black in strange places. The walls are made of bricks, covered with names, with stories, with dollars, with prayers, with hope of some kind. After the fifteen steps it took to check the place for lurking strangers, I began to talk, my voice shook. All I’d wanted was to talk aloud, pray aloud, but now, it felt strange. I walked as I prayed, my right hand following the pews, looking for something to hold onto. After ten minutes of walking, I wasn’t out of words yet. So I sat on the top step of the small platform at the front, letting out my words and my tears.

I didn’t leave that chapel feeling like I had the answers. I didn’t leave sure of myself. I visited that chapel many times over the next few months and found that singular experience to be one of the most cathartic. Because that’s when I truly got to speak.

I don’t know how it started, but when my faith is shaken, I want to find a sanctuary. I want to talk it out until I’ve figured out whatever is burdening me. I want to push out the doors, renewed to help mend this place and the people around me. And often, the only strength I have is the strength to sit and gain my footing. I long for the closeness of a face to face conversation with the Divine. I want to see the way his face changes when I speak, is he angry that I dare utter these thoughts? Do the things that leave me broken bring tears to his eyes. I want to hear his still, small whispers more clearly. And I want to see the look in his eyes in those moments where he chooses to say nothing.

When I Can’t Do It All

This weekend, a Christian film premiered in theaters. Before it, radio companies, churches and the like promoted this film through ads, word of mouth and the internet. Not long before that, another Christian film hit theaters, which again was heavily advertised.

I don’t know where it comes from in my sphere of influence, maybe you can identify it in yours, but there is a pressure to support anything and everything with a Christian label on it. Buy this book, see this movie, support this cause.

I used to sit in the chapel of my school, listening to visiting pastors, speakers, missionaries and innovators. Quite often, they had recently released a book and this was another stop on their tours. If there talk was compelling or they were familiar to the audience, students would rush down after chapel to buy a book, get their autograph and meet them. I did it myself quite a few times. But because this happened so frequently, this mingling as we students listened to the captivating words of a speaker, in an event I was required to attend, I noticed how often these words were crafted to gain a response. To open hearts up to the Holy Spirit’s prompting through examples and stories and showing just how much you or someone else needed the help.

When missionaries would come, very often we’d see videos of a poor country and its people from a recent trip students and/or faculty had taken. We’d be encouraged to donate to the sister organization of our school. To sign up for a missions trip to partner. During concerts that came to the school, we’d be encouraged to partner with another organization to sponsor children.

And you know, none of these things are bad, really. But the voices kept coming and coming and begging me to do something. There were days where I’d feel so overwhelmed because it seemed that everyone wanted me to do something. Everyone felt it was my responsibility to do something as a Christian. And I couldn’t. I wasn’t called into missions and didn’t wish to participate in another trip. I didn’t have the money to sponsor a child when I could barely afford attending the expensive college. I was not registered to vote in that state and for that candidate.

It’s so hard to find quiet and peace in the midst of the noise. And it’s hard for deep feelers, like me, to cope knowing how great needs really are. This isn’t a piece to minimize the real needs, because they are there and they are real. But in the middle of the noise, it’s easy to lose a sense of what it’s really all about. The good intentions get lost in a cry to go and do and help. Voices will tell you how you are obligated to help because of commands in sacred texts.

As a member of Evangelical home schooling groups and youth groups and circles, I witnessed quite a few people growing up slamming Catholics because of their stance on works–how they’re misreading the Bible because our salvation doesn’t require works. And yet, I feel at odds with them, because look at what they do, when they go out of their way to promote Christian movies or politicians or television or whatever. Then they look me in the eyes and wonder why I don’t do the same. It’s not because a cause is bad, but I do not want this to become a work I am compelled to keep.

Now I use my voice to stand and say, I cannot do it all. I cannot support everything and will not. Just because something bears the label of Christian does not mean that by my choice of religion I am obligated to support it. I hope that as a Christian, the Spirit will guide you and me to support whatever we wish, to be equipped to support it. But I fear what happens when the good is drowned out by so much noise. I don’t want to fall under the weight of something I was never meant to hold.