What Josh Duggar did 12 years ago still matters. Here’s why.

My heart aches for the Duggar family.

It really does.

Sure, I’ve never been a fan of their reality show and I disagree with most of their social, religious, and political stances; but this latest news is simply tragic. In fact, tragic doesn’t even begin to explain what they’re going through now, what they went through then, and what they’ll experience down the road. That said, no matter how much I might disagree with the tenets of their public platform, my heart still breaks for them.

But I’m also thinking, what the hell?

I mean, seriously folks, what in the literal Hell?

The more I try to comprehend the details of this tragedy, the more my heart aches but the more I also think, what the hell. And while I hope I’m still not asking that question three months from now, right now, a little less than 48 hours after first hearing about Josh Duggar’s childhood abuses, asking what the hell is just about as much grace as I can muster up.

Now, God willing, given some time, my grace will evolve into something more akin to the grace of God, whatever that might look like.

But feeling God’s kind of grace takes time. Sometimes lots of time. Still, I’m writing about this topic because it matters. What Josh Duggar did 12 years ago still matters. And no number of people telling us otherwise should cause us to think differently

It still matters because it involves the safety and protection of children.

Are the Duggar kids safe? Are Jim Bob and Michelle wise enough to handle the decision making for all of the kids who live in their quiver?

Are Josh Duggar’s kids at risk? Are the children/teenagers of his closest friends safe? Does he work/volunteer in youth ministry? Children’s ministry? All of these are uneasy questions perhaps, but they are also very relevant questions.

But they aren’t unkind questions. And they’re not ungracious questions. They are necessary questions.

Because what happened 12 years ago still matters.

It still matters because Josh Duggar’s actions as a teenager weren’t just “mistakes,” they were choices, most likely calculated thought-out choices.

As much as some Christians would like to sweep these offenses under the “teenage boy curiosity” rug or the “normal teenager stupidity” rug or the “he confessed his sins and God forgave him 12 years ago” rug, a 14-year-old kid does not just wake up one day and think, “I’m going to sexually violate my little sister’s private parts today.” In most instances, this kind of behavior is thought out. It’s processed. It’s often organized and planned.

It still matters because Josh’s actions 12 years ago showcase predator-like behavior. These abuses happened multiple times over a 2 year period. He abused a multiple number of victims, most of which were his siblings. It’s been reported that one of his victims was as young as 4 years old. In several instances, the victims were sleeping.

And then, years later Josh became the director of the Family Research Counsel.

I mean, what the hell? How can this not matter?

It still matters because it still matters to the victims.

We haven’t heard from the victims yet. Why is that? Are they being silenced? Are their responses still being written? Would their responses concur with Josh’s response? His parents’s response?

Whatever the reasons for their silence, one thing is for sure, what happened 12 years ago still matters to them. How can it not matter to them?

Four out of the 5 known victims have been forced much of their lives to share a home with their abuser. Their abuser has been protected. Their abuser has been put in influential positions.

Hopefully all of them are receiving the treatment and therapy needed to continue their recovery. Hopefully they all feel free enough to express their troubles to parents or therapists. Because the effects of sexual abuse just don’t go away. They don’t simply disappear and never affect our lives again. And that matters. How Josh’s actions have affected his sisters’s lives matter.

Are the victims allowed to share their sides of the stories? Do they feel free to do that? Are their stories being kept silent by outside powers? Inside powers? Were they blamed at all? Were they expected and/or forced to forgive their abuser?

Are Jim Bob and Michelle wise enough to know that what Josh did still matters to their kids who are victims?

It still matters because at the root of the Duggar brand is the belief that kids are awesome! Which is true, of course. But their “Have lots of children” message may have been a part of the problem.

It seems that Jim Bob and Michelle’s quiver was/is way too full. Because at the end of the day, mom and dad Duggar helped cultivate an environment that led to the abuse happening. In other words, were they present? Or were they too busy with other kids or making other kids to notice the breakdown?

Because it didn’t just happen once. Or even twice. Or three times. It happened over and over and over again. And it went on for a year or two.

It still matters because for the last seven years the Duggars have turned their have-lots-of-kids lifestyle into a brand, a cause, a platform, an agenda. They’ve used their fame to make a lot of money and used their kids and their ability to have more kids keep that money coming in. But what were they willing to risk in order to project their messages on TLC? What did they sacrifice in hopes of holding on to their fame?

Because that matters.

I ache for the Duggars. I ache for all of the victims. I hope they are free to share their stories if they feel so inclined.

But seriously.

What the hell…

 

11 Christian Books To Give Moms

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When Jessica, my wife, was writing her book, The Fringe Hours: Making Time For You (<-an excellent book idea for mothers in my opinion), she surveyed more than 2000 women, engaging them with questions about their time, their passions, and their self-care. When asked about what they love to do most with their free time, reading a good book was the overwhelming favorite answer among the women polled. So, with Mother’s Day only a few days away (it’s this coming Sunday), perhaps the ideal gift for the moms in your life is a book. Below, you’ll find a list of my recent favorites, all of which would best fit the spiritually-minded mother…

 

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Searching For Sunday is Rachel Held Evans‘s best book yet in my opinion, a memoir/opinion title that in many ways feels like today’s Blue Like Jazz, a reflection about God, faith, and the church that speaks to wide array of people of faith as well as people who might uncertain about faith.

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Margaret Feinberg is one of my favorite people in the world. Her presence is kind, vulnerable, human, and brimming with hope. One of the things I love most about Margaret’s writing is that it radiates her persona; reading her work makes you feel as though you’re engaging in an intimate conversation with her. That is especially true in Fight Back with Joya book in which Margaret shares her very personal and difficult battle with breast cancer. Amid her fight, she begins a journey toward learning and relearning what it means to have joy—pure joy. Fight Back with Joy had me laughing, crying, and cheering—sometimes all at the same time.

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Donald Miller is a damn good writer. Though some have suggested that his latest, Scary Closeis self indulgent at times (duh, it’s a memoir, most memoirs could be described as such), I love this book. In fact, it’s likely my favorite of Miller’s books as it covers topics that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, relationships and intimacy. And while Miller offers a fair share of advice in Scary Close, most of his wisdom is left to be gleaned from the stories he shares, some of which are vulnerable and honest.

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I’m a huge fan of Barbara Brown Taylor. Her prose is like poetry, her messages and narratives ring true like wise old fables from long ago. Learning to Walk in the Dark is one of those books about light/dark/good/evil that will stay with you long after you read the last word.

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I adore Anna Whiston-Donaldson. In Rare Bird, Her strength, courage, and will to believe after losing her son in an unforeseen natural disaster is contagious, honest, and filled with a kind of hope I can’t even begin to explain. By far, this was one of last year’s best books. Though it’s a tear-jerker in the beginning, stay with it and it will move you like few books do.

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Anything Lauren Winner writes is well-worth reading, from her much-loved Girl Meets God to her more reflective Stillbut I think her latest, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Ways of Meeting God is her most interesting and thoughtful to date. What I love most about this book is that it’s both deep and practical, a work that teaches you something new that you likely haven’t heard before and yet it encourages one to discover God in some of the everyday tangible aspects of life. Though Winner’s work might not be for every mom, it indeed will delight those who love to dive into a thought-provoking, sometimes challenging read.

And a few more to check out…

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Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther 

 

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Speak by Nish Weiseth

 

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Found by Micha Boyett

 

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Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

 

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Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

One lesson all of us can learn from Armenians…

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Five weeks ago, I stood on a mountaintop overlooking Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia, gazing out across a valley of houses, apartment complexes, warehouses, and office buildings, quietly praying the words of Psalm 23 over the million+ people who call this city home. That’s what I do when I can’t find the words to pray, when my head is too weighted down with questions, when my heart is too overwhelmed by my surroundings: I whisper the words of King David. 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…

But the truth is, I was wanting. In fact, my soul was wanting a lot. Visiting Yerevan’s Genocide Memorial affected me. It still affects me.

This week marks the 100-year anniversary of the genocide, a massacre that historians estimate killed more than 1.5 million people.

Prior to learning that I would be visiting Armenia with World Vision, I didn’t know about the 1915 genocide. It’s embarrassing to admit that. But it’s true, nonetheless.

And yet, when you talk to somebody of Armenia descent, regardless of where they live in the world, nearly every one of them will tell you a name—usually it’s a name of a grandparent or great grandparent or a distant aunt or uncle—of somebody who was personally affected by the events that began in 1915. The stories about the victims and/or survivors are the narratives they grew up hearing and learning about. These stories are etched into the very fibers of their histories, their makeups, their beings. These stories have shaped their worldview and nourished their family’s roots.

Though 100 years have passed, for many Armenian people all over the world, the genocide of 1915 is very much a present event, one that lives on inside of them.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …

One Armenian woman said this: “I think we’re still waiting for the rest of the world to acknowledge the pain of our past.”

A spark of hope lit up inside millions of Armenians’s hearts last week when, during his Sunday mass, Pope Francis called the events of 1915 “genocide.” That was a huge step in a hopeful direction for a people who have waited a century for many of the most powerful and influential world leaders to acknowledge that what the Ottoman Empire committed in 1915 was genocide. But the pope’s words also caused a firestorm of political anger.

The UN quickly rejected Pope Francis’s claims. Turkey’s leaders fired back at the pope, suggesting that the leader of the Catholic church had joined an “evil front” against Turkey.

While France, Great Britain, and Russia all acknowledge the massacre as a genocide, once again, the United States will steer clear of using the word. Despite his campaign promise to join the declaration, when President Obama commemorates the genocide on April 24, he will use all the words available to define a genocide, but due to opposition from the State House and key Pentagon officials, he will not call it a genocide for fear that it would disrupt our relationship with Turkey.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies …

It’s uncanny how just one word, a truthful word according to most history scholars, can create such turmoil, anxiety, and political disruption. And while it’s easy for many of us to cast judgment on Turkey’s refusal to revisit the deeds of their ancestors 100 years ago, it’s rarely easy for any country to revisit the sins of its past, let alone, showcase a national solidarity in seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. The process is complicated. The ramifications are often complex. And the pathway is bumpy, political, and often laced with an excruciating aftermath.

Consider the United States’s long and complicated path toward recognizing the multitude of wrongs committed against Native Americans.  What if there was a mass cry for the U.S. government to recognize these sins as genocide? We can’t even agree that the Washington Redskins should change their name, let alone come to terms with the truth of our history.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life…

The one lesson that all of us can learn from the Armenian people is this: hand down your story to the next generation. Whatever that story is. Whether it’s painful or powerful, provocative or political, give the next generation the opportunity to experience and grow and remember and learn from the events of our pasts. Because that’s what’s kept this story alive: Great grandparents told the stories. Grandparents reiterated the stories. Parents retold the stories again. And today’s generation of Armenians continue to remember and value and respect the pain of their ancestors.

They are a living testament to the power of story and how, despite all the politics and denial and stone-throwing they’ve faced, the story of the Armenian Genocide lives on.

… Amen.

Why I feel sorry for Indiana’s Christian business owners…

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Congratulations Indiana. You’ve done it. Your Christianity is free! That’s how your promoting this new law, right—as freedom? Freedom from the gay agenda? Freedom from governmental influence? Freedom from the words of Jesus to love thy neighbors?

And what “freedom” it is, too. I mean, seriously, your religious bakers no longer have to make butter cream frosting for lesbian mouths. Your Jesus-loving construction workers are legally protected to say no to the gay couple who wants to build their first home. All of your faith-based business owners can now safely and legally avoid selling their products to the good people of the GLBTQ community. That sounds like some amazing freedom.

However, I’m still not sure why your state’s Christianity is so afraid of gay people. You guys bake wedding cakes and build houses for Pentecostals. And you do that without blinking an eye. I mean, if you’re so bent on protecting your state’s faith, you might consider discriminating against those Pentecostal people who turn the Gospel into magic tricks, 401k plans, and pony shows every Sunday. They seem far more dangerous to your Christianity than gay people who want to get married.

But then again, you and I both know this new law has nothing to do with protecting Indiana’s religiosities. If that were true, you’d have stopped making wedding cakes and homes for a long list of people years ago. No, this law is about giving so-called Christian business owners the freedom to be jackasses if they want to. You’ve given them the right to discriminate against a group of people who have been discriminated against since pretty much the beginning of time. How does that make you feel? Proud? Lonely? Christ-like? But what I don’t understand is why. For what cause have you passed this new law? And please don’t say you’ve done this for Jesus. Just don’t go there because there’s nothing remotely Jesusish about this law.

If I’m honest, I actually feel sorry for the business owners who are celebrating this new “freedom”. Because for one thing, what do they really have to celebrate anyway? I mean, I can only imagine that the thrill of “Yay, we get to discriminate!” won’t last long. I mean, come on, you and I both know that discrimination is exhausting over time, even for Christians. And they’ll not only be fighting their consciences—yes, deep down they know this new law is wrong—but they’re also fighting against the grain of an entire culture. Sure, that fight will cause them to feel as proud and haughty as Puritans for a while because going against the culture does that to religious folk. But soon, that pride will fade and keeping up the passion for avoiding gay patrons will become a great burden. Hate is a terrible weight to carry. And then, at some point, their freedom to discriminate will intersect with their personal lives. They’ll learn that somebody they’ve known and sold things to is gay or they’ll find out that their son or daughter is gay and then they’ll have to choose between their freedom and their emotional connections.

Is that freedom?

But Indiana, mostly I feel sorry for your Christian business owners because you’ve given them a free pass to stop evolving. That’s right. In your attempt to offer their faith-based convictions a little ease, you’ve actually put them in a kind of prison, one that will keep them inside their closed-minded little worlds feeling safe and “free” from gay people. You’ve given them the right to pass on conversing or interacting with a multitude of really good people. But not only that, you’ve put up one more roadblock, a divider that will prevent them benefiting from the stories, the experiences, and not to mention, the pocketbooks of some amazing people who happen to be gay. And sadly, people who have permission slips to be intolerant remain intolerant.

You’ve taken a huge step backwards, Indiana, a step back that will have consequences in the years to come, a step back that makes life harder and more cumbersome for all involved, a step back that other people will have to invest time, energy, and money into fighting against in hopes of overturning. You might call it religious freedom, but we both know there’s nothing about it that’s religious or free.

Yesterday, I met some of the most vulnerable people in the world…

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Across the snow-covered mountains that surround the region of Amasia, light from the winter sun glistens against the ice, making it difficult to see. The air is dry and thin atop of this range, a cluster of high rolling hills that run north and stop just shy of the border that Armenia shares with Georgia. Life is never easy in the northwest corner of Armenia’s Shirak province, but for no less than seven months a year winter makes the uneasy life nearly impossible sometimes for families who live amid the valleys and on the ridges of this tundra. A majority of those who call Amasia home are considered to be among Armenia’s poorest, most vulnerable people.

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I’ve witnessed some of the worst poverty in the world. I’ve seen the slums of Nicaragua. I’ve witnessed the hardships of Kentucky’s Appalachia region. I’ve walked among mud huts in Uganda’s Gulu District. I’ve played “Mother May I” with orphans at a home in Cluj Napoca, Romania. In my travels I’ve learned a great deal about poverty. I know its effects. I know that sometimes its effects are easily reversed and that sometimes its deeds take years to turn around. I know that sometimes its consequences can be easily seen, but that sometimes the darkest byproducts of poverty are the kind you don’t see or can’t. But on this trip to Armenia, I’ve experienced a new kind of poverty, a kind that I’ve never fully seen before, a kind that forces one to not only surrender to or fight the effects of destitution but do so against a severe and bitter climate amid an abominable geography.

Seven months of hard winter amid an intolerable topography put the thousands of children who live in Amasia’s villages among the world’s most helpless.

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That’s why we chose to come to Armenia, to shine a light on the struggles of a country and people in which many people in the United States are unfamiliar.

The families here have broken down homes—walls with holes and cracks, floors that are rotting and can’t handle the weight of a few hundred pounds. Most of them don’t have running water or electricity. They use outhouses and their bathtubs are outside next to their dog pens or chicken coops. They use wood stoves to boil water for food and baths, to bake bread, and to keep a room or two in their homes warm. Few trees grow in these tundra-like conditions, so they have to collect, dry, and burn horse and cow dung as a substitute. Most moms and dads don’t have jobs and depend on unreliable odds-and-ends work to make ends meet, which rarely happens. Nobody has access to birth control, so often their families grow to six or seven children very quickly. Health care is rarely available. Kids often go to bed hungry or with growling unsatisfied tummies. Which is why their bodies stop growing and their teeth rot and sometimes fall out prematurely. Often times, due to the lack of work, fathers travel for long periods of time to Moscow or St. Petersburg to find work, leaving mothers to run homes and small makeshift farms. Though parents practically give up everything in order for their children to go to school, their educations rarely save them from falling into the same generational traps that befell their fathers and mothers.

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And for seven months out of every year, their difficult lives are lived amid sufferably cold temperatures, snow storm after snow storm, and a dry thin air that almost takes your breath away.

Their aged faces tell their stories. Their empty eyes punctuate just how hard life feels. Their slow and careful swaggers showcase their lack of hope.

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Last October World Vision started a new work amid the villages and towns of Amasia. Nearly 2500 kids have signed up for the sponsorship program. More than 500 kids have already found people who would become their cheerleaders and supporters. But so many more are still waiting, hoping that somebody might click on their name and face and sponsor them through World Vision.
I met my little Armenia child on Saturday. Angelina’s big brown eyes melted my heart. We were at restaurant that had wifi, so I was able to introduce little Angelina to Jessica, Elias, Adeline, and Ezra. Angelina’s mom hugged me and cried tears of joy because Jessica and I made a choice to sponsor her little girl. And she said, “Angelina’s dreams are possible now because you and your beautiful family.” And that’s my prayer, that Angelina will now have the chance to rise above the circumstances that have held her parents and grandparents and great grandparents back. But I also pray that because of Angelina, my kids will grow up with a strong desire to help people.

You can sponsor a child from Armenia right now by clicking here.

God have mercy on us: the genocide of 1.5 million Christians that America refuses to acknowledge

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God have mercy on us.

That was how the young charismatic priest ended his prayer, by repeating once more a request for heaven to have mercy on his beloved country, Armenia. Later we learned that God’s mercy is a holy idea that believers in this onetime state of the former Soviet Union have weaved throughout their Church’s liturgy for centuries, a longing I swear I can see weighing on the brows of a multitude of men and women who call Armenia home. Since walking out of the airport on Wednesday evening, I’ve been unable to escape the gnawing feeling that a real and present sadness hangs over Armenia, a mostly unspoken yearning that seems almost etched onto the beautiful faces of these God-loving people. Maybe I’m over emotionalizing my experience. Or maybe the melancholy I’m sensing is a sincere hunger for mercy from the Almighty.

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While I’m not ready to make blanketed conclusions about a people I’ve only shared space with for two days, this country’s plight seems not only present in the social and economic poverty that challenges this nation in its here and now but deeply rooted in the long and pain-stricken injustices it’s endured throughout its history. Its greatest generational scars exist because of the Great Massacre of 1915, a genocide enacted by the Turks in which 1.5 million men, women, and children, a people who mostly identified as followers of Jesus, were murdered.

One New York Times headline from 1914 broke the story: Erzurum Fanatics Slay Christians, Holy War Proclamation Followed by Destruction of Armenian’s Buildings

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This tragedy still haunts the Armenian people, partly because it was an annihilation that impacted the genealogy of every family, a story that personally affects every living Armenian today. But perhaps the biggest reason the killings of 1915 still cause people to become mournful and reflective today is because the genocide is still widely disputed. Turkey denies it was a genocide at all. And countries like the United States and Great Britain also refuse to acknowledge its realities because of political and international relationships with Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries. In the United States, a politically charged debate regarding its refusal to call the events of 1915 a genocide happened once more in 2010.

You can read more about Armenia and the genocide here.

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Though the two countries share a border, no relationship exists between Turkey and Armenia. But the genocide isn’t the only history that weighs on Armenian. These are also a people who are still trying to outlive its Soviet roots. Its relationship with Azerbaijan on its eastern border is hostile. Even the effects of a massive earthquake in 1988 are still evident in certain parts of the country’s infrastructure.

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Its dark history is a vivid backdrop to the challenges it faces today, challenges that include one-third of its population suffering the symptoms of poverty. Amid impoverished conditions, more than 25 percent of Armenia’s youth suffer depression. Abuse of alcohol and drugs are on the rise. Stunting, the poverty and malnutrition-induced condition in which children are undersized and underdeveloped, affects 1 out of 5 kids. Unemployment and economic woes also plague the Eurasian country.

It’s no wonder Armenia’s consistent prayer to God is for mercy.

Today, after the priest prayed that prayer one more time, I was filled with questions: What does God’s mercy for Armenia look like? How, amid suffering, are they still able to pray that prayer with conviction and/or belief that God might do something? And what role should we, a people who are rich and known for helping the poorest of the poor, become the active mercy of God for the children of Armenia?

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Right now, in a community 50 miles north of Gyumri, in the snow-covered hills along the Georgian border, there are more than 1000 children in crisis, suffering the longstanding and various effects of poverty. These children are dreaming of God’s mercy. They are, hoping to become a part of a new Armenian generation, a generation that will break the cycles that poverty and tragic history often cause. They are all waiting to hear the good news of God’s mercy that somebody from the United States has decided to sponsor them.

They need our help, friends. Sponsorship through World Vision is a proven path for helping communities turn the tide. If you are reading this post, would you consider becoming a part of God’s mercy for one kid by sponsoring him or her through World Vision?

Together we can help lift the cloud of sadness that lingers over this country’s people. Together we can bring nutrition, clean water, health and wellness, and emotional and spiritual nourishment to the children who are suffering the most. Together we can bring a good answer to the prayer that’s threaded through the liturgy of Armenia’s church, that God would have mercy.

Please sponsor a child from Armenia today.

Looking for rainbows amid suffering, genocide, and other mysteries of God

As a child, my father loved telling me Bible stories before bedtime. Animated and full of belief, Dad told the stories of God and God’s people with such rich enthusiasm that me and my sister, Elisabeth, would plead every single night for another story. The stories of the Bible played such an integral part of my childhood. The narratives of people like Moses, King David, Esther, and Daniel were potent echoes of hope, faith, and devotion for me, sometimes inspiring my curiosity to know God and sometimes haunting my imagination like ghost stories.

But one Bible story stood out more than all of the other stories, a story about a man and a dark tragedy–a massacre some call it–that in many ways was more important than Jesus’s story, a narrative with a plot and theme that was, to my church’s theologies and worldview–like a Missing Link.

Through the story of Noah and the Great Flood—that terrible, mysterious, and confusing account from Genesis about how God became so troubled with humanity that Heaven’s only option was death to all by drowning—the pastors and leaders at my church explained fossils, environmental concerns, the Grand Canyon, the reasons why Earth’s lands broke apart into continents, and that’s just the beginning. Our faith, politics, and science were hinged to the belief that God had once intentionally covered Earth for 40 days and nights with one mighty monsoon. To those of us who believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that God created Earth in 6 days and that the planet was roughly 6000 years old, give or take 7 years, the Flood was our secret not-so-secretive weapon. The Great Flood killed the dinosaurs. The Great Flood was the reason why human and animal remains were found amid rock layers that scientists dated to be much much much MUCH older than 6000 years. The Great Flood was the reason why fossils of tropical plant life were found in Alaska and large coal beds found in Antarctica. The Great Flood was of utmost importance to me and the members of the church I grew up in.

And yet, amid this tragic tale, a tale that offers us a glimpse of God’s darker side, a man called Noah believed—for more than 100 years— that God had a divine purpose for him and his family. And of course, as the story goes, Noah built an ark, God sent animals two by two, and then, after Noah and his family boarded, God shut the ark’s door. For more than 300 days Noah’s family was on that boat. And when the boat finally rested on dry ground, it was amid the Mountains of Ararat.

Next week, I will be closer to the story of Noah than ever before, amid a people and culture far more influenced and affected by the Genesis story than I was. The inhabitants of Armenia, the tiniest of the former Soviet Union’s republics located just east of Turkey, have a long tattered relationship with Noah’s story. That’s because Mount Ararat was amid their borders, a fact that brought much pride to the Armenian people. Throughout history Armenia has suffered incredible loss, torture, and discrimination at the hands of the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols, Ottoman Turks, and Russians. Armenia’s greatest loss was suffered under the Turks in 1915, when during World War 1 somewhere between 600,000 and 1.5 million were murdered or died of starvation. It’s said that the genocide of 1915 still haunts the Armenian people today. At some point during the mass murder of innocent Armenian people, the Turks secured control of the Mountains of Ararat. After suffering such immense loss, alas, Armenia lost one of its most prized possessions, Mt. Ararat. [Source]

However, despite Turkey stealing Mt. Ararat and all of its beauty from Armenia, the Turks did not take away the Armenian people’s deep and profound connection to the biblical story of Noah, a narrative that I’m told still lives and breathes and beats among its people, bringing them much national pride and inspiring them with a hope that God always provides a way out, a way through, a way forward.

Even when there’s great pain. Even amid long and terrible suffering. Even despite miserable unspeakable circumstances.

The Armenians have a long history of believing that God provides.

Next week, I’ll see Mt. Ararat. Oh how I wish my father could be with me on that day. I just know how much he’d enjoy seeing the mountain where Noah’s ark is said to be resting.

But according to those who have been there before, I’ll not only see the mountain where Noah saw the rainbow, I’ll experience the story of Noah through the stories and lives and cultures and faiths of Armenia’s people, its cathedrals, its pain.

While encountering the echoes of Noah, I’ll also witness poverty. I was told that the poverty I’ll run into in Armenia will be unlike any poverty I’ve seen before. Which is saying something considering I’ve seen what poverty looks like in Asia, Africa, South and Central America, Europe, and in Chicago, Appalachia, Philadelphia, and Nashville, Tennessee.

For a long time, I’ve wondered what the story of Noah really says about God. Because God seems so bipolar in Noah’s story, a deity who’s portrayed as both the antagonist and hero, the taker and provider, a wrecking ball and the restorer, the terror and the salvation. Oh how that biblical story leaves me with questions, frustrations, and doubt. For me, Noah’s story is just so difficult to comprehend, so much so that I’ve mostly avoid talking about it with my kids, unsure how to explain the seemingly dual roles of God. Lately, I’ve become convinced that I might always have those questions and frustrations. And I’m okay with that.

However, for the next 10 days, I’m pushing pause on my godly wonderings regarding Noah’s story. I’m not going to pack or unpack any of those big questions. In fact, I’m not even going to take the questions with me. Now, they might well up inside while I’m there. But it won’t be on purpose because I want to encounter the tragedy and hope of Noah and the Great Flood through the lens of a people who have suffered terrible loss and yet find hope and faith to believe that God will provide. I want to experience the mystery of Noah again, without my questions and/or conclusions.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to play the tiniest of roles in the restoration that God has planned for Armenia. And too, maybe I’ll be able to encourage others to become small portions of Armenia’s new beginning.

And perhaps I’ll see a rainbow.

Oh how I’d love to see a rainbow. Or bet yet, be a rainbow, cast a colorful reflection of God’s promise over the life of a child and his or her family.

Six weeks ago, my family and I sponsored this little girl:

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Isn’t she just delightful? She’s 5. And her name is Angelina. I’ll have the pleasure of meeting Angelina and her family next week.

Right now, thousands of little ones are hoping for their own rainbows… would you consider joining me in sponsoring a child from Armenia through World Vision?

Whether you sponsor a child or not, I hope you will join me as I go on this adventure, this quest to reengage a biblical story that I’ve known my whole life, my search amid heartbreak and hunger for a glimpse of a rainbow, the promises of God.

Why We Become Morons When it Snows

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I live in Nashville, and I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of people in this town turn into complete morons whenever we hear rumors that we might be getting flurries. Yes, the chance for flurries make some of us really nervous and compulsive. As soon as our weather people start talking about flurries like its frozen acid, a lot of us start to get urges to go grocery shopping, just to beat the mass rush. We buy bread. We buy toilet paper. We buy frozen pizzas, twinkles, and potato chips. After trips to the grocery store, some of us run out to purchase new snow shovels and bags of salt not because we need them but because we’ve misplaced the shovel and salt we bought the last time Old Man Winter put his creepy cold hand on our thigh. And then we come home, sit on our couches, eat our chips, and we watch The Weather Channel until we feel Winter’s fingers moving up our leg.

Of course, usually the rumors turn out to be really cold rain.

But the reasons why we go through the same theatrics each and every time even though the majority of the snow storms never come is because, just like most us believe that hand holding leads to babies, we’ve learned from experience that flurries lead to 25 car pileups. Old Man Winter isn’t just a dirty old bastard to us Nashvillians, but rather he’s a peeping Tom who stands outside our window and watches us watching the Weather Channel and laughs. And sometimes he comes he comes inside and chases us around the house with a steak knife. Which is why we embrace fully the fear that a snow storm eventually kills, because in Nashville, it’s true. Flurries kill.

Snow kills drivers on our highways. It kills our kids’s chances of going to school for days. It kills our plans of going to the Apple Store at the Green Hills Mall. Snow kills everything eventually. And we’re afraid of it.

But our fear and loathing of snow is nothing compared to what we feel when Old Man Winter lays a thin layer of ice on our city. I mean, you people who live in places like Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Canada laugh at us because 3 inches of snow shuts our city down for at least 3 days plus or minus 2. And maybe, when it comes to snow, your jokes are warranted. I mean the last time 4 inches of snow hit our town, it was like an apocalypse! There were more cars in ditches than there were on the road. Because we’re terrible drivers on dry land, we turn into serial killers when it snows. And it’s true, most of you could maneuver around this town in 3 inches of snow with the ease of John Maher visiting an STD clinic.

But what if that inch of snow were ice? Because that’s what Nashville got slammed with yesterday–an inch or so of ice! Yes, ice. Like seriously, Nancy Kerrigan could lace up and go out on any one of our side streets and perform a double axel. Well technically, Nancy could never really do a double axel. But you know what I mean. It’s ice–a thick layer of ice. Ice that you slip and slide on. It’s great for sledding but unless your Santa with a sleigh, getting around on it in a car isn’t easy whether you’re from Nashville or the Tundra.

Yesterday, more than 200 hundred accidents happened around Nashville. It would have been even worse had it snowed rather than sleeted–because more of Nashville’s morons would have ventured out onto the roads in the snow. Go ahead and poke fun at us for acting like Justin Bieber on Instagram whenever it snows. Because honestly, it’s sort of pathetic.

But ice storms are completely different! That’s what we tell ourselves anyway, that not even an Eskimo would be able to drive his or her minivan around on ice. And if that’s not true, don’t tell us, ok?! Because deep down we’re ashamed of how we act in snow but we believer that how we act on ice is how anybody would act on ice. Why? Because Old Man Winter is a stalker! He’s Kevin Bacon in River Wild. He’s Nicole Kidman during every live interview. He puts ice on our roads! And for 72 hours, he murders our hopes and dreams and belittles our egos.

 

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Progressive Fundamentalism: A necessary conversation

I grew up in a church environment that shunned people who didn’t believe exactly the same things about God and culture that I believed in. Our community wasn’t built on love, peace, and understanding; its foundation was agreement. Disagreements often caused huge conflicts, many of which ended with somebody being asked to leave or leaving angrily on their own. Those people became like ghosts to those of us who remained. We didn’t talk to them, look at them, and went to great lengths to avoid them whenever we saw them around town.

I left that kind of religiosity on purpose, because it was emotionally and spiritually suffocating.

A gathering of any kind can certainly fall prey to the behavior of fundamentalism, though it seems to favor groups of people who commune together because of a belief or conviction. Belief and conviction are the two ingredients that make fundamentalism so prevalent among conservative Christians, evangelicals, charismatics, and the like.

But lately, I’ve encountered the spirit of fundamentalism among those who consider themselves progressive. This isn’t new trend, of course, but among progressive Christians, fundamentalisms are difficult to pinpoint because there’s a good bit of belief diversity among progressive believers. Assuming what most evangelicals believe isn’t a perfect art, but it’s certainly much easier to do than trying to assume what progressive believe. Our assumptions about progressives becomes much more accurate when considering the numbers of ways and reasons they challenge conservative and moderate Christians. So while fundamentalist tendencies have always existed among progressives, they tend to remain at a much lower volume than those from our more conservative sects.

But lately, perhaps because progressive Christianity is gaining in popularity or because it’s becoming more visible online, the mean spirited, anger-ridden, must-agree-on-everything spirituality that I grew up in has been boiling up among those who identify as progressive Christians, open-minded believers seemingly enraged with self-righteousness and intoxicated by the assumption that they have it right.

While progressive fundamentalism isn’t as common as the conservative evangelical variety that we’ve all encountered, it’s happening often enough that we need to start talking about it. Because it’s getting louder and more and more laced with God-and-self-inspired hatred. And because many of us progressive types have fought the good fight against American Christianity’s better known fundy culture for so long that it would be very easy for us to become tacky, mean-spirited believers without even realizing it, the kind of people who rally, complain, and shun each other just like those we have called out.

Last week, Benjamin L. Corey and I chatted about progressive fundamentalism on That God Show. I hope you’ll give it a listen.