Category Archives: Evangelism

Love is an Open Door: theology from Frozen

What do apologetics, evangelism and Disney’s “Frozen” have in common? Love! Most people would say fairy tale love has nothing to do with the gospel love of Christ, but as I jammed out in the car to the Frozen Soundtrack with my, soon to be 2, little girl, I picked up on some words in one song that sparked this post.

The song can be viewed in all its quirky glory here:


Love is an Open Door – Frozen Clip on Disney Video

Spoiler Alert:

Hans is not her True Love! In fact, he’s using her to get to the crown. So should we just chuck the song as the dreams of a naive girl soon to be dashed…No

Check out this particular lyric:

“Say goodbye to the pain of the past, We don’t have to feel it anymore…Love is an open door”

The Love described here is a healing love. Perhaps that’s why we as a generation are all chasing love like crazy, at earlier and earlier ages. We are looking for a romantic love to complete us, and heal our pain. But as Anna found out, and our divorce statistics reflect, rushing into this kind of romantic love isn’t working! It’s not healing us! It’s causing further harm by stealing childhoods, early and unsupported pregnancies, quickie divorces etc…

Does that mean a true healing love doesn’t exist? On the contrary; it does! It was exemplified by Jesus’s actions on the cross. God scandalously came to live and die as one of us because HE LOVES HIS CREATION. God wants us to be in right relationship with Him, to “Say goodbye to the pain of the past, We don’t have to feel it anymore…Love is an open door.”

A romantic relationship that is quirky, wonderful and healing does exist. My husband and I have been married for 5 years. We met working for Disney and have survived my losing my mother to a quick battle with Pancreatic Cancer, separation due to military service, and general family dysfunction. But we thrive because we recognize that our love is only a reflection of the love God has for us. The triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an inherently relational God.

We hunger for relationship because we are created in God’s image. Right relationships are founded in sacrificial love, as Jesus demonstrated to us.

Thomas Long: The Witness of preachingTaking this ethic of “love is an open door” deeper into apologetics and theology…

Thomas Long in his book The Witness of Preachingtalks about sermon illustrations as being more than just a window to look in at the gospel. Unfortunately, if the window is dim, dirty, poor, or opaque people focus on the window and not the view beyond. A sermon illustration should not seek to be not a window to glimpse the biblical text and truth through. Rather, a sermon illustration should be an “open door” which invites our hearers into the biblical text.

I’m going to amplify Long here, and say that not just for preaching but for apologetics and evangelism, our whole lives should be open doors which invite people in to the biblical truth that Jesus’s death on the cross means that love really is an open door.

To read more about living a love that invites people to know God you can go back to my previous post Love/Hate Relationship with Faith, Hope, and Love.

For some more reflection about the theology of Frozen you should check out these other blogs:

This one reflects on some of the more problematic theological elements from Elsa http://epictheology.com/2014/05/12/faith-and-film-frozen/

A reflection on the transfiguration that occurs from love http://abroadplace1.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/love-is-an-open-door-why-i-love-frozen/

This one highlights the sacrificial love of the sisters as a type of Christ’s love http://marianninja.blogspot.com/2014/01/do-you-want-to-build-snowman-sanguines.html

Are Convicted Sex Offenders the modern leper?

Warning: This post may trigger traumatic memories and contains details about my familial experience with sexual violence, verbal abuse

This audacious suggestion that sex offenders are the modern leper is how a presentation in my class, mentored ministry:outside parish walls began. At first I listened in stoic silence as a UMC Pastor explained her ministry context and how she began working with sex offenders. The presentation ultimately asked us to answer, “Can Jesus truly change and heal hearts and minds?”
Of course he can…but…As a convicted sex offender stood up and told his story tears began streaming down my face…you see I’m a victim. Not in the classic sense. I wasn’t abused, but a member of my family was.

This family member was my dearest friend, confidante, and partner in crime until I turned age 7. She had just turned 12 and her life was going all kinds of crazy. She was molested at her daycare as a toddler. Now as she began to develop sexually she began acting out. This acting out put her at greater risk of further abuse. At age 13 she was raped, although I wouldn’t find out until much later.

I then became her victim of choice. Everyday my former best friend called me fat, ugly, worthless. She caught me experimenting with my body once and making out with a pillow. She told me I was going to hell. She threatened to kill herself once in front of me, and when I stopped her she threatened to kill me instead. Occasionally the abuse turned physical when I attempted to call parents or authorities she would wrestle and bite me to make me drop the phone. Once she chased me around the house with a knife.Periodically she would go away for awhile to “get better.” But really she just got better at hiding it.

The abuse continued until at 14 I tried to kill myself. I was hospitalized, and suddenly my parents began taking me seriously. Somehow they’d turned a blind eye to what had been going on. Many, many years of therapy later (both hers and  mine) I can say I’m ok, and I’ve forgiven my victimizer and am back on good terms with her. She is some of the only family I have left. But until, Friday I’d never thought of her victimizers, and it certainly hadn’t occurred to me to forgive them…

I sat there listening to this man talk about growing up in the church and having no one to talk to about sex or sexual thoughts, and eventually losing a wife and 2 children because of his public exhibitionism and being forever labeled as a sex offender. He brought up several valid points…

  1. Jesus can save and change lives
  2. the sex offender label is so broad it lumps in urination in public, being 18 and having sex with a 15 year old (in some states), and being a child molestor and murderer.
  3. These people are forever stigmatized even though they are not out patrolling the park in a trenchcoat looking to kidnap your children.

BUT and here’s my problem with the leper analogy.

Leprosy was a physical ailment that was greatly feared would spread and infect the community. Lepers could only rejoin the community after presenting themselves to the priest and being certified as clean.

Sexual offenders have a mental disease or defective coping cycle that results in them acting out in ways that harm the community and (as in my case) spiral out into cycles of abuse.

Can Jesus heal this? Absolutely! BUT, we don’t see a physical manifestation that complete healing has been achieved. We as priests, and pastors are responsible for the safety of those under our care. An alcoholic can be clean and sober for 40 years and then suddenly fall into a bender. Who is to say that a “healed” sex offender won’t also relapse at the sight of someone that looks exactly like one of their victims or under times of great stress.

As I sat in the classroom, traumatized by this flood of memory and emotion, my classmate thanked the man for coming and dug this verbal knife into my side “I was molested by a man at a young age, but I’ve been fully healed by Christ.”

I wanted to punch him! To me his statement seemed to belittle my pain into not being fully healed, and not having a full faith in Christ. You can have forgiveness and healing and still have scars that are painful to the touch.

Any headway the man had made with me in his presentation disappeared as he talked about how resistant some people were to having sex offenders at church. It seems their most vocal opponent was victimized when she was young, and some people take it harder than others. So WAIT WHAT?!?!?! It’s the victims fault if they let it continue to affect their life?

Ultimately yes, the sex offender is the modern day leper, and I believe they deserve to stay that way. The labeling may need to change so that public urination doesn’t get the same label as a molester, but the label is there for the community’s safety. Just like the lepers of old that Jesus healed, some may have faith make them well, but in the absence of clear testable evidence that they will never offend again I believe we are justified in our excluding them from the regular worshiping communities.

Jesus told the parable of a shepherd leaving his flock of 99 sheep to go after the 1 lost sheep. I’m not advocating we leave sex offenders as lost sheep. I’m saying that they, like a leper need to stay in quarantine. Christian communities of sex offenders do exist. The man spoke of one called Miracle Village that houses over 120. Yet they are also integrating into this UMC pastors church with a buddy system pairing of offender with non-offender for safety and no Sunday School or youth ministry contact. But are these safeguards enough? I would say no. The cycle of abuse is too devastating. Jesus told us to not prevent the little children from coming to him. The abuse of and in my family prevented us from truly coming to Christ for a long time.

 

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Funerals in Gangland and the Role of the Gospel

In my various experiences in the Episcopal Church I’ve been to a lot of funerals. Up until now the experience has always been only slightly uncomfortable. The Congregation has always played the part: Dressed usually in black, or occasionally brightly colorful as befitting the celebration of an older member’s passing. Intellectually though, I knew the funeral this past Saturday was going to be different.

As part of my mentored ministry, I am currently engaged in a cross-cultural setting, and I was asked to help out at the funeral of a 17 year old young man that was killed in a drive by shooting. He was a baptized and attending member of the congregation, and I envisioned him as an innocent bystander. There was no real official information about his death to respect both the ongoing investigation

Rosa Parks Funeral, source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/perspective/sets/1258286/

and the family’s privacy. Nevertheless, I expected the funeral would be a lot like the ones I’d experience in the past, only this time with an all Black congregation.

Visually I was expecting the funeral to look a lot like this, and initially it did. I arrived early to help set up, and offer my condolences to the grandmother who was the matriarch of the family. Her side of the family was all turned out in suit and tie, or their Sunday best dresses. She then warned me that the boy’s mother’s side would probably arrive late, and there would be a lot of them. To my surprise, a few young people began to show up dressed more for the club than church.

My surprise grew as a few turned into at least 60 of the young man’s friends and acquaintances. The thing I found truly shocking was they were all wearing a screen printed shirt in addition to their bling, sagged pants, or revealing attire. The shirt had a caricature on the front depicting a dread-locked man with a side cocked hat, gold grill and the caption

Soulja Boy and Mr. Thug in 2013.
Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/100099282@N04/9482810052/

“RIP Bobo.” I found out Bobo was the young man’s street name.

My first thought was, “Oh my God,  How can they glorify the life that got him killed like that?” “How disrespectful to the family?”

As the small church was packed to overflowing, folding chairs were added to all the aisles, and a pew that normally sat 4 or 5 was wedged in with 7. Even still the crowd spread to standing room only in the back with a few of the “young thugs” not even coming into the church.

Despite this unexpected audience, the funeral began like all in the Episcopal Church do…The cross processed, a few hymns were sung, and the Bible lessons, including the ubiquitous Psalm 23. Then the young man’s Uncle stood up to deliver the eulogy.

Here the real curveball began. The deliverer of the eulogy was a Baptist Minister by trade. He began by apologizing to the family, because he was going to step on some toes, and then proceeded to throw out his prepared statement and address the young crowd and give them a “come to Jesus” talk, and tell them that death was coming for them. It’s coming for us all, and if they weren’t prepared they were going to hell.  At first my reflection was positive, these people may never come to a church again, so they need to hear the gospel.

The Pastor began to talk about when you find Jesus, you can still go out, you can still have fun, and you can still get high only its high on the Holy Spirit. I heard a lot of “amens” from the congregation.  As he continued preaching, I became more and more uncomfortable. The sermon had become and “us” vs. “them” all about how they needed to change their lives and get what we had, or end up dead like their friend there. Not only that but it seemed to trample on the needs of the family.

The grandmother had partially raised this boy. He was baptized as an infant, raised in the church, and had been to church the Sunday before he died. This woman was in agony, wondering whether her grandson was in heaven, and here the pastor began using his life as a case study. I don’t know the full circumstances of this young man’s life, but I do know this. Even after I became a Christian it was a long time before I stopped doing stupid stuff.

Reflecting Theologically, Is Evangelism ever appropriate at a funeral?

  1. It’s an emotionally charged situation. These people are not coming there to be converted.
  2. It’s patronizing. People need to reach rock bottom, and want to receive help and want to change. The church becomes yet another nagging voice.
  3. We need to preach the gospel that God is love, merciful. This 17 year old’s death was not just a part of God’s plan to provide the opportunity to witness to his unsaved friends.
  4. We are saved by faith not works. Hammering away at people to “come to Jesus” and “turn their lives around” misses the point that none of us are righteous by our own merit.

Given these factors should we never evangelize at a funeral…Despite the potential for it to go wrong, I say No. A funeral is an opportunity to share the very heart of the gospel of God’s love, and to show that love to others. It’s an opportunity to invite people to reflect on life, and how short it is.  The role of the gospel here is consolation for the family, despite any setbacks or relapses into sin this young man was washed clean in the blood of the lamb, and we trust that he has eternal life.