Complex Trauma & Simple Martyrdom

The etymology for the word trauma literally means “wound, hurt, or defeat.” Trauma patients, psychologically speaking, have generally been assumed to be persons that underwent massive trauma, such as rape or war, and they are treated as having the diagnosis of “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD).

Judith Herman in her book Trauma and Recovery from 1992, was the first to discuss a type of trauma which was not the result of a singular massive event, but from prolonged mini-traumas.

The-ScreamFor example, this means that a child who was repeatedly told they are a “loser” or that they were a “disappointment,” may in actuality be akin to a child who was sexually molested. Herman believed that psychologically, they both needed to be treated for trauma in a similar fashion. Chronic and accumulative mini trauma is known as Complex-PTSD, or simply, C-PTSD.

To reieterate, PTSD can result from single events, or short term exposure to extreme stress or trauma. Whereas C-PTSD is caused by accumulative, chronic or sustained exposure to emotional trauma or abuse from which no short-term means of escape is available or apparent to the victim.

Unfortunately, in 2018, 26 years after Herman first published her book Trauma and Recovery, the psychological community at large has not totally adopted C-PTSD. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV and new DSM-5) only list PTSD, and has ignored C-PTSD as a mental disorder.

If trauma means “wound,” then why have many psychologists given priority to massive wounds? Is it worse to be cut once by a sword or stabbed 50 times by a pocket knife? Any medical doctor would treat both patients as having undergone massive trauma, and dress the wounds properly. Is psychological trauma somehow different than physical trauma? Why have many psychologists given massive trauma priority over prolonged and accumulative mini traumas? (Thankfully many do treat C-PTSD, and they treat it well. However, the fact remains that the DSM-5 has ignored this diagnosis, and thus also its treatment.)

I do not want to minimize the pain of victims in the slightest, indeed, I believe that C-PTSD patients have truly been wounded and need to be treated as truly having experienced massive trauma. However, what I want to now look at is a different type of trauma known in Christian circles as “martyrdom.”

When a Christian refers to a “martyr,” they are without doubt referring to a person who has literally died because they refused to deny Christ in the face of their adversaries. I argue that this picture has brought immeasurable damage to the Christian faith.

“Martyr” comes from the Greek word for “witness” — a martyr is nothing less than a “witness for Christ!” And yes, there have been many times in history when martyrs (witnesses) have suffered persecution and death by adversaries because of their faithful witness.

Why has the concept of martyrdom been glorified?

I believe that Christians have neglected martyrdom in exactly the same way that psychologists have neglected trauma, and that this needs to change. Or perhaps better yet, Christians have misunderstood what it means to be persecuted and die.

The apostle Paul wrote, “I die every day.” (1 Cor. 15.31) And again, “Life is hidden in death.” And “for me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Every time we resist temptation, we die. Every time we confess our sins, we die. Every time we pray for someone, we die. Every time we love our enemies, we die. Every time we help someone, we die. Every time we are a witness for Christ, we die. Every time we act responsibly — whether it is standing up for civil rights, taking out the trash, or changing diapers — we die. “Our life is hidden in our death.” (Col. 3.3) This is the only way we can make sense of what Paul means when he says, “I die every day.”

diaper

Ultimate martyrdom is a one-time event which focuses on a different-world. Mundane martyrdom is this-worldly and every-day. If mini-things can add up to a profound trauma, why can’t we look at the mini-things in a therapeutic way? This in nowise is trying to minimize the pain which others experience, no, this is only dealing with the self. When we see others experiencing tragedy, we show compassion rather than minimize it, we mourn with those who mourn, and rejoice with those who rejoice.

The mundane, simple martyrdom I am speaking of is likened to C-PTSD. It is not easily accepted by the community, and it is based upon accumulation. But the truth of the matter is that it keeps us grounded in this-world, and if our “religion” takes us out of this world, then it is useless, for it is nothing less than a worthless ideology which leads to greater victimization.

Becoming Child-Like

This blog is adapted from a sermon I preached a few weeks after my daughter was born.

On 10 January 2016, my wife gave birth to our little Princess, Leona Mae. I had no idea that my heart would ever be able to love someone this much. My heart is exploding with praise and gratitude towards God—who am I that he would entrust my wife and I to take care of Leona? Today, I am proclaiming the word of God and I pray it encourages you all, but if I am honest with myself, it is also a type of love letter to my little 3.3kg Princess. I would ask for your forgiveness as I show pride in my child, however, I think it is a good reminder of the pride which God the Father has for each and every one of us. The love I have for my child is merely a glimpse of the love God has for each of us.

When I stare at my beautiful Princess Leona, I often wrestle between two thoughts, the first is how will I raise this child to become a faithful follower of Christ like her mother and I, and the second is that I know I must become more like her if I truly want to be a more faithful follower of Christ. This is a paradox—I want her to be like me and yet I know I must become like her.

Imitate Me, Put Away Childish Things
It may sound presumptious and arrogant to encourage another person to be like yourself, yet at the same time, it is necessary and Biblical. When I first became a follower of Christ, I imitated other followers of Christ, because I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what it meant to follow Christ. I was 20 years old and I knew nothing of what it meant to follow Christ. I looked up to a few of my peers in college, and I imitated their example. The showed me what it meant to pray, to read my Bible, to become baptised, to serve people, to worship together in a community, and so forth. Now that I am more mature in following Christ, I try to encourage others in these things, and I intend to encourage Leona in these things throughout her life as she grows up.

Paul says in Philippians 4.8–9: “Finally, brothers (and sisters), whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commenadable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Whatever you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Paul realized that he was a sinner, in fact he refers to himself as the greatest of sinners (1 Tim 1.15). Yet he also realized that because of Christ, he was lovely and righteous. He was simultaneously a sinner and a saint. And he was encouraging people to imitate the lovely things of Christ which were found in him. Paul knew that every good thing which came from him, was actually from Christ, and thus Paul could say, “Whatever you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Php 4.9)

It is with this heart, that I too want Leona to grow up in the example which her mother and I set before her. I pray that every parent has this heart. But this is not simply something for parents. Sometimes it is actually the child who must encourage the parents to follow their example.

Few things cause a person to grow up as quickly as having a child—something which became a reality for me on January 10th, when Sara gave birth to our little Princess Leona. When one becomes a father or mother, they are confronted with their childish ways, and you really must do away with childish things. How are we to do away with childish things? I have been married for 10 years, yet I still feel like a child. We just had our first born child, yet I still feel like a child. Will I ever not feel like a child? I will always feel like a child become I am a son of the heavenly Father. I will always feel like a child because Jesus himself tells me that if I ever want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, I must become like a child.

Become Like These
When a person gets married, or when they have a child, they are confronted with the reality that the world does not revolve around them. The following passage has been preached on many, many occasions by countless preachers, because it is a message which we continually need to hear.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the[f]greatest of these is love.

When God became man, love perfectly entered human history in the form of a person. Love is a person, not an activity. (At this point, I suggest you re-read the text, but insert “Jesus” for every occurrence of the word “love.”) And love continues to enter history through the church as Christ is formed inside of us. (I suggest you re-read the text, but this time replace the word “love” with your own name, and say it as a prayer.) But why is it so crucial that love enter history today? Love must enter history today, because the world will never know salvation apart from the love of God proclaimed and demonstrated through the church. (Refer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17: may they be one, so that the world can know….)

Now that I am a Dad, verse 11 speaks incredibly loud to me. It screams at me. In a paragraph on love, Paul tells us to put away childish things. What are the childish things? The childish things are what cause me to be impatient, jealous, proud, selfish, etc. Now, Jesus tells us that we must become like children if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven….to be child-like and child-ish are entirely different. In the NT, a child was not given the status of honor we give them today, children were viewed as weak and helpless….if we want to enter the kingdom of God, it means recognizing our weakness and helplessness, and that only God is able to save us. We cannot do it on our own. I pray that each and every one of us becomes child-like.

My daughter acting perfectly child-like.

My daughter acting perfectly child-like.

An Hour in Hell

Welcome to Hell

Welcome to Hell

Some conservative Christians say, “If you get a tattoo, you will go to hell.” Well, I decided to go to Hell so I could get a tattoo! I should probably clarify that I simply went to a tattoo parlour named Hell Tattoo…I did not go to the netherworld!

I am writing this blog today so that I can describe what my tattoos mean to me, because I do not want to forget! I got them four days ago (10 March 2016), and I am very excited about them. I put a lot of thought into the design. I had considered a script font and a Biblical quotation, but I ultimately went with symbols instead, because the symbolism reminds me of so much more. I am sure the meaning will take on different significance over the coming years, but here was my thought process in designing it. (I came up with the concept design, but my tattoo artist, Charlotte, is awesome! I highly recommend her!)

Technically, it is three tattoos:

  1. An Arm Band
  2. A Cross
  3. An Arrow
My Tattoo...this was taken on day 1, I will re-post another pic when it is fully healed.

My Tattoo…this was taken on day 1, I will re-post another pic when it is fully healed.

On the Arm Band:

Arm bands are symbolic of mourning the death of someone. I have always loved the way solid arm band tattoos looked, so I have had a longing to get one for a while. I didn’t want to simply memorialize the dead with a solid arm band, however, at the same time, I know it is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting (cf. Ecc. 7.2). As a follower of Christ, there are two death which I “mourn:” (1) the death of Christ, and (2) the daily death of myself. The biblical narrative describes that Satan bruised Jesus’ heal, but ultimately Jesus crushed Satan’s head. Thus, my arm band represents death, but death has no sting! (1 Corinthians 15.55; Hosea 13.14) I have purposely not allowed the arm band to be complete, the arm band does not connect! There is a negative space of a cross, showing that death was defeated by death! When I see my arm band, I remember that death was defeated by death, and that death has no sting, and no victory.

On the Cross:

But I did not want to simply leave it at that. The cross still has importance. I wanted the negative space from the band, to be placed on my wrist as a positive space. The negative space cross is surrounded by death, whereas the positive space cross is surrounded by life. Jesus tells each of us to take up our cross on a daily basis. Thus, I got the positive space cross on my wrist. Taking up my cross on a daily basis is far more than simply getting a tattoo on my wrist, this is simply one reminder to do this on a daily basis. I would say that there are really two kinds of death.

One death is a death of decay. It requires no added energy, this includes all types of death whether it be heart disease, cancer, homicide, or suicide. These deaths are all a type of decay. (It could be argued that these deaths require “energy,” but in reality they do not. The process of performing homicide or suicide may require “energy,” but the death is nothing more than decay.)

The other death is a death of taking up the cross, it is an active death. It is not a death of decay. It requires energy. The only energy which gives one the strength to die this death is the Holy Spirit. He energizes us for good works (cf. Eph. 2.10) This type of death has hidden within it life. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” (Luke 9.24) And as Paul says in Colossians 3.3, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” So even though Christ has defeated death by death, I still need to take up my own cross every day.

On the Arrow:

Why the arrow? Well, the arrow is very special to me. My last name, Fletcher, means “arrow maker.” And in Psalm 127.3-5, we read:

Behold, children are a gift of the LORD,

The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,

So are the children of one’s youth.

How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.

The arrow symbolizes my daughter, Leona, who was born just 8 weeks ago. There is a small circle in the middle of the shaft representing that she is my first daughter, but also representing that the arrow is broken—yet mended. She, like all of us, is a broken person. And in Native American culture (yes, I have some Native American blood), a broken arrow symbolizes peace (the true Native American symbol for peace would be a completely broken arrow which has not been mended). So, while I want my daughter to be a warrior (cf. Eph. 6), I also want her to live with the peace of Christ at all times. The arrow is pointed towards the cross (the armband and cross also represent a bow’s crosshairs and a bullseye) because I want her to always look to Christ in all things. Furthermore, an arrow must be pulled back in order to go forward, so even though life may feel difficult and as though you are being pulled backward, we are still called to aim towards Christ in all things.

On the Holistic Interpretation:

And hidden within all of this meaning, is a verse which strikes me to the core, “I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Cor. 9.27) The three tattoos together represent that I am preaching the gospel to my daughter, and I do not want to play the hypocrite. I want to remember to live what I preach, lest I be disqualified. The only way I can do this is by meaning it when I say, “I die every day,” (1 Cor. 15.31) because truly, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Php. 1.21) “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12.24)

So, yes, some conservative Christians say, “If you get a tattoo, you will go to hell.” As I said already, I decided to go to Hell so I could get a tattoo! But in my going to Hell, it made me a more faithful follower of Christ, after all, Jesus went to hell for three days—I only had to spend an hour in Hell! No, I did not need to get a tattoo in order to be a more faithful follower of Christ, but for me, my tattoos continually remind me—by the grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit—of the things which I just wrote about, and because of that, getting my tattoos have helped me follow Christ.

Saving your Marriage with Roses and Belgian Chocolate

How is your marriage? Do you wish you had a better marriage? Do you feel like your spouse is a different person than the fun, loving, person you originally married? Do you feel like they don’t understand you? Do you no longer understand them? Do you feel like ripping your hair out? their heresjonnyehair? Do you feel crazy like Jack Nicholson on The Shining? Has the screaming been waking up your neighbors? Does the crying keep you awake?

Sometimes I want to bash my head against the wall–why? Because marriage is difficult. I am not perfect. I am far from it, and my wife can attest to this fact. My wife and I had an argument today. The argument was about something which no one else would comprehend, as with all married couple argumentation. Arguments happen. Arguments suck. Two messed up people living together is bound to get messy. Why? Miscommunication and impatience. Speaking when we ought to be silent, and remaining silent when we ought to speak. How do we reconcile after an argument? How do we move forward? For some, the answer is make-up sex. For us, the answer is commitment.

Commitment: com (together) + mittere (to send) + ment (resulting action). Commitment is the resulting action of being sent together, the resulting action of committing to something together. What binds together those who are committed, rather, what mediates between those who are committed? I would be remiss if I were to avoid speaking about what, rather, who, mediates between my wife and I. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it best,

Christ has become the mediator who has made peace with God and peace among human beings. Without Christ we would not know God; we could neither call on God nor come to God. Moreover, without Christ we would not know other Christians around us; nor could we approach them. The way to them is blocked by one’s own ego. Christ opened up the way to God and to one another. Now Christians can live with each other in peace; they can love and serve one another; they can become one. But they can continue to do so only through Jesus Christ. Only in Jesus Christ are we one; only though him are we bound together. He remains the one and only mediator throughout eternity.

I often forget that Jesus is the mediator and I let my own ego control my relationships. The only way I can truly know my wife is by knowing her as my sister in the Lord, and I can only know her in this capacity because in Christ we are one. Together, my wife and I are committed to living in this world as believers in Christ. These are not idle words, we truly believe that we must be fully immersed in this world and committed to it. “The cross of reconciliation…sets us free to live in genuine worldiness.” (Bonhoeffer)

My wife having fun with bicycles

Our commitment to each other is mediated by Christ and displays itself in a genuine love for the world. This means that we ought to enjoy one another and all the goodness which is found in this world. Movies, popcorn, bicycling, travelling, laughing, music, beer, Irish whiskey, a good cigar, steak and potatoes, running, photography, sunsets, sushi, sunrises, Belgian chocolate, flowers, and the list could go on. God made this world and he wants us to enjoy it. My marriage fails when I forget to enjoy the world with my wife.

I think it is time for me to go buy some Belgian chocolates and roses for my wife….yes, I just gave a theological foundation for buying my wife roses and chocolate! I think this is a theological argument most women will appreciate–you can share this post if you agree :)flowerandchoco

Why Do We Use Big Words?

I am not sure if you are aware, but being a PhD student and a husband has challenges. No, it is not that I never have time for my wife. No, it is not that we don’t enjoy the country we moved to so I could pursue my higher education. No, it is not that she disagrees with my desires for church reconciliation (my research revolves around this). It comes down to one thing: communication. Yes, it sounds cliche, but I assure you, it is the truth. When you become specialized in a narrow field of study, you learn the lingo, you speak the lingo, you live the lingo–and then there is the spouse. My wife has not studied theology or philosophy, yet I live this language. As you can imagine, this is a major challenge. Do I force her to learn new vocabulary and concepts, or do I learn how to communicate what I believe to be profound concepts into normal language? I know the answer, but it is really difficult to put some of these concepts into everyday language. Difficulty and challenges have never stopped me in the past, so why should I allow it to stop me now. As Barney Stinson would say,

challenge-accepted

At the end of the day, these challenges actually help our marriage more than anything, and they help keep me in the real world. If I were not challenged on a daily basis to communicate–through active listening and fitting my own words into the the context of everyday language, then I would be failing in my identity as researcher, teacher, and husband. Why do challenges help us? I think it because with every challenge we face we need to have patience, and with patience comes suffering (note: Latin passio is where we get the word for both patience and suffering, and that is why we say the “passion of Christ” when we speak of the sufferings that he went through with patience). When we suffer, we realize that we need to stop living for ourselves and be willing to die for the other person. Sometimes that death is “literal,” but more often than not it is “figurative” and mundane, for instance, I die for my wife every time I do the dishes. Note: I have not said that we die to ourselves, I have said that we die for the other person. Greater love has none than this, that one lay down his life for others (John 15.13).

So why do we use big words? It is not because they make us feel more important (perhaps some people use the big words for this type of vain glory, that seems silly to me though). For me, I use the big words because I can say one word, and have it mean two or more things at the same time. I personally like this, it makes my brain get excited and pumps it full of dopamine, unfortunately, it usually results in none of the meanings coming across and I simply look like an incoherent babbling fool.

If you catch me using big words which you don’t comprehend or don’t seem to fit the context of the conversation, please stop me in my tracks and ask me to explain myself. I will not be offended.

sometimes-i-use-big-words-i-dont-fully-understand-photosynthesis

From Gimp to Athlete

It was during college, I decided to go for a run that day. Beautiful OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAweather, sun beaming down but not too hot. I went for a few miles and was running alongside the railroad tracks. Somehow, I tripped and banged my knee. I figured the pain would go away after a few days and it did; however, the pain would always come back when I tried to run. Like an idiot, I never went to the doctor. I decided to take it easy on that knee and because the glory days of racing were over, I thought nothing more of it, aside from praying for God to remove the pain. I had many people pray for me actually. But I figured I was now an academic, so that was where I focused my energies.

Note: this is not my actual x-ray, but mine was very similar to this.

After two years of no running I decided to give it another go – I was visiting my parents when I tried to go on this run. Once again, it was another beautiful day and I was running around the lake on their property. The pain in my knee became excruciating, I hobbled to the house and started rubbing down my knee and then I felt it: a huge extra bump on the inside of my leg! Whoa, what is this! Am I an alien? I asked my mom to look at it and she freaked out – and she is a nurse! We went to get X-Rays as soon as possible and discovered what is called Osteochondroma, essentially it was an extra piece of bone growing off of my femur. It was about 4 inches long and was wrapped around my knee, and the ligaments in my knee were catching on it whenever I moved. No wonder it hurt!

Long story short: I had surgery, they had to make a seven inch incision through the muscles in my leg. Surgery went well, we found out that it was not cancerous and it never came back. However, they completely destroyed the muscles! I would have a long journey of PT. Impact sports were out of the question because of doctor’s order. I decided to start riding a bike to commute, and enjoy the scenery, being I could not enjoy that by running anymore. I got really into biking, my wife and I even started racing. And then I decided to try running again. The scenario: I was competing in a cyclocross bike race, my tire flatted and there were no neutral wheels that fit my bike. I was not going to quit, so I ran for 4 miles carrying my bike the whole time and finished the race. I don’t like to quit. And amazingly, my knee was not hurting! Whoa! However, my back was killing me! What a strange twist of events?

My back problems continued getting worse so I visited several chiropractors and it was Dr. Scott Shepherd (Portland, OR) who helped me realize that I had been “tri-poding” for the last few years. Because of the weakness in one leg, I would put most of my weight on one leg so that I could baby the other one. The downside: it messed up my alignment big time! My spine was so curved! We decided to put in a heal lift on one of my shoes and after a year of this and regular chiropractic my spine was much more strait. He helped eliminate all of my everyday pain! Thank you Dr. Shepherd! But every so often I would attempt to run again, and I would develop more back pain, what was going on?

During this time my wife had become a personal trainer and was sharing my story with a few of her co-workers and it was Krista Loveless (now Krista Lennartz), the Pilates instructor, that I am ever grateful for. At this point I was so willing to run that I was willing to do whatever it took. Krista is not a big fan of heal lifts, so we got rid of it. Then she had me start strengthening my feet by doing toe curls! Have you ever done toe curls? they are hard! It takes a lot of coordination. And then we started doing a ton of different exercises on the Reformer – it is amazing how much stability you can gain through working out on that thing! I did personal training with Krista for close to a year, and during that time I withheld from running so that I would not ruin a good thing. I knew that a good runner needed strong feet and a strong core.

From the time of my original injury til today, it has been 11 years. I have been running again for the past 4 years year with no knee troubles and no back pain. I have now competed in one marathon and am looking at possibly competing in an ultra-marathon…we shall see :)

Eleven years is a long time to fight through an injury. I used to wonder if God cared about me, I would get upset on occasion because he did not heal me. But I have come to realize something: God did answer my prayers, it just happened to be through my hard work. God gives us freedom to choose and God loves it when we are faithful with the resources he has given us.

Praise God?

Have you ever heard a story about a loved one being saved from a near death experience, and then someone almost instinctively says, “praise God!”? God is certainly to be praised in this situation, but I wonder if there is more too it. Namely, ptlwhat are we supposed to say when the loved one actually dies? Should we not praise God during the tragedy? (Not for it though!) Near death experiences are far from the only occasion when you hear the phrase, “praise God!” It often comes about when a person gets a promotion at work, or when a student does well on an exam. Once again, God should be praised during these moments, however, what is to be proclaimed when the person actually dies, the promotion never comes, or you fail the test?

There have been so many instances in my journey with my wife over the past year which are “praise worthy.” We saved enough money to move to Belgium, I successfully completed the pre-doctoral year near the top of my class, earned acceptance into the PhD on a topic concerning ecumenism with an amazing promoter…it all sounds amazing, right? But then came the bad news, I did not get the funding stipend I was hoping for. How deflating! Talk about a shock to your pride. We went through an incredibly difficult journey only to now be faced with the hardest financial burden of our marriage? I ask a question to myself: if I had gotten the funding, would I be saying “praise God!”? If so, my faith is pretty shallow.article-1196755-058DCDF9000005DC-866_634x784

My financial burden is not my own, it is also my wife’s. When we got married we said, “for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse…” What would our marriage be if we only loved each other during the rich, healthy, better moments? Love is more than an emotion in the high times, it is a choice in the low times of poverty, sickness, and bad times. Is it not the same with God? As my pastor during college told me time and again, “our joy should never be dependent upon our circumstances” (Retired Lt. Col. Rev. Dr. Jerry Malone). I am so thankful that when I first became a believer, I had Pastor Jerry to help train me in the faith. Our joy does not depend upon our circumstances, our joy depends upon the faithfulness of Jesus Christ in having lived faithfully, going to the cross, dying, being raised, and ascending to the right hand of the Father so that he may continually mediate for us.

Am I saying that we should stop praising God? Heaven forbid! I am saying that we should praise God all the more, and not merely when life is going the way you wanted it to. Sara and I are still praising God, even though we did not get the funding stipend we were hoping and praying for. God is still faithful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt this point, my wife and I have very little money and in all honesty, we are considering moving back to Portland where I teach HS, if we are not able to afford living in Belgium. This is difficult because we love Belgium and serving the church here. This dilemma of moving or staying reveals a major tension in my own vocation: on the one hand I love pursuing Christian reconciliation and pastoral work, and on the other hand I love teaching students. I am a theologian and an educator. Both are fantastic options and need not be mutually exclusive or be dependent upon my future career. We love Belgium and we love Portland. Your prayers for our direction and other funding opportunities are greatly appreciated.

There are many songs by Jeremy Camp which describe what it means to praise God in all things. He has experienced some very difficult times in his life, having experienced the death of his first wife to breast cancer and the death of his youngest child. Yet he remains a faithful believer in Christ. Here is one of my favorites and I pray it gives you hope:

We are Moving to Belgium!

We have a Big Announcement: We are moving to Belgium! A country filled with European history which also happens to be the land of bicycles, chocolate, and gourmet beer—things which we tend to enjoy on occasion. However, that is not the draw for us! We truly feel God calling us in this direction and Lord willing we will be flying to Belgium this July, and staying for the next 3-4 years.

KU Leuven

KU Leuven

If you have known me (Michael) for more than 10 minutes, you know my passion for teaching truth and wisdom, and that I pour my heart into my students. Becoming a professor with these values has always been my dream, and the world renowned faculty of Theology and Philosophy at KU Leuven will help me get there. During my conversations with the Faculty, I made it very clear that I will be writing my dissertation on the idea of church reconciliation between Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians, and they were intrigued to hear my thoughts and invite me to study with them. We believe that Church reconciliation is a possible impossibility, and we will continue pursuing reconciliation by faith, knowing that we worship the God of the impossible.

My wife (Sara) loves to serve others and wants to use this opportunity in Belgium to become involved with student life and the local church. At the same time, she will also continue pursuing her love for competitive cycling and is hoping to continue working in the fitness industry when we move (she has been a personal trainer for the last 4 years). None of this would be possible were it not for Sara’s continually love and support.

KU Leuven is located in Leuven, Belgium (about 25 minutes east of Brussels) and was founded in 1425, making it the oldest Catholic university in the world. KU Leuven is a fantastic university and we are incredibly excited for this opportunity to possibly earn a PhD in the next 3-4 years. The difficult part is leaving our family and friends. The people of Portland have truly impacted our lives in a wonderful way. We will miss you tremendously and we will certainly welcome if you ever decide to come visit us in Belgium. Please sign up for email updates so that you can follow us and pray for us during our journey.
All our love,
Michael & Sara

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Why Did God Become a Man?

Why did God become a man? I often ask myself this question and it never ceases to amaze me. Our God – the creator of all space, time, and matter – actually became a real human being, born of the virgin Mary. But why? I will discuss 3 answers:

advent-taize

The Church Father’s Answer:

God became a man so that we could become God.

Contextually the Church Fathers always maintain the distinction between God as Creator and humanity as Creation. They are NOT saying that humans become God in the sense of becoming Creators and celestial God’s over others. They wanted to emphasize the fact that we would join the Triune God in an everlasting and eternal dance of love. And it was a catchy synonymous parallelism: God became a man so that man could become God.

Bonhoeffer’s Response to the Church Fathers:

God became a man so that we could become fully human.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer reframed the theosis (becoming one with God) by focusing more on Christ. The Church Father view is possibly more Trinitarian because the emphasis is on the relationship with the Triune God. Bonhoeffer’s emphasis is on Christ, God becoming a man, so that we could become as Christ – the perfect man. There is a lot to be said about this, and I think it is crucial to understand that Jesus is the perfect man. I think we have it wrong when we say things like, “To err is human.” To err is not human! Jesus was the perfect man and he did not err. Rather, we ought to say something along the lines of, “To live perfectly like Christ is human.”

My Response:

God became a baby, so that we could have a childlike faith.

I completely affirm both the Church Fathers and Bonhoeffer’s positions, but I also would like to add something this Christmas Season. God became a baby, so that we could have a childlike faith. Can you picture the birth of Jesus? He was 9 months in the womb, born in a cold barn, wrapped in burial clothes, destined to die so that man could become fully human and fully participate in the life of the Trinity. We can only enter into the Kingdom of God if we are born again as well, and we can only be born again by having childlike faith in the God who became a baby.

Children-Playing (1)

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:3-5).

The Foolishness of the Cross

1 Corinthians 1.18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

 The best way to describe this is to use an allegory of stirring (thanks to St Augustine). Imagine taking a stick, and then using the stick to stir a cesspool, the resulting aroma will be a foul stench. Take the same stick (after you clean it!), and perform the same action of stirring, but this time stir a bowl of perfume and a beautiful fragrant aroma will rise. Both occasions witness the same action of ‘stirring,’ but a completely different result occurs based on the essence of the object being stirred.mud
I think that we can draw out the same conclusion from the actions of Christ. He is an eternal member of the Trinity who becomes a man born of the virgin Mary, to be tempted and live a sinless life, then condemned by the very people he loves, then to  experience death on a cross while proclaiming “Father, forgive them for the know not what they do,” then to rise from the dead thereby defeating death by death, and to then ascend into heaven so as to be seated at the right hand of the Father, to show that he was faithful to bring the plan of salvation to completion.
To the person that believes in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, it is a sweet fragrance. To the person that does not believe in Christ’s faithfulness, this is the most ridiculous story ever concocted and Christians are to be pitied above all other people for they willingly take on the sufferings of Christ. But we who believe understand that we count it all joy to suffer with Christ, because we lay aside all worldly treasures so that we may know Christ and the power of His resurrection.
Are you willing to look foolish for the sake of following Christ?