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"Gloria" and Why to Sing It: Two Links of Note

I didn't write either of these things. A small, mostly selfish part of me wishes I had. The rest of me is too happy to care, because you get to see them on any terms.

The first is called "Going Back." Jon Acuff writes the hilarious and devastatingly honest blog "Stuff Christians Like," which intersperses good-natured skewering of church culture with blindsiding insights into God's grace. This one hit me right between the eyes. It's (partly) about a couple who adopted an orphan girl from Africa. Her adoptive father said…

...“We kept hoping that she would be disobedient and break the rules.”

Why? I won't spoil it, but it's almost certainly not what you think. It's about grace and redemption and adoption and what it means to go home. I honestly never thought about it this way before. I'm sure I'll be thinking about it this way again. Here's the link.

. . .

After you've read it, I think you will require some music. Maybe something that takes the word "Gloria" and makes it sail to heaven. This is a song by my friend Jon Guerra and his band Milano. Their fresh, energetic style is eclectic and hard to pin down--I describe it as "Keith Green getting together with a Gypsy band to cover Muse songs"--but this song especially is bigger than the music. It soars. As a bonus, it has a video that's plenty evocative in its own right. Enjoy. Worship.

(Here's an article with some more information on Milano's unique approach, and some more songs, for those interested: Artists Build The Church. They're well worth checking out.)

New year, new life, new creation. Gloria.

Eric M. Pazdziora lives in Chicago with his wife Carrie, where he writes his own articles and music sometimes too. You can find them at ericpazdziora.com.

Recovering Paradise: Raising Awareness of Spiritual Abuse

by Hillary McFarland

We're not anti-faith; we're anti-cruelty.”

So proclaims the website of a new, independent movie from By the Glass Productions. “We share a goal to give spiritual abuse survivors a voice,” they continue. This voice is epitomized through the perhaps-uncomfortably-familiar heroine created by writer and producer Andie Redwine, and found in the scenes of Paradise Recovered. A modern retelling of the Good Samaritan, this film introduces us to Esther, a denim-jumpered, hair-in-a-bun, homeschooled young woman who is sheltered and earnest until her life unravels and she begins wrestling with the world, the church, and herself.

     Like Jesus, Redwine knows the power of story. A few months ago I spoke with Andie while she stood at a bus stop across from a field of horses in Southern Indiana, where the movie was partially filmed. “I'm waiting for the kids,” she says. “I do miss homeschooling. But this is good for us.” She's a work-at-home, adoptive mom of 4 who serves up unlikely movie fare from her kitchen table. “We are all involved,” she emphasizes. “Without my kids, my husband, and amazing cast and crew...I couldn't have done it.”


by Hillary McFarland

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

H e sat in prison. Tomorrow, or perhaps a few days from now, he'd be headless. Some called him a wild man and others a prophet, but now he was only condemned. His life had always been a strange one...strange, like his stories. Not the least of which his mother liked to tell, the one about how he danced in her womb when God drew near. When he was young he'd shrug and duck a little when she repeated it again and again. “Come on, mom,” he'd say, and she'd light up and rough his hair and then gaze deep in his eyes, hands locked on his shoulders. “But it's the truth,” she insisted, fervent and strong. “Truth, John.” Timeless and full of fire, her eyes never seemed to age even as raven locks faded and her grip loosened over the years.
     He missed that grip now, here in the dark, and pressed his back into the cold stone of the prison wall. I can handle prison, he calculated. He could handle the chains, even though his own cousin claimed He came to set captives free. Really, cousin? What about these? He moved his arms and skin tightened against iron.
     The voice he knew so well, before birth even, repeated in his mind words boldly proclaimed in the synagogue that day, the day his cousin was nearly thrown off a cliff. The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me. And he winced knowing exactly how those brown eyes glimmered when his friends uttered The Question. The one he sent them to ask; the one that kept him up at night, sleepless and burning even in the cold. 

Gathered Into Shadows | Christmas Contest!

by Hillary McFarland

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
       Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
         My God, in Him I will trust.” 

Every now and then a passage of Scripture grips me like no other. And this one is a favorite of mine, Psalm 91, because it describes the utmost comfort and safety one finds while tucked away in the shadows of the Most High.

 ...He shall cover you with His feathers,
         And under His wings you shall take refuge...
...Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge,
         Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
No evil shall befall you,
         Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
For He shall give His angels charge over you,
         To keep you in all your ways.
In their hands they shall bear you up,
         Lest you dash your foot against a stone...
 “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
         I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
         I will be with him in trouble;
         I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him,
         And show him My salvation.”

Please bear with me as I ramble a bit...

Spiritual Abuse and Christmas Trees

I think I finally figured out what Christmas trees are really about.

A while ago I found a blog article on the subject of our friend Mr. Tannenbaum. Apparently (the author observed) some folks believe that Christmas trees are pagan symbols that the church has adopted in sinful syncretism. They appeal to Scriptures such as Jeremiah 10 to support the idea: the passage describes trees being chopped down, decorated with precious metals, and worshiped by pagans (“A-ha!” chorus the neo-Scrooges).

Knowing a bit about interpreting Scripture in context, I smelled an opportunity to cry “Humbug!” True, Jeremiah describes pagans chopping down trees for idolatrous worship. But it also mentions the trees being “shaped by chisels” into images of false gods like these. Those don’t look much like Christmas trees to me. Anyone for some eisegesis?

The underlying logic is even more significant. Follow it through: Idolaters once used decorative trees to worship false gods. Therefore, anyone else who uses a tree for decoration ever again must only be pagan.

Bah. Humbug.

Tender New Book by Kierstyn King | Giveaway!

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Jane. She had lots of little brothers and sisters...

     It begins a sweet and unusual tale.
     Innocuous. Humble.
     Two pages in I'm a blubbering mess, shuffling around on my desk for a tissue. A box of them.
     I wish I'd been prepared for the emotional impact waiting me between the covers of The Balloon Lady, a new book by author Kierstyn King. But who knew that something intended for the 6-to-10-year-olds in this world would affect me this way?

Charming illustrations by Kierstyn King.
Her family was sad that she moved away and was not with them. They didn't understand why she would want to leave them and live in the Big City. They thought that Jane didn't love them anymore and were very hurt...

     So unfolds a simple, tender story of love.
     And you will cry.

     To win a hard copy of The Balloon Lady, please leave a comment below sharing a link to your blog or some way in which I can contact you. Winner will be chosen the evening of December 15. To learn more about the author, please visit www.kieryking.com

"You're the Example!" | Guest Post

by Sisterlisa Bertolini

A new kind of angle was added to the youth group that was designed to encourage good behavior in the teens at the church we once attended. They created an elite club for specific teenagers who wanted to 'step it up' in their 'walk with God'. A teen needed to apply and be in a 'probationary' period of time before being an official part of this club. During this time, the teen would have to attend a specific amount of church services, participate in a service oriented activity with the church, and memorize verses chosen by the leadership. The verses were about absolute obedience and authority. It was a pyramid type club where one could earn their way up to the top by holding to many different standards from clothing to church attendance. I didn't find anything wrong with serving those less fortunate than you, or dressing modestly, but those 'standards' were outward works for the purpose of getting accepted to this 'special club'

My family and I felt uncomfortable with the manner in which this club was being used as a form of acceptance in the youth group and even worse when they said being a part of this club meant you were more serious about your walk with God than those who chose not to apply. It is known far and wide that this youth pastor is one of the 'greatest examples' of a 'preacher's kid' and youth pastor in the United States, in this specific movement. He had held his position with this youth group for a few years before my daughter was old enough to be involved. Then came the day their leadership began inviting her to join this club. She was told that she was such a 'great example' and that 'she really was the only one even worthy of being in this club'. Not only that, but the leadership told her, that they felt her influence in this group would help change the youth group. I began wondering...if they felt she was that great of a teen, then why does she need to join this group to move the youth group forward in Christ?

Antidotes to Spiritual Abuse

By Eric M. Pazdziora. Originally published September 26, 2009; revised and expanded.

Guilt, shame, and condemnation. Unspoken rules you have to live up to. Authoritarian leaders you can’t ever question. An exclusive “us-vs.-them” mentality. Subtle or not-so-subtle pressure to fit in. Barely veiled manipulation and peer pressure tactics. Fear of doing the wrong thing. Public rebuking if you do. Warnings against what will happen if you ever leave.

Does this sound like religion to you? It shouldn’t—and in healthy churches it doesn’t—but if it does, you’re not alone. There’s even a name for it: it’s called “Spiritual Abuse.” It’s well documented throughout religious groups of every persuasion, regardless of creed or doctrine. Yes, even in groups that have “sound biblical doctrine.”

The term “spiritual abuse” isn’t the main issue; the thing the phrase identifies was around thousands of years before “spiritual abuse” was coined. (See Sheep Story from Ezekiel 34.) I find the word “abuse” helpful because it combines the idea of misuse (as in “drug abuse”) with the idea of cruelty (as in “verbal abuse”). Using spirituality to beat people down is an abuse in both senses. If you aren’t happy with the term, call it something else—“cruelty in the name of religion,” maybe—and move along. The thing is real enough whatever you call it.

The main issue is this. Even without the spiritual component, being treated in such a heavy-handed way can cause long-term emotional and mental problems. But having it done to you in the name of church—religion—ministry—God—Jesus—makes it even worse. You don’t just come away feeling hurt, condemned, and worthless; you come away with the idea that God wants you to feel like that.

That’s the wrong idea.

Jesus isn’t like that.