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September 2018

Lessons Learned from a Loving Zoi

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Lessons Learned from a Loving Zoi

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I and our little pup Zoi decided to embark on a quick trip to downtown Chicago. Sebi was going to Texas to give a week of prayer and we had sometime before his flight to take a stroll in downtown . At first I didn’t want to take Zoi. I thought she would be a burden and we would probably have to pay attention to all her needs and such. Thinking about it further it was a completely selfish reason, I wanted to go to some stores and knew they would not let Zoi inside —so I completely dismissed the idea. In the end we decided to take her, I mean who could revisits a little puppy with huge pleading brown eyes just begging us to come along for the ride.

So Zoi came along and  did what she usually does in the car: look outside the window, move from lap to lap, and feel the breeze on her face. After she’s moved around some she goes to the floor of the car and falls asleep.

Once we got to the city we walked a couple of blocks and began our tour of downtown. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. As we walked people would smile down at Zoi and exclaim, “Oh look a puppy!” People that appeared to be in a hurry would abruptly stop to give her a pat on her head. 

There were some individuals that just smiled down or walked past by only saying “hi,” but the majority of people would squeal say how cute she was an then go and pet Zoi. With each person she would begin jumping and trying to lick their face or chase them around the street. Zoi is a super star at these things, she immediately knows how to make someone feel loved and validated. It’s like in that moment no one else exists in the world and you have all her loving attention. 

There was one instance that is etched in my memory. Sebi and I wanted to cross the street but were stopped at a green light. From the corner I hear a man, who was holding a cardboard sign sitting with some blankets ask, ”May I please pet your dog?” And at that moment it was as if Zoi has heard it too and without hesitation went and greeted the man the same way she had greeting the young couple, the girls selling cookies, the old lady in the wheelchair, and her own parents, with unconditional love. His face immediately lit up as this small little corgi/beagle ran up and jumped on him and tried to lick his face off.

I stood there thinking, “My dog does a much better job at showing humans that they matter, that they are cared for.” I stood there seeing just a glimpse of what unconditional love would look like, not caring about what we look like, what career we have how prestigious we are—just God being excited about His creation and showing that with jumps and a plethora of licks on our faces.

Chantal Williams recently graduated from Andrews University as a doctor of physical therapy, and has been involved with Enspire Productions since 2011.

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The Antiquated Church: A Believer's Critique

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The Antiquated Church: A Believer's Critique

Let me start by saying my honesty will likely make some readers uncomfortable. It is certainly making me uncomfortable. My fingers are shaky on the keys and I keep toying with the idea of tossing this whole piece and writing some surface level niceties instead, and I know they’d be well-received. But I think that my experiences and thoughts are ones that others can relate to. I think there are people who are just as uncomfortable with the idea of being critical of The Church as I am, but who have good reason to be. One of my professors in graduate school said, “you can’t have revolution without skepticism”, so I’m going to be the skeptic. You may ask what the solutions are to the issues I bring up, and honestly, I don’t have all the answers. But the work needs to be done and we cannot begin unless we are honest.

I know sincere, and good Christians who are genuine in their faith and in their efforts to show love to others. I know Christians who think critically and deeply about what they believe. I know Christians with whom I can discuss my doubt, my hurt, and my anger. This is why I will refer to “The Church” as a vague body of Christians rather than specific people. I know that the members are only human and that they are imperfect, something I don’t think The Church always understands. The Church has brought me some of the most beautiful gifts I will receive in this lifetime, and it has wounded me deeply. The Church is in one moment beautiful, warm, and miraculous, and in another maddening, cold, and hurtful.

The Church taught me that there are right and wrong ways to show your faith. That if you’re not attending every worship and publicly participating in the ministries, you must not really be that faithful. I know many people who went to church because they felt they had to, not because they wanted to. Not because they felt welcomed. I learned that if you close your eyes while you’re singing, lead bible studies, and volunteer for special music, you’re doing it right. I learned to play a part, and then feel guilty for faking.

I was told that everyone was welcome but saw that wasn’t the case. I was lectured about the length of my skirt. I saw judgmental stares at visitors who didn’t seem to “belong.” I heard debates about whether it was okay to allow teachers who weren’t Adventist to teach subjects that to me, didn’t seem to have much relevance to religion. I heard discussions about whether certain types of music or praise should be allowed in the sanctuary. I saw classmates of different faiths or backgrounds leave because they weren’t accepted.

I learned not to question too much, or too strongly. I learned that “this is the way things are.” As someone who wants to analyze everything, I found myself having to ignore things that didn’t quite make sense to me. I was timid about voicing my opinion if it differed from the group, but I watched people who did. I saw that they were not heard or understood. I watched them get lectured into silence. So, I stayed silent too.

I learned that some sins are more acceptable than others. I saw that some were easily forgiven, while others were grounds for damnation. I saw inconsistency in the rules and applications of social consequences. I watched boys skate by while girls transferred to public schools to avoid expulsion. I saw cheaters forgiven without repercussions, abuses ignored. I watched friends hide their truths, just so they could get by without being rejected.

The Church taught me that mental health is a faith issue. I saw assumptions made about people who committed suicide, who harmed themselves, who had addictions. The Church taught me that anxiety came from not trusting God, that depression came from distance from God, that mental struggles were a result of a failure to pursue Him fully. That praying more would solve the issue.

The Church taught me that if I left the church community I would find myself in “The World”; a hostile place full of angry nonbelievers who would attack me for my beliefs and try to drag me down a path of sin. That people would try to change me and that I would have to hold fast to what I was taught. That bad company corrupts. That you should only hang out with nonbelievers if you’re trying to save them. That one day I may be faced with the decision to renounce my faith or die. Stories of the end times translated into bad dreams. I was taught to fear and avoid differences. To mistrust and misunderstand.

I learned that The Church doesn’t talk about the ugly, hurt, or doubt. That it isn’t polite to bring up uncomfortable topics or questions. I was instructed to question The World and "man's laws." I was told to think critically of my non-Christian friends and what their choices said about each of them as individuals. Yet I couldn't do the same of Christianity without it being categorized as an "attack." The Church behaved as if Christianity in and of itself was beyond reproach and, by proxy, so were Christians.

Thankfully, I unlearned all these terrible lessons. But my experience left me with anger that has yet to be resolved. I want to see these things change, and for future members to be taught different lessons. For that to happen, we have to be willing to say the hard things. We have to stop mistrusting those who are different. We have to talk about the ugly and the hurtful. We have to discuss the mistakes. I’m lucky to have friends who I was able to speak with about my experiences, but I’m saddened by the fact that it happened in private, in whispers, sometimes in the dark on late nights away from adults and leaders. These conversations need to happen in the light.

It is up to the younger generation to change things. It is well within our power to start a revolution! Talk about what hurts and what you want to see change. Ask questions even if people might not like them. Cross the boundaries of religion and meet people who are different. Learn from those outside the faith. Read books that criticize religion. Understand the reasons people believe and why they don’t. Learn why people leave. Create a community where better lessons are learned.

Catherine Jessel is a board certified behavior analyst providing services in school and at home for children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Behavior Disorders on Long Island, and an adjunct lecturer at Queens College in Queens, NY.

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Is God Enough?

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Is God Enough?

   I wonder what God was thinking as He watched the Israelites move swiftly out of the land of Egypt with all of its riches and wealth. The people had prayed for freedom, and now they had been delivered. There must have been a sense of satisfaction in God’s heart to see the joy and relief on their faces. I wonder if He had high hopes that finally, they would see His glory and become faithful to Him.

         He wanted to ensure their faith in Him. He desired to show them that He had their backs, and that He was with them, so He literally sent down a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night to lead and guide their every step. “Surely now, they’ll know I’m with them, and they’ll follow me!” He must have thought.

         Then, suddenly, they happened upon the red sea, and oh how their tunes change. Groans. Complaints. Disbelief, Doubt. “You led us out of Egypt only to die here?” “Where are you God?” “We would have rather died in Egypt!”

         The Egyptians could be seen hurrying in their direction with murder and intent to bring them back to Egypt in their hearts. The Israelites had lost all faith and trust in God.

         God must have looked on them in confusion. “Remember the pillars of cloud and fire? I’m with you! I promise! I showed you!”

         But they had forgotten.

         God must have wondered, “Why wasn’t it enough?”

         So, He thought, okay, I’ll deliver them. I’ll perform a great miracle they won’t surely forget! God uses Moses to literally split the ocean in two, for the glories of God to be revealed through their eyes. God smiled upon them, as they walked through this supernatural wonder. He watched them gasp as they passed dolphins and whales, and their feet stepped across the bottom of the sea, a place no human foot has ever stepped across before.

         “Surely, now, they won’t forget. Maybe this will be enough.” God thought.

         Then came the thirst. Safely across the sea, after seeing the destruction of the Egyptians before their eyes, the Israelites find themselves thirsty. Complaining. Groaning. Forgetting.

         “Were the pillars of cloud and fire not enough? You’ve already forgotten the red sea?” But that didn’t deter Him. “Okay,” God thought, “I’ll serve you water from a rock.”

         So, they drank freely. 

         Then the hungers came. “God, you brought us out here only to starve to death?? We would have rather died by the taskmaster’s whip in Egypt than to starve out here in this desert.”

         God thought again, “You mean, everything I’ve done you’ve already forgotten? The pillars, the fire, the red sea, the water from the rock? Still, it’s not enough for you to love me? It’s not enough for you to believe me or trust me?” 

         So God graciously rains bread down from heaven for FORTY YEARS! The Bible describes it as appearing as a brief frost, that by the end of the day would melt. “Surely, now, they’ll know that I love them, maybe now they’ll realize I’m with them. I’ve shown them so many times! Maybe it will finally be enough!”

         How I wish this were the case.

         As they approached the base of Mt. Sinai, God had another idea in mind. Exodus 19:10-11: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.”

         Wait, WHAT?

         God is going to come down the mountain in SIGHT of all the people?

         I don’t remember being taught that!

         God figured, “if the liberation from Egypt wasn’t enough, and neither were the pillars of cloud or fire, or the parting of the red sea, or the water from a rock, or the mana from heaven, I’ll finally put this doubt to rest. I will come down myself, be in their presence, and let them SEE that I am real.”

         So what happens?

         Verse 16: “Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain . . . and when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him by voice!”

         Oh to be there. To hear the voice of God. To be amongst the people of Israel who stood at the base of the mountain, knowing full well, and understanding that God was with them! This should curve any doubts, right? This should allay any fears and complaints? I mean, God literally revealed Himself to them, right?

         As God took Moses back up the mountain with Him, to give Him precious laws to live by that would ensure the safety and joy of the people He delivered, Moses returned to find the same people who had just witnessed God himself, busying themselves worshiping a golden calf.

         Oh, the heartbreak of God. 

         But did it deter God? No, so He decided to move down and to live with them. He instructed them to build a Sanctuary “that I may dwell among them.” Exodus 25:8.

         But was it enough? What if God moved in? Maybe then, maybe then His love would be enough. Maybe His presence would be enough. Maybe then, the people would love and trust Him.

         Fast forward- you might be familiar with the story. The Israelites are not faithful. They resist and complain and pull away and fight and sin and fall again and again, and still it’s not enough. God must have wondered, “Oh when will what I do for them ever be enough?”

         Then, it became decided and revealed, the final plan, the last chance humanity had.

         God says, “I’ll go down there in human form. I will love them. I will teach them. I will lead them. I will die for them. Maybe then, it will be enough.”

         So we stand here today with this question posed before us, “is it enough?” Is Christ’s death enough for you? Have you seen enough now to know God is real and for you and with you? Or will we be like the Israelites and forget again and again. Perhaps today we should start writing a physical list of things that God has done for us in our lives. Perhaps we should nail it to our walls, carry it with us in our pockets, as we humans sure do forget a lot! I imagine our pockets aren’t large enough to fill all the times God has stepped in to show us He is enough.

         The cool thing about God is He hasn’t stopped trying to remind us.

         Our precious Lord never will. 

         Please, make Him enough. 

 

Devin Anavitarte is one of the founders of Enspire Productions. He is currently the chaplain at Burton Adventist Academy. 

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