>> Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My mother grew up as the daughter of a missionary couple in Nigeria. When she and her siblings grew up and started families, all but one of them returned to the US. My aunt and her husband stayed in Africa and raised my cousins there. I'm no stranger to stories of the miraculous power of God. Where they're living, the spiritual battle is obvious. Evil is real and possessive, and Christian prayer has immediate and definable results. The story that will always be most vivid to me is when my uncle was attacked outside their home by a man with a gun who wanted his car. I believe my cousin was in the back seat. He crawled out the other side and hid, and watched as the man held the gun to my uncle's head and pulled the trigger. When the gun did not fire, he pointed it to the ground to figure out the problem, and that's when the gun went off. I don't recall what words were spoken between the man and my uncle, but the man took the car; the family was unharmed. Another shorter example of the warfare in their country is the fact that the Christians keep tabs on which of the local religious ceremonies are typically celebrated by some with Christian Church or mission burnings. Although not every person they come into contact with holds a gun to their heads or lights their homes on fire, these kind of situations are common and always expected; they put their lives on the line knowing that every person they speak to whom they do not know personally has potential to harm them if they even let on about Christ.

I've heard many stories of this kind, as well as amazing illnesses cured through prayer, demons cast out, amazing unaccountable provisions, and all the other kinds of miracles Christ performs in the New Testament, happening today, but somehow only overseas. I've heard these stories from the pulpit as well, used as examples of how evil is prevalent and how the Holy Spirit still performs miracles. I know that I am not destined for the Sahara or life in a third-world country, but these stories cause me to catch my breath at the fact that people actually have to choose to risk their life for Christ. Not only do they choose to risk their lives every moment (even inside their own home some days) but they know that they are firm in their faith, knowing and believing clearly every element of Scripture, for both protection and witness. As they interact with the Muslim people all around them, they always have a choice: to speak Christ's Truth, which He honors with rejoicing and dependable loving care, to renounce Him in exchange for safety from the people, which I would expect would be quite unreliable... or to water down the Word just enough to try to get a point across without offending anyone who could literally stone them in the street, trusting in their own ability to take care of themselves and rewrite what Christ intended them to share in the first place. But the latter is not why they're there; true knowledge of God's guidance and God's physical and ever-present hand in protection allows them the freedom to offer the Truth. God then stops the gun pressed against their head from firing.

In an odd way, that level of risk gives more meaning to what one believes. If I feel I have nothing much to lose either way in my mostly safe American neighborhood, then it doesn't really matter that much what I believe so long as I have it all worked out by the end. I mentioned that I've heard similar stories in sermons; those sermons typically ended with the concept that though Satan works in blatant and obvious ways like these through non-Christians in third-world countries, in America Satan is subtle. Because we statistically have enough, we don't have to trust in God for things. Because it's acceptable to believe whatever we want to believe, we don't have to think much about what we believe as we never (much) need to depend upon it or march into battle with it. Non-Christians will either not talk about religion, will listen and smile and nod and carry on in their own way, or will argue simply to argue... but I'm quite confident saying that nobody I know in my life would set my house on fire; our laws just don't work that way, and most of us have a pretty safe concept of what's socially acceptable.

The generalizations being made in the sermons I've heard on this is that Satan is obvious and attacks offensively by blatantly using non-Christians in third-world countries, and that he's subtle and attacks through apathy and a tolerant non-Christian society in areas with wealth. In other words, the assumed bottom line in spiritual warfare is that it's Christians (God) vs. non-Christians (Satan). And when I hear my uncle's stories - even the good ones - I feel different inside about it than I feel when I hear of the ways in which Satan is subtle. The anger is righteous, the fear is covered by faith, and the miracles are truly joyful; subtlety is simply annoying and anti-climactic. Though I obviously don't want pain or struggle for anyone, I want what I believe to matter, and right now it really doesn't seem to. What I believe doesn't affect anyone in the life I'm leading. Even as a teacher, though I affect the children, I instruct youth in a Christian environment who are generally willing to believe whatever I tell them. Subtle takes a base of strategy and suspicion before you're even sure there's a battle; in Africa, as far as I can tell, there's such a difference between the Christian and the non-Christian that Christians hold themselves differently and interact with you differently, and assumptions are mostly reliable about what you'll get. You typically don't have to guess. There's something freeing about that to me, a whole "I'm done with the games, let's get to the bottom line" perspective. In some ways I always thought that was somewhat unfair, since Paul says I'll be fighting for my life and right now all I'm fighting is laziness. And frankly, the general assumptions about the use of the American culture just don't sit well with me in a final sense. That just couldn't possibly be the only way it works.

Just today I finally listened to the recordings made of the three parish briefings given to our congregation prior to Saturday's diocese Special Convention. We managed to miss attending all three of them, and I only picked up the copies on Friday. As I sat through three 80-minute CDs I had a growing gut reaction, a somewhat familiar feeling that I couldn't quite place. It wasn't until the middle of the last CD that I realized... this is that feeling, the one with the African car hijacking and the gun that didn't fire.

Have you ever had it happen when you're looking for something on your desk and can't find it, and you get more and more desperate and look in all the drawers and then suddenly realize it's been sitting in front of you the whole time? This is what we've been missing: Satan didn't change his way of using non-Christians, Satan didn't choose to go from causing non-Christians to set fires to causing non-Christians to be indifferent based on location. Satan switched the players! He's taken the obvious and put it in the hands of other Christians, and because we're so focused on fighting outsiders and banding together inside the walls we just simply didn't see it sitting right in front of us. Father Mike quoted someone who compared this current and building Anglican struggle to the biggest spiritual conflict in impact since the Reformation. Considering it's the third largest church denomination in the world, that's not necessarily exaggerated. We're talking about Protestant church leaders who say that Jesus is not the Son of God! Protestant bishops honestly suggesting that the Bible could not be from God! How much more obvious can we get?

I know that in our church system the politics are vitally important, as are the personal relationships between diocese in the worldwide Anglican Communion. I know that this will take careful strategy by our Bishop and leaders and other folks on our side, and they're doing a fabulous job of it already. But it's clear to me that there absolutely are sides of good and evil in this. This is the gun to our head and the match at our doorstep. It's time to be Saharan missionaries to ourselves, willing to know that God won't allow us to be stoned in the street unless it's truly to His greater purpose. I'm overwhelmed by suddenly seeing an arena for action, finally, because what I believe can matter. I'm ready to fight, because I've finally found a battle I recognize enough to know that with the Lord I can stand against it. I see potential to apply my faith in a place of desperate need. Unfortunately, laypeople don't seem to have very much influence in the church political system, so I really don't know where personally to start.

Maybe I should have gone to seminary.


Andy Culbertson October 28, 2009 at 5:06 PM  

Fascinating. I'm glad I found your blog! :)

alpineflower November 21, 2009 at 8:45 PM  

Abraham Lincoln mused, "In great contests, each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both *may* be, and one *must* be wrong. God can not be *for* and *against* the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party." (emphases his, in that quaint 1800s way of theirs) - From Doris Kearns Goodwin's awesome book, Team of Rivals.

I love this quote, and thought it fit well with the whole Anglican thing. - Heidi Funkhouser Farr

About This Blog

Life is about changes; transitions from one place to another, from one purpose to another, from one being to another. They say that the person you are today is a completely different person from who you were ten years ago and who you'll be ten years from now. So far, at the age of 33, I've had four major transitions in my life which redefined who I am. Two years into the results of the most recent transition I am again - still - exploring how God is shaping me. Over the next few months I hope to review my past and set goals for the future, and embrace the next adventure of rediscovering me.

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