The young man stood no more than five feet from the operating table, hands in pockets, uneasily gazing at the traffic outside. Cars, trucks, ambulances, and police vehicles rushing to and fro, with no aim in sight other than the cyclical nature of humanity’s desire for pleasure, power, or possessions. Why are ambulances called krankenwagen in Germany? Who would want to ride in a sick wagon for any reason? Germans are weird. Those were his thoughts as two nurses stood, one on each side of the bed, hands to their sides, each looking nowhere in particular.
“So, what would you like me to do?” Asked the young man. “I’ve never done this before.”
Both nurses exchange a quick look, some joke passing between them in that glance. The young man picked up on this but returned his gaze to the cars rumbling and tumbling outside. The older nurse, a motherly Filipino lady with rectangular glasses and blue scrubs approaches the middle of the bed and pats it down, smoothing the paper stretched over it with her hands.
“You can stand at the edge of the bed,” She pats the paper down some more as if her hands could iron the wrinkles out of it. “Face away from the bed and pull your pants down to your ankles. Once done, just hop onto the bed and lay down.”
In most cases, well, in most cases within a James Bond movie, this is the scene where we get to watch the main character disrobe, his or her muscular physique, slim build, and picturesque body on display for the audience to indulge. But the young man isn’t in a Bond movie, he isn’t Bond either. His body is that of a middle-aged retiree, his joints creak and groan when he squats, and the only villain in his life is his alarm clock.
There is no right or wrong way to disrobe in front of people. Well, correction. There is no right or wrong way to disrobe in front of nurses and medical professionals when prompted to do so. Considering the clinic, the environment, the practice, and their purpose, I’m sure they’ve seen their fair share of anatomical extensions, therefore there is nothing to be shy about. Medical professionals are taught this from the start. Bedside manners are an important aspect of medicine and to forego it is akin to a mortal sin within the field. The young man knew this, he was trained in that field earlier in life as well, aware of the added value respect, care, and patience add to someone’s experience in their most vulnerable moments with a medical professional.
“I’m just going to wrap this around your,” Said the older nurse, holding a strange mesh net apparatus with tape at the end. Our young man’s mind went elsewhere as she approached, gathered, wrapped, and taped down his nether part to his body. “And now I’m just going to use this cleaning agent to sterilize your…”
Words were exchanged, packets were ripped open, gauze pads were dampened with a dark orange substance, and his parts were patted with the mixture, ever so gently.
At this moment, the young man was not sure what subject would be best to broach or what topic would be convenient or appropriate enough to engage in considering the circumstances. Discussing the spike in homicides in town would be an interesting conversation but perhaps one best had over coffee with someone equally interested in true crime and forensic work.
“Okay,” Said the older nurse as she finished her prep, pamper, tape, scrub, dry, and air out project.
“Dr. Graham will be in shortly. Do you have any questions?”
“No, ma’am. None that I can think of. Thank you for everything.”
There wasn’t anything else the young man could say in such a compromising posititon. Thank you for cleaning my already clean parts?Does anyone else ever thank nurses for this part of the process? Are other men dissatisfied with the prep and if so do they voice their dissatisfaction? Have some men requested a second clean-up because of some obsessive-compulsive disorder? An irrepressible compulsion that demands of them that if you’re going to clean something you cannot simply do it once. A second, third, or eleventh clean is necessary to accomplish the cleanliness desired. Have men taken it upon themselves to do the most English man thing imaginable by firmly but gently taking the cleaning utensils away from the nurses and cleaning themselves so that nurses would not have to place themselves in an uncomfortable situation?
These and other thoughts rushed through the young man’s mind as he thanked both nurses, the older motherly one to his right and the younger one who stood to his left.
The motherly nurse removes her gloves and tosses them into a bin close to his head. She then excuses herself and leaves the room to attend to other men who are in the same vulnerable state, awaiting their unexpected clean and pamper session in a room or two away from his.
“So how many kids do you have?” Asked the younger nurse. Also Filipino. She dawned blue scrubs as well and looked no older than a kid out of high school. She stood there like a professional statuette, maintaining the calm and peaceful environment in the room like a pro.
“I have four kids!”
“Wow. Four kids. Boys? Girls? How old are they?”
“Six. Four. One and something months. And the last one is four months old.”
“Wow. They’re so close together. Boys? Girls?”
“All girls. I’m a girl dad through and through.”
Nurses are supposed to be professionals. In moments of extreme vulnerability, these pink-collar elites are expected to exude the highest level of stoicism in the face of change and trauma but here the young nurse broke character and began to laugh. Not the cackle of a wicked witch but the snot flushing kind of laughter where one has to wipe her nose once done but to her benefit she was wearing a mask. She laughed as if there were some sort of joke only she knew about but was unwilling to share more about with him.
“That’s great.” She finally said.
“Hello, how are you?” Said Dr. Graham Lohlun as he rushed into the room, reaching for the faucet to rinse his hands. Whether he used soap or not escaped the young man’s line of sight. There is not much one can see from that position, especially with a bright and beaming overhead light pointed at his delicate region. Depending on where a light shines on a man, he can go blind, you know.
“I’m well, doc. How are you?”
“Any second thoughts? This is your last chance to back out.” He said, padding his hands dry with paper and then stretching blue gloves over his well-trained and steady fingers.
“No, doc. I think I’m good.” Sweat began to develop over the young man’s forehead as the doctor explained the next steps.
A syringe was mentioned, numbing was discussed, the site of injection was determined, and a cold grasp felt. The young man was asked to take a deep breath, not that it would help diminish the feeling of a needle creeping into his flesh but at least it would help him think of something rather than nothing at all. Thinking about one’s breathing makes them aware of the involuntary nature of their body. No one thinks about breathing. They just do it.
Moments later, a pinch, a sting, dread, and awaited horrors haunt the young man, but nothing came of it. The young man laid there, tranquil, hands over his chest as the physician worked through the numbing process like a horologist works on a watch, ever so gently moving one part here, placing another part there, addressing this section, and balancing that section over there. Thankfully, however, there was no twisting or hammering of any sort involved. This physician knew exactly what he was doing.
“Are you feeling any pain or discomfort? If so, please let me know.”
“No doc, I honestly cannot feel a thing. I do, however, feel some pressure, as if there is a pull or some weight, down there.”
“That’s normal. Let me know if you feel any discomfort, okay?”
Their discussion jumped from personal interests, sports, geography, and South Africa. Dr. Lohlun has an Asian background, possibly Filipino, but he was born and raised in South Africa. The young man had the urge to ask whether Dr. Lohlun lived through the apartheid but was discouraged from doing so considering the gravity of the situation they were in. One misguided question, misunderstood opinion, or poorly constructed supposition and the wrong anatomical function would be severed.
That would not be an ideal outcome for our young man.
“Being from Brazil, do you watch a lot of soccer?” Asked Dr. Lohlun.
“Well, I cry when Brazil wins and I cry when they lose.” He responded with laughter. “I have no choice.”
Their prototypical operation room conversation came to a close no more than ten minutes later, having discussed dating, marriage, kids, likes, and dislikes, and how to best take care of one’s marbles post-procedure, Dr. Lohlun completed his work.
“Doc,” Said the young man as he sat up and inched towards the edge of the bed to pull his pants up. “I hope to never see you again.”
“You know what,” He said. “I wouldn’t even recognize your face. I’d sooner recognize your,” They laughed.
The nurses laughed, too. Perhaps, having heard the joke for the umpteenth time. The young man was one of nineteen procedures that day. Nineteen. Dr. Lohlun is in there performing vasectomies three times a week. Do the math. There’s a higher chance you’ll meet a secular eunuch in Edmonton than a bear in the Albertan Rockies.
Pleasantries were exchanged. The nurses wished the young man well and out of the room he went, rather uncertain of how to walk after such an intrusive procedure.
“Am I good to go?” He asked the front desk receptionists, two Filipino ladies who were somewhat unaware of their surroundings, their purpose, their job, and the young man who dragged his feet past their desk.
“Oh, yeah, you’re good to go.” They mumbled to no one in particular.
After thanking the would-be human beings sitting at the reception desk, the young man exited the doctor’s office. The door felt heavier and maneuvering past it was a rather difficult task for him. Having placed as much distance between himself and Dr. Lohlun’s office, the young man found himself in front of an elevator, which, to his surprise, was out of service. Had he taken better care of his mental health he would have remembered that when he first entered the building the elevator had an out-of-service sign slapped on and around it, as technicians worked on it. He assumed they knew why he was there and they picked just this day to service the machine to his detriment.
“Stairs.” He sighed, inching his way forward, further down the hallway, more steps, more than he wanted to take, all in the name of science, love, and whatever else men decide to do this for.
Once he reached the door to the stairs, he felt an inkling of fear, not knowing how this was going to work and how much pain he’d feel descending a flight of stairs after having his member nearly dismembered. But fear resides in the heart and mind of every man, woman, and child, what we do with it, however, is the tricky part. And not wanting to call his wife who sat in the car outside waiting for him, he opted to take the risk and get it over with.
The first step is the hardest, fear subsiding, he kept moving, feeling as if his groin was going to prolapse, making him infertile, but then he remembered why he was there, to begin with. What’s the worst that can happen, right?
The sight of a newly vasectomized man waltzing down three flights of stairs would have been a sad one had he had not had a mirror to watch himself do it all. Every floor had a black reflective mirror-like wall and his galloping down the steps had him laughing and complaining at the same time all the way down to the first floor. He managed to get down and out of the building, even stopping to help an old lady on a walker get into the building.
“Damn luck.” He muttered but recalled something about Jesus and going the extra mile or opening a door for old ladies on walkers or something to that effect.
“Aw babe,” Said his wife, half fake crying, half laughing as the young man crab-walked back to their car.
“Here let me help you.”
“No, no, I’m fine. Thank you.” He wasn’t.
This entire sequence, the entry, the awkward stares, the nurses, the bed, the weird orange gauze, the needle, the numbness, and the tug and snip would have all been a forgettable memory, a blur on this young man’s mind had he not started coughing that morning.
You see, little did this young man know, he was about to test positive for Covid-19. In any other world or reality, he would have been fine or at least understanding of a situation where he is either Covid-19 positive or dealing with a post-vasectomy recovery. Dealing with both, on the same weekend, was to his estimation, worse than anything imaginable, save pineapple on pizza.
The fever was manageable. The head cold was dizzying but manageable. The aching joints had him bedridden but drugs helped him get through that phase as well. Having received his Pfizer shots helped him get over his illness sooner. He didn’t mind the various symptoms this little bug had introduced into his system save the fact that they wandered into his body on the worst weekend of his life.
What truly bothered him.
What truly pained him and left him nearly immobile for just short of a week was his lung destroying cough.
You see, when you cough, your pelvic floor, and your core muscles assist in getting all that slime out of your lungs, up to your throat, into and then out of your mouth. It’s quite the beautiful process, seeing the interconnectedness of the human anatomy and physiology at work to get rid of unwanted microorganisms. The same happens when you consume something your stomach rejects and then you have to throw up. That weird invisible punch in the get you to get that helps the carrots fly out of your mouth and into the toilet is all thanks to your diaphragm, your pelvic floor, and your core muscles. It’s beautiful, save the carrots.
Unless that is, you’re on your first day out of a vasectomy.
Our young man felt as if every time he coughed, sneezed, or moved, his members were short of exploding out of his body.
You won’t have much swelling, he recalled Dr. Lohlun saying. But little was said about how to cope with the death-inducing pain of coughing as parts of you bled inside.
“Oh, my poor baby,” Said his wife, as she set his meals before him, pampered him, and loved him dearly. “I hate to say this but now you know what giving birth and recovering four times feels like.”
Granted, if men were to give birth through their constricted canal, men would reconsider a lot of things. Well, men would reconsider living, for one. But he laughed this thought off, laughed his wife off, and nodded gently, not sure if in agreement with her or if planning some devious prank to make her regret the words.
“Yeah.” Was all he could muster as his groin began to feel as if it were on fire from within. With every cough, sneeze, movement, or thought of the area, pain shot up his core and then back down to his potato carrier.
He couldn’t help but notice that the ballooning in his groin was not the fault of his vasectomy or its recovery, which, save Covid-19, he would have been back on his feet a day or two later. What troubled him was just how much pain coughing brought him. With every cough, he transitioned, like a mutant metamorphosing from a crab into a penguin. His gait no longer arced, his back was now stiff, and his stature that of just that, a penguin.
The young man, days before, thriving, healthy, well, save his aged knees, was turned into an ice walking, flightless, orca fleeing land creature.
There wasn’t much he could do but consume over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs. Acetomenophin, ibuprofen, guaifenesin, and dextromethorphan. Pain, inflammation, expectorant, and antitussive. Morning. Afternoon. Night. Repeat.
Some nights, he’d wake up in cold sweats and in pain because in mid-sleep he would turn his legs one way or his body in another and accidentally brush up on the finer parts of his person which were still tender to the touch.
Penguin walk from bed to the restroom. Penguin walk to the kitchen. Penguin walk to the couch. Penguin walk to the car.
Everyone else eventually got sick with the same virus so when he felt just a little better, he foolishly thought he could waltz from the couch to his car and drive to the convenience store next door to grab some more OTC to help his family get through their bout with Covid.
After hanging on to a shopping cart for dear life and pushing it through a store that seemed larger and longer than he previously remembered, he found all the items he went there for. His back and shirt, now drenched with sweat from either the fever or the fact that his insides burned with pain, he made his way home, into the garage, up the stairs, and into his medicine cabinet where he found a select few precious brown pills that eased his dis-ease in a matter of minutes.
Two weeks later and the young man is doing so much better. He now walks like the homo sapien he is, at times devolving into a neanderthal when one of his kids accidentally (or intentionally) bangs into his nether area, sending his saintly demeanor to hell and back, unscathed, of course.
He is proud of his decision, though. He understands the horrors associated with childbirth, the risks, and the damage a woman suffers and endures, sometimes for the rest of her life as a result of bringing a baby into the world. So he is confident in his decision to endure the knife, the cough, and the penguin walk if that would keep his wife from the knife and possible complications associated with having her tubes tied.
Plus, he’d never hear the end of it had she been the one to get tied up.
He now spends his days looking staring into the nothing. The open air. Space? He has come to peace with the fact that two spherical members now lay and rest inside him, both useless, yet so proximal. He carries them as one carries a memory of an event, an undertaking, a trophy that no longer holds its value. The merits and rewards are present stil. They annoy him every day, all four of them, jumping from wall to couch to wall, eating all his food, taking all his sleep away from him, and soon enough, his retirement funds as well. But he isn’t troubled, though.
“But don’t you want to try one more time, for a boy?” He can hear the calls of ignorant wolves and beasts ring in the back of his mind. “No, I’m happy with my girls. They’re lovely. I love them all.” When all he ever wants to say is…
Well, I’ll let him speak for himself on that one when you get the chance to meet him and ask him yourself.
Now that he’s, well, ball-less, or ball-full but ball-useless, he may be a bit more reckless with his life choices.
And the moral of the story?
Have your kids. Don’t have them. Your choice. Just don’t catch Covid before, during, or shortly after getting your members snipped or else you’ll join the Snipped Penguin’s Society.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Repost: This post was originally posted on Facebook on January 30, 2017.
The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:34
Christians, let us be honest about refugees. And by Christians, I don’t mean people who just use the Bible when it suits their political agendas. I mean the people who have devoted their lives to the historical Jesus Christ.
Jesus would have taken in the refugees. Jesus would have received them with open arms, independent of their race, nationality, gender, or social status. Absolutely.
Jesus would have given His life for them. In fact, He has. When Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this: to lay his life down for his friends.”
Further yet, “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus, without a hint a doubt or hesitance called and still calls us to lay down our lives for our friends, to love our neighbors no matter who they may be or what they believe, and also to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us in the good faith that His love will triumph over their hate.
So in reality, from a Godly and biblical perspective, if you hold the Bible as the very words of God, we ought to love and protect all men and women from oppressors when the chance is given. Hospitality should be our highest esteem and merit so that the world may look to Christians everywhere and say, “Even though we disagree in every fundamental thing, that Christian has treated me like royalty and family.”
Christ died on the cross for us and that revelation ought to transform us.
And that truth cost Him His life. Jesus, though loving was no spineless or chest-less man. He bench-pressed time and existence into being and set a new eternal bench-press record for all the cosmos.
He would state, with love that others were wrong within their erroneous presumptions. While doing such, He showed them love and fed them not just physical for for their much need nourishment but also spiritual food, revitalizing their souls.
So if it comes to pass that refugees fleeing war-torn nations beg to reside next to you, work with you, attend the same events as you, love them. Befriend and pray for them. Discuss life, love, conflict, sadness, reality and listen to what they may say in return. Be ready also, at all times to give a response as to what you believe and how it can and will remedy the world of its fundamental crisis of the heart.
Jesus would have us, through the Great Commission to go into all the world and preach the good news of His redemptive work through the cross and His resurrection. If we will not leave our fox holes to cross into enemy lines where imminent danger is everywhere, He will send the enemy, whether in the physical or ideological stance, into our communities, events, schools, etc. He will use every method and avenue available so that perhaps one of the millions may be saved.
So in regards to the refugees, let them come in. If our faith is weak, it will perish. But if our faith in Him is strong, as it ought to be, we will not only lead the world in the forms of love and hospitality towards those in need, but we will also lead countless neighbors from around the world to a relationship with Christ Jesus, their everlasting Creator.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
If one does not derive pleasure or satisfaction from the process there is little to no chance he or she may find joy in the final accomplishment. There may be a lingering sense of happiness, perhaps an eagerness for a new project, but in the finished product, that person will not find joy.
What I mean to say is that if we do not value the work we put into something we love to do — if we do not prize the sweat developed from the workout, then the truth is that we are not seeking joy from purpose but joy from accomplishments. The danger here is that we are only satisfied when things are done or satisfied for only a short time with a finished product.
If our initial goal is to develop a six-pack, sculpt our shoulders, broaden our quads, and enlarge our pectoral muscles and we succeed in all these, one may wonder, for how long we’ll manage to maintain this status of euphoria. It is said that those who are able to attain a high level of physical fitness and physique are not those who have an ultimate goal or plan but more so those who value the process. The determined soul is more content with an endless journey than the ones with deadlines and finish lines.
If one does not derive pleasure or satisfaction from the process there is little to no chance he or she may find joy in the final accomplishment.
What, then, is the purpose of hard work? Is it merely for us to merit or benefit from something? Are we hopelessly at the mercy of finished things instead of gracefully appreciating the processes of unfinished businesses?
Will life not end, unexpectedly one day? Not if but when that day comes do we believe we will out of some miraculous Herculean effort have accomplished and fulfilled every goal ever established and written down? Will we be content with every meeting we have ever engaged in and ended? Will we have had enough sit-downs with our children — enough to make them like us back? Will every task have been accomplished? Most of them at least?
We know the answers and that may trouble some of us because we’re more caught up on finishing things that have no end than we are in enjoying the things, rather, the memories that will live on without end.
The ultimate purpose of hard work is that in the process of it one finds enjoyment and fulfillment, that is if what you are working hard at, is, in fact, what you love to do.
If you find yourself working yourself to death or just short of it and equally miserable about it, perhaps it is time to step away from that effort and place your energy elsewhere.
I am not suggesting pragmatism for practice’s sake, for even practical things become impractical with time. Nor am I promoting existentialism for idealists stuck in a creative bind, for even existentialists end up extinct, and with them, their ideas.
What I suggest is that you step away from the meritocracy that we have come to prize so much. it’s cyclical absurdism for profit. No, not your profit. I suggest you step into a more simple life — one that is more fulfilling than it is financially enriching.
If you write, then enjoy the creative nature of the process and work hard at it. You’ll find, as have I, that there is pleasure and peace derived from the process even though the final product may be fleeting. No great body of work was or is ever complete. We have editors to thank for that. But when the author is content with the process, with the production, with the direction of words and ideas, then the ultimate work is of lesser import because the writer attained that which many of us pursue but never lay grasp of — joy.
So, find what you love to do, make time for it, work hard at it, and enjoy the process.
It’s 1:00 AM on a Monday night so I have to get to sleep now because in five hours or so I have to go about working hard to accomplish something concrete and conclusive, something of merit and benefit, for someone else.
What a bore.
Know the difference.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
I’ve had the privilege of meeting, befriending, wooing, dating, and later being engaged to and finally marrying the love of my life.
Her name is Irma. No one knows how to pronounce her name, and honestly, the way she pronounces it is probably wrong too.
We met on social media, namely, Instagram, then Facebook, then Skype, and finally in person. She wasn’t a serial killer so I survived our initial meet and the second time we met up I asked her to marry me. We met in February of 2014, got engaged in June, were married in court on September 29, and celebrated that marriage with friends and family on October 18 of the same year.
That was seven years ago!
We’ve lived in Florida, vacationed in Brazil, visited Toronto together, and now live in Edmonton, AB, Canada. Our first little girl was born in Naples, Florida, the next two in Edmonton, and the fourth is slated to be born here as well if we don’t just so happen to move to Japan in the next week or two.
My heart is full. Everything I dreamed of and wished for in a partner I can gladly celebrate in my wife. The humor, the chemistry, the beauty, the proactive maturity, the effort, and the awareness of all things.
She’s my friend, my best friend and I’m glad we’ve made it this far but it’s not far enough since I hope to spend the rest of my life with her before I end up on a Cold Case file somewhere.
Anywho… what can I share with you from seven years of marriage?
Through thick and thin, ups and downs, wealth and almost sure poverty, health and sickness, life and well, abundant life?
What can I impart to you, my dear friend?
Nothing that concerns you anyway.
My marriage is none of your business therefore you can go out there and marry the love of your life and you’ll realize that it’s more important to spend time with them than it is to write about it for others.
So go live your life. Enjoy the ice cream and wine. And by ice cream and wine I mean sex.
Enjoy it and thrive in it.
Happy Anniversary, my love. You are my waking dreams and when you don’t salt the rice well enough, you become my waking nightmare. But that’s okay. Love suffers all things. Especially unsalted rice.
I cherish you, I praise your wisdom and intellect, I value our conversations about ideas, concepts, systems, structures, peoples, theology, eschatology, soteriology, race, childrearing, and yes, 90 Day Fiancé on TLC.
Distance dating was our story but that seems like a distant memory now because I cannot imagine life without you now.
I could not have found a better friend, a better partner, a better wife, nor a fellow conspiracy to commit… well, you know what than I have found in you.
To ice cream and wine.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Last Sunday, Freedom Life Church pastor and bible teacher, Rohan Samuels covered the Lord’s Prayer. This was the second installment of FLC’s Teach Me How To Pray series where we study whether prayer is efficacious or not.
Some of us spend time on our knees doing nothing but mumbling unintelligible things to God and falling asleep where we are without realizing what happened until we wake up snoring and drooling all over the place.
Prayer sleep is some of the best sleep I’ve ever gotten and hey, listen, taking a nap before God is a great thing if that’s what we went there for. But if our initial pursuit was to seek God’s providential will for our lives in this humbling medium of communication and the result was our brain slipping into a catatonic state then something went wrong somewhere.
Prayer involves communication, not just monologues where we dispense our righteous anger, relay our seasonal depression to God, divulge our momentary anxieties and then wipe our tears, stand up or lay down from our one-sided FaceTime session with God and off we go with our lives or into oblivion to dream about other things.
Prayer is more than one-sided monologues and information dumpster fires we drop at God’s feet. If we’re not making time to stand or kneel or time to just ‘be’ in the presence of the All-Mighty then we’ll find it harder and harder to receive Guidance and Perspective from Someone we seldom stop and sit long enough to listen to and understands our destiny.
Dr. Derwin L. Gray, pastor at Transformation Church, Indian Land, South Carolina, defines prayer this way:
“Prayer is more than talking to God. Prayer is a sacred journey of becoming who you were meant to be.”
Pastor Rohan with the Lord’s Prayer in mind deciphers a better way for us to communicate with God and at the same time dispels the harmful ideas we’ve come to make tradition and doctrine over time regarding prayer that is not true and eventually turns out to be not biblical as well.
Here are just a few ideas from Last Sunday’s message I managed to jot down to add to my prayer life.
“Prayer is not about us even though it requires our participation.”
This is true. Biblically speaking, prayer is truly about us being conformed to the will of God.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
Prayer is not just a means through which we communicate with God but also a place, an act, an action, a state of being in which we are molded into the person God has created us to be and also where we align our will to His will, which, thankfully, is always good for us. [Romans 8:28]
“You are not entitled to what you pray for.”
This point is critically important but emotionally damaging if our goal in prayer is to gain everything we want from God without knowing for sure if what we want is within His will.
When we bow a knee (which isn’t necessary) to pray we are again called by God to commune with Him and walk with Him. This intimate act calls for us to subjugate our will, which isn’t always in the right place, to His direction.
Us asking for that multi-million dollar residence in Texas, the three Mercedes -Benz Brabus rockets, and a multi-million dollar business to run without ever having taken a business management course, not knowing how to properly administer funds, and never having taken driving lessons, acquiring a driver’s license, having no auto insurance will only place us in a legally and financially compromising situation.
God sees the future as if it were the past. We must trust that when we ask for things or blessings we must first adhere our hearts and aspirations to the will of God and trust His best for our lives otherwise we’ll end up getting everything we want and not knowing how or what to do with these things.
Imagine someone asking for kids and once they’re blessed with them their kids are neglected, abused, and dismissed. We need to be in a state of peace and contentment with God over the things we get from God.
“Everyone should enter the school of prayer but no one graduates from the school of prayer.”
This is a given. No one is a prayer warrior as if there were a school somewhere where men and women go to train like samurai of yesteryear to kneel and stand for hours on end. Where they practice crying, on and off, and raising hands to strengthen their shoulders for lengthy intercessory prayer sessions. Where they carry on hours-long standing sessions to demonstrate their ability to withstand twelve-hour vigils. There isn’t a place where men and women go to train their speaking voice and then their praying voice.
Prayer is a lifelong commitment to communicating with and listening to God. Understand also that God listens to you.
You won’t graduate from a prayer program the same way one graduates from a Ninja Warrior class on how to climb walls and free-run across the surface of a building.
Humility in the life of a believer is demonstrated in this way: he or she is always willing to seek God for guidance in all things instead of relying on their history, wisdom, know-how, etc.
We are all here to learn from God and learn more about how He guides us through His word and His Holy Spirit. The moment we step away from these and onto our wisdom, we have damned ourselves to our folly.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
“Way to pray not the words to pray.”
Pastor Rohan recites the Lord’s Prayer, the one easily found in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
The beautiful message Jesus portrays in this passage is that we needn’t get caught up in the religiosity of prayer where performance and eloquence are the goals.
Jesus relays to his disciples then and us today the simplicity of prayer: we acknowledge our Creator and are also acknowledged by Him by the grace of being heard.
We are blessed with the grace of His will, which reminds us that we are not alone in this journey without a guide or direction.
We are blessed with the grace of honesty in our moment of need. When we lack or when sustenance is something we rely on, which we do, we can gladly ask of it of God. Pastor Rohan alludes to the reality of how a first-century Jew would read this prayer, one who did not have the convenience of supermarkets and logistics we do today to get food and bread. Back then, if harvest went sour or if war swept the land, there was a very high chance you or your neighbor would die from starvation and malnutrition. So understand that sometimes we go through thirst or hunger of sorts, which may or may not pertain to physical hunger, where we desperately need to present this need to the Lord.
It is comforting to know that God accepts these petitions and hears them.
Our relationship with God is measured also by our relationship with our neighbors. Vertical only faith is no faith at all. When we place an emphasis on relationships we need to be aware that we are earthly beings with heavenly blessings, meaning, we need to care for both. Meaning, we need to properly administer both.
We must not only forgive others, but we must also love them as well. Displaying a forgiving character toward all, as hard as it may be.
We are graced with the ability to seek refuge in our Heavenly Father from spiritual uncleanliness and filth. We seek refuge and protection from spiritually impure and tenebrous spirits whose sole purpose is to disrupt our relationship with our Divine Creator.
God listens to us. And because He listens to our heart and our words, we ought to then communicate our innermost workings with Him more freely.
There is nothing that you can say that’ll surprise Him nor anything you can say that will hurt Him.
This is liberating news.
So you don’t have to pray this exact prayer as if it is holier, brighter, better, more effective, and somehow a talisman against evil itself, because it is a way for us to pray, not THE WORDS we ought to pray.
Jesus set forth a foundation for us to approach God our Father, but you are free to express your heart before Him your way, without using someone else’s words.
Give it a go!
Praise Him. Trust Him. Walk with Him.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Professor Wade Mullen, Ph.D., wrote a book on deciphering the veiled tactics abusers and abusive institutions use to maintain power and deceive victims into submission and silence. This book opened my eyes to the sketchy behaviors corporations and their ilk of lawyers and suits use to deviate blame, shift shame, and avoid guilt at all costs, all while saving face in the face of evidence, wrongdoing, malpractice, and abuse.
“Abusers and abusive organizations may concede the basic reality of the wrong—“Yes, this happened”—but quickly add statements that either soften their responsibility or promote their integrity: “We value all people and only want what is best for everyone involved.” If these concessions do their job, the accused will stay in power, stay in favor with the community, and stay far from the shame their actions deserve.”
There’s always that ‘but’ in our apologies, is there not? I believe it’s a defensive mechanism to protect our ego from one, being exposed for what it is, two, admitting wrong, and three, having to deal with the consequences of that initial or sequential wrongdoing we’re responsible for.
I’m guilty of this as well. Many times over.
I’ve apologized to others with the intent of protecting my image for the sake of my ego. No one wants to be destroyed in the public sphere or the public marketplace. Nowadays, being denied social capital is at times worse than actual capital because of ostracism from people on social media which, if left unchallenged, can last years, if not decades; or a lifetime.
“I’m sorry I did that to you but you kind of asked for it.”
“I’m sorry you felt that way but that wasn’t my intention.”
“I’m sorry this happened, it did, and I’ll put it behind me. You do have to forgive me, you know.”
These are just a few of the facades and barriers we create and put up to defang the brunt of our consequences. We’re not only afraid of the ramifications of our wrongs but we’re resistant to any form of discipline, especially if that discipline is meted out by the victim of our wrongs.
They pinpoint 23 identifiable traits abusive leaders can exhibit which, after a closer look, are patterns and behaviors we see in our own lives as well. I mean, I see a few of these in mine. It’s daunting.
Take a look:
Doublespeak—Language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts or reverses the meaning of
words using euphemisms, inflated language, jargon, or just plain nonsense
Unteachable Spirit—Claims to want to hear people’s opinions, yet talks down to and/or argue with the people who share them; pretends to listen, agree, and learn, yet makes no significant change
Corrective Theology—Use meetings or written messages to correct things that were said by others
Semantics—Distort and distract from what they and others say and/or mean by parsing every word
others say while refusing to allow their own language to be dissected
Blame-shifting—Refusal to take real responsibility; often directly blames other people and/or use
statements such as, “They just don’t understand my heart,” or “You are not listening”
Demand Loyalty/Respect/Trust—Often remind others of all the good they have done even as they
demand unconditional and blind loyalty/respect/trust
Sabotage—Ministries are secretly undone, content they can’t control is criticized, relationships are
Distorted Relationships—Heavy demands may be put on relationships, relationships tend not to be
reciprocal, they may speak well of you in-person while talking badly of you when you are not present
Demand Unity—Sincere sounding calls for unity turn out to be demands for conformity to the leader’s beliefs, ideas, and preferences
Gaslighting—Specific forms of manipulation intended to cause others to question their perception; may take the form of “remembering things differently,” withholding information, denying having said or done something, and/or lying
Credential Flashing—Degrees, position, titles used frequently to establish an air of authority
Paranoia—Concern that others are undermining their authority, talking behind their backs, or leaving them out
Image Obsession—Inflated concern about how others perceive them; often takes the form of public
name-dropping (though in private they may berate the very names they drop) and building a façade as a godly and/or deeply religious person
Blackmail—If challenged will used whatever he/she thinks he has on the challenger to quash the
challenge; may take the form of forcing a resignation, tying severance to NDAs
Public Admiration of Others—Publicly make highly positive comments about others (often fellow
leaders/co-workers) while privately tearing them down
Entitlement—Claim the right to the highest-ranking positions without having to do the actual work to achieve the position
Absence of Conflict Resolution—When approached about conflict swiftly and deftly to turn the conflict into the other person’s problem entirely
Distress is Highly Distressing—Often unable to handle the difficult emotions of others and will shut them down swiftly
Purposely Provocative—Will intentionally provoke distressing situations/emotions for/in others to
accomplish their own ends
Multiple Personas—Who they are in public, private, and specific ministry situations changes as if they are chameleons; when confronted about this lack of authenticity they will deny having multiple personas
Persistent—Above all, abusive leaders persist, don’t take no for an answer, overtly or covertly, passively or aggressively pressing themselves and their agendas on others
Best & Brightest—While not necessarily the best and brightest by training or ability, abusive leaders
work to be seen as the best and brightest in every room they enter
False Vulnerability—self-disclosures about past sin, attempts to evoke tears and emotionality in others
Now you may have noticed that the descriptions above reflect an array of leadership abuse traits within any structure but the authors focus primarily on leadership structures within faith communities. Namely, Christian church environments.
I believe it is critical to be aware of these deviations and character malformations because in the church we tend to value leaders based on their gifts instead of their character. If their performance and the results of their theatrics bring people to faith or balloons the attendance within our church circles, then, by all means, let us ignore their shouting bouts behind closed doors. It’s okay if the leader manipulates the board into giving him or her more executive and financial power without boundaries or accountability. It’s alright for the leader to exhibit multiple personas inasmuch as they visit the elderly, the imprisoned, and the orphan. It’s seen as a minor moral scruple when they sabotage relationships in the church, are obsessed with corrective theology; namely, his perspective of the ancient book is the only correct one, as long as the church stays full and tithes keep rolling in for years.
I mean, just look at the new church building we purchased! Isn’t just grand?
That is why it is so important to confront leadership abuse and abusers in every facet of society but more so within religious circles because leaders in this sphere are seen as intermediaries between us and God.
They’ve been given the keys to privileged access to the Divine. When they pray for guidance, Providence listens. When they preach the Word it seems as if the very Creator is present to reemphasize the gravity of the truth within the homiletical utterances of the minister behind the pulpit. When they counsel it is not the counsel of man but the very words of God.
And this isn’t a divinely ordained calling. These are positions, attitudes, and authority structures we create and honor and place men or women in the center of because we want palpable identifications of God here on earth.
Because our reliance on the supernatural is only efficacious if we can find a man or a woman of God to corroborate our faith. When that happens we then elevate them above the rest and call them Men of God or Prophetesses of God.
The problem with this spiritual sucking-up, if you will, is that the nefarious agents, namely, abusers who are talented, gifted, and amazing liars and chameleons of every form of good abuse their power every chance they get. They shape-shift their way through social tests of affirmation and acceptance, end up finding a way to lead the flock just by being performative.
Their results speak for them and in a results-driven society, they tend to rise to the top. Every. Single. Time.
It always ends up this way because church people are too gullible, conflict-avoiding, and kind-hearted to confront one another on these issues.
“Let us maintain the peace, please, brothers, let us have peace.”
And I am not innocent here. I have exhibited quite a few of these traits as a leader.
From unapologetic arrogance in being the corrective theologian in the room to being obsessed with how others viewed me in the church or para-church ministries. I’ve had my fair share of cringe-worthy public admiration of others moments, theologians and apologists I had never even met, who I would glorify and elevate to near-divine status. I avoided conflict because I didn’t want to confront the issues in me and less so in others, therefore so many issues would go without resolution in my circles.
I was only an authority over them as a teacher or youth leader but what the hell was I supposed to do about their personal lives? I’m not a guru!
The host and co-host of this podcast asked the authors of this list if these traits are mistakenly attributed to abusers alone because they have exhibited them from time to time as well.
The authors of the list stated that we humans tend to dip our fingers into selfish or self-preservative behaviors from time to time but these are just regular human mistakes we tend to make.
What they depict in this list of twenty-plus leadership character flaws are red flags that are persistent aspects of a person’s nature and how they deal with life and people on a daily basis.
The abusive traits we exhibit from time to time ought to be contradictory to our character, not complementary to it. There’s a difference.
In a moment of weakness or stress, we may lean on a certain practice because of a weakness or stress. We’re not naturally prone to sabotaging relationships, yelling at people who disagree with us, obsessed with correcting someone else’s theology, obsessive double-speak behaviors depending on the group we’re with. We’re not known for having multiple personas, one at home, one with a secretary, one with the board, one with the preaching team, one with this and that group. We’re one and the same all the time, just more professional in one sphere and more relaxed in another.
Our morality doesn’t change depending on who we’re with or around.
We’re not given to moral virtue signaling in front of the church in the morning and then off to rob banks, abuse kids, and cheat on our spouse in the afternoon.
We are all guilty of exhibiting one or more of these traits but out of a moment or a sequence of character weakness. We can find redemption from this by desisting from them immediately, confessing the wrongs, and rebounding within the community.
We’re here to restore people to fellowship, not power, remember that.
But if you find you are exhibiting these traits on a daily basis, that you are wholly reliant on them to control the narrative in your life and that of others, perhaps it is time to admit that you are an abusive leader. Or that you are obsessed or controlled by abusive traits.
And in that admittance, in that openness, it is time to seek help.
You can be helped but you must want it.
Again, we’re here to restore broken people to fellowship, not power. Fellowship helps build the individual. Power destroys the individual and their community.
So seek professional counseling today. Be it in the church or outside of it. Seek help to get your life and your character, back on track.
Because if you wait any longer your victim count will only increase with time. Eventually, you will lose the people you love and you will also lose yourself on this journey of life and faith.
Today marks five years since my wife and I (and our little Maya) moved to Canada. Who were we five years ago? What motivated the move? Do we regret leaving the sunshine state of Florida for the blizzardy winters and smoky summers of the far north?
So, we were broke five years ago. Not that we’re rich now but back then we were living with family, working two jobs, and barely making enough to pay our car and auto insurance every month. We struggled to have enough for diapers and formula. Yes. We saved a ton of cash by living with family but the alternative was to live in our spot, in abject poverty, under a bridge somewhere in the second wealthiest water-side city in the country.
Life was great in one sense. We lived no more than twenty minutes from the Naples Pier. Fifteen minutes from Coastland Center Mall. Twenty-five minutes away from Mercato and Waterside Shoppes.
We lived in the most beautiful city in all of Florida. Yes. My bias is kicking in here and I loved that city. We loved it. My wife still dreams about it too and would love to have a summer home there, just to escape the distasteful winters here, not that she’d move back though. But you know, have a place to go back to visit once in Naples. She loved it while it lasted. She has a thing for luxury. I mean, look at me.
My most prized friendships were formed in this city. Some of my most prized memories are from there as well.
But with such a life and city comes the cost of living there and we could live comfortably there. The industry I worked in, which didn’t pay me very well; and my wife not having the documentation to work in the US, would have eventually led us into poverty, without a doubt.
So we decided to move to the great white north to see if life could be more prosperous outside of the false American dream narrative.
Let me add, as a family of faith, we believed in following God’s voice to make this move when the opportunity presented itself. Long story short, as I received a prophetic word on two separate occasions to have my bags packed and be ready. We had peace amidst all the unknowns when the opportunity presented itself with the great family trip to Brazil, to make our move.
We spent a few weeks in Brazil after we left the US. We left nothing behind but a few furniture pieces and a ton of books that I miss dearly, but other than that we had no other earthly possessions to take with us. Our car loan was taken over by someone else. Like, we had nothing to our names so it was easy to leave. This was a bittersweet realization.
And, while in Brazil we applied for my visa to go to Canada. We left the US without knowing for sure if I would be granted access to Canada, to begin with. We could have been living in Brazil right now, for all we know. Maybe Germany, if Canada had not granted me access.
Once I left the Canadian consulate in Sao Paulo I was both ecstatic and uncaring about the future. Never before had my life been in such uncertain circumstances and for some reason, I felt at peace. Granted, being a person of faith you must understand my ease of trust in God through these times of utmost anxiety and stress and I had no other alternative. I trusted God and well, whether we got into Canada or not, I knew God would keep watch over us.
The visa didn’t take long to arrive and I used its arrival as a way to scare my mom into thinking I got denied and that my wife, my daughter, and I would stay in Brazil. This idea frightened the life out of her. Thankfully, however, it was a prank.
My parents helped purchase our tickets from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Toronto, Canada and we left Brazil. My uncle and aunt drove us to Sao Paulo from my hometown of Campinas and dropped us off at the airport. We hugged everyone. Thanked everyone for their help, their care, their hospitality, their food, and love. All without charge. It was so good to be with family, surrounded by people who spoke the language you grew up with and a culture you had come to love so much.
It was great but we had to go. We were somehow divinely ushered into these next steps.
Once we arrived in Canada, after my wife got into a verbal skirmish with a customs officer about her permanent residency status and whatnot; I was scared something was going to kick off and we were going to get deported before we even left Toronto. But we were granted access into Canada once in Toronto. We left that lovely and massive airport and flew to Calgary, Alberta.
And for you to understand just how delicate a situation we were in just check this out.
Once there, I realized it was very cold out. I didn’t like this because I left Brazil, in October, and it was warm out. We arrived in Calgary, in October, and it was cold. Ha. I hated it already.
But returning to the delicacy of our move. We set off to rent a car to drive from Calgary to Edmonton, where we would stay with my in-laws.
The car rental company accepted my payment for the car and whatnot but because I was using an American debit card and not a Canadian credit card they requested I place a damage deposit of something around 400 Canadian dollars or something.
I didn’t have that. I had little to no money left. No dollars to my name to buy my wife and my daughter a juice box, a sandwich, or a gumball. I had nothing to my name.
I walked outside as light snow began to fall. Tears welled up in my eyes as we were well over 200 kilometers away from our new home with my in-laws and there was a chance we would not be able to make it out of Calgary nor have a place to stay in that night because we were broke.
America has this sad mesmerizing power of making people very rich but the truth is that the American dream makes a lot of people rich but in the meantime, it makes millions more very very poor. We left America and charted north in a delicate financial situation.
I pulled my phone out and reached out to a friend to explain to him the delicacy of our situation, the cold, the snow, and the inability to rent the car. This friend, a gentle soul, wired me the money without question and suggested I never pay him back.
Through tears, I thanked him and promised to pay him back, well knowing I had nothing left to my name to honor this statement. With time, however, I did pay him back.
We rented the car and then drove north through the cold Albertan plain.
We arrived at our in-laws, hugged each other, ate a hearty meal, rested, and then lived for a time, without worry. Like, a day or two, because my wife had to find work because our work situation had flipped.
In the US I could work but she could not. In Canada, she could but I couldn’t. We needed money to apply for my papers (work permit and permanent residency). So she applied in one place and then another. Applied here and then there. And she finally got a job at a car dealership. A fancy one at that.
Problem is that we didn’t live in Edmonton just yet. Well, my in-laws didn’t live in Edmonton. They lived in a country area 70 kilometers south of Edmonton. And her new job was on the northwest side of Edmonton which meant she would drive about 80 kilometers to get to work and then 80 kilometers to get back home. We borrowed enough money to buy a car, cash, off of some wealthy guy in town, and by this point, it had begun to snow outside.
I would wake up around 5 am, drive this dusty and rusty old Hyundai Sonata through the snow for ten to fifteen minutes and then come back so that once my wife got into the car, the engine was warm enough and the heat was blowing hot in it. And off to work, she went. And she would get home very late at night because her job was so far away.
Eventually, this car would break down. I kept hearing creaks and cranks, metal bending and twisting, and I would tell my wife about the noise, how the car would veer to one side more than the other, and how it would groan when we turned this way or that way. She said it was nothing to worry about because Edmonton roads are just full of holes and whatnot.
They were. They are. Roads up here are horrible.
And one day, while driving nearby her work, caring for chores and whatnot, the car began to make louder sounds and my wife suggested we pull into the nearest Canadian Tire car shop for an inspection. Once there, I pulled into the parking lot and when I put the transmission in reverse, the front end of the car dropped to the floor and the car would not budge.
My wife saw the car drop and saw the panicked and desperate look in my eyes, as she stood outside trying to help me with reverse parking it slowly and she began to laugh a kind of laugh I hadn’t heard before. Whether it was stress or panic or fear or just pure comedy, I don’t know, but she laughed so much. She could not control herself. It’s the kind of laugh that happens when you sit in church and something embarrassing happens and you know you shouldn’t be laughing, but you can’t help it and it bursts out. But times 10 in this case.
This happened late in the day and it was so cold out. I kept the car on so that Maya, our little one, could stay warm in the car. Our gas was running low and we didn’t have money for a cab back to Wetaskiwin, where we lived with our in-laws. We were in a rut. We were stuck. Literally. It was snowing out. There was ice on the sidewalks. Ice. That’s the strangest thing ever. You could die if you slipped on that stuff.
Anyways, my father-in-law, that gentle soul, who also worked in Edmonton was on his way home to Wetaskiwin when we called him to rescue us in Edmonton. He turned his car around and drove toward us, picked us up, and well, we went home.
That car experienced so many issues. We borrowed money from family and paid to have it towed from Canadian Tire to Wetaskiwin and then somewhere else and finally to a Hyundai dealership. We dropped it off at the Hyundai repair shop because a buddy of mine from Lehigh Acres diagnosed the issue after a brief conversation and determined the issue was a recall which placed the fault of the malfunction on the manufacturer. The repairs cost us nothing. The tow truck costs were eventually covered by Hyundai. The car was repaired. It broke down again and again but Hyundai covered those costs as well. At that point, we were allowed to trade that old junk in and get a newer car, which, we did on the spot.
We ended up getting a tiny Hyundai Elantra that suited our family needs just fine… had we not been living in a polar vortex. Driving a tiny front-wheel-drive car in flat sun-scorched Florida is an amazing experience. But driving that four-cylinder baby up a hill through a blizzard is one of the most devilish things one can attempt. Many a time I thought the car would stall mid-climb and we would slide down an icy road to a wintery death in the Edmonton Saskatchewan River.
Thankfully that never happened. We got close, but never.
We eventually saved enough of my wife’s recent earnings, to the last penny, to move into Edmonton so that we could be closer to my wife’s work. We looked into one apartment after another and we found one where the owner was understanding of our delicate situation.
I mean I wasn’t working. My wife was and we barely made enough to cover our costs but he saw that we were honest folk struggling to get by. His life story in moving from India to Canada, he would later tell us once he invited us to his home for tea and cookies, was similar to ours. His heart in all this was a heart of gold.
We got the apartment, my wife was pregnant, and wait, yes, my wife got pregnant again. How? I don’t exactly know but here we were in Canada, newly moved into the country, a newer car, added costs, it’s winter, and while we moved from Wetaskiwin to Edmonton a blizzard descended upon our vehicles thus proclaiming to us that to get to Edmonton we would have to sacrifice our firstborn.
We didn’t, of course.
We moved into our two-bedroom apartment, without a bed frame, just a mattress. No table, just, linens, sheets, a couple of plates, and cutting utensils. No TV, no cable, no internet. My mother-in-law was kind enough to take my wife and Maya to the store to purchase our new home essentials for us. From towels to dishes and pots and whatnot.
We had barely enough food in the fridge because, again, we had borrowed so much cash just to cover things, borrowed money to apply for my residency and work permit, borrowed money for a damage deposit on the apartment, but only paid the owner half and promised him the other half in two weeks when my wife got paid. We couldn’t afford it and so we were behind on a lot of things. We survived on the graces and food of our in-laws and the random acts of kindness from a select few church people we had met along the way.
My wife revealed to her employer that she was pregnant and within two weeks they had dissolved her position in that company.
My wife comes home after that depressing revelation, jobless and pregnant with our second child. I was home with Maya, jobless and unable to work. Bills were looming over us. Stress. Hunger. Stress. Worry. And so on.
My mind was not in the best of places.
Anywho, a few days later, miraculously, my work permit arrived in the mail and the very next day I set off to apply for work everywhere. I set up a new bank account, updated all of my info to reflect my residency in Canada. And I applied everywhere. I applied in so many places that I lost count.
One place was willing to hire me on the spot and at another firm, the finance guy who would oversee my work wanted to have a sit-down and chat.
I was exasperated for work and this dude sees me and wants to just chat. Like… I don’t have other places to be, dude.
That guy would hire me the following week and would also become one of my friends.
We worked at this construction association for just short of two years before this same guy helped me get a better paying job within a better work environment in a different company.
At this point, we had met a faith community that welcomed us in (we would later leave this community for many reasons) and we had made so many friends that we cherish to this very day.
As we worked, earned, paid back some people, borrowed here, lent there, helped here, were helped there, we moved to a bigger place, got a better car, and a better job, we kind of just kept moving forward.
Five years in and we’ve added three girls to our family. Four girls under our belt!
We’re not rich. Not even close. We’re not wealthy. Not even close either.
But compared to our life in sunny Naples, Florida, (aka, paradise) we are lightyears ahead in life. Like seriously, I’m not putting the US down but life and lifestyle up here are a thousand times better because, by God’s grace, we managed to accomplish in five short years in Canada what would have taken us ten-to-twenty years in Florida.
Life was a struggle there but it was an embarrassing life because all you saw around you was exuberant wealth.
Here, even though we struggled at first, and continue to do so (we are able to actually support ourselves and live in our own place now), we see that everyone is pushing and growing through something of their own. It feels more normal to work and strive and push and grow through things up here knowing that everyone is in the same boat.
Except for the Chinese-Canadians. They’re on another level of affluence that is equal to or greater than the wealth of Naples folk.
We still lend money to friends. Friends return the favor. Debts are canceled. People are helped. And whatnot.
That part of our lives is still a work in progress we hope to one day overcome.
But what I love about living up here is that the dream of actually making it is still very much possible and attainable. And I don’t mean Bezos or Musk kind of making it. I don’t mean Gates or Jobs either.
My wife keeps assuring me that we will make it one day, whatever that means. She has that Naples mindset.
No, what I mean is the opportunity at a normal life is attainable in Canada without sacrificing life and limb.
Plus, should that be the case, I can just rush to the nearest hospital or clinic where I will be attended to and cared for at no added cost because my taxes pay for my healthcare.
That’s unheard of in the US.
My kids visit their pediatrician and there’s no co-pay involved. Nothing like that. They go, get their check-up, get prescriptions for whatever, we pay cents on the dollar for their drugs because my work benefits… work.
I can get eye exams and dental check-ups for free. To an extent. New glasses and frames, covered.
I can fracture my knee into ten places and go in for surgery and come out without a single bill.
In Naples, when Maya was born, we spent three days in the hospital. Once we got back home we receive two bills from the hospital totaling up to $30K.
How…. how could we ever pay that off? We didn’t. We wouldn’t. We couldn’t. We never will. Trust me on that one.
We’ve had two babies here in Canada and the only bill we had to pay was the parking spot for our car at the hospital parking lot.
A third baby is on her way to be born here and we’re not worried about $30K bills coming in the mail.
Life is different up here. I’m not saying life is better for everyone but it has been better for us. We have struggled and we will continue to struggle and strive for sustainability so we can give our girls a better opportunity at life up here, the same way my family moved to the US to give us a better opportunity at life.
Every generation makes a sacrifice for their kids and not the other way around.
I thank my parents for going through what we went through but for decades when they moved from Brazil to the US. I can’t count the many jobs they worked, cleaning offices, laboratories, clinics, on top of their day jobs just to provide for us. Kept us in school and well-nourished, fed, loved, and cared for.
But when we, my wife and I, set off to start a life for ourselves, the US just wasn’t as profitable or as conducive a place for our wellbeing as Canada has been so far. I’m generalizing the US, and for that, I apologize, but the wealthiest country in the world also produces a hell of a lot of homeless people too.
Something’s wrong there.
Either way, Canada has been good to us in the sense that the opportunities promised to us by a meritocracy like the USA were only attainable and fulfilled outside of the USA.
I don’t know how many struggles we’ll face in the near future but we’re somewhat a bit more prepared, maybe, to tackle them now.
I’m older now. My wife got younger in the face but older in the heart because of my antics. We’re wiser. Four kids in. Fourth in the womb but still with us.
If someone were to ask us if we’re ready to leave Canada we’d say, no.
If someone were to ask if we’d be willing to move, say, to Germany. I mean, I love the place and I’ve never been. I’d say I would visit, first, and, this depending upon my immediate disdain or unabashed love for the country, I would pray about it.
I am not averse to the idea of moving to Europe someday or anywhere else.
It’s just I feel we’re not done doing what we’re meant to do here.
I don’t have that same agitation in my heart as I did when we were beckoned to leave Florida.
That utterance that pushed us enough to consider leaving the US.
My heart is at peace here.
And I’ve also played in a band!
Anywho, do pay us a visit. Don’t just show up because we won’t open the door. Visit Jasper, Banff, Calgary, Edmonton, and well… yeah, that’s about it for Alberta. Ha. Visit Vancouver, Whistler (winter, preferably), and Toronto.
Canadians aren’t all nice, you know. Some of them have a nasty temper. They’re just like you and me with the exception of the moose riding fetish thing. It’s a cultural thing. Don’t try to understand it.
Other than that, give the Canadian way of life a chance. We did and it worked out… so far.
Side note from my wife; if anything, this season only strengthened and grew her faith and trust in God. You’d think a life filled with struggles, month after month would make a person bound to give up, to doubt. However, she reiterates, indeed it proves rather how every time we were close to breaking God came through. She sees his hand in everything. I mean the times we’d see no food in the fridge and $0.04 in the bank account and the confidence she would have by saying “God’s going to provide” and He sure did. Somehow, someway we saw him working where obstacles and struggles came yet He made a way for us to be here, right now.
Welp, that’s five years in Canada for us. Let’s see what happens in the next five!
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Someone needs to hear this: God is love and God loves you.
Some of you were taught otherwise and it shows. The myopic view of God as a spiteful, rage-filled deity has discouraged many from seeking God.
Many of us grew up in faith communities that spoke bounteously about God’s punitive justice (abatement of evil) and sparingly about God’s reparative justice (restoration of good(s) lost in the sinful state).
And God’s justice is not punitive alone as many of you have been taught to believe. (Hellfire and brimstone preaching, anyone?)
Here is Timothy Keller on Herman Bavinck’s interpretation of divine justice:
“In his magisterial work on God’s attributes, Herman Bavinck argues that in the Bible, God’s justice is both retributive and reparative. It not only punishes evildoing, but it restores those who are victims of injustice. Yet interestingly, “God’s remunerative [restorative] justice is far more prominent in Scripture than his retributive justice.” God stands against “perverting the justice due the poor… slaying the innocent and righteous… accepting bribes…. oppressing the alien, the widow, and the orphan…” God “raises them to a position of honor and well-being… Doing justice with an eye to the needy becomes an act [also] of grace and mercy.” And therefore, God’s restorative justice “is not, like his anger, opposed to his steadfast love but is closely akin and synonymous with it.” His justice is “simultaneously the manifestation of his grace (Psalm 97:11-12; 112:3-6; 116:5; 118:15-19).”
One of the reasons why some of us hold hostile notions toward organized religion and suspicious sentiments toward communities of faith is because our understanding of God’s love and justice was twisted by nescient individuals within these institutions whose goal was to enslave us, not liberate us with the gospel message.
Our receptivity of God’s love for us is either amplified by a healthy understanding of God and His word or crushed by men (and women) who improperly use that same word to control people.
God reassures us that justice is a great thing. Especially when that justice is meted out to thwart and abate evil. God’s justice is also reparative in the sense that it is necessary to restore dilapidated souls, relationships, families, and communities.
God is not only in the business of neutralizing evil in the human heart. It is just of Him to stop evil. We need God to stop evil ‘out there’ in the world, physical and metaphysical, and, His grace allowing, ‘in here’ in reference to our community and also to the human heart.
God is love and this love demands that justice must exist and that it must be effective in a fallen world. We’re taught that sin breeds evil and that sin is entrenched in every heart thus postulating that every person has the propensity for evil.
Justice demands that sin be excised and abolished because its ramifications if left unchecked, spreads in the heart of the individual and in his community thus producing sinful structures.
Sin is destructive to the self and it creates systemic evils.
God’s punitive justice demands the sin in us be abolished but that sin is so engraved in our nature that to destroy sin God would have to destroy us. That’s normally what many of us know about the gospel and about redemption. Outside of the substitution of the cross, we are left on this earth as the receptacles of the full weight of God’s punitive justice; deservedly so.
That’s all some of us know. That’s all some of us were ever taught.
Divine Justice = Punishment.
Divine Justice = Punishment.
Divine Justice = Punishment.
Learning about God must entail we learn as much as has been made available to us about God, meaning, learning more about divine justice being both retributive and reparative.
Meaning, God’s justice is set in motion not only to confront evil, which is actually an amazing thing, but also to restore that which was lost, stolen, hijacked, kidnapped, and ruined in us by sin.
Imagine a court is set in motion to hold criminals accountable for their crimes, which is a necessary aspect of a civilized society. But we must also remember that the judicial system exists to restore that which was stolen, pay back that which was sifted, repair that which was broken, remunerate where and when possible in accordance with the law.
Our earthly courts have demonstrated just how problematic it can be to only exhibit one form of justice whilst ignoring the other.
Take, for example, an innocent man wrongly convicted and forced to serve a twenty-year sentence for a crime he did not commit. Someone falsely accused him of something, his public defender was too over-encumbered with other cases to take him seriously, he was offered a plea deal to lighten the time spent behind bars, evidence was falsified against him by law enforcement, and the jury was biased against him because of the color of his skin.
Imagine fifteen years into his sentence he is exonerated. His name is cleared by his initial accuser, who still walks about free. The court does not apologize for its missteps. His public defender abandoned him years earlier. The police officers who falsified his confession have since retired with hearty pensions, without consequence. And this exonerated soul is set free into a different world from the one he left once he was incarcerated and he has no money or land to his name.
The courts did right by punishing evil (or at least it thought it did by punishing someone for a crime) but it failed to restore and repair that which was broken once the truth came out.
Justice must punish wrongdoing and at the same time, it must repair the breach the initial wrong caused.
Divine Justice is equally retributive and reparative.
What would make this case end on a brighter note is to imagine the man exonerated, his accusers jailed and tried for falsifying evidence, statements, perjury, and fraud. And also, that the court apologizes for its initial mistake and then repays the man the millions and millions of dollars owed to him for the harms he suffered behind bars all those years and as a means by which he can restart his life with something rather than nothing to his name.
The police officers involved must then lose their pensions for falsifying evidence. This seems extreme but perjury is a crime that deserves a consequence.
Justice is set in motion to hold wrongdoing accountable and deliver the victim of these wrongs into a place, a state of being, an identification of being restored by the systems set in place to restore righteousness to the land.
Justice is righteous, you know.
The cross is where punitive and reparative justice intersects to benefit us spiritually and physically.
Christ is punished for our sins and Christ is also the avenue by which we are restored not only to God but also to one another.
“Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelations 21:5 is not indicative of just the new heavens and the new earth, but of a new people, transformed into the likeness of Jesus, living, breathing, operating, and working to live as He did on earth.
So, in light of this renewal, this indwelling, this transformative Person guiding us through life, we must walk as He did, restoring, repairing, and restituting wherever possible.
This is hope-inspiring for victims of abuse, mistreatment, violence, terror, and all categories of wrongs. It is refreshing to know that God is bent toward justice and He seeks not only to obstruct evil but also the infrastructure created by sin on which evil travels.
God’s justice abates evil and repairs brokenness.
If you are a victim, a destitute soul who has been harmed by a sinful world, seek God’s justice, not just in this life but the next.
To rectify wrongs and heal wounds.
Thank God we can seek both.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
What am I to you, World, but a passing stranger? A vagabond hitchhiking through your darkest corridors, going about shining the light of my Master. What have I to offer you World? A corpse. That’s all. Have I brought gifts; absolutely. Invitations really, to the greatest of all festivities, the grandest of all banquets; yes, even the largest supper you’ve ever witnessed, dear World. But, the truth is you will not accept this invitation from above, no, you will willingly crumble under the sins of past and present; oh yes, even the sins yet to be committed. Tell you what, soon to be destroyed World, the Lord is gracious and has promised to make you new as well. Did you really think the Creator would only focus on us humans? Absolutely not! Yes, your hopes are up even though you endure intense pains. Despair not World, for as a flower is crushed a perfume is made. With your death and destruction, a new place will be made and you will be new just like in the beginning. I cannot wait to meet you then and enjoy your beauty.
I launched this blog one year ago today. It began as a medium by which to better understand a craft, understand how I think and how those thoughts come out on paper (or on-screen), to better develop my prose, and practice just enough to the point where I don’t feel miserable when writing my first book.
By the way, I’m almost halfway through that first book. More to come about that in the future.
Looking back I am so happy that I started this page. It helps me think and perhaps it confuses me even more. Tackling history, church history, theology, faith, and relationships often lead the inquirer to more questions than answers.
And from time to time, that’s okay.
We were never to have all the answers all to ourselves. We learn best in a community and we grow better in a healthy community. And this blog is one of many communities.
I hope to improve my craft not only for myself but for you, dear reader, as well. Stories shape us. Great stories encourage and inspire us. I hope to inspire not just you but my girls. So that one day, when they decide to read their dad’s shenanigans they can understand the man I am, the man I was, and the man I aspire to be, through my writings.
108 posts down. Here are some of my favorite ones since Olivet Theory officially launched one year ago today!
The “Gospel+” Movement: Why Simplicity Matters
“The simpler the gospel becomes the closer we are to it. Whenever we add an idea, belief systems, a depraved ideology or rules by which to attain that which Christ has already accomplished we are lightyears away from the truth.”
MTD vs Christianity Proper
“MTD isn’t a religion, like Islam or Judaism. It is more of a disintegration of one particular faith, namely Christianity, that melts into ideals that have been spiritualized and inculcated into American religious circles.”
Marital Advice for the Uninitiated
“Far too many problems arise in marriage because people want so much to live like, behave like, be empowered by, attain the same level of status like, promote a sense of stability like and be unimaginatively in love like power couples they see on social media or in their community.”
How “Policy Over Character” Destroys Our Christian Witness
“White evangelicals within the United States have lost their witness to the world by voting for a vile and abusive bully who paid a porn star hush money to keep his affair a secret.”
Avoiding Extremes: A Word of Caution From a Former Fundamentalist
“Therefore, an extreme effort was undertaken by the male-led authoritarian ministers’ caste to shame, denounce, vilify, and destroy people into submission to modes and methods to separate the church from the world.”
Giftedness vs Fruitfulness: The Hidden Dangers of Following Gifted Church Leaders
“Check and see if what you seek, who you follow, and what you promote is reflective of the biblical Christ or if it is but a dim and dreary shadow of our savior poorly illustrated by gifted leaders.”
My Top Ten Rules for Girl Dads
“Love, be patient, listen, play, and yes, mess up from time to time so that she can see that dad is human and that dad knows how to humble himself enough and apologize for his mistakes.”
“We cannot allow truth to die in darkness for fear of losing influence and money. That was lost the day we decided to trust in the influence and giftedness of man over the eternally restorative and transformative power of Christ.”
A Painful Rediscovery: A Look Into Where My Heart & Mind Are Today
“Mumbling some sort of prayer up to God, not sure if I asked for forgiveness for my feelings, my words, my rage, or if what I felt was a fear of these words making their way on to the screens of the very people who had hurt me. In my fear I wanted to avoid offending them, for having offended me.”
The Burden of History & The Curse of Heritage
“It is easier to remove a commandment from the law of God than it is to distance Southern Baptists from their southern heritage of racism, hate, and evil.”
Olivet Theory’s Bad Advice Series: Chapter 3 – How to Talk About Race and Racism
“Disregard those notions. Go ahead and say what you have to say however you want to say it. Interrupt their conversation and speak as loud as possible. Do it all without the slightest urge to listen to anything they might have to add to this discussion.”
I Am A Neo-Evangelical
“I am a neo-evangelical and God has rescued me from fundamentalism and delivered me from stagnant middle-stance, middle-class centric Christianity that accomplishes much while it accomplishes nothing in mainline evangelicalism.”
Here Is Why We Left Mill Creek Christian Assembly
“t would be foolish to think that racism was the sole reason behind my family leaving a white church. It was a lack of compassion that led me to an irrevocable decision. A decision that brought me angst.”
Here’s to another year of blogging, story-telling, craft-development, book reviewing, and trouble-making!
Note: 408 days have passed since we left Mill Creek Christian Assembly. Our last day as members of that community was July 26, 2020, I first wrote this post on February 7, 2021, and I am publishing it today. It grew like a balloon in my heart, swelling with time, and today is the day I set it free.
Why write about it if it ain’t pretty?
One: It’s the truth. We left in haste and without a word so as not to tarnish a fragile structure. Many wondered why, some assumed, others spread rumors, all, in ignorance, of course. The Truth sets us free and the truth with a lower case ‘t’ helps clear the air. So get your stories straight.
Two: Racism is still a big problem in the Church. Racism is still a problem at the MCCA church. If racism is not confronted and excised from a Christian community it tarnishes that community’s Christian witness. Now that the issue of racism has been raised it is my hope that this community will venture to rectify that which went wrong. Not with me but with its own history.
Three: Start more conversations about history. Not just white-washed history that you learned in grammar school but comprehensive history. Especially the history of how the Church helped destroy so much, kill so many, enslave so many more, and has now decided to remain silent about its participation in the horrors of the past. If we cannot discuss these issues with love, empathy, and lament in the church, then they will be discussed without love, empathy, and lament, outside the church.
We cherish the MCCA community. We love its youth community which we helped rebuild and reform by God’s grace. And please understand that we harbor no grudge against this community and its members; not even toward the ones whose behaviors and comments persuaded us to leave in the first place. This is why I have redacted snippets of information from this post to protect their identity and their safety.
Curiosity, Masked Suspicion, and Possible Animosity
It would be foolish to think that racism was the sole reason behind my family leaving a white church. It was a lack of compassion that led me to an irrevocable decision. A decision that brought me angst.
“We have the privilege of having a dark handsome brother with us today.”
Those were words the assistant pastor said from the pulpit my first time in attendance.
Oh my God! Did he single me out because of the color of my skin? In front of everyone?
I did what any black person in the same situation would have in a moment of unimaginable shame, I laughed it off. I mean, it’s funny to identify your visitors by the color of their skin, isn’t it? If they’re offended by this amicable jest then they’re snowflakes.
Service came to an end, we were glad to be on our way out when the same assistant pastor greeted us at the exit.
“It’s so nice to finally have some color in this church. We’re happy to have you here.”
He was so enthused by my presence that I couldn’t help but reciprocate the same energy. I’ve never met a white brother who seemed so excited to meet a black man.
What I presumed to be an anomaly turned out to be a precedent of dated buffoonery worthy of contempt. I would endure an intermittent barrage of racially insensitive comments and gestures like these for the next three and a half years.
I sparked up a conversation with a member of the praise and worship team about race, politics, and life in Canada. Here we discussed the brokenness of the world we lived in. We unraveled the polarizing effect social media has on the masses. I shared a harmful experience from my past with him. A horrible situation where a county clerk told me to return to my country. The reason for my visit to the DMV that day was to inquire about why my driver’s license was taking so long to arrive. She advised me that it was better to wait for my documents while living in the United States of America. Or I could complain from the comfort of whatever country I was from.
This gentleman’s response to this event was as ignorant as they come.
“Well, I have friends of color who haven’t experienced any form of racism in Canada.”
His deflection from the topic we were discussing was so evident I blurred out his next few sentences. It’s as if the absence of racial injustice in one part thus erases its existence elsewhere.
Lazy. Dirty. Leeches.
“They’re lazy, dirty people who love to leech off of white people.”
Those were the words out of the mouth of another brother who had returned from the Bahamas. He was none too bothered by the comment. There was an air of pride under his statement. I wanted only to greet him, ask about his trip to the tropics, and welcome him back to the fold. My curiosity about his trip was innocent and hopeful. I’ve yet to have the privilege of visiting this Caribbean paradise so I wanted to hear from him, first hand, about it.
“It was good. We got a tan. Now I almost look like you.” Nervous laughter. These belittling comments were a customary form of conversation with this particular brother. I asked him about the locals, their warm and receptive character to which he replies.
“They’re lazy, dirty people who love to leech off of white people.”
This happened right after a Sunday morning service. We were waiting in line for complimentary snacks.
George Floyd’s lynching rekindled the fight against police brutality. Later that same year, Breonna Taylor’s murder accentuated this first cause. It was impossible to avoid public demonstrations that took root around the world. Conversations about racial injustice were unavoidable. I took the initiative to share several links on my personal social media account. Links about police reform. Stories of racial profiling. Black history through the lens of black Americans. History stemming from 1619 through to 2020. These posts allowed for restorative conversations with friends across the world. We understood each other’s pain and vowed to honor this cause.
These interactions were all helpful. Refreshing. Discussing race and injustice with friends was so therapeutic. And then June 5th hit and I checked my Facebook messages.
“I’m pretty sure that black people would have treated white people the same way as white(s) treated black (people) had they been in a position to do so.” Said one church brother who I respected.
“I’ve always thought that in Canada racism is not that much of an issue.” He continued. “At least I’ve never encountered one (issue of racism) myself.”
“I’ve been enjoying your ministry in our predominantly white church.” At which point I knew where these comments had come from. “I’ve never heard once of a single issue with racism in our church in [redacted] years I’ve been there. I guess you have brought this race-based division to us now.”
Being one of two black attendees of that church I wasn’t shocked. And I was a member of this ministry whereas the other POC was comfortable as a recurring guest. The race issue had taken a backseat in monochromatic churches for centuries. For our church, it was never a topic because it hadn’t been integrated. But here we were. Two colored persons attending a “predominantly white” church and we have race-based division.
But none of this prepared me for the statement that would come next. Sentiments that brewed underneath the surface of this church community for decades went on seemingly untouched. Unmentioned. Words that I read again, again, and again with mouth agape. Unwilling to accept that I had survived so long within a body of believers that saw my people in such a dim light.
“As to [the] hair incident or other negative emotional encounters you’ve described, knowing [the] East European culture, I can hardly see them as manifestations of racism but rather a lack of manners and insensitivity. What if I walked in a predominantly black church? Wouldn’t people stare at me with curiosity, masked suspicion, and possible animosity?”
It is convenient to reduce my hurtful experiences to a lack of manners and insensitivity. To know that the elder who pawed my hair twice was being insensitive. How a brother told me that brown people migrating into Europe would be the end of European society. When asked to elaborate he walked away. How another brother told me Obama and Muslims are what’s wrong with the United States of America. When asked for his source of information he said, “Fox News, where else?” That Bahamians are lazy, dirty, and love to leech off of white people is but lack of manners?
His concluding thought was revelatory. I’ve been a member of diverse church communities for decades. Black, white, brown, yellow, and red. I’ve been a part of well-integrated communities from birth. I’ve never looked at a person from another race with ‘curiosity, masked suspicion, and possible animosity.’ I can speak for my many communities. Confidently so. His perspective of colored people was detrimental to my well-being. It shattered my peace within this community.
Another brother contacted me in hopes of broadening my perspective.
“Police have a lot less reason to profile you here [Canada] for the same reasons why police in the USA [has] a higher legitimate reason to profile you there.”
Reassuring for sure.
I watched as another brother interacted with a popular social media activist. He was responding to a public Instagram post.
“Disappointed with all the famous Christians, pastors and worship leaders who have no idea who #BlackLivesMatter is!”
And his response.
“I’ve traveled to [redacted African nation] [a] few months ago, to love, serve, help and pray for black people…. But not falling for this insanity today. Thank you for speaking up!!!”
This person was a prominent member of our church. A board member of our church. It’s sad that traveling across the world to love, serve, help, and pray for black people was enough to appease his conscience. Enough to discredit hundreds of years of injustice on a local, national, and global scale. Enough to dismiss the calls for racial equality. Enough to discredit our cause. Enough to silence the only two persons of color within his community who dared speak about racial injustice.
His response to this statement was in keeping with how our church thought. I would find this out the following week.
Board Meeting and Final Decision
Our province dealt with the Coronavirus pandemic in an adequate manner. We experienced shutdowns, closures, and canceled services like everyone else. Restrictions had prohibited indoor gatherings in March but were eased in mid-June. Our church leadership and board scheduled a meeting to discuss our safe return to church initiative. We were to discuss safety measures, attendance numbers, sanitation, and other health-related topics. I was not a member of the board but my pastor invited me to take part because I was the youth leader. Our meetings would return to normal as well so I thought it would be prudent to attend.
Our pastor began the meeting with prayer and went into his introduction.
“Brothers, thank you for being here. Before we start I want to advise our church members who are posting about Black Lives Matter on social media to desist. There are brothers complaining about it and we want to avoid unrest. Thank you. Now let’s discuss our return to church packet.”
You can imagine my shock. One of two black people in the church. The only black person in that meeting. The only person who was discussing racial justice on social media. And personally invited to take part in this board meeting. This was how the meeting began? These were the first words out of my leader’s mouth? Now?
This meeting is about how coronavirus has affected our church gatherings. It is about how we can protect our church members who opt for in-person services. A meeting to proactively protect our vulnerable and elderly members. How to best follow provincial and federal guidelines.
But the meeting becomes a point from which our church denounces Black Lives Matter. A podium from which we halt any discussion about race on our personal social media platforms. An institution that silences the only two black voices it has left. George Floyd’s death? Silence. Breonna Taylor’s murder? Silence. The cries of my fellow colored brothers and sisters? A leftist liberal plot to take over the world.
My mind was a blur for the next thirty minutes. I felt sick to my stomach. The way the meeting started to have an effect on the members of the board. Eyes hovered my way and sat over my presence. I cannot recall what was said about safety, cleaning, limited attendance, and other topics. I cannot recall what happened next. But for thirty minutes I sat and simmered.
I have to leave this place. I no longer feel welcome here. My peace is gone.
I excused myself, got up from my chair, and walked out. That day it was decided for me that I no longer belonged there. I agreed.
A month after this meeting I had the opportunity to preach, which I did, with all my heart. After service, I handed my pastor my letter of leave. I handed a similar letter to my fellow youth leaders. I hugged them goodbye and left.
My pastor then invited me for a sit-down where we discussed these interactions, private discussions, and his meeting opener. He was sad that my family decided to leave. Sad that we felt the way we did. He didn’t believe race was the issue. He even invited me to come back and hold an open forum on race which I declined.
“Pastor, the other black member of our church is a trained professional who knows how to discuss these issues professionally. Invite him to speak and teach the church.”
He shrugged. He didn’t believe the church would listen to that individual. Mind you, that individual is a university professor, holds a doctorate in sociology, and is a published author.
When I pressed him again about how our church had a race problem he again distanced himself from the idea. That the gospel should be the focus of our efforts, not social issues.
We finished our coffee. My mind was made. He again pressed for me to stay, “What about the youth?”
I knew tactics like these were used to guilt people into staying in environments where they continue to suffer abuse.
“Christ began the work. Christ will complete the work, pastor.”
I’ve witnessed four of the fifteen youth members I served walk down the waters of baptism. Two before my leave. Two after I left. Christ will guide their faith. I believe this to be so.
Once news of us leaving the church became public I received another Facebook message.
“News broke that you are leaving MCCA. I hope the reason you’re leaving is not rooted in the theme of our above conversation. Whatever it might be, it is always sad to see a member of [the] church leave, especially a valuable one. It’s been nice to have. Your ministry has been a blessing to my family and myself. May God bless you on your spiritual journey!”
This being the same brother I respect who also said:
“The biggest enemy of [the] black community is their victim mentality and bitterness, which does breed the culture of violence. […] In my opinion, the more you raise in [a] judgemental manner the topic of racism, the more ruin, and division you’ll bring to our community. It is as offensive to us, white people, to be branded racists, as for black people to be called slaves. People will go into defensive mode, they’ll become more distant and hostile. […] When you think we mistreat you in MCCA, think about the fact [of] how quickly you rose to [a] position of respect and leadership. You preach on Sundays, you lead and teach our youth, the doors of P&W [praise and worship] group are wide open to you too. Isn’t that the manifestation of the highest degree of trust and respect our predominantly white church has shown to you? Man, I’ve been in our congregation for [REDACTED] years and I haven’t achieved half of your success.”
Seven months have passed since this last meeting. My family has found a new church family that understands the wrongs of the world around it. It doesn’t distance itself from pain. It doesn’t hide behind the Bible. Behind gospel-onlyism. It confronts individual and collective sin. It loves expository preaching. It loves social efforts. It lives for Christ.
The other person of color within the church, the professor, had a conversation with the pastor. He was more than willing to start an open forum on race. He was willing to lead this restorative discussion in hopes of mending the racial gap within the church. He was then dismissed by the leadership. His efforts were not accepted. His intellectual expertise on the subject was dismissed. A professor, nonetheless, dismissed.
He phoned me after to share with me his many run-ins with members who suffer from a lack of manners and insensitivity. Members who suffer from diarrhea of the mouth. His words. We mourned. We felt ashamed. Pain. He said he would never set foot in that place again.
I don’t blame him.
“This church is struggling with a hardness [of heart] that might stem from past trauma. National trauma that was left unresolved. It has made it hard for them to empathize with our pain.”
To which I agreed, wholeheartedly. The world struggled with the coronavirus pandemic. Our church struggled with the endemic evil of racism. An evil ignored.
I feel like I can breathe, again. As if I can be myself, again. I no longer have to repress emotions because someone reaches for my hair. No one reaches for my hair anymore. We don’t have nativist sentiments. We don’t harbor a hidden hatred for immigrants. Especially those of brown skin. We don’t harbor hatred for Muslims. Or anyone of a different faith.
My wife isn’t approached by church members inquiring about when she got pregnant. When we got married. Members who are surprised that she and I share the same faith. She isn’t approached by church members who feign shock at how dark my girls look.
My wife is white. She was born in Germany. Yes, that white. My girls are mixed. To no one’s surprise wife is more comfortable in our new diverse church community than this previous one. She is a sister in Christ. Not a lab specimen. Where her private life is subject to scrutiny because she married a black man.
Here we see people. We acknowledge their trauma. We feel their pain. We walk with them to restore that which was taken. That which was lost. We are living the way Christ called us to live again. Preaching and living the gospel.
Whoever visits our new church; no matter their skin color or walk of life, will not be a victim of curiosity, masked suspicion, and possible animosity.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Growing up in a Brazilian offshoot of the Assemblies of God taught me so much about the Bible, Biblical characters, faith, prayer, church community, developed in me a fervency for social reform, the temperance movement (anti-alcohol consumption), the holiness movement (high ethical standards and separation from what is deemed sacrilegious), the pentecostal movement (continuationist belief of spiritual gifts such as, speaking in tongues [glossolalia], new revelation [prophecies], interpretation of tongues, healings, miracles, signs, wonders, gift of discernment and etc.).
I grew up in a church of diverse people groups, both wealthy and impoverished, white and black, mixed, even. Former drug and alcohol abusers and users. Former sex trafficking victims. Former wife beaters. Former battered wives. Abuse survivors, really. Former drug kingpins and cartel leaders (some from within my family). I grew up listening to the story of one of my family members exchanging gunfire with police officers, surviving the firefight, although not unscathed as some of them would show me bullet wounds. One family member still has bullets lodged in his body, deemed non removable by surgeons lest they risk his life mid-operation.
Many of the drug users and criminals within my family became laypeople. Some went on to become clergy, holding pastoral roles after kicking the drugs and crime, the life of substance abuse and homicide (probably), to become emancipators and heralds of the gospel. Reaching their impoverished and crime-ridden communities for Christ. Feeding the poor and preaching a message of holiness, hope, and societal change.
I witnessed various transformations in my family and it was a sure reminder that what we believed was what everyone believed. Or at least what everyone else should have believed. Who wouldn’t want drug addicts to kick drugs after attending Christian para-ministry-funded halfway homes and rehabilitation centers? Who wouldn’t want criminals to ditch the life of drug peddling and then take on honest work to support their families? Who wouldn’t want to see a community focused on caring for the poor, gifting children with toys, homes with food, and families with sustenance?
We were part of a movement that promoted pastors into politics and politicians to the pulpit. There was no divide. Pastor so-and-so would preach at our church on Sunday and after the sermon, we would give him an offering to help his political campaign. Next Sunday we would host a politician who had a Christian bark but an adulterous bite. Men who wanted votes would sweat on stage to deliver barely substantive Christian messages of hope, love, and political party lines, for the sake of political dominance in our municipality.
Honestly, it felt as if we had monopolized morality, politics, and social work. In a way, we had. At least in my mind, we had. We looked down at Baptist denominations as spiritually dead churches. We thought of the ‘Four Square’ denominations as culturally errant because they did not dress as modest as we did. We thought Presbyterians were theologically compromised because they sipped whiskey, drank beer by the barrel, and smoked Cuban cigars or any make of cigars they could get their hands on. Little mention was made of Methodist/Wesleyan and Episcopalian denominations because our beef was primarily with interdenominational Pentecostals and majority protestant groups, namely, Baptists and Presbies. Baptists because they called us heretics for speaking in tongues and beef with Presbies because they also called us heretics for speaking in tongues but they were drunk when they did so.
We chided Catholics, priests, and nuns as non-Christians because they hailed Mary, worshipped saints, and shunned the Holy Spirit’s spiritual gifts. Not just that, but because they were Catholic and were by definition a morally depraved collective for following every beck and call of the Pope and allowing the Papacy to exist for as long as it did.
We were at war with a culture that perhaps didn’t even know the church, our church, had declared war against it in the first place. Brazil at that time was predominantly religious, most adherents attributing their faith to Catholicism and later Pentecostalism, primarily to the Assemblies of God.
Hate was never named from the pulpit but it was definitely disseminated to anyone who failed to fall in line with our perception of Christianity and holiness standards.
Granted, what the Assemblies of God had in doctrinal prowess and social reform it lacked in clarity of theological thought, compassion, and common sense. I thank this denomination for existing and evangelizing Brazil at the start of the 1900s. White men coming from the North to preach Jesus to Catholics and disenfranchised addicts and impoverished blacks in the Americas. What could go wrong with a Eurocentric theology in a predominantly colored South America?
Anywho, the Assemblies of God espoused love for God, doctrine, holiness standards, and literature. Well, as long as the literature in question was not antithetical to the Bible. Our ministry, as part of the Assemblies of God, was called Assembleia de Deus, Ministerio Belém. Assembly of God, Bethlehem Ministry.
This is where I spent most of my church life. Where I studied scripture, I met pastors who wore the robes of politicians and politicians who covered themselves in sheeps wool to pass as pastors. This is where I developed a love for theology, unaware of what kind of theology it was I was falling in love with, but, nevertheless, a love for God. Here is where I met church friends who made up most if not all of my social circles for years to come.
‘Murica – We Ventured North
Once we immigrated to the United States and settled in Florida, we began to attend church six nights a week. It was community forming and community building. People helping each other out. We spoke Portuguese only because the community was made up of Brazilians with a few scattered Latinos and the rare white American soul who ventured into the building. These Anglophonic individuals came either out of curiosity produced from the loud music we played or because they were dating one of our church members.
Either way, Brazilians in America were opening up churches and ministries for Brazilians. And, the same assiduity that was so fervent in Brazil for doctrinal purity, denominational clarity, focus on spiritual gifts of glossolalia and prophecy, and holiness standards were present in the Brazilian Assemblies of God in the United States.
The small and budding community of the Brazilian Assembly of God, Bethlehem Ministry teams were spreading like wildfire in Florida, Massachusetts, California, and beyond. (As of today, there are Bethlehem Ministry churches in Dallas, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Pittsburg, Columbus, and more spread throughout the United States of America. In the Pacific, there are churches in Honolulu, Kanalui, Wahiawa, Christchurch, Queenstown, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Rockhampton. In the European continent they can be found in Madrid, Almeria, Barcelona, Paris, Orleans, Geneva, Lausanne, Bern, Zurich, Basel, Munich, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, Rome, Bristol, Cardiff, and London. Just to name a few spots. And in the African continent, Mozambique.) Wherever Brazilian immigrants or tourists land, there, in that city, we would open a church and rotate ministers through them so as not to develop independent churches. But the pastor rotation rodeo situation a whole different post.
But in America, (North America), we did not see as many disenfranchised souls as we did in Brazil. In the US., everyone was hyper-individualistic, unlike the community-centric vibe found in the motherland. We could not see the impoverished because we rarely ventured out of the church to evangelize and minister to our communities. And ‘evangelism’ in America simply meant reaching Brazilians in America. Not white Americans. That wasn’t our focus just yet. We wanted nothing more than to grow the Bethlehem Ministry brand by finding and dragging (nicely) as many Brazilians in Orlando, Ft. Myers, Miami, Lighthouse Point, Ft. Lauderdale, Pompano, Vero Beach, Sarasota, Kissimmee, and beyond into our churches as possible.
And we did.
Churches blossomed and swelled from ten to twenty adherents in some parts and in the hundreds and hundreds of members, yes, not just attendees and participants, but members in other parts.
My family first moved to Orlando from Campinas, São Paulo. Well, my dad first moved to Boston with a pastor/politician guy to help the ministry start a church there. When the call to restart a ministry in Orlando, Florida was made, this pastor/politician fellow decided to take my multi-talented instrumentalist dad down to Florida with him. And it is here where we are to arrive to meet up with my dad. In Orlando, we partook in a ministry that grew well and because the ministry was fond of rotating pastors from one church to another they then opened another church in Naples, Florida and that’s where we went next.
The pastor/politician fella didn’t last long in this ministry and was later moved to another church, for reasons unknown or unmentioned, I don’t know because much of it was hush-hush, as is the status quo in churches these days. But my family settled in delightful old Naples, Florida and it is there where we spent most of our time in the US.
Again, evangelistic outreach was an attempt to reach Brazilians in America (North America) for Christ. English-speaking Americans were handed little pamphlets outside of bars, clubs, and large buffets where they would later use them to wipe their nose or just throw them away. We weren’t sure what to do with English speakers other than inviting them to sit through simultaneously translated sermons. Not many members of our church community were able to wield the English language well enough to bring English speakers into our community so we didn’t focus on them that much or at all. This would change but not yet. They would show up, hang out, watch our singers sing, then our worship bands worship, in Portuguese, of course. And towards the end of the service, they would sit through a poorly translated sermon where the minister half-spoke in tongues and half-ministered about hellfire and brimstone. After service, we would have our comes e bebes (coffee, tea, food, and treats; it was a fraternization period) where English speakers were adored, welcomed, and greeted, but few were the church members who actually spent time with them or time getting to know them because we barely spoke their language and they didn’t know a lick of Portuguese. There are Americans we’re talking about here. They barely spoke English well enough.
And remember, this was initially a Brazilian pentecostal ministry in America (North America) with the sole focus of evangelizing unchurched Brazilians and heresy plagued Brazilians who had run off to worship God in pagan centers like Baptist churches.
We wanted nothing but Brazilians and that’s what we got.
Again, in Brazil, evangelism was primarily focused on the poor, disenfranchised, destitute, addicts, and socially oppressed but in North America, we saw abundance, wealth, and lucre. Of course, impoverished families were everywhere but not as visibly so as in Brazil so we had to change our strategies.
As we adapted our youth (myself included) to the culture, assimilating and learning the language, the ministry began to build up new leaders to lead and pastor bilingual church services.
Our initial success paled in comparison with this second wave of evangelistic outreach as our predominantly Brazilian-led services took on Colombian, Venezuelan, Mexican, Argentine, Bolivian, Honduran, Costa Rican, Puerto Rican clergy to lead services in both Spanish and in Portuguese. Because we lived in Florida you can imagine how our Latin American ministry blew up.
The more we integrated with the surrounding culture the more people we managed to bring into the church.
But nowhere was there a higher shift in our evangelistic outreach and ministerial identity than when we focused on the American culture surrounding our churches.
It was here that the fundamentalist aspect of our ministry peaked its head high and above the rest.
You see, American Evangelicalism, in its matured stage in the 1990s and early 2000s had become hyper-political with the rise and prominence of the Moral Majority and the religious Right. Ronald Reagan, Billy Graham, Bob Jones University, Jerry Falwell Sr., Liberty University, Fox News, and a plethora of conservative white evangelicals led us to believe that as we reached out to English-speaking North Americans we ought also to join in the culture wars of the land.
Mind you, we were already involved in political power struggles in Brazil, hosting and supporting political candidates from the pulpit. But in the US, in the land of the American Dream, culture wars were nefarious, dangerously close, impending doom was imminent, and the end of our Christian witness and religious liberty was on assault on the daily, causing us to battle Leftist Liberals and theological liberalism anywhere we could.
We weren’t just attacking Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Catholics, Baptists, drunk Presbies, and backsliding Pentecostals. No. Now were bent on explaining to our churches (which consisted of undocumented immigrants with lapsed visas, living in the country illegally, or having entered and remained in the country illegally) that we should fight the culture wars of America.
I can recall seeing three to four flags flailing from our pulpits every single Sunday. The star-spangled banner flag was almost always center stage. Some pastors joked that if immigration officers burst through the back doors with deportation orders in hand and saw our predominantly illegal immigrant group praising the American flag then they’d turn away and leave us alone. Besides that flag, we would have the evangelical flag-waving about freely. I would later see January 6 insurrectionists bull-rushing the US Capitol waving this same flag. Little did I know, that flag was more about Christian Nationalist ideals than Christian virtues and ethics. Either way, we also carried the flag of Israel with the star of David in the middle. Being a fundamentalist meant you loved everything about Israel and hated everything Arab or Muslim. And lastly, we had the Brazilian flag. We were a Brazilian ministry in the United States of America.
Our evangelistic outreach moved from the disenfranchised people groups to political culture wars.
My evangelical development began as a neo-fundamentalist evangelical. And I was oblivious to it.
You must understand that these religious movements operate in complete invisibility to their adherents and work in frameworks that make everything outside of them or opposed to them satanic, devilish, godless, pagan, spiritually oppressive, occultic, evil, and more. This mindset in its fundamentalist rage would later help elect Donald J. Trump to office in the United States of America because he promised evangelicals religious liberty and freedom, the destruction of abortion rights, exclusive privilege in the White House, and favor toward the nation of Israel against Arab nations and Palestine. He told them he loved and served God. It was near orgasmic for North American evangelicals when Trump actually won. And also a reason for suicidal ideations when he lost. Some still think he won the 2020 election.
This same neo-fundamentalist segment of our church mentality helped the far-right Trump of the tropics, Jair Bolsonario, become the president of Brazil. He ran on the same ticket as did Trump. Hate for left and left-leaning Brazilians, he loved evangelicals and even prayed in public, attended church services. His vitriol against political opponents was unhinged in parts, making Trump sound domesticated. The man was a military lifer turned politician turned religious right hero turned president of a 211 million inhabitants nation. His downfall came through his misogynistic tropes, his islamophobia in equating Arabs with ISIS, and his disdain for liberal politics, his vitriol, and yes, just as with Trump, Covid-19. Jair Bolsonario questioned the validity of vaccines and thought they altered human DNA/mRNA thus postponing Brazil’s access to life-saving vaccines. Now that Brazil has reached well over 400,000 covid complications-related deaths, his popularity, as did Trumps, has faltered.
But how did I come to understand that I was once part of neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism?
We spent a great deal of time with the Assembly of God, Bethlehem Ministry, but once we received a recalcitrant, malcontent failed former lawyer turned pastor as a pastor of our member bleeding church, something clicked and then broke in me when the man would not stop bashing other pastors from our very denomination. Remember, bashing outsiders and apostates was acceptable but our own? It was too much even for my pharisaical heart. He had a knack for calling them monges (monks) because monks, according to him, were religious hypocrites.
He did this so often that during one of his diatribes at one of our weeknight bible studies I stopped him mid-sentence to ask him to desist from such nonsense.
I don’t believe a man of his stature and prominence had ever been confronted by a church member before. Less so a black one who was not clergy but mere laity and part-time voluntary treasurer for the ministry.
The man lambasted me for being ignorant, young, foolish, and a dunce. This all happened in front of the church. I then called him morally corrupt, immature, disqualified from ministry until he could seek reparation and reconciliation with the people he hated.
His son was present and his son said his father, the then pastor, had trouble controlling his words and tone. This poor man, the pastor’s son, even admitted that he tried time and again to correct his father’s problematic ways for years but to no avail.
This waltz of verbal assault and abuse between me and this pastor went back and forth for weeks. Every interaction we had, in front of anyone and everyone, he would call me a pejorative name and I would reciprocate. Never. Never had I had more disdain for a religious leader than I had for that man. Not because of his conduct which is normal for an unrepentant and impenitent man, but for a pastor of a holiness movement, holiness standard church to behave that way was way off for me.
Eventually, my family decided to leave the Assembly of God, Bethlehem Ministry we helped found, build, and advance in Naples, Florida.
We then joined the Assembly of God, The Vine Ministry, just a few hundred meters down the road.
Our leaving that ministry went without issue. The pastor in question and I shook hands, hugged, and said our pleasantries before parting. Whether he saw me as just another monk or not I do not know but that’s not the case here. We left as Christian brothers who knew we could not serve God in the same building anymore.
After that, none of the ministers and leaders from the Bethlehem Ministry that we had come to love, adore, and they love us and adore us ever reached out to us again.
We simply disappeared from their radar. It took nearly ten years for some of us to visit my parents place and some of them had also left the ministry.
What you have to understand is that it’s just a natural thing within the neo-fundamentalist evangelical circle to ostracize anyone who abandons not Christianity or Pentecostalism, but those who dare leave our particular ministry. Outsiders and backsliders who venture out of this Bethlehem Ministry.
So outside of this, we met new friends with The Vine Ministry, rebuilt lost or broken friendships with other Brazilian friends who had also fled the Bethlehem Ministry years earlier. People who had been traumatized by our authoritarian structure and fled for their lives. They escaped years of spiritual abuse. God bless them.
It was great to worship God and serve one another at The Vine Ministry but then my wife and I moved to Canada in search of financial stability and a future for our family.
Canada – Land of Apologies and Snow
In Canada, we joined a Slavic-Canadian pentecostal church that was stuck between modernity and early 1900s Communist Ukraine.
Having recently joined the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada the church had to shift its services from their regular hybrid of Ukrainian-Russian speaking services to English-speaking services only. This was great because I wanted to understand what in the world they were singing about in their songs.
This church, being outside of the Brazilian paradigm of poverty and social issues and outside of North American hyper-capitalist, hyper-individualistic, and culture wars framework was primarily focused on religious consistency and discipleship, more than anything else. Minor struggles and disagreements surrounded what style of worship songs we should sing, whether we should stick to hymns or play to the tune of Hillsong, Planetshakers, Jesus Culture, or Elevation music. Some members dawned jeans and t-shirts while others, the Slavic grandmas in particular, dawned head coverings and skirts from their motherland.
Evangelism here was inner-centric. More about preaching Jesus to former communists and people who had survived communism as Christians but still struggled with legalist understanding of the gospel.
We wanted to teach the bad Christianity out of ignorant Christians. And it was working. Our community grew. Our youth group developed from a bunch of kids who were at first scared to ask tough questions to a group of Christianized hooligans willing to think for themselves. They went on to lead worship and lead services, participate in plays, mission trips (not on my part but still, awesome incentive on their part), pursue baptism, get married, and more.
Because this Slavic community was so removed from the neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism I was raised within in Brazil and in America (North America) I was able to see my faith a little clearer.
But before we proceed on how I went from neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism to neo-evangelicalism I must define and categorize evangelicalism as understood through the North American perspective. And because I’m not a scholar I will allow a scholar named Michael Graham, a writer for As In Heaven and the executive pastor at Orlando Grace Church to explain these categories for you.
In writing for Mere Orthodoxy, Graham states that there are six iterations or rather categories of evangelicalism so far. Here is Graham:
“The 6 Categories
As I have surveyed the evangelical landscape and discussed with pastors all around the country, evangelicalism seems to be fracturing into at least 6 different subgroups. Three of those groups (#s1-3) still have at least some connectivity to evangelicalism and the other three have cut ties (#s 4-6):
Neo-Fundamentalist Evangelical– Neo-fundamentalists are those who have deep concerns about both political and theological liberalism. There is some overlap and co-belligerency with Christian Nationalism (a syncretism of right wing nationalism and Christianity) but neo-fundamentalists do so with more theological vocabulary and rationality. Concerning threats within the church, they have deep worries with the church’s drift towards liberalism and the ways secular ideologies are finding homes in the church. Outside the church, they are concerned by the culture’s increasing hostility to Christianity, most prominently from mass media, social media, and the government.
Mainstream Evangelical – Historically this term has been Protestants who hold to the Bebbington Quadrilateral of conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism. The emphasis for this group is on the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Concerning threats within the church, they share some concern for the secular right’s influence on Christinaity, including the destructive pull of Christian Nationalism, but are far more concerned by the secular left’s influence and the desire to assimilate since the world still remains so hostile. Outside the church, they are likely uncomfortable with the rhetoric Trump and other conservatives use but view this direction as the lesser of two evils.
Neo-Evangelical – People who would see themselves as “global evangelicals” and are doctrinally “Evangelicals” (w/ some philosophy of ministry differences) but no longer use the term “evangelical” in some circumstances in the American context as the term as an identifier has evolved to be more political than theological. Within the church, they are highly concerned by conservative Christianity’s acceptance of Trump and failure to engage on topics of race and sexuality in helpful ways, but they have not totally abandoned evangelical identification and likely still labor in churches with the broadest spectrum of these groups. Outside of the church, this group feels largely homeless in today’s world. There is equal concern, or slightly more either way depending on the person, at the threat the left and the right pose to Christians seeking to live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness.
Post-Evangelical – People who have fully left evangelicalism from a self-identification standpoint and reject the “evangelical” label yet are still churched and likely still agree with the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed. They are more deconstructed than neo-evangelicals and they are more vocal in their critiques of 1s and 2s than 3s would be. Some remain firmly in Protestant circles and others have crossed over to mainline, catholic, or orthodox traditions while still holding to the basic creeds. Concerning threats within the church, they are focused on abuse, corruption, hypocrisy, Christian nationalism, and the secular right. Outside the church, they are primarily concerned with the matters of injustice, inequity, the secular right, and to a lesser extent the radical secular left. Many 4s are 4s also because their experiences with predominantly white evangelicalism have been so difficult and strained that physical distance seemed to be the only conclusion.
Note – there is likely a halfway point between 4 and 5 known as ex-vangelicals that don’t neatly fit either 4 or 5. This group is difficult to parse as the meaning that this group has taken on has evolved even this year. We did not want to exclude the group from this typology but given the evolving nature were hesitant to pin it down too precisely at this juncture. Some of these folks have actually dechurched, some have deconverted, yet some remain in the faith but are quite vocal on their critiques of the movement. In time this category might evolve and/or swallow up category 5 below or it might fizzle like other labels.
Dechurched (but with some Jesus) – People who have left the church but still hold to at least some orthodox Christian beliefs.
Dechurched and Deconverted – People who have left the church and are completely deconverted with no vestigial Christian beliefs.”
I transitioned out of neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism in Brazil and later in the United States of America thanks to distance but I moved away from mainline evangelicalism in this Slavic community due to racism and anti-intellectualism. What do I mean? The racism I experienced in this church setting was new to me, because, remember, the Brazilian church was very racially diverse. It was ethnically one but racially, we had white ministers, black ministers, ministers with Japanese ancestry, and Latino ministers, ministers from the African continent, and so on. Racism wasn’t acceptable in our racially diverse neo-fundamentalist evangelical churches.
But racism in this mainline evangelical Slavic church? Well, what did you think would happen when a black man walked into a Euro-centric church ministry that operated in Canada… of all places?
Anywho. The racism part I am still writing about and discovering as I am still dealing with it to this day. My experiences with racism in America came from outside the church. My experience with racism in Canada came from within the church. But I’ll write more about that later.
But the anti-intellectual aspect here, and by anti-intellectual I refer to historian Mark A. Noll’s work, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind delves into a group that is hyper-aware of intellectual works concerning construction and other vocational works but when it comes to Christian intellectual works they are limited. Quite limited. The exploration of theology, expositional preaching, exegesis, Christian church history, doctrinal history, and social issues were all lacking. Knowledge surrounding biology, archeology, anthropology, anatomy, physiology, psychology, philosophy, psychiatry, and science, in general, was lacking. No wonder there is a hyper-resistance toward vaccines and virology in the Slavic-Germanic mainline evangelical community here in Canada. Much love for God and holiness standards but a hell of a lot of ignorance surrounding the world around them. The very world God created.
During my last few weeks in membership with this mainline evangelical church, I witnessed an uptick in members spewing their support for Donald Trump. I mean, we’re in Canada, people. Canadians are too nice to support an orange man like Donald Trump. But our Slavic community tossed all brain and heart out the window and promoted pro-Trump rhetoric against immigrants, racial justice, and any issues pertaining to brown people. The irony was there but the masks had come off. I saw some of them for what they were. Racist Christians. The Christian part of their identity was debatable but their racism consumed the air around them. Around me.
It was no wonder that whenever the Black Lives Matter movement took shape in the political sphere and some accused it of Marxist ideologies our Slavic church shut its doors down on the topic. Period. There was no talking about race, racism, or harms done against black people and people of color because the unresolved trauma of Marxism was looming high and mightily in their repressed subconscious. If BLM was Marxist then everything they talked about or fought for was atheistic and diabolic. They were unwilling to consider that the fight for black equity spanned back hundreds of years. But fear triumphs over reason and they capitulated their witness on the altar of ignorance.
And short of my exit I picked up this book by professor Noll and devoured it. Strange thing is that I pulled this book from the church’s library, which no one ever frequented. I could have stolen the book and I don’t believe anyone would have noticed. But I read it, made notes, made connections between the idiocy in evangelical history to the idiocy I witnessed in my church, yes, my church because I was part of it too. And I was broken. I left not long after when the racism became too painful to deal with and far too many higher-ups from the church were spewing it for me to confront it alone.
Being one of two black people in the church stymies one’s aspirations for change, you know.
A short conversation with the pastor, an honest one, revealed just how intellectually and socially limited this environment had become or perhaps had always been.
We left and what was left behind was in fact my mainline evangelical faith.
I was comfortable there until I realized that racism and religious-political syncretism was still very much alive and well there, just not as angry as that within the neo-fundamentalist evangelical circle of my earlier years but it was still there.
I’ve since progressed to a neo-evangelical landmark. I’ve reached the precipice of evangelicalism. Behind me is a horrid trail of trauma and a history of evangelical evils and issues. And before me lies a pit of tenebrous open-theistic worldviews that have robbed Christ of His Deity.
I’m comfortable as a neo-evangelical because I’ve realized that my faith supersedes denominational lines. I can learn so much more about different philosophies without being guilted into thinking I’m a heretic for simply studying different thinkers. I appreciate the social ramifications of liberation theology and I love the fine-tuned nature of big-God/near-God orthodox theology. I love my transcendent Lord but He is also an eminent God. He strengthens my heart out of religiosity that damns the intellect and He pushes me into a wholesome religion that loves God and neighbor. I’m hostile to the idea of marrying religion and political ideologies. I hate poor theology but I love and am patient with people who are ignorant of good theology. They’re teachable you know. My most biting words are reserved for my friends who are still stuck in neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism. I’m patient with my friends who are on the wall between mainline and fundamentalist evangelicalism. You shout too loud and they’ll become extremists and if you whisper too much they’ll forever stagnate in mainline circles.
I’m comfortable being labeled a ‘global evangelical’ as I worship and serve Christ wherever I go. I’m not limited to national superpowers like the United States of America or Israel. Today I’m comfortable condemning Israeli terrorism against Palestinians. Before I would have spat at the mention of these poor souls. Today I favor a democratic society that espouses a higher ethic that values the civil rights of all people, not just Christians.
My views about abortion are the same. I’m pro-life through and through, not just pro-birth. But even there, I fall and lean on pastor Skye Jethani’s idea, preferring a world where abortion is legal but morally wrong and unwanted than a world where we repress laws and allow for the fruition of back-alley abortions to persist. A world where people risk death to seek out an abortion because birthing the child will be the end of their lives and that of the baby.
I prefer to look to the root causes in society leading women to believe they need an abortion. What leads them to that state of mind? We’re so focused on the clinical procedure, which is horrific and barbaric, but seldom do we focus on the social, financial, and mental issues that precede this decision. I’m in favor of leading a whole nation to destroy the structures that make women think they have to end their pregnancies to work, pay rent, buy groceries, be financially stable, get a job and keep it, graduate from school, apply for school, and have medical care.
Like… why aren’t pro-lifers, mainly pro-birthers from neo-fundamentalist evangelicals tackling those issues as well? They’re more in favor of a big military instead of big health care. I’ve figured that it’s because the left and left-leaning churches and groups are focusing on these issues, therefore, by affiliation, these things are wrong to even consider.
As a neo-evangelical, I still believe in the Bebbington Quadrilateral definition of evangelicalism, namely, biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionsim, and activism by which to spread the first three.
But in my biblicism, I am no longer a biblical literalist. I read the Bible with wisdom, with new tools by which to help me investigate the text, the author’s meaning, his intent, his audience, the culture it was written within, the principles, laws, and religious rules and laws of the time of writing. I consider the geo-political struggles of the time of writing, surrounding nations and their writers and philosophers. I understand metaphors, historical narrative, prophetic literature, poetic literature, wisdom literature, apocalyptic or eschatological writings, pastoral epistles, and the gospels. I rely on the Holy Spirit for clarity and trust Him when I’m told to use the many tools of study available to me. Outside of these tools, I would be a literalist and an idiot. Like the idiot I was in neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism thinking America was at the top of the world and everything around us was the Mark of the Beast and the antichrist. Putin, Hussein, Osama, North Korean dictators, and whatnot. One of them was bound to be the antichrist, I guessed.
I cursed homosexuals and chided Muslims. I damned atheists to hell and mocked them. I understood little of the difference between theistic satanism and atheistic satanism and thought they were both one and the same. This ignorance and arrogance stunted my approachability.
I’ve condemned friends to hell. I’ve ostracized friends by referencing dreams of them wallowing in hell-fire and their immediate need to convert otherwise they would be doomed for eternity. This is how conversations about faith, Jesus, and the Bible went between teenage me and my teenage friends.
I was relentless in assuming everyone’s eternal condition after five minutes of debating them online or in person. Why would I leave any room for doubt when I knew more about them than God did?
Either way, the extremist ways of neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism destroyed my intellect, heightened my fear of non-Assembly of God Bethlehem Ministry Pentecostals, and ruined so many of my friendships thus tarnishing my witness of Christ.
Mainline evangelicalism taught me that so many believers can worship Jesus with their hearts, accept Him into their soul, worship Him and pray to Him in their quiet place, and then live morally duplicitous racist lives in the church and outside the church. Even the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke against moderate mainline believers who spoke so highly of Christ but turned a blind eye to Christ’s creation, namely, black people during the Civil Rights era.
But in neo-evangelicalism, I can seek Christ, preach about the cross, about death, about resurrection, about sin and redemption, and the next advent of my Lord. And in neo-evangelicalism, I can confront the plight of my neighbor, assist them in their troubles, challenge structures and systems that have been set up to oppress instead of emancipate. I can challenge local bodies, both religious and secular entities, to work together, ecumenically, to help everyone everywhere.
But if you think I’m naturally progressing through Graham’s stages of evangelicalism toward post-evangelicalism or apostasy, be assured, I am not.
I have escaped neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism and walked out of mainline evangelicalism, by God’s grace, but I am nowhere close nor am I attracted to post-evangelicalism.
I follow websites and threads written by exvangelicals, post-evangelicals, and former Christians, and depending on their motivation to deconstruct evangelicalism I have found that their results are bleak. They end up destroying their faith instead of deconstructing the cultural colonization of their Christianity. It’s sad to watch people punch holes in the boat that’ll carry them across the lake. They ought to fix their sails, not tear them to shreds. Their faith compass needs recalibration but many of them are shutting their airs and trusting fate to guide them to safer shores. Some have jumped ship altogether, having lost faith in the boat’s ability to keep them above water. And this without a safety vest.
At times I have found more people leaving evangelicalism out of hurt and trauma and in other instances because they prefer to live within an antinomian framework. A framework sapped of moral attitudes and ethics. They want Christ as God of the world but not as Lord of their lives. Meaning, everything goes as far as sinful patterns inasmuch as they can read their bibles to conform it to their momentary pleasures.
In that case, I’d say some of them have moved from monotheism in Christianity to therapeutic moralistic deism. It feels good, must be right, and God or gods is out there, in the ether, somewhere, maybe watching.
Post-evangelicalism can work if one deconstructs not from faith and Christ but from cultural Christianity. Namely, Brazilian-centric or United States of America-centric Christianity. White Christianity. Euro-centric Christianity. Pan-African Christianity. Etcetera.
But if you’re moving away from biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionsim, and activism, then what are you moving towards? I ask myself that same question from time to time. If I abandon the word, the cross, regeneration, and the work that goes into disseminating this message, then what am I moving into? What have I moved away from?
Is this not the gospel? Does the gospel supersede the Bebbington Quadrilateral of evangelicalism?
But does the gospel have to be post-evangelical? It can be. It was before the term was even coined and its meaning as we understand it today solidified.
But I am comfortable utilizing my brain, my soul, God’s Holy Spirit, His Word, the beauty and horror of the cross, and my giving up of myself for my family and my community.
And listen, that community is not and does not have to be a believing community.
Loving God with all my heart, soul, and mind, and my neighbor as myself does not mean that my neighbor needs to be a conservative Right-leaning Christian for me to love, serve, and possibly even die in service for them.
I Am A…
I am a neo-evangelical and God has rescued me from fundamentalism and delivered me from stagnant middle-stance, middle-class centric Christianity that accomplishes much while it accomplishes nothing in mainline evangelicalism.
I am not out of the clear until I reach heaven and that’s why from time to time I converse with my pastor, interacting with him about ideas, what comes next for evangelicals, what ideas, good or bad, will be sucked into the vacuum created by the absence of evangelicalism in our cultural sphere.
What happens when we remove Eurocentric theology from our schools and vernacular? What happens when we burn slave-holding Christian theology to ash? What happens when we begin to listen to the voices that have taken a backseat in literature and theology for the last five hundred years? Who are these voices? Are they white, male, wealthy, and western? Are they French, German, English, Swedish, Scottish, Irish, Dutch, or Swiss?
Are these voices evangelical at all?
These thoughts and questions plague my mind every time I venture to read scripture for my personal development and the development of my church community.
I am comforted by the continual presence of this voice of inquiry because it was absent for most of my life. I thank God for the inquisitive pull in my heart. Not the cynic and skeptic. My faith is firm and sound on the Rock of Christ but the in-betweens that have dimmed my understanding for so long are still to be discovered and challenged.
I need these thoughts and questions to dominate my headspace otherwise I’ll recrudesce to fundamentalist fearmongering and that’ll be the death of my intellect.
This cannot happen.
I am too conservative for my liberal friends and too liberal for my conservative friends. I’m politically homeless. A political vagabond moving from one political railroad car to the next, exploring the goods, acknowledging them, sharing them, and then leaving it for the next. Wherever I find errors and wrongs I attempt to address them with Christic love and when that fails I’m booted forward or backward into another car. Whither this train travels I know not but that it travels forward is without question.
The final station is of less importance to me because no matter where this train of political ideology stops it is still flawed and filled with holes, carrying broken people from one place to another, ever full and ever empty.
I love my Lord, I love my wife, I love our girls, and I love the Church of Christ. The Catholic (universal) Church of Jesus is not held nor constrained by walls and windows and doors. Nor denominational lines.
Are you not sure where you fall on this spectrum and you want to take a quick quiz to find out, hit this link. Towards the end of the page you will find the Evangelical Assessment Tool. Share your findings!
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT