Posts Tagged ‘Church’

Ever Widening Circles >> Finding a Voice After Sexual Assault

“I thought I could fly…well, at least until my wings were clipped at the age of 4 when I first lost my innocence to my grandfather.”

In my last blog, I told a little bit of her story…

She was four years old when her grandfather molested her for the first time.
She was five when he raped her to the fullest extent of the word.
She was eleven before he quit, presumably because she’d soon begin menstruating.
Soon after, another family member began molesting her.
When told, a trusted youth pastor brought it to her parents rather than the police.
They not only deemed her a liar, refusing to believe her, but threatened her with shunning and worse if she didn’t remain silent and protect family secrets.
And in the decades since, she’s sunk deeper into their grave of lies, afraid to speak, afraid she doesn’t matter, afraid what they said about her worth, her belovedness, her value – or lack of all – is true.

Now, at 32 years old, she is beginning to find her voice.
It’s my honor to share her story in her words.

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I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it…

waterdrop Funny the way life circles out and then back and then further still again. Often the journey is conceived geographically, but it’s the circumnavigation of waypoints deep within that map who we are as the circles widen.

My roots are nestled deep in the rural South of the US. There’s a friendly politeness to the people even if it lacks any genuine concern and a certain brand of Christian religion weaves through-out the culture. God often seems not one of compassion for those of us who doubt, question, are gay, or live in the grayer areas of life, but a God who casts off any who struggle to walk the straight and narrow.

For a precocious child who found turmoil way too early in life, I’ve found that such beginnings reverberate for years even as our small circles widen until we return again only to reach out further still. It’s hard to hold hope in such a God, especially when life curves.

Innately, I was always a bit of a risk taker, I pushed the envelope, I questioned everything, I thought I could fly…well, at least until my wings were clipped at the age of 4 when I first lost my innocence to my grandfather. For a while, I fought as best as a child could. I became insolent and angry, and in the midst, tried to reach out to the Church and my family, all who labeled me the problem. To them, it became more important to protect those who hurt me than how I felt. I lost all trust. As the next several years wore on with no relief, I slowly lost the rest of myself. In 9th grade, alone and with not much hope to cling to, I tried to kill myself.

In the hospital I found that tumultuous anger got me nowhere. So, I numbed to the pain and instead sought comfort in food and cutting. AND as my circles widened further into college, grad school, and finally, divinity school all of which I ran away to, to make sense of life…like my hidden scars, my weight increased proportionally through the years.

I’ve been to Burma and back, Appalachia and back, San Francisco and back, and a number of other places…and if any answers were found, it only lead to more questions.

AND then my life circled back to where I swore I’d never return when I left at the age of 17. BUT see the roots of my present journey started in the previous circle while I was in Nashville. The place I came to know as home. It was there that seeds of hope were first planted quietly in music, which has always been my life-blood, and then friendship, my saving grace and anchoring; whose beginnings were unknowingly fertilized in the circle of my high school days.

Now in my 30s and somehow back in the hauntings of where it all began; I couldn’t just sit still and languish. I found the courage to return to one of my first loves…horses. AND in the span of a year, as I’ve fought to find myself again, I’ve loved and lost and gained in so many ways: Friendship that challenges and teaches much about love, trust, and family. A beloved pony who began to teach me how to fly again even when I fell and had to get back up again…and again. I’m no longer carrying over 100 lbs that I had before… AND because I think it has something to teach me and a couple of good friends have encouraged me, I am training to run a half-marathon in February despite the fact that I’ve never ran more than 2.5 miles up to this point.

I’ve found that you CAN’T run from the things that are killing you…instead they must be faced. AND that’s why we circle back. How else can we heal? Only then can we make another revolution, wider still, and bring life and love to those encountered along the way.

The process is painful, excruciatingly so…and I DON’T know if I will complete this one. BUT maybe I’ll FINALLY begin to live into myself.

…I circle around God, the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

*The poem bookending this piece is from the Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke.

<<<<< If you or someone you know has been or is being sexually assaulted, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1.800.656.HOPE

I Am Pro-Life*

(*actually, wholly, totally, 100%, not-just-anti-abortion)

I AM PRO-LIFE.

I am anti-violence. Anti-death penalty.

I am against anything that would create an enemy of my neighbor – even my violent, criminal neighbor – and make him a monster deserving annihilation, rather than the beloved of God needing desperately to be reminded of who he is to whom he belongs.

I AM PRO-LIFE.

I am against the weaponizing of people, and especially the church. Our war is won and the Victor is Christ, who achieved victory through His own shed blood and no one else’s.

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Is Charity an Act of Will, Obedience, or Nature?

From my previous blogs it’s obvious the common problem many Christians have with the idea of socialism is that the sharing of goods is a requirement rather than a voluntary act of the will.

Which got me thinking, why is it so important that sharing from one’s abundance with those who have lesscharity be voluntary rather than obligatory? And, more to the point, does Scripture ask us to give, tell us to give, or simply say we will give if indeed we belong to Christ?

Here’s what I’ve come to so far (and again, I’m thinking out loud):

This concept that “I shouldn’t be forced to share what I’ve worked hard to earn” is one practiced and understood only in communities whose people have come to depend on their acquisitions as a source of worth, status, and identity. In short, it’s the chief source of Self, of Pride. We believe (consciously or not) that whether acquired by hard work, education, or birth right, we deserve what we have. And conversely, those who own less have earned and deserve less.

This social distinction is necessary so that when we “give voluntarily” to those in need, we acquire in return a sense of goodness for having “chosen” to help. We are champions of the poor and oppressed, who pat ourselves on the backs for giving something away. Our hungry pride is further fed, and the truth of the exchange – that we haven’t actually given anything, but simply made a trade – is utterly lost.

But what if caring for the needy is not a choice?

From what I see in Scripture, most notably in Matthew 24:31-46 (but also elsewhere in the New Testament, where both true love and faith are linked irrevocably to giving of oneself), caring for the needy is neither a choice nor a mandate, but simply the Mark of a true Believer. If we belong to Christ, we will care for the least of these. It’s a matter of definition and identity. Just as a singer sings and a plumber plumbs, a Christian, by definition, gives selflessly from an attitude that says, “If I have something you need, then by virtue of needing it, you ought to have it.” It’s not mine to give, but yours to have. It’s a subtle but significant distinction.

We want and have made it a matter of choice because “choosing” to give feeds our pride.

What I find ironic is that when we do strip away the status of ownership – when all needs and property become shared needs and property – we finally grasp real worth. We find that we’re each infinitely and inherently valued by God and necessary to the Kingdom simply because He marked us with His image and a unique personality and spirit at Creation. My worth is no longer tied to what I have or can give away, but to the simple fact that because God made and marked only one Amy Jo Courts-Koopman, I belong and am utterly irreplaceable.

Inevitably though, when stripped of the stuff and left with the nude self, we can’t help but become painfully aware of our equally inherent deficits. We’re shown in great need of what can only be met by humbling ourselves to receive and learn from those who are rich in the qualities we lack.

In the end, the great irony is that we need giving to be a choice because, in our pride, we cannot fathom being worth what we haven’t earned, and we cannot tolerate having nothing to give but ourselves. And we really can’t stand true equality, because it means we all are equally depraved…or needy.

But if we can give what we have “out of the goodness of our hearts,” at least we have our own goodness to fall back on, which sets us just a step above the others.

I don’t know how this all fits in the context of voluntary love or how it coincides with the fact that authentic love cannot be forced. But I have a feeling that it all comes back to the basic Truth that “we love because Christ first loved us.” I have a feeling the we’re capable of giving love only in response to (or in overflow from) what love we’ve already received.

Which again, isn’t so much a voluntary act of the will, but a natural succession or response…Once I’m filled to the brim with love, my cup runs over into others.

It’s worth pondering…

Was Jesus a Socialist: The Discussion Continues…

A point of clarification I’m allowed to make 30-comments-in, just because I’m the blog owner (and I get to do what I want): While I believe the Christian values of caring for the needy, and the least being treated as the greatest are reflected in socialism, I don’t believe Jesus was an *actual* socialist, or that He would – were He walking among us today – endorse any of the various forms of government. In fact, I believe that since the Devil is currently in charge of the world’s governments (according to Matt. 4:8-10, when the Devil offered Jesus all the Kingdoms of the world [which Jesus turned down, obviously] which implies they were the Devil’s to offer), none will ever earn the endorsement of Christ. I ought to have said that from the start instead of saying “Jesus sanctioned socialism.” I was dumb to have said that…or at very least, not paying attention. But, you live and read comments and learn and amend. Moving along…

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I won’t lie: I’m a little frustrated right now. My brother-in-law, who is a pastor in McCook, NE and blogs on theology, apologetics, culture, and more as part of his church’s ministry, responded in his own blog to my post-election thoughts. But that’s not what’s making me nuts. What’s driving me crazy is the fact that I can’t log in to respond to his blog on his blog.

So I’m left with one option: to move his blog over here and continue the discussion. I certainly don’t mind – but in fact, find immense joy – in the conversation.

I just hate technology sometimes.

Anyway, I’d like to respond point-by-point to his responsive blog entitled “Jesus Institued Socialism?” (which I’ll only quote here in red, to save space, but can be found in full here):

[Quoted from my previous blog: What we see happening in Acts 2 is exactly that: socialism, if not communism, even. The equal distribution and sharing of all wealth, goods, and property among all people so that no one is richer and thus more significant, or poorer and thus less significant.]

First, one will notice that Jesus is not even present.

Really!? Jesus wasn’t present with the early Church!?

Forgive the sarcasm. I think it should be obvious that while Jesus may not have been <i>physically</i> present with the early Church, He was most certainly present in their hearts, at the forefront of their thoughts, His principles, values, and teachings foremost in their consideration of how to “set up shop.” To assert otherwise is just plain silly. His promised Holy Spirit was among them, reminding them of Christ’s Way. So while Jesus may not have explicitly said, “This is how I want you to live in community with one another, by sharing everything,” His daily teachings and the way in which He continually engaged with His twelve closest disciples and hundreds of other followers is certainly reflected in their “share all things; have everything in common” lifestyle. They were, indeed, continuing His work in His Way. Whether sanctioned by explicit word or implied by deed, their way was Christ’s Way.

Second, we must consider that the church, not the government, is the primary subject here. There are distinct roles given to church and distinct roles given to government. What is the right and responsibility of one is not necessarily the right and responsibility of the other.

Indeed, the Church IS the primary subject here. However, while it’s not our government’s responsibility to obey Scripture, it is arguably every American Christian’s right and responsibility to vote for the candidate we believe most fully (though will never completely) reflects our Biblical values and makes Christian priorities National priorities (or abstain from voting if participating violates one’s conscience). This doesn’t mean seeking, electing, or promoting a “Christian” President, but supporting a platform that reflects Christ’s heart for people. (And, inevitably, we will often disagree about who’s platform best reflects Christian values.)


Third, Acts is written as historical narrative. It is not didactic in nature so what we find there is a record of what happened, but not necessarily what should be. A good example of this is the life of the patriarchs described in Genesis. Many were polygamists. We cannot make the leap that just because something is recorded that it therefore has God’s sanction. We must go elsewhere for our doctrine of marriage. In Acts we see that people are doing something (sharing their things), but that in no way makes it normative.

First, that Acts is written in historical narrative does not negate its usefulness as a model for the current day Church. In this instance, I believe the early Church is a model for the Church today and forever. Why? Because they lived, breathed, ate, and drank the life and teachings of Christ. Having been born of His death, resurrection, and ascension, and being the only examples we have of people who knew Christ in person as close friend, Savior, and God, it seems obvious by extention that their fellowship without His physical presence would model the fellowship they shared with Him. Theirs are the nearest hearts to (and thus, I’d say, the most reflective of) Christ’s heart for His established Church, all people worldwide, and future of His Kingdom that we can see modeled in action. They were living and setting up shop in the wake of the single most defining moment in the history of the God-human relationship. No doubt they did everything with deliberation in light of all Christ did and taught, explicitly and implicitly.

Second, I find the example of the patriarchs and their polygamy ill-fitting to the context, since polygamy was expressly condemned numerous times throughout the Mosaic Law (most notably in the Ten Commandments). We find no such condemnation – implicit or otherwise – of the Way of the early Church. His endorsement of their Way, though not explicit, I believe is inferred simply by their doing it.

Third, while its record in Acts doesn’t make the sharing of all things normative, the more-than 2,000 commands in Scripture to care for the orphan and widow, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and otherwise treat the least as the greatest certainly support their communistic fellowship as “standard behavior” for Christians. Certainly Christ’s explicit warning in Matthew 25:31-46 in which He describes exactly how He will separate the sheep from the goats – i.e. by whether or not we have fed the hungry, quenched the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited the prisoner, and welcomed the stranger – serves as ample evidence that this is the Kingdom Way: to give selflessly from every possible reserve, whether financial, time, or goods.


Should Christians be gracious? Yes. Compassionate? Yes. But here is the catch: grace cannot be mandated. For grace to be grace it cannot be a requirement. If it is required (such as a wage) it is justice, not grace. The church can therefore encourage its members to live out these virtues, but not even the church can put it into ecclesiastical law.

While I agree that giving and service to the church ought to be a matter of graciousness and selflessness – the deliberate decision of a cheerful giver (which God loves) – the mandate to care for the fatherless and the widow is, again, not optional. I don’t know how to make this more clear than to italicize and embold: True Christ-followers will be known, defined, and separated based on how they actively respond to the greatest commandment to Love the Lord their God with all heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbors as themselves. (Matt. 23:37-39, 1 John 2:3) Christ’s example, His teaching, and the teaching of His nearest discipes make abundantly and irrefutably clear that ours is a family, a nation, marked by love made evident in service, that the world may come to know the glory and salvation of Christ. We will be known (and judged, eternally) by our love and how its expressed in our selflessness (John 15:13, 1 John 3:16).

This is born out a few chapters later in chapter 5 when Ananias and Sapphira sell their goods and give it to the church (as we saw in ch 2). Their problem was that they lied. Peter makes it quite clear (v4) that they had no obligation to give it to the church. It was their money to do with as they pleased.

The difference here is that we’re not talking about tithing to the church or selling their stuff to give to the church.

We’re talking about the Biblical mandate, seen both explicitly and implictly throughout the entirety of Scripture and laid out in detail by Christ Himself, to care and provide for those in need, both physically and spiritually. This is not a matter of finances, but of how the true Gospel is spread and disciples are made.

If not even the church, as God’s ordained institution for effecting his will on earth, can make such demands on people, how can we legitimately make the leap to the government doing it?

Here we part ways. I believe God has commanded His people to care for and plead on behalf of the poor, impoverished, and desperately-in-need. And I believe my vote for Obama, whose policies reflect the Christian values and obligation to care for the least of these, is as justified by Scripture (I’d even argue more justified) as the votes of so many Believers who voted for McCain “on behalf of the unborn.”