Evolving Faith: An Interview With Sarah Bessey

Today we hear from award-winner blogger and author of Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey. Sarah’s latest book, Out of Sorts, recounts her journey through an evolving faith, ending not with the finality of a concise resolution and tidy list of how-tos, but rather the firmly held belief that while Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, she—and we—should be continuously questioning, changing, and growing in relationship with Christ. Sarah’s raw and honest retelling of her evolving relationship with the Church, with religion, and with Christ serves not as memoir, but rather as Sarah’s encouragement to others to embrace their own meandering paths without fear as they work their way through a hopefully-unending evolution of faith.

1) You write that when you were in your twenties, you stopped being a Christian because you didn’t want to be associated with the Church. It seemed to you that in the Church, one could be a Christian without being a disciple of Christ. How do we put Jesus back into Christianity? Into the Church?

For me, everything was reoriented on Jesus and that changed everything. I think for too long we’ve made Jesus just one character or episode in the Bible. If we want to see God, we look to Jesus. In Hebrews 1:3, the writer says that Jesus is the exact representation of the Father. So I think that if we could recapture that centrality of Christ in our churches through our teaching, our worship, our way of life, well then, what would change? For me, a lot of things changed. My opinions, my preferences, my work, my purpose, my reading of Scripture, my place in community, and so on. We aren’t bringing Jesus into our lives: he’s welcoming us into his life. Years later, I still feel like the only place that makes sense is in his presence, the only place I want to be is in the dust of his feet.

2) You once again consider yourself a Christian, and presumably a disciple of Christ. To that end, how do Jesus’ teachings impact your day-to-day life? Is there a particular area of discipleship you struggle with more than others?

You can read the rest of my interview with Sarah at Red Letter Christians.

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Churches Unite to Reverse Foster Care Wait List

In recognition of foster care awareness month, this month’s Red Letter Carpet features Aaron and Amy Graham. Aaron and Amy have a career-long history of helping those in need: prior to moving to DC, Aaron started the Quincy Street Missional Church in a low-income neighborhood of Boston where he served for five years, and Amy served as a foster care social worker. In 2013, they co-founded DC127, a faith-based non-profit with a mission to unite churches around reversing the foster care wait list in Washington, DC. It both recruits and supports foster and adoptive homes and prevents children from entering the child welfare system by supporting families in crisis through its partnership with the national Safe Families for Children movement. Aaron and Amy also founded the The District Church, where Aaron is lead pastor and Amy is the discipleship pastor. They have adopted two children, Elijah and Natalie.

You can read my interview with Aaron and Amy here.

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Loosing the Chains of Debt: An Interview With Geoffrey Chongo

Geoffrey Chongo is the Head of Programs at the Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection (JCTR), located in Lusaka, Zambia. JCTR is a church-affiliated civil society organization that conducts evidence-based advocacy on political, social, and economic issues. The JCTR works through four main programs: economic equity and development, social conditions, faith and justice, and outreach, and uses the social teachings of the Church as the basis for its advocacy. 

JCTR has written that the social teachings of the church are a rich resource for empowering people to work for social justice, yet this is often the church’s “best kept secret.” How can we, as people of the church, help expose this secret for the powerful tool that it is?

Church Social Teaching is commonly referred to as Catholic Social Teaching. It is a set of knowledge resulting from careful reflection on the complex realities of human existence. It espouses principles such as the inherent dignity of human beings. Other principles include the common good and God’s option for the poor. If these principles where honored and to become the basis of our action, both in private and public life, they could promote interest all in society.

JCTR tries to create awareness of these principles especially among people who occupy public life and whose decisions affect many people. JCTR also refers to the principles as Church Social Teachings and not Catholic Social Teachings as they apply not only to Catholics but to all churches and human beings so that all people can identify themselves with them.

Your organization has developed one of the most widely-cited statistical tools for evaluating poverty in Zambia: the basic needs basket (BNB). How does the BNB work, and how has it helped lessen the impact of poverty on the average person in Zambia?

The Urban Basic Needs Basket (BNB) is a tool that helps JCTR to monitor the cost of living in 15 selected urban towns throughout Zambia. Prices of selected essential and non-essential items that constitutes an urban BNB for an average family of five (as determined by government official census statistics) are surveyed and analyzed on a monthly basis and results used to advocate for policies that improves the living conditions of people. Stakeholders such as employers and trade unions use the urban BNB data to bargain for decent wages.

The urban BNB has had positive impacts on the lives of average individuals. Recently, Government introduced a minimum wage law for lowly paid workers such as shop workers, making reference to the JCTR Urban Basic Needs Basket. JCTR has also used the urban BNB data to push for tax measures that reduce the cost of living such as increase of tax free threshold for salaried employees and removal of VAT (Zero Rating) on selected goods on which poor people spend most of their income.

The BNB and its accompanying survey—the Satellite Homes Survey—have also given birth to wider surveys such as the Households Access to Selected Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ESCRs) in various towns in Zambia (2012-2014). These have resulted in building awareness in communities on ESCRs. We have seen communities such as those from Livingstone and Monze districts (in Southern Zambia) demand their rights and engage with duty bearers to receive access to water and electricity, respectively.

As regards the rural BNB, this is a tool that looks at food and nutrition security as well as access to various social services through a household and key informant questionnaire that is administered quarterly. This research has helped provide platforms for community members to engage with local/district leaders in setting the agenda for Constituency Development Funds as well as to give service providers and local leaders information on needs as presented by the community. Though development in these areas is slow, progress has been seen where toilets and boreholes have been sunk to provide better sanitation such as in Masaiti (Copperbelt province), Kazunula (Southern province) and Mambwe (Eastern province).

I know that debt relief is a topic important to you and to JCTR. How has government debt impacted the everyday life of the average person in your country, and what can be done to alleviate the negative consequences of debt?

You can find the rest of my interview with Geoffrey at Red Letter Christians.

Geoffery Chongo (JCTR)

Mental Illness, Biblical Counseling, and the Role of the Church: A Conversation with Alasdair Groves

Alasdair Groves is the Director of Counseling and a member of the faculty at Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) in New England. He has a passion to foster genuine relationships in the local church, especially through counseling and counseling training, and his hope is for a church-based movement toward providing robust, Biblical pastoral care.

Paraphrased, CCEF’s stated mission is to bring “Christ to counseling and counseling to the church.” Can you explain what this means and what it looks like in practice?

Good question. When we talk about bringing Christ to counseling, we mean that to counsel well is to take seriously that the Bible has the deepest, richest framework for all of life. Ultimately, whether we are dealing with schedule stresses or schizophrenia, Jesus is our only hope and the wisdom he gives must ground and direct all the help we give. This doesn’t mean that we never use Google calendars to help the disorganized or that we are against Prozac for someone who’s depressed. But it does mean we will counsel best when our goals and methods of helping people spring directly from Jesus’ goals and methods for helping people: relationship with, worship of and obedience to him.

In practice, bringing counseling to the church means equipping pastors to do rich, insightful, compassionate, and just pastoral care. It means training para-church counselors like me who work hand in hand with churches to care for congregants in the context of the community of Christ’s body rather than in an isolated corner of the congregant’s world. Finally, I think it means developing the best content we can on connecting problems in living to Christian faith. We want to influence the culture, both in the mental health world in general and in the church in particular, toward a higher view of how the Bible meets us in our times of greatest need with powerful, non-simplistic help.

With 1 in 4 Americans suffering from some form of mental illness, it only makes sense that the church would want to be on the forefront of providing mental health services to those in need. Why have so many churches been slow to provide these services, and what is CCEF doing to help those diagnosed with mental illness?

You can read the rest of the interview with Alasdair here.

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Interview with Aleah Marsden: Empowering “Ordinary” Women for Extraordinary Lives

Aleah Marsden is a writer, speaker, Bible study leader, wife, and mother of four. You will hear her refer to herself as “just average,” unequipped to teach or lead. And yet, that’s exactly what she does: she brings the word of God to others in ways they can understand and apply to their daily lives. She speaks directly to those who feel they are too “ordinary” for God, equipping and empowering them to serve in extraordinary ways.

The primary goal of your work is to draw women deeper into God’s word to plumb the depths of the riches they will find there. What specific message do you hope women will find?

That we are valued and loved beyond what we can imagine. That each of us has been given an individualized calling and specific gifts to steward, living empowered by His strength and guided by His Spirit. That we have access to all we need to fully utilize our gifts and walk into our callings to bless others.

Read the rest of today’s interview here.

 

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An Interview with Eric LeCompte

Eric LeCompte is the Executive Director of Jubilee USA, where he represents a diverse coalition of faith communities in the common cause of eradicating extreme poverty and building an economy that serves, protects and promotes participation of the most vulnerable. 

You can read my interview with Eric here.

 

 

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Q and A with Sharla Fritz, Author of Divine Makeover

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My friend, Sharla, has just released her new book, Divine Makeover. Sharla’s graciously agreed to be here today to share a little bit about her book.

1)      How did God prompt you to write this book?

After my first Bible study, Divine Design, came out, I heard about some groups of mothers and daughters doing the book together. It was so exciting that women of all ages could come together and discover their true beauty in Christ. But I thought young women would enjoy having a book that taught the same principles while using examples of their own struggles. So I wrote Divine Makeover—essentially Divine Design for a younger generation.

2)       What struggles do you see the younger generation having?

I remember as a teen thinking that no one would ever think I was beautiful, no one would ever love me. Almost all of us go through an awkward stage where we doubt our beauty and worth. (Some of us never outgrow that stage!)

Plus, in this age, the emphasis on physical beauty is greater than ever before. Celebrities are scrutinized for their hair styles, makeup, and clothing choices. Ordinary girls are slammed when they don’t wear the coolest brands. Every year hundreds of thousands of teens are so dissatisfied with their looks that they resort to plastic surgery.

I’m hoping that Divine Makeover will help young women discover their worth not in what clothes they are wearing on the outside, but on the clothing of their character.

3) How did you get the young women’s point of view for this book?

Admittedly, I am a long way from the teen years! So I met with some amazing teens at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lisle, Illinois every week. They candidly shared their views and struggles. I was truly impressed with this group of young women who clearly loved the Lord. Their faith and commitment to serve was very inspiring. Some of their words and stories are included in the book.

4) You talk about some myths of modesty? What are they?

I think three modern myths of modesty are: Modesty is old-fashioned, modesty means wearing a burlap bag, and modesty means following a strict set of clothing rules.

Modesty is an enduring principle because the Bible tells us that “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control” (1Timothy 2:9). Because God’s Word never goes out of style, this advice is not just for women of Timothy’s day, but for us too.

We might think that if we dress modestly we can’t be stylish, but that isn’t necessarily true. It may mean that we have to adapt styles: wearing a camisole under a too-low top, adding leggings to a dress that’s a bit too short, or wearing a cute jacket or sweater over a top that’s too form-fitting.

I have seen sites and books that give strict rules for lengths of skirts and depths of necklines. But I think rules sometimes beg to be broken, so I think a better way to view modesty is as a way to dress with respect: respect for the beauty God gave you, respect for God’s Word, and respect for the gift of sexuality—which God has reserved for marriage.

5) What are some of the other topics discussed?

Divine Makeover is a “What Not to Wear” for the soul. It talks about hanging up the uniform and letting go of your inner control freak. It encourages young women to get rid of the handbag of worry and live with an attitude of trust. It tosses out the prom dress of pride, the boots of selfishness, the bitterness sweater, and anything the color of envy green. Instead, in Christ we can wear humility, love, forgiveness, and contentment.

6)      You include some dramatic stories of teens who struggled with their self-image. Tell us about them.

Yes. Some young women graciously shared their stories with me. One young woman battled anorexia for a time in her life. When she looked in the mirror, she saw herself as fat, even though she definitely wasn’t. She bravely shared her story of how she eventually discovered that she had become obsessed with food and a totally skewed view of her body. Eventually she learned to choose to see herself as God saw her—His much-loved daughter.

Another young woman discovered she had alopecia. She lost all of her hair. In this society that worships thick, long manes of hair, she struggled to see herself as beautiful. She doubted that any man would ever love her. She has never regained her hair, but she has regained a healthy self-image because of her trust in God.

Both of these women are now in their twenties and happily married.

7)     What practical tips do you share with readers?

The book concentrates on our inner beauty, but does have some fashion fun. Every chapter ends with some Fashion Finesse: a few words about finding the right clothes, building a wardrobe, and looking your best. Some of the practical tips include choosing a cute yet useful purse, finding your best colors, and discovering the best style of sweater for your shape. After the chapter on the prom dress of pride, I included seven tips for a fabulous formal.

8)      What one thing should potential readers know about this book?

I pray that every girl who reads this book will take away one important truth: that in Christ she is beautiful. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we always look lovely in God’s looking glass. Our heavenly Father sees us not as we are, with our mammoth mistakes, our messy sins, our major bedhead. He sees us as we will be—perfect. The Bible tells us, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

9)      Tell everyone a little more about yourself.

I’m a Christian speaker and author who loves to communicate the truth of God’s transforming grace. I love meeting women around the country at retreats and conferences.

I live in the Chicago suburbs with my husband, who is the pastor of Hope Lutheran Church. Together we shared the adventure of homeschooling for 15 years with our two children. They are all grown up now and moved away from home. My daughter moved far from home—she now lives in China!

In my other life I am a church musician and piano teacher. I love traveling (especially to China!), going out to lunch with friends, and reading. If I’m not sitting at the piano or my computer you might find me at the thrift store stalking fabulous fashion finds.

10)     Anything else you’d like to share about this book?

Divine Makeover has eight chapters with each chapter having five days of devotions and Bible study questions. A girl could read it on her own, with or without doing the questions. But it would be even more fun to do with a group of gabby girlfriends!

Interested in having your own copy of Sharla’s new book, Divine Makeover? Enter to win here. Simply share your makeover story, and Sharla will select the winner from the comments received. The winner will receive a gift basket containing a copy of Divine Makeover, a Concordia Publishing House gift card, and a variety of other goodies.