Other Great Blogs by Christian Women

Ok, so this post is totally me cheating and re-publishing someone else’s work.  However, as someone who is interested in reading widely and from a diverse range of perspectives, I appreciated seeing some recommendations for other blogs on Christian themes.  This list was published by ShareFaith Magazine and can be seen in its original location here.

“This carefully selected list is not limited to standard ranking, but also based on the actual benefits each contributes and their ability to draw an audience into a worthwhile conversation. They were decided on their expertise to produce sound, meaningful and relevant content; and their accessibility despite wearing the many hats popularity tends to demand. Here is my list, the Top 15 Christian Female Bloggers:

1. Heidi St John | heidistjohn.com/blog: She’s been called the Super Mom of Homeschooling, and with good reason. In addition to her conference speaking schedule, founding the First Class co-ops support programs, authoring books and a devotional series, and blogging, she is responsible for homeschooling her own seven children. A couple years ago I had the pleasure of reading her book “The Busy Homeschool Mom’s Guide to Romance” and since then have been getting reacquainted with this longtime friend through social networking, blog entries and radio interviews.

2. Elyse Fitzpatrick | elysefitzpatrick.com: “No fluff. No brick. Just Good News”. Elyse writes and speaks with wisdom and clarity; she makes the Gospel come alive in everyday life. I have had the privilege of observing her personally while in the same church fellowship; she has a commanding personality and a great sense of humor. She is the author of 18 books and co-authored one with her daughter, Jessica Thomson. She is also a conference speaker, and contributing author in a variety of publications, and director of Woman Helping Woman Ministries.

3. Kristen Welch | wearethatfamily.com: This site contains one the most widely read Christian faith blogs in the world. I can see why. There are millions of moms all over the planet who feel alone and devoid of purpose. She encourages her readers to look beyond seeking their own happiness and comfort to being shaken from the short sidedness of self to the great riches found in loving God and others. Kristin is a founding member of the Mercy House, a home for pregnant moms in Kenya, and she is a true example of what being a servant of mercy is all about.

4. Mary Fairchild | revelintherubble.com: I run into this woman all the time online, mainly from her contributions on About.com/Christianity. She is always on top of the hot topics of today – the stuff everyone is asking; from “Basic Christian Beliefs” to “Prayers for Every Need”. I appreciate her scholarly approach to both real-life questions as well as the more theologically rich topics. She has become a great resource to me as well as an inspiration.

5. Kelly Minter | kellyminter.com: I was introduced to this blogger through another high profile blog site. What lured me over to her domain was her amazing insight. In a recent post she compared and contrasted Moses the self-appointed judge versus Moses the God-appointed deliverer. She drew the correlation of how we are called into the more difficult process of being delivers, as opposed to the “five seconds and none of your heart…” method of judging. She lovingly challenges in every post and always leaves you with something to think about.

6. Lysa TerKeurst | lysaterkeurst.com: It’s not just that Lysa’s blog averages over 80,000 readers per month, her posts are skillfully crafted,  practical, authentic and encouraging. She is the president of Proverbs 31 ministries, an advocate for orphans, magazine contributor, author of 16 books, and has published in multiple other publications – that’s just to name a few of her credentials.

7. Margaret Feinberg | margaretfeinberg.com: This author, Bible teacher and speaker presents in a way that is personally engaging and sincerely motivating. Margaret prefaces her biblical advice with firsthand examples to help her readers identify and find encouragement.

8. Mary DeMuth | marydemuth.com: Mary mentions 1 Corinthians 1: 26-29 in her bio and how the key emphasis for her in that passage is: “He chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.” She proclaims this truth as the heart and soul of her message.

9. Felicity Dale | simplychurch.com: She is an advocate for woman, plain and simple, and her writing reflects this. I get where she is coming from; it is true that many limitations woman experience in the church today have been imposed by well-meaning church leaders who have relied on comfortable doctrine, and not necessarily the result of seeking out thorough context. Felicity runs the extra mile to uncover in scripture what many before her have either ignored or didn’t find important enough to pursue. I see this blog as an honest journey to challenge the status quo and ensure that woman are able to fulfill their absolute potential. Although I am not convinced that some of her conclusions are more than mere conjecture and sometimes a bit contrived, I am nonetheless intrigued and will continue to give her work consideration.

10. Sarah Cunningham | sarahcunningham.org: I like that she is accessible, if you write to her she’ll communicate back. She is a beautiful writer, a true master of words; once you start reading one of her blog posts, you can’t stop. She hasn’t posted an entry since February 12, but you can find more of her work at the Huffington Post where she frequently contributes; and if you want even more of her perspective, she is also the author of five books.

11. Jenni Catron | jennicatron.com: I included her due to her general recognition as a leading influence in reshaping church leadership. I can identify with the “schizophrenia tomboy”, cultivating “girl” but refining confident and driven, and beating down stereotypes. I am not sure about her position doctrinally, as I am new to her work, but she most definitely owns a sphere of influence, so I give her a place in my top 15.

12. Christine Caine | christinecaine.com and a21campaign.org  She is a passionate evangelist for the Gospel as displayed in word and deed. In addition to blogging, she is an author and international speaker and cohort of the A21 Campaign organization founded by her and her husband against the injustice of human trafficking. Her blogging consists of contributions to her own A21 Campaign website as well as devotional entries in her “First Things First” series.

13. Sheree Decouto | godsgirlgettingreal.com: She used to be a hair stylist, so she’s well acquainted with hearing people’s struggles; however, transitioning into ministry she noticed Christian women don’t often feel like they can speak so candidly. Her blog is a successful effort to delve into the heart issues that women face and provide a safe place for open communication. Her diverse gifting makes her very relatable and her honesty and transparency give life to the words in her blog.

14. Jen Hatmaker | jenhatmaker.com: Besides being an author, speaker and blogger, Jen is a wife and a mother of five. She speaks and writes first-hand on family challenges and about what she calls “radical obedience” to God and His mission. She has an amazing way of expressing herself with words, through which she provides both heartfelt encouragement and thoughtful advice.

15. Pricilla Shirer | goingbeyond.com: I am not sure if it’s her own glowing posts, or if it’s the contributions of her carefully selected guests that makes her blog stand out. Either way it is full of insight, encouragement and love.”


Marks of mission

Mission is the great imperative for the Church.  It’s not so much that the Church has a mission, as that the God of mission has a Church.  Or that’s the line, anyway.

But mission is highly contentious.  Burned by the colonial past and hesitant in pluralist society, Christians often struggle to know what faithful and appropriate mission looks like, and how it engages the world.

That’s a problem too big for one blog post.  However, as an appetiser on the subject, as it were, I thought it worth noting that the Anglican Consultative Council – an international Anglican body concerned to facilitate the cooperative work of the Anglican communion – has developed what has become something of a touchstone for me in thinking about mission: The Five Marks of Mission.  They seek to present a balanced view of what Christians, and Christian churches, should be about in the world.  These are the marks:

1.  To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.

2.  To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.

3.  To respond to human need by loving service.

4.  To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.

5.  To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

It’s a fairly comprehensive package; proclamation, teaching, nurturing; service; social justice, peace making and reconciliation; faithful stewardship of creation.  It is not necessary, or in many cases even possible, for every Christian to be engaged in all of these aspects of mission; but it is possible for every Christian community to challenge itself to embrace this breadth of thinking about mission.  If we come to a place where reducing our waste paper, writing letters to members of parliament, working in a soup kitchen, and all the other good works of the church can be seen as part of the Church’s embodiment of the love of God for the world, just as much as preaching or the sacramental life of the church, I suspect we are on our way to a healthier way forward than perhaps many of us have known.

Are we ready for the harvest?

This is the text of a sermon for the sixth Sunday after Pentecost, in the parish where I am now licensed. The Scriptures referenced are Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 and Romans 8:12-25.

My brothers and sisters, I have a problem.  And that is that, despite being a bit of a language geek, I have sadly concluded that Icelandic is hard.

Why – you may well ask – would I even consider learning Icelandic?  It all started innocently enough.  I was talking with some people who are very distressed about some of the policies of our government; particularly with regard to the treatment of asylum seekers.  And our conversation turned to the question of how bad things would have to be for some of us to consider actually leaving and living somewhere else.  And – if it did get to that point – where would you go?

A quick google told me that if you want to go somewhere with an excellent record on human rights issues, you’re generally talking about somewhere far away, cold, and with a language that’s not intuitive for English speakers.  It’s not exactly encouraging.

Of course, it’s not entirely a theoretical discussion for me, because I’ve done it before.  Australia looked pretty good from the point of view of apartheid-era South Africa.  But having done it once already, I’m not in a tearing hurry to do it again.

So it leaves me – and anyone else, who like me, isn’t anxious to move halfway around the world and master modern Viking – with a problem.  What do you do when it seems like evil is winning?

This morning’s parable, from Matthew’s gospel, gives us much to think about in this regard.  Remember how it goes; an enemy sowed weeds in among the good wheat in a field.  And so when the plants came up, the wheat and the weeds grew together.  And the slaves who worked the field were perplexed by this, and wondered whether they ought to uproot the weeds.

Note that – the slaves were confronted with the same question.  Here is a field overrun with weeds, with evil.  What do you do?

Well, comes the answer, you can’t fix it.  You can’t get rid of the weeds without damaging the wheat.  They have to grow together, lest the weeding diminish the harvest.  It’s a kind of spiritual version of the medical principle to first, do no harm.

That’s the bad news, folks.  We have to live in this world, with all of its mess, with planes being shot down and unsatisfactory governments and suicide bombers.  We can run away from it, we can try not to notice it, we can even distract ourselves with Nordic fantasies, but we can’t fix it.

And the parable offers us the perspective to understand why we can’t fix it.  Because we’re not the farmer; we’re not even the field hands.  If anything, we identify ourselves with the wheat.  We’re the harvest.  It’s a frustratingly passive role, for people who are used to thinking of ourselves as having agency over ourselves and our environment.

Maybe we are sometimes a little too attached to our illusions of control?

But I want to examine the idea that we are the wheat a bit more closely.

Of course, we’re the good guys, aren’t we?  Here we are, in church, pondering the Bible, about to come to communion – of course we’re the wheat.  I mean, we couldn’t be the weeds.  They’re children of the evil one.  They’re out there; ignorant, perhaps; misguided, certainly; lost to eventual fire, apparently.

It’s a problematic prospect, isn’t it?

What if there were another way to think about this?

What if, instead of dividing people into two neat categories – on whatever criteria – of good and bad, of wheat and weeds; what if the situation were a bit more complex than that?

What if, within my own heart, there were a field of both wheat and weeds?  Hmm.

I hate to admit it, but I can see some things in me, without which I might be a better person.  I guess you could call those weeds.  And I can see some things which – I hope it’s not too boastful to say – I think you could say are genuinely good; which I might call wheat.

And it’s not just me, is it?  This is part of the human condition.  Even the best of us struggles with awareness of our own weedy patches; and even the worst has at least the potential for good.

Here, perhaps, we might find it helpful to leave the gospel for a moment and ponder Paul’s image in our reading from Romans.  He said that “we know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

It’s a nicely balanced view, isn’t it?  All of creation, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, are waiting for the fulfilment of God’s purpose.  The image of groaning in labour is apt; an unstoppable process is underway, one with pain and difficulty and indignity and, well… truth be told I try not to think about it very much.  But at the end, new life takes its first breath, and there is relief and joy and celebration.

The good news about all of this – whether we’re talking about our own interior life, or the world at large – is that the evil will end.  Harvest time will come, the wheat will be gathered in, the weeds are collected and go to the fate they deserve.  And the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

So there are two aspects to the message for us, in a passage like this; hope and warning.  Evil is here, and we can’t fix it.  And yet, we’ve been given to know that evil will not win.  This mixed moral economy will end.  And even more than that, the fact that it has not ended yet tells us something very important, something worth celebrating: the wheat is still growing!  So maybe, alongside the question of what we do in the face of evil, we also need to ask ourselves; are we ready for the harvest?

Why I love my diocese

I had a bit of an epiphany today.  I’ve been at a conference for the clergy of the diocese of Melbourne (and some others) this week, on the topic of “Ministry and Mission in the Asian Century.”  This meant that much of the discussion over the last couple of days has been about cross-cultural, and multicultural, ministry.

And as I stood in worship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and looked around the room, I felt my own joy at the diverse group of people we are.  Here we were, standing shoulder to shoulder; people from every continent (well, except Antarctica); people of an amazing variety of languages, cultures, and nationalities; people who are heirs to diverse riches of churchmanship, theological viewpoint, spirituality; people who are gay and straight, men and women, old and young; and if, below the polite exteriors, there were tensions and disagreements (who am I kidding – of course there were!), we were still here, engaging in this endeavour together, exasperated at times but not having given up on one another, or on the God who calls us to common purpose.

I do not agree with every theological position held by people in that room.  I do not like the liturgical choices many of them make in worship; I do not have much in common in personality and spirituality with others.  And yet from all of them – the most liberal to the most conservative, the most over-the-top Anglo-Catholic to the most over-the-top charismatic, all of them – I have something to learn.

And thinking about this, I had a moment of insight into something I have long recognised but struggled to understand; and that is my own instinctive sense of being at home, and belonging, in the Anglican church in Melbourne.

You see, I am a child of many cultures.  I am a citizen of Australia, born in apartheid-era South Africa, whose mother is a French Mauritian and whose father has mixed Afrikaans and English heritage.  I have lived on two continents; in my childhood home we spoke four languages.  (And at school and as an adult I have formally studied two more).  My family’s religious heritage includes Roman Catholicism and Dutch Reformed membership, and I have chosen Anglicanism (or, perhaps, it has chosen me) as my household of faith.  My initial experience of church was evangelical-charismatic, and now I find myself serving in a community which consciously identifies as liberal Anglo-Catholic.  Inside my head I have an eclectic grab bag of opinions, viewpoints, ideas, experiences, and passions jostling for my attention, and which I strive to somehow offer to God with integrity.  Sometimes the cognitive dissonance is almost distressing.

It struck me that I am very much like my diocese; heir to many traditions and cultures, in which none predominates absolutely.  I am sometimes conflicted, confused, surprising myself at what comes out of my own mouth.  Sometimes hurting, sometimes hurtful, sometimes flat out wrong.  And yet, by the grace of God, the diversity in me provides me with the raw material for growth; in comparison and contrast I can see highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the different strands of my life, and in experience and reflection I can learn to find the best way for each to bear fruit.  It is a process of constant internal dialogue, and it is hard work; but as I persevere in it I see glimpses of encouraging growth.  Sometimes I truly express a servant heart in just the right way to connect with someone else’s need.  Sometimes I have the right words of wisdom or knowledge at just the right time.  Sometimes I see indications that I am on the way to becoming someone who is truly worthy of her calling.

And really, I think this is why I find myself so at home in such a diverse diocese.  I instinctively understand the process – and the value – of dialogue across difference.  I would feel out of place in a monochrome church in which dialogue was closed and diversity absent, because I would not know how to challenge myself and grow in that environment.  To celebrate and honour the diversity of my diocese – even when I struggle with aspects of it – is to celebrate and honour something of my own nature.  To look for and anticipate the growth of the church in holiness and fruitfulness is to hold out hope for God’s graciousness to all who are open to challenge.

We are not perfect.  We squabble (sometimes nastily), we fail to uphold and support one another, we struggle with what it means to be faithful in community when it sometimes seems that we are pulling in opposite directions.  But I see in the struggle the commitment of very different men and women to the one God, and the heartfelt desire to offer our best to God, with integrity.  I see in our common life glimpses that we are a church on the way to becoming truly worthy of our calling.  And I am moved to tears with gratitude and joy.

Needs mending

I don’t know if there is any expression of Christian prayer more vexed or fraught than prayer for inner healing.  I have seen people carrying great burdens due to trauma, or mental illness, or some other wound of the soul, who go through the motions of seeking medical or psychological help but struggle to set those processes in the framework of their faith and spirituality; or who don’t know how to make connections between their beliefs and ideas about God, and relationship with God, and their own complex and difficult lived experiences.

Which is why I was so glad to come across this very simple, but profound, spiritual exercise for inner healing.*

“Take a “needs mending” inventory.  Set aside time for several days or weeks to be in the presence of Jesus with your wounds.  Gather a list of wounded places and tender relationships that need mending.  Simply gather the list.  Let it grow as other wounds come to mind.  Leave it with God.
At another time, come to God in a safe and quiet place where you can attend to the list in the presence of the great Physician.  Breathe deeply.  Inhale the closeness of Jesus.  He is nearer than your own breath.  Don’t hurry.  Wait in his presence.
When you are ready, set the list before the Lord and wait.  What one item seems to have your attention?  (Attend to one wound at a time.  Don’t move on to another wound until you sense that the time has come to do so).  Ask Jesus what he wants to tell you about this wound.  Listen.  What do you sense the Lord is saying to you?
Respond to Jesus.  Trust Jesus to do what he needs to do.  The fruit of healing may not be a big feeling of release at the time of prayer, but changed internal responses as time goes by.  Over time you may notice that your internal responses to people and situations begin to shift.  Talk to God about this.”

There are several things about this exercise which I particularly like.  I like that this exercise recognises that our needs for healing are complex and that healing unfolds over time, but also treats those needs with seriousness and does not dismiss or belittle the heart’s yearning for wholeness.

I like that it makes no assumptions about what kind of wound you are dealing with, and therefore does not make prescriptions for fixing it, other than bringing it to the One who knows all things.  It also makes no assumptions about your support network; this exercise is equally valid whether you are working with a team of professionals and have an extensive network of helpful family and friends, or if you have not been able – for whatever reason – to surround yourself with other personal support.  It does not rely on the expertise of a religious professional or the constancy of a prayer partner, both of which might be lacking.   (Having seen too much damage done by inaccurate “diagnosis” and inadequate or misguided attempts to help, I am wary of solutions which rely on them!)

I like, though, that this exercise doesn’t assume that it operates in isolation.  It is clear that ongoing prayer for healing of this kind draws its substance out of the reality of our lives, and is shaped by and responds to our relationships and context.  This exercise then can become the place where all of the different strands of understanding our wounds – medical, psychological, religious, social and so on – can be integrated and given over to God to form something whole.  It gives a sense of having something to do, in the face of wounds which can seem overwhelming and incomprehensible, and thus lifts the dead weight of despair and helplessness which compounds so much human suffering.

Like everyone else, I have my own wounds, some of them sometimes terrible and burdensome in their darkness.  But finding this exercise, I feel that perhaps I have a way to form connections and integrate those wounds better than any other “method” I have encountered before.  I intend to try it; my biggest problem is likely to be finding the quiet and private time, the greatest luxury in the life of a working mum!

*This exercise is taken from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us.