Where Are The Miracles?

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Rick Kirchoff

(Few of us are in ministry for long until we are forced to deal with someone’s disappointment that their prayer for healing has not been answered. Usually, we are able to do that at arm’s length, but that has not been the case for me.  This struggle was made very real because of an accident that left our son, Chris, severely brain-injured and permanently and totally disabled. There has been no dramatic healing for Chris. Neither has there been a medical miracle! For the past 45 years, Chris has required almost constant care, even for his most basic needs. What follows are some thoughts that helped me when my prayers for healing seemed to go unanswered. Obviously, this is only a partial answer.  But, if you find this helpful, feel free to use or adapt it to your needs.)

In Prince Caspian, the second volume of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, there is a reunion between Aslan, a great lion who represents Christ, and a young girl named Lucy.  Lucy runs to greet Aslan.  She kisses him and puts her arms around him as far as she can.  Then she pulls back from Aslan and says, “Aslan, you’re bigger!” 

Aslan replies, “That is because you are older, little one.” 

“Not because you are?” asks Lucy.

“I am not (bigger),” says Aslan, “But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.” 

It’s true!  The more we grow, the bigger God becomes!  I know that as I’ve grown, I’ve found that God is bigger than I’d ever imagined.  And the more I’ve learned of God, the more I’ve discovered how much more there is to know. 

One of the many areas where I’ve had a lot to learn has been in the area of miracles.  In particular, the miracles of healing!  

This is made very personal because of an accident that left our son severely brain-injured, permanently and totally disabled.  There has been no dramatic miracle of healing for Chris.   

We all know that scripture is filled with stories of God’s wonderful deeds, amazing miracles of healing, and bold promises.  And we pray for healing for ourselves or someone we love.  But when the healing doesn’t come or doesn’t come in the way we wished, we wonder! How do we reconcile the promises of miracles with the reality of illness, disability, suffering, and death?  How does it all fit?  

I have to begin by acknowledging that there is so much mystery with God.  This side of heaven there are things I won’t know or understand.  

The writings of Danny Morris and Ron Davis (cited in my endnotes) have been helpful as I have wrestled with this, helping me get in touch with several very different and equally powerful miracles of healing — different ways God lovingly touches us with healing and hope.  

The first miracle of healing that I have to acknowledge may be the most used and the least celebrated of all God’s miracles.  It is simply this: God has marvelously crafted the human body so that most often it protects and repairs itself.  God has designed our bodies with elaborate and intricate systems for fighting off infection, repairing lacerated tissue, mending broken bones, and healing diseased organs. 

In a TV episode of M*A*S*H, Army surgeon Hawkeye Pierce expressed his amazement.  He said, “How does it all work?  I’ve held a beating heart in my hand.  I’ve poked into kidneys and crocheted it all together again.  I’ve pushed air into collapsed lungs.  I’ve squeezed, probed and prodded my way through miles of gut and goo and I don’t know what makes us live!  I mean, what keeps us in motion?  What keeps the heart beating without anybody rewinding it?  Why do cells reproduce with such abandon?  What force brought us together in such fantastic complexity?  It never ceases to amaze me!”

And then Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled expresses this same amazement.  “In the ordinary course of things we should be eaten alive by bacteria, consumed by cancer, clogged by fats and clots, and eroded by acids.  It’s hardly remarkable that we get sick.  What is truly remarkable is that we don’t usually get sick more often!  There is a force that we don’t fully understand that seems to operate routinely to protect and encourage physical health.”

We are wonderfully made!  It’s nothing short of miraculous that our bodies usually heal themselves.  If we ever forget what a miracle that is, just ask a hemophiliac whose cut will not heal.  Ask the AIDS patient whose immune system has turned against him.  Ask the woman on dialysis.  Each of them would encourage us to celebrate the miracle of how wondrously God created our bodies so that most often they heal themselves. 

Then there’s a second miracle.  It is the miracle of the partnership of God and medicine.  

Like the first miracle, we often take this one for granted.  This is the miracle of how God works in partnership with science and medicine — guiding us to a remedy, to a doctor, or to some new treatment.  We’ve become so accustomed to this that we only recognize the wonder of this miracle in its absence. 

How many of you have had surgery?  Or how many have given birth? Or have had a broken bone?  Or suffered some serious infection? Or how many take medication for your heart or high blood pressure or diabetes?  We would very quickly see that many of us might not even be alive today were it not for this wonderful miracle. 

There is a third miracle.  It is the miracle of dramatic, instantaneous, divine intervention.  

I’ll never forget the morning that I went to the hospital to pray with Mike.  He was in for surgery.  When I went into the hospital room, his family was there and all their faces had the look of worry and fear.  The doctors said he had a malignant tumor and it would have to come out immediately.  You could even see the bulge of the tumor in his neck.  His prognosis was very poor.  The tumor was growing rapidly.  Just before Mike left the room, we prayed together and they wheeled Mike out to surgery.  In less than an hour, he was back in the room.  Sometime between leaving that hospital room and getting to the operating room, the tumor had disappeared!  It had just disappeared!  The doctors were amazed!  There was no medical explanation.  

Dramatic miracles of healing do occur.  They seem to be the exception rather than the rule; but when they do occur, we are awed that God has moved in such a dramatic way.

And there is the fourth miracle.  There are those times when disease and difficulty come and they don’t go away.  Our bodies don’t repair themselves.  There is no medical solution.  There is no instantaneous miracle; and illness, suffering, and disability have to be endured.  So, there is the miracle of the “Sufficiency of God’s Grace.” 

The Apostle Paul underwent a period of suffering he called “a thorn in the flesh.”  We don’t know exactly what it was, but we’re told that it was terribly painful and it interfered with his ministry.  So he went to God three times in prayer asking, “Please help me. Please remove this thorn from my flesh.”  But each time, God answered, “Paul, I will give you my grace.  And that will be sufficient.”  And it was!  So much so that he would later say, “When I am weak, I am strong.  For the power of Christ dwells in me.”

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned our son, Chris. Chris was severely brain-injured in an automobile accident at the age of six.  He is now 50.  Though he has a wonderful spirit, Chris is diagnosed as permanently and totally disabled.  After Chris was hurt, we began to pray for his healing.  I wanted him back to normal, and I wanted our life back to normal.  At first, my prayers were calm and confident, but it wasn’t long before I was pounding on Heaven’s gate till my knuckles were bloody.  

I began a desperate search for miraculous healing.  I got in touch with some of the foremost Christians in healing ministry across the country.  I read about them and I sought their counsel.  I avoided the TV healers but instead chose those who I knew to have integrity and depth. 

One person whose writing especially spoke to me was Dr. Francis MacNutt.  When I finished his book on healing, I immediately called information to get his phone number. When we spoke, we arranged to meet in Nashville where he had a speaking engagement.  Finally, the day came, and I drove to the appointed place, only to discover that his plans had changed. He would not be attending the conference.  He’d forgotten to notify me. 

Well, I was angry!  All of the tension and hurt I had experienced since the accident turned into rage, and the rage into angry prayer.  I told God in some very colorful language how I felt and how angry I was.  

God is not offended by such carrying on, and I’m glad about that!  Because I DID carry on!  After I had raged on and finally exhausted myself. I said, “God, I’m through! I want Chris to be well, but even if not, I want YOU.  I just want you to love me through this.  Help me, God, because I don’t know where else to turn.”

Rather than zapping me for my anger, something else happened.  The most wonderful peace descend upon me.  And with it came the deep knowledge that no matter what happened, God was with us and we could face Chris’ disability with courage and grace.  

For the most part, I think we have.  And if we have at all, it has been because of the miracle of the sufficiency of God’s grace.  We’ve been sustained, held up, loved, forgiven, and supported. 

There is a fifth miracle.  No matter how many times we’ve been physically healed, finally we die.  The ultimate form of healing every believer is given is the healing that comes through death and resurrection.  Though we may suffer for a time, Christ’s promise is an eternity where every tear will be wiped away and all our suffering will cease. 

Eternity is a big word!  It’s hard for us to imagine eternity.  It’s so much larger than our short life, that it’s difficult even to visualize it.  But if you drew a line all around the room where you are reading this, and then made a pinpoint dot along that line, that dot would represent our lifetime, in relationship to eternity.  If you stepped back and looked at that dot in relation to the line, you would be struck by how tiny and how brief it is when compared to the line of eternity.  

In the Christian scheme of things, a lifetime is but one-millionth, perhaps one-billionth, of what is yet to be.  “What is” cannot be compared to “what is to come.”  In Christ, we awaken to an eternity where our tears and fears, and our hurts and humiliations will be no more. That’s the miracle of death and resurrection for a Christian.

So on this journey so far, I’ve seen that there are at least five healing miracles! I cannot say that there are only five, but these five suggest the range of possibilities.  And because of them, I know that God cares about our health. 

But as much as I value and cherish health, I cannot fall for the lie that was in the old commercial:  “If you have health, you have everything.”  It’s just not true!  We can be healthy and not be whole.  We can have great strength, yet be weak.  We can be physically fit, yet spiritually anemic.  We can have been healed hundreds of times, yet still not know the Great Physician. 

Tommy discovered that!  Tommy was a college student.  One of his teachers, John Powell, was a Christian.  John had taken many opportunities to talk to Tommy, but Tommy seemed to be a hardened atheist — an angry young man who had rejected God, his parents, and society.  John had repeatedly tried to reach Tommy, to witness to him, and to love him, but it seemed to make little difference.  Eventually, Tommy graduated. He walked out of the classroom and out of reach forever, or so John thought.

One day, some years later, John was working at his desk.  The office door opened and Tommy was standing in the doorway.  At first, John didn’t recognize Tommy.  He had changed so.  He looked frail and wasted.  The long hair he’d worn as a symbol of rebellion was gone.  Though his eyes were bright and his voice firm, it was clear that cancer and chemotherapy had ravished him.  Tommy sat down and began to talk to his former teacher.  The anger and arrogance of his days at school were gone and were replaced with a calm, self-assurance that John had never before seen in Tommy.  

Tommy told his story:  “When the doctors found a malignant tumor, I began to get serious about trying to find God.  And when they told me that my cancer had spread to my vital organs, I began to beat my fists against the doors of Heaven.  I couldn’t understand why God was silent.  I was alone and I knew I was going to die.  So I decided to spend the time I had left doing something profitable.”

“I thought about the talks we had.  I’d remembered something you said: ‘One of the saddest things in the world is to go through life without ever knowing how to love.  But it may be even worse to go through life and leave this world without ever telling the people you care about that you love them.’  Mr. Powell, I finally saw what you meant. So, I decided to begin to love as you said, and to tell people that I loved them.”

“I decided to begin with the hardest case, my Dad.  I went to my dad’s house.  He was reading the paper.  I said, ‘Dad?’  He said, ‘What?’  The newspaper didn’t even rustle.  I said, ‘Dad, I really want to talk to you.’  He said, ‘Well, talk.’  I said, ‘Dad, it’s really important.’  He lowered the newspaper a bit and glanced across at me.  It was obvious that he didn’t want to be bothered.  But I looked him in the eyes and I said, ‘Dad, I love you.  I just wanted you to know that.  I really do love you.'”

“My dad dropped that newspaper like he’d been hit in the chest.  Then he did two things I can never remember him doing before — he cried and he hugged me.  We talked all night, even though he had to go to work the next morning.  It was easier with my mother and my little brother.  They cried with me too, and we hugged each other and shared things that we had kept secret for years.  I only regretted one thing: that I had waited so long.  I waited until almost the very end of my life to open up to the people I love.”

“Not long after this, I turned around and suddenly realized God was there.  He’d been there all the time.  He didn’t come when I had pleaded.  I guess I was like an animal trainer holding up a hoop for God to jump through.  But God does things in His own time and in His own way.  While I was learning to love, God’s love was penetrating into my heart and opening up my heart.  God was there, and I talked to God and felt God’s love and acceptance and forgiveness, and received Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.” 

John asked Tommy if he’d be willing to share his story in his class.  Tommy said he would.  They scheduled a time for him to come, but Tommy never made it.  He had another appointment to keep.  Shortly before he died, Tommy called John one last time and said, “I’m not going to make it to your class.  Will you tell them for me, Mr. Powell?”  “I will, Tommy.  I’ll tell them.”

Tommy wanted them to know that the greatest miracle is to know Christ and his love. This miracle heals broken relationships and brings hope to people troubled in body, mind, and spirit.  It helps us endure what might otherwise seem unbearable, and brings wholeness in the midst of incomprehensible tragedy and even in the shadow of death. 

“Where are all the miracles?”  They’re all around us!  They happen in so many ways!  But the greatest miracle is to know Christ and his love.  This is the one miracle that is given to everyone who asks.  This is the one miracle that lasts an eternity!

————————–

Endnotes: This article is based, in part, upon material from the following sources:

C. S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

John Powell, Why Am I Afraid To Tell You Who I Am?

Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Danny Morris, Any Miracle God wants to Give

Ron Davis, Gold In The Making

A Christian Dealing With Mental Illness

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Guest Post by Randy Riverstone Graves

Randy is a former United Methodist minister who stepped down from pastoral ministry when his mental illness became too much of an impairment. After several years of deepening depression, made worse by self-medicating with alcohol, his life spiraled out of control. He says, “I was in a spiral to the grave. Although I still struggle with mental illness, I thank God that Jesus has delivered me from the death grip of addiction and given me a new life in the Spirit. I have been restored through Celebrate Recovery, and I’m 17 months sober.” Randy now serves as a Worship Leader and Training Coach at a Celebrate Recovery ministry. What follows is his witness and wisdom. 

I’ve been actively resisting a depressive episode that I feel coming on. It’s not full-blown, but I know the early warning signs. I have bipolar disorder, and in the past, feeling like this caused me to just surrender, and give in to the inevitable days or weeks of unrelenting gloom.  I would begin drinking hard liquor. Alcohol only made it worse, but in the grips of addiction and a crisis of mental health, I sought relief where I could find it. Alcohol would a least numb me for an hour or two before I had to tilt the bottle again to make the world go dark.

Thank God, I’ve found a way out of that darkness. I have a new life in the Spirit that has equipped me to face this with a different perspective. Through Celebrate Recovery, a comprehensive Christ-based 12-step program, I’ve learned better ways to cope, and not just to cope, but to overcome. For others who may be dealing with mental illness or addiction, I want to share a few things I’ve learned to help resist walking over the edge of the cliff.

I Reach Out

One of the worst things about mental illness and addiction is how isolated one can become. The worse things get, the more I tended to retreat into the dank corner of my cave. When I am struggling like that, it is important to reach out. I let my friends and family know what I am going through.

In Celebrate Recovery, we are deliberate about forming “accountability partners” or sponsors — people who agree to provide mutual support for each other during difficult times.

While I do not feel even the slightest desire to drink alcohol right now, I have been around the block enough times to know that it is times like this I need to be on hyper-alert against the possibility of relapse. I have to be proactive and reach out to my support team. I send a text or a Facebook message to people I trust. These are people who have my back, people who will pray for and with me.

It is so helpful just to be able to say to someone, “Hey, I’m going through a rough time,” and to know that they understand and truly care. I could call them if I needed to, and I know without a doubt that they’d meet with me. But for the most part, it is enough for me to simply reach out and touch base with people who understand what I’m going through.

I Seek Professional Help

Mental illness is a medical condition that usually requires medication to treat effectively. There still remains a stigma for people seeing a psychiatrist and taking medications for depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses. It’s time to put an end to that stigma. There is no shame at all in seeing a psychiatrist or other healthcare professional to treat mental illnesses. People with Type 1 diabetes have to be under the care of a physician to take insulin. People with heart conditions see a cardiologist. And people with mental illness see a psychiatrist.

I regularly see both a psychiatrist and a therapist for help in dealing with my condition. This allows me to function as a husband and father, and to serve the Lord in various ministries. Without my medications, I would not have a very high quality of life. I’d be trapped in constant mood swings and delusions. My medications bring me stability and allow me to have a sense of purpose.  My therapist is also very helpful in dealing with problems related to mental illness and alcoholism. Seeking professional help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It means that I care enough about my life and my family to do whatever it takes to be healthy.

I Lean In

I’m learning to lean into the Holy Spirit. For me, this is a major difference in my life now. A year ago, I experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in a way I’d never experienced before. In my tradition, we call it being “baptized in the Holy Spirit,” but the terminology itself isn’t important. In a desperate time, I leaned into Jesus, and suddenly the Holy Spirit was flowing through my own spirit in an ineffable experience of the immediate presence of God both inside me and all around me. Soon after, God began to produce good things in my life through the Spirit: things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and so forth. The Bible calls these things the “fruits of the Spirit.”

However, the Spiritual life contains some hard truths. There are still some really hard times. People will leave us. Loved ones are going to die. Hurtful things are going to happen. At times, depression can pile on like heavy snow.

My experience is that the Holy Spirit isn’t there with us just during happy times. Whether our hands are raised in praise or pulling our hair in weeping, the Spirit is there. One word the Bible uses for the Holy Spirit is “Paraclete” — a Greek word that emphasizes that God comes along right beside us as a friend, a comforter, and an advocate to speak on our behalf.

When the challenges come, I find it essential that I lean into the presence of God. I pray. I read a few verses from the Psalms. And even if I don’t feel joyful, I still offer words of praise and gratitude. Even if all I can do is mutter, I mutter a prayer.

I Keep Moving

No matter what, I keep moving. I get out of bed; I take a shower, and I get dressed. There are days that that becomes the most courageous thing I do. In the past, there were days I didn’t get out of bed. But that just made things worse.

Yesterday, was one of those dark days.  So, I got up, got ready and joined some friends on a beautiful hike. They probably couldn’t even tell that inside I was struggling with deep sadness, because I did my best to keep moving and experience the glory that was all around in nature. Even though I felt terribly sad, for one clear moment I had an experience of God while sitting near a waterfall that brought the whole universe into clear focus. I felt my spirit expand in interconnection with all the droplets of water in the air, every grain of sand, and every particle or wave of light flitting through the green and yellow leaves.

If I had stayed home, I would have missed the glory being poured out on the world around me. I suppose the real trick is to learn how to notice that glory in my own home, too. But to experience it at all, I know that I have to keep moving.

I Share the Good News Of Celebrate Recovery

Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered, 12 step recovery program for anyone struggling with hurt, pain or addiction of any kind. It provides a safe place to find community and freedom from the issues that are controlling our life. If you’re interested in learning more about this ministry or would like to launch Celebrate Recovery in your area, here’s the link to their web site: https://www.celebraterecovery.com

Our Mission & Comment Guidelines

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Our posts come from a variety of perspectives and seek to address the issues, challenges, and opportunities facing clergy, lay leaders, congregations and the communities in which they minister.  In most cases, the topics covered seek to address the concerns of the clients and congregations that we coach. Some of our posts will confirm what you already think. At other times we hope they will challenge assumptions and invite the exploration of new possibilities.  If you are uncomfortable with posts coming from a variety of points of view (conservative, moderate and progressive), this may not be the page for you.

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No Longer Alone!

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Guest post by John Carosiello

A few weeks ago, on my morning drive, I noticed that the co-host on the Christian radio station was conspicuously absent. After another song, the co-host who had been missing spoke. She said, “I’m sorry I was late.  If I’m candid, it is because my anxiety disorder has been especially troublesome today, and I almost couldn’t leave my house. But I made it!”

I knew that I had to talk with her. Why?  I also suffer from a mental illness. And, as a Pastor, I understand the stigma surrounding mental illness, especially in the church.

So, at the next commercial break, I called the co-host. I told her that I am a pastor who suffers from anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I wanted her to know that she is not alone. I shared the struggle I have each Sunday because open-spaces are an anxiety trigger for me. I shared the titles of a couple of books that have helped me through my struggles.

The co-host choked up as she thanked me for calling. She said that she felt foolish for having shared her condition with everyone and was concerned that there might be ramifications for her career. I thanked her honesty and vulnerability, and I told her that it is essential that Christians started talking about mental illness.

I was eleven years old when I suffered my first full-blown panic attack. I was at theater, and I fell out of my chair trembling in panic, dread, and confusion. That was just the first of many such attacks.

Growing up in the church, I assumed that my condition had to be spiritual. I sought prayer from pastors, church elders and family members. Yet, my conditioned remained.  I wondered what was wrong with me? I had never heard of the terms “anxiety disorder” or “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.”

Then, one night, after falling asleep while watching television, I awoke to an infomercial about anxiety disorders. As I listened, I wept! Here were these successful people on TV talking about their personal experiences with anxiety. It was like they were reading my journal. For the first time, since my first panic attack, I felt I was not alone.

There are clergy all over the world who suffer from mental illness.  In silence and shame they wrestle with anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.

Just a month ago, a pastor-friend called and asked me to pray for him. He is highly successful, leads a large church, and often appears to be larger than life. Yet, He was suffering from depression. This seemingly invincible leader was struggling with a depth of inner pain that seemed out of control.

I suggested he talk to his physician, but at first, he rejected the idea. But he finally conceded to talking to his doctor and being put on a medication.  As of last week, he is doing much better!

Years from now, I believe that the idea that mental illness is a curse or a spiritual weakness will be scoffed at like someone suggesting heart disease, autism or paralysis or an infection is a spiritual weakness today.

Too many clergy suffer alone and in silence because they do not feel like they can talk about their mental health challenges.  They fear being judged or even putting their job in jeopardy.

Well, I have news: my entire staff, elder board, and many of my church-members know about my anxiety and OCD.  The only consequence has been that more hurting church members and their friends come to me seeking guidance on how to deal with their mental health challenges.  Praise God!  The thing that I thought might destroy my ministry has led to even greater ministry to those who are suffering.

If you are a clergy suffering from any form of mental illness, please do not suffer alone.  Reach out to your physician or a mental health professional.

And I would love to be in touch with you to listen to you and pray for you! Feel free to email me: JohnC@citg.org

You are not alone! There are many out there just like you.

Can We Talk About Privilege?

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Guest post by Jayson Bradley

Open up any social media platform, and you’ll likely be confronted with entrenched opinions on the topic of privilege. Your Facebook feed will quickly tell you, not everyone agrees that white people, men, or any other social group has any special advantages or immunities over others. Granted, in many cases, it’s white people who deny the existence of white privilege and males who balk at the idea that men benefit from the way our cultural system is structured (usually quite angrily).

Surely Christians are different though, right? Surely they’ll take time to stop and really consider whether the system they’re a part of is contributing to the marginalization of others. Won’t they?

Not so fast.

In a letter to the editor of the Moody Standard entitled “Rescinding the Term ‘White Privilege,’” Bryan Litfin, a professor of theology at Moody, proposed “five reasons why the term ‘white privilege’ isn’t appropriate for Christian discourse.”

I strongly suggest that if we as Christians allow ourselves to think that talking about privilege “isn’t appropriate for Christian discourse,” we’re going to find ourselves on the wrong side of this subject. Believe it or not, privilege may be one of the defining issues for the Church in the 21st century.

Can There Be ‘Underprivileged’ Without Privilege?

All my life I’ve heard the term “underprivileged.” It was used when we talked about people in impoverished countries or children who needed assistance with school lunches and winter coats. I’ve never heard anyone take exception to the term.

But for some reason, when you bring up the idea that there are people who are privileged, some people get offended. But how can you have people who are underprivileged without having people who are privileged?

Part of the problem is that, if we’re going to imagine that there’s a “privileged” people, it’s easy to think it’s someone else—not us.

The Spectrum of Privilege

If you lined up everyone in the world according their access to healthy food, pure water, shelter and sustainable wages, you’d have the most underprivileged people on one end of the scale, and the most privileged people in the world on the other. If you were born in the West, you’re going to naturally find yourself clustered with the privileged.

Where you land is typically outside of your control. That said, there are also systemic injustices that help maintain the spectrum as we know it. Some of the poorer countries suffer from civil unrest and terrible governments who oppress them. Some of the businesses and governments in more privileged countries take advantage of poorer nations by exploiting them and taking their resources.

So, while it might not be anyone’s fault where they are on the spectrum, it is the responsibility for justice-minded people on the more privileged end to do what they can to assist the people on the lower end and work to change the broken and corrupt systems that keep them there.

Privilege at Home

This spectrum dramatically changes when you go from an international scale to a national one. People on the lower end of the economic spectrum in America may find themselves higher on an international scale, but within their current context, there are still major challenges. It doesn’t help a mother of three struggling to make it in Detroit to tell them, “Buck up, you’re doing much better than the average mother in a developing country.”

Race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, social class, and disability have a great effect on the quality of life in America (or any country)—and to deny that just seems very misinformed.

‘Who Are You to Tell Me I’m Privileged?!’

One of the arguments I hear all of the time goes something like this, “How can I be privileged? I’ve worked so hard to get where I am. How dare you call me privileged!”

I’m a healthy, white, middle-class man, and I’ve had virtually no say in any of those factors. This doesn’t mean I haven’t had to work to succeed; it means that I haven’t had to work around many of the economic and sociological boundaries others have. Sure, there are many people of color who are more successful than I am, but by-and-large, all things being equal:

– I’m less likely to be arrested.

– I’m less like to go to prison if I am arrested.

– I’m more likely to go to college.

– I’m more likely to get called back for a job.

– I’m more likely to find adequate housing.

When you look at the pay gap, there’s a huge discrepancy when it comes to race, and an even greater one when it comes to gender.

The mythology that, no matter who you are, you can be whatever you want to be if you just work hard makes it difficult to have this discussion. Working hard matters, there’s no question about it. But this is by no means a level playing field, and by pretending that it is—or that all cultural barriers can be bypassed by simply working harder—we solidify issues of privilege.

Does Jesus Care About Privilege?

Christians, just like everyone else, are sinful and can take advantage of corrupt systems of power. Yes, there were Christians who fought for women’s suffrage, for Native Americans and against slavery, but there are also many Christians who have been on the wrong side of issues of privilege. It’s no wonder that there are people who puzzle over whether the Jesus of modern Christianity cares about the issue of privilege at all.

Not only did Jesus abandon the ultimate privilege to walk among us (Philippians 2:5-11), His concern for the underprivileged helped put Him in the crosshairs of the religious establishment. He spoke up for the poor, healed the sick of the racially underprivileged (even at times when it wasn’t religiously acceptable to do so—see Mark 3:1-6) and spoke up for and treated women like valued and important members of society. It’s obvious that the introduction of Christianity was intended to plant sociological seeds that would drive a stake into the heart of privilege.

What Do We Do About It?

Many of the problems we’re talking about are systemic. I didn’t choose them, and feeling guilty about it doesn’t do anyone any good.

The bigger question is, “What do we do about it?”

Once we recognize the issue of privilege, we’re responsible for our response. We can’t simply continue to soak up the benefits of privilege and deny they exist.

It’s not enough for me to just reject the idea of privilege. I might get a boost of moral superiority by saying “I reject my privileged status as a white male in America,” but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m going to still benefit from this systemic weaknesses in modern American society. So I have to do something else. I have to subvert the system—I have to leverage my privilege for the benefit of others.

In doing this, those with privilege need to be careful not to speak over those who have been marginalized. Instead of acting like we know what it is like to be black, female, gay, handicapped, Muslim or part of any other group we have not experienced from the inside—we need to step back and listen to and raise their voices.

The first step for stronger, more empathetic churches is to break out of our intellectual, theological and sociological cul-de-sacs. It is a lot of work not to standardize and prescribe my perspective for everyone. I tend to think I’m pretty objective, but my objectivity is colored by my limited experience and understanding. It’s time for churches in America to provide room for more voices.

We must decide to quit only looking to people like ourselves to define the experiences of people who are different. We must go to the source. Read widely and deeply from people with different perspectives and experiences. Share what you learn.

And remember, our war isn’t against people. It’s against principalities and powers—including those systemic powers holding others back.

Until I Met You

Old Male And Fear

From Rick Kirchoff, Clergy Coaching Network

(I am a collector of stories.  I came across this one a decade ago.  I regret that I don’t know where I discovered it.  But I invite you to read, and savor the message.)

There is a hospice facility in another city that cares for patients with terminal illness who have no family and no one to come visit them.

A church lady felt it was her mission to volunteer there, hoping to bring a little joy to the lives of those spending their last days.  So, she’d take magazines down the hallway several days a week, going from room to room.

One day she came to a man’s door that had a “NO VISITORS” sign.  She opened the door a bit, and said, “I’m not here for a visit. I see your sign, but I do have some magazines.”

He said, “Didn’t you see the sign, NO VISITORS?”

She said, “Yes, I did, but I’ve got Time, Newsweek, Forbes, Fortune, Sports Illustrated….

He asked, “You have Sports Illustrated?”

She said, “Yes!  I have it right here. Would you like it?”

He said, “Yes, I would.”  So she gave him the latest issue.  He thanked her, and she left.

A couple of days later, she came back and said, “I’ve got all these magazines again, and I brought you a couple of back issues of Sports Illustrated.  I even stopped on the way over and got another sports magazine that I thought you might like.”

He said, “Thank you very much; this is wonderful!”

Then he looked at her and he said, “Now, wait a minute, you’re not religious are you?”

She said, “What do you mean, religious?”

He said, “Aw you know what I mean, trying to ram religion down somebody’s throat.”

She said, “Oh, no, no, no!  I’m not like that.”

He said, “Good.  Just so we understand each other.  I’m not religious either.”

Every week, two or three times a week, she came to his door with her Sports Illustrated, sports magazines, and other magazines.  And they would talk, just little snippets.

Then, one day, he said, “You know, I have cancer and I’m going to die.  My wife is gone; I don’t have any children; my parents are gone.  I don’t have any family.  I have a few friends, but they all live in other parts of the world.  So, really, I don’t have anybody.  Next week I’m going to have surgery.  I’m not sure if I’m going to live through surgery, and if I do, I’m not sure what I have to live for.”  He talked about his loneliness, his fears, and she just listened.

When he was done, she said, “When you come out of surgery, I’m going to be there with you, because I’m so grateful that you’ve shared this with me.”

And then, ever so graciously, she said, “You know, I’m not religious, but you’ve just shared with me that you’ve going to have surgery.  I would like to pray that God would be with you in that surgery.  Would that be all right if I had a little prayer with you?”

He said, “Yes…I’d like that.”

She prayed a simple three sentence prayer, and at the end she began praying the Lord’s Prayer.

When she got to the place where it says “Thy will be done,” she felt his hand reach out and touch hers.  And he joined her in the words: “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For Thine is the Kingdom, and Power, and Glory Forever!  Amen!” 

They both opened their eyes, and she looked at him in disbelief.

He smiled, and said, “I know; I know I said I wasn’t religious, and I’m really not.  I got so turned off with religion because people always tried to ram it down my throat.  I had a minister do that and a boss, and I hated it.  I got fed up.  So I left the church, and I’ve never been back.  But my mother taught me the Lord’s Prayer.  My Grandmother and Grandfather taught me great hymns of the church and helped me to memorize passages of the Bible.  But I was too stubborn to come back home to God.  That is, until I met you.”

My Life As A Preacher’s Kid

Funny angry nerd near empty green chalkboard

By John Carosiello

Nothing stopped a conversation with new school-acquaintances like: “My Dad is a pastor!”

While other kids bragged about their parents and what they did for a living, they did not know how to respond to the fact that I was a preacher’s kid, “a PK.” Most of them did not even go to church, let alone know how to talk to me. What’s more, my public-school teachers seemed to look at me differently as well. I remember my third-grade teacher saying to me: “Is that how a pastor’s kid should behave?” I was not doing anything wrong, just being silly with my one friend, yet she made sure everyone knew that I was held to a higher standard. 

In fifth grade, my teacher publicly asked me if I needed to leave the room because he was going to show the class a Christmas movie that had to cuss words in it, the class laughed. I was mortified. There were no other PK’s in my grade.  And it was not like I got any breaks at the church. If I did anything out of line around a Sunday School teacher, I was publicly reminded that I was supposed to set an excellent example to the rest of the kids because…(wait for it)…I was the PASTOR’S SON!  

I thought life as a pastor’s kid would get more comfortable in high school, but it didn’t.  I just got tougher (and not in a good way). I remember confiding in my youth pastor that I was having lustful thoughts, only to turn around and have him tell my parents.  Awesome (sarcasm)! 

I learned to internalize my feelings, hide my failures, and even perfected a fake smile. Truth is: I was dying inside and did not know where to turn. My older brother had the same struggles, so he turned to drugs. I remember him telling me: “I hate the church! Church-people are the worst! I wish our parents were not in ministry!” 

I never shared that with my parents. They were under enough stress at that particular time, so I did the only thing I thought I could do: bottle up my emotions and pretend like nothing was wrong. I felt alone, but thankfully that all would change. 

My parents found out about a “PK Retreat” that was happening on the shore of Lake Erie. They asked me if I wanted to go. I was apprehensive. but curious. My parents explained that kids from clergy families from all over the state would be staying at a resort for three days to worship, pray, and have fun together. My folks added, “And all of the leaders there are PK’s!” I could not sign up fast enough! Maybe I wasn’t all alone. Perhaps those leaders would know how to reach me…and they did!  What’s more, I found out that other PK’s were experiencing exactly what I was experiencing!  

Every year at PK Retreat, we would share deeply. There was rarely a dry eye in these sessions. Some PK’s felt like their parents loved the church more than them. Still, others lamented that their parents lived double-lives, and they were not supposed to tell anyone. 

Regardless of the challenges we faced, we all knew that we were not alone. That realization changed our lives! Twenty years later, I still keep in touch with friends I met on those PK Retreats. That’s how deep and strong the bond became! 

These retreats helped me realize that I needed to find healthy outlets outside of my parent’s church. I expressed this to my parents, and they suggested I join an additional youth group of a church they knew. I did, and it helped me become the pastor I am today.    

Do you feel like your kids are hurting but that you cannot get through to them? Do you feel like your kids resent the fact that you are in the ministry? Are your kids rebelling against the church? 

If there is not a PK Retreat in your area, perhaps you could help that happen.  If that is not possible, I want to encourage you to reach out to a local pastor or youth pastor that you trust. If you do not know any local pastors (outside of your church), I encourage you to make an effort to network, and get to know some of the pastors in your area. 

Finally, I would like to extend a hand to you, if you are a pastor/parent and you are struggling, I invite you to reach out to me: JohnC@citg.org. I want to pray for you, encourage you, and offer resources. Our communications will be strictly confidential. 

May God bless you and refresh you with encouragement, peace, and joy today, in Jesus name.