I follow the blog of a pastor. Today, he posted a sermon that made reference to a letter that was ostensibly written by a visitor to a church. This letter was so obviously phony that I had to look it up to see if it was just an internet urban legend. To my amazement, what I found was that the entire sermon (not just the letter but the ENTIRE sermon) had been posted on another wordpress blog four years ago! Continue reading “Plagiarism or Just Business?”
It was the end of the liturgical year, and I had forgotten all about my doubts about Mary and idolatry, about my promise to give the Catholic Church a year, and then follow God’s leading. I would have happily stayed in the Catholic Church. But God had other plans.
After reading in some now-forgotten Catholic book that every person should pray that God would send them a spiritual director, I was asking God to provide me with one. And one day, the leader of the Catholic Bible Study that met in my home mentioned that she had taken training in spiritual direction. I was so excited! Perhaps this was my spiritual director! I asked her if she would meet with me for this purpose. But God had other plans. The very next week, she was unexpectedly called out of the country on a family emergency.
I was nearing the end of my pregnancy with my third child, and I was having some pregnancy-related health concerns. As I walked down the street one day, I happened to pass a pregnancy centre. I thought I would stop in and see if they had any information on my health issue. They did not. It turned out that they were a Christian, prolife mission centre focused on helping young mothers. I wasn’t exactly a frightened young teenager, but as I spoke to the director of the Centre, she offered to see me for spiritual counselling. I was astounded. Could this be the spiritual director that God was sending me to?
I began to meet with my new spiritual director regularly, and we struggled for months over doctrinal issues. She was a Protestant with a Master’s degree from a prominent Bible college, and we both loved to wrangle over theological issues. I wish I had a record of those discussions, but this is all I can find about those times:
2nd Feb 2011
I thought we would just avoid the pitfalls of sola scriptura vs. scripture and tradition, of faith vs. faith and works, of the hyperdulia of Mary, of Christotokos vs. Theotokos, of transubstantiation, of Immaculate Conception of Mary (yes, of Mary, not of Christ as is commonly misunderstood, even by Catholics), of dulia of the saints, of papal infallibility, etc. etc. etc. I thought that this would be more or less a Bible study, and we would stay away from these areas. But it seems to be impossible.
She is extremely knowledgeable about Scripture, far more than I. And there is a lot that I can learn from her. When she leads into the aforementioned areas, I thought we would agree to disagree. But she leads into them ALL THE TIME! Even though she says that one can be a Catholic Christian, she keeps leading us into these contentious areas. And because her perception of Catholic doctrine is biased, and sometimes inaccurate, I feel the need to correct her on those inaccuracies. She accepts my interpretation of Catholic doctrine, but of course doesn’t agree with the Church’s position. And I don’t expect her to. But I do want to set the record straight, when her impressions of my Church aren’t quite what the Church teaches.
So I find myself often in the position of defending the Church’s stance, even when I am not sure what I myself truly believe about the issue. It’s odd, because many of the points she raises I do not have a firm opinion on, in terms of whether the Catholic or Protestant interpretation is correct. But just by correcting her misimpression of what the Catholic position is, I seem to be defending a belief that I am not sure that I hold.
On the other hand,
And that’s it. On the other hand. One unfinished journal entry that doesn’t even come close to describing the feeling of those intense meetings in that little office, during which we debated God, life and everything. At times, I was so frustrated that I thought I would quit. And yet, I enjoyed it, too.
It all came to a head one afternoon when she said, “If the Bible says one thing, and the Church says another, which one are you going to believe?”
I had to choose. And I chose the Bible, the Word of God. It sounds like a small choice, but in my life, it was major. I had opened myself to the possibility that the Church was wrong. A stronghold was broken, and there was no turning back.
She proposed that I attend a bible-believing church for a year, and see what God would show me. After all, I had given the Catholic church a year. But that seemed too long to me. What about three months?
And so, my family began attending a Pentecostal church for a 3-month trial. During that time, my third child was born, my husband was saved, and the chains of delusion and idolatry that I had been bound in were broken. I was free, and how greatly God had blessed us!
My husband, who did not then believe in God but had been patiently coming to Catholic church alongside me for six years, was saved within three months of attending a Bible-believing church and hearing the true gospel message preached each Sunday. And he has been transformed — from the man who, when I first told him about Jesus, thought I should see a doctor about my mental health — into the godly Christian man that he is today. What a blessing to have him as the spiritual leader of our home!
We were baptized together, in November of 2011. Since then, we have tried to live more and more as God would have us do. I started homeschooling my oldest child during my maternity leave, and I never did go back to work. We felt that God was calling us to homeschool, and despite misgivings about how we would fare financially, we took this step in faith. And God blessed us with a new job for my husband, that covered not only his old income, but mine as well!
Our family has grown in so many ways — not least of which in number! We are truly blessed by a remarkable God.
We have since moved, and we now attend a Baptist church. But this was a much less momentous decision. I no longer believe that the church I attend holds the keys to my salvation. Christ is my Rock, and it is to Him that I turn for salvation.
It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again with a yoke of slavery.
After I was saved, my whole world was upside down. The shift in worldview changed everything. God was manifestly real, and it seemed suddenly like the most obvious thing in the world. It imbued everything with significance. My life was suddenly not my own, and I was fine with that.
I truly enjoyed reading the Bible. I could feel God’s word jump off the page as if it were spoken to me particularly right in that moment.
The Lord changed my heart right away on so many things. I couldn’t argue my own ideas of right and wrong against God’s.
There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. Proverbs 14:12
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7
Whatever feats of logic we may use to justify behaviours are all meaningless nonsense before a Holy God. His “Because I say so” trumps our useless justifications. He is the Creator, and we were created to fulfill His purpose, not the other way around.
I suddenly believed in a Young Earth. I had never heard of such a thing as a Young Earth. I had accepted evolution as fact, but suddenly, I found Psalm 94:9:
He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?
This was no impersonal evolutionary force being described, but a Creator! I was amazed. I found ministries such as Answers in Genesis and CMI, and was stunned by how one-sided my education had been.
I had been going to Sunday Mass for years, but now I began getting up early and going to Daily Mass. I wanted God. I hungered and thirsted for Him.
The Catholic Church does not take the Bible literally. It was never meant to be a science textbook, the Church teaches, but a spiritual guidebook. But as I read it, I just knew that it was God’s Word. The Truth simply dripped off its pages.
Certain verses stuck out to me as in conflict with the Church. I attempted to do some research on the dogmas of the Catholic Church, so that I could know whether or not the Church was right. But I soon found myself over my head in heresies, Church Councils, and conclaves. I didn’t understand how to be sure about the Church’s teachings on Arianism, Nestorianism, Purgatory, Mariology.
Mary was a big concern to me. I would open my Bible and find verses like Jeremiah 7:18 :
The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger.
Why do Catholics call Mary the Queen of Heaven?
Or Luke 11:27-28 :
As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
If we were meant to venerate Mary, why would Jesus not have taken that as an opportune moment to tell us so?
I spoke about these concerns with a highly respected family member. She reassured me that Mary was supposed to be venerated, that Jesus wanted us to honour her, and recommended a book to me. The Mystical City of God, by Mary of Agreda. But when I read it, I became more disturbed than ever. This book set Mary up as a goddess. Created before the rest of creation, firstborn after the Son Himself, she was co-mediatrix and co-redemptrix with Christ.
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus
1 Timothy 2:5
I read Hail Holy Queen by Scott Hahn. His book, too, raised more questions than answers. He tells the reader that he has come upon his faith through research, but fails to cite any of his sources! I tried to take comfort in the fact that he was a Protestant minister who had the same concerns about Mary before he turned to Catholicism. His books state that he had gone through the same crisis I was now in, and had come to Catholicism after careful research. But none of his books sourced any of the research that he claimed to have done!
While I was disturbed by what I understood from the Bible, I had been raised to believe that the Bible could not be interpreted without the aid of the Church, and I knew that I must “trust in the Lord and lean not on [my] own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5). I was not going to take the position that I could possibly understand better than the whole Catholic Church.
In humility, I made a deal with God. A new liturgical year was beginning. I would spend that year in the Catholic Church, and trust Him to pull me out of it if it was wrong. After all, it was He who had placed me in a Catholic family, and I resolved to trust His judgment. If he wanted me out of the Catholic Church, He would just have to draw me out Himself, clearly and undeniably.
I cast all doubts aside, and leapt into the Catholic Church with both feet, praying and trusting that He would show me the truth throughout the liturgical year. I can remember my mother asking, “What if He doesn’t?” But I had no such doubt. He had shown me the truth about Himself and His Son, when I had finally humbled myself to ask Him. And I knew He would show me the truth about this, too.
Relieved to have resolved the issue for the time being, and delighted to be able to fellowship with my mother and other family members, it was no time at all before I had forgotten all of my concerns.
My second son was baptized in the spring, and soon afterwards my maternity leave was over, and I was back at work.
My husband lost his job, and we went down to one car. He started working a night job. He had the boys all day while I was at work, and then they would pick me up at 4:30pm, and we’d drop him off at 5pm. I’d feed the kids dinner, put them to bed, and my poor husband would jog home in the middle of the night. It was a busy, stressful time, but I look back on it now as a blessing. It’s funny. I didn’t know it then, but I think God was already working to keep my family together and my boys out of daycare.
He was still coming to church with me each Sunday, but he wasn’t a believer. He certainly wondered at the change in me. I just couldn’t get enough of Mass, the Bible, Communion. I was getting up early every morning and going to Daily Mass on my way to work. I even bought a Psalter and began keeping the Liturgy of the Hours. I joined the weekly Bible study at my church, and when it was going to be shut down for lack of a space, I offered my living room as a place to meet. I was hungry for God… and expecting our third child, a daughter.
I had forgotten all my doubts about the Catholic Church. I had set them aside at the beginning of the liturgical year, and stopped fretting about Mary, the saints, and papal infallibility. I was praying rosaries and doing devotions to saints. If I was reading my Bible less, well, I had a lot of other reading to do. The Catholic Catechism, the papal bulls. And then, just when I had gotten good and comfortable, just when I was no longer even thinking about issues with the Catholicism, just when I had all but forgotten my deal with God, the liturgical year came bumping to an end.
My mother saw to it that I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, but my father was actually an atheist. My father’s attitude toward my mother’s church was tolerant, yet patronizing. It is hardly surprising that my own attitude toward faith grew more and more conflicted.
At Catholic school, we were taught about Transubstantiation (Jesus’ Body & Blood, Soul & Divinity, truly present in the Eucharist). We memorized the fifteen Mysteries of the Holy Rosary (There are twenty now, I know, but I was a child in the 1980s). We revered Mary, Ever Virgin, and her Immaculate Conception (Did you know that the Immaculate Conception refers not to the Virgin Birth, but to Mary’s own sinless conception?).
I learned about the communion of saints, and I wanted to be one. Like many Catholic children, I had secret hopes of being a visionary someday, like the children of Fatima or St. Bernadette.
The childlike trust I had in my father’s intellect, however, cast a shadow upon my equally childlike faith in the religion of my mother. Gradually, this cognitive dissonance was widened by the liberal values and post modern views that subtly encroach upon even the most Catholic of educations. Gradually, I picked up on my dad’s attitude toward religion: it was to be encouraged as an excellent way of teaching morals and values to children, but it was ultimately unnecessary. for the rational person who could maintain an internal moral compass. This person was somehow above (or at least, outside) the need for God as a moral standard-setter.
The father is the spiritual head of the home. And so, in retrospect, it is not surprising that under this head, I “outgrew” the faith of my childhood.
I believed in the Tooth Fairy until I was 7, Santa Claus until 13 (no kidding), and the Roman Catholic Church until 18 or so. And then, like many young people, I became apathetic.
One of the issues I had with organized religion was the Church’s attitude to homosexuality. Why, I reasoned, would God create people with a desire that he deemed sinful? It didn’t seem to fit the concept of a just God.
As a teenager, I moved out, dropped out of school and stopped going to church. I wasn’t sure that I believed in God at all. And to be honest, I wasn’t all that concerned with the question of His existence. I was living for myself. And I was a mess. I had terrible self-esteem, and made horrible choices.
Eventually, I was tired of going nowhere, and tried to get my life together. I went back to finish high school in an adult program, and entered university as a mature student.
I loved it. I studied literature, philosophy and feminist theory. I learned about deconstructionism, post-modernism, gender theory. It was fun and exciting. I studied Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler. I wrote essays on performative speech acts, and interpellation through language. I loved thinking, discussing, writing. I felt I had found my people. The meaning of life is to just keep learning, I decided. I wanted to learn everything. My philosophy professor wrote me a letter inviting me to join the philosophy department. I took a course in World Religions. I thought I could figure out the meaning of life, and the question of God through cognitive ability. I know, right? And then I auditioned for and was accepted into a highly-regarded theatre school, which had always been my dream. But I was still living for self, and there isn’t much purpose in that. After a few years, I found myself slipping back into the same depression I thought I had escaped.
And the more depressed I became, the more I began to withdraw. So much that I stopped even showing up for classes. And of course this made everything worse.
My academic career in ruins, I felt utterly hopeless. At my lowest point, my sister realized that something was wrong. She unexpectedly showed up at my apartment one day, helped me pack up my things, and drove me back to her home, in a nearby city.
I started to get my life back together. I decided that maybe there was a God, and that He was Hope. I don’t know what kind of New Age theology that was, but I wasn’t picky.
Things were better than before. I got a good job, one that I excelled at. I earned a promotion. I filled my life with friends, fun. But again, I was still living for self. There is no real joy in that, and I was going nowhere.
Then God sent me my husband. Popular wisdom is that no one can love you until you love yourself, but I know that miracles can and do happen. I can’t really explain why God saved me from myself in those days, but I know He did. I wasn’t a Christian yet. I didn’t really even believe in Him, but He must have already marked me as His own. Because it is only God who could have sent this wonderful man to me, messed up as I was, and allowed me to keep it together long enough for him to love me.
He was an atheist, and I would have identified as agnostic. I really felt that his love for me was life-changing. I know now that it was only God’s love that could really save me, but God had sent this man to bless me and to show me the love that I needed.
I began to attend church for the first time as an adult. I still wasn’t sure if I believed in God or not, but I felt a need to find out, and I thought church attendance would help me to sort that out. My commitment to church waxed and waned over the months to come. But God is faithful, even when we are not, and His hand was on me.
We decided to get married in the Anglican church. I still took issue with the Catholic perspective on homosexuality — it seemed so intolerant, a vestige of an earlier society that had lingered past its best-before date. But my mother took such issue with the idea of an Anglican wedding that we decided to get married in the Catholic church just to keep the peace. We would deal with issues of intolerance as they came up. And my husband agreed to go to church with me. My relationship to God was still confused. I was only half-sure that He was real. But if we were going to raise a family in church, it was important to me that we do it together — perhaps because I didn’t want to repeat my parents’ pattern of church as a “women and children only” kind of activity.
Since we moved last spring, we have been attending a new church. It took me a few months to notice that I have never seen any of the women of the congregation wearing pants. They wear skirts exclusively. (Very observant of me, I agree!)
When I asked the reason for their dress, I was told that they wished to uphold the standard in Deuteronomy 22:5:
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.
Let me first state the obvious: a particular form of dress is not a necessary requirement for salvation. Salvation comes only through faith in Jesus Christ, who died to cleanse me of my sins. But, as the new creature that I am in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), it is only fitting that my desire is to please God through seeking His Will in all I do (Proverbs 3:6 NLT).
So for the sake of seeking His Will for my dress, there are two questions I must ask while examining Deuteronomy 22:5:
First, applicability: Does this command, given to the Israelites during Old Testament Times, even apply to me today? Second, application: If it does apply, what particular kind of clothing am I to wear in order to obey it?
- First, to address the issue of applicability: while I am not bound by Old Testament Law, it is equally true that my God is unchanging (Numbers 23:19, Isaiah 40:8). If it pleased Him 4000 years ago, surely it would please Him today as well. Furthermore, this particular commandment was worded very strongly. Women in men’s clothes did not just displease Him; they are called an abomination to Him. Surely what was once an abomination to Him must still be so. My freedom in Christ was not given to me so that I could dress in a way abominable to that God who gave me life! Yes, I consider that this verse most definitely applies to me today.
- It remains then to ascertain what kind of clothing I am meant to wear. I can’t simply interpret this verse to say that “women must not wear pants.” In Old Testament times, both women and men wore robes. There must have been some sort of variation between women’s and men’s apparel, but not in terms of pants or skirts. In my particular culture, while pants are considered appropriate apparel for both women and men, it must be admitted that skirts, as appropriate only for women, are more definitively “women’s clothing.” While it is possible, through colour and fit, to ensure that my apparel is obviously that of a woman, the easiest and most recognizable way to dress as a woman is to wear a skirt.
So I decided to wear skirts for a while — just to see. I wanted to get an idea of whether God would really be pleased with this little gift to Him. I recognize that any gift I can give to Him has only the value of the paper-and-crayons cards that my children give me for my birthday — no value at all, except the love and effort put into it for the sheer desire to please. It does not elevate my status in His eyes, so my only purpose is to please Him.
Worthy of note is that while I have changed my wardrobe considerably, I have not made many changes to the wardrobe of my daughters. (Well, Ann is a baby and still in sleepers!) But my toddler, Eleanor, already wears dresses most of the time — it has been my preference. After two boys, it has been a lot of fun to have a daughter — and explore the world of frilly, feminine little dresses. Now that Eleanor’s previously bald little head is beginning to sprout some hair, I have delighted in pulling it into two teeny-weeny, curly little piggy-tails. Sure, she is cute in jeans, too, but what a pleasure it is to dress my sweet little girl to look the very picture of a sweet little girl!
I wonder if this is how God feels about us. Of course he loves us, whatever we wear. But just as I delight in dressing my little girl to really emphasize and celebrate that she is a little girl, rather than camouflage her into a more androgynous version of herself, do you think he takes especial delight in us when we dress in a way that emphasizes who we are as the women that he has created us to be? What better way to glorify my God through our dress than to use it to celebrate my femininity!
And now? I still wear a lot of dresses. I think it is easier to be feminine and modest in them, and I like to wear them most of the time. But there’s something to be said, on occasion, for the convenience of a pair of jeans, or the warm comfort of a jogging suit on a cold winter day!