Saturday, December 22, 2012

Breaking Up with Beth Moore

I am breaking up with Beth Moore. Since I am the wife of a Southern Baptist pastor, this may seem like blasphemy. I can assure it is not. Really, it's okay.

So here's the deal. I was a former card-carrying member of the Beth Moore groupie fan club. The first Beth Moore study I participated in, I also led because the original leader had to back out at the last minute. The study was A Woman's Heart: God's Dwelling Place about Moses and the tabernacle. I was riveted. I was hooked. I spent so much time in my Bible and felt like I learned an incredible amount about biblical history and the character of God. So, then I led anotther one and another one. In the meantime, I also attended my first Living Proof Live conference in Lebanon, MO. I've since been to Living Proof conferences in various place around the US. I don't know how many, but I would suspect around 7 or 8.

When we moved to Wisconsin in 2007 for my husband to plant a church, he took a year to study the area and see what and where the needs were. During that time, we visited church after church after church. We had family church at home on Sundays for the four of us, but we really had no church home. While it was good "research" it was also exhausting and we felt very disconnected from a community of believers. We certainly became aware of the need and purpose of Christian community. During this time, I was craving that connection with likeminded people and decided that I would look for a Bible study in the area that I could get involved with. It turned out that the church we visited that next Sunday was just getting ready to start Beth Moore's Believing God study, one I hadn't done yet.

I joined this group and it was awesome. Two of the women were PWs from this church and it was nice to form a friendship with them. My husband already knew both of their husbands. Two of the other women in the study were church members there and then there was another random woman---a seeker, if you will. The first time we watched the accompanying DVD I realized that Beth Moore doesn't translate well. Sure, we speak English in Wisconsin, but the homespun humor and the "darlin's" just don't work in the upper Midwest Everyone enjoyed the study and got a lot out of it, but it seemed to be IN SPITE of Beth Moore, not because of her. The seeker especially, seemed a litle disturbed by the presentation.

Fast forward to our little church plant about 1.5-2 years later and we do our first women's Bible study. We picked Anointed, Transformed, and Redeemed: A Study of David by Beth Moore, Kay Arthur, and Priscilla Shirer. I had done several Kay Arthur studies in high school and I wasn't at all familiar with Priscilla. We had a smalll motley crew of me, and 3-4 other women from our church plant. Three of them were believers and one was not, but was a faithful church attender trying to figure out what she believed. As with all Beth Moore studies, this one had extensive homework requiring 5 days of study per week. All the other times I had done a BM study I had been a stay at home mom or worked very part-time. Lesson number one I learned was that a BM study is not realistic for a woman who works full-time outside of the home. While I know that some women do it, for me it came down between family time or time doing homework. One might argue that I still need to be spending time in my Bible and that's true. However, there's a difference between spending time in scripture and doing silly homework/busywork like writing a specific verse three time or going on a biblical wild goose chase looking up random verses that really don't pertain. As the nonbeliver in our group stated, "That was a $hitload of homework and I can't get it all done." The homework requirement wavers between encouraging legalism for those doers like me or becoming defeatist for those who can't get it done. And so, so much of the reading is just personal stories from Beth Moore that aren't crucial to understanding the scripture.

Even though I am a native Southerner, born and bred in Alabama and having lived in the south all of my life, when I look through my Midwestern lenses, Beth Moore is not relevant. Her homey humor, "beloved," and "bless your heart" sayings don't translate. I would watch the faces of native Wisconsinites as they watched her DVD. They thought she was cheesy and as much of an over-the-top caricature as Jeff Foxworthy. And then there's her "girl banter" in which she jokes about the trouble of being female. I can remember a particular DVD is which she describes visiting Africa for the first time and sleeping in a tent (gasp!) and realizing that there were no outlets to plug in her curlers, straightener, etc. (double gasp!). "You girls, know what I'm sayin', right? We wouldn't be caught dead without our face on and our hair did." Hah! Most of the Wisconsin women I know can shovel snow, chop wood, and milk a cow without batting an eye. So many of my students grew up on dairy farms and were out milking cows by 5 am, shared a room with 4 other siblings, and didn't have a car until they graduated from college and bought their own. Concern about curling their hair in Africa would not rank in their list of concerns. And quite frankly, she's very patronizing to women and holds very, very strict gender stereotypes. Finally, as a church planter's wife, I have realized how much religious-speak peppers Beth Moore's speech. We spend much of our time with people who have no experience in the church and have limited exposure to the Bible. Beth Moore is hard to follow because of all of the religious language she uses and spiritual assumptions she makes.

So Beth, I'm breaking up with you. Your niche is in the south, but people up here just aren't buying what you're selling.

11/18/13 Thank you all for your comments to the post, but positive and negative. I have learned a lot from many of you. However, others of you have been hateful and non-constructive. I love to engage in healthy debate with people who can argue effectively from both sides of an issue, but I will not allow you to "come into my living room" (my blog) and hurl insults. Therefore, no more comments to this blog are being accepted.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Minister of Belonging: A Tribute

Robert and Jonathan--on of the last photos of the two of them taken shortly before we moved to Wisconsin

Jonathan Wilmore, a dear family friend, died yesterday. He was one of the oldest living people in the United States with Gaucher's Disease of his type and he died peacefully in his sleep three days after his 30th birthday. I am so glad that he got to celebrate a milestone like 30 on what would be his last birthday and it fell on such a great date--12/12/12.

Our family first became acquainted with Jonathan, or "Johnny B" as he was commonly known, when my husband, Robert, was serving as a youth minister at Parkview Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, LA. Jonathan had recently completed a laity leadership course at another local church. When it came time for the award ceremony, Jonathan was told that they would just give him his certificate---no need to walk across the stage and be acknowledged. Why? Who knows? But it hurt Jonathan, he came to our church, and a mutual friend asked Robert if there was a place for Jonathan to serve in the youth ministry.

Johnny B working with Hurricane Katrina refugees

Youth ministry games
It is rare to find a photo in which Jonathan isn't flexing or...

...arm wrestling. He was always in awe of his own muscles and strength. He would drop and do push-ups on his knuckles and arm wrestle anyone, anytime.

So here's what you need to know about Jonathan. Because of the Gaucher's Disease, he was short. Actually he had long legs, but he had some skeletal problems and severe spine curvature which significantly diminished his overall height. He wore bilateral hearing aids and had some significant vision problems which resulted in several eyes surgeries and coke-bottle glasses. Jonathan talked...a lot! And loudly. Oftentimes, the filter from his brain to his mouth didn't function very well and he would say whatever popped into his head. He was impulsive. He didn't always think about consequences. He had some fears and anxieties, especially a fear of heights. And did I mention that he was loud?

But here's the thing...

Jonathan was loving. He was innocent. He adored people and fed off of the energy of crowds and human interactions. He was winsome. He had a great sense of humor and was a big fan of practical jokes, particularly when he wasn't on the receiving end. Jonathan was joy personified. As I have seen people post of Facebook and Twitter about him, as well as personal messages and calls we have received, Jonathan's circle of influence has mentioned how much Jonathan taught them about Jesus. Jonathan loved each and everyone of us. And he taught us how to love, even when it was inconvenient and uncomfortable. I'm sure that Jonathan had days when he was in pain--bone pain, pain from infusions and transfusions, pain from surgeries and procedures. However, I can't think of one single time when I ever heard him complain. Ever.

So, Robert created a job for Jonathan--The Minister of Belonging. This wasn't merely a title. Although Jonathan wasn't getting paid, this was a hardcore volunteer position. Robert created a job description and (flexible) hours. Jonathan's biggest responsibility was welcoming all of the youth on Wednesday night and at other events. He also helped plan and set up. He even went on hospital visitation. Yeah, Jonathan really liked the ladies and was a big hugger. Because of his height, his face was usually chest level with the teenage girls, so Robert had to talk to him a time or two about side hugs and verbal greetings, but that was Jonathan. All of the youth loved Jonathan. He attended most events, was their biggest cheerleader, and loved to be in the midst of all youth activities.

Robert and Jonathan about to go on hospital visitation. Johnny B thought it was hilarious that they accidentally wore matching shirts

And then at the hospital, they met a woman with a green striped shirt, so Jonathan insisted on getting a photo with a random matching stranger

Jonathan became an important ex-officio member of our family. Although he was too old to be our son (in his early 20s when we first met him and we were in our mid-30s), he still functioned as a big brother to our two boys. This relationship was complete with wrestling, arguments, annoyances, tattling, and other brotherly type shenanigans. Because Jonathan's birthday is December 12 and our youngest son's birthday is December 13, they even had a joint birthday party one year at Jonathan's request.

Me and my three "sons" at the Bayou Bonfires in the River Parishes. On this particular night, we visited relatives of one of my co-workers who had an open house. We lost Jonathan briefly and found him helping himself to the buffet of complete strangers :-)

While Jonathan was exuberant and fun, he was also exhausting. When going with him to the mall or the hospital, he was terrified of heights and was totally unashamed of asking to hold a hand. One of my favorite photos (that unfortunately I can't locate), is of Josh, Jonathan's pastor, holding hands with Jonathan at the mall. Two heterosexual guys, one in his 20s and the other in his 30s, holding hands in the mall because that's what you do when someone you love and care about is scared. Jonathan pushed us all beyond the boundaries of "proper behavior." And sometimes Jonathan's unabashed good intentions would result in socially inappropriate actions or (loud) conversations in public. He was always receptive to learning though and would take the gentle instruction of his friends in stride. 

When Robert and I learned about Jonathan's death last night we cried, then we began to laugh with tears streaming down our faces as we recounted "Jonathan stories." We talked about him needing to hold Jesus' hand in heaven ALL the time because he is scared of heights. We smiled, thinking about Jonathan being the ultimate Minister of Belonging in heaven now. We laughed, wondering if he would try the patience of Jesus at times and if he would be hugging all of the women.

As a believer in Jesus Christ and one who knows that Jonathan was a believer who lived out his faith in everything he did, I know that Jonathan is free now. I know that he is not in pain. I know that he has a new body that can hear, see, and move perfectly. I know that he is at rest and perfect peace. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt those he left behind who love him. 

He left a grieving mom and other relatives, as well as many friends. We moved to Wisconsin almost 5 1/2 years ago and I haven't seen Jonathan since that time. However, we'd have occasional Facebook conversations. We are probably going to Louisiana in May when Robert graduates with his D.Min. and I fully anticipated getting to see Jonathan then. Now I won't. That sucks! Even though he hasn't been a presence in our daily lives these past few years, knowing that he isn't around anymore makes me very, very sad. I cried last night and off and on throughout the day today. Fortunately I can grieve with hope knowing that for Jonathan, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Cor 5:8).

Jonathan, you were so loved by so many. You impacted every life you touched in significant ways. You showed us the face of Christ. You have been a bright star in our lives. I am so very grateful for the opportunity to know you and spend time with you. You taught Robert and me such important lessons and I am thankful that our boys had the privilege of knowing you as well.

The poet Emily Dickinson once said, "My friends are my estate." 
You died a very wealthy man.