An Unknown Path

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It is amazing how fast things can change.  In less than the blink of an eye.

Last I shared, I was on my way to share with some amazing college students at an event in New England.  On the way home returning from the airport in Florida in late January, I was in a major car accident that totaled the car I was riding in.  In an instant everything changed.  E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

The last few months have had me simply trying to survive.  Barely.

My dominant wrist was broken, my hand severely injured in the impact.  I also sustained a traumatic brain injury that has left me searching for words.  Words that used to flow freely now are a war to find.  Sometimes every syllable is a skirmish.  The headaches and dizziness are almost constant, background noise is a strange form of torture, and the supermarket usually leaves me on the verge of tears. Taste is off (coffee flavor I miss you), my emotions are stuck in PMS overdrive and my thoughts feel like a tangled ball of yarn.

Could someone please tell me where to return the fluff inside of my head?  This girl would like to have her brain back.

Holding a coherent conversation takes every ounce of muster I have, and even then there are no guarantees.  I go to say one word and another comes out, or words combine into non-words and then float off into foggy oblivion as I miss half the conversation trying to chase them down.

My days are now divided between better brain days and bad brain days. Frustration feels like my new normal.  It won’t be forever.  But it feels like it.

In the few weeks following the accident, I watched the business I had built be systematically dismantled, unable to do anything from my dim, silent room to stop it.  Because of the brain symptoms, I could no longer coach clients in the same way I had previously or think fast enough on my feet to offer the value they signed up for.  With my wrist broken and hand severely injured, I could not letter or paint or create.  And my business, as it was, died right in front of me.

Worse yet, it seemed all my progress getting stronger and recovering from Africa-related health issues had been knocked backwards about 4 years. Years. With my wrist and hand injured, I can’t walk with my usual crutches or bear weight on it — still. So I hobble around with 2 mismatched crutches, a wrist splint and have had complete strangers stop their car to see if I needed help.  Because I evidently look like I need it. 😆

Suddenly my life has shrunk down to an endless litany of medical appointments and therapy sessions and even with all the help and intervention, I am not healing as hoped for and now I am off to see even more specialized providers.  Weeks are dragging into months and keeping hope alive is like guarding a flickering candle in a hurricane.

On top of all this, my parents have had a very difficult, and at times a life-threatening, year medically speaking thus far and every time we think we can catch our breath, it feels like 2018 throws yet another sucker punch.  My day planner laughs at me as plans in these circumstances are really just cosmic jokes.  It has been one certifiably hellacious year.  But it could be so much worse.

In the middle of the fog and the muddy unknown, gratitude is a choice.  It is not that I usually feel grateful.  Most days, I am biting back some, ahem, adult adjectives I never knew I knew before the brain injury and I’m so frustrated, I want to (and occasionally do} hurl them at the empty walls around me.  But even then I can choose freaking gratitude {PG translation} like my life depends on it. Because in all reality it does.

Gratitude builds joy capacity and joy becomes strength which grows into resilience. And resilience, that ability to pivot and see a setback become a set up for a greater comeback, is a muscle that can be trained.   We were not created to merely survive friends.  We were created to thrive.

Our success is not measured by how we handle the expected turns in the road, but by how we pivot to embrace the unexpected ones. {Read more thoughts on Creative Resilience here…}

If your 2018 came out swinging… You aren’t alone.  Know that.  More to come friends… on better brain days. 😘

Why the 7 Mountain Mandate is Toxic Theology

Why the 7 Mountain Mandate is Toxic Theology

If you have followed my journey this last decade at all, you likely know conflict and controversy is something I try and avoid.  I try to stay in my lane, be faithful with what’s in front of me and let God take care of the rest.

I am not out to point fingers at people.  But I am out to candidly share my story and speak out about things that are significant culturally, spiritually and theologically.

This post is a long one, friends.  I want to go into detail about a topic I have touched on here and there in days past.  I’ve tiptoed around it, but today I’m just going to say it.  Deep breath.  Here we go:

The Seven Mountain Mandate is not synonymous with the great the commission.  Rather, it is inherently and deeply flawed theology.

For those of you who are not familiar with what I’m talking about, let me fill you in.

What is the Seven Mountain Mandate?

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In this teaching, the kingdom of God and Great Commission are tied to taking certain mountains of culture.  There are 7 mountains of cultural influence (pictured above) and the goal is scale to the top of the mountain so you can as a Christian be in charge at the top.  Because leaders at the top have the power to set agendas and enforce values that will bring God’s Kingdom in that area of cultural influence.  On earth as it is in heaven.

I once heard the most prominent teacher of this theology state the following {and yes this is a direct quote}: “Those 7 mountains of influence are so powerful that he who occupies the top of those mountains can literally shape the agenda that forms nations.”

I replayed the segment a few times to make sure I had heard correctly.  I did.  This type of thinking is an insidious, sneaky, tangential teaching that can easily mimic the heart and nature of true missions.

But what’s so wrong with wanting to see transformation come to people?  And doesn’t God care about these areas too?  Absolutely He cares.  Yes, He calls us to be involved in loving our communities.  But God sets people in high places of leadership not because they were trying to climb a mountain and become king of the cultural hill.

Isn’t calling this toxic a bit strong Michele?  Some of you are asking that.  It is strong.  Because it NEEDS to be strong. And here’s why.

A toxin is a poisonous substance produced by living cells capable of causing disease when introduced into the body tissues.  Toxic theology produced by living cells (people, many times leaders) in the Body of Christ causes sickness in those that ingest it.

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Let’s look at the culture that the 7 mountain worldview propagates.

The 7 mountain mandate often assumes that leadership is about “rulership” and exerting control from the top down to affect change.  It is a power-over model of leading that celebrates taking dominion from the high place to “set the agenda that forms nations.” 

In a very real sense, it is colonialism dressed up in different clothes.  The goal for many who adhere to this teaching often becomes to the seize the seat of power and enforce what they think the Kingdom of God SHOULD look like in their mountain of culture.

You don’t get much farther from the great commission than this.  That is not discipling nations, it is dominating nations.  And I don’t know about you friend, but I’m not a fan of having someone force their views on me. Conformity to a system of rules doesn’t mean a genuine change of heart.

True transformation never comes from the top down.  It always comes from the inside out.

Mountains & God’s Upside Down Kingdom

As I became more aware of the prevalent application of this teaching and saw the culture it gave rise to, the whole analogy began to bug me more and more.  Finally one day I was like, “Jesus I’m bothered.  Why am I bothered?  I love working and serving people in the community.  But I’m bothered.  Why?”

I had a picture of the mountain of God coming up underneath the cultural mountains and flipping them upside down, where low place became the high place and the high place the low place. In God’s upside down kingdom, that made way more sense to me.

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So in this model, instead of fighting to be rulers, we influence by becoming servants.   We “scale” the mountain by serving and intentionally building relationships in a power-under stance of service.  The high place becomes the low place and the low place the high place of influence because of love-based servant leadership.

This upside-down mandate is way closer to the heart of Jesus.  As a metaphor, it is something I have held onto and shared.

A few years went by and this topic settled on one of my mental shelves.  I honestly did not give much thought to it until 2016, watching how many in the church aligned themselves politically.  This last year has been a deep year of heart searching and eye opening for me.  But that is for another post soon to come.

The Way We Think Matters

One of the topics that has captured my interest in my grad school research is the topic of generative metaphors.  Say what?  The basic idea is that the way we think about a subject and the metaphors we use to frame our understanding give rise to or generate the culture around that subject matter.

Is conflict a prize fight where we take our gloves off, risk injury and go after winning?  Or is conflict a dance where each party has a valuable part to play and the goal is to move together beautifully, powerfully in relationship?

Because of my research into organizational storytelling, I was prompted to go back and read the vision Loren Cunningham (founder of YWAM) had about impacting culture as missionaries.  It is often quoted as the foundation of the 7 mountain mandate.

I served with YWAM off and on for almost 7 years.   And in my YWAM training, I heard Loren teach multiple times (by video) on the mind-molders or the spheres of society that shape the way people think . But the vision I heard Loren share had nothing to do with mountains.  It was about being salt and light influencing these seven cultural spheres as missionaries.  His teaching was 180º from the 7 mountain mandate.

Wait, wait Michele…  It’s the same thing. Mountains, spheres, pillars.  It’s just semantics and imagery.  Why are you splitting hairs over this?

Let me show you.

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You don’t scale a sphere and influence from the top down.  You infiltrate a sphere, build relationships, and influence from the inside out.  You aren’t a mountaineer, you’re a missionary.  Let’s line these two worldviews up so we can see the differences.7M-07

Do you see how powerful and important how we choose to think and communicate is?   Our words literally frame our worlds.

The Example of Jesus

One of the greatest challenges to the 7 mountain mandate is the life of Jesus Himself.  He was born into a world desperately looking for a political leader.

If the understanding of cultural mountaineering was foundational to God’s Kingdom coming, Jesus would have given us a different example.  Instead we read, the only mountain Jesus scaled was to pray and remove Himself from those trying to force Him into a political leadership role.

Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.  – John 6:15

If we look at the metaphors Jesus used to talk about change and transformation, they were about inside out transformation not power over domination.

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Yeast causes changes from the inside the mix.  Light changes things by showing up in the middle of darkness.  Salt affects transformation by simply being present in the situation.

And finally, at the end of Jesus’ life when He stood before Pilate, He could not have been more clear about the nature of His Kingdom.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom (sovereignty & royal power) is not derived from this world (or it’s inhabitants). If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not sourced from this realm.” – John 18:36

Policy doesn’t change people’s hearts.  Only a love encounter with Jesus can do that. Trying to manipulate, “influence” and even legislate what we believe to be God’s will on the earth, squeezing fatally flawed man-made structures into a religious mold comes perilously close to witchcraft (spiritual manipulation even in Jesus name that is rooted in our own strength and understanding rather than what God is actually doing).

God’s Kingdom is not a subculture. We are a counter culture where low is high and the highest place of all is the lowest place of service.  If kingdom influence is determined by cultural power and esteem, Jesus was an epic failure.  His own culture crucified Him.  His greatest platform was realized in a death sentence on the cross.

Jesus Himself said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation {careful scrutiny and visual evidence}; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within, among and inside you.”

His Kingdom come.  His will be done.  On earth, in us, as it is in heaven.  Selah.

Love you friends.

 

 

 

Love in the Time of $&*t

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“Mama, if you stay here (in South Sudan) long enough your skin will become nice and black like ours.  You might have pale skin now, but you have Sudanese blood.”

I honestly don’t know I have ever been or could ever be given a higher honor than that statement.  To love a people so deeply you become in some sense part of them, even if for a short while.  My skin did darken, but it was more due to not mastering the art of the one-legged bucket bath than anything else.

When I heard what our current POTUS proclaimed over people I would have gladly given my life for, I just haven’t found words until now.  I’m hurt.  I’m saddened. I’m repulsed.  I’m angry.  But unfortunately I’m not surprised.

{Yes, I have heard the argument that his statement was misreported but from eye-witness accounts I have heard and read, he did actually call Africa the more profane version of a cesspool.  And yes I have heard the arguments that, oh he’s just being himself and using profanity to make a point.  Well, words matter.  And he has repeatedly tried to enact policy to mirror his words.  So isn’t just rhetoric. It is action too.}

I have stood on burning trash mounds with people who have been thrown away by almost everybody, including their own culture.  I lived right in the center of what Pres. Trump called an African $&*%hole for 7 years. 

And it isn’t.  It just isn’t.  I lived there.  It isn’t.

It is a place filled with stunningly strong people who have endured suffering most of us in the West can’t even imagine.  There is a perseverance and an understanding of community and family that have forever changed me.

I was the foreigner.  I was the one who barely spoke their language.  And they took me in.  They shared their words and their hearts and sometimes the last bit of food they had because THAT is who they are.

That Mr. President is not a $&*%hole.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is profoundly mistaken.

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This family had just lost everything except each other in a bombing run.  And they were concerned that I know God would always care for me.

Was it hard?  Absolutely.  Did it stretch me beyond my own limits?  Almost every day.  Did it cost me my health?  It did, for a season at least.  But those 7 years watching a nation be born, living right in the middle of it all, those years hold some of my dearest memories and people who will forever be held in my heart as the heroes they are.

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Even the littlest one gets her own greeting.  Culturally, greetings are very important.  Every single person in the room gets recognized with a handshake.

I’ve spent most of my adult life overseas in the color minority.  And every place I’ve been all I can do is marvel at how incredibly beautiful people are.  So as an artist I’m a bit perturbed by the paint color “flesh tint”.

“Flesh Tint” only applies to a small subsection of Caucasian-complected people with a peachy glow.  In a world of incredible skin colors, that moniker is myopic and ethnocentric in the worst sense.

About a year ago, I broke out my paints and laid a spectrum of flesh tints into my journal.  The One who I follow, His flesh does not match a pink-toned hue.   He is not an Italian supermodel or a paltry, pale-faced, miserable waif.

Jesus was Jewish.  He looks Middle Eastern.  He is life and joy and strength.  And He too was a refugee.  The nail-pierced One I follow was a refugee. 

He was born in a place that might qualify for Pres. Trump’s recent sentiments.  The King of Kings was born in a dirty, messy, dare I say $&*++y stable.

No matter what our flesh tint, we all bleed the same color.  Red.  And Jesus bled for all of us.

The only thing to me more disturbing than Donald Trump’s remarks, are those in certain corners of the church that seem to support his perspective outright, or acquiesce by excusing it.

Apologies can be received.  Repentance is absolutely possible.  And there can be forgiveness.   But beloved, there must not be excuses.

We who follow a Love-scarred Refugee Savior must do better than that.