Aimee Byrd

Inside the word. Outside the box.

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“Most of us do not experience the God of the exodus in our daily lives. The God of the exodus is visible and vocal, and appears through fire and smoke. But the God of our lives is mostly silent, and many times we may feel as if he is unresponsive to our calls. Although there is no reference to the name of God in the book of Esther, many readers cannot help but think of him as present. In the same vein, in the absence of the beloved, the woman in the Song of Songs desires even more intensely than in his presence to be with him. She so longs to be with him that she is sick with longing. From the beginning to the ending of the Song, she continues to yearn for him. She oscillates between her lover’s presence and absence. She repetitively yearns for him, but this results in ‘I sought him but I did not find him’ (Song 3:1; 5:6,8). Still, she continues her seeking.”

This is an excerpt from Chloe T. Sun’s book, Conspicuous in His Absence: Studies in the Song of Songs and Esther. I am enjoying the read. But here I have to pause and ask, does she find him?

How many Christians are asking this question? Where is God? They are praying to him. They want him to show himself. How many are trying to make it through the days in the pain of abandonment from a spouse? The hurt, the longing to go back and make it work before it got like this, the loneliness in trying to process it all…wondering where God is when they cry out for help… How many are unwell, questioning whether they will be alive next year? Will they be there for their loved ones, will they live a “full life?” Where is God in their pain? Will he at least let them know how much of a future they have? How many are striving to make ends meet? They just want the basics of comfort, but they don’t have the social capital to even give wind to their giftedness. How can they serve others and contribute to society when they are in such need?  How many don’t have terminal illness but are afflicted with a thorn in their side for the rest of their days? How many are caring for loved ones, trying to uphold their dignity while they are losing their very sense of self? How many Christians are in bad marriages, lonelier than a single person, unloved by the very person who vowed it to them? How many are struggling with the same sinful desires, over and over? Or, what of those who have been praying continuously for God to answer them and are left with silence? “I sought him but I did not find him.

Is he not there?

Or—maybe even a worse thought to consider—is he not there for me?

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That’s the big word now—deconstructing. Some, who have been grossly harmed by their spiritual leaders, are using this word as they realize that they have a lot of unbiblical teaching to unlearn. Others are realizing that their faith was based on a cultural construct—they have no firm foundation. And so, some are using this word as they are leaving the faith, saying none of it is real. It’s also a label being pasted on those who are revealing harmful patterns of an unbiblical, hierarchal anthropology in the history of the church. For example, the recent 9Marks article which affirms Kristin DuMez, Beth Allison Barr, and Jamar Tisby as leaders of the “deconstructionist project.” This tactic is divisive—it villainizes brothers and sisters in the faith, sets oneself or one’s organization up as the answer, and leads by fear. It’s also a distraction.

Can we just stop and take a look at the condition of Christ’s church?

What do all the stories of abuse and cover-up that have been exposed this year alone reveal? What do the church leader’s reactions to survivors who ask for help reveal? What do some of the books, such as the ones written by DuMez, Barr, and Tisby—and the reactions to them—reveal?

On a larger scale than we want to see, instead of evangelizing, the church itself is the mission field.

Instead of giving the world a beautiful picture of Christ’s bride and a glimpse of our telos in communion with him and one another, we see much ugliness and abuse of power. In multiple denominations. How did we get here? What is church supposed to be? What is our witness to the watching world? Some are so battered by spiritual abuse that they can’t bear to walk through the church doors. Some observers of Christianity are glad they never took the leap. And many still within her walls are so factioned and polarized that they’ve lost sight of what church is supposed to be.

I can’t open closed ears or hearts. I’m not really writing to 9Marks, CBMW, or any of these denominations full of wreckage. I’m writing to those who are still trying to hold onto their faith after being disillusioned by or clobbered in the church. Where do we go from here?

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Earlier, I posted Part 1 of What We Really Want, which is eros love. If you haven’t read that, it makes more sense to begin read that first. You can find it here. Now, I will continue with a meditation on Song of Songs 1: 2-4.

Oh, that he would…

The first voice in the Song is that of the woman’s. Pause for a moment and think about this. In a patriarchal world, within the canon of Scripture, the Divine Author gives us the initiating voice of the woman for us to learn from and identify with. Gregory of Nyssa refers to her as “the teacher.”[1]  Here in the opening, she is talking to us. And she begins with desire. “Oh that he would…” She’s talking to us. God wants us to freely ask for what we want. And as we learn from the bride, he wants us to develop that want—to dig deep down and find it. Tell it to others. It’s an evangelical want. Nothing to be ashamed of. It’s what we all really want. We want the kisses of his mouth. Isn’t it interesting that the bride says, of his mouth? Where else would kisses come from? Why add the obvious?

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We all want the same thing.

Sure, we are unique individuals with personal aspirations. And these are important to explore, examine, voice, and properly pursue. But our individual desires are all headed for the same end, or telos. And it’s an overwhelming, ecstatic longing. We all really want eros. The problem is, we don’t understand eros and its power. We don’t understand its sublime and transformational goodness. So we reduce it, pervert it, and try to consume it.  We try to make it manageable to us. We settle for counterfeits.

We have a hard time even acknowledging this want. We struggle to understand it and so we can’t articulate it. We stuff it down and it resurfaces as projections onto more debase faux-wants. How do we express what we really want? And what will people think of us? Yet we have this aching that won’t die. We put false expectations on other people to give us eros. We put burdens on people that they can’t carry. And we reduce them and fracture our relationships.

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Two years ago, the curtains were drawn back for me regarding reviling behavior towards me and others from officers in my own denomination. I tried to confront it at the denominational level, as well as locally since one of my elders was participating in this group.

I tried to go through this process of exposing darkness, seeking care, repentance, reconciliation, and justice in a godly—and presbyterian—way. I have failed at times. Even when my actions were acceptable, often my heart was not. Please forgive me if I have led anyone into sin in that way.

I have been documenting the public parts of this process on the denominational level, not the local, more personal level. The links are below. Because of this, other women who have suffered through abuse in the OPC began reaching out to me. Most of them never even had access to the system. Others were battered by it. Their stories are far worse than mine and most of them have not been heard. Some shared that they were experiencing healing from my writing, as it expressed the same patterns and actions that they encountered in seeking help. It helped to name it. To see that it isn’t them. And they were getting hopeful that something may be done about it. I carry these women and stories with me in my own writing.

My experience in trying to follow this through has made visible to me why I have been writing all along. I’ve been writing to prove my own existence, and that of my sex, as disciples in the church. Ones that think. And contribute theologically. And yet I still didn’t realize how bad it was. How pervasive the views of women’s’ inferiority and lust for men’s power are. The process in seeking help made me feel less like a part of the household of God, less like a sister in Christ, and less like a gift.

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If you’ve been following my case with the OPC, I am posting the response of the Presbytery of the Southeast (PSE) to this sustained complaint from July’s General Assembly meeting:

That the Presbytery of the Southeast acknowledge its error in allowing Mr. Spangler to use reviling language in his trial, damaging the good names of Aimee Byrd and Rachel Miller, record this in its minutes, communicate this to Aimee Byrd and Rachel Miller, and offer to both, in writing and in person, if possible, whatever expression of regret it deems appropriate.

Here is what the PSE deemed appropriate. It was sent to me in an email by the clerk of the presbytery, saying “Dear Aimee, please find attached.”

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Perhaps is a pivotal word, a humble posture, and call to wonder in our great Lord.

That’s how I ended my last post, reflecting on Josh McNall’s new book, Perhaps. There’s so much in the book to reflect on, so many invitations to the theological imagination. But one area really sparked my wonder in God’s gift of friendship.

It is found in the chapter in which NcNall sets up guardrails to help us “say perhaps in faithful ways while avoiding crippling doubt and arrogant dogmatism.” One of the guardrails is “don’t go it alone.” Here he talks about cultivating community not only in our present but placing ourselves within the cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. It’s a good section. I’m not going to summarize all his arguments here; I want to sit in wonder over the gift of friendship that was opened up to me in it. And this has to do with real, embodied friendships in the present.

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There’s a rising market of books geared toward the rising audience of ex-vangelicals, those deconstructing their faith, nones, and young adults who are also struggling with doubt in the Christian faith they were raised in. There are multiple reasons for this rising audience. How many were spiritually abused or saw abuse in their own churches or denominations? How many were shamed when they were honest about their doubts? How many saw the disconnect between the truths confessed and lives lived in the church? How many observed the tribalism and anger in debating (and squeezing out) over secondary issues? How many never saw or experienced love in the church and delight in Christ? How many realized their faith was really in an ideology that could not bring them peace? How many were just going through the motions, so when it came time to bear their cross they were seduced by the world?

I’ve been reading some of these books. My favorite so far is Joshua McNall’s latest, Perhaps: Reclaiming the Space Between Doubt and Dogmatism. And I think we all should read it. It’s really written for the church.

One of the things that I love about this book is that it is playing my jam on the importance of the imagination in the Christian life. God created us with something amazing—the ability to discover, envision, and embrace beauty. And he continuously ignites our eschatological imaginations in his word. Here’s McNall’s challenge:

The importance of what I define as “faith seeking imagination” increases in a cultural moment when the church is torn by two unsavory extremes: the force of crippling secular doubt and the zealotry of partisan religious dogmatism. Rekindling a gracious theological imagination—rooted in orthodoxy, Scripture, tradition, community, and great works of art—is essential to confront the “resounding gong[s]” (1 Cor. 13:1) of our day with something better than pervasive skepticism or abrasive certainty. In this blank space between unchecked doubt and dogmatism, Christians must relearn how to say “perhaps.”

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With all the talk about “elite” Christianity and which way evangelicalism will go this week, I was reminded of something I wrote in the beginning of 2017. There are bigger questions to ask here. Why are we looking for a parachurch organization to lead us? And is God going to ask us if we are evangelical as a qualifier for eternal fellowship with him? And yet, we need to examine the dynamics within parachurch organizations, the constructed value systems they uphold, and the voices they promote. Here’s what I wrote then about the importance of the local church, as well as shot glass communities. I even drew a picture about the latter. More can be said now, but interesting to see how relevant this still is:

2016 has revealed a lot of problems with the Christian celebrity culture. There have been big names that have fallen, treasured orthodox doctrines downplayed and distorted, and many people and churches terribly hurt. Those who warn about this culture, about the ignored or overlooked issues, and even the suppression of abuses within it, are often dismissed because of their tone or accused of overreacting. One popular response to the lament of celebrity culture in evangelical and Reformed communities is an acknowledgement of its prevalence, but with a “What can you do?” shrug. We’re always going to have a celebrity culture.

We are.

Others, accepting this reality, say they want to leverage celebrity culture in order to do good. That sounds like a plausible response but can too easily become an excuse for uncritically selling-out to celebrity and it usually ends up making its advocates practically indistinguishable from those who are more obviously in it for the purpose of self-promotion.

People will always be drawn by amplified names, bloated endorsements, and charismatic personalities. Some writers, speakers, and preachers are loaded with talents and gifts that can be used in the kingdom. And then they are put in positions of influence and power that can be intoxicating. It’s difficult to have the self-awareness we are called to when so many yes men surround us. And there is of course a market driving it all.

So what do we do about it? Well, in my writing, I’ve aimed to highlight the emphasis of the local church and confessional covenant communities. This is a must. But there is good that can and will be done in the parachurch. How can we recognize this, work in it, and deal with the celebrity culture?

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“Hope is disruptive.”

Mark Labberton

This is quoted from the Foreword in Makoto Fujimura’s book, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for our Common Life. Man, is that a word! And I would say that Culture Care is a dose of beautiful disruption. The main audience of the book is artists of all kinds. It’s an awakening to how art, and artists or creators, steward and cultivate community.

He begins the book with a story from when he was a teacher’s assistant and struggling artist and his newly wed wife was a graduate student. They were struggling to make ends meet. As he is stressing over an empty fridge and what food they can afford for the month, his wife comes home with a bouquet of flowers.  Upset, he asks her how she could even think of buying flowers if they can’t even eat. And Judy replied, “We need to feed our souls too!” This encounter with generosity was a transformative moment for Fujimura. He saw that he failed to be who he actually was—an artist, someone who should recognize the need for beauty to live. Artists feed souls, in a sense, with beauty. And this is how he proposes that we need to care for the culture we are in (a culture that has even over-commodified art itself)—with “a generative approach to culture that brings bouquets of flowers into a culture bereft of beauty.”

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