Converge http://convergemagazine.com Fri, 30 Jan 2015 16:03:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Logos 6: Get More from Your Bible Studyhttp://convergemagazine.com/logos-6-get-15612/ http://convergemagazine.com/logos-6-get-15612/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 12:00:59 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=15612 Logos 6: Get More from Your Bible Study by Logos Bible Software

For most of us, Bible study requires a few simple steps: 1. Roll out of bed 2. Grab a cup...

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Logos 6: Get More from Your Bible Study by Logos Bible Software

For most of us, Bible study requires a few simple steps: 1. Roll out of bed 2. Grab a cup of coffee 3. Open your Bible 4. Don’t fall back asleep.

If this is your Bible study routine, it’s time to liven it up. With Logos 6, you can explore the Word with confidence and discover fresh insights — here’s now:

1. Explore the biblical world

Study the Bible in Context

The Bible is filled with images and cultural references that were meaningful to the ancient Eastern mind, but get lost in translation when we try making sense of them today. In order to truly understand Scripture, you have to wrap your mind around the cultural perspective from which it was written. That’s why Logos 6 is packed with smart, visually appealing tools to help you contextualize Scripture and derive greater meaning from the text.

Reveal cultural concepts behind the text with a click, connect passages to corresponding ancient literature, explore narrative maps, see ancient temples and beautiful artifacts, and compare textual differences across ancient manuscripts.

Logos 6 makes all of these tasks simple and accessible — so you spend less time floundering through your study, and more time uncovering incredible insights.

2. See Scripture in its full glory

Inside Noah's Ark 600x338 (1)

Some insights can’t be discovered from the text alone — they need to be visualized for true understanding to take place. That’s why Logos 6 comes loaded with new visual tools — so you can see, interact, and understand the biblical world like never before.

Explore 3-D flyovers of biblical places, fine art representing significant Bible characters and events, more than 15,000 crisp photos of the Holy Land, detailed infographics of ancient places like Rome in Paul’s day and Jericho, professional teaching slides that guide you through Athens and Sardis, and much more.

Right click on an image or text selection and transform it into a shareable image with the new Visual Copy tool. Use templates and slides created by professional designers or personalize your own — then share them with friends.

3. Get instant biblical information

Jerusalem Flyover

Logos 6’s Factbook tool is your new, easily searchable Bible encyclopedia. Get quick information on biblical people, places, things, and concepts, along with media resources and interactive tools for deeper, more engaging study.

For example, search a city and find its location on a map, when significant events occurred there, and ancient literature that relates to that place. See how the Bible’s important people are related, where they’re mentioned in the Bible, and when they lived.

Factbook is your one-stop shop for biblical information.

4. Always know where to start

Interactive Media

With Logos 6, you never have to worry about where to start your Bible study: smart search tools find what you’re looking for fast and always point you in the right direction. Custom reading plans keep you on track, and the Logos 6 homepage offers devotional ideas, beautiful (and shareable) images, and ideas for study.

Just start entering a term in the search bar, like “prayer,” and the Smart Search tool will offer popular suggestions, like “The Prayer of Azariah,” “Hour of prayer,” “Canon of the Mass,” and more, so you always have new ideas to explore.

5. Dig into Greek and Hebrew (yes — you can do it!)

Original-language study

Logos 6 makes Greek and Hebrew study accessible to everyone. With new interactive alphabet tutors, you can learn to write and pronounce Greek and Hebrew. With the Sense Section, you can reveal every alternate meaning of a word and where it occurs. For example, the word “house” has a myriad of meanings in Scripture — it can mean a physical house, a family, a group, or a temple. With the new Sense Section, just search a word once and discover every hidden meaning of “house,” and where it occurs. This tool helps you better understand biblical languages and delve greater meaning from Scripture.

Interlinear Explorers also show you how to use an interlinear and reverse interlinear, so you can learn to do scholarly original-language study — even if you haven’t had formal training.

Logos 6 gives you the tools you need to become a better student of the Word: see which Logos 6 base package is recommended for you.

SponsoredPostLogos

All images courtesy of Logos Bible Software.

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Courage and Calling: a reviewhttp://convergemagazine.com/courage-calling-book-review-15628/ http://convergemagazine.com/courage-calling-book-review-15628/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 12:00:32 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=15628 Courage and Calling: a review by Nathan Olson

In my early 20s, I still embraced a decision-making strategy that no career counsellor in her right mind would ever...

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Courage and Calling: a review by Nathan Olson

In my early 20s, I still embraced a decision-making strategy that no career counsellor in her right mind would ever recommend. Basically, I collected as many college and university catalogues as possible, and then stared at them in a prolonged and confused state until I ran out of time. In the end, I made a mostly random decision.

Somehow I had narrowed the choice down to one university and one theological college. Late one night, after driving around for hours, I walked in the front door and announced, “I am going to study… theology.” This was a surprise even to me. As the first few words came out of my mouth, I still didn’t know what I was going to say.

Oh yes, this technique was brilliant, just brilliant.

Making major career or life decisions isn’t easy. Panic quickly sets in, as it feels like there is so much at stake. Of course, making major decisions will likely never be stress-free. But is it possible to find a way to face the future with courage and confidence, and a more clear sense of calling?

Gordon T. Smith’s Courage and Calling: Embracing your God-given potential is a book all about doing just that. It was written back in 1999 while Smith was facing a significant personal transition. I picked up a copy that had been revised in 2011 and read it with great benefit.

courage and callingOne of the main career-related problems people face is a lack of self-knowledge. Looking back to when I was choosing an undergraduate program, I didn’t know what made me distinctly me. But this process of understanding yourself can take time and requires focused energy; sometimes it can take longer than necessary, particularly if it’s understood as a selfish activity.

Is there a clue — or maybe two — about yourself waiting to be discovered? What if there’s something very significant about your design, and even some of your desires?

Courage and Calling is roughly divided into two parts. The first part of the book is dedicated to a theological vision for work and practical insight about the career selection process. The second half begins with a closer look at four specific types of work: business, the arts, education, and religious leadership. What follows is a conversation about five “points of leverage,” or ways in which we can increase our effectiveness. This includes: developing courage, continuous learning, emotional resilience, working well with others, and establishing structure and order in our lives.

Of the five points discussed, Smith argues that developing emotional resilience is likely the most important. “Lack of emotional maturity and resilience,” writes Smith, “will sabotage our lives and vocations.”

Unlike other career-related books I have read, this one has a strong emphasis on the organizational side of life. In other words, you will also find practical advice on how to be more effective within an organization. At the same time, Smith emphasizes the importance of carefully selecting where you work. This may sound like a luxury to some. But it makes sense, if at all possible, to find a place to work that is a fit with who you are.

Trying to figure out what to do next? Hoping to move beyond a merely secular take on life? Longing for a more clear sense of direction? Well then, reading Courage and Calling would likely be well worth your time.    

Photo (Flickr CC) by yvette.

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Strength is not a male wordhttp://convergemagazine.com/strength-not-male-word-15531/ http://convergemagazine.com/strength-not-male-word-15531/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 12:00:19 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=15531 Strength is not a male word by Sammi Feliciani

A year ago I was battling some serious insecurity. This was deep stuff: body hatred, negative self-talk, social anxiety and...

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Strength is not a male word by Sammi Feliciani

A year ago I was battling some serious insecurity. This was deep stuff: body hatred, negative self-talk, social anxiety and isolation. But something has changed since then and I think I finally put my finger on what it is.

It all started with an epiphany that occurred while I was talking on the phone with my little sister.


“I don’t really know why I even went out with him,” I said. “If he would have asked me out today I would have said, ‘No way.’ But I think I’ve become more confident since then.”

“You’re definitely more confident,” my sister said, “Honestly, I think you’ve gotten a lot more confident since you started doing CrossFit.”

“Really?!”

“Yeah, I mean you used to be one of those girls who thought you had to be gentle and quiet all the time. Now you’ve realized you can be athletic. You’ve realized you can be strong.”


My sister was right. Working out my body has given physicality to a change already at work inside me. I used to believe that my highest calling was to be a wife and mother, and that left me feeling extremely depressed in my singleness. I used to believe that a gentle and quiet spirit meant being seen but not heard. I used to feel “one-down” for being a woman.

Sometimes we foster this kind of thinking in Christian culture without realizing it.

Why is it that strength (whether physical or spiritual) and gentleness are often viewed as mutually exclusive traits, especially in women?

Why does the command to “be strong and courageous” feel like it has been reserved for men only?

I’ve come to realize that at my best I am gentle, soft-hearted, meek and kind. But I’ve also realized that at my best I am strong, determined, passionate and brave.

My friend Karissa told me recently that I am the bravest person she knows. My friend Sarah told me she saw a picture of me doing CrossFit and thought, “That is a strong woman.” Not just because I can lift weights but because of the way I live my life.

A year ago I would have brushed off these comments and thought, “They’re just being nice. That’s not me.” But you know what? Now I think I believe them.

I’m still growing, learning and changing. I hope that soon I’ll be able to jerk more than 55 pounds. Six months ago I could barely lift an empty barbell! I hope someday I’ll be able to speak in front of people without my hands shaking, that I will share how I feel even when I’m afraid. And I hope I’ll never pretend to be someone I’m not.

I’m not perfect, but I am strong. I’m claiming that word for myself.

You can claim it too.

 

Photo (Flickr CC) by Runar Eilertsen.

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3 reasons why list articles are killing writinghttp://convergemagazine.com/list-articles-killing-writing-15591/ http://convergemagazine.com/list-articles-killing-writing-15591/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 12:00:28 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=15591 3 reasons why list articles are killing writing by Michael Morelli

There’s one thing I just don’t understand: why people love list articles so much. It seems as if every time...

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3 reasons why list articles are killing writing by Michael Morelli

There’s one thing I just don’t understand: why people love list articles so much.

It seems as if every time I scan a social media feed, there’s yet another article with a picture of a sad person on a bench, introspectively looking at the clouds. And then it’s titled something smarmy, like, “10 things every 20 something should know about dating while getting ready for the perfect marriage, while at the same time, job hunting and trying to find a career and looking for direction, meaning, and purpose in life.”

And people literally storm in digital packs to read these articles and share them with profound observations like “Amen!” “Interesting article,” or, “Listen up, people.”

Come on. Can’t we do better than this? I mean, I love that people are reading articles, sharing them, and generating dialogue. But I’m concerned with the content and form of what it is that people are reading, exchanging, and talking about: a style of writing that is the direct result of our information-hungry, impatient, and easily distracted culture. It seems as if we have less and less appreciation for what great writing has to offer: nuance, depth, breadth, ambiguity, creativity, rhetoric, satire, plot twists, unique commentary, insightful voices, rabbit trails, arguments, analogues, parallels, similes, metaphors, and… you get the idea.

So, in perhaps one of the most ironic writing maneuvers I’ve made to date, here are three reasons why I believe list articles are killing writing.

1. It’s a personal essay, not an encyclopedia

Most of these articles are riffs on the form of the personal essay, but they tend to reduce it to the form of an encyclopedia entry. This is because the primary objective in a list article is transmitting useful information. Now, this isn’t necessarily a problem, and in many circumstances it’s a positive accomplishment. But it does become problematic when an essay’s content and style is strip-mined down to mere quick facts that can be read, absorbed, and carried away with minimal effort and thought. Part of the fun and power of reading an essay is mining for the bigger points on one’s own, not having them served on a boring plate with no flourishes, accompaniments, or pizzaz.

Disagree? Order this amazing collection of essays, explore it, and see if you still disagree.

2. We’re just reading the headings and looking at the pictures, anyway…

It’s true. Most — if not all — people just skim their screens as fast as they can, and consequently, the amount of time and investment required to read and engage with an article is the same as the amount it takes do a drive by shooting: the person doing the crime are in and out before you even know the bullets have hit you. And then they’re gone, searching for their next top-10 article target.

3. You become what you read

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and our tools shape us,” Marshall McLuhan said. And I have to agree with him. The media to which we expose ourselves shape us significantly. Think about it: if all we read are look-inside-yourself articles that are all about being a better you, what does this do to our character, consciousness, and our person? It makes us a me-focused, information-driven, task-oriented, what’s-in-it-for-me kind of reader.

So, please, please, please. Let’s not become that breed of media consumer. Instead, let’s become insightful and complex readers who thoughtfully discern and demand quality in our media content. Because it’s more about the journey than the destination; more about the art than the information; more about the joy of the uncertain existential grey than the empirical black and white.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Toshihiro Gamo.

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An interview with Bruce Cockburnhttp://convergemagazine.com/interview-with-bruce-cockburn-15500/ http://convergemagazine.com/interview-with-bruce-cockburn-15500/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 12:00:17 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=15500 An interview with Bruce Cockburn by Craig Ketchum

Discussing his spiritual memoir, Rumours of Glory At four p.m., Canadian singer-songwriter legend Bruce Cockburn strides into the hotel lobby in...

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An interview with Bruce Cockburn by Craig Ketchum

Discussing his spiritual memoir, Rumours of Glory

At four p.m., Canadian singer-songwriter legend Bruce Cockburn strides into the hotel lobby in his signature black Doc Martens and shakes my hand warmly. At age 70, he is slighter than he appears in his old music videos. Hes here to talk with me about his spiritual memoir Rumours of Glory. The book narrates his journey of faith and activism, explaining the stories behind his songs and his choices.

We take the elevator to a business lounge, a cozy gold-tinted room outfitted with two computers and nearly-trendy transparent plastic chairs. Despite his big name and stack of music awards, the setting seems luxurious, since Cockburns international activism has been far from first-class; he’s been to war zones in Mozambique, Guatemala, Honduras, and Iraq, where set up camp amongst refugees and in decrepit hostels.

rumoursWriting the book was like writing a song,Cockburn says as we each take a seat in our respective plastic chairs. I feel like a bloodhound sniffing out a trail and sensing that theres something there to discover.

And in essence, Rumours of Glory is just that: its pages mirror Cockburns songwriting. Part personal narrative, part social commentary, part didactic, the memoir allows the audience to learn by posing questions.

When I read the book, I tell him, I was so fascinated by the history of the issues and places he unearths; the logical next step was to explore them for myself.

As I say this, he chuckles. Im certainly not the only one whos mentioned those things, but the invitation is out there,Cockburn says. Wryly, he smirks. I guess its proof its the same guy writing.

Writing the book was like writing a song. I feel like a bloodhound sniffing out a trail and sensing that theres something there to discover.

Originally, Cockburn says he was going to arrange the book in vignettes, with various scenes that add up to a whole. It was his co-writer Greg Kings idea to arrange it chronologically; Cockburn says King urged him to put in a lot more of the political background that drives the book. When HarperCollins asked for a spiritual memoir, Cockburn says he hadnt considered pairing it with so much of the political tensions that have driven his travels. But it makes sense that the two twine together, just as they do in his songs.

In high school, Cockburn discovered his grandmothers guitar in his attic. He was then inspired to become a musician, and was eventually initiated into the Ottawa music scene in the mid-1960s. Cockburn played with a number of outfits, even opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968, until he decided to pursue a solo career.

In the 1980s he started to pursue international activism; his songwriting became infused with deep concerns for human rights, the environment, and faith. During this time he spent a good deal of his shows explaining his songs to the audience. Specifically, it was the song If I Had a Rocket Launcher,’” he interjects as I mention the time period. When I first came up with the song I felt it could be so easily misconstrued; I didnt want people to take it wrong and think I was telling them to go down and kill Guatemalan soldiers. I wanted to make sure people got it right.

I ask him whether he still finds himself needing to explain those stories. Not very often, and not very much,he says. I think Ive said enough in print about it, and now theres the definitive version in the book,he says. So Ill tell people to read that!

One of the strongest themes in Rumours of Glory is his dismay at social elites who ignore alarming truths about systemic violence. He uses the example of The Washington Wivesself-appointed censorship that prevented Cockburns songs about poverty and injustice from being aired. All because of a single profanity in Call It Democracy. Ironically, this line accused social elites for being calloused towards the marginalized.

Though he weaves stories from all areas of life into both his book and his song lyrics, Cockburn has been adept at keeping his personal life out of the spotlight of the press. The memoir ends before my second daughter was born,he says. And thats a start of a whole new story, which would have taken another 200 pages and taken us past the publishers deadline!

He pauses. If anything, its a set-up for volume two, just in case I ever forget how bad it was writing one book, Or, more to the point, if my wife ever forgets; she thought the book was ruining my life.

The memoir closes with a recognizably spiritual afterword on the responsibility of all people to nurture a relationship with the divine, and to practice healing of our world. From the language Cockburn uses, some readers may come away with a sense that he has undermined the singularity of the Christian faith by preaching universalism.

We need to pull the plank out of our own eye and our own psyche before we try to fix someone elses wiring.

When I ask him about it, he is pleased to elaborate. Ive flirted with so many tribes over the years. A lot of peoples lives have converged with mine for a time,he says. You can get picky about other religions take Shinto, for example and call them all superstition. Or you can honour the profound things that are expressed through that belief system. And you can walk away thinking, I could learn something from these people,’” says Cockburn.

I dont claim to be an authority on anything, and I really dont think anyone should be claiming to be an authority on anything.

Cockburn says he is grieved by the deep scars that have been inflicted upon humanity when people dig their heels into exclusive claims to truth. We witness it, he says, in the inability of a significant portion of the right-wing Christian communityto see that they are of the same persuasion as those they call radical in the Middle East.

BruceCockburn07Above all, you cant go around killing people because they dont agree with you. We need to pull the plank out of our own eye and our own psyche before we try to fix someone elses wiring,he says.

When I look around at the mystical traditions, filled with people who have been reticent to share their knowledge, nowadays they are just throwing it out there. Maybe its an impulse from God encouraging us to get together, to love each other, to love the planet, and see miracles happen,says Cockburn. 

He speaks with the experience of age, where little is shocking, and yet he does so without much cynicism. I see the hope instilled in him by good gifts that cause him to wonder: his daughter, his friends, and his faith.

I cant help but think that the world needs a few more Bruce Cockburns, keeping us wide-eyed enough to stop destroying the world, one another, and ourselves. Around us is a world filled with violence because we refuse to really see and hear people who are different.

Because, like Cockburn, we need to be lovers in a dangerous time.

Photos courtesy of brucecockburn.com.

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How to start the year with solitudehttp://convergemagazine.com/start-year-solitude-15575/ http://convergemagazine.com/start-year-solitude-15575/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 12:00:25 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=15575 How to start the year with solitude by Matteo Mortelliti

The start of a new year can be both exciting and intimidating. It’s filled with hope for success and fear...

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How to start the year with solitude by Matteo Mortelliti

The start of a new year can be both exciting and intimidating. It’s filled with hope for success and fear of failure. At the start of the new year we look for resolutions: we acquire more projects, more friends, more money, more triumphs, more of whatever will make us feel good about ourselves. Why? To resolve that question resounding deep in the depths of our psyche: Who am I? Am I funny, am I admired? Am I disliked, hated, or despised? Am I valued? Who am I?

On January 1, 2012, I left my home, my friends, and my family and moved across the country to a city where I knew no one. The future was promising: I could start new hobbies, make new friends, and change the way I dressed. I could redefine myself without having to answer to anyone. I’ve always been the independent type, so starting over alone was easy at first. But despite my introversion, I soon found that living alone, so far away from family and friends, is hard. It’s uncomfortable and it’s lonely. But, I’ve since learned, that that doesn’t mean loneliness is bad.

If we choose to, our loneliness can turn into the Christian practice of solitude, which can allow us to face the “Who am I?” question, not alone, but with God.

Solitude is not like a typical “resolution” which feeds our compulsion to find a sense of value in accomplishment. Rather, solitude is an awkward, nail-biting practice that forces us to meet the discomforting distress of our own sin. Like sitting in the dentist’s chair, in solitude, you sit in God’s chair, and He does the long, painful work of addressing your pains and needs. But it’s worthwhile: the Christian practice of solitude can foster Christian virtue and help reorient our affections for Christ. While solitude intensifies vulnerable questions of identity, Christ does His work to make us new.

Solitude may look different for everyone, based on needs and schedules, but here are eight tips on how you can make the most of a practice of solitude, and hopefully make the most out of the start of a new year.

1. Decide on a time.

I would advise everyone to yield a full 24 hours at least once a year, and at least one hour every week to solitude. If you can do more, do more. But, please don’t let the fear of not doing enough keep you from doing any at all — if you can’t afford 24 hours, find 12 hours, or six, or even one. One hour away from the usual grind is more rewarding than you might think.

2. Find an unfamiliar space.

This could be anywhere, really, indoor or outdoor. It could be in the forest, in a yard, or in someone’s home. Do you have a friend or family member who might have a space that you could use for an extended period of time? Or maybe you know someone who wishes to practice solitude as well — a good idea is to swap homes for the time devoted to solitude. Unfamiliar spaces are better than familiar ones because they take you out of your ordinary environment and the typical distractions. But, if you can’t find an unfamiliar space, a quiet space in your home will do fine. If you’re willing to pay, retreat centres exist for this very purpose. 

3. Leave the gun, take the cannoli.

Leave all digital technology at home, or in another room, far away from you. In solitude, we get rid of our infrastructures: no phones, no computers, no music devices, no projects to accomplish. Just a Bible and you: vulnerable, sinful, and broken.

4. Plan for snacks.

If you plan on taking a whole 24 hours, it might be a good idea to bring some food — but keep it simple (like a loaf of bread, or some granola bars). If you plan lavish meals you’ll find yourself looking forward to eating more than praying. If you can fast, even better.

5. Don’t give up.

In solitude, everything in you will want to give up — to get your phone, check your email, or just cut it short. DON’T! The struggle of solitude is an important part of the process. You need to struggle with your discomfort, you need to sit in the discomfort of sin’s reality and presence in your life and in the world. Ask yourself: “What’s making me so uncomfortable?” “Why am I so bored?” “What is so much more important than this moment right now, and why?” “What is God saying?” To practice solitude is to say, “I’m ready for the truth.” But the moment we catch a glimpse, we’re reminded of its pain, so we run. Don’t run, wrestle with it.

6. Be with God. 

The most important part of the practice of solitude is your encounter with God. You can’t manipulate God, that’s for sure, but you can seek Him, and all the better if you do. There are no rules, and God can do what He wants, when He wants. So pray, and pray honestly — there’s no fooling God.

7. Make it a habit. 

Hopefully, a 24 hour period of solitude will propel you into the habit of solitude on a smaller scale. Practice the principles of solitude daily through momentary retreats and God desiring dispositions. A walk,  a minute of silence, or just turning off your phone are simple ways to remember God and cultivate devout dispositions throughout the day.

8. Get back to the world.

Getting back to the world and our community is an important counterpart to solitude. Solitude isn’t an escape or withdrawal for the sake of rest or renewal. Before His ministry with people, Jesus spent time in the desert, and it was only after 40 days of fasting and temptation in solitude that Jesus called His disciples. In solitude, God encounters us, convicts us of sin and compels us by His love; He defines our identity by His purpose and work, and through Him we no longer view our resolutions, activities and goals as “our own thing,” but rather, as part of the common vocation of the church of Christ, who makes all things new.   

Photo (Flickr CC) by chuddlesworth.

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Feza Ertek: From Islam to Christhttp://convergemagazine.com/feza-ertek-muslim-christ-15483/ http://convergemagazine.com/feza-ertek-muslim-christ-15483/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 12:00:52 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=15483 Feza Ertek: From Islam to Christ by Julia Cheung

Feza Ertek eludes description. The sheer density of her spirituality either attracts or repels. She’s direct in the way that...

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Feza Ertek: From Islam to Christ by Julia Cheung

Feza Ertek eludes description. The sheer density of her spirituality either attracts or repels. She’s direct in the way that really spiritual people are; as if she’s somehow transcended the minor earthly concerns of the body. We mortals of flesh and blood trade in a currency that Feza transcends.

And yet she wasn’t always that way.

Flesh and blood have played a brutal part in the transformation of this Muslim-turned-Christian woman. The story of her life unfolds like a series of surreal dream sequences. It’s a life rife with poetic justice, moment upon moment dripping with narrative meaning.

Jer Adrian, a Pastor from Feza’s church, has known her for a year now. “She’s been on a mission trip to Africa with us, she is involved in our community settings, and in serving on a ministry team,” he says. “The first time I heard her story, I literally felt that I was in the presence of one of God’s elect.”

So. A story woven by God or by the tapestry of chance?


Feza grew up with a strange sensitivity to the spiritual. She distinctly remembers feeling goosebumps when she first heard about Jesus in Turkey where she grew up, in standard Islamic teaching as Jesus the prophet. “I then felt Jesus is my boyfriend,” she insists. She speaks in present tense but is referring to the past. “I truly felt that way, even though I was only five years old.”

Her childhood-self’s reaction to Allah, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. “I wanted to see Allah, so I prayed and asked him to show his face.” A dream ensued —one with an ugly, creepy figure with long fingernails, leering at the young Feza in grotesque lust. “I knew that was Allah,” she says, “and that he is not God. Because a true God would never make me afraid like that.”

Yet despite her categorical denial of Allah’s deity and of Islam, fear followed her throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. She lived as a spiritual/secular Muslim, denying the faith inwardly, not practicing it outwardly, yet absorbing its spiritism through and through. She knew, she says, that there was a God. She just didn’t know why He kept leaving her.

“I was so angry at God. Every night of my life, I felt that I would go to sleep, holding God’s hand. But that if I let go of his hand, he wouldn’t be with me. Then every morning, I would feel that God left me because I let go of his hand while I was asleep. I was so afraid.”

By 12, Feza had become the community fortune teller. She would read the dregs of Turkish coffee to tell the future with alarming accuracy. “I would describe peoples’ houses, terrace, furniture, light without even seeing it. And I would always be right.”

Her gift haunted her. She felt spirits in every corner, darkness and demons (“as Muslims, we believed they were good demons”) lurking in every room and presences in empty houses. At night, she says they pushed down on her body and physically suffocated her.

By 2001, despite a successful government-level career in advertising, she was depressed and anxious beyond compare. The hyper-spirituality took its toll. She left her 10 and 11 year-old sons in Turkey with her ex-husband and his new wife, and she fled to New York City, where she began working as a diamond appraiser. “I was so miserable. I felt like I’m not from this earth,” she says.


In New York, Feza came to a fork in the road. A new American friend of hers, Monika, wanted to set her up with a friend, a radical Algerian-Muslim. The initial meeting would go down inside a Catholic church — at a Christmas Eve Mass. Monika was a Catholic. This was Feza’s first ever direct exposure to Christianity. “Jesus takes care of me,” Monika told Feza as they walked to mass to meet the Algerian-Muslim. “I can close my eyes and walk forward and He’ll catch me.”

Or at least that’s what Feza understood with her limited grasp of English at the time. She says she lifted her hands that night and uttered an off-the-cuff prayer, “OK Jesus, if you’re really God, then come meet me in my backyard!”

She says He did.

That night, after mass, Feza was sitting alone in her private basement suite. All of a sudden, she says she saw a flash of light out the basement window, and heard a huge crash. She waited a few seconds for the sound of sirens or for a signal that the electricity had gone out. Nothing.

The next morning, Feza went outside to take out the trash. Her door led into a backyard patio that was ringed with trees. But two of the trees had fallen to the ground, when all the others remained standing. They were the two trees that were directly in front of her basement window, and had broken at the trunk and crashed onto the ground. They had been so close to her window that it would have been physically impossible for anyone to push them to the ground, away from the building.

It appeared to be a supernatural intervention. Feza says her landlord was flummoxed. A crowd gathered, and people started taking pictures.

“I read much later on in Psalm 19 that “God’s Word can cut trees to the ground,” says Feza.

Jesus had indeed shown up in her backyard; Feza, however, moved on. She had fallen in love with the radical Algerian-Muslim she had met at Catholic mass.


Feza moved in with her new boyfriend, and for the first time in her life, caved in to radical Muslim practices. She donned a hijab. Quit her job. She let her boyfriend beat her.

Her life, she says, became an unholy trio of beating, sex, and worship. “My boyfriend would be praying in the corner to Allah with his prayer mat. Then he would look over and see that I had eaten the last piece of balaclava on the table. He would tell Allah — I’m going to put you on hold, Allah, I’ll be right back — and he would come over and beat me until my blue robe was no longer blue, but soaked in blood. Then he would go back and continue praying.”

When asked why she didn’t leave, especially when she considered herself a free-thinking, emancipated, modern woman, she says, “I couldn’t leave. I thought I was in love.”

Feza became obsessively jealous over her new boyfriend, worrying over an absent “wife” (whom he had married to obtain a green card), over his broken promises to marry Feza, and over his threats to take another younger, second wife.

Compelled by frantic suspicion, she turned their apartment inside out, searching for signs of his infidelity.

“When I finally found myself on the floor, digging through dirty toilet paper, sniffing it for semen,” she says, “at that moment, God came to me. And I admitted I was really sick.” But admission didn’t grant her freedom. She says she decided to poison her boyfriend’s food, eat it with him, and die together.

She did buy the poison. She did cook the food.

But when it came time for her boyfriend to eat, she told him the truth. “I’ve never been able to lie,” she says. She told him everything. He left.

This, she says, was God’s mercy to her. He left her in that apartment and never came back. She went back to work. In a low and lonely moment, she ran into a co-worker of hers. Pierre, a Lebanese diamond trader.

Pierre gave her a Bible.


Feza says she flipped the King James Bible open and it landed on Isaish 43:1: “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.”

This, Feza says, blew her mind. She had lived her entire life in fear. Unconditional love and acceptance were the things that she had been hungering for. “When I opened another page, it came to 1 Corinthians 13. God was talking about love. There isn’t even one letter about love in the Qur’an.” From that point on, her spiritual journey took a wild turn.

She had met the Christian God.


Feza’s journey of faith brought her back to Turkey, then to Canada. Earlier this year, she flew to NYC for the first time since her conversion and went to find Pierre to thank him for giving her a Bible.

She’s in tears as she reflects on her journey of faith. “I don’t feel pain anymore. I don’t understand depression. I am so thankful to Jesus for saving me. And when I cry, I am crying for the people who do not know God.”

She dabs at her eyes with tissue. “He showed me how humble He was and He came to my backyard. He proved everything to me. And I just want to spend the rest of my life telling others that.”

Photo (Flickr CC) by C G.

Originally published in Issue 19 of Converge Magazine

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Five ways to stay centred in the cityhttp://convergemagazine.com/stay-centred-in-the-city-15529/ http://convergemagazine.com/stay-centred-in-the-city-15529/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 12:00:25 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=15529 Five ways to stay centred in the city by Benjamin Mack

The bass was pumping — hard. Packed bodies gyrated across a spacious dance floor with the ebb and flow of...

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Five ways to stay centred in the city by Benjamin Mack

The bass was pumping — hard. Packed bodies gyrated across a spacious dance floor with the ebb and flow of a human tide, a swirl of energy powered by a techno soundtrack that rattled the ribcage. Overlooking the scene was a large wraparound balcony, where the rulers of Europe’s club scene surveyed their subjects with dour expressions.

Suddenly, my phone began vibrating. Still dancing as I reached into my pocket, I saw the text was from a close friend. She was asking if I wanted to join her for church in a few hours.

Church? I was in it already. The club, and its deafening music, had basically become a god that I worshipped every week.

Anyone who’s been can attest to Berlin’s laissez-faire lifestyle. The city that’s “poor but sexy” has been through a history darker than almost any on earth, with the scars still evident more than a quarter-century after the Berlin Wall came down; naturally, a certain level of hedonistic tendency can be expected in an area that has literally rebuilt itself from post-apocalyptic rubble.

But saying Berlin doesn’t take things to the extreme would be like telling Santa Claus he doesn’t have a weight problem. Like many cities, it’s chock-full of distractions, which can lead even the most dedicated individuals astray.

The ability of an urban environment to lead a person astray is not to be taken lightly. While it’s unknown exactly what went on in biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, we can guess they were also full of things that turned people away from God. The price citizens there paid for their indiscretions was high: as the book of Genesis tells us, God destroyed the cities.

Berlin, thankfully, has not been utterly annihilated, but amid the pervasive profligacy that takes place within its boundaries, it comes as no shock that it’s easy to lose track of one’s life goals or sense of purpose. Part of Proverbs 3:21 (NIV) says:

“Do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion.”

Admittedly, preserving sound judgment and exercising discretion can be difficult in Berlin, as it can be in any urban environment. To keep focused amid a veritable sea of distractions, here are a few tips.

1. Remember God.

Colossians 3:2 (ESV) says:

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

Whether it’s through prayer, reading the Bible, or attending church (or all three), taking the time to nurture your relationship with Christ can help you nurture positivity in your life and find what His purpose is for you.

2. Have a good support network.

These can be friends, coworkers, or really anyone who can help keep you grounded and remind you of your responsibilities. If they truly care about you, they’ll help prevent you from going too far astray — and remind you when you are.

3. Practice moderation.

There’s nothing wrong with going out every now and again, but doing so each night can have a detrimental effect. Part of Proverbs 25:27 (ESV) says:

“It is not good to eat much honey.”

Likewise, 24/7 partying probably isn’t the best plan for someone who wishes to maintain a sense of purpose.

4. Set goals.

Having goals, of course, can give a person something to work towards, and provide a means to centre oneself. They can be personal, professional, or spiritual — and grandiose or minuscule in scale — but no matter what they are, they should be part of a greater plan beyond simply living moment-to-moment.

5. Temptation is only temporary, and can be overcome.

A good verse to remember is 1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV):

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Every city is filled with its own set of distractions. Even Jerusalem in Jesus’ time had them, including the temple, the place supposed to be the most spiritually-focused. But no matter if that city is Vancouver, Berlin, Toronto, Tokyo, or Auckland, the challenges are similar.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Ville-Veikko Ilén.

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Me, myself, and I: Christians and masturbationhttp://convergemagazine.com/christians-and-masturbation-15476/ http://convergemagazine.com/christians-and-masturbation-15476/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 14:07:41 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=15476 Me, myself, and I: Christians and masturbation by Karol Boschung

Masturbation! There, I said it! I can scarcely imagine a subject more likely to inspire the creative use of euphemisms...

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Me, myself, and I: Christians and masturbation by Karol Boschung

Masturbation! There, I said it!

I can scarcely imagine a subject more likely to inspire the creative use of euphemisms and awkward exercises in not getting to the point. This is especially true amongst Christians, as many of us are still learning how to talk freely and frankly about sex.

Most people, at some point in their lives, have masturbated. A study in the UK found that more than 70 per cent of men and almost 40 per cent of women had masturbated in the past month. It often starts in the confusing and hormonal teenage years, when everything is strange and pimply and uncomfortable.

Although plenty of parents tell their kids about the birds and the bees, few may have the courage to talk about what the bird or the bee does on her or his own when no one is looking. Fewer still may talk about whether or not that solitary bird or bee is doing anything wrong.

Although plenty of parents tell their kids about the birds and the bees, few may have the courage to talk about what the bird or the bee does when no one is looking.

This lack of clear guidance extends to the church as well. Often the only thing that Christians (and especially teens) hear is repeated variations of a theme: sex outside of marriage is sinful — so don’t do it. While this is true, and certainly part of a Biblical sex ethic, it leaves us with a whole lot of haziness about the issue of masturbation. Amongst those who are willing to talk about it, the attitudes range from outright condemnation to, “it’s not mentioned in the Bible, so it must be OK.”

Masturbation has an obvious association with lust — something Jesus clearly condemns — and is often a way to act on those lustful thoughts. But many will argue it’s possible to masturbate without lusting; in fact, masturbation might even be a sort of “pressure release” that helps those who struggle with leading a chaste life to get rid of the temptation, and carry on with their day.

In the anti-masturbation camp, the message is often presented from within a culture of sexual shame. Sex outside of marriage is a specially heinous sin, seemingly worse than greed, murder, and hypocrisy combined! Those who are “impure” are compared to used toothbrushes, pre-chewed gum, or a cup of water that people have spat in. Regardless of whether or not they are right about the issue, this reaction doesn’t lead to repentance but rather to guilt and secrecy; it forgets that the greedy and slanderous should be called to repentance, just as much as those who sin sexually.

Conversely, the other camp is well represented by someone like James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. “It is my opinion that masturbation is not much of an issue with God,” says Dobson. “It is a normal part of adolescence which involves no one else. It does not cause disease. It does not produce babies, and Jesus did not mention it in the Bible.”

I can certainly see the draw of Dobson’s perspective. Of course most everyone wants masturbation to be OK. But this very desire should give us pause before uncritically accepting this perspective.

Doesn’t it seem oddly self-serving that the answer to the question of masturbation is exactly what we want it to be? It is crucial that we are aware of our own capacity for self-deception; after all, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Just because the Bible doesn’t mention something doesn’t necessarily give us license to say that it’s a good thing to do. The Bible doesn’t talk about fracking or clearcutting. It doesn’t mention the stock market, or whether you should vote Conservative or Liberal, Republican or Democrat.

What it does mention is that God’s creation is “very good,” that excessive wealth is dangerous to your soul, and that a society should honour God by taking care of the outcasts and widows. These principles demand that we think Christianly about things in our world.

To think about masturbation wisely, we must look at the Biblical picture of sexuality. Only then will we be able to get a Christian perspective on this issue of self-gratification.

To start, in Genesis 1 and 2, we get our first foundational picture of sexuality.

“This at last is bone of bones and flesh of my flesh…”

“The man shall… hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

John Calvin said that, in finding Eve, Adam had found “as it were, another self.” John Paul II, in an incredible phrase, said that “man became the ‘image and likeness’ of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons.” We can see, from the very beginning, that our humanity and our sexuality are pointed outwards, towards union and love.

Another very important thread in a Christian understanding of sexuality is found in Ephesians, when Paul talks about marriage: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). All through the Bible, God talks about His people as His Bride. God is the Bridegroom, and they are His Bride. Sometimes — often! — they are His unfaithful Bride, mired in harlotry. But they are always his Bride, and He is always determined to woo them back. Marriage, and the sexuality contained therein, is a symbol of this Great Wedding. It is a place of giving and of union, rather than taking and self-directed pleasure.

Masturbation perpetuates the lie that sex is for me.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, “… the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” This passage is a perfect example of the selfless picture of marriage painted in Ephesians 5. Even in marriage — especially in marriage — sex is not about you. Your body is for your spouse, and your spouse’s body is for you. In the act of sex, each person ought to be self-giving in love and service for the other.

Tim Keller sums it up very well by saying that “the Bible teaches that the essence of marriage is a sacrificial commitment to the good of the other.” This includes every aspect of ourselves, including our sexuality.

A friend of mine once said this: “Masturbation perpetuates the lie that sex is for me.” In considering it deeply, we can see that masturbation is precisely the opposite of the Christian picture of sexuality. It is turned inward, aimed at no one’s pleasure but your own. It trains our sexuality to be self-focused. It turns our sexuality into a mechanism for easy pleasure for us, rather than a gift to be given and received in love between husband and wife.

We serve a God whose love for us is best shown by His selfless giving of Himself, to the point of death. In all things, we are called to imitate Christ, considering others above ourselves. It is certain that we are and will remain sinners in desperate need of grace, but that doesn’t change the fact that our sexuality, just like our finances and our speech, is meant to be pointed outwards in love.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Marc Ambros.

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10 letters to write in 2015http://convergemagazine.com/10-letters-write-honour-universal-letter-writing-week-15509/ http://convergemagazine.com/10-letters-write-honour-universal-letter-writing-week-15509/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 12:00:44 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=15509 10 letters to write in 2015 by Maureen Farrell Garcia

Communication expert Alexandra Franzen has recently informed me that January 8th to January 14th was Universal Letter Writing Week. “When you...

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10 letters to write in 2015 by Maureen Farrell Garcia

Communication expert Alexandra Franzen has recently informed me that January 8th to January 14th was Universal Letter Writing Week. “When you write something,” she says, ”your words have the power to change someone’s day, week, month, or life. (Which, in turn, shapes your own life, too.) You never know what kind of impact your words might have  — or where “just one letter” might lead.”

And, of course, she is correct.

The Bible affirms that words are powerful and creative. God loves words. And letters as well. In fact, Psalms are kind of like letters from the authors to themselves, to readers, and perhaps even to God. In Catherine Field’s New York Times article, “The Fading Art of Letter Writing,” she says writing a letter “is a deliberate act of exposure, a form of vulnerability.” Sounds like many of the Psalms to me.

Plus, the New Testament has numerous epistles written for a variety of reasons: encouragement, instruction, correction, connection etc.

Why not take this opportunity to celebrate the ancient art of letter writing by taking time to turn towards yourself, others, and even God, through writing letters?

 

1. The Invitation Letter

Who do you have fun with? Who makes you laugh until your stomach hurts? Who makes you feel like you did when you were a kid and the world was full of possibilities? Send him a letter: an invitation to join you in play, or discovery, or an adventure, or a laugh. You could invite him to accompany you to a comedy show, or a creative retreat, or a pottery class, or a painting workshop, or a wine tasting event. Or you can design your own fun. Go skating. Bike riding. Cartwheeling. Now go play.

2. The Time Travel Letter

Every semester I ask my writing students to spend 15 minutes free-writing a letter to themselves. There are no rules. My Sci-fi and Fantasy readers have written wonderful creative time travel letters from their future self to their present, or vice versa. Or from their past selves to their present. Some letters are funny, others are poignant, but all are insightful. Have fun with it and connect with yourself. See what you have to say to you. You might be surprised.

3. The Impact Letter

Another letter prompt I give my students is to write a letter to someone who has impacted their lives for good or ill. Often they write to parents or former teachers. Sometimes they write to people who have caused them great grief and harm. These letters are often raw and vulnerable. They reveal how significant our interactions with one another are. So, write a letter to someone who has impacted you. Then afterwards decide if you’d like to send it or not.

4. The Sensory Letter

Handwritten letters differ from emails by their sensory nature. You can feel them. They are tactile and present. Highlight the differences between emails and letters by kicking up the sensory elements of your handwritten letter. You can use coloured pens, or glitter pens. Or perhaps you could spritz your letter with your signature scent, like Elle Wood’s resume from the movie Legally Blonde. Or you can create a hand-stitched notecard to add texture and whimsy. Or you can send a letter accompanied by tasty baked goods, chocolate, or loose tea. Think of pleasant sensory experiences and then creatively craft your epistle.

5. The Opportunity Letter

A friend of mine, a Christian counsellor who is skilled at working with victims of trauma, has been invited to participate on a trip to Kyrgyzstan to help train others on how to effectively counsel victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. She has sent out a letter as well as set up a fundraising page, explaining the project and inviting others to partner with her through prayers and donations. Her letter provides others the opportunity to contribute to a meaningful mission. Is there some ministry or mission project you are involved in? Write a letter explaining the ministry or project, and offer others the opportunity to pray, or donate their time and/or money.

6. The Gratitude Letter

Let’s take a page from Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and write a letter of gratitude to someone whom you are thankful for, complete with a list of all you are grateful for. Feel free to write this to someone living or dead. Write to someone you know or to someone you have never met. Perhaps write a letter to God describing all you are grateful for over the last year. Maybe a thank you to yourself for something incredible you accomplished this year.

7. The Lament Letter

Some letters are not all happy and filled with gratitude. Having a full range of human emotions means there will be times when we suffer. Write down what you are terrified of, or what makes you angry, or what loss you have been enduring. This could be a letter to a compassionate friend, or a letter to yourself, or a letter, like a Psalm, directed towards God. God is not frightened by strong emotions.

8. The Imagining Letter

Write a letter to someone about an adventurous future you imagine having together. Paint a word picture of the possibilities you imagine could happen if you both journey together: perhaps a romantic relationship, or a mentoring friendship, or a business, or a vacation. Whatever you can imagine.

9. The God’s Names Letter

Throughout Scripture God has multiple names revealed in various contexts. For example, for Hagar God is El Roi, the One Who Sees. For Moses, God is I Am. Other God names include the Lord of Hosts, the Healer, and the Provider. When reading through the Bible notice passages where a name is provided for God and then write a letter to God based on the characteristics of that name. If you read that God is named Healer, then petition God in a handwritten letter for those who need healing in your life. Or thank God for how he has brought healing in your life, whether physically, emotionally, or relationally. Turn towards God by using the names provided in Scripture as a springboard for a letter writing connection.

10. The Restoration Letter

Write a letter of restoration. Maybe you had a falling out with a relative. Or perhaps you have lost touch with an old friend, or a friendship has grown cold. Warm it back up with a letter expressing your feelings and how you have missed this person’s presence in your life. If needed, offer forgiveness, or request forgiveness. When you mail it, let it go. Don’t fret if your renewed offer of friendship is rejected. And if there is a favourable response, well then, yay you!

 

So, whom do you want to connect with? Perhaps you’d like to turn towards God, or a friend, or yourself? Take some time and write some letters. After all, as Catherine Field writes, “A good handwritten letter is a creative act, and not just because it is a visual and tactile pleasure… [but] because handwriting opens a window on the soul in a way that cyber communication can never do.”

Who knows? Maybe you’ll receive some letters in return.

Photo (Flickr CC) by missus manukenkun.

 

 

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