Friday, September 9, 2011

My First Guest Blogger: Laura Ziesel

A few months ago, an interesting quip came across my Twitter feed. Noticing the originator of the tweet, Laura Ziesel, I clicked on the link and ended up at her articulate blog site.

Most amazingly is that I know her husband's family very well. Josh's parents. Gene and Paula Ziesel are now in church ministry in Blacksburg, VA, though we knew them (our daughters played soccer together and graduated high school the same year) when they lived in Charlotte. Small world. Yes indeed! So, I started following Laura on Twitter and have been duly impressed with her spiritual insight and the compelling way she communicates what she wants to say.

I have long wanted to start hosting other bloggers and authors on my site and after thinking of who I would feature for my first guest, Laura was the obvious choice. If you want to experience a fresh, pithy way of thinking about Christian issues, you'll enjoy Laura Ziesel. She's a true seeker of God's heart.

Recently I asked Laura some questions about herself.       

1. Tell me a little about your growing up years.

I was born the youngest of three daughters in Connecticut, but we moved to Carrollton, GA when I was 4. I spent the majority of my childhood in Georgia, and it was quite a happy childhood. I am so grateful for an upbringing that allowed me the opportunities I had. I played outside in our family's creek a lot, and I also played loads of sports. I was surrounded by good girlfriends my age, had some great teachers in school, and benefited from being around people who loved the Lord. All in all, it was idyllic. 

2. You are already making a presence in the world of Christian journalism. How long did you know you wanted to be a writer?

To be honest, I've always written but I've never dreamed of being a writer. I write because if I don't my mind is overwhelmed with too many thoughts. I simply have to write to get them out because I am not a verbal processor. I know that sounds unromantic, but that is the very practical side of why I write. Now that I've been writing consistently, I have received a lot of feedback that my words are actually helpful to others as they pursue Jesus, and that is wonderful to hear so it spurs me on. Even when I feel like hoarding my thoughts and keeping them private, I have seen that sharing them is beneficial to others. Honestly, I'm amazed that God has wired us to be fed so effectively through community, even online community, but I am grateful He knows best. 

3.  I know that you have started seminary classes. What are your future goals after seminary?
I did just start seminary! My long-term goal is to live a life of scholarship, teaching, and writing as ministry. I have a strong desire to train and equip Christians, but I'm not sure what God has in mind for my future. I would love to work on Bible study curriculums, teach Bible and theology classes, and support my husband's work as best as I am able. 

4.  If you could only write on one subject, what would it be? Your greatest passion?
If I were forced to choose one topic, I would probably select the book of Genesis. When someone talks about Genesis my ears always perk up because I simply love the complexity and richness of it. But I feel that selecting Genesis might be cheating a bit because one reason I would choose Genesis is that it deals with a variety of difficult life issues like finances, marriage, parenting, and forgiveness while still having deep theological significance.

Welcome, Laura, to In Every Place. One of my favorite of her blog entries so far is the following: WATCH YOUR TONE. Great insight, candid and straightforward. Feel free to read the post below or follow me to her blog site. Get to know Laura!

Watch Your Tone (by Laura Ziesel)

'Angry Birds' photo (c) 2011, Denis Dervisevic - license: are a lot of heated debates out there, both inside and outside the Christian world. When discussing politics, finance, or race, things can get heated very quickly. This probably isn't news to anyone, especially as the 24-hour news cycle and venomous arguments on Facebook are always looking for more fuel.

You might think I'm naive for wishing this, but I want conversations among Christians to be different.

After reading Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, I turned to a spiritual authority figure for clarity. He is engaged in biblical scholarship, so I thought he would help me flesh out some of my concerns. At one point in the conversation I said, "Another thing that is really disturbing to me is the lack of civility between complementarians and egalitarians. It seems they are very unkind toward one another and that makes it hard for me to trust either camp."

My heart sunk a lot when he replied with, "Well, that's just the tone used in academic writing. It's not personal, it's just how it's done."

Boy, was I disappointed.

Tomorrow I start seminary, and one of my concerns is that being unkind, even in writing, will become normal for me. I don't want to become dismissivebelittling, or sarcastic like many of the voices of American Christianity. I really, really don't.

I want the tone behind my words to be full of grace and love because I know I can easily become arrogant, unkind, and petty.

On the Myer-Briggs personality indicator, I am a strong Thinker (as opposed to a Feeler). My default preference is to think very little of how my words and actions affect others. And that is why I care about this topic. I've had to learn, against my nature, to think about the power of my words. I'm still not a natural at being kind or humble, but I have grown a lot in this regard.

So when I say I am concerned about the tone used for debate among Christians, it is not because I am a sensitive person, it is because I am a repentant sinner. And as a Christian I should care not just about the content of my words, but also about the attitude behind them and the impression they leave on others.

There are lots of Christian teachers out there who I want to learn from, but they make it very difficult to submit to their teachings simply because of the tone they use when they engage with opponents. I'm sorry, but correct teaching is not enough to earn my respect; I need to trust that the Gospel has changed you. I need to see that you are free of having to be right, of having to strike back, or having to come out on top. I need a humble attitude in my teachers because I need a humble attitude in myself.

So teachers of the Bible, if you have a tone marked by anger, fear, pride, or ridicule, I am more likely to disregard what you have to say. This also applies to all arenas of life: politics, academics, healthcare, etc. I don't expect our tones to always be kind because I know that we are all sinners. I use tones I am not proud of more than I care to admit. But to use an improper tone and know that it is improper is one thing; to use an improper tone and ignore its importance, blame it on others, or even call it righteous is another. Generally, we should be more apologetic than argumentative, not argumentative with apologies thrown in as afterthoughts.

As I start seminary, I'm going to admit that I will give more respect (and possibly credence) to authors and professors who are humble and kind, even if their doctrinal stances are different than mine. Don't worry. I am the last person who will go along with someone theologically simply because they are nice.  I'm not saying I'm going to be a young sapling simply looking for the easiest climate in which to grow. But I am saying that I am more likely to take your words seriously if they are unsullied by a tone of sin.

Just as there are people out there I have a hard time agreeing with because of their tone, there are others who I respect a great deal despite our differences because of their kind tone toward others. Take Rick Warren for example. I disagree with him theologically and politically on many levels, but I respect him for his kind tone. Or consider recent articles by complementarians who I couldn't disagree with more: The Her.meneutics Gender Debates (Part 2) with content from Dr. Russell Moore and Taking Dominion with content by Mark Chanski (see especially the comments). I disagree with both of those men, but I respect them because of the tone they have used; they do not mock or belittle egalitarians, and that earns them major points.

So as I begin seminary, I confess my inclination to be prideful, dismissive, and harsh. And I ask you to help me. I welcome your feedback as I continue writing, undoubtedly engaging with biblical scholarship in a deeper and more passionate way.

I don't want to succumb to "how it's done." I want to succumb to the way of grace upon grace.