Saturday, December 29, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Plenty of lengthy explanations for a biblical understanding of gender equality exist, on the web and in print. I would still like to offer what I hope will be a brief summary of my own framework for a scriptural understanding of equality. Let’s start with some myth-busting.
Myth: Egalitarians believe “equality” means “same.”
Of course men and women are different - in significant, and not-so-significant ways. Women carry babies. Men have more upper body strength. (I’m already thinking of exceptions.) There are differences in brain development, in hormone excretion, and in socialization. Christian egalitarians are not interested in obliterating the genuine differences between women and men. We are concerned with, to quote Rebecca Grouthuis, “what difference the differences make.” Broad generalizations about what men are like or what women are like usually aren’t helpful. They don’t fit very well. They don’t account for personality type differences or cultural differences. They reinforce stereotypes. They marginalize the exceptions. And they erode the foundation for unity, reconciliation, and intimacy that women and men need with one another. An extreme emphasis on difference (like my classmate’s declaration that we are “100% different”) erodes mutual understanding. Historically it has been a foundation for misogyny. Considering the biblical emphasis on unity, the practice of emphasizing our common humanity as a basis for relationship seems like a pretty sound starting point.
Myth: Equality means the woman is in charge instead of the man. I’ve spoken with many people who believe that one person in a marriage must be in charge, and if it’s not the man then the woman takes over. Equality is about a partnership of equals who share power and mutually submit to one another. It’s not a cover for male subordination by women. (Ironically, if you look more closely at some of these male headship marriages, the person who is really in charge isn’t the man. Power will try to balance itself out, in subversive or manipulative ways if more direct ways are not available.) Incidentally, egalitarians don’t think it’s any better for the wife to be in charge of the husband. We really believe in equality.
Myth: The husband must be the final decision-maker and this is biblical. This is bunk. It’s not biblical and even really literal approaches to interpretation can’t reasonably substantiate this claim from scripture. And in practice, two loving adults who are equally vested in the outcome of a decision can share that decision and reach consensus. One person having the power to trump all decisions is not healthy. Once I had a conversation with a man who felt really strongly about being the “final decision maker.” I asked him why, if there must be one, it should be him. Is he smarter than his wife? Is he better at solving problems than his wife? Is he more important than his wife? No. no. no. “It’s because I’m the MAN.” But what about being the man makes you more qualified to make decisions? Is there a special decision-making device in your, um, male accessories? No. I asked him to tell me about some decisions he had made to trump his wife when they couldn’t agree. He hemmed and hawed, but couldn’t come up with any. In desperation he said, “Doesn’t the bible say the man is supposed to be the decision maker?” He doesn’t have any respect for the bible, but knows I’m a Christian, so he tries to use scripture to justify his fragile male authority. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” is a great starting place for making tough decisions together in a marriage. And that IS biblical.
Okay – that’s more than enough for now. Stay tuned for more on equality and the scriptures.
Monday, December 03, 2007
It just keeps coming up, like a disease that won't be cured. The subordination of women in the Church and in the family. I was surfing the website of a cool church that I've admired from afar for awhile. Neat church, involved with wonderful ministries, has great ideas about how to do church. And then I took a look at their leadership. All male elders, all male pastors. A female administrator and a female children's worker (not pastor).
A similarly cool church just recently posted their official position on women, in which they try to give women lots of opportunities, but are careful to make sure a woman is always under a man's authority. I appreciate that they are gracious to those who don't agree with their position, but I find their reasoning to be very flawed and their use of scripture inconsistent.
Josh and I have a traditionalist friend at school. Being a Foursquare pastor, he affirms women in pastoral ministry, but is adamant about hierarchy in marriage. He made the statement in class today that men and women are "100% different." (!!!!) He thinks that us egalitarians believe men and women are 100% same. But we don't, and the seemingly deliberate choice to misunderstand our position gets frustrating after awhile.
Some friends were just sharing the other day how they left a big church in town because of the consistent message of women's subordination. They didn't want their children growing up in a church where they would experience the demeaning of women in the name of being biblical.
Josh and I are starting up a church plant and we haven't spent much energy on this gender business. We've got ministry on our minds and this just isn't our issue. We are co-pastors and it just seems natural for us to work as a team. The full equality of women and men is a basic assumption that we share. But sometimes we almost forget that this isn't the way it works in lots of other churches. And I forget too, that lots of people have never heard a biblical case for gender equality. Maybe it's time to revisit this issue.
(credits: I stole this fun cartoon from deconversion dot com)
Thursday, November 22, 2007
I've always said that whenever it fell on me to make a Thanksgiving turkey, we'd be having ham. I'm pretty squeamish about that whole corpse-in-a-bag thing. But thankfully :) Josh isn't. He made a special spice rub and applied it under the skin (:::shudder:::) and now we can already smell the savory seasonal scent of roasting turkey. My morning job, other than moral support for the turkey guy, was to roll out the cinnamon roles and get them rising and in the oven. I love making cinnamon roles almost as much as eating them. Kneading the dough is therapeutic, and there is something beautiful to me in the way yeast rises and in the swirl pattern of the roles when they are sliced and placed in the pan.
After a hot cup of french-pressed coffee and some snuggle time while doing a sudoku on the couch, it's time to do some last-minute cleaning, get our showers, and say a prayer together for the day.
I have so much to give thanks for today! My wonderful daughter, with her messy morning hair pulled into a haphazard pony tail who is eating a cinnamon role and reading the comics across the table from me. Our crazy dog who keeps poking his head into my lap for me to pet him, as he smiles with his dimples. And my wonderful husband, who has the ability to make me laugh even at 6:30 in the morning, and who has enriched my life more than I can say. This is our first Thanksgiving as a married couple, and it was two years ago this week that we went on our first date and knew we'd be together forever. Holidays used to have a bittersweetness about them, as they seemed to heighten the loneliness of being a divorced single mom. The burden of making things special was heavier, and my awareness of being the only adult in the room without a spouse to sit beside me at the table was always just there. I'm thankful for the blessing of such a wonderful husband this year - who shares with me the joys and challenges of life, who inspires me with his strength and courage, and who can rub down a raw turkey without gagging even once.
I'm in a bit of a sentimental mood today, and I could wax on about family, friends, hopes, dreams, and gifts for which I am especially grateful. But preparations are calling. To all of you, may your hearts be filled with gratitude for every blessing large and small that is yours today. And may we all remember and pray for those who are unable to share our joy and gratitude.
I'll close with the prayer Maria clipped this morning from Dear Abby to pray with the family today:
Oh, Heavenly Father,
We thank thee for food and remember the hungry.
We thank thee for health and remember the sick.
We thank thee for friends and remember the friendless.
We thank thee for freedom and remember the enslaved.
May these remembrances stir us to service,
That thy gifts to us may be used for others.
and Happy Thanksgiving!
Monday, November 12, 2007
This weekend my husband Josh was going through the paper and came across a Walmart Christmas catalog insert. It came with a ready-made wish list for kids and instructions on how to help your kids pick out all the stuff they want for Christmas. Josh had me laughing when he clutched the catalog, closed his eyes tightly and said, “I wish that Walmart would stop purchasing goods made from sweat shops, would provide just and fair treatment for their employees and adopt sustainable environmental practices.”
Last August, while walking around in the heat of the summer in shorts, we were astounded to see our first window display for Christmas. I know it always seems like it starts earlier every year, but August just seems ridiculous.
Josh gave a really poignant devotional in class this morning. While researching the effects of alcoholism on families, he was pondering the addict's experience of building up tolerance. Over time, an addict builds up tolerance to their substance and requires ever increasing amounts in order to experience the same effect. He compared this to the materialism and consumerism of our culture. As a culture we are showing the signs of addictive tolerance to consumption – we need more and more stuff to feel the same effect.
I remember being amazed reading the Little House books, how excited the kids would get at Christmas time over getting a single orange, a penny, or a cookie baked with white flour. This, compared with the Walmart catalog that says, “If you only get me 20 gifts this Christmas make sure this is one of them.” We are taught to be upwardly mobile, to seek after more money, better paying jobs, bigger houses, fancier cars, and more toys. It is completely counter-cultural to drive an old car if you have the money for a new one, or live in a small house if you can afford a bigger one, and so on. It seems that we are diseased with an addiction to consume. I would like to share the scripture Josh shared this morning that speaks volumes to us.
“The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded form you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God.” Luke 12:16-21 TNIV
May we learn what it means to become rich toward God!
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Lisa Domke facilitated the conversation with Sadell Bradley, Diana Butler Bass, and Ann (I missed her last name-sorry!) on the topic of dialogue with people different from ourselves. The interaction fascinated me and I greatly appreciated the opportunity to hear them.
I just want to pick out one little thought from the session. A woman asked a question about the tension between following one's heart on the journey of faith and betraying family and friends. Sadell pointed out that this kind of "betrayal" has always gone along with following Jesus, that Jesus himself said if anyone loves father, mother, lands, property, etc. more than him, that one is not worthy of following Jesus. Diana said that the biggest betrayal is the one to yourself. She said (and I hope I'm not misrepresenting her) that by being true to yourself and who you are in that tension ultimately you become a better daughter, friend, etc... and a better Christian as well. It reminded me of a prayer of Kierkergaard, "And now with God's help, I shall become myself."
That kind of betrayal of self - of the self created by God - is one that women have often done in order to avoid great persecution. I can think of times when I've been guilty of that kind of betrayal, but also - thankfully! - I can think of times when I've been tempted to but have learned to resist. And I think Diana is right - when I've remained true to the woman God has created me to be, it has resulted in my being a better follower of Christ, friend, daughter, etc. I can't help but think that if I had been exposed to women like these when I was growing up, that I might have learned to resist self-betrayal much earlier in life.
Friday, November 02, 2007
I’m really encouraged by this new shared space for relationship and friendship between mainline and evangelical protestants. An evangelical friend shared with me a conversation she had with a mainline friend on this subject matter. The mainline friend said, “You’ve got the fire, we’ve got the fireplace.” That might not be entirely fair, but it made me smile. I think many of us on all points of the liberal-conservative spectrum are tired of fighting all the old fights and ready to find some common ground.
Here’s the rub though. Many of the conservative folks I know are still very suspicious of all things that can be labeled liberal. And when some of us walk into this shared space and engage in relationships as Diana described this morning, we become suspect as well. I hope we will see more and more engagement and that we will learn from each other along the way.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
The evening plenary sessions were all excellent. They featured speakers of different races, genders and ages who each brought their unique perspectives and experiences. I won’t attempt to summarize all that we heard, but just say that this conference was what we hoped it to be – empowering and inspiring in a profound way. We felt the energy of about 2000 people who share a common mission and who are doing what we are still dreaming of doing. Their hard work and triumph over so many obstacles makes CCD seem possible. Their sheer numbers make us feel a little less lonely and a little less weird for the vision we have.
The conference offered an abundance of options for afternoon workshop sessions on such a variety of topics from the ideological to the practical. For the most part we enjoyed these and gained from them. I had the privilege of hearing Shane Claiborne talk about some of the content of his latest book that is about to be released, “Jesus for President.” I appreciate his thoughtfulness in engaging the issue of politics, empire, and following Jesus. I’m looking forward to reading the new book.
A few thoughts and observations: I am more aware than ever of how little I’ve been challenged on issues of race by virtue of growing up white in mostly white Eugene. Being able to hear the stories of black and latino brothers and sisters has opened my eyes a bit to realities of racism that I have mostly been able to avoid. In Eugene/ Springfield we have a growing Latino community that feels very separate from the white community and nearly invisible at times. But even I have felt the increased tension between the two communities since immigration has become such a hot issue. I’m feeling challenged to reach out and learn from this community.
It’s still very new and refreshing for me to be around evangelical Christians who are all about social justice. When the same preacher talks about the joy of seeing people saved and baptized, and then promotes traditionally “liberal” things like national health care and disapproval of war, it still surprises me. And I love it. I love this wholistic understanding of the gospel that is concerned with bodies and souls, with individuals and communities, with reconciliation with God and with one another.
We will be prayerfully contemplating much of what we heard at this conference for the foreseeable future. The basic tenants of this kind of church are too challenging to be followed outside of a strong and genuine sense of calling. The implications of relocation seem the most daunting, but in the long run I suspect that redistribution and reconciliation are the harder tasks. For such endeavors to be joyful, they must come from true calling and passion. For this we pray that we will clearly hear what God is calling us to do, and that we will have the faith and courage to follow.
The rest of our time in Chicago was quite fun. We spent Tuesday morning at the Art Institute. Josh has been there many times, but it was my first and I could have spent a week there. We used most of our time viewing Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings, and their collection is truly amazing. I always enjoy the benefit of having an art major as my personal tour guide.
We met up with Ben, another college friend of Josh’s along with a friend of his, and took off walking North through downtown. We ate at the famous Billy Goat Tavern (“Hamborger, hamborger, hamborger! No fries, chips! No Pepsi, Coke!”) which is home to the legend of the Cubs’ curse and which is frequented by journalists from the nearby Chicago Tribune. It also boasts being the lowest restaurant in town, located downstairs under the streets and buildings above. We went from lunch at the lowest restaurant to an afternoon snack and drink at the highest restaurant – the Signature Lounge atop the Hancock building. All of the views are breathtaking, but apparently the best view is from the women’s restroom. Go figure.
We stopped for a few minutes at the Apple store for the guys to fondle iPhones and check out the live band playing on the second floor. We took pictures of the famous water tower – the only building left standing after the historic Chicago Fire. For dinner we met up with Terry, yet another college friend of Josh’s and all of us squeezed into his car and trekked to Duffy’s for $1 burgers. After dinner Terry took Josh and I to a great coffee shop, and then for a brief but pleasant visit at his home. By this time it was getting late, and Terry dropped us off at the nearest el station.
At this point we were somewhere on the brown line north of downtown and it wasn’t early. We took the brown line back downtown, transferred to the green line and took that back to our temporary digs in Oak Park. We picked up our car there and drove all the way out to O’Hare to return it, and then we got on the blue line and took it all the way back downtown, transferred again to the green line and took it back to Oak Park again. All told, it took about 2 ½ hours before we were back to our Murphy bed at the Write Inn, rather exhausted and sick of the el.
Wednesday morning we were up early, rode the green line back downtown, transferred to the pink line, and got off near Union Station, just over the river from the Sears Tower. This was our first experience with rush hour in Chicago, and I think we must have looked pretty odd with our big packs walking upstream through the throngs of professionals streaming up the sidewalk toward their office destinations. We managed to find coffee and a small breakfast (bagel for me, yogurt oatmeal for Josh) and to retrieve our Amtrak tickets at a kiosk inside Union Station.
This was my first experience with Amtrak, and I must say that it was well worth the $23 ticket for travel from Chicago to St. Louis. We had a most amusing conductor – the kind of guy who understands that train to be his little kingdom and himself its benevolent dictator. His uniform enhanced his persona of jovial importance, as he prodded people to put the required ID tags on their luggage and made corny jokes with the passengers. We weren’t sure whether to find him irritating or just highly amusing, but in any case he kept the trip from ever seeming boring. We grew hungry partway through the 4 ½ hour trip and ventured to eat from the snack car. The greasy gut bomb held us over until we found some yummy teriyaki bowls in St Louis.
After the overwhelming hugeness of Chicago, St. Louis seemed rather small – which is saying something considering where we hail from. We found our way easily to the metro station and after a short wait got our ride downtown to the Arch stop. Our reason for being in St. Louis was to attend the Christian Community Development Association conference being held at the Adam’s Mark Hotel – conveniently located directly across the street from the Arch and the old courthouse where the Dred Scott case was tried. We were enthusiastically greeted at the front door by a CCDA volunteer, and as we got checked into the hotel and then the conference I felt myself swelling with excitement at the opportunity to participate in this conference.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
We landed in Chicago very late Thursday, got up Friday and drove the 4 ½ hour trek to Cedar Rapids in time for the rehearsal/ dinner. Saturday we took in the wedding and then turned back around to Chicago. We found a really charming and not too spendy hotel in Oak Park, across from the Hemingway Museum. The Midwest appears to have two coffee shops – Starbucks and Caribou Coffee. Caribou is much cooler, and has free WiFi, and one is located just a block from our hotel. Sunday morning we walked over for a cup of coffee and enjoyed the delightful ending of Pride and Prejudice, which we have been reading together for several weeks.
After coffee we checked out and made a pilgrimage of sorts to Lawndale Community Church. Lawndale is a CCDA church pastored by one of its founding members, Wayne “Coach” Gordon. We really loved our experience worshipping there, and left feeling inspired and a bit in awe. Both sides of the street are lined with ministries of this church, including a youth center, dental & eye clinic, a community center, a residential recovery home, and a rather large health care clinic. The service included some wonderful gospel music, and we felt buoyed up by the spirit of joy and praise among them. The sermon was good, the people welcoming, and the ministry of the church inspiring. We left feeling grateful that we had the privilege of worshiping there and seeing first hand what this famous community is like on Sunday morning.
In the afternoon we took the el into downtown Chicago – the first train of our planes, trains, and automobile experience. Josh has spent quite a bit of time in Chicago since going to college just an hour or so away. But this is my first time in the city. It happened to be the day of the Chicago Marathon, and downtown was teeming with runners and their fans. We walked to Millennium Park and took in the very cool art installations – the spitting face fountains, the “bean,” and the exploding steel amphitheatre. We decided to do Sears Tower, and walked through the towering giant buildings until facing the tallest of them all. wow! Heights tend to freak me out a bit, but the 103rd floor is enclosed and not terribly frightening. We had beautiful views in every direction, with the afternoon sun beaming on the West Side. When we’d taken in all the views, and way too many pictures, we descended and set out walking again. After smoothies at Jamaba Juice (one of them free thanks to a generous employee at closing time) we trekked up to the beautiful Buckingham fountain as its lights were coming on for the evening.
As the city lights began to come on we saw that many of the buildings, including Sears Tower are displaying pink lights to promote breast cancer awareness. One of my dearest friends has just begun chemo in her fight against breast cancer, and as I saw all the pink lights coming on it felt like all of Chicago was shining its support for MeKeesha.
Concerned about the Sunday night train schedule, we decided to catch the el back to our car in Oak Park, and make our drive to Valparaiso, Indiana.
Valparaiso is the home of the university where Josh did his undergrad work, so this part of our trip was a stroll down memory lane for him. He was in awe of all the changes – both to the city and the university. We grabbed a tasty dinner near campus and then took in the candlelight Vespers service in their stunning chapel building. After, we retired for the night at the Valpo Super 8.
This brings us to this morning, Monday, of our travel log. We slept in, and got ourselves checked out just in time to meet an old friend of Josh’s for lunch. After lots of laughs and stories, she had to get back to work, and we spent the rest of the afternoon perusing the campus, visiting a few people Josh knew, and taking in a class with his favorite art professor. After seeing the new buildings, and a few old ones, grabbing a smooch on the Kissing Bridge, and walking (rather too quickly) through the new labrynth, we left Valpo and headed back into Chicago.
We’re back in our cute hotel in Oak Park for two nights – the first two we’ve spent in the same place – and then we’ll be taking a train to St. Louis on Wednesday.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
As we talk more with others about this church community we are preparing to form we get some interesting responses. At the suggestion that we desire to be a church of and among the poor, a few people have expressed their fear that we are making ourselves vulnerable to be victims of crime – even exposing our daughter to be raped! One well-meaning gentleman pulled me aside on two occasions to warn me about the way “those people” think and behave. One person suggested that if we have any home meetings, we should have them in the garage so that none of “those people” see our belongings and come back later to steal them.
It’s fine and noble that we want to help “those people,” but we should be careful not to expose ourselves or be too vulnerable. And we need to keep the invisible boundaries of superiority in place at all times. At least – this is the message so many communicate to us.
As we struggle to work out the implications of identification, which we readily concede to be a process barely begun within us and which we know to be impossible but for the grace of God, the warnings of our middle class friends only help us to see our own hypocrisy and strengthen our resolve to press on. The Church needs to be reconciled within itself among the rich, the poor, and the middle classes who look at one another across economic divides with suspicion and pride. We humbly pray for the grace to be an agent of that reconciliation.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against home-schooling and I think it’s a great option for lots of families for a variety of reasons. I just don’t share this woman’s reasoning. at all.
The elementary school this mom referred to is located in an area with a large population of low-income families. It is the same school my daughter attended – and loved – for six years. Maria always had lots of friends from homes with various disadvantages. Sometimes these kids have been mean and inappropriate, and Maria has had to cope with that. So I don’t doubt the basic observations of this home-schooling mom.
Her philosophy is that all those heathen kids might corrupt or harm her kids, and that her nice Christian children should be protected from them.
My philosophy has always been that my daughter will have to live in this world – for better or worse – all her life. The sooner she learns how to navigate relationships with diverse people of different beliefs, family cultures, and values, the better. I believe it’s better for her to experience occasional pain in social situations, and then learn how to navigate it, than it would be for her to avoid social pain by isolation. It’s better for her to see how others live and be able to contrast our values and beliefs with others as she is developing rather than be exposed to the world all at once when she hits college. But the most important difference between our practices is that I believe all those other “bad” kids aren’t bad. They are just kids who need to be loved, and who have something to offer us as well as we to them.
This means my daughter has friends who come from homes where abuse, addiction, neglect and even violence are daily realities. We can’t change their realities, but we can open our hearts to them, offer them true hospitality, and love them with the love of Christ. They have enriched our lives probably more than we’ve enriched theirs.
How could we follow in the footsteps of Jesus while bunkering down in our houses trying to avoid contamination?
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
When summer turns into Fall each year I feel this mixture of emotions. Summer is never quite long enough. We didn’t go on all the hikes we wanted to, or make it to the beach nearly enough. We didn’t get out and walk these lovely paths near our house as often as we wished. And there are projects around the house that we didn’t quite finish. As a person who is perpetually chilly, I love the heat. So there is always a bit of grief knowing that Summer is about to move to the back of the line in the cycle of changing seasons.
But I also feel a pleasant anticipation for Fall. The part of me that is ready to return to a schedule, that enjoys school and studying, that loves the coziness of a warm sweater and a hot cup of coffee on a chilly day, and the stunning beauty of nature’s soon-coming color show.
The change in seasons is also marking another transition for our family this year. Sunday marks our farewell celebration from the church where we have been. Josh is leaving his full-time job next week in order to do freelance graphic design from home part-time. The time has finally come for us to turn our attention and energy to the creation of a new faith community – something we’ve dreamed of together since the first few weeks of our relationship.
There is some appropriate grief for the season we are leaving behind - our time at a church with people we love and appreciate, the safety of being in "preparation," the security of one of our regular paychecks, the rhythm of life we're used to. But there is also great anticipation for a new season with its challenges, risks, joys, trials, and opportunities for making a difference in our community.
I've been pondering that observation and wondering just how true it is. I can certainly think of a few exceptions. But I think he might have a very good point. It appears that the EC is having some conversations about what to do with their children, now that they are growing and having families and finding existing, traditional models of discipleship with children to be inadequate. But what about the gap between the parents and the young children? Where are the Millennials in the emerging church? I'd love to hear from people on this subject.
As we prepare for planting what we hope will be a multi-class church, I've been keeping my eyes open for emerging churches who are involved in doing ministry with the poor as multi-class congregations. There is no doubt that the EC generally has a strong social conscience - caring about creation, AIDS, and global poverty. But how many have reached beyond the limits of charity to be churches of and with the poor? Again, I can think of a couple of exceptions. But for the most part, the EC generally appears to be a movement of middle class folks who do more charity than justice - at least on the local level.
I know there are some fabulous exceptions in the EC world to both of these observations. But what do you think? Do we have some blind spots in these areas?
Friday, June 15, 2007
Last weekend my family adopted a dog from the county pound. Charlie is a beautiful lab mutt, with perhaps a dash of Retriever or Aussie. He is settling in nicely with our family and is proving to be a wonderful dog. But Charlie has one very strong trait – fear. The pound was such a traumatic place for him that he refused to leave his kennel voluntarily. While he warmed up to us right away, he continued to tremble with fear at each new thing. He had to be coaxed into the car, into the house, out of the house, and into any other room besides the living room. He cowers when we pass other people or dogs on the sidewalk. We don’t know his history, but there’s a very good chance that our sweet Charlie has experienced some abuse. And even though he’s safe and loved and in a caring home now, it is going to take a long time to get over those fears and learned behaviors. He might never fully get over them.
I have to admit that I really identify with Charlie. The most painful experiences of my past have left me with deep, irrational fears that lurk in places too deep to root out easily. I keep a pretty good poker face most of the time, but inside I cower and cringe and tremble on a regular basis. There are times when I want to hide my head in the pillow the way Charlie hides his face in my lap. I know that I’m safe, that I’m loved, and that I’m home. But some fears stubbornly remain.
I don’t think I’m unique in this experience. We are all formed by our past – especially by the events of our childhoods. If our trust was violated at a young age by neglect, abuse, abandonment, betrayal, or death, it can shape the very way we understand the world and all that we come to expect of it. If later events reinforce those fears (and sometimes our fearful behavior can help create repetition of those experiences), healing and freedom are even harder to come by. Often we take our fears into our relationship with God – the place where we are in fact completely safe and completely loved. Like Charlie with his new family, we cringe and cower and duck away from the loving and gentle hand of God that reaches out to care for us.
So how do we heal? Just as Charlie is noticeably more at ease after just a few days with us, I think that healing begins when we open ourselves to relationships that are loving and safe – both with others and with God. When we have experiences that dis-prove our fears, trust begins to grow there. Sometimes though, we need more than this. We need a transformation that is a healing gift of God’s grace. I think this comes to each person differently, as we journey with God. I've experienced that beautiful grace before, and as I pet Charlie's soft head I am filled with hope for all of us who are in need of God's healing care.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
There is a perception in the world of Evangenerica (Karlene's made up term) that in order for the Church to succeed and the Gospel to win, then the bearer of the Gospel - that is, the Evangel, and as a body, the Church - must become 'relevant' to society. Oftentimes "relevance" becomes synonymous with "entertaining." What can we do to get more butts in the seats? We get caught in conversation about whether the music is loud enough, or the lights bright enough. Or even, do we have the right glam? American evangelism has become a lot like remodeling a McDonald's. Generally, after about 10 years someone notices that the plastic seat covers are out of style, so they put together a committee of people to implement remodeling in all of their stores just in time to see the styles change once more. There are two problems here: (1) the remodel always comes too late, and (2) even with the remodel they're still serving the same crappy food!
So, we start meeting in movie theaters instead of Churches (or 'Worship Centers' as they've come to be called). We wear street clothes, and serve Starbucks, while playing Rock 'n Roll through our $100,000 sound systems. We start throwing a swear word or two into our daily vocabulary just to fit in (yeah, we're rebels). Yet, relevance should, and does, mean more than simply being more entertaining than we used to be. Church is about more than keeping people from boredom.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this is about music style. What I am saying is that the relevance of the Church is the Gospel of Jesus Christ! It does not live in church models, or music, or mochas. The hope and message of Jesus Christ is the food which we find nourishment and life sustainment on. Yet oftentimes we minimize it in order to be more in tune with culture. I believe that Jesus' message is relevant as read in the gospels. With a world suffering from poverty and war; striking disparity between rich and poor; homelessness, abuse, addiction, brokenness the counter-cultural message of Jesus teaches us a better way to live our lives. It is in Jesus' counter-cultural message that the Church will find relevance in a hurting and broken world. Jesus' message of love, even to the point of laying his life down for the one's he called friends, is more relevant than we can possibly imagine. We must triumph Christ's love boldly, being unashamed of his message of peace, love, compassion, and grace once more. This is our only hope in a world that already has a enough Starbucks.
Monday, June 04, 2007
I tell this story to preface some thoughts that have been stirring in my head about the place of alcohol in Christian community. Like many people I know, I was raised in the ‘all drinking is SIN’ branch of the faith and, also like many people I know, have rejected that stance for its un-biblical and un-reasonable position. Among those who condemn all drinking, I will staunchly argue against their position. But I’m feeling uneasy about a growing trend that I’ve observed in the emerging church at large, but also among my own friends – emerging or not. When shots of Jager were offered at a gathering among Christian friends recently, it really gave me pause to think. There’s just a lot of drinking going on these days, and I’m not always sure how to feel about it – especially because I am related to quite a few addicts and people with genetic predispositions for addiction, including my own daughter. I also hope that the church we are preparing to plant will be equipped for ministry among people dealing with addiction. A fellow student at my seminary has told of seeing young adults he knows developing alcoholism after becoming Christians as a result of sitting around talking about God with the beers flowing among Christian friends.
And so I am conflicted about the role and place of alcohol within the church. The power of distraction that those French fries had over me the other evening is nothing by comparison to someone struggling with sobriety in a social setting where people are drinking. Can a community that accepts a lot of social drinking be a safe place for people in recovery? I’m sure most would say that they would refrain from drinking around someone they knew to be a recovering alcoholic. But what about those among us who are addicts in denial? And what about those among us who are addicts in the making? Until we are already trapped, we all tend to carry around a sense of personal immunity to addiction. But for many people, addictions wait to manifest themselves until mid-life and it’s not easy to predict who may be susceptible.
So there is this great tension between personal freedom and social responsibility in community. I don’t know how to resolve this tension. I will not make this black-and-white when it is a gradient issue. But I think we need to be talking about this and wrestling with it, rather than running with our freedom to drink down a road with an unknown destination. Your thoughts?
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
This command is such a hard one. Who wants to give up their possessions? Jesus follows it by explaining to his disciples how hard it is for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God. It almost seems cruel - this sincere, obedient, earnest and good man is told that he has to give up everything he owns in order to get what he says he really wants. This morning I was struck by a line right in the middle of the story.
Jesus looked on this man and loved him.
It wasn't because Jesus was cruel that he issued this instruction. It was out of his love. I wonder if the man realized that. He was torn between all his many possessions and the love of Jesus.
As I said, this passage haunts me. We're not wealthy by American standards, but we certainly are by world standards. And when I think about ministry with the poor that we are feeling pulled toward, I know it will require sacrifices, including possessions. We're really earnest and sincere and here we are asking Jesus, not without some trepidation, "what do you want us to do?" And we are holding our breath to hear what it is Jesus might say to us. Will we follow? Or will we go away grieving?
Saturday, May 19, 2007
I have a book that once belonged to my mother when she was a pastor's wife called Fascinating Womanhood. Sadly, this stuff is still alive and kicking. http://www.fascinatingwomanhood.net/ I think it should more aptly be named Manipulative Womanhood after reading it. Parts of it are so absurd as to be almost hilarious and parts of it are just sick (like when the author suggests wives should dress like little girls and model their own fashions after what they find in the little girls' section of the store - creepy!). The word "superior" is used repeatedly in reference to men . Wives are encouraged to pretend they are weak and stupid in order to make their husbands feel strong and smart and manly. :::insert puking noises here::: It seems to me like this book should be a relic of a sad past when women were oppressed and shoved into narrowly defined gender roles alongside their husband's narrowly defined gender roles. But conversations like the one my husband had with his coworker show just how prevalent these ideas still remain, in re-mixed form.
Something happened to feminism and it doesn't seem to be very popular anymore. Even in "progressive" circles, the sexual objectification of women is rampant and women's power is often linked with her ability to use her sexuality - something that is inherently degrading but openly embraced anyway. Rather than women being liberated from sexual objectification, it seems like men are increasingly becoming objectified in a similar manner to the dehumanization and degradation of all. It's not that there has been no progress in recent decades. But the trajectory toward true equality and liberation seems a bit stalled out at the moment.
I could speculate all day as to the why's and how's of all this. But I really hope that we see another shift in our culture - not just in the direction of equality, but also in the direction of human dignity. Feminism in its best form isn't so much about women as it is about the dignity and equality of everyone and the freedom to live beyond the confines of errantly imposed roles and expectations. It should liberate women and men to be the best version of themselves they can be, for the good of all.
Friday, May 04, 2007
Today she will go directly from soccer to ballet. Muddy cleats and heavy soccer socks will be replaced with tights and toe shoes. Satin ribbons will tie around her ankles where shin guards had just been. Balance, grace, and beauty will take over – a different kind of strength, a different kind of exertion. It makes me cry to watch my daughter dance. Her emerging womanhood is evident in the loveliness of her movements. Her self-discipline and strength shine in her eyes. She is all feminine grace and beauty, enhanced with strength and self-confidence that comes from years of disciplined practice.
Watching my daughter play soccer is wonderful too. She is so fast! She throws herself into the game and plays hard, whether it’s sunny or raining on the field. Her speed and agility amaze me. She’s not afraid to get dirty and be tough, and she negotiates the middle school politics of friendship with her teammates with wisdom beyond her years.
I can’t help but think of how Maria is truly becoming a 21st century woman. She is neither confined by her femininity, nor must she deny it in order to embrace the opportunities before her. She is beauty and strength. She is toughness and grace. She stands on her own and she works in a team. She is ballet pink and soccer black. The world is open to her in ways that it has not been for young women in all the history of the world.
In spite of all the progress that women have made in recent decades, I still find myself surrounded by strong anti-feminist messages. Little girls who are clad only in pink. Women who identify themselves as sexual objects and servants of men. Women who are still intimidated to fully express themselves as equals in the presence of men. Men and women who prefer to have women rule the kitchen and nursery, while men rule the boardroom and the pulpit – not based on gifts or skills or interests, but on gender alone. My prayer for my daughter is that she will always wear both cleats and toe shoes, that she will take gritty toughness and artful grace into every endeavor. I know she will make the world a better place.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
A couple of years ago I was given an old copy of The Imitation of Christ from an elderly friend, who was a retired minister. It’s a paperback from the 1950’s and includes some simple but rather beautiful artwork. I’ve looked forward to the opportunity to read it and was glad to see this book as an option for class. I found The Imitation of Christ to be the timeless spiritual classic that it promised to be. It is full of wisdom in bite-sized chunks that leads naturally to self-examination and reflection. A Kempis is concerned with how life is lived out for the earnest follower of Jesus and he addresses both external action and internal states of the heart. His writings each have a descriptive title, and each entry is short and to-the-point.
Reading a Kempis reminds me of reading the biblical book of Proverbs. It reads like wisdom literature and contains plenty of wise instruction. The Imitation of Christ is the kind of book that can be read over and over with new insights and applications each time. It is not, however, a book of sentimentality or easy advice. A Kempis calls his readers to follow Jesus as one who called his disciples to take up a cross. True imitators of Christ are much fewer than those who claim to believe in him. He writes, “Jesus hath many lovers of His kingdom of heaven, but He hath few bearers of his cross. Many desire His consolation, but few desire His tribulation. He findeth many fellows at eating and drinking, but He findeth few that will be with Him in His abstinence and fasting. All men would joy with Him, but few would anything suffer for Christ.”
A Kempis has broken down his writings into four books: Admonitions Useful for a Spiritual Life, Admonitions Tending to Things Internal, The Inward Speaking of Christ to a Faithful Soul, and Concerning the Sacrament. The breadth of his writing is part of what makes his work such a valuable and beloved classic. He tends to the state of the mind and the soul, and to gaining peace with God. He talks of judgment and of grace. He talks of discipleship and temptation and trust. I found that his words are as profound as they are brief in each small section, and that I could ponder even one short section for a long time.
While I hesitate to voice anything that could be construed as criticism of such a classic, I will comment on the places where I didn’t find The Imitation of Christ to be helpful. A Kempis has a strong sense of God’s judgment and a somewhat frightening view of who will come out on the worse side of it on that day. The paradox of God’s grace and judgment in the scripture is perhaps reflected in the paradox of his writing, but when he talks of judgment it is very strong. A Kempis also admonishes followers of Christ to keep their distance from “worldly-living people.” While I can understand the purpose of his intent, I also feel a sense of contradiction. How can one imitate Christ, who was always in trouble for spending time with “worldly-living people,” and also diligently avoid such people? His separatism almost rings of elitism and I find it a bit troubling.
I greatly appreciate A Kempis for not painting an easy path of discipleship and for reminding those who would follow Christ of the difficulties that calling entails. At the same time, I find him to be a bit ascetic, inviting hardship where it may not be necessary. I also realize that I make that observation from a life of ease and I recognize my own need to hear his challenge in that regard. I am not sure if I’ve met more than a few people in all of my life who have understood what it truly means to take up a cross and follow Jesus. I know that I have not truly begun to sacrifice anything for Christ, and I am surrounded by a Christianity that spiritualizes suffering and hardship, and knows little of the life of the cross that is tangible and gritty.
“At the day of judgment it shall not be asked of us what we have read, but what we have done: nor how well we have said, but how religiously we have lived.” With all great admonitions to live well there is the risk of somehow subtracting from God’s grace and making our own efforts at living central to the faith, rather than the work of Christ. Bonhoeffer struggled with this even after writing The Cost of Discipleship, recognizing the danger in his work but also the need of it. I sense that same tension with a Kempis, and I appreciate it. I think it is the tension that we live in following Christ, being both recipients of his grace and of his call to take up our cross.
Monday, April 02, 2007
In a recent conversation with two friends from church, they expressed their disdain for theology and how irrelevant it seems to their Christianity. One of them quoted Karl Barth who, when asked to sum up his life’s work said, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” If Barth had known that his words would so often be used to negate his life’s work rather than summarize it, I wonder if he would have bitten his tongue.
I completely understand that not everyone keeps a Miroslav Volf book on the back of the toilet or gets excited about graduate level theology classes. And I also share frustration with the kind of theology that is completely divorced from the life of the Church and the life of faith. There are plenty of theological writings that are only interesting to a handful of professional theologians who read each other’s work and analyze it with academic detachment, never penetrating the wall between the world of academia and the lives of regular Christians.
However, I really believe that everyone is a theologian, but have just never been taught to regard their theology as, well, theology. Our theology (whether or not we call it that) directly impacts the way we live out our faith in Christ. And here is where I see a problem – when we disdain theology we are prone to neglect wrestling with important theological issues that impact the way we think and act. We tend to operate on assumptions that we’ve absorbed from our church culture. So when we experience a tragedy, or our country goes to war, or we find out our kid is gay, or when we choose what kind of products to consume, or how to respond to global and local poverty, or we get trapped by an addiction, or we’re faced with death or disease … and so on, we fall back on unreflective behaviors or knee-jerk reactions. And if something shakes us to a point of crisis where we are finally willing to think through our theology, we find ourselves surrounded by people who think theology isn’t important, but who are more than willing to offer unreflective, though sincere, platitudes. “Everything happens for a reason.” “God helps those who help themselves.” “It must be God’s will.” “There must be sin or your life or God would be blessing you.” “God needed your loved one for his garden in heaven.” and so on.
This seems to be a systemic problem, and one of the reasons for the appeal of so many emerging churches. I am excited about a movement toward theological engagement that encourages regular Christians to question and wrestle with theological truth. It doesn’t require knowing a bunch of “high-falootin’” words, but it does require a community that is willing to value theology and to place theology where it belongs – squarely in the center of the life of faith and the life of the Church.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Diversity – I was astounded at the diversity of this group of women. Being women and being Christian were really our only common denominators. Generationally, we spanned a range from teenage to 70+. Denominationally we included mainline and evangelical Protestants from theologically “liberal” and “conservative” traditions, and even one Catholic woman (yay, Ruby!). We included Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. We included never-married, divorced, engaged, and married women. We included mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and those without children. We included pastors, church-planters, women’s ministry leaders, youth leaders, associate pastors, lay leaders, former church leaders, future church leaders, and many who are unsure of what leadership will look like in their futures. We had dreadlocks, braids, pink hair, red hair, very short hair, very long hair, very daring hair, very tame hair, trendy hair and timeless hair. We had tattoos and no tattoos. We had pregnant ladies and nursing mothers. We had home-oriented moms and career-oriented moms. We had knitters and bloggers (and knitting bloggers). We had emerging event first-timers, and emerging event old-timers. We even had women flying in from places like Baltimore and Illinois, and driving down from Canada. (Upon reflection, the area where there was a most glaring lack of diversity was racially, with the vast majority of us being white. This might be something to ponder in light of the observation/ accusation that the emerging church is a white thing – but that’s another conversation.)
With all of this amazing diversity spread among the 60+ women present, it seemed nothing less than the unity of the Spirit of God that brought us together so graciously and so intimately for the weekend. We talked and we listened. We learned from each other. We gained strength and inspiration from hearing each others’ stories. We were challenged by each others’ perspectives and experiences. We respected our differences and set them aside when they threatened our unity. In our closing reflections, many women commented on how surprised they were to find a group of women – Christian women at that – who were able to create such a safe place for one another.
Planning – It was a privilege to be part of the team who planned Convergence! I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this creative endeavor, and to have seen how a few loosely-formed ideas were eventually birthed into this wonderful event. We all contributed thoughts and ideas, but what resulted was truly greater than the sum of our contributions. Many thanks to AJ (and Jason) for their technical work, to Deborah for her creativity and inspiration (including the name – “Convergence”) and to Kelly who, in addition to her wonderfully creative ideas provided a van full of supplies and kept us organized with all of our nutty schedules. I thoroughly enjoyed working together with these women and I have learned a great deal from them in the process.
New Friends – Though our time together was rather short, I feel that I made many new friends this weekend. I’m hoping that we will come together again and hear where our journeys have taken us. I hope that we can stay in touch online, and in person where possible. I’m so curious to know what the next season holds for these new friends – many who are, like me, in periods of intense transition and possibility.
Communion and Unity – More than anything else I’ve experienced, Convergence has given me hope for the unity of the Church. We will never agree doctrinally, but we can be unified in the Spirit of Christ whose body we all are together. As we took communion together this weekend, we participated in that sweet unity.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
I've just returned from honeymooning in Italy with my new husband Josh, and while there we availed ourselves of the opportunity to see many priceless works of art. I knew that I would be amazed at the Sistine Chapel and impressed by the Colleseum, but the most moving piece of art that we saw was a bronze statue of Mary Magdalene by the Renaissance artist Donatello, in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence. Also in Florence at the Accademia Museum we saw Michelangelo's famous statue of David.
We've all seen pictures of the David, and yet the size and brilliance of this work amazed me in person. David is larger than life standing 17 feet tall. He is beautiful, strong, conquering, pensive, and confidant. His figure is the idyllic Greek model of beauty and masculinity. He is so skillfully formed that he almost looks as if he could walk off of his pedestal at any moment.
Donatello's Magdalene provides a stark contrast with the David. While many artists portray her as beautiful and even seductive, out of the extra-biblical tradition that she was a prostitute, Donatello captures her in her destitution. She is utterly wretched. Formed in wood, she is dark with hollow, deep-set eyes and long, matted hair that blends in with her dirty, matted clothing. She is emaciated, though with muscles showing in her thin arms. Her hands are held up in front of her and she gazes with desperation and vulnerability. She defies any standard of beauty from any era, and one of our guide books mentioned her only to remark on her unusual ugliness. But Josh and I were mesmerized and moved to tears by the beautiful way she portrays a soul reaching out to Jesus.
In pondering the contrast between these two works of art, I have to wonder if David doesn't capture something that we all wish we could be. One of the beautiful people. So strong and independent. Able to conquer any giants in our path and receive the admiration of all. But this Mary Magdalene seems to capture something more true. I see in her my own soul's desperate need for healing, grace, and redemption. In her vulnerability and wretched desperation, I see the truth of my own soul at the point at which I cry out for God.
The museum has brilliantly curated her opposite a crucifix, showing that it is Jesus to whom she pleads with her gaze. The scriptures reveal that Mary Magdalene was healed by Jesus of demon possession and from that day forward was one of his most devoted followers. She was there at the cross and at the tomb and was a witness to his resurrection. Her life was transformed by his healing touch. Her story inspires me, and in Donatello's representation of her wretchedness I found both her despair and the joy of knowing that she was saved and her life transformed when her plea was met with the love and mercy of Jesus.