Bible as friend not foe.

I am hearing more and more about “Bible Self Defense” and reading the scriptures with a distant and pessimistic eye from progressive Christians. Why are we afraid of the Bible?

The Bible has been used as a weapon for so long that we seem to forget that it is a message of hope and peace at its core. The First Testament shows us the journey our faith ancestors took with God during some of the hardest times of wilderness, alienation, and heartbreak for their relationship with the Creator. They wrote extensively about their experience and conversations with God. The Second Testament gave us even more reason to have hope in our relationship with God because it was as if, for the first time, God and creation were on the same page. Jesus gave us the ability to live into our hope for the Kingdom of God here on earth.

When I read Scripture, I immediately gravitate to the passages that share with us hope for liberation, kindness for our fellow human, and radical grace from God. There are definitely some murky passages in there (have you read about the genocide in the Land of Canaan!?), but relationships, faith, and experience are constantly evolving and teaching us something. There is plenty to learn even in the passages we wish did not exist. God is with us even when we seek to destroy rather than lift up in the name of divinity. God is merciful, kind, and loving. God is with us in all of the ups and downs of this life, so why do we not let in the experiences of those who have come before us?

It may not be perfect, but it is our spiritual inheritance. Our job should be to take it and hold it tightly, and if we are brave enough, add to it for the next generation.

Sum of our parts.

Yesterday, I was trying to explain to my toddler that our family is made up of her and me. We make up something bigger than the sum of our parts. Obviously, I do not think she will understand that concept because of our conversation while making diner in the kitchen, but I do want to start planting seeds in her heart about what it means to live in community. I want her to have a heart that keeps the greater community in her mind above her own individual needs.

I think this is one of the problems with the world today. We see our individual needs as superior to those of most everyone around us. Occasionally, I’ll see people put their spouses or children above themselves, but, unless related by marriage or blood, everyone else is shit up a creek.

The reason this is on my mind lately is because I think this problem has seeped into the Church. My mother recently called me and told me that her church is splitting. Half of the congregation did not like the new pastor and decided to manipulate the bylaws so they could vote him out. She was part of the other half who enjoyed the pastor, but she was mostly hurt that they would violate the bylaws the whole congregation agreed to follow. My heart broke for her and her church when she shared this news.

How quickly we let our own personal needs be more important than the standard in which we agree to live together in community. It is heartbreaking to think about the amount of hurt that process has caused. Now an entire half of that congregation is out of church and that includes all of their youth attendees. As a person who saw the church do some really messed up stuff in my youth, I can tell you it makes an impact. It says a lot to a young person when adults act like that.

In trying to teach my daughter that we are greater when we are together, I wonder how I have contributed to the community lately. How have I given to my hurting brothers and sisters lately? We are a family. I cannot exist without you in the world. You make everything better simply because you are in this with me. Thank you.

Dry Bones.

Recently, I have been reading and rereading a passage found in Proverbs 17 that says, “A joyful spirit is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (verse 22)

I am not sure if my bones are all dried, but I do know that I am struggling to have a joyful spirit. It seems to me that I have found myself in the desert. I have been asking God quite a bit if I have been brought out here to die. Like the Hebrew people in the wilderness, I am curious if I have left the captivity I was once in to be killed with the promise of delivery and salvation.

I wish a return post after so long could be one with hope, joy, and good news. However, I am not feeling those things yet. I know I will again because that who is I am at my core, but for now I am in the wilderness. I am here and wondering where my community is. Loneliness is the killer of dreams, and I am doing everything I can to reclaim my calling. My calling is to be a pastor; a pastor that can be honest and authentic in all things. I will not stop being who I am already at the foundation of my soul, but for a moment I am resting as I walk through the wilderness.

I know others have walked this path before me, and I know others will come after. If you find yourself on the journey and feeling similar, know that you are not alone. We can walk this road together.

Hope

A piece of my mind was recently featured in a series on Hope over at Five Simple Stones. I am posting it here as well for those of you that follow here.

Recently, I watched Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In that movie, I watched a girl lose her family and her life to the will of the Empire. However, when given the option to cower down or to fight, she repeatedly chose the option to fight back against the empirical way of life for her galaxy. She took advice from her friend and even presented it to the council of rebels. That advice speaks volumes to many of us as well: “Rebellions are built on hope.”

Our lives in whatever context or setting begin when we can see a better way. Until we have that light at the end of the tunnel, we are simply existing. I believe God wants more for us than survival. God wants us to thrive. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)[1]

Hope is the greatest tool we have to fight back against an empire that would keep us down. Whatever that empire is for you (patriarchy, racism, homophobia, capitalism, etc.), there is hope to rise up against it in rebellion. Allan Aubrey Boesak writes in his book, Dare We Speak of Hope?: Searching for a Language of Life in Faith and Politics:

Hope cannot be commissioned, called forth at will by the powerful for the legitimation of earthly power. Instead, Hope challenges earthly powers and principalities,   and she places earthly powers under the critique of heaven and earth, by which I mean the critique of the outraged God, the suffering people, and the ravaged earth. Her birthplaces are not in the places of the privileged, nor the high-steepled, stained-glass-windowed sanctuaries of power and customized religiosity. Rather, her birthplace is under the bush in the wilderness, where Ishmael lies dying; under the broom tree, where Elijah wishes for death; in the flames of yet another bush, from which Yahweh speaks hope and life and liberation to Moses and his people with words of inextinguishable fire. Hope’s birthplace is on that cross on the hill, where the cry “Eli, Eli, lema sebachthani?” is her form and shape. That is where Hope is born. When Hope speaks, she speaks not with the arrogance of certitude but the eloquence of faith. She speaks with the voice of those whose voice is lost in the thunder of propaganda, those who have no voice because they are simply too tired, too lost, too weak, or too powerless to speak. Too unimpressive to be worth listening to, not hopeful of being heard, they are too discouraged to speak.She speaks for those whom the powerful have deprived the right to speak.[2]

Hope is not the tool of the powerful or empirical. Hope is for the marginalized, disenfranchised, and voiceless of our world. Hope belongs to those in need of true liberation. God is moving to create a fully realized hope here on earth, right now. It is our job to lean into that where ever we fall on the spectrum of needing hope. I have voice in some places and other places I am voiceless.

Hope shows me that in those places I can make myself evangelically poor[3] or enriched by working with others who share balanced power in those spaces. Together, in community, we will overcome the empirical will. We will create the Kingdom of God now, here, in our lifetime. We will be liberated and freed. We will find our voice when all else feels hopeless. There is no struggle that God cannot overcome with us.

Ishmael survived and fathered one of the most beautiful nations of people the world has ever known. Moses freed his people and created a millennium of hope in the people of God, and Jesus conquered the grave even after death. There is nothing God cannot do, therefore there is nothing we cannot do with God on our side. Lean into the hope, rebel. Our fight is just getting started. When you feel tired, rest. We will be with you, and we have your back as you reclaim your voice. We see you, and we feel you. Together, we will declare the power of hope.

[1] NRSV

[2] Boesak, Allan Aubrey. 2014. Dare We Speak of Hope?: Searching for a Language of Life in Faith and Politics. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publising Company.

[3] Term by James Cone.

Reclaiming.

You ever have one of those moments where you ask yourself, what am I doing? How did I get here? And then you look back at your life and wonder what in the world is going on. As if you were asleep and woke up days, weeks, months or even years later unsure of exactly how this space has built up around you. The box you are now in feels so small even though when it was being built every layer made sense to you at the time.

At the time of its building, my life was mine to choose and do with what I wanted. It was mine to explore with and exchange for those brief moments and fleeting feelings. And now here I am at almost thirty years old, and I realize how much of my life I have given away. I just handed pieces of it to someone or something else to have, for whatever they wanted to do with it. I allowed myself to live other people’s brief moments rather than taking a few for myself. In my childlike naivete, I assumed they would give some of those pieces back to me and maybe even a piece of theirs. Trouble is that is just naïve. No other word for it. I gave and was taken from. I allowed myself to be stolen.

No more.

Theologically, What is the Church?

Want to read more? Check out what I believe (in extreme abbreviation) the church is personally, biblically, and historically as I continue to write this series for a class I am in at Earlham School of Religion.

Clark Pinnock notes in his text, Most Moved Mover, that God is indeed highly interactive with the world and all of creation. According to Pinnock, “In Scripture, God is revealed as transcendent but also as involved in the world most intimately. God does not simply rule over creation, he is moved and affected by what happens in history. Events arouse joy or sorrow, pleasure or wrath in him. Our deeds move, grieve, gladden, or please him.”[1] He goes on to write that God suffers because of his people. We cause God to grieve when we fail to be what God envisions for our lives. God suffers with his people. God sees us hurting and wants to be with us in it. He[2] sees you with cancer, and he sees you who is taking care of your small child all alone. God suffers with us. And, Pinnock notes, God suffers for us. To be Christian is to understand on some level that God shields us from the full weight of the judgement of separation with God. For many, that is through faith in Christ. Faith in Christ and a life lived like Jesus requires the understanding that God had to sacrifice so we may live abundantly.

So, what does all this have to do with who the church is? Well, I am glad you asked. The Church is, theologically, an extension of God in the world. We are not a literal building for even God never wanted the Church to be a building.[3] We are called to be co-creators of love and goodness (you know, all those God characteristics we love) and even mercy, grace, and justice (the harder and less easy to understand God characteristics) to the world. The Church is so much more than a building to decorate or split over when we cannot agree on what to do with the spare closet in the east wing. The Church and the mission of the Church is to be Jesus.

The definition of what it is to be Jesus is still being worked out by theologians far and wide. But what we can take heart in is that Jesus was the bringer of all the gifts; even the ones that make us uncomfortable or nervous such as prophecy of doom, or forgiveness for those who definitely do not deserve it (you know, like you and me.)

Being in the Church, is hard work. Co-creating a world that is better because we were here is hard work. But doing that work is what we should be about because it is what we are called to be.

[1] Pinnock (2001), pg. 56

[2] I do not believe in a gendered God, but want to respect the original language chosen by my selected theologian for this idea.

[3] http://geekychristian.com/evidence-the-temple-was-not-gods-will/

Historically, What is the Church?

Check out the what the church is for me personally and biblically in the first two installments of this series I am writing for class.

Diana Butler Bass writes in her book, A People’s History of Christianity, “The early Christian text (from second or third century) known as the Epistle to Diognetus explains that Christianity is neither an ethnicity nor earthly citizenship but a way of life that is somehow at odds with the societies in which the faithful reside. Christians may look like everyone else, but their actions – including practices of hospitality, charity, and nonviolence – make them different.”[1] We are indeed flesh and blood, human, mortal as anyone else, but should that be something we attain to or rise above? Should not our faith in Christ make us better than our flesh and blood can take us? We do not strive to be better than anyone else. We strive to be our best selves. We do that by being in the church and in community with Christ as our guideline for what life can look like for us.

The Epistle to Diognetus says, “They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life.”[2] At no point should our reaction to life be that of someone who has not been adopted into the family of Christ. If we are living into our fullest calling and into our greatest capacity to be Christ in the world, then we are not being Christians.

I have heard a lot on the news and internet about varying war on…something. War on Christmas. War on Education. War on…whatever. When I think about these pseudo wars we have put ourselves in because we think we are someone standing up for our beliefs in them, I am reminded of someone who truly did stand up. Perpetua was a woman who gave up her life to follow the teachings of the Christ. She was given many opportunities to recant her faith and live her life in peace. She simply could not do it. She faced an excruciatingly painful death at the hands of her persecutors, to the point that once the animals were done tearing the flesh from her body and she still somehow managed to keep living, she welcomed the knife of the guard as it ended her life. So when I hear people in modern times say there is a War on Christianity, I immediately think of Perpetua. What was she standing up for? What did she die for? Is the war American Christians face more on their privilege and elitism rather than their faith? Where is their faith when all of life has catered to them and their desire to be in charge of others and the world around them? We are not called to be the meat in the meal. We are called to be the salt in which it is enhanced with and preserved for later with; we are called to be the light on the hill. We are to shine brighter because we have encountered the living Christ in our lives and accepted the challenge to live like Jesus. At no point does that mean we complain about whether or not other people respect our faith the way we think they should. We welcome every opportunity to be goodness in someone’s life and when they reject us, we still give them goodness.

[1] Bass (2009), pg. 74

[2] Bass (2009), pg. 75

Biblically, What is the Church?

Part two of the essay series I am writing for class. Join me on the journey of thinking about what is the church, and what is its mission in the world? Read part one here.

I believe we, the Church, are called to be something vital to the world. I believe this because we are given this mandate by the Christ. Jesus says in Matthew 5:13-16:

 You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

The context of this verse is found towards the beginning of the famous Sermon on the Mount. Matthew took special care to record the words of Jesus in such detail. But the idea that we are salt and light means we are fundamental to life. We are required. The Harvard Medical School says of salt, “The human body can’t live without some sodium. It’s needed to transmit nerve impulses, contract and relax muscle fibers (including those in the heart and blood vessels), and maintain a proper fluid balance.” When we go without salt we become less than what we are meant to be. Same for light in the world. Without the sun we are in darkness; we are cold. At no point, could we ever survive without one or the other. They Church, when it is acting at its highest capacity for love, should in fact be as integral as salt and light. We should be proud and unapologetically lighting the world for mission and reign of God as it is happening now in our world. As I sit here this weekend, I realize that the Church is failing to see the beautiful opportunities to love refugees and resident aliens. We are failing to be salt when we allow ourselves to be taken out of the spiritual nutrition of so many people who need us to step in and help. We are hiding under a bushel basket when we allow someone to speak for us that speaks not in love but in hate. “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). At no point are we called to neglect or abandon those who need us. The Church is only as valuable as we are integral to the world and the meeting the world’s needs. We must be the salt and the light.

Personally, What is the church?

For class I am writing a series of essays. Go with me on the journey this semester. I welcome any and all feedback. Do you agree with what I think of the Church?

“What is the church, and what is its mission in our time?”

The church, for me, is a collective body of believers gathered to worship the Divine (in whatever way the collective or individual deems good) and to potentially live in community with one another. The Church is the greater representation of the individual congregations and gatherings. I believe the difference is that the churches that make up the Church are on a much lower and more hands-on grassroots level. The Church as we understand it today in America is the greater reputation of the Christian faith. For me, as a queer woman attempting to join the ranks of clergy members, I find our reputation to be atrocious. We are not personifying the qualities, as I see them, of the Christ or what he represented in the world at the time of his human life and death. I believe real change can happen inside of the Church when congregations and gatherings decide to take back what it means to be a Christian. We have the potential to change the world if we could ever stop worrying about which cup Starbucks uses or does not use for three months out of the year.

As for the mission of the church, it really is to change the world. We are called to be the Christ in our communities, cities, states, and countries. At some point, (probably around the time of Constantine) we allowed the Church to become a political structure more than we required it to be a faith organization. We decided we had more trust in the politicians who benefited from us than the God who created us. It is, again, our potential and our requirement to reclaim the Church for what it should actually be known for in the world. We are to be salt and light. We should be critical to the world. We should not let governments decide when people are deserving of homes, food, clothing, or even a country to claim. That is the job of the church. It is our job to house the homeless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the resident alien. Where is the Church though? Sadly, we have allowed it to care more about presidential elections than the people who are right in our backyard. We have abandoned the hungry to argue about the color of our coffee cups.

I reclaim the mission of the church. Our mission is to love Jesus, to be Jesus, and to actually live like we know Jesus. If we could manage that, then we truly could change the world; Jesus certainly did.

Foreigner in the Land of God.

Have you ever felt like you were a foreigner in the land of God? Sometimes I step into church and I feel so distant and lost in the conversation about potlucks and board meetings. I forget how to speak the language of Christianese. I don’t remember that I am supposed to be a meek and mild woman instead of the crass and crude person I tend to be. I fall apart when held up to the standards of what it means to be a “good Christian.”

I am a foreigner in the land of God.

I do not belong there. I am alone in a place that has politicized a love of God and a desire to do good in the name of God. The politics have watered down the actions it takes to truly be in a spiritual place and live into a spiritual calling.

I am a lone person calling out to God to be more, do more, say more and exist in this place more. The Church has lost its way. They have decided that presidential candidates are more important to talk about than the hurting and hungry among us. The Church has decided a new set of nursery toys or paint on the wall is more valuable to increasing the number of attendees than going out and equipping people to help the orphans, widows, and resident aliens among us.

I am guilty of being a native in that place. I am guilty of thinking the Church is only capable of going about its political work. I am guilty of speaking the native tongue and only seeing the native concerns of the church as a physical place.

But today, I am declaring we become foreigners in that land. We take ourselves out of that place in order to regain our identity in solidarity with the God that created us to be more, do more, and say more. We can do this if we remove ourselves from the idea that pleasing the people who are around us in this land is more important than seeking out the hurting. People are hurting, and we are allowing the Church to distract us with pew colors and committee meetings.

No more. Today I am a foreigner in that land. Today I am free to be a blessing to someone else with no denominational strings attached. I do not care if you were sprinkled or dunked. I do not care if you take intinction or pass the plate with real wine or grape juice. God is calling us to get out of the land of dogma. God is not in the box we have placed God in.

Come with me. Be a foreigner in the land of the Church’s God. Be with God out here with the hurting, the hungry, and the homeless. Be with God in this life. Because when we are with God, life will be the better for it. I guarantee it. God is moving. And I don’t know about you, but I would rather go with God than with the committee arguing about the new carpeting for the classrooms.

Love God. Love People.