Category Archives: Theology

Musings on God and His ways in the world, and how we humans interact with Him/them.

NYT Opinion: A Christian Case against the Pence Rule

When the NYT writer understands that we can’t make a rule big enough to solve the problem of sexual harassment, I have to stand up and cheer… and repost.

The answer is not to ask women to leave the room. It’s to hold all men in the room accountable, and kick out those who long ago lost their right to be there.

via A Christian Case Against the Pence Rule – The New York Times

And this too…

{R}easonable people know the difference between a business meeting over breakfast and drinks at a hotel bar at night. And what the Pence rule fails to grapple with is that the Weinstein story wasn’t, at its root, about attraction but abuse of power. The producer’s behavior wasn’t fundamentally about lust gone wild. It flowed from male consolidation of power in Hollywood, and the lack of opportunity and influence that women have there and in many other industries. Mr. Weinstein could prey on women because of his undue influence over actresses’ careers. He knew they would have little recourse if they spoke out. Those women wouldn’t have been helped by greater isolation from men. They needed a stronger voice in the industry and greater agency over their careers.

The Pence rule arises from a broken view of the sexes: Men are lustful beasts that must be contained, while women are objects of desire that must be hidden away. Offering the Pence rule as a solution to male predation is like saying, “I can’t meet with you one on one, otherwise I might eventually assault you.” If that’s the case, we have far deeper problems around men and power than any personal conduct rule can solve.

Worth your time to read

A few good reads to kick off your week. One should never approach Monday without a good read around.

To kick off, this piece by Kutter Callaway of Fuller Seminary really hit home with me today when I read it in a back issue of Fuller Magazine that we got at work a few months ago. (Yeah, I know, I’m behind.)  He discusses the way that chronic pain distorts our view of reality, usually attacking our sense of hope the most viciously. And how Christians dealing with chronic pain gain insight into the hope offered by the Gospel. A powerful read.

Restoring Hope: Being Weak and Becoming Well – Fuller Studio

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From the same issue of Fuller Magazine come two excellent pieces about Christians and hospitality. This ancient set of practices has worn very thin in our modern age, and these scholars take time to explain why Christians should pursue hospitality even more fervently now.  In fact, hospitality might create a space where Christians and Muslims can gather on common ground. 

Restoring Hospitality: A Blessing for Visitor and Host – Fuller Studio

A Moratorium on Hospitality? – Fuller Studio

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Time is not just money. It’s also power.  And one of the significant discrepancies between working women and working men lies in their access to uninterrupted free time to think, create, or connect.

This article by Brigid Schulte gives a name to the fragmented craziness that women experience as they try to juggle work, parenting, and marriage:  leisure confetti.  

While many working men are able to access blocks of uninterrupted time, most women — especially mothers — get their leisure time only in snatches, and even then it’s dirtied with the mental anxiety of carpool logistics, supper planning, family scheduling, budgeting, etc.

Confetti. You can’t build or create anything or even feel like a real human being if the only time you get to yourself comes in scraps.

Brigid Schulte: Why time is a feminist issue

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I never talk on the phone much now, and aside from my teenaged spurt of nightly phone sessions with my best friends (or calls home during my college days), I’ve never been a huge phone talker.  Texting was (and is) a god-send: concise communication that people can read when they’re ready, apart from the disruption of a ringing phone.

This Slate writer disagrees, and wonders if we’ve lost something…

The Death of the Telephone Call |Slate

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This next one may make some folks mad…. but that’s not my intention. In fact, I’d like to post this as much to invite critique as suggest alliance.  But I think Americans need to turn a critical (in the sense of objective / evaluation) eye on football. It’s a dangerous game – one that grinds up the bodies (and brains) of players for the violent pleasure of the masses. This bothers me.

And here, this author suggests an even more troubling link – that the US military is happy to keep Americans confusing patriotism with team loyalty, to see football as  a kind of American war.

I’m not a peacenik but it doesn’t take a 60s hippie conscience to question whether Americans can tell the difference between patriotism and nationalism, between bandwagon-riding mob behavior and common sense.

How the NFL Sells – and Unabashedly Benefits From – the Inextricable Link Between Football and War |The Cauldron (Sports Illustrated)

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A powerful reminder that ministry which sees the recipients as “needy” will fail to be as successful as it should be.

“Do you want to know why we love him [another missionary]? He needs us. The rest of you have never needed us.”

What’s Wrong with Western Missionaries? | DesiringGod

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I may not be in a classroom any more (an experience that I genuinely miss pretty often), but I want everyone to read this wonderful piece directed to young teachers.  It’s a great reminder of why I taught, and why I want to spend my life trying to make education better.

In The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer suggests that we teach who we are and thus, no matter what we teach, our students judge us as “good” or not according to how we communicate who we are.

Letter to a Young High School Teacher | Comment Magazine

 

I’ll be back with some book reviews soon. Currently reading 2 or 3 that have been good reads for sure.

The value of artists for the church

This thought struck me today:  Do the “worship wars” exist in our churches (and I’m thinking of conservative Evangelicals mostly) because we lack a deep and meaningful theology of art?

Do we devalue certain kinds of music or performance because, generally speaking, we devalue the artists among us?

I realize that I’m generalizing here based on mostly my own experience, the echo chamber that is my Facebook feed and my friend groups, and articles I tend to see on the Internet. But hear me out — let me know if you think there’s something here.

Worship music exists on a settled continuum at this point in American church history. Since the 1970s, rock and pop (and country) sounds have become more and more mainstream as part of the Sunday service. What began as “praise choruses” (thanks, Keith Green!) grew into a huge Christian music industry by the 80s (who hasn’t heard of Amy Grant) and a juggernaut of Christian media, praise and worship music, and performance styles. But it’s not been a smooth ride. New forms alienate traditional worshipers. And I think we can agree that a lot of Christian music – like secular music – is at best mediocre, from a musician’s point of view.

It seems like the worship wars have cooled to an uneasy detente: traditionalists scoff at “Jesus Is My Boyfriend” music that repeats the same line 25 times. Contemporary worship leaders value traditional hymnody but want to get away from the funeral dirge of organ/piano/face in hymnal that they probably grew up with.

I think the two positions can be summed up easily thus:

And if you need a third example, find the Eddie Izzard clip (from his stand-up routine) about Anglicans singing in church …. (it always goes through my head when I’m singing “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” not my favorite tune).

Thing is, both approaches to music, traditional and contemporary, can serve up skill and artistry. And both can fall into the traps of mind-numbing boredom or lack intentionality.

And – with a gentle nudge to my hymn-loving / repetition-hating friends – repetition is a valid song-writing technique. To say otherwise is to deny the artistry of the psalms – and not just the famous ones like 150 or  136 (which repeats “for his mercy endures forever 36x…. just saying…..).

So I’m wondering.  Do we war over music (or simmer silently when the worship leader picks a song we hate) because we lack a cohesive theology of art?

Think about your church. Aside from the main platform musicians who are playing for worship regularly, how many artists and musicians get the chance to integrate their skill set into the ministry of your church?

How much art hangs in your worship space?  If you’re from a Reformed denomination like I am, perhaps not much. Maybe word art of some kind, cloth banners with verses on them, or perhaps a long-established symbol of something non-controversial like the Trinity.

Any art that isn’t totally unambiguous?

Any music that speaks to the more difficult passages of Scripture, like the prophets or Revelation? Any music that doesn’t always resolve to a happy ending?

Any physical movement? Any dance? Any theater?

Many churches are working to incorporate art, music, dance, and other aesthetics into the worship and life of the congregation. For those churches, I am deeply thankful and hope they lead the way for the rest of us. 

This morning at church, teens from our congregation led us with tambourine and dance. It doesn’t happen often, and it’s usually just one song, but there’s so much joy sparking out of their hands and feet. It nudges even our congregation to move, to smile, to reflect the God Who rejoices over us with singing. 

If we put 90% of our worship energy into making or listening to propositional statements, I think we lose the power of space, time, sound, and sight to shape our understanding of God-given beauty. And then we end up throwing shade at the people who don’t worship like us. “They have a band.” “The drums are too loud.” “It feels like a concert instead of a church.” “The music is old and boring.” “I hate the organ. It sounds like death.”

We must learn to worship. Learning to appreciate different types of music, song construction, liturgies takes time and intentionality.

And one of the best resources for that work often lies untapped among our congregations – the artists among us, those who are honed to see a more complex beauty, those who are wired to feel truth as much as know it.  Let’s value the artists among us for the gift that they are.

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I recommend James KA Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom if you want to explore further the ways in which the incarnated practices of liturgy train our hearts at a pre-conscious level. Here’s a condensed lecture version.

 

Why all the fuss over RHE?

The amount of controversy kicked up by Rachel Held Evans never fails to amaze me. She says stuff I disagree with, stuff I agree with, and a lot of stuff in between that just represents …. ideas. Not brilliant or heretical or life-altering. Occasionally perceptive, deep, and moving.

So it was with when I sat down to read one of her more famous books. After noticing how the mere mention of RHE turns many of my (otherwise nice, kind, normal) male Christian friends into raging assholes, I started reading more of her works in an attempt to make sense of what kept happening on my Facebook feed.

51T8OyRMLiL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_A Year of Biblical Womanhood punches all the buttons of someone who wants to hate RHE’s books: She’s happy to pick and choose theological and religious experiences in her pursuit of living for a year like a “biblical woman.” She rejects several standard, beloved Evangelical positions. The whole book is written as if it should be a Big Deal… when it really isn’t.  But hey, I remember being 30 and uncertain and searching.

On the other hand, RHE always turns up (IMO)  ideas I find worthy of contemplation. Several moments of her yearlong experiment in living through loosely defined ‘biblical womanhood’ resulted in moving passages in the book. I nodded along and underlined sentences and starred words which encapsulated some of the same critiques I launch at the “evangelical establishment” – though usually only for the tiny audience of my husband.  Baptizing patriarchy and calling it holy through years of tradition and cultural syncretism is bad, even if challenging the status quo makes people uncomfortable.

Her ceremony to honor the female victims of the “Texts of Terror” is a good example of what makes her so infuriating to Evangelical men and endearing to me — a section both controversial and very touching. Rachel and her friend met in a modernized vigil similar to the commemoration of the Jephthah’s daughter mentioned in Judges 11:39-40 but lost in history. They lit candles in honor of the women who lived (and often died) in horrific circumstances, preserved for all time an eternity as “stories” in the Biblical text: Jephthah’s daughter. Tamar. The Levite’s concubine cut into pieces.

It pisses off Evangelicals to label as “texts of terror” the Old Testament accounts of brutal rape, murder, or mutilation of women. But RHE has a point: By normalizing these stories (or simply ignoring them – when’s the last time you heard a sermon from Judges 19?), we never force ourselves to come face-to-face with the difficult questions presented in the narratives of Scripture. Our world is seriously fucked up. Evil is really really really evil. Saying “it’s not so bad! God can make it good!” doesn’t make the evil less evil. But it’s way easier to ignore this than acknowledge it.

Or take Proverbs 31. A simple search for “Proverbs 31 woman” on Amazon brings up 100 pages of title results.  To say it in emoji:  O.O

This text is so revered as the sine qua non pattern of perfect womanhood, most of us won’t even speak out loud how deeply this text shames us:  The Proverbs 31 Woman, as archetype, is unattainable. Within the Evangelical Christianity of my upbringing, this woman may be prized as far above rubies, but the daily failure of any of us to live up to the standard makes it hard to smile through the Mother’s Day sermons. “She shall be praised,” yes, but the rest of us women live with the consequences.

RHE brought to light the fact that, within Judaism, Proverbs 31 is a blessing, not a command. How ironic. The “woman of valor” (eschet chayil) uses her gifts to bless her household, and within Judaism, it is the husband who memorizes this passage, that he may quote it for his wife in acknowledgment and gratitude.  Reading that section on Proverbs 31 in A Year of Biblical Womanhood released the passage from its status as oppressive overlord and gave me eyes to see instead beauty and grace. “Women of valor” exist everywhere in my life and they should be praised!

*   *   *   *

The conversation on “biblical womanhood” revolves around three fights:  1) equality vs submission within marriage; 3) women’s roles in the church, especially relating to the  pastorate; 3) modesty.

I appreciate RHE even when I disagree with her exegesis, hermeneutics, or conclusions because she reminds me that those fights are not as cut and dried as we insist on making them.

Good people – men and women with whom I will share the New Jerusalem – do not agree whether women can be pastors or whether the pursuit of egalitarian marriage is misguided or what makes something ‘modest.’ And when our response to an opposing viewpoint is to label it as dangerous liberal heresy and refuse to engage in the ideas or even acknowledge the writer herself as having a legitimate voice at the table, we fall into a blindness of our own making. 

RHE is a signpost for the changes in 21st Century American Christianity. A Millennial, she speaks for many who simply do not operate under the older “rules,” especially the tinge of Modernism that shaped the Christianity I grew up in. For postmodern Christians, story trumps propositions. Community triumphs over sectarianism and denominational divisions. Significance means seeing the Gospel heal the world in both tangible and spiritual realms, not ‘being right.’ Faith anchors in a living relationship with The Word (Christ).

Obviously many of my male theological friends disapprove (if Facebook is an accurate thermometer), but I happen to think the young’uns are headed in a better direction.

Faith UnraveledThis particular book of RHE’s will not move any mountains, and in some ways it’s as much an experiment to provide content for her blog/book than anything else. But others – like Faith Unraveled – are absolutely worth your time to read.

And I am glad that Rachel Held Evans (alongside many articular women) is writing, speaking, and provoking responses in the Church. We need her – and many more like her.

 

 

Why we need blue-haired people

A few weeks ago, I dyed my hair blue. This has caused a bit of a stir.

I’m not surprised. I find it quite stirring myself.

I did some experimental color last summer and fall, but this was a step well beyond the reds and even dark purples which don’t seem to scare people. I guess blue screams, I’m breaking away from the norms!

I’m sure people think I’m having a mid-life crisis. I don’t feel all crisis-y, so I doubt that’s it. I just honestly wanted to do something cool for once and this seems pretty innocuous and non-permanent. And fun.

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Having blue hair has been a revelation in some ways.

For one, total strangers are way more likely to give me a shout-out now. “I love your hair! Blue is my favorite color!” I’ve heard that at least a dozen times now, usually in the grocery store.

I’ve seen kids’ eyes get wide as they break into huge grins. They know what’s up. Sorry, parents, if your kids are using me right now as leverage in their argument to let them dye their hair…. By the way, you should totally let them do it….. Be prepared for some weird colors left behind in the shower though.

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We need blue-haired people in this world. We do. And tattooed people, and people with nose rings, and people who wear weird colors or look androgynous or who play D&D on the weekends with their friends in a basement somewhere.

We need the people outside the “norm.” They show the rest of us that it’s ok not to be all matchy-matchy with what the world tells us we should be like.

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We’re called to love those who are different, difficult, or outside our comfort zone. If you can’t get past the fact that I, a woman in the middle of her professional career, assaults your eyeballs with hair displaying about 5 blue hues — what are you going to do with the genuinely odd people you’re called to love?

Further, young people need to see all kinds of people living healthy, productive lives. Offering one standard model of a Human creates the impression that all the others are somehow deficient.

We crazy-haired people are pretty normal. Some of the nicest employees at the mall work at Hot Topic. Their body modifications (a typical trait of a HT employee, I’ve noticed) has no bearing on their friendliness, their capabilities as workers, or their value in this world. Likewise, I’m not sure why schools tend to jump all over things like crazy socks or crazy hair colors. Who cares what your socks look like? Or your hair?  “It’s distracting.”  Really?

God doesn’t care (I’m pretty certain) what my hair looks like. He created it brown, but I’ve never put much stock in the “if God wanted you to have ——, He would have created you that way” line of argument. Adam and Eve, apart from the Fall, would have still been working toward the New Jerusalem. From a Garden to a City was always the plan. (Read more about that in Al Wolters’ excellent little book, Creation Regained.)

Growth and development have always been the tasks of humans who create, being in God’s image.

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Evangelicalism is really struggling right now to handle the LGBTQ+ movement. What I’m seeing, for the most part, is a willingness on the part of most Christians to love individual people (people they know, people they’re already friends with) even after they find out those people identify with an alternate sexuality …. but a deep-seated resistance to loving LGBTQ+ people as a group.

Somehow, in the aggregate, what is non-normative is more threatening. To extend marriage rights (some argue) diminishes marriage. To bake a cake implies approval. And Godforbid we imply that in any way, we condone anyone’s aberrant sexual behavior, identity, or leanings.

Apparently the Holy Spirit has lost His ability to convict people of sin, righteousness, and judgement (cf: John 14) in these latter days. The LGBTQ+ movement broke Him?

A decade of teaching taught me that I can’t change anyone. I can love them, encourage them, cajole them, and warn. But I cannot change anyone. It’s simply not my job. And it’s also not my job to function as someone else’s conscience, certain that I identify the areas in his life where he’s clearly wrong and sinning to make sure he knows that he’s messing it up.

I grieve when a friend tells me they’ve spent a lifetime trying not to be gay, not to be weird, not to be trans*, not to be different. I don’t have easy answers for them. I don’t even know how I’m supposed to think and feel about these issues – I cannot reconcile the Bible’s words (as I understand them) with the narratives I hear from people I love.

I’ve read the arguments from Christians working to reconcile biblical narrative and systematic theology for those who claim both faith in Jesus and a non-heterosexual identity. Ken Wilson’s Letter to my Congregation is one of the few I find compelling — I like his recommendation that churches provide a pathway for gay Christians to remain in communion with the Body while the larger Church sorts this stuff out. The Holy Spirit is big enough to handle Christians who are behaving non-normatively and – if they’re sinning – convict them of sin.

I’m certain that breaking people in the name of Jesus isn’t the right way to handle this.

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Friends, if we cannot bring ourselves to tolerate oddball hair colors, a non-threatening behavior that lies outside our accepted norms, how are we capable of loving God and our neighbor when that actually gets hard?

Loving God doesn’t mean making everyone around me worship Him the same way I do and for the same reasons. It’s God’s job to call people to His name – He makes that clear.

Loving my neighbor doesn’t mean co-opting the Holy Spirit’s job to sanctify those who claim faith in Jesus. It means …loving.

Perhaps it means allowing myself to live in the uncomfortable region where I cannot exactly see how to reconcile my theology and my faith with my friends or their narratives, while remaining genuinely hospitable and welcoming to anyone who shows up at my door needing a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear. Perhaps that is what Grace looks like – giving up my comfort zone for the sake of another.

Perhaps we Christians need more blue-haired people around.

Because if you can learn to stop thinking of my hair as an unnatural aberration, maybe you can also stop seeing your LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters in Christ only as misguided, disobedient Christians … and simply care for them instead.

What Grace in parenting teens might look like

Ran across this excellent piece about the storms of parenting adolescents. 

I had to hold back tears when I read this, because it dredged up deep memories of watching friends and parents I know do this for their teens. Grace always hits me in the feels like that. 

I usually got to see both sides — the fear and fighting from the scared teen, and the pain and fear it caused their parents. 
Yet they both held on. And they made it. 

The Letter Your Teenager Can’t Write You

Great read: Whether or Not It’s Possible to Debate Fundamentalists, Fundamentalists Want to Debate You

One of the best analyses of fundamentalist thinking I’ve ever read

It is impossible to debate a fundamentalist….because their very language psychologically traps them into their frames of mind.

In saying it is impossible to debate fundamentalists, Race is saying that fundamentalists — to borrow a concept from Robert Jay Lifton‘s idea of totalism — load the language. They use language in a radically different way from most society, which enables them to control dialogue. They use “thought-stopping cliches” (which is also a term Lifton uses). Race explains that,

That’s why it’s impossible to debate with a fundamentalist. By replacing “my” with “God” and melding beliefs about authority with authority itself, fundamentalist vocabulary has left no room for humility, reason, openness, doubt or change.

And, in conclusion: fundamentalism values ideology over people  

Yes. A crisp insight, one that’s vital to understanding current political discourse or my college years.

Source: Whether or Not It’s Possible to Debate Fundamentalists, Fundamentalists Want to Debate You