Monthly Archives: February 2012

Into the wilderness

The Lenten call leads us here. Image from http://www.bibleplaces.com/wilderness.htm

When I was 23, my father was told he had 12-18 months to live. He had glioblastoma multiforme — a particularly dastardly cancer. It is like an octopus in a person’s brain — it wraps itself around brain cells, disrupts the brain’s ability to communicate and — most fun — if you cut a limb off, it just grows another one. If you have a GBM, you will die sooner rather than later. A few days after Christmas, he had a new understanding of the phrase, “You were made from dust, to dust you shall return.” And, with that, he went into the wilderness.

In the Bible, wilderness is a place where people are lost, isolated, afraid, and grieving terrible losses. It is also where the people find hope for a new and better future and are transformed into a new people. The people in the wilderness have seen horrific things — war, murder, death, destruction of their temple and all that they knew. The prophets words guide the people through their grief, doubt and fear. They express anger at God, the pain of the people and envision a new world for the survivors of mass atrocities. The people have to grieve and deal with their past transgressions before they can come to a place of hope and construct a new society — this is what they do in the wilderness.

Jesus goes into the wilderness after he is told by God, in front of a crowd of people, that he is the son of God. He is compelled to go into the wilderness, where he is taunted by the devil (face his demons, perhaps?) I would imagine he did some introspection as well. After all, this whole Son of God thing just got real. He emerged from the wilderness to heal the sick, preach to and teach the lost and, ultimately, to walk towards his death on the cross.

My dad had an amazing sense of humor, a quick wit and impressive way with words, as well as a passion for serving those in need. He loved those close to him with fierce devotion. He was also deeply angry. He had a temper. He seemed to blame the world for his life not turning out the way he had dreamed it would. He held grudges for long periods of time (like, forever). After his diagnosis, my father spent about 40 days in the wilderness of his head. At the beginning, he was resigned to death. He sat in the darkness of our family room, watching court TV. It was like he said, “Fuck it. Death, you can come and get me right here, in my comfy chair.”

I don’t know what happened for him in those days, but sometime in April, he came out of the wilderness transformed. He let go of his anger. He became loving to people he had previously hated. He had a new sense of gratitude for life and those around him that I had never seen. He looked at everything and everyone like they were amazing and beautiful. With the knowledge of his impending death, he took a close look at his life and decided that things needed to change if he wanted the last bit of his life to be as full and fulfilling as possible.

This is Lent.

On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that we, too, will die. We don’t know when. Really, it could be tomorrow or 90 years from now. If we really take in that knowledge, if we really believe what is said when the ashes are put on our foreheads, then Lent is not about giving up chocolate or Facebook or having fish on Fridays. Lent is about looking deeply into ourselves and making room for God to dwell in us. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t give things up — I’m not you, you could be giving up something that will be a part of your transformation. But it needs to be about so much more than that. Lent is a time to go into our own wilderness and look at our brokenness — our sin. With God’s help, we examine the ways in which we are not living into the amazing people we were created to be. We look at our idolatry, the grudges we hold on to, the prejudices and habits that we cling to for dear life and we put them all in front of God. God will still love you. That’s what she does, and she already knows about all of it anyway. God will help you look at all of the ways you and I are broken and take us in with a huge hug and say, “I know about all of this. I love you, and I want you to be what I created you to be. Now, let’s work together to fix it.” Some of these changes may be incremental, things no one else will notice. Some may transform your outlook on life and who you are day-to-day. Every bit of effort at Lenten introspection will bring you that much closer to the grace-filled, compassionate, smart, funny, forgiving, grateful, patient, loving bundle of wonderful God created you (and me) to be. So, why not give it all we’ve got? Most importantly, why wait for a terminal illness to realize what is and isn’t important in life or to connect ourselves with our creator? Most of us don’t get to know when we are going to die. And yet, we all will die.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

For each post, there is a song: Awake my Soul


Because I’m a woman

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I vividly remember the first time the Bible was used to tell me I couldn’t do something because of my gender. I was 20 and in my first semester at my second college. Hanging out in the cafe talking to this really cute Christian boy (likely the only one at Warren Wilson College that year), I mentioned that I felt a really strong call to ordained ministry. He informed me, without so much as a pause, that I must be misinterpreting this call, as God would never call a woman to such a position. Then he started quoting Paul. Off the top of his head. This was all new to me. I had never been proof texted before, and I sure as hell had never had the Bible used to tell me I couldn’t do something.
Being told I was less than because of my possession of tits and a vagina was nothing new to me (or most women). Especially as I am crap at things that require hand-eye coordination. My mom and dad taught me to shake that off because I could do and be anything I wanted to, and my inability to play tee ball was not about my gender. But I had never been told that I couldnt do something because God said so. I didn’t have the defenses for that.
I left the cafe almost in tears. As soon as I got to my dorm room, I found my Bible and looked for these verses. There they were, plain as day (or so I thought). God told Paul that I couldn’t lead a congregation, couldn’t be an equal partner in my relationships with men, and generally should just shut my pie hole. Crying, I threw my Bible against the wall and cursed God and the apostle Paul.
Fortunately, we had some amazing religious leaders on campus. Dr. Sommers walked me through the importance of audience and context when reading Paul’s letters. Paul wasn’t talking to me. He was talking to a specific people at a specific time in history with specific issues. And he had some issues of his own. He also had female leaders in his group of gospel spreaders.
In the years since this experience I have heard again and again that a woman’s role is to have babies and care for the family and submit to the rule of her husband, through whom God speaks. Every time I hear this, it breaks my heart. And the voices peddling his crap seem to be getting louder. Purity balls, a creepy ritual in which young women pledge their purity to their fathers and fathers pledge to care for it, are an actual thing. Mark Driscoll and many like him are teaching that women should be submissive and feminine all the while treating that “sacred” and “blessed” role as an abomination if men want to take it on. And my sisters are buying it. Women are struggling with obeying what men are telling them God says and the different message they hear the Holy Spirit whispering to their hearts.
Now this battle to re-domesticate women has moved from churches to the government. Too many have heard the words of Christ as words of liberation, too many know that we are created in God’s image, male, female and somewhere between. The Holy Spirit has revealed to faithful men and women that women CAN lead, can preach and teach and administer the sacrament and lead households. And many Americans are so sick of the hate and prejudice spewed by the religious right that they aren’t listening to the church anymore. Now, those who want to keep women powerless have to force it upon us through legislation. Want to keep women out of the public sphere? Make birth control illegal so that they have to keep pumping out babies. Force them to be vaginally violated by the government if they decide that they don’t want to carry their pregnancy to term. Make sure women know their opinion is irrelevant by not allowing them in on the conversation.
Unfortunately for those go wish to make sure women’s voices are silenced, God created us to be badasses. Blood doesn’t scare us; we bleed every month. Pain? We were created to push watermelons out of a hole the size of a lime. Intelligence? We invent, we create, we write. Strong and fast? We win sports championships. Church cred? We become bishops. We reform the church. We push through your glass ceilings even while being harassed and put down; we do it in uncomfortable shoes and an itchy bra. We love radically and fiercely. This is how God created us. And, as long as God has our back, your efforts to keep us silent and subservient are going to lose.

An anthem for this post:


Am I broken?

There aren’t enough stars in the sky, oxygen molecules on earth, or freckles on my shoulders to come close to describing my love for God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I crave connection with the holy. It feeds me. It is my faith in God’s love, my knowledge of Christ’s presence in my life, and my awareness of the Holy Spirit that has gotten me through so many deaths in my life at a young age, that got me though the illness and death of my father, that kept me going when I could barely get out of bed and keeps me going today. God’s transformative work in my heart, Christ’s example and the pull of the Holy Spirit compel me to be concerned about social justice, to work towards a world in which all of God’s children are nourished in body, heart and mind — a world without bullying (on an individual or global scale), a world where love and concern for brother and sister are the law of the day. Everything about me is formed, informed and fed by my Christian faith.

I don’t even need all of the fingers on one had to count the times I have felt this way in a church worship service.  This leads me to wonder what is wrong with me. Why is it that someone who loves God so much can’t stand church? WTF? Am I broken (this is not a theological question about the nature of sin)? I go to church hoping to hear a word that convicts or uplifts me, to feel the Holy Spirit in song, to be filled with Christ during eucharist. It happens so rarely that I have a clear memory of each time it has happened. I usually leave church annoyed with the service for not “working” for me (I know this isn’t useful, particularly when I start to nitpick), and with myself for not getting the connection.

In my former congregation, there was a woman who always just said that it wasn’t about us. It was about God. Our needs didn’t matter. We were there to worship God. But isn’t worship a two-way street? Isn’t it about us worshiping God and God’s grace breaking into our lives in word and sacrament (and community)? What does it mean when that doesn’t happen? Over and over and over again?

Where did I get this faith if church has rarely done much for me? Some of it I think I was just born with. I’ve always had a kind of weird desire to connect with God, and a strong awareness of God’s presence in my life. A lot of it comes from my experiences at camp. It was in those worship services that I felt God most clearly. One of my most transformative life moments was when God’s word broke through to my heart in the words of someone I, at the time, kind of hated. That is where I experienced what real Christian community could look like. There I was, an awkward 12-year-old with a ton of friends who let me be me. Later on, it was my friends from camp that prayed for and with me when life seemed to be falling apart.  I saw Christ every day for five summers. He was just there, in the midst of us. He was us. And now, I search and search and am often left wanting.

And I’m studying to be a pastor. A lot of what drives me is that I know there are a lot of people like me out there who, as Dan Kimball says, love Jesus but not the church. For me it’s less about “the” church than church worship services. I am one of them — the people who don’t feel at home in church, who have never really fit in. People who don’t jive with traditional worship, people who want to live their faith outside of the church walls. But I keep feeling like this might not be possible within the confines of a denomination. The impression I get from those around me, those teaching me, is that this will not fit into the denomination I love. I get discouraged. A lot. Yet, God must have called me to this for a reason. So I keep going, keep walking this strange path through a dark wood. Because I want to love Jesus and church. I have experienced this few times, but I have experienced. I know it is possible. I just have to figure out how.

A song that says so much to me right now: God is in the House, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.