Monthly Archives: April 2012

You cannot define me; we cannot define each other

What does it mean to be a woman? To the Catholic Church, it means I cannot be a priest, but I can teach children, care for the poor and pray for the world. For many evangelical Christians (I really hate that label, but it’s what I’m going with for now), it means that I cannot preach, I cannot lead worship, I cannot teach men. I must submit to my husband’s will (oh, and I must want a husband and children), and live into the role that God has created for me: wife and mother. We were created from Adam and are therefore, lesser; an afterthought. We am accursed. For being weak-willed and dumb enough to fall for the snake’s lie in the garden of Eden, we are cursed.

For these schools of thought and many more, we are temptresses. It is our fault that men lust after us, so we must cover ourselves so that the men aren’t tempted. If we don’t, what happens to us is our fault. We are sluts if a flash of hair or ankle (much less some cleavage) throws a man into a hot frenzy and must have sex with us. We are more chaste by nature; it is also up to us to control the lustful nature of men.

In the Bible we are whores, tricksters, liars, faithless, and people who laugh at God. We are so desperate for children that we will commit incest. We are ritually unclean most of the time — we are dirty. We are also cunning, wise, steadfast, and loyal. We are entrusted with bringing the Lord God himself into this world. We follow Jesus, we support Paul, we spread the Good News.

In many native belief systems women are so powerful that we are not allowed into ceremony when we are having our period. We are generally not spiritual leaders until after menopause, when our power is more controlled and less chaotic. We are filled with frightening power.

And that I am. I am powerful. I am a beloved child of God. I have been given the gift of preaching and teaching and I cannot fathom God giving me this gift and this gnawing call just to have it sit unused. I can’t believe God would create me to have my soul tortured by a lifetime of misery because I must deny this call due to the fact that I don’t have a penis. I am beautiful. I am God’s art. And it would be silly to keep that art in a corner covered by a canvas. It is not my job to control men. It is their job (although, if pushed, I will kick some ass). I am a writer, a laugher, a lover, and a dancer. I am kind, compassionate, tough, smart, silly, intuitive and, at times, a little crazy. This is what defines me. Most importantly, I decide what defines me. Not anyone else.

In the past few weeks there have been all kinds of debates about woman’s worth. Who is worth more — the stay at home mom or the working mom? The poor single mom or the rich mom? The woman who have children or those who don’t? Older women or younger, fat or thin… It goes on and on and on. Womanhood is so much bigger than that. It’s bigger than having children, it’s bigger than having a spouse, it’s bigger than having a uterus. I know, it’s easier if the deciders of our world get to say what womanhood is. It’s always easier when we can put each other in boxes. But that’s not how God made us. We are God’s art. We are powerful — we are frightening. We are beloved children of God, wonderfully and fearfully made.

I am woman. Hear me. Let me be me, as God created me to be.

And this is why it’s dying

I’m on fire right now. Irate. Burning. I went to chapel today. I don’t go to chapel often. Here’s why.

Chapel has been arranged so that it is impossible to sneak in unnoticed if you are late (as I often am).

I remarked to a classmate, “There should be some kind of warning that you can’t sneak into the chapel anymore!” Said classmate was like, “Yeah, right?”

Another classmate said, “Well maybe you should come to chapel more.”

Me: “I would if I liked it.” (I admit, this wasn’t the best statement, but it is very true)

Another classmate (with much snark): “Good luck in your future parish, then.”

Wow. Yup. And that is why the church is dying. I don’t get much out of “traditional” worship, therefore I have no future in the church. To quote Cee-Lo, “Forget you.” Seriously. (Not the person, the attitude.)

Worship is so much bigger than we’re allowing it to be! It doesn’t have to be anything other than preaching the word and administering the sacrament — the form can be so many different things as long as it reflects the community! Acoustic guitars? Great! No instruments? Great! Hip-hop? Go for it! Bluegrass? Right on!

If your community wants to sit still in worship or they want to clap and dance, let them do it. If they want to stay quiet or they want to yell out, “AMEN!” let the spirit move them (and you), let the spirit fill all y’all! If your community wants you to preach for a half an hour, work into it, ask for help!  Yes, I realize I am using a lot of exclamation points!!!!

If we insist on restricting worship to what we know and what we are comfortable with and what we have historically done we are restricting the ways people can encounter God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Yes, I understand the irony in me not wanting to go to a type of worship I don’t like. It’s not even about whether I like it or not. That’s actually not what bothers me. Most of my church life has been in congregations that are fairly traditional and I can hang. It’s the attitude that this is the way it has to be, that this is the only style of worship that should exist or that is right or valid that gets my panties in a bunch. This is a learning institution, for crying out loud! We should be learning about all of the possibilities in worship, experimenting with styles and genres. STUDENT WRITTEN LITURGIES SHOULD BE SUPPORTED!!!! I have had enough conversations with my community here to know that the style of worship we have every week does not reflect the skills, desires or voices of the entire community. There are many people who are fed by “traditional” worship. There are many, many more who are not. This might explain why so few people go. This is also a reason why so few people go in the rest of our society. It’s certainly not all about worship, but the refusal of so many to even think of trying anything different most certainly contributes to our declining numbers.

Get out of the box. God is bigger than the box. It’s fine if you keep your feet in, but get your arms out there and see what the world is telling you it wants and needs. More importantly, see what God is telling you the world needs. I bet you it will be much bigger than traditional hymns and a mediocre sermon on a Sunday morning.

End of rant. For now.

I am, we are 32 flavors and then some.

If you program it, they will come (please stop thinking this way)

This is not a balm for the church's lack of young adults.

Programs, programs, programs! Let’s start a new program! We want more _________! What kind of program should we start? Where should we advertise it? What kind of publicity should we do?

Stop. Right now. Just stop. Stop with the programs, stop with the “if we do it and it’s cool and edgy and whatever they will come” mentality. Help me, help you. Help me, help you (add your own movie reference here).

Don’t get me wrong, I think theology on tap/theology pub is a cool idea. It gets church outside of the building and makes theology and worship a public act — and some are really cool and successful. But anymore it makes me cringe when I see someone starting one. We keep picking up things that have worked well in one context and plopping it into others. We keep looking for a cool idea or a program to solve all of our problems with church attendance in a neat and easy way. Have you ever tried to wrangle an escaped sheep? It’s a total pain in the ass. They don’t come when called. The run faster if they are chased. They occasionally respond to bribes, but, really, they are surrounded by grass when they escape and don’t really feel like they need you for anything. They don’t realize that you are there to help, to guide them, to keep them warm and safe. They see you as their captor and they want to keep away from you. You get the sheep back by getting them to trust you, to see you as a safe place. They come back when they see you as the best option in a big world. But you have to be careful, if you push too hard, they will get scared off and run away from you again.

This is not dissimilar to those who are un-churched or de-churched. They won’t come back just for a program that sounds cool. They won’t look at a poster and think, “Holy shit, church people drinking beer? I must see this!” It’s not that easy. You have to go to where they are and be present. You have to talk to them about their lives and not bring up Jesus beyond what you do for a living — until they want to talk about it. You have to build relationships. You have to walk slowly. You have to work and be patient. You have to be willing to have it not be neat or easy.

If you want the young adults in your community to actually start coming around, find out who the most receptive young people might be and give them a call. Offer to take them out for coffee. Say you just want to get to know them or to catch up. Say you need help understanding social media. Ask them to fix things. Let them know that the church is open for their bands to practice. Go hear their bands play or go to one of their art showings or hang out at a bar where some of them work. Just be present. Get to know young adults. Be real. Be honest. Be you. Don’t push. Just by showing them that you are a Christian person who cares, you’re going to make huge inroads. Then, one day, he may call you because of a dream he had or she may come to tell you about an experience in yoga class or someone might stop in in an existential crisis and that’s when you know that you have a relationship. That is when you know that you have shown them a little bit of Jesus, that’s when the grace breaks through. And it will be messy. Then it will be awesome. And, if the young adults say that you should totally start a Theology Pub, do it. Follow them. Let those who have come back take the lead.

My husband red the first iteration of this and reminded me of something. The motivation can’t be to bring the people to Jesus Christ. That’s disingenuous (Hi, I want to your friend, but only so that you come to Jesus) and totally obvious (and kind of creepy). The motivation has to be to love, as Jesus would have loved, and to be the presence of Christ in this broken world.

Less programs, more relationships. Less neat and easy, more hard and messy. Less cool/trendy/hip, more Jesus.

This is why it is called Good Friday

This cross is in the office of Father Stan Rother who was murdered by a death squad in Santiago De Atitlan, Guatemala in 1981.

For most of my life, I didn’t understand the importance of the crucified Christ. I mean, I got the salvation piece of it, the fact that the crucifixion of Jesus was a sacrifice for our sins and through that act, all people were forgiven (as much as anyone can understand that). What I didn’t understand was why anyone would want to dwell on the crucifixion, why the crucified Christ is what hangs in Catholic churches and is depicted in so much artwork. It was, as the Bishop George Carlin says in Dogma, “so depressing.” What is so good about Good Friday? I would wonder. It is about death and suffering. Jesus died. That’s awful. I wanted to skip ahead to Sunday — I wanted to get to the happy part without the rest of the stuff in between.

Then I had the privilege of traveling to Guatemala. I spent two weeks travelling with Witness for Peace, bearing witness to the tragedy, violence and pain of the 36 year war there. Our group met with people from a village called Rio Negro. The World Bank wanted to dam the river they lived on. The people refused to move. Over the course of a few weeks, 440 people were slaughtered. Men were massacred in the church. Women and children were marched up a hill and killed in unspeakable ways. The members of the village that survived were relocated to a plot of land right across the street from the very military officers who ruthlessly killed their family members. The farmland the government “gave” them was hours away by bus, leading to a lifetime of poverty for a people already starving.

We met a man who was going to testify against the military officers who he watched kill his family. He had to travel with an accompanier because of the threats on his life.

We visited the Guatemala City graveyard, where those who are poor rent graves until they can no longer afford them — then the bodies are thrown out. The rich have tombs that have electricity and running water. Immediately behind these tombs lies the Guatemala City dump where people live and die with less material wealth than those buried in the grand tombs.

We went to the reclamation project — a group of people dedicated to unearthing and identifying the victims of the massacres and disappearances in Guatemala. They did their work in a house that was wall to wall boxes of bones. Out by the pool lay shoes, hats and clothing of massacre victims. Many of these people will never be named, their families never totally sure what happened to them after the policia or the military came to take them away.

It was there, among the people of Guatemala, that I understood the importance of the crucified Christ. I sat down on the steps of a chapel and it all became crystal clear. People must know that Christ suffered. That is what we share with God. God shared in our pain. God knows what it is like to hunger for both food and justice. God knows what it is like to be persecuted for speaking out, what it is like to be tortured, what it is like to suffer and what it is like to die. God knows. God understands. God takes it on himself.

Christ was crucified with the people of Rio Negro 34 year ago. Christ is crucified with the people in Syria, the Congo, Afghanistan and anywhere and every else there is war and famine. Christ is crucified every day, with us, with our pain and our suffering. God is with us every day as we weep and gnash our teeth.

But this is not the end of the story. The story doesn’t end with pain and misery. It doesn’t end with anger and exile. The story continues. But that is on Sunday. Today, Friday, we sit in the suffering. We remember the suffering of Christ and of all of the people who have suffered and are suffering. We remember. We pray. We love. We hurt. And then we wait. Because Sunday is coming.

The Lords Prayer from Guatemala by Julia Esquivel — Read this. Fair warning, it will probably make you cry. In fact, I hope it does. Because it is still Friday.

Theology with Ice Cube: the beauty of metaphor and killing it with facts

Ice Cube's good day -- a utopian fantasy

These are the things I think about in my spare time. Ice Cube and exegesis.

A few months back, there were attempts made to figure out exactly what day was Ice Cube’s good day in his song Today Was a Good Day. If you aren’t familiar with the song, here’s one of the more pastor’s-blog-friendly segments:

Drove to the pad, hit the showers

Didn’t even get no static from the cowards

‘Cause just yesterday them fools tried to blast me

Saw the police and they rolled right past me

No flexin; didn’t even look in a niggas direction as I ran the intersection…

Plus nobody I know got killed in southcentral LA – today was a good day.

The song has references that help to place it in time – the Lakers beat the Supersonics, Yo MTV Raps is on, the Goodyear blimp is flying (so there’s some kind of big game), people still used pagers. So, some people took these hints and “figured out” exactly what day was Cube’s good day. It was a fun little exercise that got passed all around the interwebs.

When Ice Cube was asked about this recently he made it clear that there was no one particular good day – this was all just stuff that would make a clearly awesome day (for Ice Cube). It is, if you will, a utopian fantasy. In pointing out exactly what would make a good day, Cube points out some stuff that is really messed up about society. It is rare for a day to go by when no one he knows gets killed. The fact that he is surprised that he drives past the police and nothing happens emphasizes police harassment of people who look like Ice Cube (black, car with hops, gangsta: any or all of the above). Making it about facts takes a lot of this commentary away – it’s no longer a commentary on anything, just a story about a rad day Ice Cube had back in 1992 or so.  Making it literal takes some of the commentary out of the song, it weakens it, takes out the creativity and the story. It’s a fun game, but it’s not really what the song is for. The song is a story meant to express Ice Cube’s dreams – some base physical needs (sex, food, money) and some greater needs (freedom from the constant threat of death, from the watchful, profiling eyes of the police). When it becomes literal, some of the magic is gone. It is just another day.

(It’s pretty clear that this song is not meant to be taken literally – especially the end of the song, where Cube says, “Wait, wait, wait a minute poo, stop this s***. What the f**k I’m thinkin’ ’bout?” Like man, this is just a dream. Let’s get back to it. )

Does this sound at all familiar? Do you recognize the practice of taking an interesting and disturbing story that points to immediate and greater themes and reducing it to dates, times and facts? Isn’t this what many of us do when we study the Bible?

So much of the Hebrew Bible is this amazing compilation of stories written by people who were trying to make sense of their world. They were trying to communicate their immediate needs and their longing for freedom, love and peace.  The people who wrote the Old Testament were helping their communities grapple with famine, death, oppression, and slavery (not entirely unlike a lot of rap and hip-hop music today). Their stories gave meaning to people’s lives and provided hope for a future that will have something different to offer.

Much like a lot of rap, these stories can be violent, disturbing and confusing. So we try to make them into fact. We try to pin dates on things, we try to find Noah’s ark and the location of the Ten Commandments. We take a metaphor and strip it of its meaning by reducing it to facts, all so that we can be more comfortable.

One of my least-favorite examples of this is Jesus’ statement that it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven. Ow. This is awful for most American Christians. Most of us have a lot –we are rich by the world’s standards even when we feel poor. So, this verse sucks. It makes it pretty plain that at worst we won’t even get into heaven, at best our money won’t help us get there. So we try to make it into fact. We make the eye of the needle an actual geographical place that was really narrow, but not so narrow that a camel couldn’t get through. Jesus was using a metaphor to make a point. We use truth to avoid it.

I’m not saying this is all bad. Archeologists and historians have their thing to do – it is their job to ferret out the truths of the ancient world. Christians have another job, a different job. It is our job to hear the voices of the Bible speak to us as they spoke to the people of their time. It is our job to hear the cacophonous multitude of voices express pain and grief and violence and hope and to hear what they were saying to their community through these stories. It is our job to sit in the difficulty of the story and the challenge of the metaphor, to let it inform our faith, our ideas of God, and our actions in the world around us. The question is not whether the events and stories in the bible are factual, it is whether they are True. Harsh, confusing, violent, full of hope, full of pain, replete with love, lust, mistakes, hubris and just plain weird — that sounds an awful lot like life, doesn’t it? True? True.

Today, it was a good day.