Unity & God’s Will

I cringe a little every time I hear someone say, “God’s will”. The will of God is about more deeply discerning call. What is God calling me or us to do? How does God desire life in the world to be?

 

“God’s will” is often said with shrugged shoulders as a way to avoid deeper reasoning. A child dies. I guess it was God’s will. A house burns down. I guess it was God’s will. A violence inciting rapist rises to arguably the most powerful office in the world through Democratic vote. I guess it was God’s will. God’s will is often invoked when there is a sense of lost control.

 

The current political climate is not God’s will.

 

The Bible tells us that God desires: all people to live in harmony (Romans 12:18), justice and humility (Micah 6:8), peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), nothing to separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:35-39), to love one another (Mark 12:30-31), the Church to remove us and them attitudes (Galatians 3:28), and all people to follow the way of Truth and Life (John 14:6).

 

The current political climate is not the result of God’s will because fear-based dominance is not of God.

 

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

 

The current political climate is not the result of mysterious Divine workings. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia are the fuel of this domestic terror machine.

 

In the past 8 years, Americans and the world have watched a Black man be elected as president while simultaneously being reminded of the daily micro aggressions and full-scale violent assault of more African-Americans than most can bear to count. We have seen the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. While there were 60,467,601 cracks in the glass ceiling, it was not enough to overcome the blatant sexism that denied the most qualified and capable presidential candidate in American history the Office of President.

 

In the past 8 years, there have been significant strides and setbacks for the LGBTQ community. Most notably: marriage equality, non-discrimination executive order, adoption rights, and school bathroom inclusion. We have also seen states discriminate in the name of religion while others have fought for marriage equality in the name of religion. Hate crimes against transgender and gender nonconforming people are on the rise, disproportionately impacting trans women of color.

 

In the past 8 years there has been a harsh revival of global xenophobia, especially against Latinos, Muslims, and Arabs. “Outsiders” are scapegoated as smoke and mirror in order to avoid introspection and responding to the brewing internal divide. American rejection of immigrants is the inheritance of the iron rule of entitlement and false ownership since 1492.

 

What is a Christian to do in the midst of the stench pile of complexly layered violent mistrust?

 

  • Pray for enemies and those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44)
  • Accurately identify if you are being persecuted or if you are troubled by a shift in power as white straight evangelicals are decentralized
  • Ask yourself why you are troubled by someone who is a minority receiving similar opportunities and benefits as white straight evangelicals
  • Remember you are God’s favorite and you were made in Gods image (Genesis 1:27)
  • Remember the other is God’s favorite and made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)

 

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” –Anne Lamott

 

If all people are God’s favorite and made in the image of God, imago dei, then we are united in our shared humanity and in our shared a divine connection.

 

Please for unity during this tumultuous political season ring hollow as many people making this request have actively rejected, undermined, and lamented the recent gains of minorities rights’ progress. “Unity” is passive aggressive code for “shut up”. If there was sincere desire for unity, then fruits of active inclusion and support for minority rights would already be seen. We are united in our shared humanity and in our shared a divine connection.

 

Unity is not a concept and term to be wielded when convenient. Until white evangelicals see their rights as intertwined with the rights and sufferings of minorities, then there will be no unity.

 

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” -Fannie Lou Hamer

 

“When they locked up the social democrats,

I remained silent;

I was not a social democrat.

 

When they came for the trade unionists,

I did not speak out;

I was not a trade unionist.

 

When they came for the Jews,

I remained silent;

I wasn’t a Jew.” -Martin Niemöller

 

The question worth pondering is if God is in control, then who’s God is it?

 

Is your God in control through demands and requirements? Is your God a warrior who destroys your enemies? Is your God a guide who cultivates compassion and charity?

 

Who your God is determines what type of leader you will choose and how you view authority.

 

God help us.

 

May God’s will of harmony, justice, humility, peacemaking, inclusion, love, truth, and life, be our unifying guide and standard as we respond to our own and our neighbors’ pain.

 

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” –Galatians 5:22-23a

 

5crkke9ni

Advertisements

Go For the Gold!

The 2016 Olympics are upon us. Opening ceremonies begin Friday evening. The usual nationalist fanfare and moving stories of determination are already circulating. Socio-political tensions are high in Brazil and questions about the environmental impact of hosting the Olympics linger.
 
This Olympics includes a refugee team of 10 dedicated athletes from nations in conflict including Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Democratic Republic of Congo. As their life stories are shared, I am increasingly inspired by their resiliency. For example, Yusra Mardini began swimming at 3 years old in her home country of Syria. When she and her sister fled Syria in 2015, their small dinghy with 20 people on board began taking on water between Turkey and Lesbos. Mardini and a few others swam while pushing the dinghy to shore. Now, she is swimming in the Olympics.
 
I am also increasingly convicted to respond to the ongoing global refugee crisis, especially as a result of incessant warfare. How can we love our neighbors on micro-next-door levels and on macro-global levels?
 
I invite you to watch the Olympics and read the stories of as many Olympians as possible. Learn the experiences of real people around the world. When possible, watch the Olympics and discuss the athletes’ and their families’ stories with other people around you. Knowing each other’s stories is an important step toward recognizing the imago dei, Divine Image, in all people.
  
“‘Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone.” [Deuteronomy 1:16b-17a]

rio

Transitions & Thresholds: The Sacred Plate

Edited from a sermon delivered at the Academy of Preachers Texas Festival in March 2014:

 

It’s that time of year again… the seasons are changing from winter’s ice to spring’s life. Christians have transitioned from Ordinary Time to Lent to Eastertide. It’s that time of year again… teachers anticipating summer, graduates asking what’s next? It’s that time of year again when couples prepare for summer weddings, and life will change for many people in many ways. I wonder what kind of transition the Hebrews anticipated as they painted their doorposts with blood. Life was changing pretty quickly for them. Even so, God’s care for God’s people is sometimes most clear during times of uncertainty & change.

 

If you have ever experienced a Passover Seder or even seen a Passover platter, you know there is a particular order and liturgy to remembering the story of Passover. The platter has sections for remembering the story- there are spots for the bitter herbs remembering the bitterness of slavery, a shank bone for the lamb, the charoset. If you just sit down to the meal, you will get something out of it. But, if you go through the longer process of preparation, then you will get even more out of the process. A few years ago I did a presentation on Passover for a class. I brought in a few traditional dishes, including charoset. The charoset represents the bricks that the Hebrews made and hauled under slavery. Preparing this dish of dates, apples, and nuts requires a lot of labor. Peeling, chopping finely the apples, chopping sticky dates. I already knew the meaning of charoset, but it wasn’t until I went through the process of making it- feeling the stickiness and the density of the mixture, that I understood more deeply the meaning. Sometimes we want to blow through times of transition, because we are so focused on what’s next when being fully here, going through the difficult process, could be the most important part.

 

Sometimes change is sticky and labor intensive. Change doesn’t happen as neatly as Seder platters are organized. They get messy. As a kid, I remember seeing Bible pictures of the Hebrews putting blood on their door post & it looked like kind of scratchy crayon. As an often times practical and detailed person, I thought was strange that it looked so neat in the picture. I remember wondering even then if the blood dripped and made a mess. Sometimes when we look at other people’s changes and transitions, we think wow! They really have life together neatly. That really may not be the truest reality, though. Anne Lamott says that when someone has their Christian act together, they have just that- an act. No one really has it all together. Change is messy, there will be discomfort, there will be uncertainty. There will be faith involved. This is part of the joy of change. How vulnerable are we when our routine is out of place and the future is unknown? What an opportunity to renew our sense of connection and trust with God.

 

I wonder if this is part of why the Hebrews were commanded in verses 26-27 to tell their children what happened, so that the Passover generation’s faithfulness would inspire and encourage generations after them, as they told of their obedience and God’s faithfulness. Maybe the commandment is also to avoid communal amnesia. Have you ever walked into a room, crossed a threshold, & wondered now what did I come in here for? Wait for it… no, it’s gone. J There is a phenomenon in cognitive psychology that when people have a thought, then move from one room to another, as their context changes, their thoughts change. When moving between rooms with different purposes, such as the bedroom to the kitchen, our minds sometimes move on without taking past thoughts with us.

 

Even when the Hebrews’ scenery changed, their context changed, the people who made up who the Hebrews were changed, God’s faithfulness and this story must still be remembered.  Why? Because we need to know and remember God’s faithfulness, all of the time especially during stressful transition times. I don’t think we can be reminded too many times about God’s faithfulness. We can’t be reminded too many times about God’s liberating work. We can’t be reminded too many times that God will provide. At least I can’t be reminded too many times.

 

I wonder if this is part of the purpose of mezuzahs. A mezuzah is a tiny scroll with verses from Deuteronomy written on it, that goes inside a plaque looking box or case that is affixed often at an angle at doorways. The text written inside is the Shema- “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One” and the great commandment to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and strength.” The Lord your God is one- during joy, during challenge, during changes, during stability. Love the Lord your God- when you feel like it, when you don’t feel like it, in and out of season. We need reminders of these truths, especially when opening doors and moving through thresholds.

   

If Exodus 12 and the Exodus story says anything, it is that change, big or small, is communal. As we change, our situations change, for better or for worse, that impacts our families, our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues. Earlier in this chapter, when God gives instructions for how to prepare the lamb, God says that each household should have its own lamb, but the lamb should be shared with a neighboring household if is too small to have its own.

 

Contemporary celebrations of Passover are very communal. I can’t imagine trying to go through the Seder liturgy by myself because it is not intended to be done alone. The proper word for this Passover liturgy is Haggadah, which means “telling”. I guess you could tell yourself, but that would be odd & misses the point. Passover could not have been done alone. Managing the stress of changes and crossing thresholds cannot be done alone. God makes a way with community.

 

Verse 11 says, “This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly.” I have to tell you, I don’t hurry very well. I hurry a lot, but I don’t hurry very well. Here’s the thing with change- we don’t always get to pick the timing or the speed. Sometimes change happens and we just have to do our best, with a staff in hand, sandals on, scarfing down the lamb chops, in order to be ready for the morning. Sometimes we don’t have time to let the bread rise, to get everything in order, every detail worked out, before change knocks on the door. Of course the Passover was a crisis moment and not all of our changes are crisis moments of this caliber, but I don’t think God, Moses, & Aaron had a little pow-wow. Hhhhmmm, does next Tuesday work for you? No, Miriam’s got a tambourine recital. What about Wednesday? No, the time came, and God moved the people to a new place, to a new situation. Ready or not, here it comes. That’s how change is sometimes. Instead of ready or not, let’s go with ready.

 

There’s an old saying that luck favors the prepared. I wonder if faith favors the prepared. We cannot be prepared for everything, but here’s what I mean- if we are spiritually prepared, in the ways that we can be, through slow and steady connection and prayer with God, with healthy connections to church community, then when doubts or challenges or changes come, we will be better equipped, with stronger faith to manage it, to trust God through it. Paul compares sin to leavening in 1 Corinthians 5, and like preparing for Passover traditionally requires getting rid of foods with leavening, I wonder if letting go of sin, letting go of what holds us back from full faith and trust in God, will lighten the load we have to pack on our back when it’s time to move.—–

 

It’s that time of year again. Time to ask what’s next. Time to discern where to invest time and energy. Time for changes. Whatever changes or challenges you are facing or will face, remember God’s past faithfulness in order to increase faith in God’s future faithfulness, live into the experience of transitioning, call on community for help, and do what you can to prepare yourself. Most importantly remember God is with you, even through the end of the ages. Amen.

 

passover-disposable-seder-d

Disorienting Wonder

Working my way down

The long, long dark corridor

Hoping, praying, dreaming

 

Knocking on tall doors

Short doors

Antique, modern doors

Mirrored doors

Moated doors

 

Gentle knocks?

Forceful knockers

Running starts

Failed picked locks

 

Down, down

The corridor

When finally

A squat door of Mary’s cerulean

Opens with persuasion

Darkness deeper than the corridor

But the door opened

 

The only way in

Kneeling

Sliding on knees

Sliding, sliding

Falling, falling

 

Like Alice into fearful wonder

Slightly unhinged

Thud landing

Disoriented wonder

 

Standing up for once

On steady cobblestone

A new, long, colorful corridor

Single door at the end

Cracked open

Shining, glowing, calling

 

I open the door

Mezuzah intact

Entering into Twilight Space

Crossing over

Through the threshold

A whole new world

 

From black and white

To blinding Technicolor

From Pleasantville

To a truer reality

 

There you are

Queen of my Heart

Welcoming me to The Table,

Inviting  me to taste and see

 

Calling me

Closer, closer

Breast of milk

Breath of honey

 

“Welcome, beloved

Come

Stay

Sit

A while”

 

Releasing coat and baggage

Into your care

Wearing new hats

 

We sit

 

We exhale

 

Together

 

door-opening

Sophia & Pax

I rise before the sun rises

under a full moon

the verdant forest

with layers of green & brown

rain like grace

so that the forest sighs in relief

 

Two owls in the near distance

distinct hooooo patterns

calling to me and the messy forest

insistently getting louder

a love-love tennis match

calling to one another

 

Sophia says be strong

protect yourself, be strong

 

Pax says be strong

protect yourself, be strong

 

Sophia says you’re so close

you’ve come this far, be careful

 

Pax says you’re so close

you’ve come this far, be careful

 

Sophia says wait! listen!

it gets better, be patient

 

Pax says wait! listen!

make it better, be patient

 

Sophia says watch your step

the end is near, be quiet

 

Pax says watch your step

the end is near, be honest

 

Barred-Owl-owls-15864629-1440-900

State of the Union

There have been 2 viral or semi-viral articles posted by friends of mine this week that can be found here and here. Please read these articles before continuing with this blog. I’ll wait. [insert Jeopardy theme song here]

 

One reason for why both the Moore and Venker articles have taken off is shock. Those of us who exist in egalitarian, even feminist, worlds feel a social and political whiplash when we are reminded that a sizeable number of people have a different perspective. I am concerned about balancing charitable and indignant responses. Don’t forget- Jesus calls all people neighbors.

 

While these are different articles with different points and perspectives, both raise concerning questions about role and social understandings of women. Though I could write volumes in response, allow me to focus in & offer both broad and detailed responses:

 

Both the Moore and Venker articles point toward social brokenness. It is too easy to consider gender role issues as a battle of the sexes. In reality, gender issues are more about ideological differences than anything else.

 

Inequality and unhealthy competition exist because of a fallen world. The often quoted verse from Galatians 3:28 says, “there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul desires and describes perfect Christian unity in the passage. Temporary [on a cosmic timeline] distinctions unfortunately and often times lead to limitations for political kingdoms as mistrust and discrimination reign, but temporary distinctions such as social standing or gender do not determine one’s standing in God’s Kingdom. Passages There is radical, unimaginable, gracious, inclusion and equality for all in God’s Kingdom! This is Good News. I challenge Russell Moore to describe God’s Kingdom without a vision of equality and inclusion.

 

An article I was interviewed for was published in a local newspaper this week. The article was fine, but the finished product was a different angle and a different emphasis than I intended. My most charitable self wonders if a similar process happened with Moore, as the article is based on a “wide-ranging interview”. Overall, many quotes point to Moore’s “us” and “them” mindset [on gender, SBC, conservatives, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission vs. the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty., etc.] that is ultimately antithetical to Christian community.

 

Moore and most other complementarians that I am familiar with depend heavily on natural theology. Natural theology was also relied upon for Nazism and for beautiful ways of connecting with Creator God through nature. Natural theology is a powerful tool to be used very carefully. Moore says, “God designed us in such a way where we learn about him through family relationships… We learn about the nature of reality in family relationships, and in terms of what it means to image God, by being faithful fathers and husbands and mothers and wives.” Moore inadvertently opens the door to understanding God in feminine terms. If God is understood in family relationships, then God could be understood as both feminine and masculine. Mothers and fathers, males and females, both “image God”.

 

This brings me to Venker article. From what I can tell, Suzanne Venker is a social commentator- not a theologian or a sociologist. Also, her article is not inherently religious, though many who read her article on Fox News are conservative Christians and conservatives of other faiths who will interpret her comments with a particular religious lens.

 

Even though she broadly quotes a Pew study, this article should not be interpreted as a serious sociological piece. She writes, “over the past several decades”. Translation- lacking detailed, particular, concrete study of changes between this year and that year. Venker also depends on loaded and emotional words and phrases such as “profound change”, “independent”, “most women”, and “research shows” without enough mention of statistically significant findings or operational definitions. Ambiguity benefits her argument.

 

I would also appreciate more discussion about why women began working outside of the home. Firstly, blue collar women have a long history of working outside the home out of necessity [I’m thinking of my grandmother], but many American middle class women joined the workforce during WWII. Blue collar or working class families and women probably think [and thought] of the “opportunity” to work outside the home as survival rather than liberation. Venker’s lack of mention of class differences in her discussion about women’s work in and outside the home signals ignorance of her own presumed financial privilege. Work outside of the home is not always a choice.

 

Feminists must be careful not to be misguided in their enthusiasm. Some women [and men!] enjoy working in the home and find fulfillment there. This should be supported. I recall reading an academic article on a study in a Women’s Studies course that concluded that women do not report higher life satisfaction working inside the home or outside of the home. Women report highest life satisfaction when they have a choice.

 

If anyone can secure Venker’s mailing address, I will cheerfully mail her a copy of the 50th anniversary edition of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique which discusses growing dissatisfaction of many women who worked inside the home during the 1950s and 60s.

 

From a Christian perspective, yes, I agree with Venker that overemphasis on independence can be problematic, but this is also antithetical to Christian living. Leaning on one’s husband, partner, relatives, church, friends, is an entirely appropriate and acceptable approach to managing the many demands of life- whatever one’s main work happens to be.

 

Venker spends a bit of ink on women living “balanced lives”. Balance is incredibly subjective and cannot be prescribed with blanket statements. More important than balance are sustainability and stability. What in my life is sustainable? What in my life needs change in order to be sustainable?

 

Moore and Venker both point to broken society. Maybe working mothers “are more concerned with having a flexible work schedule”, “women prefer part-time work”, and “men see it as their duty to support their families” as a result of social conditioning rather than inherently created order. The current state of American society cannot simply be blamed on women or a few factors. A complex and intricate series of events and factors contribute to how contemporary American society functions, and the state of the union. Growing education and recognition of the complexities of gender, theology, sociology, and psychology would do Moore, Venker, and all social commentators [including me] a lot of good!

 

“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” -2 Corinthians 13:11

 

download

Grace, Hope, Peace: Lessons From the End of Daylight Savings

Grace– Sunday morning included an extra hour.

Think of all the moments, even hours, you wish you could take back or redo. Grace is not allowing a do-over, but looking directly at a mistake, accepting it, letting it go, and giving thanks. Grace covers a multitude of sins. What do the words ¡Gracias!, Grazie!, and grace have in common?- the same Latin word, gratia. For ancient Romans, gratia had three distinct meanings: (1) a pleasing quality, (2) favor or goodwill, and (3) gratitude or thanks. [dictionary.com]

 

Hope– Winter includes more darkness than other times of the year.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that is linked with seasons, particularly changes in sunlight. The physical darkness of winter can lead to an interior darkness. Though the sun may go down earlier, and the sun rises earlier, the sun still rises. Though nights are long, day still comes.

 

“Nowhere are we more prone to encroaching darkness than when we are stepping into the light.” [Nadia Bolz-Weber]

 

“The darkness of the whole world cannot swallow the glowing of a candle.” [Robert Altinger]

 

Peace– No season is permanent.

If you have lived more than a year, you know that seasons come and go. This present darkness may be long, but it is not forever. Spring will come with its increasingly long sunny days, and blooming flowers. Enjoy the darkness and simplicity of winter, warm drinks, the ability to see further through bare branches. Spring will come. Winter is here. Breathe deeply. Be present.

         

“For everything there is a season,

a time for every activity under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die.

A time to plant and a time to harvest.

A time to kill and a time to heal.

A time to tear down and a time to build up.

A time to cry and a time to laugh.

A time to grieve and a time to dance…

I have seen the burden God has placed on us all.

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”

[Ecclesiastes 3:1-4,10-11]

SONY DSC

Previous Older Entries