Three weeks ago, I turned in my thesis and completed my Master of Divinity. I know, it’s a big deal! Stay tuned in the coming months and I’ll start sharing pieces of the project, which is a collection of essays and creative writing about how our darkest seasons can reveal our deepest desires—and move us into redemptive action in the world.
In the mean time, I chatted with my friend Mike about it on his podcast a couple of months ago and you can download or stream the episode via his website. Give it a listen and let me know what you think!
Like many small Christian people, my church gave me my first Bible in fourth grade. Our pastor made an earnest speech to us and we spent all year in Sunday school getting to know it as a source of life-giving wisdom. I’m not sure whether these exact words were used, but the message was loud and clear: the Bible is God’s love letter to me.
This is a good message. It’s a great message. I don’t know any fourth graders, but I would guess this is an age-appropriate message.
It’s also highly individualized and wildly self-assured. It’s reflective of my white, American, upper-class culture. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem—except that it is, because of the seductive power of white supremacy.
I don’t know whether Roy Moore got a Bible in fourth grade. I don’t know if he was told that it was God’s love letter to him. I do know that he refused to concede when he lost the election last Tuesday.
That night, Moore said, “We also know that God is always in control.” He quoted Psalm 40:1-3, waiting on the Lord to lift him up out of this “horrible pit” (he recited from the King James Version) and put a new song in his mouth.
But this passage actually sounds like it would be more fitting for the women Moore allegedly molested than for Moore himself. Last month, after decades of silence, Leigh Corfman, Wendy Miller, Debbie Wesson Gibson, Gloria Thacker Deason, Beverly Young Nelson, Tina Johnson, Gena Richardson, and Becky Gray began to speak out about harassment from Moore.
As the Washington Post reports on the first four women’s accounts, “All were initially reluctant to speak publicly but chose to do so after multiple interviews, saying they thought it was important for people to know about their interactions with Moore.”
Talk about waiting in a pit, finding solid ground, and singing a new song.
So how did Moore confuse this psalm to be about him? Easy. Moore lives at the intersection of American exceptionalism and Christian supersessionism. These two ideas combined make it incredibly difficult for a white American Christian to not believe that they are God’s chosen people. It’s the basis of American slavery, manifest destiny, and Moore’s belief that government should not only reflect but be subject to his faith. Secularized, it’s when things just work out. Something good always comes along. Believe in yourself!
Living in a racialized system that is set up to benefit you only confirms this bias. When Moore gets elected, it’s God’s blessing. When he loses, it’s confirmation of what he’s read in the Bible, “you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22, NRSV).
Moore takes this to an extreme, but he and I have a lot in common. We are sure that God loves us and we have more privilege than we know what to do with. Left unchecked, we’re both in danger of forgetting that “blessed” in the context of the United States, is often synonymous with “white” and in his case “male.” His successes are a reflection of the demographic boxes he checks.
Moore believes in a God of justice, who is on the side of the oppressed. His problem is that the way we read the Bible always begins with our cultural location. And Moore’s cultural location makes him easily confused about who is actually oppressed.
Now, I don’t live in Alabama and I would never vote for Roy Moore, but if I distance myself too much from him and his worldview of being special or lucky or blessed or chosen in some way, I contribute to the cultural ethos that got him within a two percent margin of victory.
I’m not a judge who’s lost my job twice (TWICE) for breaking the law and then tried to get a new job as a federal lawmaker. And I believe very different things than he does, both about how government should function and what the Bible is actually for and about.
But something tells me that when I think about God and when I read the Bible or even just read the story of my life and how I expect to succeed in the world, Moore and I are probably thinking along really similar lines.
I know it’s not a classic Christmas message, but what if, to check my bias, I read the text not as God’s love letter to me, but to those who are oppressed by the systems that I benefit from?
What would it cost me to not celebrate Jesus living for me and giving his life for me, but for those who don’t have the privileges that I was born into? What would I learn and how might it change me?
Fall has arrived, at long last. It was officially official last week when I was overcome with the urge to build the first fire of the season and rewatch You’ve Got Mail while making a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils to send to my friend Elizabeth.
Elizabeth and I used to share a cubicle at work–a cubicle and a love for Nora Ephron wisdom. As I’m sure you know, You’ve Got Mail is rife with quotes relevant for every occasion. Many times we pondered along with Kathleen Kelly, “Sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave?”
Once again, I find myself in a moment of reflection with Kathleen. I’ve entered into the last phase of seminary and as I’m working on my thesis on making meaning in the midst of darkness, I’m wondering, what will it even look like to be brave in this process?
As if in answer to my question, writer, mother, teacher–and close personal cousin of mine–Catherine Alene wrote the following on her blog:
Do not rule anything out.
Recovery has been nothing like I thought it would be. It has been more challenging and more fulfilling than I ever thought possible. I hope to celebrate many more recovery birthdays and will embrace the truths that each one brings . . . I am now a writer, a mother and a teacher, three things I would never have become had I remained sick.
Catherine is one of the bravest people I know. She routinely boldly and courageously shares herself for her own sake and for the sake of others–her daughter, her friends, complete strangers, and me.
“I can attempt to insulate myself from triggers,” she writes, “but they are everywhere. They come in the form of comments, photos, films and even songs. Rather than avoiding them, I now gather whatever support I can find and confront that trigger head on. If I don’t, it will surface again and again.”
I need to get back to work now, but I’ll keep Catherine’s book (and a few pencils) close by to remind me that I’m trying this because I like it–and I can do it because I’m brave.
It feels pretty bonkers to wake up, pour myself a cup of coffee, sit down to an opinion piece by Senator John McCain, and feel better after reading it. But such are the times we live in.
McCain wrote yesterday in response to comments made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who essentially said that values are great if/when you can afford them.
Here’s McCain (you know, McCain, the famous former prisoner of war):
I consider myself a realist. I have certainly seen my share of the world as it really is and not how I wish it would be. What I’ve learned is that it is foolish to view realism and idealism as incompatible or to consider our power and wealth as encumbered by the demands of justice, morality and conscience.
The senator and I certainly have our differences, but as bananas as he can be (and probably would think I am), he’s not wrong. And he’s an important Republican who is talking sense. We’ve had too much division–and I may live to regret this, but–these are the conversation starters we need to lean into if we’re ever going to collaborate to effectively dig ourselves out of this hell hole.
I will say this to both the secretary and the senator: it is impossible to create value-neutral or value-less policy. Whatever we create is a reflection of what we believe and represents what we stand for. Secretary Tillerson cannot escape his own values even if he tries. All he can do is reveal to us where his heart truly lies. And for as long as we let him create and implement policy that has the very real potential to impact very real people in every corner of the world, it will reveal our hearts as well.
Here’s a post I wrote for The Krista Foundation’s Serve Well blog as part of their Advent reflection series. Enjoy!
As I read scripture, I’m struck by the persistent theme of God’s people continually asking God to be near them and awed by the ways God chooses to respond. Finally, God—ever mysterious—shows up in a backwater town, occupied by a violent empire, as a baby.
In his book, In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen applies the three temptations of Jesus to challenges in pastoral leadership. In Matthew chapter 4, following his baptism, Jesus fasts 40 days in the desert and then is tested by the devil. He’s told to turn stones to bread, to throw himself off the temple, and to fall down and worship Satan in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.
In part three of his book, Nouwen addresses the third scenario as the temptation of power. As a priest who had recently moved from teaching at Harvard to serving as a chaplain in a community of people with mental disabilities and their caretakers, Nouwen writes, “It took me a long time to feel safe in this unpredictable climate, and I still have moments in which I clamp down and tell everyone to shut up, get in line, listen to me, and believe in what I say. But I am also getting in touch with the mystery that leadership, for a large part, means to be led.”
From here, Nouwen proceeds to romanticise powerlessness in a way that only a person securely in power can do. He advocates downward mobility and powerlessness—and to this, I say, “Yikes” and “No, thank you.”
Hillary, Hillskies, Hillsom, Hillsbo.
You are my dream.
I lit a candle for you last night when I didn’t have words to express my gratitude. Our feminist book club will hold an emergency meeting of pie and wine tonight to be together in your honor and in our grief. Even my dad’s book club held an emergency meeting on Wednesday. We are still with you. We will keep moving forward.
I can’t tell if I hurt more because you lost the election or because Trump won, but neither is what I hoped for and both reveal a something of our country that feels insurmountable and totally paralyzing.
Found in a variety habitats in a broad range of climates, the pack rat is a highly adaptable species. Urban life in particular offers a plethora of collectibles for one to snap up and squirrel away. Waste is a natural byproduct of a crowded city and the pack rat is able to fully embrace the mentality that “one person’s trash is another’s treasure.” Empty boxes. Shipping pallets. Crushed cans. A bit of ribbon. A shoe without a mate. These things that others throw away will only add to and distinguish the pack rat’s abode.
The pack rat’s motto of “you never know when you’re going to need it” reminds neighbors to be mindful of the saying, “use it or lose it.” Items discarded in the hallway or carelessly stowed in the basement go missing. Built for speed, with shifty eyes, the pack rat snitches and snatches at anything that is not nailed down. Things that are nailed down will be sought after as well, they just take a little longer—a little more finesse—to be commandeered. Entering the pack rat’s apartment, visitors are struck with a sense of wonder. Trash, cleverly disguised as a collection of trinkets, lines the shelves. Opening drawers reveals a wasteland of odds and ends, meticulously stowed by the pack rat.
There’s not much to say after something so sad and horrific, except that it is sad and horrific. So I haven’t. But then I was assigned to write a sermon (or my version of a sermon: an essay) on Galatians. And well, it would have been disingenuous to write about anything else. And then the sit-in happened! And there was hope. And then the sit-in ended. And there was frustration.
So for the ups and downs in the wake of Pulse and our ongoing grief, even as we continue on the long road to full inclusion of LGBTQ people and the end of crimes of hate and banning assault weapons, here’s a biblical response to Pulse and this incredible political shit show.
There are many lessons that may be gleaned from the Disney canon. One may even suggest that there’s little need to look any further. This notion was confirmed yesterday in my theology class when we watched Elsa’s iconic “Let it Go” scene from Disney’s 2013 instant classic, Frozen.
It was in this context that professor Doug Shirley introduced the framework of an importance continuum. And yes, it is a continuum of how important you are. You personally. Or as a courtesy, let’s say me personally. Whatever. Anyway, according to Mr. Shirley, our lives are lived on a continuum between “I’m utterly unique and amazing and my existence is miraculous” and “in the grand scheme of things, my life is really inconsequential.” Ultimately and paradoxically, my life is so important that it’s no longer about me.