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.
Since I haven’t posted in some time, here’s a little something for you–a doctrinal position paper on the Eucharist. Keep in mind that this was written as an assignment and with a page limit, hence it’s brusqueness and lack of depth. More soon!
On the night he was betrayed, Jesus offered the bread and the cup to his companions and said, “Eat and drink in remembrance of me.” In the ensuing 2,000 years, Christ’s followers have done just that, and with a wide range of understandings of Jesus’ instruction. What is the significance of his words claiming the bread as his body and the cup as his blood? This paper will briefly present three perspectives from within the Reformed tradition, each with its variation on the significance of the Eucharist for the people of God. Ultimately, all three writers considered will agree that the bringing together of God’s people in true fellowship with one another is the holy gift of Eucharist practice.
Lately I’ve found myself torn in classes where men make sexist comments and then, when called out on it, want to be taught how to be a respectful, inclusive human being.
On the one hand, I can’t just have these people walking around outside. I have a responsibility to do my part in preventing further harm via ignorance.
On the other hand, as a book club friend so perfectly phrased it, I’m not running a finishing school for wayward men. I’m in school to get an education, not meet the every need, nor soothe the discomfortabilities, of my classmates.
Yes, I have a moral obligation to all humankind and yes, it’s good practice for me to hone my skills. And yes, I hope we’re all learning from one another as we learn alongside each other.
However, I’m also keenly aware that even as my colleagues say, “tell me what I said,” this is patriarchy itself in action. I’m sorry that you’re uncomfortable or don’t understand, but–and this may surprise you–my purpose in life is not to make you feel better.
So it’s a toss up between my desire to stop what we’re doing and say, “EXCUSE YOU,” and my need to just move on and learn about oh, I don’t know, whatever the actual topic of the class is. Because this is not about you.
(Though if you’re being a dick, please do stop immediately.)
Before listening to the latest episode of Radio Lab over the weekend, I’d never heard of Gary Hart. Poor guy might have been president if the American public and media hadn’t suddenly taken an interest in his sex life. Sorry buddy. That was terrible timing for you.
As hosts Jad and Robert point out early on in the show, we’ve become accustomed to having front-row seats to politicians’ sexual exploits. Apparently this hasn’t always been the case: they revisit Hart’s story as a key turning point in our political history.
Curiously, in this episode is they point out that the media was, in many ways, just catching up with the general public. Politicians have been having affairs for as long as we’ve had politicians, but the media wasn’t reporting on it because of unwritten rules about privacy and assumptions about relevancy. The number one factor cited in this podcast for the turning point is Watergate: what we all remember as a very good reason to challenge how the moral character of a person impacts their ability to do their job. I’d say we were spot on with that one. (Honestly, Nixon. You’re such an embarrassment.)
What no one interviewed in this story mentioned was the turning tide of sexual politics concurrent with these other events. A couple of political commentators mentioned the role of women in media and their willingness to expose Hart’s womanizing ways, but that’s as close as they got to what I would deem a hugely significant factor. In her book, Delirium, Nancy L. Cohen documents the sexual counterrevolution in the United States over the last several decades. This is the time period in which we see major, major backlash against feminism and women, against abortion and Planned Parenthood, and the rise of the ultra-conservative religious right as embodied in groups like Focus on the Family and in cultural phenomena like the purity movement (embodied, for example, in True Love Waits).
It’s never just one thing or another, of course. It’s all of these factors and more. But it’s no coincidence that that the political and social tide was turning in the 70s, 80s and that Hart’s downfall was specifically sexual in nature.
What are your thoughts? Give it a listen and let me know!
A Narrative of the Holy Trinity’s Posture Toward Humanity
Jehovah stood on the Mount of Olives, gazing out over the city below, tears streaming down his face. He turned to Sophia as he heard her quiet footsteps on the path behind him and choked on a sob as he took in the sight of her: the exposed skin of her arms, chest, neck, and face swollen and bruised. “What have we done?” he breathed.
“We have to bring her back. It’s useless,” Sophia said. She was beyond tears, in shock from the violence she’d just witnessed in the city and exhausted by the beatings her own body felt vicariously through the physical violence done to Joanna.
Together, Sophia and Jehovah entered Jerusalem, stepping in and amongst the crowds in the streets, unseen and apparently unfelt by those around them. Jehovah whispered blessings under his breath as he passed, letting his fingers brush against the robes of those around him. Sophia felt her anger welling up anew at this undeserved act of grace and spun around to face him: “What are you doing?” she spat—literally. “They are killing us and you would bless them. Do you not hear Joanna’s screams? Do you not feel the rocks cracking her bones?” Now Sophia was screaming, her face red, eyes wet. “She is your child!”
Jehovah’s heart was broken and so was Sophia’s. They stood staring at each other, her bruises spreading and darkening before his eyes. Her gift was also her curse: she was not only spiritually connected to Joanna and himself as they were with each other, but also had a physical connection with the two of them. Their pleasure was her pleasure; their wounds were her wounds. As the wisdom arm of the Holy Trinity, Sophia spirited through the earth with a grace and agility he could only marvel at. But the past season had taken its toll on her. She was toughened and angry by the deep-seated grief she felt for their people.
Since even before they set about their work of creation, the Three had been head-over-heels in love with it. The dreaming and then speaking into existence of their most beloved earth and the culmination of their work in humanity was the labor of an intense love for which no word exists in all the universe. They were happy then. And even though their people had not remained faithful, the Three loved and cared for them, cried and cheered for them. They were proud of the freedom they’d bestowed in love and reveled in the full complexity of the human race and all its members.
It had been Joanna’s wish to join humankind in embodied form. They had known from before the beginning that some would choose to use their freedom for evil and ultimately Joanna understood it as her purpose to be with and among their people to bless and love them in their own particular, human way. “We’ve never been away from them and yet they’ve never known what it is to be truly with us,” she’d always said. She was—is—the very face of God. Up close. Intimately. And now it had cost her greatly.
“They are my children too,” Jehovah finally responded.
“They have gone too far this time,” Sophia seethed and, turning on her heel, she swept through the throng.
Reaching a broad opening in the crowd, Jehovah’s breath caught and he knew in his heart that there were not enough tears in creation or beyond to capture the depth of his sadness. The assailants had departed just ahead of their arrival, leaving a ring of on-lookers keeping their distance from his daughter, the savior of the world, lying crumpled on the ground. Mary, a young woman who had attached herself to Joanna early on, knelt with Joanna’s head in her lap, bent over her nearly lifeless body, sobbing.
Sophia flew to Joanna and held her as Jehovah knelt before Mary. Taking her face in his hands, he brushed her tears away. She gazed into his eyes and asked, “Why?”
Jehovah closed his eyes and exhaled. Why, indeed. Finally he answered, “Sin. Sin is real, and it is a powerful force.” He felt her dissatisfaction, as it was one with his own. “You have done well, my faithful servant. You are the first disciple of the Christ, and you will be rewarded in this life and the next.”
As if suddenly noticing their shameful voyeurism, the gawkers began to avert their gazes and slowly disperse, pretending they’d been on the way to some place all along, not watching the violent stoning of a young woman. Jehovah helped Mary to her feet and blessed her again and then one more time. Sophia stood and embraced Mary fiercely, saying, “Thank you. Thank you.”
“But I didn’t do anything,” Mary sobbed in protest. “I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t stop them. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
Sophia looked deeply into Mary’s eyes and said, “You knew her. You recognized her when no one else would, and that is everything, Mary.”