Thursday, August 27, 2009

"God was never alone."

Laura Ruth and I had dinner at the Burren tonight.

We mostly talked about how I'm called to serve the church.

She said she trusts me re: worship. She said one reason for this is because language is so important to me. She said the other reason is that I am so concerned to make a space that is "anxiety free" for people, to allow them to "fall into worship."

She asked me why I do so much church, asked if I have words for that.
I said people frequently ask me that and I can stumble through an answer, but I have yet to come up with a good answer.

I talked about how I'm really attached to Christianity -- and that I think that's largely because it's what I grew up with, that I'm not deeply invested/interested in investigating the truth claims (that's the phrase I was looking for! -- I kept saying "faith claims" and saying I knew that wasn't the phrase I wanted) of other religions -- and I talked about how when I was in college I wanted good sold argumentations for things like the Resurrection. (I said that my mother would sometimes say, "You know it's called faith for a reason," to which my response was: "I made the God leap; for everything else I want strong argumentation.") She asked me a follow-up question about this later, and I said that I've made peace with it somehow, that I stopped fighting it and it became something that I believe, that some of it was reading the arguments of "people wouldn't have made these claims if it didn't happen" and being sufficiently satisfied with those apologetics, and some of it was being in places like CWM and finding meaningful the layers of metaphor and meaning of Resurrection and "practice resurrection" and the importance of the Incarnation and how it says that we are created bodies and bodies are good and important. Laura Ruth said -- I think in connection with this part of the conversation -- that I haven't stopped engaging with these things, that that's one of the reasons I'm so good at liturgy etc.

My friend Lorraine has been reading Marcus Borg's Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, and she recently blogged about something Borg says on page 6:
Thus, for Christians, Jesus is utterly central. In a concise sentence, Jesus is for Christians the decisive relevation of God. Slightly more fully, Jesus reveals, discloses, what can be seen of God in a human life and what a life filled with God looks like. This affirmation defines what it means to be a Christian.
Having that in my recent history, I was inspired to talk about how going to church stuff -- be it worship service or book study or prayer group or whatever -- shows me different ways of doing this thing called being Christian. I had never thought of it that way before, but after I had said it I thought it made so much sense.

Laura Ruth talked about how I synthesize the intellectual and the emotional/experiential and my own experience and those of other people. I was thinking later that this makes a lot of sense. In college (and since) I talked a lot about interpreting liberals and conservatives to each other, living in that liminal border space, moving between two sides and trying to help both sides understand each other. I'm also really big on organizing things, making things flow, making them comprehensible; and proofreading and editing things, making them more clear and easy to understand -- which I had never thought to connect to other issues of accessibility until tonight but which now seems an intuitive connection.

Before she had to leave for another commitment, we talked a little about The Shack (which I finally read because she said of it, "it's terrible tripe but fantastic theology"). I talked about how some of it -- like the idea that God can't just be one person, because God is love, and love can only exist in relationship, and so if there was a time at which God was not in relationship then God could not be Love -- is stuff that's good to be reminded of but which isn't new to me, so I didn't have the "earth-shattering" reaction I've heard a lot of people had. I also said that I felt like a lot of the stuff in the book was good -- like the idea that just because God uses bad things toward good ends doesn't mean that God caused the bad things to begin with -- I found myself after I closed the book feeling like there were lots of big things that didn't get addressed -- like how do you balance the fact that God does intervene sometimes, why did Jesus Incarnate at that particular historical moment, what exactly does the salvific moment on the cross or at the resurrection mean, what about judgment day. I said I was willing to believe that the answer is: "It doesn't matter. What matters is loving and being in relationship."

Laura Ruth asked if I'd read A History of God, and I said no but it's on my list.
She said that the Old Testament talks about there being lots of gods, our God is just the greatest of them. She said, "God was never alone."

Before we parted, I thanked her for all the "nice is not a big enough word for what I want to say" things she said. She said, "As a pastor, I get to tell people true things. Isn't that wonderful?"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

[queer] big tent

A friend of mine emailed me this afternoon:
How do you feel about asexuals joining the bisexual community?

[flippant second paragraph redacted for public consumption]
My reply:
I think in some ways it makes sense for members of sexual minorities to coalition together. In some ways, including asexuals arguably makes MORE sense than including transgender folks -- since gender identity/expression and sexual orientation are very different issues (though they certainly have overlap).

Of course, there is the problem of diluting the "queer" label ("queer" being my preferred term for the GLBTetc. umbrella) -- see also discussions of whether "kink" (BDSM, etc.) is "queer" even when the participants are hetero (marginalized sexual minority, yes, but...). The actual, practical, oppression/discrimination/etc. against queer people doesn't map so well on to asexual/kinky/poly/etc. folks (though there is some overlap of issues -- obviously in wanting one's sexual identity to be understood and accepted by the mainstream but also not wanting it to be illegal -- this maps most clearly onto kink, though the marriage issue is also clearly relevant to some poly folk).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

"More grains. Less you."

Excuse me, WHUT?

I was just channel-surfing 'cause I don't have the energy to think, and there was an ad for whole grain cereal, saying it can help you lose weight ("people who eat more whole grains have a healthier body weight" -- define "healthier body weight") and I'm used to that sort of stuff, but then their tagline was "More grains. Less you." 0.0

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it." (John 12:47)

Jeremy made a post titled "Original Sin or Original Grace?" Excerpt:
Humans wrote the bible and perhaps our memories are a bit biased towards blaming snakes and women.

But this is not just human memory, it is the Old Testament: a testimony of a people's relationship with God. Have you ever read Genesis 3 and focused on what God did? Let's see:
  • God curses the snake (v.14) and the ground (v.17) but doesn't curse the humans. The humans are the ones who messed up, but God curses peripheral things. Humanity is untouched by God's curses and is given a huge portion of God's grace.
  • God closes off the Garden not out of spite or wrath, but out of care that they not be tempted by the other Tree of Life also (v.22). God removed temptation out of care, not removed everlasting life out of spite or wrath.

God of Wrath this isn't. This is a God of Grace, who cares for the humans even as they see their actions hurt people (and animals) in ways they didn't expect.

Stories like this one are equal parts explanation of why things are the way they are and testimonies to the actions of God in the history of a people. We often point to human activity in these stories, but why not focus on God's actions? And God's actions are not angry but delicate, not spiteful but graceful, not condemning but articulating how the world will be much more difficult now but all is not cursed and irredeemable.

As we hack Christianity, we go back to the beginning, peel back the layers of tradition and history, and rediscover the God of Grace that has been there all along. Perhaps then it is when we also clothe the naked, when we also help those who toil on the cursed ground, when we also mourn the collateral damage from our sins...perhaps then we are closer to the God of Grace who still wanders in the garden alone.

I then read a post from Andy Bryan of Enter the Rainbow on "Eternal Life" in which he states:
I don’t think eternal life begins when we die, because if it had a beginning, then it wouldn’t be eternal. Eternal not only means “always will be” but also “always has been.” Shane Claiborne wrote about this in “The Irresistible Revolution,” saying that he is convinced “Jesus came not just to prepare us to die but to teach us how to live.” Eternal life is an ongoing something that we enter into when we decide to follow Jesus.


And while I don’t know exactly how to express the idea, because all language is metaphor, all of this means that saying “yes” to the life everlasting that Christ offers should therefore impact us in the present. Followers of Christ should live differently, better. In other words, I’m no expert on the “everlasting” part, but I’ll do my best to live the here and now like God wants me to.

Doesn’t it seem like sometimes we spend a lot of energy waiting around for heaven? As Shane Claiborne puts it, “Christians pretty much live like everybody else; they just sprinkle a little Jesus in along the way.” I don’t believe that we are supposed to live however we want and then let God sort it all out in the end. I believe we are supposed to live here and now as if the there and then has already come. Why else would be pray for God’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven?

[...] Jesus came to tell us that God’s reign on earth was among us, not in the far-off future, and certainly not in any earthly authority. And not only that, he came to embody that heavenly reign on earth in his very self. And it was hard work. You might say he worked himself to death.

Have you ever thought about how much in this world would change if Christians really lived the way Jesus says we should? What would it look life if we truly believed that we have been given life everlasting? How would you respond? How would you change?
The idea that we are called to do the hard work of embodying God's Kin(g)dom on Earth isn't new to me -- though a reminder is always good -- but I am particularly intrigued by this idea of everlasting life as being something that has always existed -- "like entering a flowing stream somewhere in the middle" as Andy says. Andy also cites Jeremiah 1:4's “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…

doing the work of the church

I've been reading Shaping Sanctuary (Tiffany recommended it during Reconciling lunch at this year's New England Annual Conference), and on page 134 there are two prayers from the Reconciling Congregation Program.

From Luke 9:28-36:
Radiant God, source of light,
as you surrounded Jesus with your glory,
so you come to us in a penetrating brightness.

You catch us off guard and expose our weakness.

We choose the limelight while you call us to explore the shadows
and brighten the darkness.

We seek the spectacular while you bind up the broken in
countless acts of mercy.

We seek to stay on the mountain or in a comfortable pew while
you walk to the valleys of need.

Radiant God,
fill us with light and courage to carry good news into all the
corners of the world and to bring back the joy of your presence.

From Matthew 15:21-28:
O God, you are Hospitality. You are Welcome. You are the Invitation, the Table, the Feast. By your spirit may we learn to receive and offer grace, to share from the sustenance of our lives and not simply the crumbs. Embolden us as we serve as the voice of those who continue to ask the church for justice and bread. In Christ we pray, amen.

My best friend and I have recently been discussing how to embody welcoming, inclusive, accessible church, and reading the second of these prayers in particular I was thinking about the demands that places on us the members who make up the Body of Christ that is the Church. And not only am I lazy, but I also mostly don't like people, so I am doubly disinclined to help do the actual do the work of welcoming people.

The line "to share from the sustenance of our lives and not simply the crumbs" from the second prayer really struck me. My best friend loves her church and wants to give her best to her church. I am, rather less devoted to CWM. It surprises no one, I expect, that I'm much more inclined to critique worship services etc. than I am to put in real work to help fix things. I think it's also tied to my unwillingness to claim group identity labels (like church/denominational membership).

CWM is my church home. Were I to pursue ordained ministry (WHICH I AM NOT DOING -- despite various people telling me I should), I would do it within the context of that community. It's the church I am most glad to return to when I have been out of town. I say it's my home church. But I'm really uncomfortable fundraising, for example -- uncomfortable with telling people this is a wonderful thing they should give their money to.

Though maybe I'm selling myself short.

I show up at Rest and Bread service and help set up chairs and put the inserts in the bulletins and photocopy more bulletins if we're running low. I've helped lead worship in any capacity as asked, and have sometimes volunteered when I know one of the usual leaders will be absent. I've bought firesticks [like this, only different] 'cause the ones in the chapel kept vanishing.

I help set up because I'm there early anyway and it's easy, and everything else is because I Want Things Done Right (well except for helping with the service itself, which is more because I'm capable and comfortable and willing when asked).

I think basically it's that I don't want to do anything that feels like work -- in the sense of not wanting to do anything that doesn't come naturally/easily to me. Which isn't necessarily inherently a bad thing. We're all given different gifts and graces (the Body needs many different parts) and yes we are called to grow, but...

I volunteer to lay read at any church I attend regularly -- because it's something I enjoy doing, and very selfishly it means there are bad lay readers less often.

Providing food for fellowship, for example, is one thing I really don't want to do -- though I'll sometimes help wash dishes at CWM (usually helping dry, because given the setup we have I'm not a huge fan of washing dishes there, even though in general it's a household "chore" I don't mind).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

men against rape, and other topics

This morning, one of our doctoral students mentioned that he works (worked?) with Harvard's Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, and he also mentioned the organization Harvard Men Against Rape. He said that when he mentions that he's a part of that org, people are all, "Oh, that's so great," and he's like, "Do you know any men who support rape?" I said, "Yeah, you don't get any liberal guilt cookies for that."

But it made me think of cereta's post. (And in digging up the link, I was reminded that inlovewithnight commented, "a societal problem like rape can't be changed as long as only half the population is working on it.")

And my second thought was of TLGN's post, where she says: Deadgirl, because as the tagline says, "you'll never have anything better" than getting the chance to repeatedly rape a restrained female zombie.


It also got me thinking about this post on Sociological Images (seen via Matthew Yglesias):
While in New Orleans (again) in July, I attended some of the festivities associated with Tale of the Cocktail. One of them was a cocktail expo with the theme “Seven Deadly Sins.” Sponsored by Cabana Cachaca rum, Lust was personified this way:


Presumably lust is not a feeling exclusive to straight men, yet the Lust booth featured only women dancing. Because of the primacy of the male gaze, what is believed to be sexy to straight men gets defined as “sexy” for everyone.

Monday, August 10, 2009


At lunch today, people were talking about wishing to be wealthy enough to have really fancy houses, multiple houses, etc., and someone mentioned wanting to have enough money to never have to worry about money. While I can understand the fantasy aspect of the former, the latter threw me, because I don't think of people who have my job as needing to really ration their spending.

I'm so much more free with spending my money than I would have imagined myself being given who I was in high school and college, and I am too lazy to do the research to really get good deals on stuff like some people I know do, but my spectrum for comfortable spending is clearly different from other people's.

I also don't particularly have any desire to be obscenely wealthy. Yeah, I would like to be living on my own in a nice condo, and I would like a personal tailor so I can have pants and (button-down) shirts that actually fit my figure well, but in general I don't feel like my income level keeps me from doing much that I want to do.


Later today, I read the TIME article "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin" by John Cloud [Sunday, Aug. 09, 2009].

My favorite part is from page 4 of the web version:
It's likely that I am more sedentary during my nonexercise hours than I would be if I didn't exercise with such Puritan fury. If I exercised less, I might feel like walking more instead of hopping into a cab; I might have enough energy to shop for food, cook and then clean instead of ordering a satisfyingly greasy burrito.
I've talked before about how this mentality is so bizarre to me -- that people go to the gym but have these really sedentary lives outside of the gym (e.g., "I go to the gym so I don't have to take the stairs"). I grew up walking everywhere, so my sense of what's baseline activity is very different from other people's. The idea of carving out time in my day to go do intense concentrated physical activity was never really appealing to me, and it's weird to me that I've become someone who has a very regular gym routine (and can actually have conversations about this!), but I go to the gym to make my body stronger and healthier in ways that have value to me.

The article continues:
The problem ultimately is about not exercise itself but the way we've come to define it. Many obesity researchers now believe that very frequent, low-level physical activity — the kind humans did for tens of thousands of years before the leaf blower was invented — may actually work better for us than the occasional bouts of exercise you get as a gym rat. "You cannot sit still all day long and then have 30 minutes of exercise without producing stress on the muscles," says Hans-Rudolf Berthoud, a neurobiologist at LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center who has studied nutrition for 20 years. "The muscles will ache, and you may not want to move after. But to burn calories, the muscle movements don't have to be extreme. It would be better to distribute the movements throughout the day."

For his part, Berthoud rises at 5 a.m. to walk around his neighborhood several times. He also takes the stairs when possible. "Even if people can get out of their offices, out from in front of their computers, they go someplace like the mall and then take the elevator," he says. "This is the real problem, not that we don't go to the gym enough."

on language that marginalizes (part one of possibly-more-than-one)

One of the things I've been thinking about recently is the use of the word "lame" as a derogatory adjective.  Which gives me an excuse to link to a blogpost I read a while back -- "Why Not to Use the Word Lame: I Think I’m Starting to Get It" [Posted by Mandolin | June 16th, 2009]

Let’s start with that point from earlier that it DOES suck — in this society — not to have the same freedom of movement an abled person. (Although of course, here, we’re already starting in with ableist assumptions, because a big portion of the reason it sucks is because society is set up for people with bodies we consider normal.) OK, so let’s rephrase. Having functional legs is useful. Therefore, the state of having legs which are not as functional as other legs is not as nice as the state of having normally functional legs. (Again, there’s some ableism around the concept of normal, but moving on.)

But even accepting that impairment to mobility is itself a sucky thing, MAYBE DISABLED PEOPLE DO NOT APPRECIATE BEING THE CULTURAL GO-TO FOR THINGS THAT SUCK.
The first commenter (Lexie) points out:
You are on the right track, but here is the thing about saying something like “the logic of having a mobility impairment totally sucks is self-evident.”

It’s not, really. People with disabilities most of the time do not go around saying, God! It sucks so bad that my legs don’t work! They are just who they are, a whole person with varying characteristics, some of which society has labeled as a disability.

Take being gay, for example. One could argue, and some have, that this is a form of disability and that it sucks. Gay people inherently have things to deal with, like fertility issues or the fact that they have to find different ways to socialize within a smaller range of people (the arguable 10% of the population that is gay). Or, to get really technical and TMI about it, they might have to find different ways to be intimate with each other. Doesn’t this inherently suck? Isn’t it logical to think that being gay is inherently inferior to being straight? Isn’t it easier to be straight? And that isn’t even counting the artificial attitudinal barriers of being gay. They can’t marry, or get on each others health insurance plan, or adopt as easily as straight people. It must suck so bad to be gay! Its logical that gay must mean sucky!


Well, no. What LGBT people have done exceptionally well (and are still working on) is to show people that their lifestyle and sexuality is on a continuum of normal. That gender does not have to be binary and people should be able to express gender in a way that feels comfortable for them and that is a normal part of the human condition. They are not mentally ill, or some kinds of freaks who have a horrible condition, they just are who they are…humans.

So, people with disabilities are the same way. The body comes in all shapes, sizes and conditions and all are part of the normal condition of human existence. Disability is a normal part of life. Do some things suck about a specific disability? Sure. Just like it must suck for LGBT people who want to have children and can’t go about it as easily or as cheaply as heterosexual couples can. Just like everyone on the planet has something about themselves that they can’t control that sucks. (Run faster, be better at math, sing better, not be bald, whatever.) It goes beyond saying that logically, being lame sucks but we shouldn’t hurt disabled people’s feelings by using that word. It goes to trying to get people to stop singling out one physical (or mental) aspect of ourselves as being sucky and having that thing define who we are–our entire life experience. To us, whatever characteristic we have that makes us disabled is just a part of our whole selves, and most of us are quite fond of our whole selves, thankyouverymuch. Many people will tell you that being disabled has given them experiences and opportunities that they wouldn’t exchange for anything.

In my case, my PC word peeve is “blind”. (I’m deaf blind) I’m not talking about the word “blind” itself. I’m fine with people calling me blind and prefer it to all the many euphemisms people come up with like “sight impaired” or whatnot. I hate it when blind (or deaf for that matter) is used in place of the words unknowing or stupid. i.e. She was blind to the fact that her use of the word “lame” was offensive. Blind people actually do not walk around in the dark completely unaware of what is going on around them. We actually know stuff. My point is, I think it is a matter of looking at the word (lame, blind) and really understanding what you are using that word to mean (sucky, stupid). Is that a fair use of the word? Does it really represent the people that are usually defined by that word? If not, maybe it is time to think of some better, more fitting words to describe things.
Ableism is something I really don't think about much, which is a problem.  (This also connects to conversations my best friend and and I were having recently about church accessibility -- ASL interpreters, gluten-free communion bread, stair alternatives, bathrooms, etc. -- which I need to make a separate post about.)

More food for thought (via coffeeandink's ableism tag): jesse_the_k's "(Color) Blindness as Metaphor to Racism"