Thursday, December 29, 2011

[Rest and re/New] "this is a day of new beginnings..."

At Rest and re/New last night, Jeff Reflected on Psalm 98. He okayed the Inclusive Bible version (noting that it changed "strong arm" to "holy arm," which I found interesting given that it included "Ruler of All"). I refuse to "pronounce" the Tetragrammaton, and Keith suggested that instead of my usual "HaShem" I say something more accessible, like "God." Jeff suggested "Baby Jesus," and while this ultimately got ix-nayed, I thought it worked well, so:
1. Sing a new song to Baby Jesus,
who has worked wonders,
whose [] hand and holy arm
have brought deliverance!
2. Baby Jesus has made salvation known
and shown divine justice to the nations,
3. and has remembered in truth and love
the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
4. Shout to the Most High, all the earth,
break into joyous songs of praise!
5. Sing praise to Baby Jesus with the harp,
with the harp and melodious singing!
6. With triumph and the blast of the shofar,
raise a shout to Baby Jesus, Ruler of All.
7. Let the sea and all within it thunder;
the world and all its peoples.
8. Let the rivers clap their hands
and the hills ring out their joy
9. before Baby Jesus, who comes to judge the earth,
who will rule the world with justice
and its peoples with equity.

Jeff talked about how after the season of waiting that is Advent, the Christ Child is come and what do we do now? What newness is breaking into our lives now?

I have become really cranky at church people talking about January 1 as "the new year" since hi, the church new year starts at Advent 1. (me: "secular Gregorian new year" / Shoshana: "Wasn't Gregory Pope?" / me: "... You with your logic." The Gregorian calendar was based on the Julian month system, though -- hay thar Wikipedia...) But Jeff's framing provides me a way to be thinking about newness in a way which overlaps with the dominant culture but is also authentic to the liturgical year.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

[31] Hagar and Ishmael (CWM)

This year, CWM is doing a (mostly off-lectionary) "Advent sermon series on rethinking texts that seem unjust...asking how there might be a re-thinking of the text in a way that provides a justice alternative to the solution that is offered." [read more here]

For the Sunday that Pastor Lisa would be away, I agreed to preach on the story of Hagar and Ishmael -- translation largely thanks to Phyllis Trible.
Genesis 12:1-3, 16:1-14, 21:9-21

(Gen. 12:1-3) God said to Abram, "Go forth from your native land and from your people and from your parents' house, to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. And I will bless you and make your name so great that it will be used in blessings. I will bless those who bless you, and the one despising you I will curse. And all the families of the earth will bless themselves through you."

Fast forward, through stories including Abram, out of fear for his own safety while they are in Egypt, passing his wife Sarai off as his sister and letting the Pharaoh take her as a spouse.

(Gen. 16:1-14) For ten years, Sarai and Abram lived in the land of Canaan and remained childless. Sarai had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar and one day, Sarai said to Abram, "Behold, God has made me childless. Go, then, to my maid. Perhaps I will be built up from her." So Abram did.

And after Hagar became pregnant, Sarai became slight in her eyes. So Sarai said to Abram, "May the wrong done to me be upon you. I gave my maid to your embrace, but when I saw that she had conceived, then I was slight in her eyes. May God judge between you and me."

But Abram said to Sarai, "Behold, your maid is in your hand. Do to her the good in your eyes." [i.e., "Do to her what you deem right."]

And Sarai afflicted her. So Hagar fled from her. The messenger of God found Hagar in the desert near a spring on the road to Shur. The messenger said, "Hagar, maidservant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?"

Hagar answered, "From the face of my mistress Sarai I am fleeing."

The messenger said to her, "Return to your mistress and suffer affliction under her hand. I will so greatly multiply your descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude." Then the messenger continued, "Truly you are pregnant and will bear a son. You will call his name Ishmael ("God hears"), for God has paid heed to your affliction. He will be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him. And against the face of all his brothers he will dwell."

Hagar called the name of God who has spoken to her, saying, "You are El-Roi -- God of seeing. Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing God?" That is why the well is called Beerlahi-roi -- "Well of the Living One Who Sees Me."

Fast forward even more -- God renames Abram and Sarai Abraham and Sarah and makes them the parents of the covenant, through their son Isaac, the son of their old age.

(Gen. 21:9-21) Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian playing. Sarah demanded of Abraham, "Cast out this slave woman and her son, for the son of this slave woman will not inherit with my son, with Isaac."

This was very distressing in the eyes of Abraham on account of his son, Ishmael.

But God said to Abraham, "Do not be distressed in your eyes on account of the lad on account of your slave woman. Everything that Sarah says to you, heed her voice. For in Isaac will be named to you descendants. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him as well, since he is also your descendant. "

So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child. He sent her away, and she wandered off into the desert of Beersheeba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she laid the child under one of the bushes as if in a deathbed. Then she went and sat by herself in front of him, about a bowshot away.

As Hagar sat in front of him, she lifted up her voice and wept, "Let me not see the death of my child."

God heard the voice of the lad and said, "What troubles, you Hagar? Do not be afraid, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad and hold him by your hand, for I shall make him into a great nation."

Then God revealed to Hagar a well of water and she went to it and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink.

And God was with the lad; and he grew up and lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took for him a wife from the land of Egypt.
Hear what the Spirit might be saying to the church.

In the Gospels we encounter Jesus saying to the other Jews of the day, "Do not say to each other, 'We are safe, for we are descendants of Abraham and Sarah.' That means nothing, for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham and Sarah." (Matthew 3:9, Luke 3:8)

Being descendants of Abraham and Sarah, inheritors of the promise, is a big deal. But in reading Genesis, I can't say that I'm too eager to claim Abraham and Sarah as my spiritual ancestors.

My friend Eda introduced me to the writings of Pauli Murray -- an African-American lawyer and activist, active from the 1940s, and in 1977, at the age of 66, the first African-American woman ordained in the Episcopal Church.

Pauli Murray grew up in North Carolina, and her maternal great-grandmother was a Cherokee Indian slave who was raped by a white man in the household in which she was a servant.

Murray says, "It was my destiny to be the descendant of slave owners as well as slaves, to be of mixed ancestry, to be biologically and psychologically integrated in a world where the separation of the races was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States as the fundamental law of our Southland." (p. 87, Pauli Murray: Selected Sermons and Writings)

Pauli Murray talks about the USA as an Ishmaelite nation -- all of us closer kin than we like to imagine with whomever the "Other" is, be it slave or slave owner.

She quotes from the diary of a white woman of the antebellum South, Mary Boykin Chestnut: "God help us, but ours is a monstrous system....Like the patriarchs of old, our men live all in one house with their wives; and concubines; and the mulattoes one sees in every family partly resemble the white children." (p. 56, Pauli Murray: Selected Sermons and Writings)

Just as I don't really want to claim Abraham and Sarah as my spiritual ancestors, I don't want to claim slave-ownership as part of my history. But regardless of whether any of that is literally in my family tree, it is part of the history I have inherited as a citizen of this nation -- just as Abraham and Sarah are part of the history I have inherited as a Christian, whether I like it or not.

When Eda was telling me about Pauli Murray's thoughts on the USA as an Ishmaelite nation, I said, "That's really interesting, but Pastor Lisa's idea for this sermon series was finding justice-oriented alternatives to the unjust solutions offered in the text." I didn't really know what to do with all these interesting ideas, because they seemed to just be adding to the bad news of the text, expanding its scope.

Eda said that Pauli Murray's takeaway from the fact of the USA as an Ishmaelite nation is that we are all closer kin than we like to think that we are -- and that if we acknowledged that, not just acknowledged the trauma and injustice that are a part of our history (necessary though that acknowledgment is), but acknowledged our kinship with those we think of as "Other," recognized our shared kinship rather than segregating ourselves into falsely dichotomous identities, really radical transformation could occur.

Kate Bornstein Tweeted the other day: "[I] spoke last night about #radical #welcoming & #inclusion as an #activism leading to a #politic of #compassion."

Radical welcoming and inclusion as an activism leading to a politic of compassion.

Delores Williams says that "Hagar's predicament involved slavery, poverty, ethnicity, sexual and economic exploitation, surrogacy, domestic violence, homelessness, single parenting, and radical encounters with God." These issues are still very real and present today.

Do we recognize the Hagar in our midst? Do we recognize our kinship with those whose issues are not "our" issues?

Or do we instead perpetuate these systems of oppression?

Sarai took God’s promise of abundance and took it upon herself to bring that promise to fulfillment when God seemed to be dawdling – and took it upon herself to do so by exploiting a woman who was under her care. Once the promise was fulfilled in a way she liked better, she wanted to get rid of the second-rate version – nevermind that these were real human beings.

How often do we look at other people as expendable, existing only to serve our purposes?

Can we take from the story of Hagar and Ishmael a reminder of how intertwined our families are?

Today's assigned reading in Isaiah opens: "Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from God's hand double for all her sins."

Can we embody that message? A word of grace that enables us to forgive ourselves and others for the past and to move forward in love?

According to Gordon Lathrop, Advent and Christmas are "ways of speaking the word of God into the solstice festivals being celebrated today." (11) The solstice festivals -- celebrating light in the midst of darkness -- frequently have an element of upside-down-ness, of "midwinter protests" (7). Perhaps we can embrace some of this midwinter protest, to live into the world not as it is but as it should be, embodying the kindom which is both now and not yet.

Lathrop writes, "Advent in the church is intended as a time to feel the current reality of waiting in the world. Such waiting provides its own language for fully speaking the gospel of Christ, and it provides a realism and honesty that the human heart longs to hear." (12)

May we be bearers of the gospel -- preachers of realism and honesty and also of hope, of light against the darkness.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Therefore we should have priests appropriately ready to recognize and accept the Son of God when he returns as a daughter."

FCS's Advent theme this year is "misrule" -- about holy upside-downings, "turning our ideas about power and privilege upside down," to quote from Molly's Advent and Christmas 2011 letter.

One of the themes of Advent is that Christ doesn't come in the way we expect.

I've told just about everyone about my best friend's lesbian Christology, but I was definitely pleasantly surprised to encounter something like it in my Pauli Murray reading.
Back in 1973, in my first interview with the suffragan bishop of Massachusetts. the Rt. Rev. Morris F. Anderson (known as "Ben"), in charge of candidates for Holy Orders, made a comment to me, and he repeated this comment at the time of his retirement in his reflections "On Being a Bishop" (Massachusetts Episcopal Times, November 1981, 7). He writes:
At New Orleans I made my first speech in the House of Bishops. I followed [Bishop] Kim Meyers [who has died since then], who was at the time speaking against the ordination of women. I said just as I envisioned the Second Coming of Christ in terms of a person of a different race, in order to proclaim the fullness of God and his love, I could envision the Second Coming of Christ as a member of a different sex. Therefore we should have priests appropriately ready to recognize and accept the Son of God when he returns as a daughter. This is a bit radical for the House of Bishops in those days.
-p. 49 of Pauli Murray: Selected Sermons and Writings, selected and edited by Anthony B. Pinn; from a sermon Pauli Murray preached on September 12, 1982, at the Church of the Holy Nativity in Baltimore, Maryland (located in the Pauli Murray Papers, box 65, folder 1106, Schlesinger Library, Harvard University)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

things Christianity didn't quite invent, and theologies I don't quite have

Velveteen Rabbi recently posted a round-up of selichot posts from previous years.

In one, she wrote:
At our selichot services, we'll be using the prayer as a lead-in to a meditation around the radical idea that every single time/place we've missed the mark in our entire lives is always forgiven. Whenever I seriously think about that, it blows me away. Everything I've ever done wrong, in my relationships with other people, in my relationship with myself, in my relationship with God: all of it is forgiven. What would it mean to truly understand that, and to let all of that old baggage go?
My immediate reaction, of course, was, "Gee, that sounds familiar."

I'm also reminded of the conversation Shoshana and I once started to have about the issue of God forgiving you for sins you committed against other people.

We did John 3 at SCBC last night, and I asked what does it mean to "believe in [Jesus]" (John 3:16) and didn't get a satisfactory answer -- nor do I have one myself (though I keep going back to Borg's point about "believe" meaning "to give one's heart to" and thus I move to an emphasis on relationship rather than doctrinal assent) -- though I continue to have discomfort with the idea of Jesus being necessary to save us from God sending us to eternal damnation (which was the idea that kept coming up from the other people in the group). Yeah, I'm reminded of my telling Pr. Lisa that no, I don't have anything written down about my Christology, in large part because I don't have a coherent Christology. And I'm still trying to make sense of Borg and Crossan's book on Paul.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Beautiful Jesus"

At morning prayer this morning, we sang "Beautiful Jesus" (TNCH #44). I told Ian T. that I wasn't a big fan -- that it's a "Jesus is my boyfriend" sort of a hymn. Afterward, Ian said he'd never heard the term "Jesus is my boyfriend" but that it certainly fit, that this song sounds a lot like something you would say to your lover. I hadn't thought of it that way before, but it's true.

I said that (and that this is because/indicative that I'm a Unitarian at heart) the word that primarily comes to mind for me for this hymn is "idolatrous." I said that the phrase "Jesus is my boyfriend" usually gets used to refer to contemporary praise music, but that I thought of it in this hymn because there's stuff about the beauty of Creation, and I'm into that, but then it's, "But Jesus is better -- he's prettier and he smells better." Ian laughed and said, "You're paraphrasing, but not by much."

I said I am pro-Jesus, but because of the work Jesus did in the world... Ian concurred.

Ian said the hymn is often titled "Fairest Lord Jesus" [warning for auto-play in that link] and that makes him think White and he was glad that at least we weren't singing something with the undertones of, "Jesus is the best because he's pretty -- and he's pretty mostly because he's White."

In thinking about the "Jesus is my boyfriend" trope, I thought of my best friend's love for Jesus and Her Church -- something I very much don't have.

When my best friend says, "Jesus is my Girlfriend," there's a lot going on with Incarnation and queer theology and body theology there.

So/and I'm hesitant to totally dismiss "I personally adore the person [pun intended] of Jesus."

Though I'm still uncomfortable with the adoration/worship of Jesus.

I'm not all that interested in worship/adoration of God of the, "Here, I will tell You how awesome You are," variety, period, because I don't think God needs ego-boosts (though I do think reminding ourselves of the goodness of God can be a valuable spiritual practice).

And -- perhaps ironically for someone who professes to be really uninterested in most social justice work -- I think God is happier when we are working to do God's Will in the world, to help embody the truth that "The kin-dom of God is at hand," than when we are just singing God's praises. (When you are in love with someone, you want to love what they love, right? You want to be passionate about the things they're passionate about. You want to work with them. You don't want to spend ALL of your time gushing at/about them. At least not once you're past the NRE stage.)

religious but not spiritual

My best friend and I were talking on Saturday about last Wednesday's controversial UCC "devotional." [Edit for those who don't follow me on facebook (where I have commented in various threads, including one of my own): I have basically all of anger at this piece. /warning]

She mentioned that people have commented, "Nobody would say they were 'religious but not spiritual,'" to which she was like, "Uh..."

I said, "I am totally 'religious but not spiritual.'" I don't "experience" in worship. I have a strong commitment to Christianity, and I make a commitment to attend communal services (though I don't tend to think of this latter one as a conscious choice, such a creature of habit am I), but my commitment has always been and continues to be a primarily intellectual one.

My best friend commented that she has committed to a set of practices, including communal worship, which frequently do not result in spiritual experience, so the "spiritual but not religious" person might come across as saying, "Hey, I have spiritual experiences all the time, all by myself," which might be experienced negatively by someone for whom spiritual experiences are rare.

Whereas my reaction is more like, "Oh, that's nice for you that you so easily have these experiences which I don't have any strong desire to have" (there's an asexuality analogy here somewhere).

Monday, September 5, 2011

sekritly a social justice radical

Last Tuesday night I was at a visioning session [and yes, I would like a less ableist term for that] for a group I've been involved with for much of this year, and I repeatedly said that social justice isn't where my passion is. And just about every time I said it, I felt a little twinge like I was lying -- because fat pol and disability pol and mental health pol ... these are all issues that have become very important to me. But they're not issues where people are going to say, "Yes, I'm totally on board with that -- or at least as a good liberal I feel like I 'should' be."

And so I frequently don't speak up and advocate for these things I care about, because I am, contrary to how I may appear, frequently a risk-averse confrontation-avoidant person. (Reasons I don't self-identify as an activist.)

So I am owning the things I care about.

I care about healthy sexuality -- and about being inclusive of various manifestations of sexuality, including the asexuality spectrum, polyamory, and kink.

I care about being inclusive of a variety of gender identities and gender expressions. (In a Christian context, I want the diversity of humanity to be represented in the ways we talk about ALL persons of the Trinity, because we are ALL created in the image of God, and we are ALL part of the Body of Christ.)

I am growing to care more about the negative effects of rape culture and cultural appropriation.

I care about disability, including chronic pain and mental illness. I care about accessibility and about resisting the culture of shame in which we live. I care about models of disability other than "you are broken, and you would be happier/better if you were 'fixed.' " I care about not using language like "lame" or "crazy" as synonymous with "deficient" or "ridiculous." (See also: "mental illness as boogeyman.")

I care about Health At Every Size -- about not treating weight numbers as indicators of health.

I care about DBT -- about not using "should" language, about recognizing that we always have choices in how we respond to situations but we can't magically wish ourselves out of those situations. (This latter piece I think has a lot of utility in justice work -- about working with what we have right now, rather than solely bemoaning that we don't live in a better world.)

I want to be aware of the multiplicity of human experiences.

And I can't help analogizing that to the radical hospitality that Christians are called to.

I care about drawing the circle wider.

As someone who has visited many churches, I care about making church as hospitable as possible -- clearly articulating our choreography, offering gluten-free Bread and non-alcoholic Cup, taking cues from people about their level of comfort with touch (Passing of the Peace!), etc.

Returning to social justice as more traditionally understood, I've been thinking recently about setting the terms of the debate -- about being proactive rather than reactive. ... And I don't have a useful conclusion to this.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

[30] What are we asking for? [Pentecost +6(A), CWM]

[This is the text I preached off of. The actual delivery was more colloquial.]
Proper 12A/Ordinary 17A/Pentecost +6
July 24, 2011

Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
What are we asking for?

In between two really great Jacob stories -- the ladder last week and wrestling with the angel next week -- we have the purchasing of Leah and Rachel.

Not really my favorite story, even leaving aside the women’s total lack of agency. Jacob loves Rachel, agrees to work for SEVEN YEARS to marry her -- that’s like a doctoral degree (provided you’re not Scott, who got his in 2 years) -- and then gets bait-and-switched into marrying the older daughter. He still gets to marry the younger daughter, TOO, don’t worry. And yeah, I could say a lot about Biblical models of marriage here, but I won’t.

The triumph of the younger is a big theme in the Bible -- subverting the status quo, the triumph of the underdog. Jacob himself is a younger sibling -- who’s already used trickery to subvert the status quo. At least in today’s story, Jacob is more sinned against than sinning -- unlike in some of the Jacob stories.

Two weeks ago, the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, a friend told me about her pastor’s sermon on the story of Jacob buying Esau’s birthright. The sermon was basically, “This is one of the stories of our faith, so you should know this story. Also, what does this story tell us about God?” I said, “It tells us that God is a dick.” Because Jacob, who is kind of a heel, is the one who triumphs, is the one who becomes the father of the people Israel. Yes, we are an Abrahamic people, but it is Jacob who is renamed “Israel” -- struggling with God. At least in that story Jacob is upfront with Esau about what he’s doing -- the lectionary skips the story where Jacob uses outright trickery to steal the paternal blessing intended for Esau. But the point still stands that Jacob is not exactly someone I would be proud to say, “Yes, that is where I come from.”

I’m uncomfortable making grand pronouncements about the Good News this story tells us about God -- even though that’s my default response to Scripture, to wrestle good news out of it.

Perhaps it is the influence of Rachel Barenblat’s Torah poems. I have an unfinished sermon about the akedah (the binding of Isaac, second Sunday after Pentecost) which is heavily informed by her poems.

In the last of her 10-poem cycle on the akedah -- a "sermon in poetry" on the second morning of Rosh Hashanah last year -- Barenblat writes:
In this season of turning        and returning
we long for heroes    we want to be able to say
I take after my parents        with uncomplicated pride

But that’s not how it goes    our forebears had
marriages & children    relationships & arguments
sometimes they missed    even the widest of marks

All we can do        is tell their stories
around our campfire        around our festival table
with the polished kiddush cup    and challah round as the moon

all we can do is pray          for a year as sweet
as mother’s milk, a year    when we don’t make
the same mistakes    for the millionth time

or, when we do,    resolve not to wait
until next Rosh Hashanah    to seek forgiveness
All we can do        is remember
This story isn’t about God. It’s about us. It’s about us, about where and who we come from. Yes, these stories tell us about God, because everything tells us about God. But the main point of these stories isn’t necessarily to tell us about God.

But in rereading today’s Genesis passage on Tuesday, I was struck by this portion:

Jacob finishes his term of labor and asks for his agreed-upon reward.
29:22 So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast.

29:23 But in the evening Laban took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob [... 29:25b] And Jacob said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?"
Maybe it’s just because I finally read Rob Bell’s Love Wins recently (my Sunday morning church is doing a sermon series), but I thought of the wedding feast and then the, “But I worked so hard! Why am I not getting what I thought was coming to me?” Rob Bell talks about the prodigal son’s older brother -- about the party that is right there and the free will we have to keep ourselves away. Bell says:
Your deepest, darkest sins and your shameful secrets are simply irrelevant when it comes to the counterintuitive ecstatic announcement of the gospel.

So are your goodness, your righteousness, your church attendance, and all of the wise, moral, mature decisions you have made and actions you have taken.

(p. 187, “The Good News Is Better Than That”)
Now, I don’t want to say that Laban is a stand-in for God here, that being tricked into marrying someone is what the Kindom of God is like. Laban in fact directly represents a counter to God’s plan of lifting up the lowly and bringing down the mighty -- Laban says, "This is not done in our country--giving the younger before the firstborn,“ but in God’s country this happens all the time.

But I do think this disruptive moment is interesting.

Rest and re/New, my Wednesday evening church, is this month doing a series on “Winning, Losing, and Things in Between.” Our text this Wednesday was the story of the people freed from slavery in Egypt, complaining that they don’t have anything to eat and it would have been better if they’d just stayed in Egypt. Keith commented that sometimes after we get what we ask for, we’re not so sure it’s what we want after all.

What is it that we’re asking for?

Today’s complementary Old Testament reading is from 1 Kings, in which God asks Solomon, “What shall I give you?” and is pleased that Solomon asks, “Give me the skills to be a good leader of your people,” rather than, “I would like to live forever, have my enemies dead, and be really wealthy,” which suggests that one of the themes for today is asking for the right things -- aligning our will with God’s will. After all, the Gospel passage talks about the angels coming at the end of the age to separate the evil from the righteous.

So what is that we are asking for? Today’s Psalm reminds us that God will not forget God’s promises to us, and specifically invokes God’s promise to Abraham and Jacob -- "To you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance."

Yeah, that’s kind of problematic, huh? How much blood continues to be shed as people fight over land they insist was promised to them?

While I’m not well-versed enough in the Torah to speak to the question of whether those people Moses led out of Egypt asked for a land of their own, per se, but the Exodus story is certainly full of, “Is that really what you wanted?”

The promise God made, however, was not just about land. Last week we heard:
the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. (Genesis 28:13c-28:14)
All the peoples of the earth will be blessed in you and in your descendants. “A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel,” we might say -- as Simeon does in Luke 2:32.

The land of Canaan, mentioned in today’s Psalm, frequently makes me think of the Indigo Girls song:
I'm not your promised land
I'm not your promised one
I'm not the land of Canaan
Do we go looking for our promised land in all the wrong places? Having been freed from slavery in Egypt, do we seek new bondage that is just as unhealthy -- not trusting God’s plans for us, or perhaps confusing the Will of others (ourselves included) for the Will of God?

When Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Light, and no one comes to the Divine Parent except through me,” I think one of the things Jesus might have meant is that while God works all things toward the good, as we heard in today’s Psalm, the way to God is through Love Incarnate. And also that in order to fully access God, one is going to have to give up false dichotomies -- like Divine vs. human, like mine vs. yours.

So back to the Promised Land. The biblical land of Canaan already had people living in it when our spiritual ancestors showed up to claim it. That’s not necessarily the model I want for a land God has promised to me and to my family.

Where do we find our Promised Land?

Today’s reading from Romans is pretty awesome. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That love is a place we can find a home -- now and always.

Again, might not be what we had in mind when we asked -- Paul is aware that, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered" -- but we are assured that there is no one who can bring any charges against us, who can condemn us, who can separate us from the love of God.

And this isn’t just about some post-death absolution. Paul tells us that, “the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

Paul was very familiar with the conflict between what we say we want and what we act as if we want. In the previous chapter of this letter to the Romans, Paul says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. [...] For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:15, 19)

But the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent after the Ascension -- the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Helper -- this Sophia Wisdom and Love is always with us, always drawing us into closer relationship with God.

Now, speaking of relationship with God, I want to wrap with talking about the Kindom of God.

The Gospel tells a lot of parables about what the Kindom of God is like. Near the end of today’s Gospel reading, Jesus asks the disciples, "Have you understood all this?" and they answer, "Yes," at which I can only laugh, because, REALLY?

Rev. Russell at suggested that the disciples had sort of tuned out during this litany of parables -- “Have you understood all this?” / “Yeah, totally, of course I get it.” [mime: “Totally didn’t get it. Did you get it?”]

My biggest problem is that Jesus does not seem troubled by unclear antecedents. Anyway. Let’s recap.

We start out well. "The realm of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in their field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches." Great. The kindom of God is something that starts out so tiny and small but grows into the greatest of things and many creatures make their home in it.

Next: "The realm of heaven is like yeast that someone took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened." Great. The kindom of God is something that mixes in with our lives, lifts us up, grows us.

Third: "The realm of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in hir joy ze goes and sells all that ze has and buys that field.” Okay, a hidden treasure, which one is willing to sell all one has in order to obtain. We’re likely familiar with that imagery. Though in reading one bloogger’s sermon notes for today, I noticed that all we are told this person wants is the treasure, and yet the person buys the whole field. God is incredibly wasteful and extravagant in Hir love for us. This isn’t a marketplace transaction where the buyer tries to get the goods for the lowest possible price, this is God saying, “I want you and all that contains you, all that surrounds you.”

I’m reminded of Lee Harrington’s keynote at the Transcending Boundaries Conference last November. Harrington talked about the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma -- which I must admit I haven’t read. Harrintgon shared the story of Joel Salatin -- who raises cows and chickens but who describes himself as a grass farmer -- explaining that all 550 acres of land he has are important, refusing to let Michael Pollan privilege the 100 acres that happen to be “active farmland.”

We do not exist in isolation. Our relationship with God does not exist in isolation. Harrington says, “I live in a complex ecosystem of the heart."

The fourth parable sounds similar: "The realm of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, ze went and sold all that ze had and bought it.” Usually when we tell this story, the kindom of God is the pearl -- something that we are to sacrifice everything for -- but Jesus actually says the kindom of God is like the merchant. Does that make us the pearl of great value, whom God sells all that He has in order to ransom? Each and every one of us is a fine specimen, is of great value, is dearly beloved by God.

Fifth and last: “The realm of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.” This gets followed up with the angels at the end of the age, coming and and separating the evil from the righteous. But Jesus doesn’t say the reign of God is like the fishers or even like the angels; Jesus says the reign of God is like the net. Which was thrown into the sea and caught fish of EVERY kind.

God always desires to be in relationship with us -- regardless of what we ask for or of what we think we want, God is still seeking us. And we can trust that at the end of the age, all wickedness will be purged and we and the whole of Creation will be restored.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Hello, my name is..."

From the most recent slacktivist post:
“I rejoice with you, Tsion my brother, in the fellowship of Jesus Christ. Many have received him under our preaching here in Jerusalem. …”
The authors have decided to try to make Elijah sound authentically “biblical” by having him talk like the King James translations of the formal introductory parts of Paul’s epistles. Elijah didn’t talk like that. Even Paul didn’t talk like that. Just because he wrote formal salutations in his letters doesn’t mean he went around shaking hands with people and introducing himself in person that way:

“Hi, I’m Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“I’m sorry, ‘Paul’ was it?”

“Yes, Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for …”

“Good to meet you, Paul, I’m Bob. From accounting.”

The character of Elijah in this story apparently watches TV and knows how to use a telephone. There’s really no need for him to sound like the NKJV.
Now I want a "Hi, my name is..." badge with that whole !Paul paragraph :)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

on DBT

Via rydra_wong I saw the NYT piece about Marsha Linehan, developer of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), coming out as someone who suffered from what would now be diagnosed as borderline personality disorder (BPD -- the diagnosis for which DBT is particularly used).

Reading the comments on her entry, I find it so bizarre to see people registering discomfort with DBT (often couched with, "Well, I don't have BPD, so perhaps it is just that it is quite literally not intended for me") since I have become such a convert to it -- I who have never had a DSM diagnosis (save "adjustment disorder," which was basically so as to give the insurance company a reason to cover my therapy).

La bff concurs that she thinks of DBT's applicability as being for struggling with overwhelming emotion -- which can come up in many mental/emotional health contexts, including non-diagnostic ones.

Some commenters talked about discomfort with the religious inflection of some of the stuff in DBT, which I found ironic since I remember having a visceral negative reaction to learning that the workbook includes the option for your Higher Power can be another person (my visceral reaction being because humans are fallible and will ultimately disappoint you -- plus are not infallible behavior models -- though the ways in which the workbook talks about that I find more palatable than when I simply first heard the concept).

[Clarification: The commenters had experiences w/ DBT which v. understandably led to that discomfort -- I just found it really ironic on first encounter given my experience early in learning about DBT.]

A woman I know from college posted the NYT link to facebook, commenting:
Dialectical behavior therapy works for people with borderline personality disorder & other "stubborn" clients [the article's word choice]. It's also used for other disorders not mentioned. Personally, DBT introduced me to mindfulness and gave me a useful set of skills. In an un-grounded society filled with "shoulda coulda woulda," I wish more people could do some DBT. Bless Dr. Linehan for her courage & her work.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

on saying no

GMA this morning had a segment on letting your teen have sex inside your home. I didn't watch the whole segment, but right around the point I tuned in [~4:30 in the video embed], a teenage female commented that if your boyfriend (or whomever) knows that your parents allow you to have sex in their house, you lose a huge way to say no. She literally asked, What am I supposed to say if I can't use the "no, I can't, my parents would kill me"?

edit now that I'm watching the embed [btw, ~3:50, there's a "slut" trigger; I was horrified]:
Interviewer: "If your boyfriend knows that you can just go home and it's allowed in your home, does that put more pressure on you?"
girls: "Absolutely... definitely..."
Girl1: "If your boyfriend knows, or whoever knows, that there is a perfectly open, available house, I think that takes away one of your big--"
Girl2: "Yeah, like how do you say no? Like a lot of times if they're saying, "Let's do it, let's do it," like, "It's time," you blame it on your parents. You're like, 'No, I can't, my parents would kill me.' But if that whole thing is gone, like what do you say?"
I, of course, muttered on the treadmill, "You say you don't want to. You always have the right to say no. Stand in your own power."

I reminded myself that saying No can be difficult as an adult and can be far moreso as an adolescent; I remember trying to use "my parents won't let me" as an excuse to get out of my then-best friend pressing me to I think go to the mall (knowing my parents as she did, she did not buy it at all). I was still sad that none of the grownups at least mentioned as a response to that question the unapologetic "I don't want to."

My primary takeaway is that we need to be better at raising children who can and will say no -- who can and will own their desires (including their desire to NOT do something).

[I also got kinda ragey at the wrapup back at the anchor desk -- particularly when one of them raised the issue of, "So if you do allow this, is it something you can take away as punishment? Like taking away the keys to the car?"]


My best friend and I had a conversation about the story of the baby named Storm whose assigned-at-birth-sex the parents aren't disclosing.

From the Yahoo! News article:
Because Jazz and Kio wear pink and have long hair, they're frequently assumed to be girls, according to Stocker. He said he and Witterick don't correct people--they leave it to the kids to do it if they want to.

But Stocker and Witterick's choices haven't always made life easy for their kids. Though Jazz likes dressing as a girl, he doesn't seem to want to be mistaken for one. He recently asked his mother to let the leaders of a nature center know that he's a boy. And he chose not to attend a conventional school because of the questions about his gender. Asked whether that upsets him, Jazz nodded.
We had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, we support not presuming someone else's self-identity. On the other hand, correcting people on such matters is a heavy thing for anyone, so that seems quite a load to lay on a 5-year-old. (We hoped that we were correctly inferring that the mom did indeed abide by Jazz's request that she inform the nature center staff.)

lobster arms

Saturday evening, in conversation with Shoshana, I said, "I'm eating, but in my head I made rockstar arms and said, 'I win!' " She was confused. I picked up the toothpicks we'd discarded from our sandwiches, laid them out on a napkin, and then made an "o" with my fingers. She said, "Oh! I thought you said 'lobster arms.' " We both proceeded to dissolve into giggles.

Tuesday evening, I told Scott the story. I said I wasn't sure how to render lobster arms as an emoticon -- 2 lowercase f's? Scott commented that mirror-f's aren't on standard keyboards and suggested an f and an r. I said I'd totally forgotten about the mirroring requirement, and then pointed out that it could be a sideways facing lobster. He then suggested a capital F since lobsters have one claw bigger than the other. ♥

I don't actually know what a lobster arms emoticon would indicate. My first impulse is to want it to indicate amusement, given the aforementioned "dissolved into giggles," but I feel like "crankiness" or somesuch would make more sense given it's supposed to evoke lobsters.

Attempting to type them out now, I find that they look so much like words that I have difficulty parsing them as emoticons :/


Thursday, June 16, 2011

[vulnerability] on forgiveness and grace

I've been feeling really worn out in recent weeks and unsure what to do about (e.g, another staycation? -- I just took a weeklong one a month ago). I'm starting to feel more enlivened.

On Monday, I listened to the audio recording of Liz Walker's sermon at the 2011 Boston Pride Interfaith service.

She quoted Fromm: "love is the solution to the problem of human existence."
She said that love is something you work at and that we have to learn to let go -- she talked about forgiveness and mercy.
She cited Nouwen on voluntary displacement -- "if love does not carry us beyond ourselves, it is not love [...] love is total abandonment to the divine," "the opposite of love is not hate, [... it is] fear."

Someone linked me to "If Grace is Received, It Must be Given". I don't love all of this essay, but I do really appreciate its challenge to us to love others as Deity loves us:
1. You won’t be shocked, disappointed, disillusioned, or angry when others mess up. You will accept them for who they are: sinners, like you, desperately in need of God’s grace and your love.

2. As a result, you will have no other choice but to love them unconditionally. You won’t love them for who they are, what they do for you, or what you hope they might become. You won’t reject them if they don’t measure up.

3. You will love them with specific grace. It is easy to love all Christians in a general way. It is quite another thing to love specific people for what they specifically are, in spite of their particular weaknesses, eccentricities, and shortcomings.

4. Your love will demonstrate irresistible grace. Such unconditional love will draw them irresistibly to the Christ who has filled you with such irresistible love. It will have an irresistible force drawing others who witness this love to the same Christ.

5. And this grace turned horizontal will persevere to the end. It will never forsake or abandon its commitments or covenants. It won’t run from those who frustrate, reject those who irritate, or wall off those who disappoint.
I listened to a bunch of Ani DiFranco -- but not the angry stuff; I started with her cover of "Amazing Grace" and then "sorry i am" and "not angry anymore" came up.
night falls like people into love
we generate our own light to compensate
for the lack of light from above.
every time we fight a cold wind blows our way,
we can learn like the trees, how to bend, to sway and say

i, i think i understand
what all this fighting is for,
and baby i just want you to understand
i'm not angry anymore.
no, i'm not angry anymore.

-ani difranco
I'm in the midst of arguably 3 separate fraught relationships, and yesterday I was really pleased that I could respond dispassionately to one of my friends being really upset at me -- I lived into my knowledge that responding in the moment wouldn't help, I curbed my defensive impulses, I didn't internalize his negative emotion ... I don't know (since we haven't spoken since) how successful my eventual reply was in being appropriate, effective, etc., but I stand by the choices I made re: when and how I responded, and I'm not obsessing about whether/how I could have responded better and/or where things are at now.

Much of this emotional (non)response isn't stuff I can cause myself, so I'm grateful to the Divine for that grace. Similarly, I'm grateful for the grace of peace and letting-go re: the other 2 relationships -- i feel like I've said what I need to say, and I'm waiting on the other person's response but I'm not feeling anxious or obsessive about it, am not doing much in the way of pre-emptive defensive crafting of responses to things they might say.

At faith sharing this Tuesday, we didn't so much talk about creativity as we DID creativity.

Hilary led, and afterward she emailed the list 3 TED talks.

I wasn't impressed by the first one, but the second one, Sarah Kay: "If I should have a daughter..." I really loved the spoken word poem that opened the talk (sidebar: TED has both subtitles and an "interactive transcript" option -- though it took me a while to realize that one can in fact c&p from the latter), and the whole thing is quite good.

The 3rd one was Brené Brown ("Maybe stories are just data with a soul.") "The power of vulnerability", and I like that one a lot.

And shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection. Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won't be worthy of connection. The things I can tell you about it: it's universal; we all have it. The only people who don't experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection. No one wants to talk about it, and the less you talk about it the more you have it. What underpinned this shame, this "I'm not good enough," -- which we all know that feeling: "I'm not blank enough. I'm not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, promoted enough." The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability, this idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.

[...] if I roughly took the people I interviewed and divided them into people who really have a sense of worthiness -- that's what this comes down to, a sense of worthiness -- they have a strong sense of love and belonging -- and folks who struggle for it, and folks who are always wondering if their good enough. There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe that they're worthy of love and belonging. That's it. They believe they're worthy. And to me, the hard part of the one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we're not worthy of connection, was something that, personally and professionally, I felt like I needed to understand better. So what I did is I took all of the interviews where I saw worthiness, where I saw people living that way, and just looked at those.

[...] And so here's what I found. What they had in common was a sense of courage. And I want to separate courage and bravery for you for a minute. Courage, the original definition of courage when it first came into the English language -- it's from the Latin word cor, meaning heart -- and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can't practice compassion with other people if we can't treat ourselves kindly. And the last was that they had connection, and -- this was the hard part -- as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do that for connection.

The other thing that they had in common was this. They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerability made them beautiful. They didn't talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they talk about it being excruciating -- as I had heard it earlier in the shame interviewing. They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say "I love you" first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They're willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.
There's also a piece near the end that made me think of an Atlantic article that's been going around -- "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy: Why the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods."

Brown says:
And we perfect, most dangerously, our children. Let me tell you what we think about children. They're hardwired for struggle when they get here. And when you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not so say, "Look at her, she's perfect. My job is just to keep her perfect -- make sure she makes the tennis team by fifth grade and Yale by seventh grade." That's not our job. Our job is to look and say, "You know what? You're imperfect, and you're wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging." That's our job. Show me a generation of kids raised like that, and we'll end the problems I think that we see today. We pretend that what we do doesn't have an effect on people. We do that in our personal lives. We do that corporate -- whether it's a bailout, an oil spill, a recall -- we pretend like what we're doing doesn't have a huge impact on other people. I would say to companies, this is not our first rodeo people. We just need you to be authentic and real and say, "We're sorry. We'll fix it."
(emphasis mine)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

[Rest and re/New] on anger at God

Last night's Rest and re/New theme was being angry with God.

James mentioned Jacob wrestling with the angel and Laura T. commented that she really likes that Jacob doesn't leave the encounter unscarred.
She also said that often we're wrestling with the wrestling, and that that just makes things worse for ourselves.

Have I mentioned that everything makes me think of DBT these days? I talked some about "radical acceptance" -- which I said is not my strong suit :) -- and "doing what's effective." I said that lots of us come from backgrounds that encouraged us to deny/repress our anger at God and that's definitely not healthy, and so we need to find a middle ground -- to experience our anger, but not dwell in it, and to do what we need to with it, that sometimes you need to go and yell at God and sometimes you need to go for a walk and try to let go of the anger.

Lisa talked about William Schultz's article "What Torture Has Taught Me." Apparently he has done a lot of work with Amnesty International with torture survivors and is also a minister and he found himself wondering... if those survivors showed up at his church, what would they think of the theology he espoused? would they find it naive? would they find it deep and meaningful?
I thought of Mariella at Art Night last week talking about someone saying that your theology shouldn't be anything you "can't say in front of burning children."

I Googled just now for [theology "burning children"] and yay, GoogleBooks:
Irving Greenberg's principle that no statement, theological or other, can be made "that would not be credible in the presence of the burning children."9 (p. 128, Long night's journey into day: a revised retrospective on the Holocaust by Alice Eckardt & Arthur Roy Eckardt)
9. Greenberg, "Cloud of Smoke," p. 23
[which I think (doing more GoogleBooks search) is: Irving Greenberg, "Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire: Judaism, Christianity and Modernity after the Holocaust," in Auschwitz: Beginning of a New Era? ed. Eva Fleischner (New York: KTAV, 1997), pp. 1-55]
In skimming through the footnotes, Moltmann's Crucified God, and possibly I have a new reading project...

P.S. Regular Google got me a top hit of a blogpost that opens with the quotation:
“No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children.” Irving Greenberg
From the blogpost:
“Weep with those who weep,” St. Paul said, and indeed, sometimes as a chaplain that is almost all you can do. [...]

A theology that has everything figured out is not particularly helpful at such a time. My friend Jenny calls that “2 a.m. Theology” – and in fact, it was two in the morning – two a.m. theology cries in pain. It doesn’t have answers. Two a.m. theology just says, I don’t get it, but I’m here, and I believe you’re here, too, God. Even though I’m mad at you. Two a.m. theology believes God is crying, too.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

[29] Resurrection is a Process (Easter Sunday sermon 2011)

1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid her.”

3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5The beloved disciple bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following, and went into the tomb. Simon Peter saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid her.”

14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

Supposing this stranger to be the gardener, she said, “Please, if you have carried Jesus away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take her away.”

16Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She turned and said in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Divine Parent. But go to my siblings and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Parent and your Parent, to my God and your God.’”

18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that Jesus had said these things to her.

(John 20:1-18)

Resurrection is a Process

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb...” (John 20:1)

A couple Wednesdays before Easter, I learned that the West Somerville churches were having their Easter sunrise service at 6am. I balked, because sunrise on Easter Sunday was at 5:50am this year, and Easter sunrise service is supposed to begin in darkness, moving into light both liturgically and literally.

Ian T. suggested that the women would have waited until the sun was up before heading out to the tomb.

I said, "If the person I loved most in the world had died two days ago..."

"You wouldn't wait for the sun to rise?" Ian filled in.

"I don't think I would have been sleeping very much..." I said. I knew in the moment that it was a lie, as grief doesn’t tend to make me insomniac, but it seemed like the thing to say.

I’ve never had a desperate grief for a physical body -- my griefs have been for relationships...

But I can imagine being haunted by the image of the person you love most in the world dying -- cruelly, brutally, alone... You watched, but you could only watch from a distance -- you couldn’t hold their hand, place a cold cloth on their forehead, smooth the blankets, couldn’t do anything to ease their pain. Of course you would want to tend to their body after death -- to offer that care that you couldn’t offer in the last moments of their life.

So what do you do if you find that body gone?

Simon Peter and the beloved disciple -- they are content with the knowledge that the body of their lover is gone. They lock themselves in an upper room, hiding their grief away from those who had killed Jesus, curled up tightly with others who share their grief.

But Mary does not leave the tomb. Her grief is a gaping wound, as open as the empty tomb, no stone to seal it up. She weeps. Her grief will not be contained in an upper room, rather it pours out into the ground.

We hear, in verse 8, that “the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and saw and believed.” Now, I don’t know what it is that the beloved disciple believed, because the sentence continues: “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead.” But they certainly believe that the body is gone, that the tomb is empty.

Not Mary. She looks into the tomb again.

And this time she does not find it empty. She sees two angels. And they ask her why she is weeping.

Now, it’s arguably a foolish question. They are sitting by the very linen wrappings that mere days before were cradling a dead body. Surely they understand.

But perhaps they don’t. Perhaps they, like us, know the punchline of the story. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ is with us now. Alleluia. Alleluia! (Can I get an Amen?)

And what is there to grieve when this is the Gospel? Why are you weeping at this very evidence of resurrection and triumph over death?

In Luke, the angels send Mary away -- “Why do you look for the living among the dead? She is not here but has risen.” (Luke 24:5b-6)

But not in this story. No, in answer to Mary’s anguished plea, Jesus shows up. The Resurrected Christ, symbol of new life and triumph over death, shows up. Here. At this tomb.

I keep thinking of the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5), who lived among the tombs. Jesus shows up in the places of death -- for “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31).

So that is the first point I want to make: That God comes and meets us in our places of brokenness and grief. Maybe you feel full of resurrection life this Easter Sunday -- or maybe you are still deep in grief. Regardless of where you are, God meets you right where you are.

Jesus says to Mary Magdalene: “Noli me tangere. Because I have not yet ascended to the Divine Parent. But go to my siblings and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Parent and your Parent, to my God and your God.’ ”

This whole “ascending” thing makes me profoundly uncomfortable. Yes, Divinity is transcendent, but Divinity is immanent as well. Is the Good News that Jesus sends Mary out to be the first apostle with really, “Jesus is Ascending to God?”

Elijah was taken up into Heaven in a whirlwind with a chariot and horses of fire. Enoch did not die but got taken up by God. Ascension’s a pretty elite club, but I don’t think I’d call it Good News with capital letters.

But Jesus doesn’t say, “I will Ascend” -- though, spoiler alert, She will -- Jesus says. “I am Ascending.” Present participle. Progressive tense. It’s a process.

Jesus is back, but different, still in a liminal space.

“I am Ascending.” I am not here, I am not there, I am in transit.

Jesus sticks around for 40 days post-Resurrection -- a good Biblical number.

At faith-sharing group the Tuesday before Easter, I ostensibly led us in a discussion about Resurrection, and one thing I said, as we telescoped in time both before and after Jesus’ resurrection, was, “What if post-Easter Jesus stuck around not just to do trauma recovery grief work with the disciples but because Jesus didn't want to leave?”

It occurs to me now: What if Jesus stayed for 40 days because She wasn’t ready to leave yet -- not in an “I have unfinished business” kind of way, but in that way where preemies in incubators aren’t ready to leave the hospital immediately?

I’ve heard/read/discussed a bunch of Easter Sunday sermons this year, and one of the themes that has stuck with me is the idea that the Resurrected Jesus is unrecognizable.

I often invoke the image Tiffany used in a Children’s Time one Easter -- about a caterpillar turning into a butterfly … it is still the same creature, yet so incredibly different that you would never think they were the same.

It’s easy for us to imagine the Resurrected Jesus walking around on Earth as just the same as the pre-Easter Jesus, to interpret all the stories of the disciples not recognizing Jesus as being just because this is so surprising (the disciples expected to never see Jesus alive again), or because their eyes are still blurred by tears of grief (literally and/or metaphorically), or because Jesus is playing some game of hide and seek.

All of these explanations hold some appeal, but I also think Jesus genuinely looked different, in a very real way.

The Resurrected Christ shows up in locked rooms -- and also cooks fish on the lakeshore. She is both corporeal and non.

What if She is still in the process of becoming Her Resurrected self?

Nadia Bolz-Weber said, “when Mary Magdalene stood at the tomb she didn’t encounter some perfected radiant glowing spiritual Jesus that first Easter morning.” Nadia reminded us that Mary mistook Jesus for a gardener and said, “I like to think that Mary Magdalene mistook the resurrected Christ for a gardener because Jesus still had the dirt from his own tomb under his nails.”

She talked about how we clean up Jesus, and ourselves, for Easter -- just like we do for Christmas and all the other Sundays, but we seem to especially want to be shiny and impressive for Easter. We want to look nice. And she said, “God isn’t about making you nicer. God is about making you new.” Now, I’m not inherently opposed to outward performance of the resurrection life we know internally to be true -- and yes I realize I basically just called Easter bonnets a sacrament -- but I do think she has a point. Incarnation is a hugely important part of my theology, and Incarnation is not all shiny new clothes and perfectly coiffed hair. Incarnation is blood and sweat and tears. Incarnation is messy and breakable.

Nadia finished her sermon by saying:
if there is anything impressive about following Jesus it’s that you are loved so powerfully by God that God has swept you up into God’s own story of death and life and life after death. And if there’s anything impressive about Christians, it’s that we are a people who still have the dirt from our graves under our nails, while we stand here shouting Alleluia! Christ is risen.
We are a Resurrection people -- an Easter people in a Good Friday world, you may hear often this season. But Resurrection is a process. It’s not something that just happens one Sunday and boom, we are transformed once and forever.

At faith-sharing group that Tuesday, I mentioned the Harrowing of Hell. I grew up low-church Protestant, and I still don’t really believe in the Harrowing of Hell, but I’ve been coming to a greater appreciation of the power of story -- of the fact that Christianity isn’t a series of propositional statements but rather a collection of stories, stories that get told and retold and have so many different meanings and resonances to so many different people at different times in their lives. And the Harrowing of Hell is admittedly a pretty bad-ass story: Jesus descends into the place of death and darkness and oppression and suffocation and torture -- and Jesus busts open those looming wrought-iron gates that keep the people trapped, and Jesus cries out, “YOU ARE FREE!”

And that’s something like what happens to all of us with Christ’s resurrection -- God’s insistent and definitive “no” to death.

We are freed from the power and bondage of death.
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, Jesus Herself likewise shared the same things, so that through death She might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
Now, this “You are free” is a performative utterance -- like, “I now pronounce you married.”

A new reality has been enacted. And you have choices about living into that new reality.

We have the fullness of Eastertide to begin that process, to journey with the Risen Christ and the surprised disciples.

And so I close with a quote from Mary Oliver:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
(from "The Summer Day")

Monday, April 11, 2011

"If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do."

In his most recent Left Behind post, slacktivist writes:
“What if I told you it doesn’t help?” the man asks as the woman packs up a truck with supplies for her shelter for at-risk youth. “What would you do if you found out that none of it matters? That it’s all controlled by forces more powerful and uncaring than we can conceive and they will never let it get better down here? What would you do?”

“I’d get this truck packed before the new stuff gets here,” she says. “Wanna give me a hand?”

That scene comes at the end of a very long story. The woman has heard all this before. She’s said all this before. She knows firsthand about “forces more powerful and uncaring than we can conceive” who will “never let it get better down here.” But she’d also met a real hero who’d showed her different and so she changed her name and became a hero herself.
I recognized the reference early on and got all squeeful/gleeful.


Later in the post, relevant to my tendency toward (self-)righteous anger, he talks about the kind of wrath that is considered a Deadly Sin versus "the wrath of God," and how having just the one word often leads to confusion wherein we imagine a God who is guilty of Deadly Sin. He closes by saying:
“Hope has two beautiful daughters,” St. Augustine said, “their names are anger and courage.” The wrath of God, I think, is that kind of anger — the beautiful daughter of hope.

If you’re imagining the wrath of God as something other than an expression of the love of God, then you have taken a wrong turn, for God is love.

Ah, but isn’t God also perfectly holy? And thus wouldn’t it be possible to say that God’s wrath is an expression of God’s perfect holiness? That’s a slightly different, albeit very popular, wrong turn — imagining the holiness of God as something distinct from the love of God.

Very bad idea, going that route. Jesus had a great deal to say about the idea that holiness could ever mean anything apart from love. His response to that idea tended to be, well, rather wrathful.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

John 4:5-42 (in which Jesus does not have to be male)

I would like to tell you a story.

This story begins with a well. It’s called Jacob’s well. It’s in the Samaritan city of Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob gave his favored child, Joseph -- Joseph who was the youngest but one of twelve sons, but the firstborn of Joseph’s favored wife, Rachel. The story doesn’t tell us why this well was called Jacob’s Well -- though its listeners might have recalled how Jacob met his beloved wife-to-be at a well. Tomorrow’s lectionary* brings us the story of Abraham’s steward finding a wife for Abraham’s beloved child Isaac at a well -- Isaac who would be Jacob’s father.

This story begins with a person named Jesus, tired from a journey, sitting by this well, at noontime.

This story begins with a Samaritan woman. She has come to the well at noontime to draw water.

Jesus says to the woman: “Give me a drink.” The teller of this story informs us that the disciples, those who have been companions with Jesus on this long journey, have gone into the city to buy food.

Now maybe this Jesus was a man -- and listeners’ expectations were that this would be a marriage story, like Jacob and Rachel, like Isaac and Rebekah. Maybe this Jesus was a man, and the woman felt unsafe, alone out there on the edge of town with a strange man.

Maybe this Jesus was a woman. Maybe the Samaritan woman felt safe from threat of violence because this was another woman. Maybe the Samaritan woman felt apprehensive, wondering what would bring a woman alone to this well at midday (her knowledge of why she came not keeping her from speculation about this stranger).

Maybe this Jesus was a large cat like C. S. Lewis would write about so many centuries later, and the woman was afraid, because Aslan is NOT a Tame Lion.

One might expect any of these things. But what this woman saw, the piece of Jesus’ identity that spoke to her so strongly that she spoke it aloud, was that Jesus was a Jew.

Jesus was a Jew, and she was a Samaritan. Both peoples claimed Mosaic lineage, but the two peoples had broken off long ago, and now they didn’t so much as speak to each other.

This woman says to Jesus, “YOU? ask ME? for a drink of water? Do you not notice who we are? We haven’t invented segregated drinking fountains yet, but that’s basically what’s going on here. What do you think you’re doing?”

Jesus patiently replies, “If you knew the generosity of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked me, and I would have given you living water.”

The woman bites her lip on the ridiculousness of this. She calls Jesus, “Sir,” or, “M’lady,” or some other honorific to soften the scoffing remark she is about to make -- “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and who drank from it with his children and livestock?”

Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

This sounds intriguing. A little impossible, but intriguing nonetheless. This time the woman’s use of an honorific is less sarcastic, more petitionary. “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus smiles at her unreadably and says, “Go, call your spouse, and come back.”

A bit downcast now -- or perhaps a bit on-guard, a bit cagey -- the woman replies, “I have no spouse.”

Jesus says to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no spouse;’ for you have been married five times, and you are not married to your current partner. What you have said is true.”

Taking a deep breath and using the honorific one last time, the woman says, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.” And what do you do if you end up in conversation with a prophet? Why not ask them for a decision on the major schism in your religious life? So she says, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but your people say that the place where everyone must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jesus says, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Parent of us all, Maker of Heaven and Earth, neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we Jews worship what we know, for God's way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Divine Parent in spirit and truth. Indeed, it is just such worshipers whom the Divine Parent seeks. God is spirit, and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth.”

The woman says to Jesus, “I know that the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, is coming -- who upon arriving will proclaim all things to us.”

Jesus replies, “I who speak to you am the Messiah.”

The dramatic pause here is interrupted by the return of the disciples. They are astonished that Jesus is speaking with this woman, but no one comes out and says, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”

Taking her cue, the woman leaves her water jar and returns to the city. She says to the people, “Come and see someone who told me everything I have ever done! Could this be the Messiah?” The people leave the city and go to Jesus.

Meanwhile the disciples are urging Jesus, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But Jesus says, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

So the disciples ask one another, “Surely no one has brought Jesus something to eat?”

Jesus says to them, “The food that keeps me going is doing the will of the One who sent me and bringing this work to completion.

“Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor at harvest time.”

As if to explain this saying of Jesus’, the story returns us to the people of the city. Many Samaritans from that city believe in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony, “This one told me everything I have ever done.” So when they come to Jesus, they ask Jesus to stay with them; and Jesus stays there two days. And many more believe because of Jesus’ word. They say to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”


*For values of "tomorrow" that are true if you are using the RCL and are operating as if I'm telling this story on Sunday Lent 3A 2011.

One of these days I will have a sermon for Lent 3A 2011, but today is not that day.

My best friend’s lesbian christology is what first started me thinking of Jesus as other than always-default-male, and continues to be foundational in my continuing explorations of that.

For helping to spur and/or shape this particular retelling, thanks also to: Molly’s friend Val (who told a folktale at Molly’s Peach Fuzz Party on Saturday), Support Pastor Ian H., Chris D., and Julia W. (and Ian T. for Lenten weekday morning prayer).

Thanks to The Inclusive Bible and Eugene Peterson’s The Message for some phrasing assists (and to the NRSV for providing the base text).

Monday, March 7, 2011

on sympathetic satire

Ari and I were talking about Jane Austen this afternoon (she recently reread Mansfield Park), and I came to the conclusion that I'm not really wired for sympathetic satire (as a creator or a consumer) -- AFAIC, if you're going to bitingly satirize someone, it's because you don't like them; if you do like them, you tell them that they are wrong so they can fix it. (Ari said: "Well Jane Austen was telling people -- she just thought they'd enjoy it more as a novel than as a diatribe." I said, "But if it's a novel, people can say, 'Oh, I'm not like that.' You need to write them a letter directly.")

I, um, sometimes tend toward strongly dichotomous paradigms...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

on fear

rydra_wong posted yesterday:
Z is for Zara, who knew her own strength

Two passages I found this morning, linked for thought-provocation. Krista thinks fear may not actually be the mind-killer:

You must chase fear from time to time.

You must dive in and come out the other side. You must risk this shame and humiliation. You must risk dropping the bar with a soul-shattering crash. {...}

And along the way, feel the edges of your spirit crisping up, growing into sharper focus. When I am truly afraid with a healthy fear that says I am having adventures and stretching the envelope of my secure life – that is when I am closest to gnawing on the juicy bones of my existence. I am sucking every last drop of nourishing marrow from that present-ness.

And in a sidethread at fandom_wank, ealusaid has some interesting things to say about agency (note: includes discussion of abuse):

It's my observation that some people who live with a lot of toxicity have absolutely no sense of their own agency.

{...} And I think what that also gives is no real sense of how hard you can punch, which leads to either under-or-over-evaluating one's own strength. I never, ever, ever showed social or verbal aggression when I was a kid, so when I learned how to hold my own in arguments when I was a teen, I spent a long time thinking if I said ANYTHING it would be THE MOST HURTFUL THING EVAR, so I would say in this halting little voice "I think, um, on this one point, you're not entirely correct."

Then I had a brief period where I went "...Waaaait, no, that's not working! I want my blows to hurt them as much as theirs hurt me! YOU FUCKING SHITSTICK, YOU WOULDN'T KNOW RIGHT FROM YOUR ASSHOLE, NOW SHUT THE FUCK UP." And friends kind of had to say "Honey? That was six times harsher than you needed."

Learning how to gauge hits is really hard. Especially if you have no idea that's what you're learning.
Commenting on rydra_wong's post, niqaeli said:
So, my thought on that first article is that fear, like pain, is a message. It is a non-neutrally coded message because it is meant to strongly hold your attention. And, like pain, sometimes the message is one that is not helpful or useful to you, and so you set it aside and do something other than what that message advises. And then again, sometimes that message's advice will save your life.

So: do not ever ignore fear. Ignoring fear is not bravery, it's stupidity. Evaluate your fear. Look at where it's coming from, what's triggering it. Fear is an emotion our body uses to guide us. And trying to go outside your comfort zone, whatever your comfort zone is, will almost always trigger it (get back by the fire, we know the fire, don't go out, it's not safe); don't ignore that either. Listen to it; it will give you a map to your mental geography. If you want to go outside your comfort zone regularly enough to expand it, you have to know where that comfort zone is. And your fear tells you, every time you venture up to the edges and outside.

And never ignore fear only because you cannot identify its source and an explanation for it; that fear may be the fear that will save your life. That fear may be the fear that your subconscious has generated by picking up a thousand tiny things and put them together and now frightens you badly, saying, leave, get out, run, anywhere but here.

I've ignored fear before and that's how I learned not to. I said, no, surely this makes no sense, I will hang out with this person anyway. Well, I didn't get axe-murdered (obviously) but I did get scared to utter hell and ended up quite literally running away from them. I don't honestly know what would've happened if I hadn't gotten the hell out, finally, when my conscious mind finally decided enough weird shit had been said and I started running; I just know that I never want to be that frightened again. And if I'd listened to the fear sooner, I never would've gotten to that point.

Fear isn't the mindkiller; it's really the shepherd dog of the mind. Whatever patterns the mind already knows, it wants to keep them intact (and it has no idea whether those patterns are good, bad, or indifferent). It drives the mind to the same path; maybe there's better pastures to graze, but it knowsthis path. It will sniff out coyotes and other predators and warn us away, also. But it's not good to be herded; and that's all down to how we choose to interact with fear. Better to have a dog that communicates with us things like "coyotes ahead," or "strange scent, dangerous," or "that's an unfamiliar path, don't know what's down it," and make the decisions for ourselves.
I have heard that idea before -- about fear being a message from our ~subconscious, a message that bears listening to but which we are to choose how to respond to. It's an idea I could certainly stand to be reminded of, though.

I really like the image of fear as a sheepdog -- the idea of "instinctive" responses being rooted in familiar patterns, and tending to keep us in familiar patterns, but (familiar) patterns of course aren't inherently good (or bad).

In a similar vein is willful_zephyr's comment:
I've always taken that as letting fear rule you, letting it make the decisions, that is the mind-killer.

Even further, being ruled by the fear of fear itself goes on to be the soul-killer.

To that end, you are correct in that it must occasionally be embraced. You need to learn your fear well enough to know when it is being wise and when it is full of crap. Mostly, we all need to learn to function while being afraid.

I like the non-neutrally coded message metaphor.
Krista in her post also has a really evocative story about how fear causes us to be much more attentive -- and how that isn't inherently a bad thing.
There is, indeed, much to fear in Arizona. Here, the terrain is baked hard.

This ground will chew you up and hork you out along with a mouthful of tobacco spit. The gravel crumbles underfoot and the rocks are spiky.

Everything has poky spines, from the saguaro’s skewers to the barrel cactus’ fish-hook harpoons, to the innocent-looking teddy-bear cholla’s pincushions. Even Camelback Mountain is named after a spine, which it resembles – all bony vertebrae and pithy humps. Our hiking guide carries pliers, in case our tender flesh might need a good yank or scrape. It’s a scary place.

I do this hike twice. The first time, I wear my tried-and-true Merrells, which are the stylistic equivalent of wearing Kleenex boxes on one’s feet. Like the old “It’s boxy but it’s good” slogan for Volvo, these are sturdy sensible shoes that any British Depression-era sanitorium nurse would have been proud to wear.

I clomp with impunity over hill and dale with these bad boys. I scarcely notice the danger. I dare a saguaro to piss me off – I will kick you in the effin face, cactus!! If I had a big gun like the Whole Foods peeps, I would blast baby animals like Leonard Smalls in Raising Arizona.

The second time I hike, I wear Vibrams, essentially barefooting over Nature’s minefield. Now my senses are sharp. I am paying attention. My steps are different – I have to chart a course from step to step, dancing from rock to trench to crevice to slippery sand. My toes grip like a gecko’s. I am there, deeply present in the experience.

Fear has a way of capturing our attention.
Also from Krista's post:
Fear of negative evaluation: FNE.

I love me some TLAs. I’ve long been a fan of FMO – fear of missing out. FMO is what you experience when you can’t say no to things. ‘Cause, like, what if you miss something? What if something happens and you’re not there? What if there’s some crucial piece of information you don’t have?

If you have FMO you’re nodding right now, except you’re probably distracted because you’re also watching an instructional video and downloading an article and doing some committee paperwork, just in case.

Fear of negative evaluation involves constant preoccupation with other people’s potentially negative judgements of you. You do everything you can to avoid these judgements, because they scare the hell out of you.
  • You might be a people-pleaser. Approve of me! Approve of me!
  • You might be a pre-emptive self-criticizer – you shoot in like a ninja to crap on yourself before anyone else can. If you ninja crap yourself then you got there first, bitches!! You are the baddest and the best putdowner! Nobody else can hurt you with their slings and arrows like numero uno!
  • You might fret and worry and whittle your spirit down to a little nub. What if? What if? What if?
  • You might avoid situations where you could look bad or stupid. Looking bad or stupid is shameful and to be avoided at all costs. Consequently, of course, there is no juice in your life because to do anything fun or exciting or adventurous usually involves some potential element of silliness or screwups.
Notice what all these have in common? Two things:
  • Despite being focused on other people’s judgements, FNE is – ironically — incredibly narcissistic (What do they think of me? They must have noticed me! They really really give a shit about every tiny thing I’m doing and saying and thinking! They are so carefully observing me that they totally notice that extra piece of toast I ate!).
  • FNE leaches your life dry of every last bit of joy.
The f_w comment thread was also interesting, about how people develop responses that are sense-making and even relatively effective in toxic/abusive situations but which aren't so helpful/appropriate in other situations. In addition to the bit rydra_wong quoted, this comment from ekaterinv also felt resonant to me:
Plus if that's all you're used to, you don't know it's possible to deal with conflict in any other way. Things are either smooth and seemingly perfect or they're completely fucking out of whack and you're being blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong EVER, and are an evil, horrible, rotten brat from hell for not cleaning your room well enough. You feel you can either be a mouse or a rampaging lion, and rampaging lion looks a lot more appealing when you're angry.