Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Toward a Christian Theology of Interfaith Cooperation

(This is a summary of what I have learned from my interfaith internship. Please take it as my stumblings toward meaning, not any kind of absolute truth. And please don't send me to hell.)

Over the past year, I have been constantly exposed to a wide variety of world religions and to deeply pious practitioners of those faiths. I have realized the value of interfaith cooperation and interaction by simply doing it. It has broadened my understanding of God, it has deepened my respect for other cultures and believers, and it has made me a better citizen of the world. But why should a good Christian girl “validate” other religions by giving them a hearing? This paper will attempt to give an answer.

Forbidden Fruit
Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, “To me, religious life is life. I do not see any reason to spend one’s whole life tasting just one kind of fruit. We human beings can be nourished by the best values of many traditions” (Hanh, 2). Hanh’s metaphor recalls the decision by Eve to take the forbidden fruit. For Christians, opening oneself to interfaith dialogue may feel at first like biting into the infamous apple. There is knowledge to be gotten, but are we sure we should partake? Or are we being tempted to something that would not be good for us? Does the gain of a closer walk with God on a dangerously open road outweigh the bliss of ignorance?

The knowledge of good and evil is positive for humanity and affirmed throughout scripture (Lev 27:12, 14; Num 13:19; Deut 1:39, 30:15).[1] Whatever God’s reasoning for placing the forbidden fruit within our reach, the end result was incarnation and redemption. The Latin mass proclaims: O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorum — “O happy fault which received as its reward so great and so good a redeemer;”[2] and the old English carol sings:

Nor had one apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Then had never Our Lady
A-been heaven’s queen.
Blessed be the time
That apple taken was.

We are now called to taste a new fruit, one that carries with it similar danger and reward. “Can our encounter with people of other faiths enrich our understanding and experience of the one we call ‘God’?” (Eck, xii). Or will it merely confuse and alienate us? I propose that when Christians refuse to participate in interfaith contexts, they are only depriving themselves of a greater understanding of the world and of God. Diana L. Eck, director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard, suggests: “Our encounter with people of other faiths gives us the precious opportunity to become theologically bilingual, to understand the God-language of another community, and to understand our own more clearly in the process. Only in the give-and-take of dialogue will we come to see just how our languages are very different and how they are alike. Encountering God in all God’s fullness enables us to see how rich and profound our many theisms really are” (Eck, xvi).

Eck uses the metaphor of a river to describe religious traditions (Eck, 2). They should be alive, not static. They should be refreshing, not burdensome. They should shape us and form us, not simply be in our possession. They can change dramatically, dry up, or overwhelm us. Our faith doesn’t own us: “Our faith must be alive. It cannot be just a set of rigid beliefs and notions. Our faith must evolve every day....If it does not continue to grow, it will die” (Hanh, 136-137). When we reach out beyond the artificial boundaries established by institutions, we discover a world of wisdom.

God Gets Bigger
Rivers are dangerous and can consume us (so also the waters of baptism). Yet when God becomes safe for us, comfortably part of our understanding, then we have shortchanged the Almighty.

Christians frequently look at those of other religions as deeply confused or as having been misled. They cannot understand that this person’s faith is as deeply ingrained in who she is as their Christianity is in them. They do not admit that they largely did not choose Christianity – it chose them. Because they believe they wield power over God and who is in God’s kingdom, they believe they can change other people’s ideas about God. Many Christians want God to be strict and closed off, but that goes against everything we believe about grace and God’s great love for the world. “To see God as our special ally in judgment is a dangerous move. It is too easy to call such a God into the service of our own projects. Our possessive ideas of God may become graven images of ourselves as we raise the sacred canopy of our religion over the most self-serving of worldviews…Can we continue to cling to ideas of God that are essentially provincial, imagining, even now in the twenty-first century, that God is primarily, if not exclusively, concerned with us and our tribe?” (Eck, xv) We must not allow our God-talk to become “idolatrous” (Eck, xvi).

The living God cannot be controlled. God is beyond the categories we set or the way we expect God to behave. When we encounter God “in the prayers, presence, and faith of the ‘other’” (Eck, xiv), it is extremely challenging because we suddenly realize God cannot be squeezed into our categories, boxes, even our religions. “No single tradition monopolizes the truth.” (Hanh, 114). When we explore other faiths, God simply gets bigger.

Can the Christian trust that God knows what God’s doing with these other people? God is big enough to handle all the religions, all the systems we have set up to attempt to explain and comprehend God. Do we really believe that when a person sincerely reaches out to God, seeking truth, God will not reach back with open arms? Once you are sitting at table with people of strong faith that is not your own, you can no longer just write them off. You can see they are not deluded. You can see God’s fire and God’s peace within them. “When you are able to love your enemy, he or she is no longer your enemy. The idea of ‘enemy’ vanishes and is replaced by the notion of someone who is suffering and needs your compassion” (Hanh, 79). How much more Christlike could we be than to see beyond our created differences to the one God whom we all worship?

Discovering Yourself Through the Other
Hanh says that in order to love our enemies we must “look at the person we consider to be the cause of our suffering. If we practice looking deeply into his situation and the causes of how he came to be the way he is now, and if we visualize ourselves as being born in his condition, we may see that we could have become exactly like him” (Hanh, 83). This same exercise in visualization can help us understand those from other religious backgrounds. If we can imagine ourselves brought up in the Other’s culture, part of the world, with her family and friends, we can begin to understand how the Other’s religion is frequently not a choice. It is an essential part of his formation as a human being, shaped by so many factors that he cannot possibly name them all. People do not initially choose a religion because they are confused, misguided, or seek to be confrontational. People are more often born to a path than choose it.

“When you touch someone who authentically represents a tradition, you not only touch his or her tradition, you also touch your own…When participants are willing to learn from each other, dialogue takes place just by their being together. When those who represent a spiritual tradition embody the essence of their tradition, just the way they walk, sit, and smile speaks volumes about the tradition” (Hanh, 7). This means that within the interfaith context, we must be aware of what we are speaking about our tradition in our communication, verbal and otherwise. We cannot help but be spokespersons for Christ – and thus, we must be the best Christians possible.

“Relationship is the mirror in which we see ourselves as we really are” (Indian philosopher Krishnamurti). “This is especially true in our relationships with people of other religious traditions. In the give and take of dialogue, understanding one another leads to mutual self-understanding and finally to mutual transformation” (Eck, xx). Time and again we see that a person who enters interfaith dialogue finds her faith strengthened by the experience. She will seek a more meaningful relationship with God, discovering facets of her own tradition that incorporate the new truths she’s learned from the Other. Far from weakening her commitment to Christianity, she in fact winds up solidifying and deepening her faith. In the process, “learning to touch deeply the jewels of our own tradition will allow us to understand and appreciate the values of other traditions, and this will benefit everyone” (Hanh, 90).

“But the most basic principle of interfaith dialogue is that the dialogue must begin, first of all, within oneself. Our capacity to make peace with another person and with the world depends very much on our capacity to make peace with ourselves. If we are at war with our parents, our family, our society, or our church, there is probably a war going on inside us also, so the most basic work for peace is to return to ourselves and create harmony among the elements within us” (Hanh, 9-10). This can be done extremely effectively through the learning process of interfaith cooperation. Once we get along with and appreciate the piety of the Other, we can more fully understand ourselves – and we can begin to model the peace our world so desperately needs.

Saving the World
I believe that at our time in history this critical practice of interfaith cooperation is central to the world’s salvation: “As a rabbi friend in Britain once put it, ‘It is dialogue or die’” (Eck, xviii). Our incredible shrinking globe leads to both positive and negative outcomes. Newly minted connections with those very different from us can help us to coordinate efforts toward justice and peace. “At the other extreme, these same systems distribute the energies of a new tribalism and religious extremism” (Eck, x). What cannot be denied is that “each part of the world is marbled with the colors and currents of the whole” (Eck, x). In the 21st century, people are world citizens. Interfaith and multicultural understanding is a requirement in nearly every field: politics, business, education, entertainment, and on and on.

“To work for peace, you must have a peaceful heart. When you do, you are the child of God. But many who work for peace are not at peace. They still have anger and frustration, and their work is not really peaceful. We cannot say that they are touching the Kingdom of God. To preserve peace, our hearts must be at peace with the world, with our brothers and sisters” (Hanh, 74-75). If we hold to misguided notions about God being inaccessible to those of other faith traditions, we cannot then hold them to be our sisters and brothers. We will not respect their basic dignity if we believe them to be ultimately deluded and stupid. Therefore, we will not be able to hold them as equals. We will not respect their culture or religion and will make war on them to “enlighten” them to our ways of democracy and Christianity. But Western ideals are not the solution to the world’s problems. God is.

A point of connection can be made between religions when one realizes that we all look at the world the same way – all religions see something wrong with the world and want it to be better. All religions ultimately seek peace. Some of the most encouraging moments in my interfaith experience have been when I realized another faith’s leader was calling his or her people to the same principles I hold dear. At an interfaith Iftar at Omar Ibn Al Khattab mosque in Los Angeles, Dr. Hassan Hathout admonished us: “We say God is love but we behave as if God is hate. God is love, and if you are not love, you are not a godly person.”[4] At the same event, Sheikh Saadullah Khan proclaimed, “Love means deeds, not good wishes.” Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us: “If while we practice we are not aware that the world is suffering, that children are dying of hunger, that social injustice is going on everywhere, we are not practicing mindfulness. We are just trying to escape” (Hanh, 83). Christians will hear echoes of the Sermon on the Mount in these words, yet they arise directly from the wisdom of the speaker’s faith tradition. We do not hold the monopoly on truth that leads to peace. Indeed, it is only through interfaith cooperation that we will be able to reach out across the world to spread God’s love. “We must glean the best values of all traditions and work together to remove the tensions between traditions in order to give peace a chance” (Hanh, 114).

Toward Interfaith Cooperation
We have made a case for the value of interfaith cooperation and dialogue in enriching Christian faith, understanding of God and the world, and working toward peace. But how does one engage in this most helpful interaction?

The first step to good interfaith cooperation is comfort within one’s own tradition: “if brothers and sisters in the same tradition cannot understand and communicate with each other, how can they communicate with those outside their tradition?” (Hanh, 7). Conversely, “respecting the differences within our own church and seeing how these differences enrich one another, we are more open to appreciating the richness and diversity of other traditions” (Hanh, 9).

So perhaps for the Evangelical, the process must begin by simply sitting down with Christians from mainline, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions – coming to an understanding of those who also worship Christ. A next step would be introduction to Jews and Muslims. The three major monotheistic faiths can find multiple points of dialogue. When one feels ready, or actually begins to hunger for more, then seek out those from Eastern and cosmological religions, and philosophical systems without a personal deity. Once you can ultimately see the faith of the Other as genuine, you have arrived. And if one day you can sit with an atheist, recognizing his sincere quest for truth, your God has gotten very big indeed.

This only describes my journey. Some may not need to go through all these steps nor in this order. Many people feel more readily connected to the Eastern or cosmological faith traditions. This process looks neat on paper, but in reality it would play out differently for each individual.

What is fortunate is that we don’t have to go far to find other faiths anymore. There’s no need for a trip around the world to meet Hindus, Buddhists, Baha’is, Sikhs, Jains, or Taoists. Just to get along in our own society, we will necessarily know these people. To seek the knowledge of the forbidden fruit, we needn’t venture past our own backyard.

“It is our Christian faith in God which challenges us to take seriously the whole realm of religious plurality. We see this not so much as an obstacle to be overcome, but rather as an opportunity for deepening our encounter with God and with our neighbors. [We] affirm unequivocally that God the Holy Spirit has been at work in the life and traditions of peoples of other living faiths.”[5]

In the past year I have meditated with Buddhists, sung with Jews, danced with Hindus, prayed with Muslims, and stood in a sacred Pagan circle. I have witnessed firsthand the fierce devotion to God and the sincere quest for truth in the Other. I now can claim with Diana Eck: “When I think about the practical meanings of interreligious dialogue, the theological meaning of religious diversity, or about what some in the churches still speak of as the ‘destiny of the unevangelized,’ I am thinking not about a faceless crowd of people I do not know, but about students, colleagues, dear friends, and teachers…whose face I know like the faces of my own family. This is the kind of world in which all of us increasingly live.” (Eck, xix)

In the end, I cannot express what you need to hear in words. We will not be changed by reading about these issues. It is extremely difficult to understand the Other without knowing her or him. Interfaith dialogue “does not usually begin with philosophy or theory, but with experience and relationships” (Eck, 2). We talk about others much differently than we talk to them. It is much simpler to classify groups than to name and know individuals.

The truth of this essay is only discovered in the living of it. The journey of interfaith understanding can only be experienced. I urge you to go and learn for yourself. “Christians have to help Jesus Christ be manifested by their way of life, showing those around them that love, understanding, and tolerance are possible. This will not be accomplished just by books and sermons. It has to be realized by the way we live” (Hanh, 57).


Primary Texts
Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ (Riverhead, 1995)
Diana L. Eck, Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras (Beacon, 2003)

Additional Resources
Karen Armstrong, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb out of Darkness (Anchor, 2005)
W. Eugene March, The Wide, Wide Circle of Divine Love: a Biblical Case for Religious Diversity (Westminster John Knox, 2005)
Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, Divinity & Diversity: A Christian Affirmation of Religious Pluralism (Abingdon, 2003)

[1] John Goldingay, After Eating the Apricot (Carlisle: Solway, 1996), 34.
[2] Dr. Richard C. Leonard, “The Apple and the Adoption."
[3]Adam Lay Ybounden,” Words and Music Traditional English, 15th Century.
[4] Dr. Hathout is author of the fine book, Reading the Muslim Mind (American Trust Publications, 1995).
[5] Closing statement of a “theology of religions” working group, World Council of Churches, 1990 (Eck, xix-xx).

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Why we back down

I was called everything from "bitch" to "whore" and was often addressed as "sweetie" or "honey" before a launch of expletives. Most attackers took the position that I was just a cute, dumb, college student (even though I was in my late 20s) in an effort to discredit me and I was most reliably attacked by a collection of right-wing Web sites and right-wing men who sent me letters.
While numerous professions--science, medicine and even journalism--have seen a sharp rise in female participants, opinion journalism doesn't seem to budge. In my case, I was attacked, and then retreated into self-censorship for a period of months and in that darkened room I found no mentors and little support from editors.
Rekha Basu is the civil liberties voice at the Des Moines Register in Iowa, and she is a woman, liberal and Indian. She's been called a Hindu-worshipping slut, an Arab terrorist, a whore, a lesbian, a cunt, a skanky Muslim. Most insults are via e-mail and on Web sites, where attackers can remain relatively anonymous.

She's been stalked and followed on the highway and told readers can't wait to read her obituary in the newspaper. But nothing hurt like the time a reader said they hoped her husband, who has Lou Gehrig's disease, would hurry up and die so she would leave the country.
Michele Weldon, a contributor to Women's eNews who has also provided columns to the Chicago Tribune, recalled the time a hostile reader of a column read her memoir on the domestic abuse she experienced and wrote to tell her she deserved everything she got.

Sasha Kemmet is a young, budding liberal writer for The Des Moines Register's Young Adult Board. She has been stalked by critics who have accused her of everything from racism to elitism. She describes her detractors as deeply misogynist. "I was surprised by the viciousness of the attacks and it was extremely disappointing. My goal in writing was to initiate dialogue, not bring about petty personal attacks." Kemmet thinks "society wants women to have opinions as long as they don't speak them too loudly . . . as long as this persists, women will believe it themselves."


I had a really fortunate experience on Saturday. I went to our ladies' breakfast and our featured speaker was our own rector, Carol Anderson. Carol told us the story of her ordination. Which is an amazing story. She was actually in a history book I read. She was one of the first women ordained in our church, you see, and she doesn't often talk about those times. But what a tale!

I can't possibly recreate it for you, and I wish so much I could point you to a recording, but it was one-time-only (which gave her some freedom). I will tell you the stories that made the biggest impression on me.

One time she was giving out the bread during Eucharist and a man walked up to her with intense hatred in his eyes and said, "Go to hell." She said, "I can't, I'm busy."

She did all these wonderful performance-art/theatrical protests. They would attend men's ordinations and stand behind the men. Once they went through the entire service alongside the men, and after each guy was ordained, they went up and knelt before the bishop. He was shaking. Then he sat on his hands. He later told them he wanted to ordain them so badly but he just knew he couldn't (he wanted to stay within church boundaries), and he had to sit on his hands to keep them from doing something he shouldn't.

I love that story because it's got so much ritual power in it. The fact that it was this man's hands that were the key to the magic of ordination...I mean, some people would completely pooh pooh this, but I love it. I think it's so amazing, so embodied. The hands hold the power. And he had to sit on them. Because once that power goes out, it can't come back.

That's why it was such a big deal to ordain the Philadelphia 11 (which Carol wasn't part of, because she was in parish ministry and they didn't want to disrupt anyone's present ministry). Because we believe ordination can't be taken back or reversed.

And then there was the bishop who, when it finally passed (by ONE vote!), was telling reporters it was the Holy Spirit speaking to him, and his wife is in the back telling the women: "Pfft...Holy Spirit! I told him I'd never sleep with him again!"

Anyway, it was a wonderful morning. I can't even tell you everything.

I did go home and in my rascally way write Carol a note about how hard it's increasingly becoming for me to answer people when they ask me why I'm not being ordained. I also asked for an internship. Question 2 got a no because she wants me to branch out (fair enough). Question 1...well, she wants me back in discernment with a new committee. So that's good too.

Anyway, if anyone local wants to recommend me to or for an internship position, that would be fine. Pay would be especially nice, but we're getting along without it.

And if it doesn't work out, I'll just do it later, next summer, after classes are done. It's looking like the USC job isn't going to pan out either (because, of all reasons, they can't figure out how to pay me! Honestly, the bureaucrazy...) (that was a typo but I think it's appropro). But I think as I look ahead to what I have to take: Hebrew, Systematic Theology (3 classes), and history (3 classes), as well as Greek and Hebrew exegetical classes - yeah, I'll probably be okay not to work, and I'll probably be even a bit relieved not to intern. I'd most love to keep TA'ing for my favorite prof, so that's kind of a priority.

We'll see. So far grace has been provided in huge measure to accomplish whatever comes along. I'm blessed in that way.

Oh, Dad is doing okay. He's being treated for angina, although they haven't exactly determined what's going on. He's staying overnight in the hospital and having a stress test tomorrow. He thinks he had a heart attack but my mother says he's overdramatic. The worst of it is that he's in a hospital that's 45 minutes from their home (out by where he works) and it's apparently not a very good hospital. So hopefully he doesn't have to stay there any longer than overnight.

I guess that's all I have to say right now. I finished my interfaith theology thoughts and will post them in the next couple days. Looking forward to your responses on that (hopefully not too much vitriol).

Good morning

Well I woke up to a phone call that my dad had a "cardiac event" this morning. Doesn't sound too serious, just high blood pressure and chest tightening. He's hooked up to machines at the moment but sounds like he'll be released soon.

Makes me very glad that I'm going to be there in a little over 2 weeks. And nervous about how much I have to finish before I go. I have things to do (grading and a paper) that could encroach upon my time with my family and I really want to finish them early, but it's going to be a big push to the finish. Isn't it always.

Anyway, today is Ascension Day, when we remember not only Jesus' ascension to heaven but the wonderful promise of resurrection for all of us. So on this day I am not really freaked out or worried. We have a good God. And how appropriate for Dad to give us all a scare on a day when we are reminded of the ultimate promise for his - and all of our - future.

Thanks for your prayers. And for everything. I am continually blessed to be surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


I think I'm figuring something out from all this drama. Those of you in ministry can tell me whether this jives with your experience.

I really want people to like me. I think most people do - but I do in a way that is basically a liability. I spent a lot of years with hatred - hatred I couldn't help because it manifested from jealousy over my abilities. Throughout most of school, until I started making some really true friends in college, most people eyed me with suspicion because I was just too good at most things. There was even a club organized against me. It was called S.A.S.S. - Students Against Stasi Smith. They think I didn't know about it, but of course I did. Someone had the audacity to write SASS in my yearbook and it wasn't too hard to figure it out from there (it helped that I was aware of SAMM - against another dear girl whose initials were MM).

So anyway, all of that is to say that I grew up figuring out that mostly people didn't like me. And I was pretty much a very selfish person. I don't know if I was protecting myself or what. But I was a bitch...or at least, I was extremely hard to love. I definitely cared about myself more than others.

Then I moved to LA, and I got to start over. I got to create a new person since nobody knew me. I decided a couple years ago that I was going to focus as much as I could on being a good friend. I prayed very hard that God will humble me and would allow me to have some girlfriends. I'd never had girlfriends because I was too catty. I knew if I could get along with girls, which had always been my problem, I would be a good friend.

And I'm really blessed that God has helped a lot and I've got some wonderful girlfriends. I've even had people tell me they can't imagine people not liking me. Which is about the best thing anyone could say to me. I keep having to work on the humility - it was my Lent lesson again this year - but I wonder if pride isn't one of the majorist problems we humans will always have to work on.

Wow, I totally didn't mean to go into this self-revealing stuff. But this is where I'm headed. You see, on the blog, I think I revert to the old woman. The one who people don't like. Because I'm somewhat anonymous. And because I want to let this side out on here, so it doesn't come out in "real life." You get that? But then when people respond as they did to her, I get hurt now, because I don't have the defenses I used to have. I can't ignore it because the new woman comes in and wants to be everybody's friend.

I would imagine this is a problem for ministry. Both extremes. Either wanting to be liked so much that you're unable to call people out prophetically, or not caring what people think so you become hard and hurt people. I feel like I'm walking a tightrope - and sometimes I fall off, like last night. Figuring out who to be is hard. It's harder when people look to you for spiritual knowledge. I won't say advice or wisdom. But people tell me that I'm telling them good stuff. So then I go a little overboard. Or maybe I don't. Maybe I say what God tells me to, and people just don't want to hear it. I don't know. I've been called a prophet on here and it's a really burdensome mantle. Am I being prophetic or just bitchy? Who knows?

Well anyway, how do you ministers deal with this need to be liked and accepted vs. the need to be a spiritual guide that has to deal with hard stuff? I confess I'm just never going to be one of those wonderful gentle people who always has the perfect shepherd persona. I've tried and it's not me. So how do you tame your insides that burn at injustice or at apathy or at, even, messing around with the sacraments? Or how do you deal with the aftermath, if you decide to let it out?

Teach me!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

You gotta lay off

I can't deal with this right now. I'm in the 2nd to last week of classes. I can't take the blog world attacking me because I expressed my opinion. I will try to explain myself but I don't feel like any of you are listening to me at all. Just know that I am crying and despairing and thinking deeply over everything you are saying - and yes, I am taking every last word of it very, very personally. Because that is what I do. And because I care so so so so much about this!!!

You are breaking me. You really are. I want to care - I want to hold up standards. But when I do that I just get SHOT down so hard!! I get called names and made fun of and told that I'm doing bad things to people. I can't take this right now. You've got to lay off me.

God! People! Listen to what I am saying!!!!

I am saying that you should pray over communion. These people didn't pray. They did nothing to help us understand we were taking communion except tell us "Okay, you're taking communion now. Ready? Go!"

I am SURE that in your churches you do more than that!!!! Even with the crackers and plastic cups!!!!! I'm not saying the plastic cups or the juice were what invalidated the experience! But nobody will listen - you only hear what you want to hear and you misunderstand why I was upset!!!!

You have got to realize that I did communion a bad way for 20 years of my life. And yes, now I look back and I DO think it was cheap and fake and invalid. But my experience is not your experience. I admit I'm totally damaged because I sat through shitty communion for a long, long time, and I've only finally found a place where it is life-giving so I just have to refuse to give that up. I can't go back. I can't I can't I can't!!!!

But it was not because of the juice!!!! Or the cups!!!!! In my past life, communion sucked because it was private, it was sad, it was guilt-inducing. It wasn't about celebrating Jesus' victory. It was about mourning his death. We left Jesus on the cross at communion. Or even worse, perpetually heading towards it.

Can't you see that's bullshit??

But I don't care where you are at! Where any of you are at! It's fucking between you and God!!!

It is not my job to make you feel good about your church!!!!! It is not my job to validate every crappy experience people have!!!! If you feel terrible about your tradition then maybe it IS terrible. If you are leaving then maybe there's a good reason. There was a good reason I left.

But I don't care! I don't care if you are doing communion different than me!! But please please please please ALL I am asking is that you THINK about why and how you do it!!! I don't need you to do it the way my church does it - I just need you to KNOW what you are doing. Don't just accept what you are given. Have a reason. Know why you do it. Know the Bible and the history and in your own life KNOW that you will meet God there. I knew I couldn't meet God in that situation - not through bread and juice taken privately in a classroom setting with no prayer prayed over the elements or the people. I simply can't turn it on like that (gee, it's starting to sound like sex isn't it?). Well that's how it was. So I had a moment of just observing, and I comment on these things because I want people to pay attention to what they are doing. That's all! I want to SAVE people from the bad experiences I've had and so I BEG and I PLEAD for them to THINK about their symbols, signs, words, and gestures. Because God wants to be there so badly!!!

But I just don't know how much God can be there when we're so turned in on ourselves.

Can't one freaking person understand that it SUCKS to sit in a room with a bunch of people who are cheapening something that you hold so dear?? I sit there and they rape my liturgy and you tell me to suck it up, grow up, get over it, get off my high horse. You tell me I'm the bad guy because I want communion to mean something. I want it to be joyful and thankful and God! I want it to be about God!!!! I am so sick of it being about US and how we feel!! Why can't it be about GODDDDDDDDDD

Seriously, when you don't pray, when nobody calls and asks God to visit the occasion...even the prayer after was about the bread and the juice, it wasn't directed to God, it was about God, but it wasn't TO God.

You people are in my head and I can't sleep and I can't concentrate on anything because you're nagging nagging nagging me and you're SO FREAKING whiny! I'm sorry! It's late! I don't want to say mean things and I don't want to be the bitch. But I also just need you to take a step back and really try to see why I am saying what I'm saying.

Or at least just resist the urge to comment. Because I have got to get on with my life.

Post Script
All right. Look. Let me explain something.

This is the ivory tower side of me, that's been writing all this stuff. This is coming from a liturgical theologian who is dissecting every worship service she attends and has completely lost any innocence when it comes to church. I cannot do it without analyzing. That's simply been switched on in my brain and now it's part of what I do.

But those of you who seem hurt by what I've said...that's what is breaking my heart. Because I would never never ever say anything like this in a ministry context. This is not the way I am with my friends (except my liturgy geek friends but we make our living nitpicking) or definitely not with my church family or with the people to whom I minister.

This blog...this is a place where I've always been able to vent. And I needed to vent out the scholar side of me that just looked (objectively) at this pseudo-ritual and found many (objective) things that were saying something I don't think the organizers intended.

See, what the scholar worries about is how these things that are glaring to me but are not a big deal to other people - how will those things play in the congregation? What are they telling people? Are they telling them something true? Are they leading them towards encounter with God?

In the end, the scholar is motivated by the pastor. And the pastor's heart breaks. But the scholar cares just so so much because I know that in the end it does matter how we do these things. I know because I've been there when they were wrong and I know the damage that can be done.

But I guess I just wanted to come back on and tell you that this is not how people are in the churches. Definitely not at my church anyway. And this is not how I act with the Body of Christ. Sure, I see everything they do, right and wrong, and I'm constantly critical. But when I am at worship I try to drop all that (if I can't, it's not usually very good in point...well, we won't go back there). But I do wish people would be just a touch more critical of what they do in church. Just long to meet God a little more.

The scholar wants to crack the code that will lead to the inevitable God-meeting. Of course that is not possible. But it's the dream.

The pastor just wants to love people towards God.

And as much as it hurts me that you are saying these things to me...and that I have hurt the end you don't have to like me. And I can't stop saying these things. Because I feel like I'm supposed to call you to better worship.

God wants to meet you so badly, don't you see?

Please don't settle for less than that.

Why Religion Must End

Or so this guy says...

check it out

(get ready to get peeved)

Thursday, May 18, 2006


OK, look out. The bitch is back.

Everyone around me is quietly privately ingesting these little shot glasses of grape juice (probably corn syrup) and eating this sweet bread (at least it's real bread). The lead-in to this was a presentation on a group project. This group had shared their testimonies with one another, and because they had communion (or something else, really, that used bread and juice and they called "communion") during their little group time, they thought we should have it all together during their report on their session.

Now I love the guy who is leading it. But he's deeply confused. You can't just stand up there, read 1 Cor 11, and then expect us to be in communion mode - not in a classroom, not in this setting. He says we use too many words so he won't, and I get that, but I also believe strongly that the particular words - or at least some action - of the Eucharist are special. If you just leave silence, you leave it to every individual person to retreat into herself or himself and create this private moment between Jesus and Me.

Then they passed around this sweet bread (dropping crumbs, which made me choke, but I guess it wasn't consecrated so who cares?) and shot glasses. I declined to partake. I found myself completely unable to reconcile my beliefs about this sacrament with what was happening before me. So I had to decline. I didn't even recognize what they were doing. It was a completely foreign ritual. It was not in almost any way (except reading the words of institution) related to what I understand Eucharist to be. I knew they thought it was. So I couldn't in good conscience affirm that.

Then the poor guy had to pray the thanksgiving afterwards. He got a little muddled (this is the problem with spontenaeity). At one point he actually said, "The bread cries out and the juice cries out...Christ has died Christ is risen Christ will come again" HUH?? Isn't that what the church cries out?! I'm freaking crying out!!

And again, how the hell is juice crying out?

But the shotglasses have to go. I look around and everyone is completely inside themselves. Eyes closed. Heads bowed. They could be completely alone and it would make no difference. They're not even serving their neighbor - they are pulling off their own piece of bread! Arrrrgggh!! The reason it pisses me off so much is that they do not respect the Eucharist. They're not ignorant - they choose to do it in this funereal, individualistic, life-sucking way. No wonder they do it once a month, if that! No wonder they'd rather throw it all out! It sucks this way!!

I got to have lunch with Robert Webber today, he of the Ancient-Future Faith series of books. One of the most prophetic voices towards worship renewal in the evangelical church for the last 30 years or so.

He's really not into this "experience" thing. All these people tonight are giving presentations about their warm & fuzzy experiences that made them feel "so close" to God. They think freaking communion is one of these things!! Unless they think it's the time to get down on yourself for being so bad. But usually it starts the latter and turns into a nice experience (when the quiet acoustic guitar starts up).

Bob said evangelicals say they "know, experience" God - what the heck are they talking about? These words are frequently used in phony ways. To only talk about a personal relationship with Jesus is so narcissistic! Bob thinks it's bull!

And it doesn't connect with reality. We're asking people to have silly experiences and giving creedence to it, and none of it is true. We're creating an escapism. Hey, this is him, not me. But I loved every word.

God never saves us because of what we believe or experience or understand. Can you grasp that? We cannot believe the right thing to save ourselves. We cannot respond or pray or experience or understand or even trust God - and thereby save ourselves.

God only saves us because there is one man who has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves. That is the only thing. We can trust what Jesus did. But that's not what saves us. What Jesus did is what saves us.

Bob said, "I'm not good at believing this, but I'm good at trusting in it. None of us are who we pretend to be. It's just good that there's one man who is what humanity ought to be and who is for us what we cannot be.... That is the very best possible good news."

To his students who can't believe anymore, he says so what? Who cares! Take a vacation from all this Christian stuff. Let the Church believe for you!!

Whew! How do you think J's Biola kids would take that??!

Here was Bob at his best: "I'm not good at all this Christian stuff....I'm not good enough - I don't pray, read the bible, witness, or get the warm fuzzies as much as you're supposed to....I don't feel it. What I am supposed to feel....I'm struggling with having faith in this kind of world; knowing there is more than the evangelicals tell me....I'm hanging on the cross with Jesus...and the only thing I know is there is a resurrection coming."


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Week 8

Hey, ya'll. I'm bored. I mean, I'm not lacking things to do. But I'm tired of my classes. As I always am at this time of the quarter. No, wait, I'm only tired of the one with all the busy work. Yeeuck. Jeanette, you tried to warn me, and now I'm paying for it. I'm supposed to write a 3-session curriculum. This in addition to a group project and a stupid busy work paper due every week of this stinking class! I'm really sick of all the work. The reading load isn't too bad, but the books are boring. It's all practical. And we won't even go into the lectures. Let's just say there's not much going on.

Yet I find myself talking to others about what I'm learning in that class more than any other. Probably because it's practical, applied stuff, so it's easy to relate to real life. How interested are other people, really, in the fineries of homiletical technique? Or in ancient-future worship patterns? Nope, that's stuff for us liturgy geeks (the latter I mean). So bleh.

But tomorrow we have a treat: Robert Webber is coming to have lunch with a group of us students, then Friday he's coming to my seminar class (because our class has been set up to test his theories about ancient-future stuff) so we can grill him. Then we get to have lunch again in a smaller setting. I'm really excited to talk to him. He's kind of the evangelical guru of worship awareness. Plus his book, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, was very helpful for me when I became Episcopalian. It's going to be fun to meet him.

So I'll have stuff coming up that I will post. But since we're heading towards the end I won't be able to post frequently. Not that I've been all that good about it lately. Honestly it's getting to be kind of a drag. I love to hear from you guys. But writing is tiring. I'm definitely bidding goodbye to the blogging when seminary is over (unless someone wants to pay me for it!).

Anyway, I will post my curriculum for you - it's going to be about worship (I know, big surprise). The three sessions will be worship in church (the worship service), life rituals and rites of passage, and how to worship in the world (job, family). I'll probably do the middle one live (I have to test a session), since I have the most ideas for it. We'll see.

And I'll preach again on June 7. I'm really looking forward to the process this time. And of course I'll post sermon #2 for your amusement...I mean edification and transformation.

And then there's the ancient-future paper, for which I have yet to be commissioned with a topic. So I just wait. Whatever I write on will be fun. That class has just been such a kick - it's a great way to end my week every week. I SO prefer the doctoral seminars to my other classes. But really, since I'm not doing much academic this quarter, it's felt like a little respite. And I seriously needed that after last quarter.

I signed up for summer classes - only 2. I'll do a 5-week systematic theology: ecclesiology and eschatology with an Eastern Orthodox prof. Looking forward to her perspective! Then I'll do a two week on "Evangelizing Nominal Christians" with Eddie Gibbs (he of the "Emerging Churches" book). Since I have to do an evangelism class I figured that would be the least pukey. At least it will focus more on discipling and formation than conversion.

But more importantly, in 3 weeks and change I get to see my niece again and meet my nephew! I'm really figuring out what's important and it is spending time with those guys. I love them so much.

Then over 4th of July, J and I will take a much-needed couple-trip, to Vegas. We're psyched. Then it's finish class #1, J's parents visit, take class #2, and I have from mid-August until end of September off. Nice. I will be busy - I've got dozens of books to read, a movie to edit, and I've taken that job at USC. And it would be lovely to get away on retreat for a couple days.

Yeah, time never stops marching on, does it?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Prophetic preaching, Life rituals

We got to watch a DVD of Peter Storey in my preaching class (he was Methodist Archbishop of South Africa and chaplain to Nelson Mandela in prison). Even via dvd it was amazing. Here are some of the great moments:

Preach to the people who are not in your church, and they will come.

I have no time for a gospel that has no potential to change the world. If God can't change the world I'm not sure why I'd spend time with God.

Preaching is Evangelical and Prophetic - evangelical in that it contends with the loyalties and wills of people, struggling to help them discover the implications of the gospel for their lives. If we do that, our preaching will inevitably become prophetic.

Falsehood: some called to prophetic and others pastoral. No, we have one ministry! "Simon of Cyrene wasn't 'called' to carry Jesus' cross, he just found it on his back."

The Kingdom is here and now. There is a dimension of the Kingdom in the sweet by-and-by, but it really doesn't interest me until then.
Did the Word become flesh just to get people to the sweet by and by? That's an absurdity. The Word became flesh to reclaim a rebel world for the God it deserted.
If this is true, there is no part of the world off-limits to preachers.

Prophetic ministry is driven by the love of of Christ. You're not much good to God unless you're willing to love God's people enough to die for them. Anger is not absence of love, it is the recoil of indignant love. The kind of anger and sorrow that Jesus showed when he healed the man with the withered hand who was being used as a pawn by the Pharisees to trap Jesus.

Where injustice is common, anger is appropriate. I'm not impressed with a Christian who can look upon injustice and not feel angry.

Prophetic ministry is evangelization. Seriously. It takes this task beyond the individual - they are not the only focus - to the systems that hurt and dehumanize and marginalize and destroy people. It recognizes that we often let our institutions do our sinning for us.

The honest thing to do is to let people know the cost of discipleship before they come forward to accept the gospel.

Principalities and powers are not spooky forces! They are found in corporations, in armies, in governments. They are the way in which evil expresses itself in institutions.
You can afford to be nice to people if the government keeps them in their place. The institutions are doing our sinning for us. Unless we recognize that, our ministries will miss half of what the devil is doing in this world. And we will focus on the individual sins of people and helping them find salvation and power...which is part of the job, but not all of it.

People ask, why do you preach on politics? "I'm preaching the gospel. The politicians keep interfering with the gospel."

What is the point of being an ambulance for alcoholics if you never question the industry that is working to make them drink more all the time?

90% of the Bible is gone if you cut out references to the poor - and that is the Bible used in the majority of our churches.

Some of the religious groupings in this country are actually serving the powerful. If they make political statements that align with the powerful they are chaplains to power, not prophets. If there's one definition of a prophet that cannot be challenged, it is that a prophet never serves the powerful.

Definition of a Prophet:
Advocacy on behalf of God's little people.
Courage to speak truth to power.
The prophet always looks to see who are God's little ones NOW. That group can change - when new people take power, the prophet switches sides. The prophet is always on the side of the weak, poor, marginalized.
Whose image is on the coin? Whose image is on a human being?
God's. Do not let Caesar mess with people whose image is of the living God.
The prophet always stands with the people made in God's image who are being treated as if they belonged to Caesar.

I cannot understand the theology that permits the American flag into the sanctuary. Our flag was so stained with injustice that we could not imagine it coming into our sanctuary. We got a great new flag, but it's also not allowed.
You show me a flag that is unstained and pure, that belongs in the sanctuary. How can you preach when the symbol of the Caesar, of the ultimate authority against the living God, is a few feet away from you?

It doesn't matter who is in that position of power. You are not for the power.

Later, in the class I am TAing, we were talking about life rituals - rites of passage. An amazing anthology of liturgies is found in Healing Liturgies for the Seasons of Life by somebody Evans (pub Westminster/Knox) and some psychological/theological insight in Mighty Stories/Dangerous Rituals by Anderson & Foley.

The latter have this idea about Myth vs. Parable. Myth is the way things ought to be. Parable is what ought not happen. We have lots of rituals that reinforce myth - think of any wedding (happily ever after) or even a funeral (eulogizing a long, well-lived life).

We are less well-prepared to deal with parable. We are better at weddings than divorces. We don't know how to eulogize when a life has barely begun.

But good news: the Scriptures provide language for us. Just look at the Psalms - over half say something is wrong with the world. [definitions Confession: something wrong is my fault; Lament: something wrong is not my fault.]

The Scriptures are unapologetic in their language for lament - "God you promised and look what I got!" We have praise bands but not lament bands, because we're better at myth than parable. But the faith we give people has to get them through both - both the way things ought to be and when things don't go right. How are we doing that?

Here are some more thoughts about rituals:
For college students: we need rituals of welcoming and homegoing. How do we value education along with vocational work (in Christ there is no Phd or plumber)?

Why not celebrate a life while the person is still alive? Why wait until they are dead - or without memory? Do a life remembrance while the person can be there to be celebrated - and be there fully in mind as well as body!

Praying over pregnant couples allows them to grieve or celebrate publicly no matter what happens with the baby. If we don't recognize the pregnancy in the church community, they could miscarry and nobody will know. That is not loving them the best we could. Yet it is difficult to have a funeral for a 5, 6, 7 month old fetus if there's not been acknowledgment of the life. This stuff has to be intentional - it won't happen by accident.

If you baptize infants, anniversaries of baptisms should be announced because we ask people to commit to the children and we should hold them to it. People of faith should not take vows we do not intend to keep. This means when we say we're going to "do all in our power" to raise this child in the knowledge and love of Christ, we better damn well be ready to take that kid to church if the parents can't or won't!

And then, I had a funny exchange:
Me: God wasn't good at being God until he became one of us.
My friend: Seriously, not until Jesus.
Me: Yeah, he became one of us and then he was like, "Oh, this is why they're so stupid!"

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Great big praises to God

Wow...lots of good stuff happened today.

J just emailed and he got another job for the fall. Now we are in decent circumstances. One more job would be even better, but we are at least now able to pay rent with the two he has lined up.

I officially set up the details for working for USC to put together their national conference for college/university interfaith councils next winter. This is going to be a lot of fun. We're already coming up with so many interesting topics (music across traditions, how to get involved in world issues, spirituality and art, incorporating spiritual seekers and out of the box faith, etc etc). I think I'm going to be glad I did this.

Plus my bosses (mentors, really) are asking me wonderful questions like, "How can we make sure this job adds to your education and development?" I mean, who doesn't want to hear that! We had a wonderful chat today about what I've learned at my internship. They are strongly encouraging me to get a PhD and giving me all kinds of ideas about things I might do in the areas of ritual across faiths and cultures (world tour, anyone?). I think I might need to pick up some ethnography and anthropology classes. Oh, God, I'm going to be in school forever, aren't I?

Anyway, I have to tell you the BIGGEST NEWS, which is just absolutely so wonderful - our friend Nick went for his surgery and the tumor was gone!!! That's it! No more tumor, no more cancer. Just went away.

Is that a God thing or what? I guess prayer's got something going for it after all.

Altogether now: Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Are mainline churches dead?

Or have they just changed their stripes?

First, read this short interview in US News & World Reports:

(want more? - The most interesting part is the section entitled "Questionable Statistics")

High Anxiety

Sorry I've not been around. It's been high drama over here. Firstly we did a great birthday party. Lots of fun. Thanks to you who came. Especially you who brought presents. My kitchen feels truly pimped.

Then my cousin unexpectedly came into town and stayed with us last night. She's awesome. She works for a state assemblywoman and damn if she isn't actually getting good things done in the world. It's inspiring.

In the midst of all this J was chatting with a friend who'd recommended him to an acquaintance for a job. The class list came and all three sessions conflicted with plans: one with a class he's already teaching (so that's out), one with his parents' planned visit here, and the third with our planned visit to my family in the Midwest and our planned trip away just the two of us.

We managed to decide it was okay for him to work while his folks were here. But then he wanted to be all "fair" and said if he had to do that, then he should work during my family's time too. But the problem with that is that it means he doesn't go on the trip to their house (unlike with his parents coming here, in which case he still gets to see them). He bailed out of my last trip back there, and I swore I'd never go without him again.

But it was decent money, and schools aren't biting as much for this coming fall. He's nervous. We both are. The life of the adjunct is terribly stressful. No job security (and forget about stuff like health insurance). Since I don't have a job, it's kind of important for him to teach. A lot. Not the 12 classes he did last fall, but at least 3 is pretty much minimum to keep paying rent.

Anyway, we decided he should take the job. Then I was super depressed and we decided it wasn't worth the misery so he went back and turned down the job (just the one, he's still doing the middle one). But now he's super stressed because of the fall's bad prospects. And all I can think is how I can't believe how much our rent is, and should we move, and should I go back to work, and why couldn't I have gotten more scholarship money because I can't even afford to take a full class load this summer, and why is my damn required health insurance so freaking expensive??

This is the stress. It was kind of a lose-lose situation. Lose family, lose money. Lose opportunity to work (miraculous) or lose opportunity to meet niece and nephew (equally if not moreso). Yes, it's no fun. And it's all easy to be noble and say we made the right choice to go for family over money. But if in 6 months we're in debt because of it, I won't be thrilled. Of course, the couple grand he would have made wouldn't float us more than one extra month anyway. Don't ya just love that California cost of living?

Well if you hear of a cheap place to live or don't mind us moving into your garage, let me know.

Pray that he'll get a job. His little manly ego needs it, and I want him to feel good about providing for us. We're waiting on Biola to get their act together and tell him whether they can hire him. He has two classes lined up for them, but apparently they're having space issues so they're cutting back on how much they are offering. Ugh.

Okay, I've done way more personal revelation than anybody needed, so I'm going now.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Couple things

I thought this article in the New Yorker was really interesting - great for learning some history about my church as well as understanding the current issues.

Please pray for Nick. He is in my husband's doctoral program - one of 3 or 4 students that were admitted with him four years ago. Needless to say, they all get pretty close. Nick is about our age and has been diagnosed with cancer on his throat. He's pretty much lost his ability to talk (not great for a professor). They had planned surgery with possibly chemotherapy. Then his eye started twitching, and the doctors think the cancer may also be in his brain. That complicates things enormously.

In addition to all this, Nick's a single guy far from his parents who has only the free health insurance offered by the university to its PhD students. Because he & J's funding runs out this June, they both lose the insurance. Not too huge for us, but pretty bad for Nick. The first surgery for his throat was probably going to hit the cap of $200,000 that the insurance would cover anyway.

And all of this as the guy is in the exact same situation as my husband: just finishing four years of working on a PhD, looking for a job, finally ready to start teaching and really get out there with what he's so passionate about. It's incredibly sad. I can't imagine what he is going through.

Please pray for him. Do you think we should do some kind of fundraiser for him?

God, what if he doesn't make it?

It's scary.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What you've been waiting for...

Here's my first sermon. Seemed to go over real well. That may have been because I was wearing a crown that says, "Birthday Queen."

Well, women are supposed to cover their heads in church.

Sorry I can't perform it for you. I'll give you the version with my "stage notes." Enjoy.

Becoming our Parent

Would you please stand for the reading of God’s word?

A reading from the first letter of John.
And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
The Word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God)

Let us pray.
God be in my head
And in my understanding
God be in my eyes
And in my looking
God be in my mouth
And in my speaking
You may be seated.

Remember last week, before class, when we all started showing each other pictures of the children in our lives? (gesture to:) We saw Tommy’s gorgeous daughters and learned Amy is a new aunt. I didn’t get to show you my own beautiful niece, so I’ll just take the opportunity to do that now. (show Vallarie photo) This is Vallarie Lynn Fendley, born June 30 last year. Isn’t she the cutest?

Obviously we all take a lot of pride in our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews. Standing over the crib, we coo and coddle and find all kinds of resemblances in the baby’s face: (look down at baby) “She has her dad’s nose,” “He has Grandpa’s chin,” and so on. But, it’s all a bit silly, isn’t it?, because most babies look the same. It’s not until we grow up that we really begin to take on recognizable physical characteristics of our relatives (in my family we have the infamous Smith thighs!) (slap thigh). And it’s not until even later that we unconsciously reveal the family quirks and phobias, flaws and foibles.

(staredown, slowly) Have you ever had that chilling realization that you just did or said exactly what your mother or father would have? (shudder) It makes the blood run cold! For better or worse, we can’t help but become our parents.

Yet that is precisely is the good news I have to share with you today.

According to John, we are born of God – we are children of God! (slower, amazed) God is our Father. (speedier) It’s such an incredible concept that John repeats it: kai esmen! he says. That is what we are!

What does this mean? To be born of the Alpha and Omega, the Arche and Telos; to be a child of the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen? Perhaps we can begin with what it might have meant to the original readers of John’s letter.

In the first century, children were not liberated – they weren’t popping in the Disney DVD and learning to believe in themselves. Who they were – and all they would ever become – was already determined by mom and dad and grandparents and way on back before anyone should have remembered. That’s why we have to slug through the genealogies in the Gospels. Who you came from mattered. It gave you opportunities, status, employment – or lack thereof.

I thought of this the other night as I was watching a teaser for the evening news. Over grainy images of pregnant women with blurred-out faces, the announcer intoned, “Are foreign women sneaking into the US to give birth? Could they be exploiting a loophole in the Constitution? How far will they go to have their baby Born in the USA?” I didn’t need to see the “story at 11” to get the drift. Women sneak into our country to have their children so the child will be an American citizen. The family cannot provide everything the child needs to prosper. But, by giving her the identity of being American, a world of new possibilities will open up. It’s not a choice the baby makes, it’s nothing the baby does, that gives her this identity – she is simply born into it, and that makes all the difference.

John is telling his readers – and us – that we have been born into an identity beyond our wildest dreams – as children of God! Indeed, how great is the love that the Father has lavished upon us.

But with this identity comes great expectations.

In the ancient world, the way you behaved directly reflected back on your parents – for if your very identity came from them, then surely your actions would reflect their values and beliefs. Fourth Maccabees calls the parent/child relationship a “wondrous likeness both of mind and of form”; classics scholar Moses Hadas tells us a child was “like an image painted with the same colors” as his parents.

This presumed family resemblance meant that an honorable child brought honor to her parents – and implying someone had a poor parentage was a sneaky way to insult him. So when John the Baptist really wanted to stick it to the Pharisees, he called them a “brood of vipers” – children of snakes. When the Jews tried to persuade Jesus of their righteousness by appealing to “Abraham our Father,” Jesus shot back with: “your father is the devil.” These are not just creative phrases – they were serious insults. Behavior stemmed from character, and character came from your family.

So when John says that the world doesn’t recognize us because it didn’t recognize God, he is drawing upon this common understanding. The readers knew that if God was Father, that meant they carried the family resemblance out into the world with them. It was a challenge, but it was also a reassurance. John is telling us that the way we behave is not a condition of our being children of God, but rather the consequence of it. Those are the words of scholar Brooke Westcott; let me put it another way: We are not children of God because we act like it – we act like children of God because that is who we are. We are not children of God because we act like it – we act like children of God because that is who we are.


I’ll tell you a secret: I’ve never really been much of a kid person, especially not a baby person. So when I was going to meet my 3-month-old niece last summer, I was a little afraid that I might not like her. But when my sister put her baby into my arms, I just loved her. It was like she was mine. I bonded with her immediately – unlike with any other child I’ve ever held!

My husband tells me it’s genetic, that evolution dictates a connection between us and our blood kin so that we will take care of them (he thinks this will excuse him from falling under her spell, but I seriously doubt it). But it’s true, isn’t it? Every parent believes his or her baby is the most beautiful in the world. We love our babies because when we look at them, we see ourselves.

John tells us, “When [God] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” When we see God, we will realize that we have become like him. And when God looks back at us, God will see himself. (pause) We will finally fully understand who we really are. We will recognize the family resemblance.


As seminary students we tend to work very hard at trying to figure out what God wants from us. How do we become like God? (pause)

What if God has already put the answer inside of us? John says God put his sperma in the believers – and there it remains. At our baptism, we receive God into ourselves. When we worship, fellowship, and commune with one another, we water that seed. As it grows, it produces the character of God in us, which naturally leads us to do God’s will. And that’s not a condition of being God’s child – it’s the consequence of it.

And one day, won’t we be tremendously happy to realize we have become our parent.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Hippo Birdie

Almost birthday time.


That means almost preaching time.

Get it over with.

I think I finished too early. The damn thing's gone a bit stale on me. I'm a little tired of it. At least of practicing it. Lesson learned: no more working so far ahead of time, and definitely no more practicing so much. I'll just take after dear old Dad and be a Saturday night sermon writer.

Seriously, it will probably go great, but pray for me anyway.

Meantime, since I haven't been here much lately, I give you a new link (over there to the left) to the Wheaton GLBT yahoo group. Please, only for the friendly.

Also, I will post for you the homily I wrote for last week's chapel, which was not so much preaching as one of those little scripture doodles I like to write. Enjoy.

From Brokenness to Unity
Fuller Chapel – April 26, 2006

Reader 1 & 2: female
Reader 3: male

2: Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

3: Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;

2: let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts;

3: let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

1: For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant. I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land.
I will sprinkle clean water upon you…

2: (bursting in) Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters! and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price!

3: (inviting the audience) Incline your ear, and come; listen, so that you may live.

1: The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.
He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.
He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know."
Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD."

3: (softly) A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you;

1: So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them…

3: (softly) I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

1: (slowly) …but there was no breath in them.

2: (softly) Veni Sancte Spiritus.

1: Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath:

2: (louder) Veni Sancte Spiritus.

1: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.

2 & 3: (louder) Veni Sancte Spiritus.

1: I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

2: I will put my spirit within you.

3: I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.

1: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act.

3: I am the resurrection and the life, and everyone who believes in me will never die.

2: For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

ALL: You shall be my people, and I will be your God.

3: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

2: In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials,
so that the genuineness of your faith-- being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire-- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

1: Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,

3: for you are receiving the outcome of your faith,

2: the salvation of your souls.