Friday, March 28, 2008

A Decision...Almost

So this is where things stand. First of all, I still have the horrible cough. Since it's been so long, I'm assuming that my initial cold morphed into bronchitis. There's not much I can do at this point but wait it out. But every night as I lay here coughing more than sleeping, I just think how grateful I'm going to be when I can breathe again and my throat doesn't ache. Honestly, if you feel good today, stop and thank God for that. Because it is a serious blessing.

I'm going to try another day in bed to see if that will speed up the healing. I'm getting a bit nervous about taking so much medication (I've been doing a small dose of Robutussin every four hours for 5 days straight), but without it I'm completely disastrous (I ran out in the middle of the night and it was no more sleep for me). At least baby's still kicking around in there plenty, so I'm pretty sure she's OK. I hate to overmedicate with her in there; and I'm eating beyond what I feel like to make sure she gets her nutrients. I just keep telling myself that my throat meds are staying up in my throat and not getting to her; it's probably not true, but it makes me feel like a less bad mommy.

Oh, and my sister in law is being induced today, so that's super exciting. Pretty soon the world will have another beautiful woman in it, to add to the ones my oldest friend and cousin already provided this month. What a month! Can't wait to meet Naomi.

Anyway, my provocative title probably has you wondering if I've chosen a school. And the short answer is yes, I have, but the longer answer is that doesn't mean my decision is completely set. I have decided that I definitely most want to go to GTU: it's the best fit for me academically, spiritually, socially...and it just reflects me, who I am. Living in Berkeley would be a dream: the foodie epicenter is an obvious location for my studies. And the more I dug into myself the more I realized that, at heart, I am more a theologian than anything (note the last four years of blogging mostly on theology - this is my "fun" activity). I've felt called to working in the church (to change it, usually, but still within it) since I was quite young, and I did go to seminary because I wanted to study liturgy. GTU would put me in a fine position for impacting the church and being part of its liturgical development. And really, that's all pretty much my dreams coming true. So it's perfect, right?

Well, almost. The thing is, it's just so damn expensive. Not going there, because they nicely took care of that (and that was my prayer when I was there - I asked God for them to give me the most they could, and they did). But beyond the tuition, there are books to buy and health insurance and fees that are part of school expenses and are not covered (my stipend will cover probably one of those items, not all of them). And the insurance is going to be toughest - we'll probably have to have just me & baby covered and J have none, which I hate, because he needs his meds! It is always so stressful for one of us to be without insurance. And that's what I'm talking about: because beyond these expenses, there's the overall cost of living there, the rising cost of groceries and gas and rent on a place that simply has GOT to be bigger than 400 sq ft. I can't deal with living in a place this size anymore. I hate the thought of going back to being without insurance, being insecure about paying bills every month, being, well, poor.

Yesterday we went grocery shopping and it was $100 and we only got like half a week's worth of stuff (plus coffee, meat, and cat food - which were about half the cost) - and I left the store thinking we can never spend like this on food if we move to Berkeley. But then, that means we're going to go back to eating crappy processed food instead of organic ethical food, and that undermines my whole dissertation project! So I basically left the store in a panic because I realized that if I want to keep eating well - and I'll be feeding another mouth soon - then I might have no choice but to move to Canada where we can afford more. We can afford more house, more food, more insurance, more everything. It's just way cheaper there.

So I honestly am starting to think that although I know where I want to go to school most of all, I might be forced not to go there simply because of money. And I know that God provides and all that - it's been evidenced in my life for years. But people, I'm not materialistic, really, and I'm not greedy, but I'm so so so tired of living like this. I mean, this last year it hasn't been bad - it's been wonderful - J's got his great job and we have been able to afford to live like...well...normal people. Not quite well-off, but certainly middle class (well middle class with 400 sq ft living space). We can afford to eat out, to buy fancy groceries, to get a nice stroller, to take a little vacation last Christmas. We don't have to count every penny and every month the bills are paid without problem, and we're socking away tons for the savings to live on in the fall. It's been really, really good.

And I'm not saying I need to live like this, I realize that this has been a huge luxury all year. To be making this kind of money (mind you, it's like $40k for the year - but we're excellent at stretching it) has been such a blessing. And we're probably not going to live like this for a long time again. But that's the life we've chosen. I think about all our younger siblings and their houses and steady jobs and I get depressed now & then, but then J reminds me that they live in the Midwest and we live in exciting cities on the coast, and we have jobs that don't just pay the bills but actually fulfill us, fit who we are, make us better people (not that our sibs aren't fulfilled, they have their reasons for their choices too) - and I like to think, make the world better for our having been in it.

Anyway, the point is that I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself to take the safer but less desirable path. I have to think about not just us, but our baby too. And I keep thinking about that sermon illustration in which God sends the boats and helicopters to the drowning man, and he waves them off because he's waiting for God to save him. What if this offer from Canada is God's provision for us?

I don't know. J says he's OK to go back to being really poor. But he is SO annoying when we're poor - I've lived with that, and I hate how he questions every purchase (it's good that he does, but it drives me nuts). And it might mean more debt, and that is so depressing. I don't want to live on credit cards. And would it really be that fun to live in Berkeley if we couldn't afford to shop the farmer's market or go to Chez Panisse? I know that in LA we've found lots of ways of living thriftily but still having lots of fun. Maybe that's available there too. We'd just have to start enjoying hiking instead of movies, I suppose. Which makes more sense with a kid anyway.

This is where I'm at. I want to go to GTU. I can afford to go to WLU. A devil of a choice.

And, worst of all, I have to decide before I know the two other biggest financial factors: whether I got the ECF fellowship (announced May 15) and whether J's summer classes fill up (which we'll know end of April). Either one of those makes a huge difference; both together make GTU completely fine. But I have to step out in faith...that's really what this is about. I completely have to make this decision - not blind, exactly, but certainly without my full prescription. I can't see all the elements. I can't know how it will all work out. Gee, it's a lot like life, isn't it? An interesting life, anyway. A life less ordinary.

The best decisions I've made, the things I am most glad I did, have been decisions that were made without knowing how the heck I'd get by...touring with the Continentals, moving to LA, quitting my good job to return to school. In all of these, I jumped without seeing bottom - without even knowing if there was a net. And they've all paid off, haven't they? When I did safe things - like when I worked at a bank for a year because we were first married, and J didn't have a job, and I was scared, and friends were paying our rent for us - I was never happy playing it safe. I got by. But that's not living. That's getting by. Maybe I'm just masochistically addicted to risk. Or maybe risk is the only way to really live.

Should I go with what my heart and gut and mind and spirit are telling me, finances be damned? Should I reject the real, generous offer that comes from an excellent program where I'd learn tons, and feel safe, but maybe not quite be fully myself? It's funny. I never realized how much this process would force me to really figure out who I am. Want to find yourself? Start looking to get a PhD. It's incredible how much soul-searching it requires. I think I've discerned myself more in this process than I did before I got married or even got pregnant! It's about the same amount of "know thyself" that's gone into my ordination discernment process (but we won't bring that up - hey, there's an example of me out on a limb and the limb breaking - I knew there had to be at least one instance of the leap of faith not working out).

Even as I write this, I know what the right decision is. I know it. I just have to find the courage and strength to choose it. I'm so lucky to have a husband who's on board with this - who's willing to take over baby care and put his own career on hold for me, and who's willing to go without health insurance and whatever "toys" most men think they need. I'm really blessed with him. And though there aren't many ways for me to find more money at this point (barring a random scholarship dropping into my lap), my family is being so generous with the baby gifts - most of our big stuff is taken care of - and our friends and church are really supportive. The emotional support is just as necessary. And we have everybody we know on the hunt for a place for us to live - even the sweet CDSP people have alerted the local parishes about our situation! That's so incredibly generous of them. So here's praying that a back house or a basement or an above-garage space opens up, and our little family can have a cozy little space to call our own, that's close enough for me to get home to my baby post-haste when my boobs are full of milk!! :)

I'll let you know when I make the final move. 'Til then, thanks for praying for me, listening to me, being there. I know I get about 700 hits a week on here. I like to imagine you all surrounding me with positive energy and warm wishes. I'm trying to draw your good thoughts and love in like a magnet, to shore up my courage and put my mind at ease. You get me through life, you really do.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Life Post-Feminary

So I guess this is my first official post-feminary (seminary) post. Yes, last week I finished my MDiv. Can you believe it? Some of you have been with me for four years, since the beginning. But it all really flew by.

Unfortunately, I don't have anything particularly fascinating to say or report today. So far, being done with school hasn't been all that great, because I've spent pretty much every possible second in bed nursing the worst cold of my life. It is especially bad since I can't take most meds, being pregnant, and I feel guilty for the ones I do take. But after two sleepless nights - literally - I gave up and called the dr, finding out I could take Robutussin, which hasn't exactly saved me but it makes me feel like something's being done at least. I got about 5 hours of sleep last night instead of 2. Yay.

So it's sad, to have free time (finally) and not be able to enjoy it. I can't even think very straight, so I can't do much of anything but sit here and cough, think about where I should go to school, and send emails with vague questions that may or may not help in that decision. Thank God the internet is up again - I had no internet for the first few days. Can you imagine? Bed rest without internet?? What kind of cruel and unusual punishment is that?!

But anyway I did meet on Saturday with a guy who'd taught at Laurier, and he was sort of helpful but mostly just confused me more. One thing I have figured out: if I were to choose GTU right now, today, I would feel at peace. If I choose WLU, I will be nervous, probably until I get there (but after that I'm sure it would be fine). So is that some kind of sign? Or does it just mean that I actually got my butt up to Berkeley and therefore I'm more comfortable with it? But the GTU people have been so nice - the profs email me constantly and answer all my dumb little questions. I have a helluva time getting any info out of anybody at WLU. At the same time, the way that my mentor-to-be at WLU is described sounds a lot like my mentor at Fuller, who is probably the world's most perfect mentor. So that makes me want to go study with him. But enough to endure Canada's winter? I just don't know. Then again, buying a house is pretty darn attractive, way more than the grueling process that looking for housing in the Bay Area has already been (and it's months away still!). No, in the end, it still all comes down to whether I'm going to be a theologian teaching in a seminary/consulting for the church or a professor teaching in a university/playing the academy game. Either way I get to work with students, at least. I still don't know which person I am (plenty of other people think they know, though).

One of these days I'm going to write a post about what I've learned doing this whole PhD application process. But I'll probably wait 'til I've made my decision, since that's going to color what I learned, obviously.

Oh, I'm also doing the funness of preparing a baby registry. Being the ridiculous planner that I am, I very carefully read through lists in about 6 different books to gauge what we really needed. And then, when I'm better, I'll probably go to the store and throw out the list in favor of the cute stuff I find. Ah well, that's a first-time-parent's right, isn't it?

The worst of it is that J is also sick. So he can't even wait on me. What nonsense. We're pathetic over here. Yeesh, my head is spinning again. I'd better lie down. Got 3 more hours until my next dose of Robutussin.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Last Words

These will accompany an art exhibit of 7 piece inspired by the Seven Last Words of Christ. If you would like to see the exhibit, it will be on display today only at All Saints' Beverly Hills, at 6:00 p.m.

Meditations composed by John McAteer

Introduction: Famous Last Words

The seven sayings of Christ as he hung on the cross are among the most famous of all “famous last words.” Perhaps only Julius Caesar’s astonished question, “Et tu, Brute?” even approaches their familiarity. But a more appropriate set of last words for comparison to Christ’s comes from 17th Century British essayist Joseph Addison: “See how a Christian dies.” Better still, consider the last words of 19th Century American abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher: “Now comes the mystery.”

A mystery is not simply something we don’t understand. A mystery – from the Greek mysteria for “initiation” – is a secret. A mystery is something hidden, something whose true meaning lies beneath the surface. Mysticism is the search for those hidden meanings.

For example, consider Pilate’s words to the crowd calling for Jesus’s crucifixion: Ecce homo, literally “Behold the man.” On the surface Pilate is simply saying “Look at the man you want to crucify.” But on a deeper level Pilate is, like the Jewish high priest Caiaphas who said “it is better for one man to die than the whole nation,” unknowingly proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah. Pilate is fulfilling the word of the prophet Zechariah, who used the phrase “behold the man” of the coming savior.

On a still deeper level Pilate is saying “behold the man” or “behold humanity” – look at what it means to be human. Look at the new Adam – the son of Adam, or as Jesus called himself, the Son of Man – come to redeem the errors of the old Adam, the old humanity. Ecce homo: “Behold the true human being.”

But not only is Jesus the new Adam, the Apostle Paul also calls him the last Adam. Jesus is the end-point of history, the goal toward which all of creation is flowing, the completion of the human project. And the mystery that Pilate is revealing to us is that it is here on the cross that we behold true humanity. It is in Christ’s suffering that we see humanity in all its glory and potential. These are the last words of humanity: See how a true human dies….

Yet the mystery goes deeper. These are also the last words of God. Here we have seven logoi of Jesus – Greek for “words,” “reasons,” “statements” – to complete the ten haddebarim of Moses – Hebrew for “commandments,” “statements,” “words.” The Ten Commandments are not rules so much as descriptions of reality. God is saying this is how the universe works, so act this way if you want to live a happy and fulfilled life. But we didn’t get it. And so God had to take these commands, these words, and incarnate them – make them into a life of flesh and blood – as Jesus, the “Word made flesh.”

The mystery of Jesus – his hidden meaning – is that in his life, death, and resurrection God is revealing the true structure of the universe. This is not just what it means to be human; this is what it means to exist. Being is being-for-another. Here on the cross we meet reality itself. Here we meet God. Now comes the mystery….

Let us pray: Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mysterious words, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(John 19:5  John 11:50  Zechariah 6:12  Romans 5:12-21  1 Corinthians 15:45  John 1:14)

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.

Jesus has a special relationship with God. Even as a child, Jesus knew God was his true Father. Luke’s Gospel tells us that when he was twelve years old Mary and Joseph took Jesus on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On the way home, they realized that Jesus wasn’t with them. After searching three days, they found him discussing Torah with the rabbis in the Temple. When Mary scolded him for wandering off, Jesus replied, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?”

Here on the cross we finally see clearly what his Father’s business was. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Having offered himself in obedience to God’s will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world, Jesus now functions as our “high priest” praying on our behalf and asking his Father to forgive our sins. And, because of God’s work through Jesus, we have been adopted as sons and daughters of God. Like Jesus, we, too, can refer to God as Abba or Father. God’s business is to forgive us and reconcile with us through Christ.

It is in this act of reconciliation that we finally understand who God truly is. At the end of the story about the twelve-year-old Jesus, Luke comments that his parents “did not understand what he said to them.” And we are just like Mary and Joseph: we have trouble understanding Jesus’s words. Worse, we can be like those who crucified Jesus, those who did “not know what they are doing.”

We don’t know what we are doing unless we do it in service to Christ, the true logos – the true reality-structure – of the universe. In order to “know what we are doing”, we must have a vision of the world in-light-of-the-end, what theologians call eschatological vision. Not until we know the end of the story can we understand the true meaning of the beginning and the middle. Until we see the whole map of history, we can’t know where we are and where we are going.

This is why Jesus is able to forgive his enemies. He knows that by dying he will destroy death and take his place as the rightful ruler of the universe, that one day he will be “all in all.” Knowing this, even here on the cross, Jesus relates to us in light of his vision of this final truth. And by learning to see the world in light of Christ’s victory on the cross, we, too, can gain eschatological vision. We can come to know “what we are doing,” where we are and where we are going.

As a kingdom of priests, brothers and sisters to the great High Priest, we may all be about God’s business. We may all pronounce God’s forgiveness on our enemies and live in the light of the end-to-come. Just before he was stoned to death, St. Stephen, the Church’s first martyr, “gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” And after having this mystical revelation of the way things are and will be from God’s perspective, Stephen was able to pray like Christ: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Let us pray: Almighty God, Father of mercy, grant us a vision of the glorious victory of your Son hidden in the darkness of the Cross and deliver us from fear, hatred, cruelty, and revenge that we may have the strength and courage to forgive our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Luke 23:34  John 5:17-18  Luke 2:41-51  Hebrews 7:23-28  Galatians 4:4-7  Romans 8:14-17  1 Corinthians 15:26-28  Ephesians 1:20-23 1 Peter 1:9  Acts 7:54-60)

Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.

Ancient Christian tradition says that Golgotha – the hill outside Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified – was also the burial place of Adam, and that from his grave, our first ancestor heard Jesus proclaim the re-opening of Eden.

God had created Adam and Eve to live in the Garden of Eden – Hebrew for “delight” or, as the rabbis called it in the Talmud, Pardes or “paradise.” The work of the first humans was to tend the garden in accordance with God’s word – God’s torah or “instructions” – trusting that God knew what was good and bad. But they rebelled, wanting to decide good and bad for themselves. Yet without orientation toward God – the ultimate Reality – they did not know how to live a happy and flourishing life. Ignoring God’s instructions, humanity was now trapped in a downward spiral of self-destruction. So in an act of mercy, that they might not live forever in this misery, God sealed up the “Tree of Life” from them, sending them out of Paradise and allowing them to die.

But God had a plan to rescue us from death. First through the Law, then through the Prophets, God called us to return. Finally, God decided to write his instructions directly on the hearts of human flesh. And so the torah of God became flesh and lived among us, perfectly living out the life of trust in God that Adam had failed to live. By perfect obedience – obedience to the point of death, even death on a cross – Jesus overcomes for us the legacy of Adam’s disobedience and death that we may instead inherit eternal life. Freely allowing his clothing to be taken from him and publicly ascending the cross, Jesus, in his nakedness, reverses the shame that Adam tried to hide with fig leaves.

The cross, then, is the mystical reiteration of the Tree of Life in the center of Paradise to which Adam and Eve were forbidden access after their disobedience. As Christ hangs here on the tree his body becomes the fruit of which we may eat and live forever. At the same time, the cross is the mystical undoing of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad. Just as God told Adam about the tree that in the day you eat of it you shall surely die, so God’s Son tells us on the new tree that today you shall live.

As God walked in the garden in the cool of the evening, and as the Temple was the old location of God’s dwelling on earth, so now the living Church – with Christ as the chief cornerstone – is the spiritual house of the Lord. The Church – the place where Christ’s body is constantly offered as food for the life of the world – is the new Eden, the new place of God’s dwelling with human beings. Because of what Jesus is doing on the cross, we will be with him today in the paradise of God’s presence.

Let us pray: O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(Luke 23:43  Genesis 3:22-24  Jeremiah 31:31-33  John 1:14  Philippians 2:8  Romans 5:19  Genesis 3:7  Genesis 3:22-24; 2 Esdras 8:51-52  Genesis 2:17  Genesis 3:8  Ephesians 2:19-22  1 Peter 2:4-6  John 6:48-51)

Woman, here is your son.

Jesus hasn’t had a great track record with his mother. Once, when Mary came to visit him during his travels around Galilee, he refused to see her: “Who is my mother?” he asked. Another time, at a wedding in Cana, his mother informed him that the hosts had run out of wine. But Jesus replied, “Woman, what have I do with you?”

But both of these earlier scenes are mystically completed here on the cross. In Galilee, Jesus had refused to single out Mary as his mother. He had said that “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Once he went as far as to say we must “hate” our own parents – though he only meant that we must love God infinitely more than we love them.

We must be willing to leave our own homes and let the dead bury their own dead while we live an entirely new life. We must be born again into a new, spiritual family. And if we leave our earthly families to follow Christ, we will receive everything back a hundredfold through God’s heavenly family. In short, the Church is a new family, the “household of God.” And thus here on the cross Jesus entrusts his mother to the care of his mystical family, the Church.

At the wedding in Cana, Mary had come too soon: Jesus told her, “My hour has not yet come”. But now Jesus’s hour has come and he is at last being lifted up on the cross in order to draw all people to himself. It is by partaking of this body, broken for us, that we who are many thereby mystically become the one living body of Christ on earth. In the Church, Christ’s body, Mary’s son lives on: woman here is your son.

Let us pray: Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom every family in heaven and earth is named, all praise and thanks to you for adopting us as your own children, for incorporating us into your holy Church, the family for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; and for making us worthy to share in the inheritance of the saints in light; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(John 19:26  Matthew 12:46-48  John 2:1-4 KJV  Matthew 12:49-50  Luke 14:26  Matthew 8:18-22  John 3:3, 6  Mark 10:29-30; Ephesians 2:19  John 2:4  John 17:1  John 12:27-33  1 Corinthians 10:17  1 Corinthians 2:27)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Suffering is inevitable in a world addicted to self-destruction and blind to the way of life and peace offered by God. In a fallen world like ours, to be human is to suffer. And so when God became human in Jesus, then God, too, had to suffer.

Part of suffering is to feel forgotten by God. We feel that God is hidden from us, that we must have been cast away from the presence of God’s holy Spirit. And so it is some comfort to know that Jesus understands this feeling of forsakenness. But it would be a mistake to think when we feel forsaken, we are forsaken.

God’s faithfulness is a constant theme of the Psalms, the “prayer book” of the Hebrews. One often-quoted psalm says not even death can separate us from God’s presence: “Where can I go from your Spirit? … if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.” Likewise another psalm says “For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the Pit.” The Apostle Peter interpreted the latter Psalm as a prophecy of Jesus’s resurrection.

In fact, Jesus’s cry from the cross, while demonstrating that he understands what it feels like to think one has been abandoned by God, is actually an affirmation of his faith that he is not abandoned. Jesus is quoting the first line of Psalm 22:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
and are so far from my cry
and from the words of my distress?
O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer;
by night as well, but I find no rest.

But after these two verses of anguish, the psalm continues in the next three verses to make a hopeful affirmation of God’s faithfulness:

Yet you are the Holy One,
enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
Our forefathers put their trust in you;
They trusted, and you delivered them.
They cried out to you and were delivered;
They trusted in you and were not put to shame.

By quoting this psalm from the cross, Jesus is mystically completing the psalmist’s promise to “declare” God’s name to the people of Israel. In his act of dying for the sins of humanity, far from being forsaken by God, Jesus is announcing the faithfulness, mercy and justice of God, that God “does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty; neither does he hide his face from them; but when they cry to him he hears them.” And thus he is bringing it about that “all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord”. As Jesus knew, we are never forsaken.

Let us pray: Gracious God, the comfort of all who sorrow, the strength of all who suffer: Let the cry of those in misery and need come to you, that they may find your mercy present with them in all their afflictions; and give us, we pray, the strength to serve them for the sake of him who suffered for us, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Mark 15:34  Psalm 51:12  Psalm 139:6-7  Psalm 16:10  Acts 2:24-28  Matthew 20:17-19  Psalm 22:1-2, 3-5, 21, 23, 26)

I thirst.

John’s Gospel tells us that “when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.” Traditionally, the scripture Jesus is fulfilling has been identified as Psalm 69: “when I was thirsty, they gave me vinegar to drink.”

But the mention of hyssop also suggests a reference to the Passover lamb whose blood was painted on doorposts by the Israelites using a hyssop branch. So if Jesus is the mystical completion of the Passover lamb who takes away the sin of the world, then what is the vinegar or sour wine?

Perhaps the vinegar is what we get when we try to produce wine on our own, apart from the source of life. It is our own sour works of self-righteousness apart from the grace of God. The prophet Isaiah tells the story of how God planted Israel as a vineyard – a garden paradise, the new Eden – and expected it to bear good fruit. But it only bore sour grapes and became overgrown with weeds and thorns. Without good fruit, its vines were worthy only to be cut down and thrown into the fire, for the wine it produced could not satisfy anyone’s thirst.

Earlier in the Gospel of John we hear another story about Jesus’s thirst. While traveling through Samaria, Jesus came upon a well dug by Jacob – the man whose name was later changed to Israel – and asked a woman there to give him a drink. Yet she had nothing to offer him but the sour wine of Israel’s well. “If you knew the gift of God,” Jesus told the woman at the well, “and who it is that is saying to you ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

This is what is happening on the cross. Jesus is turning wine into water: taking the sour wine of fallen humanity and purifying it with the Passover hyssop branch, transforming it into living water, a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. The waters of baptism which flow from the pierced side of the Savior mingle with the Eucharistic wine of his blood – and in this fountain of living water we are purified and shall never thirst again.

Let us pray: Most merciful God, who purges us with hyssop, that we may be clean; who washes us, that we may be whiter than snow; give now the water of life to those who thirst for you, that they may bring forth abundant fruit in your glorious kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(John 19:28-29  Psalm 69:21  Exodus 12:21-22  1 Corinthians 5:7  John 1:3  Isaiah 5:1-6  Matthew 7:19  Genesis 32:28  John 4:4-7; John 4:10  John 4:14  John 19:34  Psalm 51:7)

It is finished.

Here on the cross, Jesus has finished his life’s work. Jesus has finished – accomplished, completed – his mission to proclaim God’s forgiveness and reconciliation to humanity. The night before he died, Jesus had prayed to God these words: “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.” What was that “work”? He continued: “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.” This is Jesus’s primary mission: to reveal the true nature of God to humanity.

The ancient Israelites worshiped the God Jesus called “Father,” but they had not seen him for themselves. The Hebrew people considered the Temple in Jerusalem to be the physical dwelling place of God on earth. More specifically, God’s home was in “the Holy of Holies”, the inner sanctuary of the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. But this room was separated from the rest of the Temple by a thick curtain, to protect sinful humanity from the perfect holiness of God. The people were not allowed access to God’s presence.

But with Jesus – our Emmanuel or “God with us” – God has come to dwell personally with us now and forever. This is the mystical meaning of Jesus’s saying “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus claims that his body is the new Temple – one not made with human hands and greater than the old Temple.

Matthew’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus cried out “with a loud voice and breathed his last,” at the very same moment the “curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” On the cross, Jesus is tearing down the curtain of the temple that separates us from God so that we no longer have to worship God only in Jerusalem but can now worship God in Spirit and in truth.

We now know what God is really like for we have seen him in the flesh. And what does he look like? He looks like a man of sorrows, despised and rejected. It is here in the vision of the crucified God that we are both judged and saved. By making God known to us, Jesus judges the world – though this judgment isn’t accusatory. John’s Gospel tells us that “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” To say that Jesus pronounces God’s “judgment” on the world is just to say that Jesus shows us what things look like from God’s perspective – judging is showing us the truth, shedding light on reality.

But it is a painful truth. As John tells us, “this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” As the light of the world, Jesus himself is the way, the truth, and the life. Only in the light of Christ can we know what true goodness is, and only then can we know how we measure up. And in this judgment we are saved, for only in the light of the cross can we see the path which leads toward God.

Let us pray: Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, may deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow you, and that as we walk in the way of the cross we may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(John 19:30  John 17:4-6  John 1:18  Matthew 1:23  John 2:19-21  Mark 14:58  Matthew 12:6  Matthew 27:50-1  John 4:19-23; Isaiah 53:3  John 3:17-19  John 8:12  John 14:6  Matthew 16:24)

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

His work completed, Jesus prepares himself to enter the darkness of the tomb and to await the next phase of his Father’s plan. Here again Jesus turns to the words of the Psalms for solace and strength. This time, Jesus quotes from Psalm 31: “into your hands I commend my spirit.”

With his last breath, Jesus not only entrusts his spirit to God, he also recites the words of scripture. Perhaps these are two ways of doing the same thing. To truly entrust your spirit to God is to allow God to do with it what he wills rather than what you will. It is to make your will and God’s will the same – to be formed into God’s image. And the surest way of imaging God is to take his word into your heart.

Jesus taught that our words are a reflection of what is in our hearts. When talking about the Kosher food laws, Jesus had said, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” He explained: “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.” So if you want to change your heart, you need to change the words which form it.

This is why Jesus had said that the word of God is life itself: “One does not live by bread alone, but from every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Remember, too, the parable of the sower whose seed falls on various kinds of soil. When Jesus explained this parable to his disciples, he said, ‘The sower sows the word.” The word of God is like a seed that gets implanted in the soil of our hearts and grows to produce fruit. Therefore God commanded the children of Israel, “You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul.”

As we pass through the darkness of the Holy Triduum – the journey from the supper on Thursday through the cross on Friday to the tomb on Saturday – may we draw strength from the mysteries hidden in Jesus’s final words. As we walk in the way of the cross, may these words be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.

And may we remember that whatever mysteries have been revealed to us, there are always many more hidden meanings to uncover. The goal of mystical reflection is not to “wrap your mind around” these mysterious words; the goal is to wrap these words around your mind. Or better: to wrap them around your heart.

Let us pray: Blessed Lord, let your Word be our light in the darkness and let the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight; you caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(Luke 23:46  Psalm 31:5  Matthew 15:11, 18  Matthew 4:4  Mark 4:3-8  Mark 4:14  Deuteronomy 11:18  Psalm 119:104  Psalm 19:14)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A new musical from Joss Whedon!!

Despite feeling generally crappy, thanks to my cold and last night several hours of weird abdominal pain, I have to admit I was pretty damn overjoyed to receive this news this morning:

(Joss writing on Whedonesque):

During the strike I started writing a musical intended as a limited internet series, 3 episodes of approximately 10 minutes each. Writing with me was my brother Jed, his fiancee Maurissa, and my other brother Zack. To my shock and surprise, we finished it. To my greater shock and surprise, we managed (with the help of many people I’ll be praising at length soon) to drag it into preproduction (yes, just as DOLLHOUSE was given a start date two months away and all my comics were due.) And today, after a grueling week of writing everything ever while trying to be a producer, I got to start shooting. A musical.

This much I will say: It’s the story of a low-rent super-villain, the hero who keeps beating him up, and the cute girl from the laundromat he’s too shy to talk to. And I’m having the time of my life.

Neil Patrick Harris… Dr. Horrible
Nathan Fillion……….as Captain Hammer
Felicia Day………….as Penny
And a cast of Dozens!

(me again):
OK, first of all, I am first in line to anything NPH is in. I got to see him live in "Rent" here in LA a few years back, and the man has serious pipes. Plus, he turns up in all my favorite weirdo indie stuff (Starship Troopers, Harold and Kumar - movies that yes, I own, proudly). Plus, Nathan Fillion!!! And that Irish potential girl from season 7 of Buffy. Sign me up for the sing-a-long blog, man. It's a happy day.

Look, all I’m saying is that this is normal teen stuff. You join chat rooms, you write poetry, you post Doogie Howser fan-fic. It’s all normal, right? - Willow (from “Help”)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Holy Week

We both came down with some horrible cold last night, that cause me not only to be achey, stuffed, and have a mother of a sore throat, but also I couldn't sleep. So besides church, this is the first I've been out of bed today, and I'm doing it just for you since I know I've neglected the blog lately. I have good reasons (end of school, dealing with PhD stuff, etc), but from the lack of response lately (I remember when you guys used to actually comment on things I said, even on my life - I wouldn't mind hearing from you again), I'm figuring I've lost some of you or you're bored with me. Not all that surprising - life's not tremendously exciting when it's not your own.

Anyway, I wanted to write a little bit about holy week, particularly today, Palm Sunday. I'll post the meditations that J (and I, supposedly) are writing for the Seven Last Words installation at church, but they're not done yet. Stay tuned for that - what he's done so far is very good. I was supposed to do it, but with finals being this week, I just couldn't. Thank God I have a husband who can pinch hit for me. I would imagine that's an asset in the ministry.

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with my sister. She was telling me how they had this nice joyful song to sing today for her choir, all "Hosannas." But then she said that they had to sing this other song and it was "a real downer," all about the love that gave itself up to save us all. I kind of laughed and reminded her that, downer though it may be, that is the point of the story, and really, it's good news. Plus it's far superior, IMHO, to focus on the love instead of the sin (more on that in a sec).

Anyway she was wondering why her church had to sing a song about the cross on Palm Sunday, which is, in her words, a "joyful" Sunday. The cross, she correctly pointed out, is Friday. But then I asked her if the church was having any services between today and next Sunday, and she said no, she didn't think so. So, I said, maybe they have to cram all of Holy Week into this one Sunday, since that's the only chance they have. I also told her how at the Episcopal church (or mine, at least) we start off with the Hosannas as well, but shortly things get pretty grim as we are all implicated by shouting "Cruicfy!" during the gospel presentation. And the organ gets switched off for the week, and everything is somber, and at the end it's all quiet. Now my church has services all week, more than one some days, and we still do this on Palm Sunday.

At any rate, my point was that if Palm Sunday was nothing but Hosanna, and then you came back the next week for Easter, there'd be no cross at all. Now in a lot of Evangelical churches, the cross is the focal point of the rest of the year, so maybe this isn't such a bad thing. But I just thought it was really interesting to think that if you went to some churches you may not realize that anything bad happened between Palm Sunday and Easter. Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem, and next thing we know, he brings us baskets of eggs. Or something like that.

But then when I talked it over with J, he pointed out that the Hosanna's and the joyfulness are false anyway. We've been taught it's this joyful day, but we were misled. I mean, it was probably true in the moment, but the reality - the juxtaposition that our service was pointing out - is that they were hollow and caught up in emotion, and in the moment when it counted, those people all turned away. Even the closest disciples ran and hid. So Palm Sunday isn't all that joyful, after all. It's just ironic. And that helped me really understand today's service even more. The entrance into Holy Week is the realization that Jesus was a Rock Star for a day, but he faded fast, and public attention was as fickle as it is today. Maybe he'd have lasted longer if TMZ were available to cover his exploits. Then again, he's probably have sunk faster if people had really paid attention to the things he was saying.

All this made me think about our chapel this past week. It was very cross-centric, which was appropriate since we won't have chapel during holy week (that being reserved for writing papers and taking finals, at my seminary - I mean geez, why would you have worship?). I really didn't like the theology of the songs (I rarely do), but it was especially interesting that the speaker, my systematics prof whose wisdom I've been spouting in my recent posts on atonement, would I know have disagreed with a lot of it as well. How funny to invite someone to speak, then sing a bunch of songs conflicting with his theology! Anyway, they probably had no clue about that. They were just singing the popular praise choruses about Jesus' gruesome death (another thing that offends the hell out of me - I just can't deal with a praise chorus about the cross. It's just inappropriate, period. The cross is one occasion that calls for the deep theological language that is only possible in hymnody. Short repetitive phrases do nothing but cheapen the event. OK, rant over). Most fortunately, they ended the singing time with a version of "There's a wideness in God's mercy," one of my top hymns of all time, and one that I know the speaker totally agrees with (he even quoted it).

The big line that stuck with me that I knew was wrong was the line: "My sin held him" there on the cross. And I distinctly remembered from the class (and the prof quoted this, too) that the big deal is not that our sin (or as the song says, my sin) held him on the cross, but Jesus'/God's LOVE held him on the cross. Anderson says in the Judas and Jesus book (a great little read, btw) that we shouldn't overestimate our own sin - like it's all that powerful or important. When we do this, we overestimate our role and importance in the cosmic story, and often because it causes us to focus on "me" individually and "my" sin. He says, don't overestimate your sin - your sin didn't put Jesus on the cross. God's love put God there.

Now he's specifically referring to Judas' betrayal, but I don't see why it wouldn't apply to any of us. Yes, we have sinned. We have rebelled. I don't know if it's willful or just human nature. I don't know if the cross was necessary to wipe it away or just to show us that, since death has always plagued us, this is how you deal with it - you lay down your life for your friends. I believe more happened on the cross than just an example of love - although it was the supreme example of love and friendship, and more than that, it was the paradigm for how the universe works. It was the ultimate show of God's power and from it we learn how upside-down our ideas really are. The cross is all of these things and more. The main mystery - how God died - will never be understood by humans, I don't think. Even if God could explain it to us, we probably wouldn't get it.

Anyway, I think the main point of the cross is love, not sin, and defeating death (by submission). So I don't think my sin held him there. And in my near-drunken state I don't know if this has made sense (this cold has my head completely stuffed plus I'm way overtired). But I know I need to stop and lie down again. So I'm sorry to end this abruptly, but I gotta rest and get better. I can't take most medicine so I want this overwith fast.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Lenten Meditation

Here's a meditation I wrote for our church tomorrow. Feel free to use it if you like it (with attribution) or use as a jumping off point for something else. It's all me except the last two paragraphs, which are from the site listed. That site offers a whole series of meditations for all the weeks of Lent that are really good. I recommend them as well. But here's mine:

A Lenten Meditation on the Beatitudes

(Nine candles are displayed in the center of the circle. A helper will extinguish them throughout the liturgy.)

This Lent, we have used the beatitudes as a way of grounding us in the teachings of Jesus and the promises of God. From the beginning of Christianity, our mothers and fathers in the faith have relied on these seemingly simple words to guide their lives, help them understand God’s will, and direct them into prayer for and suffering with the world.

I would like to lead us, this final week, in each of Jesus’ statements, as a reminder that even in the darkness, and no matter what our station in life, in the Kingdom of God, we are blessed.

At the same time, we enter ever deeper into the darkness of the Lenten season. This is a time of self-examination, when we remember that we are but dust and to dust we shall return. It has also been a time of turning our attention to those around us, and to the needs of our world.

This morning I invite you into the beatitudes: into their surprising blessings, and into their bold proclamation of the kingdom. I will read each phrase, and invite you to repeat it. After each, we will observe a brief time of silent meditation, and at the end I will add some final thoughts and close us in prayer.

(Suggest a body posture for prayer)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Repeat)

Remember the poor of our world, for whom the kingdom of heaven often seems distant and unattainable.
(extinguish candle)


Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Repeat)

Remember those who are in mourning, who have lost someone or something dear to them. Pray for their comfort.
(extinguish candle)


Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Repeat)

Let us pray for the meek, who often inherit nothing in this life. How may we advocate for them?
(extinguish candle)


Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Repeat)

Praise God for those who seek first his righteousness. May their hunger and thirst become our own. May we be filled.
(extinguish candle)


Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. (Repeat)

Let us consider those who give of themselves, who sacrifice their own comfort, security – and often happiness – for the well-being of others.
(extinguish candle)


Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Repeat)

Father, purify our hearts, so that we seek only to see you. Even in this darkness, show us the light of your countenance.
(extinguish candle)


Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Repeat)

The world is a dark and violent place. Often the light of peace seems to be snuffed out. Pray for the peacemakers, the children of God, who fight against the powers of war, persecution, oppression, and selfishness.
(extinguish candle)


Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Repeat)

Hundreds, even thousands, around the world are suffering for doing what is right, for their religious convictions, for speaking truth to power, for standing in the way of hatred. Pray for their courage, strength, and assurance of the kingdom.
(extinguish candle)


Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Repeat)

We may never have experienced revulsion or persecution for Jesus’ sake. But when truly faced with the self-sacrificial love of Christ, can this broken world react in any other way? If we are not challenged by others for following Christ, are we truly doing so?
(extinguish candle)


The time is drawing near. Jesus is preparing to enter Jerusalem. How will we greet him? Will we follow him all the way to the Cross? There is no deeper mystery than this: that the light came into the world, became flesh, and dwelt among us. The light of the world is going out. What will we learn this year in the dark night of the soul?


Let us pray.
Loving God, there are so many choices before us every day. Choices offered by our friends, our families, our culture, our own past. Some of them encourage the well-being of the earth, ourselves and our neighbors; others are destructive. Help us to distinguish between them. May we learn from the choices of Jesus and embody compassion, justice, and inclusion in all we say and do. In his name we pray, Amen.

[Final paragraph and prayer from:]


Well now my life has gotten complicated.

I'm 3 for 4 in the doctoral programs: GTU, Wilfrid Laurier, and Fuller all took me. This means I have some seriously tough deciding ahead of me. J was joking that I've gone from having Republican candidates to choose between to Democrat: that is, they are all pretty much equivalently good, and therefore deciding who to choose is infinitely harder than if somebody would just be wrong already.

But they're not wrong, they're right, in different ways, admittedly. So now I have to decide who I want to be and what I want to get from my PhD, what career I might think I want. Now according to my own mentor who'd be the one working with me at Fuller, I'd hit a ceiling there and their resources are not really adequate to what I want to study. Not to mention that they just couldn't afford to give me nearly the kind of package I've gotten from the others. So while I'm not rulling anything out this early (I just got all this news yesterday), Fuller is probably off the table pretty soon.

That leaves us with GTU and WLU. The more I learn about the latter the more interesting it becomes. What I would learn there would be intense religious studies stuff, topics I'm not familiar with and that sound extremely interesting. It would prepare me very well for an academic career and for teaching, specifically in the area of religious studies. The program has an excellent reputation, and I think the faculty are well-known in their fields. It would set me up to teach in Canada, probably, a bit more easily than the US, but it wouldn't hurt me I don't think. I might even be able to use it to get into religious life work, since I'll have a broad knowledge of many religions.

Yeah, this is all really interesting stuff. I love the interfaith aspect of it. And I would almost certainly be able to travel for field research, and would produce work that would be relevant to more than just Christians.

And then there's the little matter that they've offered me more money and living there is FAR cheaper than Berkeley. I mean, we could get a house. That's huge. Health insurance for all of us is about 2/3 cheaper than here in the US. The falling dollar might hurt a bit, but the generosity of their offer more than makes up for it. We could actually get our feet under us, financially, for the first time...well, nearly ever. There's a lot to commend living there.

So it's extremely tempting. I'll be chatting with people from the program in the next weeks, alumni and faculty. And with people who know people who live there. Gotta try to get a sense of it. I really wish I could travel there, but I'm not sure how wise it is at this stage of my pregnancy (if I were to go into labor, I wouldn't be covered by Kaiser unless I found a Kaiser to go to). In a couple more weeks, airlines wouldn't let me fly anyway.

Still, being able to visit would make such a difference. Just to know what it feels like. I'm such a gut person. That's why, despite all this, I can't let go of GTU. My gut still wants to go there.

And there's other aspects also. I feel like where WLU would make me an excellent academic, adept at evaluating and studying religion from the outside, GTU would allow me not only to be academic but also practicing - that is, I would be able to engage theology from the inside without suspicion. I could make my project very Christo-centric, and it would likely be targeted more to the Church than to a broad audience.

I originally wanted to study liturgy so I could help reform it. I feel like GTU better prepares me for that. I just don't know if, after my interfaith experiences, that's still my final calling. It seems GTU would prepare me more to be a minister as well as a teacher, rather than just an academic.

And then there's the little matter of spiritual support. Being near the CDSP is a huge draw - to be around the Episcopal seminary puts us within a community of believers, which may be particularly important with the new baby. There are multiple prayer and fellowship opportunities. And I would imagine that my ordination process wouldn't have to be on hold for long - it could possibly get going again even while I'm doing the PhD, if I wind up in the right place. I just don't know what, if any, spiritual resources I'd have at WLU. I know the Anglican Church in Canada is great, but is it enough?

So am I a priest or a professor? Or put another way, do I want to teach at a seminary or at a university? Am I called to the church or to the world? I didn't want to make that choice. At least not yet. I genuinely love both. I actually feel like I can work in both worlds.

I really feel like this is what my decision is coming down to - more than the money, it's about the future I'd be heading for. GTU would prepare me to work in the Church and really make a difference there - advising on liturgical theology, taking my ideas about food to the masses, and working with people (hopefully students) in more than just an intellectual capacity. WLU would prepare me to work in the academy, and likely prepare me very well for interfaith work.

And WLU makes my family more financial secure. Which isn't nothing.

I just don't know. I have a couple weeks to figure it out. I'll keep you posted. It's incredibly difficult. I can easily talk myself into either way.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A final word from Fuller

Dr. Mouw, I hope you read this one.

So we finally just got some information about how to deal with the fact that our finals week falls during Holy Week this quarter. I assumed that the seminary was just ignoring Good Friday and keeping offices open until 5 for the turning in of papers, as usual. But no, they are actually giving the day off to staff and faculty, but not to students!!!! What crap is this! We are all still required - adamantly so - to turn in everything by Good Friday, or earlier, which is essentially cutting off our quarter earlier than the time that contracted with us (which is 10 weeks plus finals week, no less - that's what we pay for, that's what we should get). In fact, many professors are making work due earlier. Well lovely, but that still denies us our full quarter of time for learning.

At first I was just kind of letting this slide, writing it off as Fuller being ignorant of Christianity in favor of egg hunts and whatever, but yesterday I talked with one of my mentors and she pointed out the discrepancy in closing the seminary offices but still requiring work be turned in (it's to be turned in via mail - yeah, I really want to pay $1 postage to turn in my assignments down the street!! - or a dropbox which will be locked at 5, but certainly not reopened until Monday). So either they believe that the staff and faculty have more prerogative than the students to be able to celebrate this most holy day, or they are just taking it as a holiday like any other, can't really remember why it's celebrated, but know that as Christians it's a day we're supposed to get off. Unless, of course, we're studying for the ministry.

Anyway, being me, I just couldn't keep myself from commenting, so I sent the following to the registrar. I don't want to make him look bad because I'm sure it wasn't his decision entirely, but I think if enough students throw a fit about this hopefully they won't do it again. I realize Easter was super early this year, but I don't care - we are training pastors, we should be training spiritual people who are aware of what this week means. I've always hated having to go to class during Holy Week anyway - one year I had class on Maundy Thursday evening, and so I made the teacher let me lead a little liturgy to remind everyone what that day was really about (not sitting in class is the answer).

I thought about copying my dear Dr. Mouw, but I didn't want to freak out the registrar by making it look like I was tattling. So I'm posting it here and I know lots of Fuller folks read this. Please comment if you like - I'd love to hear feedback, especially of course if you agree with me. :)

Here's my letter:

It seems that if staff and faculty are allowed to have Good Friday off to spend in church and meditating upon Christ's death, students should be extended the same privilege. It is truly a shame that the school has chosen to conflate finals with Holy Week. Those of us who truly enter into this week - which is an entire week and not just Friday - are forced to finish work a week early, thereby cutting off our quarter a week early and giving us less time than our classmates. It seems that Fuller should encourage a deeper spiritual walk during this most holy time of year, not discourage it by rewarding those who don't celebrate Holy Week.

This is my final quarter and it's really a disappointing way to go out. Just further confirmation that the seminary has very little regard for the traditions of the Christian calendar and Church.

Not that it matters, but my solution would have been to make work due on Easter Monday by 5. Certainly no professor will grade any earlier than that, and most students wouldn't be taking "extra" time because that's such a busy weekend already.

Monday, March 03, 2008

For the Bible Tells Me So

We saw "For the Bible Tells Me So," a new documentary about the issues between Christianity and homosexuality, and it was pretty good. We had wanted to make a similar doc for a while, and this pretty much summed up what we probably would have said. Watching it, I wasn’t entirely sure it would convince anybody who didn’t already believe the message, but then in the special features the director explained that the primary audience is the people in the middle who already wish it wasn't such an issue, and I can see how it might work for those folks. Also, he told a story of a youth who’d seen a short version of one of the stories from the film, and the young person said, “Last week I bought the gun. Yesterday I wrote the note. Today I saw your film. I threw away the gun.” Now if that’s the real purpose – and a noble one, it is – then I can definitely see how it could save lives. Religion is far too often one of the contributing factors to the very high suicide rate among GLBT persons (particularly teenagers) – and the most sad thing is that a lot of hate speech actually suggests or recommends this! (Gene Robinson was told to do the only noble thing and kill himself, for instance, in some of his hate mail)

So if this documentary keeps someone from taking her or his life, then Amen to that. And if it helps people who really want to be over the issue get over it, then I suppose that is good also. But I don’t think it is made for people who are not convinced or on the fence. I imagine my family, for instance, and I just don’t think I’d show it to them because the arguments aren’t quite strong enough to completely change minds, and some parts of it are radical enough that it could be a turn off and lose people.

The documentary focuses on families, very religious ones, who have a child who turns out to be gay or lesbian. Most of the children are interviewed, as well as some siblings and all of the parents. Most of the parents have come to embrace their child completely, but there is variety in that one set of parents loves their child but still believes she is engaged in a sinful “lifestyle.” Still, they clearly love her deeply and accept her as a person (they don’t follow James Dobson’s advice, which is portrayed as telling the child you will never accept them until they change). So they are a nice example of parents who can’t deny what they believe the Bible says, but at the same time still exhibit love to their daughter. It’s a bit unfortunate that they are the only family of color, though, because it kind of equates black theology with intolerance, while all the white families eventually “come around.”

The families are simply delightful and I enjoyed getting to know them all. The Robinsons especially are just so sweet, and the film’s big finish is Gene’s confirmation as bishop which is quite moving. The other parents who are now activists on behalf of their children were really inspirational. I think that even if one does not agree with the message of the film, one can appreciate the love in these families, and probably find someone with whom to identify.

My main beef with the movie is a cartoon in the middle, entitled “Is it a choice?” that I found really offensive and unnecessary. It took cheap shots at Christians and was just over-the-top rude. For instance, the character “Christian” in the cartoon pooh-pooh’d science, and that’s just not accurate to the way most Christians are (yes, even Christians who believe gay sex is sinful). That would turn off most people who otherwise might have been given some real food for thought. I would beg any conservative person who watches the film to fast forward through it or at least know that it’s very biased and not really representational of the rest of the tone of the film in any way. That’s what was most disturbing about it – we had all these nice stories going on, and then it just got mean for a minute. Dumb.

Also the theological/Biblical explanations of the classic “clobber passages” were a bit too brief and relied too heavily on “expert” opinion rather than really educating. Now of course, in a movie, you can’t educate people to the extent required to change minds on this issue. So I’m not sure how to solve that problem. I just noticed it. One thing that was interesting was the “woman on the street” who said she didn’t believe we were supposed to try to “dig into” the meaning of the Bible because that was dangerous. And I thought, how sad that this woman has been taught that the Bible – a gold mine that can be dug into for years fruitfully – is never supposed to be exposed beyond its most surface layer (and might I add, that would be an English translation and probably not a very good one). I guess it’s the result of seminary, but I can’t even imagine encouraging a person NOT to challenge Scripture. Dude, God can totally take it. You’re not going to upset the real truth that’s in there!

Which sort of brings me to my other beef: I really wished there was more representation of conservative people in the theology sections. There are plenty of conservative, Bible-believing folks who don't believe in the literal reading of scripture - they could have interviewed most any of my profs at Fuller. Despite the movie being ostensibly aimed at the middle, they didn't really have any "middle conservatives" as it were - Fuller types. And a lot of these people DO believe in historical-critical readings of the Bible, and at the same time STILL hold the belief that, while being gay is not sinful, acting on it is. I respect the Biblical scholarship of many of these people and I was sad not to see that voice included. The film portrayed it almost as if anybody who still believes gay people are sinning when they have sex is a literalist, and that’s just not true. Now, President Mouw, bless him, did appear in one very short section, but all that was left of his interview was him disagreeing with the Harvard types over the interpretation of Sodom & Gomorrah (which comes down to how much stock you put in the prophetic book – can’t recall which at the moment – that says the sin there was lack of hospitality, not sexual). He brought up Romans 1 which is, indeed, the most difficult passage to reconcile with inclusive theology, and so you gotta give him props for going there. He even admitted that the Sodom & Gomorrah stuff, on its own (like Leviticus, he’d probably agree – I know my OT profs would), isn’t a very strong case, but Romans definitely is.

And then they went on to give the “expert” opinion on Romans but it was a bit garbled and honestly, if I hadn’t already studied much of it on my own, I probably wouldn’t have really understood what they were talking about. But maybe I’m just reading too much into it because I DO know there’s a huge backstory that there wasn’t time to tell. Maybe it would be enough for most people.

Anyway, I don’t mean to come off as disparaging the movie, because I really really think it was excellently made and worth watching. I just wanted to put out a few caveats so that if any of my conservative readers watch it you can be prepared not to be quite so turned off. Yes, it has a viewpoint and it’s very biased toward it. But you can still enjoy the stories and be moved by the transformations and the deep love in these families. And for that, I highly recommend “For the Bible Tells Me So” as a great conversation-starter and education into the lives of the people who are, for many of us, our very close neighbors.

(Hey, I like this review enough I think I might just try to publish it in Fuller's newspaper. We'll see how that goes over!)

Too many deadlines

Ugh, there is just too much going on right now. It's week 9 of the quarter, always a special time when you start to completely freak out over the amount of work left to do. In my case, this time, it's not too horrible and certainly doable. But it's still not fun to anticipate the work ahead over the next 3 weeks.

On top of the end of quarter madness I have this ECF fellowship to apply for. I got most of it done over the weekend and I'm pretty proud of my work. If they don't take me it will just be because they don't think my topic is that worthy, and that's OK. Also I'm not an east-coaster and I wonder if that won't hurt me. But I have kick ass recommendations and, I think, a sexy topic. So who knows? It could be as much as $15,000 - what a difference that would make!! Of course, there's still the little matter that I continue to have questions about filling out the application, and the general response time from people there is about 2-4 weeks for emails and 2-4 days for phone calls (if ever). That's what's got me tense at the moment: knowing that the second I mail this puppy off - filled out best I could - I'll finally hear back with the answers to my questions. Oh, well, I gotta let that go and pray they won't hold my weird answers against me.

Then there's the GTU who are anxious for my answer about whether I'm coming there. Which of course would be helped by knowing about the fellowship, but I don't find out about that until May 15 and GTU wants an answer a month earlier. Plus I'm supposed to hear THIS week or next at the latest from my other two schools, so that's a bunch o anticipation to carry around! I can't believe I'll be actually making this decision in the next couple weeks (even as I am also writing exegesis and systematics papers). I'm about to find out what, if anything, will be offered to help me pay for these others, too. And poor J is trying to find schools to work at in the bay area and Canada! But he can't commit to anything until I commit to someplace.

It's like I'm living in two dimensions - one in the present, finishing at Fuller, and one in the future, working out everything for this fall.

I'm even already applying for apartments in Berkeley! It's nutso! I have to have those apps in immediately as well - everything is due NOW or yesterday. And along with the apps they want money money money of course, $500 to one school(!) which they will hold for the next 2 months until they tell me they don't have room for us. Fun.

It's so weird - everything's due NOW; my decisions are due in one month; and my answers (about apartments, fellowship, possibly some financial aid) aren't coming for two months. And oh yeah, I have a baby due in 3 months. Geezu. I'm even already trying to help my mother plan her visit here for the birth; and my in-laws want to visit in August (but unfortunately just after we'll have moved, not in time to help us move. Great). I mean seriously, how many time zones am I living in?

Anyway I just needed to vent. I'm trying to keep my cool and keep rolling my neck and shoulders around (listening to all those little bones crack is so soothing). And there's some fun planned for this week: Weds I get to see Rufus Wainwright at USC, in a small theater, which will be unbelievably awesome (he's probably the only performer I'd pay good money to see, and I got the tix free!), and Thurs is a going-away for my old boss at USC so I get to go down again and see all my old friends. So I'm quite happy about those things. This week should just get better and better. Just gotta get through Monday!