Monday, March 30, 2015

The Darkest Night

I recently saw an author share advice that she received from her spiritual director to hold off on writing about a transition she was experiencing until after it was long over. This trusted guide counseled that she needed the spiritual and emotional distance both to see the experience clearly, and to be able to tell her story with proper perspective, nuance, and sensitivity toward others who were involved. She'd been thankful for this advice, as it helped her avoid the possibility of hurting others, as well as gave her the proper space to process what was happening.

We live in a world that is more immediate, and thus we tend to believe that we're expected to tell such stories at a faster pace. It may be that we expect this of ourselves on a personal level or, if we have a platform, we feel the need to generate content and clicks, and what else would I write about especially if I'm known for the sort of introspective reflection in which others can possibly hear their own story? Some writers make a decent living this way, telling their story as it happens. They help perpetuate the culture that demands this sort of transparency, and others love that they're Being Real and Authentic.

There's a story that I've been telling around the edges of this blog the past few years that I may never write in a more straightforward manner. I could just follow the lead of many others and lay it bare, but in some ways it's still raw and I'll end up telling it wrong. I still don't have the proper perspective to say things the way they should be said. It could take years or decades until that's the case. I'm comfortable with that, actually. Not everything needs to be shared the way we've been conditioned to think it does.

I have told plenty of other stories here in much more conventional ways. One that I've told quite often happened 15 years ago yesterday on the second floor hallway of Krieg Hall on the campus of Heidelberg University. I was a junior at that point, and that entire school year had tried my faith in a number of ways that I never imagined.

Of course, nobody really plans to have a spiritual crisis. I surely didn't. But a combination of relationship problems, faith questions, gossip, and community estrangement had led me to question everything about my future. I wasn't sure I wanted to be a Christian anymore, let alone a pastor. I was ready to give up everything that I was working toward and I had no idea what to do next.

So I sat on the floor outside my then-girlfriend's dorm room with a Bible and the simplest, weakest, most desperate prayer: "Please show me something." There was nothing else I could say. I couldn't bring myself to pray much in those days, so even those four words were a miracle in themselves.

A few moments later, I flipped and landed on Luke 24:34: "It is true! The Lord has risen, and has appeared to Simon!"

It is true.

I've shared this story with many people over the years. Some scoff at the idea of just flipping open a Bible to look for answers. Others have felt more empowered to tell their own stories. Some have helped me see new things about that time in my life that I couldn't see as it was happening. It has been helpful to process this experience with others over the years, and to continually consider its lasting impact.

And what has been its lasting impact, besides a few hundred bucks spent to ink that verse on my upper right arm? Its lasting impact has been a much greater trust in the ways the Holy Spirit works, much more than being a Trinitarian afterthought. Its lasting impact has been a greater appreciation for the faith stories of others, and the importance of really listening to them rather than dismissing them because they seem too fantastic. Its lasting impact has been a stronger interest in spiritual practices that helped lay the groundwork for the direction of my call to ministry for the next 10+ years. Its lasting impact has been a stronger faith in and gratitude for resurrection both past and present.

And its lasting impact is knowing that personal stories have a time and a place. This particular one still inspires me, and as more time passes I still spot new ways in which it is true.

Friday, March 27, 2015

March 2015 Pop Culture Roundup

Five items for March...

1. We watched Lucy this month, with Scarlett Johansson as the title character who has a package containing a powerful drug surgically placed in her intestine to be delivered to a buyer. The package ruptures, and the drug begins activating "unused" parts of her brain, which in turn allows her to do things like change her appearance, move things telekinetically, and control electronic devices. She enlists the help of a brain expert played by Morgan Freeman to find out what's happening to her, all while fending off the gangsters who forcibly placed the drug in her body to begin with. The science is suspect, but the action sequences and computer animation were fun, although I did find myself wondering why Lucy didn't just go full Dr. Manhattan on the bad guys to get them to stop chasing her. It was a...sigh...brainless movie that I knew going in I shouldn't take too seriously.

2. I recently read Faraway by R.K. Kline and Daniel D. Maurer, the review for which is here. I also read Desire Found Me by Andre Rabe, and the review for that is here.

3. As of this writing, there is one episode of The Walking Dead left in its 5th season. I also finally  finished the graphic novels this month. It was actually fun to have read so far to be able to anticipate what would happen next, albeit with some creative changes. At any rate, the group has now settled in the Alexandria community, although I suppose "settled" is a bit of a misnomer, as recent episodes have highlighted some conflict between Rick's battle-hardened friends and the softer, more naive Alexandrians. I've also been bracing myself for the next move in the story, which I think this season has been dropping hints about, but will take the show to whole new crazy level.

4. The family watched Big Hero 6 a few weeks ago, featuring a young teen genius named Hiro who befriends his older brother's robot companion Baymax. They, along with several of his brother's friends from the robotics lab at the university, have to team up to take down a villain who has stolen one of Hiro's powerful inventions. Baymax was used as the big hook in ads for the movie, but it also includes themes such as grief, revenge, and friendship. The film has the right touch of humor, action, & heart and is very well done, but also might be slightly above the purported target audience's ability to grasp.

5. There are several albums that I've been looking forward to this year. The Decemberists was the first back in January. Strangers to Ourselves by Modest Mouse was the next, and it dropped on March 17th. For me, this was certainly worth the wait. "Lampshades on Fire" and "The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box" are both great, upbeat tunes, and "Coyotes" is a slower, more pensive favorite as well. Here's the audio for "Lampshades on Fire:"

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Review: Desire Found Me by Andre Rabe

A newborn human is one of the most helpless creatures there is. From the moment of birth, humans cry out to others to give them existence. Who we are is bound up in relationship with others. The sense of identity, the consciousness of self, is formed in these interactions with others who are like us. The child begins to differentiate between self and other to form a more stable sense of self. This differentiation, however, would not be possible without the other. Much of what self is, is owed to others. - Andre Rabe, Desire Found Me

When I received this book in the mail for review, the actual conversation between me and Coffeewife went as follows:

Coffeewife: What's that about?
Me: It's about mimetic theory.
Coffeewife: What's that?
Me: It's...I don't know.

My assumption when I agreed to review Desire Found Me by Andre Rabe was that by reading, I would understand. I think that for the most part, this was the case.

I now know that mimetic theory is the study of the way we unconsciously reflect the desires of others. The word "mimetic" comes from the same word as "mimic," which is meant to connote the ways we learn and imitate others' intentions and desires. It's part of human development, and also how we create meaning and become part of communities with shared values. Rabe presents this explanation in some detail, albeit in an accessible way. He notes that we are not wholly original products of our own making, but rather we are influenced by those around us, particularly those who raised us and from whom we learned our earliest desires. Rabe also explores how mimesis is the source of conflict: those clashing over a common object or cause are reflecting the same desire that is in the other.

Rabe seeks to apply this theory of reflected desire to Christian faith. He first does this by analyzing the way mimesis shows up in various Biblical texts such as the creation stories and the provisions in the Ten Commandments. He presents these first examples both thoroughly and concisely, taking care not to overproduce his thesis. He analyzes what it means to mimic God's desire as being made in God's image, as well as what happens in stories such as Adam & Eve and Cain & Abel when desire is at odds with another's. There is also extensive discussion of the felt need for a scapegoat to ease the anxiety of a community that treasures violence.

The second section, "Developing Stories," presents various common faith themes such as the ways scriptural stories borrowed and changed myths common to their time period, the idea of Satan, and the idea of the need for a Messiah. In each of these, Rabe applies elements of mimetic theory; the ways they may have influenced the creation of these narratives that have been passed down through generations. I admit that I wasn't always clear about the connections he was trying to make; sometimes the presentation of the stories' background seemed to overshadow his application. There was a lot of historical ground to cover beforehand, and I didn't always see the connection. As the section's title suggests, however, the application perhaps wasn't the primary goal.

The third section, "Redefined," begins to reimagine some of these stories and themes in light of mimesis. The main focus in this part is Jesus' death and resurrection, and the meaning of atonement. Mimetic theory was much more prevalent in this section, as it needed to be.

For me, this was a good introduction to the world of mimetic theory, specifically as applied to the faith narratives by which many Christians live. It took me a chapter or two to really get into it due to the subject matter, and there are some formatting and grammatical issues, but as an entry into what is a school of thought that is no doubt much more complex, this was a good beginning.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

We Wish to See - A Prayer for Lent 5

Faithful God, we wish to see Jesus. We’ve heard so much about the way he offers healing, forgiveness, and fresh starts. We’ve heard about his welcoming of outcasts and those whom society deems dispensable. We’ve heard about his signs and miracles that point to a greater inbreaking reality that is already here, yet still arriving. We’ve heard about his boldness in standing up to religious and civil authority; the hard questions that he asks and the strong words he has for rules and practices that dehumanize and devalue life.

We have heard, and we wish to see for ourselves. We are curious about this man in whom so many find hope. We are interested in the life eternal that he talks about. We are hesitant about his associations and his invitation to do likewise. We want to be a part of his divine vision that seems on the surface to be so unreachable, yet he insists is much closer than we think.

We wish to see Jesus. So many others do as well. We lift some up to you now… (Prayers of the people)

O God, as the days of the Lenten season begin dwindling, we know that darker days lie ahead. As we anticipate Holy Week, help us not just to see Jesus but to follow him as one who embodies hope for your world and for ourselves. Amen.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Vintage CC: A Post About God

Sometimes I go back and find a post that I don't think about very often, and gain an entirely new appreciation for it. This post from August 2012 is one of those.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, everything was formless; a swirling, chaotic void. But God interacted with the void, shaping and ordering it. God commanded the light and the darkness, the waters and the sky and the land, the birds and the fish and the animals, and eventually humanity. God took that swirling primordial soup and fashioned something from it. And God called all of it good.

Was God finished? Did God never create anything after calling it all "good?" No. God kept creating, shaping, and ordering. Stars and planets and entire galaxies formed, and some eventually burned out or began again after ice ages or collisions. God created a dynamic universe, full of novelty and change, our own galaxy expanding and contracting, our own earth experiencing shifting plates and the circle of life that is basic to all of existence: life, death, rebirth. Change.

Humanity, it turned out, is a dynamic species. We learn, we've developed, we've advanced in technology and knowledge. Some may argue that we haven't advanced in wisdom, others--maybe the same ones--will argue that we've certainly advanced in sin. As we've discovered how we may ever better make use of this world's resources, we've also discovered how much more efficiently we may oppress each other. And as we've come to value our advancements for good or for ill, we each in our own way have elevated some of them to god status: money, power, violence, technology, and on it goes.

In one case when this was so, God was on a mountain with Moses. Moses, it turns out, had been on this mountain for quite some time. He'd been on that mountain with God for so long, in fact, that the Israelites began to worry, or forget, or become bored. They decided that they wanted a new god, one that they could see and that would bring them joy. So with the help of the priest Aaron, they fashioned a calf out of gold, saw that it was good, and began to worship and revel.

God saw the calf and decided then and there to wipe out these people, this fledgling nation, for their disobedience. God decided to start over with a different people; God would find a new nation through whom the world would be blessed.

When Moses heard it, he stood up to God. He said, "You made promises. You made a covenant. They're not keeping their end at the moment, but you must not forget your end. You brought these people out of Egypt, and it can't be for nothing."

God looked again at these people dancing, singing, drinking. God looked at this aspect of God's dynamic creation and still saw that it was good even though they'd taken their own path. This was always a possibility: this turning away, this disobedience, this waywardness, this elevation of the wrong thing.

And God changed God's mind.

In the Hebrew: "repented."

Turned around.

Reoriented.

Refocused.

God changed what God was going to do.

The people didn't get off scott-free that day. They still had to answer for what they'd done. But it was due to God changing in order for that to happen. Rather than being wiped out, God changing made it possible for them to change and for their formation to continue.

Some want to believe that God only seemed to change God's mind that day. Or that maybe God was just testing Moses' leadership or had set up the people to teach them a lesson. But none of that is in the story. The only detail that is actually in the story is that God changed. Those that have certain theological interests to protect try to argue otherwise, read back into what's written, quote confessions at length as if sheer density of words will make up for what they want to be there but isn't.

But all that is there is that God changed.

In this shifting, dynamic, expanding and contracting world, there are new ways for God to remember God's promises. There come new ways for God to apply these promises in the midst of three-dimensional situations filled with joy, suffering, healing, wonder, anger, injustice. There is no one way to address the swirling mix present in each moment. There come new ways for God to interact and keep covenant with this creation which God still calls good.

The concern is that if God changes, then there is nothing constant about God. If God is not outside of our world, not the great Immovable Mover, then it's not really God. And in a world that is always shifting, always changing, seemingly every bit as chaotic as it was before creation began, we cry out for something constant, sure, and steadfast.

Is there anything constant about God? How can it be otherwise?

There are things constant about God. Two chapters after the golden calf incident, it is proclaimed that God is a God of steadfast love. Constant, unchanging, steadfast love.

God's love for creation is constant. God's concern for redeeming what seems lost and restoring what seems broken is constant. Every situation calls for this love and concern, but not every situation calls for it in the same manifestation. At times the Israelites needed love in the form of manna to eat, at other times they needed love in the form of being forced to face their idolatry. Love does not look the same in both of these instances. God needed to change in order for love to be made known.

I know people struggling with mental illness, others with addiction, still others with regret. God relates to each in a particular way to bring healing, restoration, salvation. But there is no one static path through these problems. Imagine reading the Four Spiritual Laws to someone in rehab struggling through alcohol withdrawal. Imagine trying to guide a schizophrenic through AA's 12 Steps. Imagine constantly hammering away at the one feeling regret constantly reminding them of what they're trying to resolve, or tiptoeing around the one who refuses to do so out of concern for their comfort. Would any of these be appropriate or truly loving?

Even proposed treatments and programs need to be adapted to the individual's story in order for the journey back toward wholeness to be taken. Some may argue that it takes the same kind of faith, the same kind of belief, to save. But whatever our suffering, whatever our struggles, whatever our golden calves, God relates to each of us in perfect, unchanging love in order to give us what we need most.

God changes some things in order not to change others. God may relate to people in different ways, but showing the same, steadfast love in all.

And so it continues in God's dynamic creation, which God still calls good.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Why I'm Giving Up Aspiring to Be a Writer

I have been keeping this blog for over 10 years. That's a long time and a lot of words. Near the beginning, it wasn't something I took too seriously.

But as tends to happen, I started reading other blogs. Some seemed similar to mine: light reflections on ministry or daily life or whatever passing thought that popped into the person's head and demanded sharing.

Other blogs, however, were Serious Blogs by Serious Writers. Each post clocked in at thousands of words and garnered hundreds of hits and had dozens of comments and were leading to Serious Book Deals and Serious Feature Articles in Serious Magazines.

This all caused me to want to be a Serious Writer, too. A Real Writer. Not just one who played around on his little internet toy but who'd be scoring some of those same articles and books.

Just to show how Serious I was, I started mentioning it in my bio. I'd list myself as an "aspiring writer" or "writer wannabe." Something that said to the world that I wasn't there yet, but if you kept paying attention, I'd make it someday. I'm going to keep aspiring and pining and working and striving to be a Writer.

Lately, it seems like colleagues are signing book deals left and right. Just in the past few months, people I know have shared the good news of sending their contracts back, ready for the next step. This, too, has motivated me to keep aspiring, keep driving toward the big goal, and I, like them, will be a Writer, too.

In 2010, I attended the Festival of Homiletics in Nashville. Lauren Winner, a Real Writer, was speaking. At one point, almost as an aside from her main point, she said to us, "You who are in ministry are in one of the professions that demands the most writing. Between sermons and newsletter articles and guest columns in local newspapers, you're writing all the time. So stop saying you want to be a writer when you grow up."

The truth of that didn't hit me until a few weeks ago, when I thought about the last 10+ years that I've spent in this internet space. I thought about the articles that have made it into cyber or print magazines. I thought about the contributions to books. I thought about the couple of posts that have gone viral. I thought about the strong desire to get up every morning and think about what new thing I want to say here that transcends any short-term mental block. I thought about how I can't not write, whether through my work or on this blog or in my Moleskine notebook. It's a compulsion that transcends status and page views and publishing dates; something that I need to do whether those things are factors or not.

I thought about all of that, and decided to quit.

I decided to quit pretending that I haven't been a writer for the past decade. I decided to quit "aspiring" and being a "wannabe," because I'm already there. I decided to quit measuring my status as a Real Writer against a bar that only I set up for myself to begin with. Even if I still hope to achieve certain goals, they won't make me a Real Writer.

They won't make me a real writer, because I already am one.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Book Review: Faraway by R.K. Kline and Daniel D. Maurer

Looking back, I know that my existence has been defined most of all by those events of my fourteenth summer. I divide my life into two: the periods of time before and after those summer months of '75. I didn't intend for it to be this way. But I understand now that the Kevin before 1975 doesn't exist within me anymore. Sometimes it feels like he's out living a normal life in a parallel universe. He's got his own normal story. But I'm left with mine. - R.K Kline, Faraway

Late last year, I read and reviewed a book by Alisa Jordheim called Made in the USA. It included a series of firsthand accounts from victims of sex trafficking, as well as some pointers on how to assess whether someone might be a victim themselves. The accounts were shocking not only due to their abusive elements, but how they started and where they took place. In one form or another, every story started with the trafficker earning the victim's trust, either themselves or through a liaison of some kind. And they all took place in Ordinary America: rather than in the scary back alleys on the wrong side of the tracks, most took place in subdivisions and in other places that would be considered safe and normal.

Faraway: A Suburban Boy's Story as a Victim of Sex Trafficking by R.K. Kline and Daniel D. Maurer (whose Sobriety I've also reviewed) is a more in-depth account of sex trafficking and victimization. It is a story that took Kline decades to muster the courage to tell, but it is yet another important look into how children and adolescents get pulled into such a life.

Kline begins with a little background: a typical white middle-class family in Florissant, Missouri in 1975. Florissant is just outside St. Louis, and a neighboring community to Ferguson. He is in many ways an ordinary 14-year-old: he goes to school, hangs out with friends, plays at the local park, and so on. At this age, he has already discovered that he is gay, which causes him a great deal of anxiety about what will happen if his family finds out, as well as how to explore and make peace with this part of his identity. He has a few friends who turn out to be gay as well, and they are mildly helpful, but it is when he meets a boy named Tim that he thinks he's made a big breakthrough in figuring out who he is.

Unfortunately, Tim is a front person who brings potential victims to a pimp named Ray, and this is what happens to Kevin. Ray first lures him in with promises of having fun together and airs of serving as an older mentor and lover, but once Kevin is hooked, he is forced into turning tricks with two other hustlers, Stevie and Squirrel, in Tower Grove Park in St. Louis.

The first striking aspect of this narrative, aside from a 14-year-old being victimized in the first place, is how Kevin is drawn into the life to begin with. In both Made in the USA and Faraway, this part of every story is something I personally will always find shocking. That someone--at times even a family member--will first earn and then betray trust in order to make money off the abuse, degradation, and devaluation of another human being will never lose its visceral affect for me. What Tim and then Ray do to coax a confused 14-year-old into "the life" is a demonstration of how innocently these stories begin, and also how quickly they can turn.

The heart of the story in many ways is the bond between Kevin, Stevie, and Squirrel. These three boys, pushed into this predicament not only by Ray but also by circumstances such as desperation and poverty, become genuine friends and look after each other as such. There is more than one occasion during the narrative when the only reason Kevin agrees to work for Ray again is so that he can see the other two, to make sure they're okay and, somewhat ironically, to experience authentic relationship. Stevie and Squirrel truly are the two main reasons Kevin makes it through the summer.

One undercurrent to this story is the role of denial. Fearful of what might happen if his family, friends, school, or anyone else might do, Kevin keeps his sexual orientation to himself, even as he has so many questions. He repeatedly states that his parents in particular drop enough hints of their disapproval of such an identity, which keeps him from turning to them for guidance. There were also indicators that Stevie may have been pushed out of his home by such an attitude. Near the end of the book, Kline rather pointedly makes the case that it is such a cultural stigma persisting even today that helps trap many young gay boys in trafficking, because they aren't sure of safer options prior to their being assimilated.

Again, Kevin's story happens right under the noses of everyone. His family just assumes that he's spending the night with friends when out working for Ray. In fact, he leads two completely different lives: one in Florissant and one in Tower Grove, and nobody in his home life is the wiser. As one for whom St. Louis is a special and treasured place, to see so many familiar areas as the background for this story helped illustrate the point that sex trafficking doesn't happen Out There, but in places we know and call home.

Kline's story does well to illustrate the ways in which sex trafficking is the result of systems of poverty, ostracization, discrimination, and denial. As Jordheim also notes in her book, victims of trafficking do not choose this life, but are forced into it. That is no less the case for gay youth who are told to leave their families or who otherwise are given no safer alternatives. Faraway is a powerful call to awareness of how we as a society have created this problem ourselves.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Sunday, March 08, 2015

A Time of Cleansing - A Prayer for Lent 3

Based on Psalm 19 and John 2:13-22

All the world is yours, O God. The morning dew on spring grass. The chill of winter wind. The smell of autumn rain. The bronzing summer sun. In these hours of cold and dark, perennial bulbs soon to sprout will signal the bloom of renewal. Conifers towering over our heads remind us that life is ever-present, even in the face of death’s uncertainty.

In this holy season, we prepare to receive your life-giving good news once again. You call us to a time of cleansing, of owning up to the lies and half-truths we tell ourselves. You call us to repent of the ways we use your name for our own ends; the deceptive methods we employ to exploit what you have created; the ways we’ve transformed the spaces in which you dwell into a marketplace of our own desires.

You call us to account not to break us down, but to build us up. You are ever enacting new life among us and in us. Sometimes we stray from your ways because we don’t fully believe it. We need yet another reminder that in this world of yours, we are not alone.

Through our prayers, help us to consider ways we might serve as such reminders to those whom we lift up to you now…(Prayers of the People)

O God, help us to notice the signs of resurrection all around us. By these same signs, give relief and hope to our souls. Amen.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Small Sips Keeps Dropping the Mic

I know this well. Jan Edmiston reflects on every church's desire for a pastor who will attract young families:
Let’s be honest about the “why.“ Are we saying that we want these rare and valuable Young Families for what they can give to us? 
What if – instead – the “why” of this demographic quest was about feeding souls and sharing authentic community? I always hoped – as a young mom – that church would provide adults that could help me nurture my children. I always wanted to know that – if my kids couldn’t come to me or HH with a problem – they would have other trustworthy adults to whom they could go (and they did.) 
Young families are great. Old families are great. Families made up of child-free couples are great. Families of single people are great. Imagine if every church simply wanted A Pastor Who Could Bring In Broken People. Now that’s a church.
As a younger pastor, I've certainly encountered this expressed desire, among other common assumptions about what a young pastor will or won't do. Young families are a clear signal of vibrancy, but they're far from the only one. Other such signals could include how often your building is used by both church and community groups and how much time your church spends on outreach and visibility.

The downside to only having younger families, in my experience and from what I've read, is that they actually have less disposable income and time to devote to the church. They have jobs and kids, and those responsibilities take up a lot of energy. Sure, they help indicate that the church has a future, but for the day-to-day stuff, a church can't rely solely on them by any means.

I know this one, too. In a UCC devotional a few weeks ago, Vince Amlin reflects on people's expectations that pastors be perfect:
On one hand, I recognize that I, like every clergyperson, wear an invisible sign that says something like "God is watching" (but less creepy). And I take seriously the call to be an example of how a person of faith behaves (as best I can). 
On the other hand, I fear that the pretense of the perfect pastor gets us all into trouble. When we require our leaders to be blameless, we wind up with clergy who get good at keeping secrets, and we wind up with church members who believe that faith is only for perfect people. 
Perhaps what we need is just what we have: angry, sexy, swearing clergy who often disappoint us, but who, on their best days, point us imperfectly toward Perfect Love.
Hi. I'm Jeff. I like bourbon and pro wrestling and I have four tattoos. Jesus loves you.

Answer: most likely not. Benjamin Corey reflects on whether today's American Christians would like the first ones:
If you could meet one of the first Christians would you like them?  
I’m convinced that many American Christians would not. In the course of 2000 years, Christianity- while maintaining the basic tenets, has morphed and shifted from the way it was originally designed and lived out. Since we tend to live in a culture that is rather self-centered, we have a tendency to assume we “have it right” while completely overlooking the fact that our version of Christianity might appear quite foreign– even hopelessly corrupted– if viewed through the eyes of one of the first Christians.  
If those entrenched in American Christianity could transport back in time to experience Christianity as it originally was, they’d be uncomfortable at best, and at worst, would probably have declined the invitation to join Christianity at all.
A list of five reasons most probably wouldn't like them follows. The basic gist is that, given the individualistic and nationalistic values with which we've overlaid our faith, the practices of the first Christians would be foreign and discomforting to us today. It's a great way to offer commentary on where American culture has taken Christianity, and it's worth re-examining what we emphasize, perhaps without question.

Maybe this time they'll get it. Sometimes Brant Hansen blogs as the Krusty Sage, where he just rants about some cultural or faith issue that he thinks we shouldn't be spending so much time and energy on. If you're familiar with certain corners of the internet, you might be aware that certain segments of Christians--specifically, Christian MEN--are completely freaking out about yoga pants and what women wearing them cause men to feel in their physical and spiritual nether-regions. And so, finally, the Krusty Sage weighs in on the issue:
Fellows, let’s have a little quiz:  
When you lust after a woman who’s wearing yoga pants, whose fault is it?  
 A. It’s 100% her fault.  
 B. It’s mostly her fault, but some your fault.  
 C. It’s mostly your fault, but it’s her fault, too.  
 D. It’s 100% your fault. 
Now, check your papers. If you didn’t say “D”… you’re kidding yourself.  
Yeah. Seriously. It’s your fault. For all the discussion of “You know, ladies, men are visual, so…” no one’s apparently going to say this, so I’ll say it:  
Quit blaming women for your issue.
Right here would be the perfect spot for a mic drop. But I don't have a mic. The long and short of it is that men really seem to like blaming women for what men do, and yoga pants are pretty tame compared to the more serious stuff like abuse and rape. "If you hadn't been wearing that, I wouldn't have done what I did." Control yourselves, fellas. Use the parts of your brain that handle personal restraint, taking responsibility, and logic.

Oh, goody. Jamie the Very Worst Missionary has some thoughts on 50 Shades of Grey.
Take away the male hotness and the buckets of money and suddenly 50 Shades of Grey is a book about an insecure, young woman who meets a controlling, manipulative stalker, and finds herself in a mess of her own conflicting emotions. She enjoys being the object of his desire, but she's also intimidated by his demeanor. She's not comfortable with the things he's asking her to do, but he's only asking because she's “special” and he wants to share special moments with her. He smothers her, but only because he wants to protect her. And he punishes her, but only for her own good. She knows he's not perfect, but surely, if she sticks with him long enough, he'll change. She's freaked out by the demands she must meet to be in a relationship with this guy, but how else can she show him how much she really loves him? 
No one wants to read that book, no matter how hot the sex is, because THAT is not a love story. 
I've read many commentaries on this book and movie, ranging from how it doesn't depict BDSM well to how it glorifies or repackages abuse to just how bloody awful the writing is. Jamie highlights the lack of mutuality that seems to exist in the relationship between Christian and Anastasia, but also that many women who like this stupid thing may have some Anastasia in them and that's why they like it.

I dunno. I haven't read or seen it, either. I'm taking Jamie's word for it. But the whole post is good.

Basically. And here's a cartoon from the Nakedpastor David Hayward:


This could use a mic drop, too.

Misc. Winelibrarian on pursuing a work-life balance. PeaceBang reflects on Affect Management, that is, what we pastors do with our faces when we're on the job. Caleb Wilde on ten ways children can be involved in funerals.

Monday, March 02, 2015

God's Anonymous Ones

As I enter through heavy wooden doors, I encounter a hush that is understood rather than enforced. I sign in; the woman sitting at the desk looks up and smiles pleasantly, asking me who I am there to see. The smile gives way to a look of recognition as she points me toward the hallway and tells me the room number.

I pass a nurse's station that is more bustling than I am used to. Maybe I never wanted to notice the amount of noise that exists here. Maybe I'm the only one who thought that such a place deserves as little conversation as possible. I pass through the midst of another family standing in the hall, members gathered in groups. They pay just enough attention to allow my passage.

I arrive at the room, but am told to wait outside for a moment. I lean against the wall, not feeling hurried. It is while here that I begin to catch snippets of conversation from the other family. I don't look at them directly in an effort to minimize my voyeurism, but I inevitably gain a better understanding of what has just occurred: their slumped shoulders, vacant stares, pithy phrases exchanged about a "good long life." I've been a part of many of these scenes. There are certain commonalities, but each is still unique: reality altered, disorientation sets in for a time, a treasured companion gone.

A nurse emerging from the room interrupts my reflection, and I am allowed to enter.

At this juncture, her disease has overcome her ability to speak. She strives and strains, but it takes tremendous concentration to understand. I've brought along a Bible, and read a few passages to her. We allow the silence to interrupt us often. I pray for her. We hold hands for a while. Then it's time for me to go.

In this place, as in many, nobody really notices visitors. Staff and other guests understand that there's some relationship, some reason for being there, but we don't say unless we're asked. There's always an understanding: you're here for your thing and I'm here for mine. We'll share an elevator or stand in line for coffee or sit in waiting rooms with a chair or more between us if we can manage it.

We certainly have something on our minds, of course. After all, some situation has brought us together. It might be cancer or a surgery or a broken bone or an aneurysm. We won't tell unless prompted. We won't be prompted except by someone we trust or with authority, or both. In the meantime, we'll catch brief phrases on the way past each other or notice the body language. Noticing what we can from the non-exchange, each of us continue on our divergent paths.

I once attended a lecture by a noted author and speaker. I couldn't tell you the exact content of her talk that day, but we were all riveted by her personality if not the subject matter. We'd read her books and many had no doubt heard her on prior occasions. I brought along one such book for the occasion, hoping that I could get it signed if I had a chance.

I was thankful to see that I would have such an opportunity. As she signed it, she made small talk about where I was from and maybe something about what I did. I don't really remember much about that either. The only thing I do remember is the terseness with which the conversation ended: a beat of silence, followed by a single, "Goodbye." There was a line behind me, after all.

I'm sure I took some notes from that lecture. I could root around and find them if I wanted to revisit them. I'd read her written words and jotted down thoughts from words spoken, but my words to her would be forgotten as soon as I walked away. It's easier for many listening to one than the other way around. No, whatever I said to her was like two passing in a hallway, picking up just enough, then forgotten.

I return to that same hushed space a week later. I pass through another hallway vigil of weary phrases  and step into a room that had seen dozens of occupants and hundreds of interactions just like ours. I read and pray and be silent, without fanfare or celebrated wisdom. No crowd gathers to hang on our words; no one records our conversation for prosperity. We are the other's only audience.

This is how it is among God's anonymous ones.