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Archive for the ‘church’ Category

I realize, in reading back over my blog, that there are a few things I tend to write about a lot.  I guess it could give the impression that I am a one trick pony.  I am really much more diverse than this.  I think my blog becomes that place that I can stop and wrestle, and think things through that are rattling around in my brain. Unfortunately for you, dear reader, these seem to run on similar tracks, especially faith and sexuality.  So lucky you, you get a view into my psyche again.

One of the most significant events over the last few months has been finally finding a church that I am pleased to attend. For many of you that is probably not a priority.  For me it is quite significant. I really relished the move to D.C. partly because I felt I had the opportunity to find a new community of believers.  I really loved the people in my church back in Michiana. They became my family when I had none. Quite honestly though, I was having more and more issues with actions and beliefs of the church the longer I was there.  I didn’t want to leave because they were my family, but in many ways I was itching to leave. [1]  After months of searching, and soul crushing isolation, I was on the verge of giving up and attending a church that was the best of the ones I really did not enjoy.  Then I found the Table on line, quite by accident. From the first visit I knew this was a church I could be proud of attending; a church I could be involved in and to which I could contribute. In short, I found a community again.

But this is not a blog about finding church.  It is instead about a conundrum that has emerged.

So there is theme one: Faith.  Enter theme two: sexuality.

I have been trying to get to know the people in this community. I am quite impressed with them.  Caring, generous, justice oriented.  Gracious, fun, human.  They are good people.  I signed up to be part of the worship band, something I didn’t think I would do again.  I find it a completely different experience.  One bonus, ever practice I have been to has ended with us going a local bar for a drink.  Despite my very meager bank balance, I really enjoy this ability to get to know others better. This last week, I went out with the other women from the team.  It was good.  Good conversation, good beginnings.  As per usual, I am fairly significantly older than either of them.  They were in their mid twenties.  One engaged and planning a wedding, the other in a significant relationship on the verge of engagement.

The conversation went like this:

Serious: So I think I found an apartment.
Ringbearer: By yourself?
Serious: Yeah. <to me> My housemate and I were about to sign a lease when she told me that she was moving in with her boyfriend, so I have finite time to find a new place.
Me: That really sucks.
Ringbearer: Why didn’t you move in with Significant Other?
Serious: He and Housemate have lease til May, wouldn’t do that to Housemate. It would be too small for me too.Plus. My parents would probably disown me if I moved in with Significant Other. Even though it would make sense, we’re together almost every night.
Ringbearer: That’s why I didn’t move in with Spouse-to-be. My parents wouldn’t be happy.
Me:<nothing to add>

One of the things I really struggle with today is the way church talks about sexuality.  You’ve heard me rant here before. One of the things that I struggle with the most is that the church is really bad about having the conversation about sex when it isn’t in the context of marriage.  We talk a lot about waiting for marriage, but not much else. I hear a lot of this growing up.  Thank god I had sensible parents who had  a more thorough conversation with us about choices, and consequences, and relationships.  But I am not 17 any more.

I am not even mid twenties.

I am 41.

And a virgin.

This conversation immediately put me on edge.  Not because I was faulting either of these women for their choices, but because I felt so….irrelevant isn’t the word…forgotten not either…perhaps archaic is. I felt archaic. I am used to being ‘suspect’ outside of church.  By this I mean, I rarely talk about being a virgin, because so many people around me think it is flat out weird, or they assume that it is simply because of the lack of opportunity. [2] This is really hurtful to me.  I am not a virgin because I am overly religious, or I bought into some simplistic idea of purity until marriage.  It is a complex and well thought out series of decisions on my part, and honestly, not always a decision I am pleased with.  Sometimes it is more a burden than I care to admit. The one thing I could always count on was, that despite my frustration with church, that was the one place where my decision was normal.  Almost all my friends that I grew up with were virgins when they got married.  I was just like everyone else.  Until they all got married and I was the only one left.  Now I was in a conversation where I had nothing to add, no experience to speak from, and the very nature of who I am is awkward. I am not normal. Instead, it is not acceptable to be me any more. [3][4] I have no place where being a virgin is normal.

To me this is the beginning of a conversation.  One I would like the church in general to take on.  I want us to wrestle with sexuality and purity.  Can we have a conversation where marriage/covenant is not the end game? Can we talk about what sexuality looks like when children are not a possibility? Can we talk about needs and longings? Can we be honest for a change?  I know I am not alone in this, but it feels like incredibly uncharted territory, especially in the evangelical christian world.  Please?  Some of us really need it, because it is beginning to feel like we don’t belong anymore.

I want to be a relevant part of the conversation, and not the circus sideshow freak.

Caveats:

1. For the record. I really am in support of some of the direction they have made in the last year.  I think they are becoming the church they need to for their community. I love them dearly, even if I don’t always agree with them.

2.  These people should just ride the metro with me.  I have had a number of prospects there!

3. Neither woman was in any way judgmental towards me. They don’t even know.  It is just how I was feeling in the conversation.

4. I cannot credit myself for this last statement. This came from a good friend, Amy, in a phone conversation last night.  Everyone needs an Amy for good conversations.  I am unanimous in this.

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Rituals

There is this thing about humans. Despite the fact that some of us love spontaneity, and flying by the seat of our pants, we all have some rituals in our lives.  My housemate has one.  She always puts on the Nightly News with Brian Williams while she cooks dinner. Much though I hate getting stuck in ruts, I have a few rituals myself. Sometimes they really drive me nuts.

 

Quote Jar

Quote Jar

Last year, on the occasion of my 40th birthday, my friends gave me a tremendous gift.  They knew how much I love collecting new things and ideas.  Really, a day without something new is not really a good day for me. They knew I would be leaving come August, and so put their collective selves together and created a quote jar. I was so overwhelmed.  A big jar of new ideas, clever thoughts, words expressed better than I ever could.  Sweet Action!  In a rare case of restraint I chose not to open it. Instead I though I would save it for when I went to grad school.  Washington D. C. is a fair ways away from Michiana, and I figured I would save it for when I missed my friends greatly, and needed to remember how much they loved me.

Then I moved, and nothing happened the way it should.  Housing took an awfully long time to find.  Amazing former Vox friends JavaJanie and her husband Steve took me in, based on just a minimal acquaintance, and became some of the best friends I have ever had.  They and their amazing teens blessed me with family when I had none. Then, cousins by marriage extended their guest room to me, and gave me a place of independence and  grace until I found a place to live. 5 months after arriving I finally had a place of my own.

During this interim my quote jar was packed away, with everything else I owned, in a storage locker in Waldorf.  During a time I really could have used it, the voice of my friends was locked away.  It was an happy moment when I unpacked this jar, and put it on my shelf.

It has become my new daily ritual, once I wake up, to dig out a quote, ponder it, then affix it to my wall. It is a way of starting out my day thinking, and remembering that I am loved.  Plus it brings another burst of color to my bedroom.  A burst that is just mine, as when the door is open, no one knows the quotes are there.

Daily Ritual

Daily Ritual

The quotes are from everywhere. Plato. Anne Lamotte, Donald Miller, Jane Austen, Dogma, U2, Dolly Parton, Harry Potter, Emily Dickenson. They are diverse and funny, thought provoking and witty.  I love them.  They are mine.  It is the landscape of my heart, this wall.  It is bits and pieces of joy and memory and love. Even when they are subversive. I am secretly hoping I will put my hand in the jar and come out with a “I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.” (Geek points for the reference).

During lent I have started a new ritual.  One that I am simultaneously finding difficult, and restful. I am going to mass at the Catholic Basilica at the end of my road. Today I went to Mass at 4:30 pm.  I actually dressed up for it. Wore my tie skirt. As I was walking up the steps I heard “Will you look at that? It’s neckties!” ” Isn’t that clever?” “I think it is lovely.” An exchange between to women leaving the Vesper service.  Nice to hear people talking behind your back and have it be positive.  Ensured I went into Mass with a bit of confidence.  Truth be told, I find mass very disconcerting because I am not yet comfortable with the rituals and sayings and actions.  I have found that confidence is the one thing I have yet to discover in my journey to find a church in D.C.  Mostly I feel awkward and out of place, no matter where I go. As if I have little to recommend myself. At least at Mass I come by it honestly. I literally do not know what I am doing.  Yet here it is, becoming part of my daily ritual in Lent.  Taking the time to, despite my discomfort, participate in worship.

Today, when I woke up, I opened my quote jar. I pulled out a quote that Gwen submitted.  Many of you do not know Gwen, and I am sorry for you.  She is one of the most down-to-earth, rational people I know.  Most people will talk about what needs to be done, only to find that Gwen has gotten on and done it. She’s that person.  Capable, wise, knowledgeable, and the living embodiment of git-er-done. She never misses a beat.  Gwen is not a talker like me.  She would have written this blog post in probably about 4 sentences.  They would have been good sentences. She would have thought hard about them.  They would have packed a punch. It would probably have taken Gwen as long to write her four sentences as it takes me to write this whole post.  It’s because she is a ponderer.  I process things externally, meaning I talk to help myself see where I need to go.  Gwen mulls it over, and when she speaks it is a good thing.  I miss Gwen.  If you knew her, you would miss her too. The day we packed up the rental truck to head to D.C. I swore I would not cry.  I held it together until Gwen came by and hugged me. She and I cried together. I wish I had made it a ritual to talk to Gwen more often.  I have a feeling she could really have spoken some things to me that could have made me a better person. She did it today, even without being next to me.

Gwen, in all her wisdom

Gwen, in all her wisdom

I used to love change.  Change used to be the thing that I thrived upon.  If things were too much the same I used to struggle.  I missed the upheaval, the new, the adventure that change was.  Then I got scared I would fail.  I got scared I had nothing to fall back on.  Fear took the love of change from me. Correction. I let fear take the love of change from me. These last few months have reinforced this.  That I am not up to the challenge of change. That I again have nothing to fall on.  That I cannot do the adventure.

Gwen, in all her wisdom, has reminded me that I should not believe the lies of fear.  Change is a synonym for hope. When I was in Reading for Life I would teach my participants the virtue Hope.  I would define it as “Active belief in a future possibility that I choose to invest myself in.” It is not enough to believe I have the possibility of doing good on this paper, I actively work to make it so.  I believe that I could be a great teacher, and invest myself in becoming that. I believe I would enjoy travelling to Australia and therefore save money every month towards a trip.  Perhaps this is something that I need to add to my daily rituals.  Choose Hope today and let it change me.

Thanks Gwen!

How do you see hope? How does it change you?

 

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Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the church[1] is going to hell.  Now don’t get me wrong.  There are pockets of hope, people living out their faith, people trying to be examples of Jesus. Mostly, though, I really think we’re missing the plot in huge, dangerous ways that threaten the very fabric of our existence.

Well maybe that is a bit alarmist.

Maybe.

I just feel like we as a community of believers are fracturing.  What seems worse is that the things that are causing said fractures are things that don’t really matter. No, that’s not fair.  They do matter.  They just aren’t entirely biblical.

For example.  Politics. God is not a Republican or a Democrat, just as God was neither Whig or Tory.  There are parts of each party that mirror gospel points of view, and parts that completely go against gospel principles. The idea that one party or the other is “God’s” is frankly ludicrous. You hear me?  Ludicrous.

Yet here we are, judging the godliness of people based on what party they are in. It makes me want to shake people.

The problem I have with this goes deeper.  I am so concerned at the merging of faith and politics for so many reasons. I hope, somewhere in this blog, to address three of them today. I dislike the marriage of faith and politics because it leads to the compromise of gospel principles, because it changes the equation from blessing and serving to finding victory, and because it leads us to place self and state above Christ.

One of the most important books I  have read in this last year was The Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray. As Murray explores what the Anabaptist tradition of faith has to offer the world right now he explores church history.  The change in the church, as it became co-opted to the Roman state under Constantine is remarkable.  He observes that the  focus on Christ dissolved.  The early church had been so absorbed in following Jesus and his example, yet under Constantine that changed in a hurry.  Suddenly the church was emphasizing Old Testament principles over Christ’s commandments. The problem, as Murray outlined it, was the struggle between state and Gospel.  How can you reconcile loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you with borders of an empire that you have to defend?  How can you speak of giving to those who have need, and feeding the poor, when you have people of wealth and stature that your government is obliged to?  If you notice, Murray comments, even art and church rituals that come out of that time relegate Jesus to birth, death, and Resurrection.  None of the paintings show Christ feeding the poor, or healing the sick.  It’s all crucifixion, and birth. Even the Apostles creed (written during that time)  mentions virgin birth, suffering, death, and Resurrection. Not a syllable  is said about his mission or connection with people.  I think the same is true for us today.  The more we try to merge faith and politics the more the life of Christ gets marginalized.  Notice how much we’ve been focused on Old Testament issues (homosexuality for example) and not about caring for the poor, healing the sick, loving God and loving people (in that order). We’re de-emphasizing the importance of community, and emphasizing the importance of self-determination.

This creates even more of a problem.  We’re called to be re-presenters of Christ to the world.  We’re supposed to be known by the love we show.  We’re supposed to be people who serve those around us.  The more we try to merge faith and politics, the more the equation gets changed. The language has become one of taking back our rights, and waging war against things that we’re against, and defeating the enemy (which is increasingly the opponent not the spiritual forces the gospel tells us it is), and getting victory.  It is taking us far away from the idea that we must mimic Christ who, according to scripture “he made himself nothing  by taking the very nature of a servant” [2].  We’re becoming the exact opposite of this.  We believe that we need to secure the victory.  Being correct, or in power has subtly replaced the need for righteousness. I include myself in this.  There have been many times that my need to prove my right-ness has outweighs my love for others.  Learning to do things a different way has been hard, but beautiful. The privilege of serving someone else is far greater than than demanding the authority to rule.

When I was in high school one of my teachers, a good Mennonite woman, didn’t pay all her taxes.  She did it on purpose.  She submitted her tax documents, along with a letter stating that she was not going to pay the percentage of her taxes that went to military spending, since pacifism was a tenet of her faith. I was kind of in awe and kind of annoyed at her stance as a teenager.  I thought it was quite a supposition to take.  The truth is, her tax battle, ended up costing her far more than the amount she refused to pay. However, as an adult I find I honor her sacrifice a lot more.  She put life over money.  It seems today, the opposite is true in the church.  I’m seeing more and more that we are making important self-determination, personal wealth, and personal responsibility. It seems that we’re unwilling to make a sacrifice for a principle and for others.

A good example of this would be Gay marriage.   I’m not going to argue the pros and cons of this, rather talk about how very self-serving this whole debate has become.  What does it cost us, as a church, to condemn gay marriage?  How great a percentage of the people in our church are gay, let alone wanting to get married?  Relatively few. The argument we use, over and over again, is preserving the sanctity of marriage. Yet, in this last two years, I have had the dubious privilege of seeing 5 marriages crumble due to porn addictions on the part of the man.  All of them were ‘Christian’  couples. Yet there isn’t the fervor in the Church to address pornography or the human trafficking that the industry spawns that there is to taking on Gay Marriage. Why not?  I suspect one of the main reasons is because we would actually have to sacrifice something in our daily lives if we addressed pornography.  Focusing on Gay Marriage costs us nothing personally.

This trend in the church towards seeking political authority, towards self-determination and the compromises it causes us to make is so troubling to me.  I can’t see it leading anywhere good. I can only see it fracturing our community of faith.

Unless.

Unless it means that the structures that are not on the right foundations are starting to fall.  Out of the wreckage, something good might grow. Something closer to what it was intended to be.  Something created to serve and love and sacrifice.

I can only hope.

Hope, and do my best to become this kind of person.

1. The church I’m referring to here is the American church in general.

2. This is found in the 2nd chapter of Phillipians.

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Watch Your Mouth!

I had a lesson this week on the importance of watching what you say.

I will be the first to say that I’m not perfect.  I sometimes  often speak before I think. I do try not to, especially when speaking in public.  I kinda feel that when you are in front of a group of people, especially if you are responsible for them in some way, it behooves you to pay close attention to what you say and how you say it.

A long time ago I visited a church while staying with family.  It just so happened to be Mothering Sunday.  One of the lead elders gave the sermon. He at one point said “The greatest calling a woman can have is to minister to her children.”  I wasn’t impressed.  I don’t know the guy personally, but I know his ministry.  Giving him a wide benefit of the doubt, I believe he meant that it is a great honor for a mother to raise her children to be what God created them to be.  What he intimated, inadvertently, was that women who are childless, through choice, circumstance, barrenness, or single-hood, would never be able to experience the greatest calling God has on their lives.  (For the record I think this is complete and utter bollocks).  The elder may not have meant to say these things, but it came across in the thoughtless choice of words he used to ‘honor’ mothers. Needless to say, I took this to heart and really tried to pay attention to what I say, and to try and not be as careless with my tongue, especially in public.  It’s difficult for me.  I’m glib and quick with the sarcasm, and excellent at speaking on the fly. Paying attention means planning and preparation, both of which are tedious to me. The tedium is worth it, if I can avoid causing pain.

Fast forward to the present day.  This weekend, not the best for me.  A friend of mine had a baby. Normally quite a happy occasion, especially since we’ve been praying with them for 11 years to have one.  Conception was difficult, there were miscarriages, and finally here comes Baby G.  In the midst of the joy and celebration of his arrival I suddenly found myself pouting and pissy.  I finally figured out why, late Saturday evening.  Baby G’s mama was the first person to recognize that my childlessness, as a single person, was sometimes almost as painful as her infertility.   I recognize that this could be an inflammatory statement too.  My faith and my situation in life make the prospect of having a child infinitesimal. I’m a single woman of a certain age with no prospects of relationship in the near future, so having a child is probably not very likely. As a person who would love a child, and thinks she would be a pretty awesome mother, this is painful.  I won’t say it hurts as much as your body betraying your desires, but every time another person announces a pregnancy, pain and resentment mingle with joy.  Baby G’s mother opened up her pain and made room for me there, and there was a part of me that was superbly angry that she found the exit, and left me behind.

I was dealing with this, and being disappointed with myself for the attitude that manifested, and feeling strongly the loneliness of carrying this all by myself, when I went to church on Sunday. As my friend Laura put it, I should have gone to Mattress Mennonite, or Bedside Baptist [1] and listened to Pastor Sheets talk about the Great Comforter.

I wish I had.  Instead I got a painful lesson.

Our Pastor spontaneously honored [2]  some members of the worship team who sacrifice a lot for us to be able to have good music on a Sunday am.  Two couples have young children that they bring in pj’s and then between practice and the service starting the parents get them ready and dressed.  The Pastor honored them.  Several couples have to come separately, so that one can come to practice early. The pastor Honored them. Some people help care for the children of team members during the worship time.  The pastor honored some of them by name.  Some of us he missed.  Not only was I caring for a child of a team member this particular Sunday, and sitting really close to a woman honored, but quite often I come to lead the worship time at church after working all night at the hotel.  The Pastor knows this.  Another woman missed was caring for two kids, sitting immediately behind a woman honored.  She had greeted people that morning, was caring for the toddlers, and then was going to go and teach pre-school during the sermon.

The thing is.  I don’t need to be honored.  I just need to not be ignored.  Sadly the Pastor has a track record of doing just that with me, and the other woman not mentioned. The whole thing  made me feel distinctly less than. Since the whole conversation started off honoring the parents it just tweaked that raw place in me, and I wanted to storm off and cry my way home to bed. I felt like my sacrifices were unimportant since they didn’t involve kids. I’m sure that is not what the pastor was intending to do.  He had great intentions, but his off the cuff comments hurt people. I usually can roll with the punches, but this brought me to tears, an unusual occurrence.  I don’t usually let people have that much power over me. This found the chink in my armor.

The sermon preached this Sunday was on choosing to not live life out of your past hurts.  All I could think was “That’s not my problem. I need to find out how to not live out of my present ones.”

I probably should start by watching what I say.  I don’t want to make anyone hurt the way I do right now.

 

  1. Or St. Sealy of the Posturpedic, had I wanted a more liturgical service.
  2. Rightfully so. They deserved to be honored. They do a lot for us.

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So yesterday I had class with my “radical” professor.

Sometimes I tweet the crazy things he comes up with, but mostly it is a good class.  He just likes to try to poke holes in your thinking, and shake you up a bit.  The class requires a lot of work though, and I am forever wading through the vast amounts of reading he requires.

This weeks reading was very unique. It was touching on the liberation theology that permeated the Afro-Caribbean community in the West Indies, and how it was inspired by the Levitical concept of Jubilee. (don’t know what this is? Meet me at Camera Three). I was quite interested, because my teacher is usually quite scathing about all things scriptural. He’s an Atheist, with some vodoun leanings; quite the combo.

This whole thing was vastly interesting to me, for two reasons.  First, my church just celebrated its own Jubilee, and were asking ourselves some of these questions.  Whom are we meant to be about freeing? Where do we need to let things lie fallow? Etc.  Secondly, I was very interested in a group that took root in the UK when I was there called Jubilee 2000. Though it sprang up in the church, it eventually became more secularly oriented, and the purpose of its existence was to advocate for, and lobby for, the forgiveness of debt for the worlds poorest nations. The basis of this campaign was found in the Levitical idea of Jubilee.  Both of these were ringing in my ears as I read this article talking about how this concept of Jubilee transformed the slave resistance movement.

In the ensuing conversation about this in class I brought up the things that this reminded me of, and my teacher went off on a riff about jubilee. He said, “If you notice, Jubilee is about property reform, and the rich people don’t like it. Look at what Jesus said. “It is easier for the camel to enter the Eye of a Needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom” If you look at the Lord’s prayer Jesus said that the kingdom is right here. So here on this earth it is hard for a rich person to enter into Jubilee.” He even went on to say that Marx (whom I suspect is my professors personal hero) based his ideas of land reform upon the principles of the early church community, before it became “a tool of the capitalist government”.

I had to sit and think for a long time after that.

Truth is, my professor just spoke the truth. I had never connected those two scriptures.  The idea that Jesus’ warning about the rich man wasn’t just taking about the great hereafter, but here and now is a really interesting concept. Plus, Jesus was all about bringing lasting Jubilee. Look at the scripture he read as his ministry began. Isaiah 61. This passage is all about Jubilee principles of setting people free, and of making things right.  Then go back to the Lords prayer.  “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” a spiritualistization of the Jubilee principle of debt forgiveness.  “Give us today our daily bread” connects easily with the idea that the fields should lie fallow and trust the Lord to provide what is needed.

I thought a lot on the way home.

Jubilee. Community. Freedom. Wealth and Poverty. I really learned a lot of unexpected things in school today.

Camera Three: Since there aren’t many of us who really enjoy wading through the rule laden book of Leviticus in the Old Testament of the Bible, here is a quick and dirty explanation of Jubilee. If I miss something, feel free to remind me.  Jubilee had at its core the desire to reset the balance.  Every 50 years was the Jubilee year. Slaves were set free, inherited property that had been sold reverted to the original owners, debts were forgiven, fields were to lay fallow.  Everyone had a chance to breathe, depend on God, and reset.  In addition, if you knew the jubilee year was coming up you weren’t supposed to stop lending, or hedge your bets.  If you knew someone was in need you still had to pay them a fair price for their property, despite the fact that they would get it back soon. Even money lending is never to be for profit, no interest rates allowed. It’s a pretty interesting concept, and a watered down version was played out ever 7 years as well.

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