All This Trouble

kareninthedesert —  September 4, 2014 — 3 Comments

Do you ever have those days when you ask yourself, “Why am I going to all this trouble?”

When I was in 8th grade (worse year of my life – true story!), my teacher Ann Andrews asked us to write five things about ourselves on an index card. My fifth thing was ‘I am an eternal optimist.’ It’s still true, but I do have those days when I wonder if I’m just talking to myself around here.

“Around here” is a church, a wonderful progressive place filled with laughter and grace and people walking their talk. I do love this place. It’s a job, sure, but it’s so much more than that.  My lungs fill a little deeper when I pull into the parking lot.

But every year it gets a little harder. Every year attendance is down just a bit. Every year we have to struggle just a little more to make the budget. Every year I’m sweet-talking just a few more to get people to participate in spiritual formation (Sunday School, classes, and retreats and such).

At least that’s the way it seems some days.

This past Sunday, I was talking with a couple of my favorite parents after worship. They shared with me their family struggle with confirmation. They have a daughter that age; we’ll call her Callie. Callie’s not super-excited about confirmation. Is it her choice to attend the classes?

Selfishly, I hope Callie comes to confirmation. She’s fun and awesome and bright. We share a zeal for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But on a deeper level, her struggle is my struggle. Her questions are my questions.

Best. Show. Ever.

Best. Show. Ever.

Why do we do confirmation?
Why do I care SO MUCH about this?
Why am I bringing my children into a tradition (Christianity) that has caused and continues to cause so much pain in the world?
Again I ask, why am I going to all this trouble?

So for Callie and for my own son (who understands that, unlike Callie, he has zero choice in the confirmation question – poor kid), here’s my answer.

1. First, here is a list of reasons that are completely irrelevant (to me).

Because I don’t want my kid to burn in hell
Because I want my kids to be “good.”
Because I don’t want my kid to have sex outside of marriage.
Because Christianity is the only answer to the meaning of life.
Because I’m afraid of / superior to other religions and cultures.

These might be legitimate reasons for some people, but they aren’t mine.  I list them here just to deal with the baggage.  I’m a universalist and sex-positive. I think morality is often a distraction from the real work of transformation. The kind of tribal thinking about faith that these reasons represent is the biggest reason to re-think this whole church endeavor. More on this in a later post maybe, but for now I’m moving on…

2. I stick around church because it grounds me.

Human beings are funny creatures. We are, in the words of the Psalms, “made just a little lower than the angels.” According to evolutionary thinkers, we are the universe becoming self-conscious for perhaps the first time. We are simultaneously selfish, greedy, obsessive, mean, short-term thinkers who can’t get our shit in squares to save our own sorry lives, much less the whole darn planet.

My faith does a great job of keeping me in this middle place: knowing and hoping for the best part of humanity and acknowledging that we are flawed and more than a little dangerous.  Yeah, I could have faith without church, but that seems like a lonely and perhaps ego-driven answer.

3. I stick around church because it answers my questions and encourages me to ask better, deeper questions.

At its best, Christian faith helps me develop a healthy relationship with my experiences. With a rich history of contemplation and mysticism, Christianity gives me tools with which to grapple with the biggest questions life has to offer.

bigpicture

biiiiig… really big.

4. I stick around church because it makes me a better person.

There’s always a tug between being real and being kind. At least there is for me. Maybe some people are naturally kind, and good for them. Being part of my faith community gives me lots LOTS of opportunities to practice kindness. I tell my kiddos all the time that the best thing someone can say about you is that you are kind… not smart or beautiful or accomplished or athletic. The more that I’m around these wacky church people, the more I feel the impulse to kindness. The more I practice kindness, the more I progress along the path to being an actual, real life kind person. Then kindness becomes part of the real me. It’s a slow process; just ask the people who know me!

Church folks are not the only people serving peace and justice in the world, but it’s a good bet that if you scratch the surface of a church, you’ll find people who care.

5. I stick around church because it is a human thing to do.

Darn us humans with our existential angst! We just can’t help it. We are always looking for meaning. Sometimes we have a hard time finding meaning and we just make some up. That’s okay too. We’re hard-wired for connection, compassion, and community. We long to belong and to become whatever it is we’re meant to be.

On the big scale, we’re still a species in our infancy. We’re still growing and evolving. Church is helping me do my part.  It’s a lot of trouble, but I’m sticking around.

About these ads

I Hate Bucket Lists

kareninthedesert —  August 27, 2014 — 2 Comments

As my WordPress username indicates, I live in a desert climate.  May through September mean triple-digit temperatures are the norm.  Summer lasts until around Thanksgiving.  Schools are back in session this week, so everywhere I go folks are engaging in the polite exchange of “How was your summer?” and “Were you able to get away?”  I’ve – no kidding – had this conversation ten times in the last week.

I preface this post with this little explanation just as a way of letting you know that I don’t hate travel.  We *were* able to escape the furnace of Phoenix a couple of times… nothing extravagant, but some camping and a trip to visit family.  I’m writing today about a very specific kind of travel:  the I-must-see-this-before-I-die trip.  It’s so common that we have a special name for it:  The Bucket List.  Haven’t you been part of these conversations?

live your list

“I went to Paris/Moscow/London/Alaska.  It was part of my Bucket List.”

“I took a Bucket List trip over the summer…”

“What’s on your Bucket List?”

I hate this kind of exchange.  And here’s why:

1.  It’s an incredibly privileged way of seeing the world.

Bucket Lists are most definitely a First World Problem.  Even in the US, who is traveling?  The travel industry reports that domestic leisure travelers represent median household incomes of $62,500… more than double the median household income for all Americans ($30,932).  When you consider overseas leisure travel across the entire population of our planet, the percentage of traveling humans is minuscule.

I had a friend once say to me, “You can’t truly be open-minded unless you travel.”  I understand the sentiment (I hope she’s not offended if she reads this column), but how do you convey this idea to a single mom who barely makes ends meet in the service industry?  Is there no hope for her to become open-minded too?  Even more so, what does this idea mean to a factory worker in China?  To a midwife in LIberia?  To a farmhand from Brazil?

WDJT?  Where Did Jesus Travel?  Unless you give more weight to strange theories about Jesus than I do, Jesus of Nazareth traveled less than 70 miles away from his hometown in his life (about 68 miles walking distance from Galilee to Jerusalem, the central journey recounted in the synoptic Gospels).  I throw this little informative bit in, just to remain true to the spirit of We Occupy Jesus.

I’m not saying Don’t Travel.  Truly, I’m not.  But let’s change the way we talk about how and why we head out into the world.

throw a dart

Whatever, bro. :/

 

2.  It inclines us to see other cultures as products for us to consume.

Travel and tourism can bring economic benefit to developing countries.  But that benefit comes at a cost – a cultural cost, an ethical cost.  The cultural cost comes when local artisans and merchants begin to modify their products to meet the expectations of foreign travelers.  The ethical costs to the traveler is not insignificant:  Do you understand the provenance of the product you bought in an exotic location?  Do you appreciate what it means to own a piece of someone else’s culture?

When the Great Wall of China (or the Louvre or the Aztec pyramids or you-name-it) is just a tic on a box on a list on your ipad, what does that mean?  Is it possible to visit a lot of places and not really SEE any of them?

I’m not saying Don’t Travel.  Truly, I’m not.  But let’s be self-aware when we purchase souvenirs and mementos and be respectful and educated about the cultures and contexts through which we traipse.

3.  It reveals a cowardly and transactional way of understanding death.

This is the biggie.  We can use a Bucket List (whether it’s entirely travel related or not) to help us manage our anxiety about our limited human life spans.  If our List is incomplete, do we somehow think that we won’t die?  If our List is complete, do we somehow think that we’ll be able to be at peace with death?

I’m inching toward a bigger question about the purpose of our lives.  Is is better to take a memorable trip or make a difference in someone’s life?  Is it better to fill a scrapbook or build a Habitat house?  Is it better to snap an exotic selfie or plant a garden?

One more time, I’m not saying Don’t Travel.  Truly I’m not.  But let’s have a conversation about what we’re here for.

For me, for now, my suitcase is stuffed in the closet and I am content to be at home.  Peace to all.

A family is lost in a mysterious world between life and death, not knowing what is reality and what is merely a dream. They find themselves caught in the middle of an ancient cosmic war between the agents of Darkness and Light.

‘Broken Scythe’ is a novella written by WOJ founder, Brett Gallaher, that will leave you guessing until the very end. Download it now. Your life may depend on it.

img: Google

img: Google

 

The title of this post may have already triggered a series of other questions in your mind. Questions like:

“What do you mean by a fundamentalist?”

“A fundamentalist what?”

And: “I wonder if there’s anything better on TV?”

A little while back, prompted by some comments I’d made, a friend posted the following question on Facebook: “Is Jesus a fundamental Christian?” For whatever reason, his question didn’t attract a single reply.

So here’s my response to the question, which I’ve re-interpreted as:

“Is Jesus a Christian fundamentalist?”

Just to get the obvious answer out of the way first… Jesus couldn’t be a Christian, or he’d be a follower of himself. That conjures up an image in my warped mind, of a Messiah spinning in circles chasing his robe. So…no, let’s forget that.

But would he align himself with fundamentalist Christianity?

At this point, when I started writing this a couple of months back, I was going to give you my own definition of fundamentalist Christianity, followed by an opinion on whether Jesus would identify himself with that kind of religion.

But those ideas just didn’t sit right and I shelved this post till now. If we love Jesus, then the Holy Spirit has a way of directing the paths of our minds, and in this case taking my response to the question on a somewhat different path.

img: Google

img: Google

One anecdote that influenced this change of direction is a little Biblical episode I re-read, in which Jesus’ disciples are outraged that someone outside their group is casting out demons in Jesus’ name.

His reaction? It’s fine, relax. Whoever’s not against us is for us. So he belongs to a different group? He’s still one of us1.

In the past, Christians would pit evangelicals against Catholics (some still do). Nowadays it might be progressives and liberals versus conservatives and fundamentalists. But you know what? That other group that thinks differently from you also loves Jesus, also serves Jesus. They may have a different slant, but their goal is roughly the same. Like you and me, they want others to know Jesus and have life.

Taking that idea a bit further…I’ve come to realise that every single Christian (or person) has his/her own individual idea of who Jesus is. And it’s not just about the theology we’ve been taught or the denomination we belong to. Our concept of Jesus is influenced by our whole life experience, our personality, and our experience of church and of other Christians.

It’s dawned on me that, often, the Christians I disagree with theologically also differ widely from me in their personality, whereas Christians who are similar to me in nature are more likely to be like-minded in their view of Jesus and of the various thorny issues that we grapple with. Personality may play a bigger part than we realise in our theology and our view of Jesus.

A charge is sometimes made that humans make God in their own image. To an extent that can be true and is certainly a potential pitfall.

But supposing God actually does reveal himself differently to each of us?

“To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless,

To the pure you show yourself pure, but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.”2

Now that may be the psalmist’s poetic way of saying that to the faithful, blameless and pure, God is also all those things, but that the crooked need to beware, because God will come and deal with them in a similar way – rather than claiming that God will reveal himself differently to every individual. Or is it the latter?

After all, Jesus made this scary declaration: “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others!”3

Jesus comes to us, in some sense, on our terms and deals with us as we’ve dealt with others. In the gospels, we see him dealing very, very differently with different individuals. A Samaritan woman, a Pharisee, a Roman centurion, a disciple struggling to believe…all receive very different treatment from the Messiah.

To the merciful, Jesus will appear as merciful – now and in the life to come.

The rule-bound – Jesus might judge them by their own rules.

To the fundamentalist, perhaps Jesus asks, “How have you measured up to your own message?” (Whatever that message may be).

What I do know is that Jesus longs for every type of Christian to know and love him and enjoy the life he gives, more than they love their theology, doctrine or even scriptures (which point to him):

“You diligently study the scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life”4.

And I also know that there is room in his heart for every type of Christian; in fact, every type of person. The good news is that he came and lived and died and rose again and gives his Spirit, in order to call everyone into his arms of grace.

In the prodigal son parable5, I identify with the wayward younger brother, embraced and accepted on his return. Maybe you do too. But don’t forget that the older brother – the legalistic, party-pooping son – held an equally precious place in the father’s heart – was spoken to by his father just as tenderly and generously.

If you see yourself as a progressive Christian, don’t be too ready to knock or write off conservative or fundamentalist Christians.

If you’re a conservative, don’t rubbish progressives.

If you see yourself as a fundamentalist Christian, whatever that is, that’s OK too.

As long as Jesus is our common goal.

How about we put aside our labels and pursue love, mercy and unity, and most of all Jesus, who embodies all those qualities.

Back to the question: “Is Jesus a fundamentalist?”

My answer would be: “Maybe to some”.

 

1. Mark 9:38-41

2. Psalm 18:25-26

3. Matthew 7:1-2

4.  John 5:39-40

5. Luke 15:11-32

 

IMG_1007RRoger (or ‘Roj’) and his wife Janine have 3 lively children ranging from teenager to toddler; he goes to work for a rest. A trained nurse, he’s in his ideal job, using his skills and passions to run a homeless healthcare service, and learns a lot from the people he works with, including the idea that God is far more inclusive and compassionate than people give him credit for. To let off steam, he runs reasonably fast around the hills of Hastings (England), where he lives. Now writing for We Occupy Jesus, he’s childishly enjoying being ‘Roj of WOJ’.

story2

My grandmother’s sister and her husband had 4 children.  They had both been married once before and brought one child each to their marriage.  They had a child together and adopted a daughter.  The family joke was that they had his, hers, ours, and someone else’s.  As I was thinking through a post about narrative, this family joke came to mind.

YOURS and MINE:  This is the story of our lives.  When we come together and share our stories – our past, our hopes and dreams – friendship, love, camaraderie, mutual support and cooperation can grow.  I was privileged to watch this happen last night.  A friend and I went to the Free Arts of Arizona Theater Camp performance, Our House. Free Arts of Arizona works with children in group homes, family support agencies, and homeless shelters.  The kids who performed last night were teens who had participated in a two week drama camp.  They used skits, music, poetry, and monologue to tell their stories.  Exploring what it means to be home for a young person who is temporarily or permanently displaced…  well, it was a powerful event.  And processing what stories mean, on the way back to my vehicle with Judy, is what got me thinking about this post.

OURS:
What kind of story belongs to all of us?
What stories can we all claim?
What stories bring out the best in us?
Do we choose our common stories or do we inherit them?

Part of the power of the children’s experience that they shared last night was this pattern:

  1. Caring adults create a safe space with care and intention.
  2. One person feels brave and safe and tells their story (of abuse, abandonment, neglect).
  3. Another person says, “that’s kind of like what happened to me…”
  4. Eventually, everyone’s story is out.

In the performance program, one young performer is quoted, “Every time I am able to tell my story, I gain a little more control over it.”

Scripture can be that kind of unifying, shared story that calls to mind our common humanity and history… where we’ve been, what we’ve learned.  It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine the Hebrew scriptures starting out around the campfire.
campfirestories

Let me tell you, children, the story of our people.  It all begins with the journey of Abraham.  He was the father of us all!

The ability of scripture to fill this role depends on our spending time in both reflection and community. It depends on responsible interpretation and trusted leaders who are able to model historical and metaphorical readings of scripture.  Scripture is not the only choice (at least in the United States) we have for shared stories.  We can also look to our nation’s founding, the writing of the Constitution, and our accomplishments as a culture for common inspiration.

Last week, I was embroiled in the issue of immigration (see previous posts on this blog regarding sanctuary).  At one point in a staff meeting, I appealed to scripture.  “Isn’t the concept of sanctuary in the Hebrew Bible?” I asked.  A co-worker felt uneasy about appealing to the Bible.  After all, we’re a non-traditional, progressive church.  We don’t like people using scripture to prop up their views of women, LGBTQ rights, economics, etc.  And I agreed with her… to a point.  At the same time, I’m not willing to give up my Bible.  It’s my story, and we have this treasure of documents in common with all other Christians.  I see scripture as a sacred conversation.  Every time I open the Bible, I’m talking with my spiritual forebears.  I’m sussing out what they had to say about their relationships with God and with all of creation.  I’m not swallowing their part of the dialogue whole, without critical thought.  I’m part of the conversation.

SOMEONE ELSE’S:  We can’t stop there.  Being fully human and fully humane requires that we engage compassionately with other people’s stories.  We can listen empathetically to our friends’ and neighbors’ personal narratives.  We can become open-minded students of others’ sacred scriptures, rituals, and cultures.  We can seek to understand others instead of seeking first to win an argument.  Listening and observing without judgment – this is what I’m trying to learn.

Not coincidentally, this is also the goal of the sanctuary movement.  To put a human face on immigration.  To tell a story of a family that’s not unlike yours and mine.  To appeal to what’s best and most hopeful in the hearts and minds of everyday people.

So, today, tell your story to someone.  Listen to the journey tale of another person.  Let this be your prayer.

beautiful

img: google search

 

This is one essay I have struggled to write because, while I could see the beauty in others, I could not see it in myself. I was also unsure that I could do such an open word justice. However, I have come far in my journey since I began toying with this idea, several months ago.

 

To many of us, when we think of beauty, we think of flawless complexions, thin toned bodies, or those that are still toned but softly curved. We view extra weight with scrutiny and push ourselves to be supermodel thin.

 

For beauty, we equate perfection to beauty. To be beautiful, we have to look perfect and be perfect; perfectly smooth, strech mark free skin, eyes that are wide and youthful, and a bow shaped, pouting mouth. For many of us, that is perfection. That is beauty because, to us, perfection is beauty.

 

Recently, I have had Someone (and it’s capitalized so he knows who he is) show me otherwise. Perfection isn’t beauty- beauty is beauty. Beauty is what is within in- your heart, mind, and soul- not just what is without. And, while beauty can be what’s on the outside, the most important make up of beauty is internal.

 

This same Someone, upon being asked what his favorite features of mine are, responded, “You mean other than your heart and mind?”

 

Beauty can be on the outside- a warm smile, a twinkle of laughter in the eyes, the soft, wrinkled cheek of a kindly grandmother, the long, slender fingers of a pianist dancing upon the ivory keys- but it should be searched for on the inside and recognized there.

 

You can wax poetic about walking in beauty or the curve of your lover’s breasts- but that isn’t the nature of beauty. The nature of beauty is, simply, a warm heart, a kind soul, and compassionate nature. This is the beauty that can be seen in the eyes and that doesn’t fade. This beauty deepens and becomes richer with age.

The Nature of Jesus

jordanmb08 —  June 29, 2014 — Leave a comment

sunflower

 

The last couple of years, I have been on a journey, learning about my faith and myself. I’ve realized two primary things:

  1. Faith is a never ending journey of seeking, learning, asking, and knocking.
  2. It’s okay to have doubts. Questioning is part of it and helps you grow and develop.

I’ve accepted these things and it has made my journey so much easier. I’m also thankful for all of the love, support, patience, and kindness from those who have helped me on this walk and who will continue to walk with me.

One thing that I have learned and explored deeply is the actual divinity and nature of Jesus Christ. I struggled with this for a long time, along with anger at the unfairness of my life- or the unfairness as I saw it, anyway.

But that is another story.

My Walk.

What my walk ended up showing me, though, was what I believe. I do believe Jesus was divine, and was the Son of God. I believe that we all have that divine spark inside of ourselves and that we are all the children of God. I came to find that dogma and tradition, while they can be lovely, should not be the ruling factors in our spiritual journey, but something to refer to and to help with understanding history and context. I don’t believe the Bible is the infallible word of God; that would be Jesus’s role.

What We Know.

We know the story of the Virgin birth, the teaching of the teachers at the synagogue, the beginning of the ministry, the death, and the Resurrection. People argue over whether or not this is stuff from other religions, or even real. It’s not focused on what the purpose of this could be.

Why would God need to become flesh to interact with us? Were we so bad and evil that it was necessary for us to be saved? Why did Jesus have to go through what He did? What is the purpose of this faith system?

The Purpose.

Fundamentalist Christians often preach that we are born sinful and that we must be saved, pointing back to Adam and Eve. This is not biblical, primarily because of,

“The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.”

Ezekiel 18:20

 

“Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.”

Deuteronomy 24:16

The purpose of Jesus’s death and resurrection, whether it is allegorical, real or both, was because of the light needing to come back to the world, to the universe. We are interconnected with ourselves, the Earth, and the universe. Whatever we do affects everything else, just as the moon moving closer in its rotations affects the seas here, or solar flares from the sun affect our technology. While the sin in the garden is not visited upon us, it did open the door for more to come in.

Jesus as God.

Jesus presents to us the face of God, the nature of God. God, as a Spirit, as Creator, is solely energy- sexless, faceless, bodiless. but not voiceless and not without presence. God, as Creator, as Spirit, works on the atomic level that is invisible to the naked human eye. In the Old Testament, in a time when dominion was being fought for and religion was used for it, we are presented with a tribal, warrior God that wanted to convert everyone or kill them. Even breaking one law led to death, and there was no grace, no forgiveness. There was only death, fear, and war.

And then, in the New Testament, a new idea is presented, and a new movement begins. Jesus offers grace, compassion, kindness, and God in flesh. And Jesus even had to learn as we do; He could heal and had control over nature, but He acted through His relationship with God, but He still had to learn to walk, to talk, to get beyond prejudices, become enlightened, and grow. God experienced everything we do.

The Nature of Jesus

Jesus, whether metaphorical or real, has a unique nature.

The nature of God become flesh- love, compassion, mercy, kindness, and forgiveness. Jesus came to enlighten, to save- but not save in the fundamentalist sense, but to save what the darkness began to destroy by bringing light into the world.