Category Archives: church

God’s Radical Hospitality Challenges The Status Quo

The following reflection was first written in honor of National Women’s Day in 2009 under the title “Mary and Martha: A Story About God’s Radical Hospitality.”  I am reposting it today in response to Rachel Held Evans’ invitation to blog about scripture that celebrates women and their importance in the church.  Rachel issued the invitation as a reaction to John Piper declaring that God gave Christianity a masculine feel and urging us to work hard to maintain a masculine Christianity. 

The story of Mary and Martha that is told in Luke 10:38-42 has often been a problem for me.

The story begins with Jesus and 72 of his disciples entering a village where a woman named Martha lives and has a home. Luke tells us that Martha opens up her home to Jesus and his companions; and then at some point becomes irritated with her sister, Mary, for sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to what he is saying instead of helping with all of the preparations that need to be made for this large group of men. Martha is so put out by the situation that she goes to Jesus and says to him “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (which, btw, seems like a perfectly reasonable request to me) And Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Do what?? What in the heck was Jesus thinking? Why didn’t he tell Mary to get up off her lazy you know what and get in there and help Martha? Is Jesus exalting Mary over Martha? Does he mean it is better to be contemplative than to be actively serving? That doesn’t exactly jive with some of the other stuff that he has said about being a servant!

At this point, someone usually teaches a lesson about how important it is not to get so busy that we forget to spend quiet, contemplative time with Jesus. And while I think that is a good lesson I have a feeling we may be missing the point of what Jesus is talking about.

You see, I think what has to be addressed is that both Jesus and Mary were committing a social taboo. Women could serve men, but it was inappropriate for them to join in with the guys the way that Mary was doing. Women weren’t supposed to be taught by Rabbis or sit in the room with a bunch of men discussing the Torah. So I think it would be a logical assumption to think the people hearing this story would have been much more shocked about Mary assuming the role of a religious disciple than her not helping in the kitchen…and that is what I think Jesus was referring to.

I believe, as usual, Jesus was turning things upside down and inside out. Just like that, Jesus liberates Mary from her socially defined status of inferiority and marginalization. And by following Jesus, not only was Mary transformed, but the world she inhabited was transformed.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this was just about women’s rights. I believe it was bigger than that. It seems that through Mary, Jesus is denouncing social, political and religious structures that do not practice God’s radical hospitality – the sort of hospitality that overcomes injustice and is grounded in love and mercy and compassion. I think Jesus was saying Mary had boldly chosen to take hold of this justice he had offered to her by allowing her to join him and his disciples, the justice was hers now and he would not take it away from her. I would even go so far as to say Martha saw what was going on and wasn’t being honest with Jesus about what was so upsetting to her – perhaps she wasn’t even aware of what was causing all the anxiety she was feeling. Of course Jesus obviously knew what was upsetting Martha and that explains why he answered her the way he did. He knew Martha was being the voice of the status quo that resists change, even “just” change.

The lesson in Luke 10:38-42 is not that reading the bible or praying is superior to cooking a meal or cleaning house. The lesson is that as followers of Jesus we are not only invited to partake of God’s radical hospitality but we are called to practice it by seeking justice for those in the margins, challenging discrimination wherever we see it and transforming our relationships and institutions so that they reflect the love of Christ.

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Epiphany: Blessing of the home.

Tomorrow is officially Epiphany (although some will celebrate on Sunday). Do you celebrate Epiphany? If so, how? If not, you may want to consider starting the tradition “Blessing of the home”. There is more than one way to perform the tradition.  Here is one way that I like:

Have some incense burning, a sprig from a bush, some water, and divide a cake into as many pieces as you have participants. Hide a coin or dry bean in one piece and distribute them at random. Whoever gets the special piece of cake with the bean/coin in it is crowned (paper crown or party hat), robed (bathrobe), saluted (noisemakers left over from New Year’s), and toasted (hot apple cider or whatever…)! The new royalty now writes with chalk over the front door of your home the following:

20+ C + M + B + 12

The numbers represent the new year. The four crosses are the four seasons. C-M-B are the initials of the legendary names of the magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. Or another explanation that I actually like better is that C-M-B stands for the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat” which means “May Christ bless this dwelling place”.

Now, say a simple blessing such as:

Dear God,
we thank you for this past year
and for the year to come.

Be with us as we fill our home with kindness,
hospitality, and caring for others.

Help us to dream the dream of a better world
and to work towards that dream daily.

Hold us close to each other.
Keep us close in spirit with those who have died or who are far away.

May all who come to our home this year
rejoice to find Christ living among us;
and may we seek and serve,
in everyone we meet,
Jesus who is Lord for ever and ever.

Bless us as we burn this incense.
Bless us as we use this chalk to mark our door.
Bless us as we sprinkle our home with this water.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Now, everyone moves from room to room sprinkling the home with water, a sign of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan.

If you have a group that likes to sing try singing some Epiphany songs such as “We Three Kings” or “O Come All Ye Faithful”.

When done with all the rooms, say the Lord’s Prayer, and finish with exchanging the sign of peace.

We Cannot Capture The Wind

This post is part of the June Synchroblog: Faith, Feasts and Foreshadowing in which we were invited to reflect on Shavuot and Pentecost and what we might learn from the similarities or differences in the two religious feasts.  I will post the links of all the participants at the end of this post when they are available.  To learn more about the synchroblog please visit the Synchroblog site.

The Spirit is like the wind.  The wind often arises unexpectedly, and blows with such force that everything in its path is toppled over and displaced.  If we are honest, this is the challenging aspect of this metaphor concerning the Spirit.  We cannot capture the wind. In this way, Pentecost serves as a reminder that the Spirit blows through all of our categories and continues to do the unexpected.  We may think we have grasped the wind, only to find that it has blown in a different direction.  In the face of such a wonderful mystery, we can either shield ourselves from its power, or revel in the wind that eludes our grasp.  – Margaret Manning

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This month Jews and Christians will each celebrate a spring festival.  Jews will celebrate Shavuot on June 8 and Christians will celebrate Pentecost on June 12.  The two spring festivals have some remarkable similarities: 

Shavuot is 50 days after Passover.  Pentecost is 50 days after the resurrection. 

Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah at Mt.Sinai.  Pentecost marks the giving of the Holy Spirit. 

At Shavuot the law of Yahweh was written on stone.  At Pentecost the law of Yahweh was written on hearts. 

During Shavuot about 3,000 were slain.  During Pentecost about 3,000 received salvation. 

Shavuot represents the founding day of Judaism.  Pentecost represents the founding day of the Christian church. 

During Shavuot the spirit of God descends in a fiery cloud.  During Pentecost the spirit of God descends as tongues of fire. 

In both stories, the divine word comes down from heaven and is spoken to God’s people. 

However, there is one distinct difference between Shavuot and Pentecost that I find particularly interesting and insightful.

According to the book of Acts Jesus’ disciples were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot when the Holy Spirit descended upon them and they begin “to speak in other tongues as the spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4b)  As this happened a diverse crowd gathered and was amazed that each one heard what was being said in their own language.  The sign that they were surely hearing from God lay in the miracle that each one heard the same message but in the language they needed to hear it in.

In contrast, the event at Mt.Sinai is described by Rabbis as each person receiving the teaching that he or she most needed to hear.  An older person would have heard something different than a younger person.  A sick person would have received a lesson that was different from the one a healthy person received.  A child would have heard what he or she needed to hear.  A person with much would not hear the same thing as a person who had little. Men and women would have heard according to their own needs.  The content of God’s message was different depending upon who was receiving it.  The sign that they were surely hearing the voice of God was not that one message went out to all, but that each person heard what they needed to hear.  In other words, an infinite God spoke in infinite ways and what he said depended upon who he was speaking to.

Although I don’t believe that these two experiences “have” to be pitted against one another; I do find it interesting that most Christians today will insist that there is only one correct interpretation of scripture (what that interpretation is depends on the Christian you are speaking with) while the Judaic tradition still believes that there are many different interpretations of the Torah and that people typically “hear” the lessons they most need in their life.

An infinite God who speaks in infinite ways and what he says depends on who he is speaking to … that is what God sounds like to me. But many Christians would find the idea that there are numerous interpretations of scripture to be dangerous.  They would worry that someone would abuse the scriptures if we took that approach. (As if the abuse doesn’t already take place as people have used scripture to justify slavery and war, the oppression of women, racism and the unjust treatment of LGBT people)!  They insist that God must sound the same to everyone, everytime.  IMO that is making God much smaller than he is – that is like trying to “capture the wind.”

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Be sure and check out the other synchroblog posts:

Kerri at Earth’s Crammed With Heaven… – Transformation

Sarita Brown at Gypsy Queen Journals – Pentecost: A Poem

Jeremy Myers at Till He Comes – The Incarnation of the Temple, Torah, and Land

Tammy Carter at Blessing the Beloved – Random Biblical Calendar Thoughts, Unity & Love

K. W. Leslie at More Christ – Pentecost

Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – We Cannot Capture The Wind

Emma Nadine at Life by List – An Outpouring of the Spirit

Marta Layton at Marta’s Mathoms – Shadow of Things to Come?

Abbie Waters at No Longer “Not Your Grandfather’s CPA” – Spiritual Gifts

Bill Sahlman at Creative Reflections – A “Wild Goose” Festival at Pentecost

Kathy Escobar at kathy escobar. – more than the leftovers

John O’Keefe at john c. o’keefe – What’s With This

 

Inerrancy Of Scripture: A Reaction To Modernism

 

I do not beleive in the inerrancy of scripture.   I fully acknowledge that my opinion and understanding may be wrong. At the same time, I would add that I have also spent many years seriously studying scripture, living as a committed follower of Christ and have not formed my opinion in a vacuum or in a hurry.

Many would say that there are serious scholars who have been able to carefully harmonize the contradictions in scripture in a way that is acceptable and thoughtful. My experience over the years has been that there are many Christians (many of who are professional clergy) who flippantly explain away contradictions and  I have not personally found even the most careful harmonization of contradictions in scripture sufficient enough for me to continue to claim that scripture is inerrant.

Before I continue I do want to clarify that I am not saying that the many contradictions are a serious threat to the authority or value or credibility of scripture but that our resistance to acknowledge the contradictions is a threat to these things. I may have a different view about the authority of scripture than some who are reading this but that is a different discussion and I don’t believe it hinges on whether or not scripture is inerrant.

Many who believe in the inerrancy of scripture also believe that has been the position of Christians since the formation of the canon.  That is simply not true.   Discussions of inerrancy did not even take place until the modern age. Before then you would find the position being along the lines that there is no false teaching in scripture but that is a long way from claiming scripture is inerrant. In addition,  some might be surprised to find that there are many great and respected theologians through out history who have believed there were (and are) inaccuracies and errors in scripture – people such as Martin Luther, John Chrsyostom, Calvin, Matthew Henry, Charles Hodge to name a few. The fact is that no ancient church council ever debated the issue of inerrancy, let alone announced favor of it and no traditional creed or reformed confession addresses the issue of inerrancy. In other words, the current insistence on inerrancy has its origins in late 19th and early 20th century reactions to modernism. IMO this is a false dichotomy that many thoughtful Christians refuse to accept.

In recent times, I have also begun to believe that the insistence of inerrancy in regards to scripture is a stumbling block and obstacle to what we can learn from scripture.  In addition I have also observed that the insistence of inerrancy tends to make an idol out of scripture among our communities of faith resulting in the displacement of Christ as the center.

The Saturday Evening Post

I submitted The Eight Letter – Humble Pie post to The Saturday Evening Post at Elizabeth Esther’s blog.

This is where bloggers gather on the first Saturday of each month to share their latest and greatest blog posts.

Here’s how to participate:

  1. pick one of YOUR posts from the past month. Insert a link to that specific post (not just your home page) in The Mister Linky form on Elizabeth’s blog.
  2. compose a new post at your site with a link back to Elizabeth’s blog so your readers can participate, too. The more the merrier–it’s always fun to discover new blogs!

The Eighth Letter – Humble Pie (My Letter To The North American Church)

Today’s post is my contribution to theEighth Letter project, which invites participants to compose letters to the North American church in the spirit of John’s seven letters of Revelation.  A handful of these letters will be chosen for public reading at the Eight Letter conference in October.


Dear North American Church,

I don’t know if you remember me but we were pretty close at one time.  I not only was an active member and servant of one of your local communities for most of my life, but I also attempted to be a faithful representative of what you taught and believed in my every day life.  But, that was then, and this is now, and, well … it’s been a while since we were close, and I don’t even know if you would recognize me these days – I’ve changed a lot since then. Which brings me to the point of this letter …  I want you to consider making a change.

I realize it is a little presumptious of me to show up like this, asking you to change, after the way I just up and left with little or no explanation.  I didn’t mean to be rude or inconsiderate – it was a crazy time for me. It all started when my son told me he was gay and that he didn’t believe loving, monogamous same sex relationships were wrong.  At first I tried to tell him all the things you had taught me about same sex relationships but those things didn’t end up standing up under scrutiny.  When I studied scripture and took the time to look at original language and historical contexts I realized that the few references available were not as black and white as I had been led to believe.  On top of that, I knew my son.  I knew he was a good person. I knew he loved God and wanted to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Things weren’t adding up and it was a disturbing, scary and lonely time for me.  Anyway, once I realized, and began to accept, that I (and you) might be wrong about same sex relationships I naturally started wondering about some other stuff … and, well, one thing led to another and before I knew it there were a lot of things about you that I could no longer support.

Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t walk away from the faith – I didn’t stop following Jesus – I didn’t even want to leave the church.  I just didn’t fit in anymore.  There was no place for someone like me unless I wanted to be treated like I was less than others.  If I didn’t conform I just wasn’t “in”  … so I left.  But, I miss you, I really do. And it’s because I miss you and want to reconcile with you that I dare to ask you to consider making a change that I believe would start the healing process that needs to take place between you and me.

Something I would like for you to consider is being a little more humble about what you know and believe to be true.  I would suggest that pastors stop saying most everything from the pulpit with absolute certainty; that those who teach scripture acknowledge the contradictions and conflicts without resorting to flippantly explaining them away; that followers of Jesus with doubts, questions and different beliefs stop being treated as backsliders or as immature or as unbelievers; that different interpretations of scripture be examined and considered respectfully; and that you spend more time teaching people how to ask good questions rather than always being so quick to give answers.  Of course, this would indeed require that you also teach and model how to live with the tension of living out one’s beliefs with conviction while at the same time being humble enough to remain aware that ones belief could be wrong.  That may not be as easy as “being certain” but, I think in the long run it will be more effective in helping people to be transformed into people who are kinder, gentler and more compassionate – people who are more like Jesus.

When you think about it, the church has gotten it wrong in the recent past about things like slavery and interracial marriage.  So, what makes anyone think they are finally to the point where they have it all figured out when it comes to stuff like atonement theories, heaven and hell, women in ministry, same sex relationships and a bunch of other stuff.

After all …How can God speak into our lives if we aren’t humble enough to listen and hear?  How will we know if we are mistaken about something if we hold on to our beliefs with unswerving certainty?  Can we really be transformed without being humble about what we know?  Shouldn’t unity be able to exist without conformity?  Doesn’t it make sense that people who are serious about being followers of Jesus would ask tough questions?

Let me stop there and just say this:

To put it simply, I am suggesting that you put some humble pie on the menu … and if you do, I’d love to sit down and have a slice with you …  if that’s okay with you.

Missing you,

Someone who left

Please go to Rachel Held Evans blog here to find the links to the other letters.

Back To School Week – It sure sounds like a squirrel

A number of folks are blogging about the spiritual formation of children and youth this week – for info, see Brian McLaren’s blog for information on the “Back To School Week” synchroblog.

I have two sons who have grown up going to church … Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Choir, Mission Trips, Church Camps, Weekend Retreats, Youth Groups, Bible Studies, Concerts and so on.  All in all it was a positive experience.  They made some good friends, received the support of a large community, and learned to serve others.  They were taught a lot about God, Jesus and how a good Christian should live.  But, to be honest, I have some concerns about the spiritual education my sons received through the church.

Before I continue I should share a couple of things. First, I want to say that I have never expected the church to be solely responsible for giving my children a spiritual education.  I believe that Christian parents are mainly responsible for the spiritual education of their children, and my husband and I have been committed to that.  We also believe that there is much that our children can and should learn in a larger community of Christians and believe that the church is in a position to offer much to children and youth when it comes to their spiritual education/formation.  Second, I should share that our family has been going through some sort of spiritual transition the last 4 or 5 years.  We began to question some of the things that were being taught and some of the things that were happening.  We didn’t write the church off, but we began to take a serious look at “stuff”  – what we believed, why we believed those things and how it all fit or didn’t fit with what we knew about God.  In some ways, we tried to start over.  This process has left us with a more distant relationship with the church, and yet we still have love, respect and hope for the church as we continue our quest to be followers of the way of Jesus Christ.

As I look back on the spiritual education that my sons received from the church and, at the same time, look forward through the lense of what I have learned over the years about children, youth, God, Jesus and the world that we inhabit, today I offer just one thing that I believe would improve the spiritual education that the church offers to children and youth.

I believe that the church should be less concerned with attempting to teach children and youth what to believe and more concerned with teaching them how to seek for themselves.  They should be encouraged to be inquisitive, to ask tough questions, to listen to opposing views.

We all know the joke about the Sunday School teacher who was teaching a lesson about being prepared and working diligently….

A Sunday School teacher wanted to use squirrels as an example of prepared workers. She started the lesson by saying, ”I’m going to describe something, and I want you to raise your hand when you know what it is.”  The children were excited to show her what they knew and leaned forward eagerly. “I’m thinking of something that lives in trees and eats nuts …” No hands went up. “It can be gray or brown and  it has a long bushy tail …” The children looked around the room at each other, but still no one raised a hand. “It chatters and somtimes it flips its tail when it’s excited …”   Finally one little boy shyly raised his hand. The teacher breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Okay, Michael. What do you think it is?”  “Well,” said the boy, “it sure sounds like a squirrel, but I guess the answer’s supposed to be Jesus.”

Jokes are often funny when they offer a sense of exaggerated reality – but I’m not sure that this joke is that exaggerated.

Children and youth (and a lot of adults) quickly learn that there are expected and acceptable answers at church.  They quickly learn that they are not supposed to bring up things that don’t make sense to them – like why a loving God would insist on his son dying a brutal death because he was so angry about other people’s sin, or why a loving God would want people to kill other people, or why women can teach children and youth but not men – and if they do bring up such things, their questions will be quickly explained away, or they will be labeled a troublemaker, or worse … their belief in Jesus might be doubted and maybe their eternal salvation will be in question.  Church has not typically been a place where children and youth are encouraged to ask honest questions, to bring their doubts, to share what they really are really thinking.

I believe the church should teach children and youth that not only is it okay to ask tough questions, to notice and bring up conflicts in scripture and belief systems, to have doubts, to share honestly, but that it is the mark of a person who is serious about following the way of Jesus.  The church should teach children that spiritual growth leads to asking hard questions and although we may not always find concrete answers there is value in seeking the answers and sometimes the answer we find might be different than we expect, or different from what someone else believes. They should be taught that there is a possibility that a person’s beliefs may change over time and therefore, it is important for them to remain humble about what they believe and how remaining aware of the fact that they could be wrong about what they believe will help them maintain a more teachable spirit – being able to learn more from God, others and life itself.

In addition to teaching children and youth such things, we should also model these things.  Adults, teachers, leaders and pastors should share their own questions, that they don’t have answers for all of their questions, how they and someone else have different views about a specific interpretation of scripture, how they once believed one thing and now believe something different, that their belief is based on their interpretation but another person might interpret differently.

Finally, children and youth should be taught about living in the tension of having conviction about their beliefs in the midst of uncertainty and doubt and about the idea of seeking the heart of God even when there is not a specific, black and white answer to their question.

The bottom line is that the church needs to stop spoon feeding answers to our children and youth.

After all, if it sounds like a squirrel – it just may be a squirrel.

What do you think would improve the spiritual education that the church offers to children and youth?

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Here are some other contributions (send me your link if I don’t have it here):

Beginning A Conversation

Educating Out Of Spirituality

The Wisdom Of Children

BACK TO SCHOOL WEEK: We plant seeds that one day will grow

BACK TO SCHOOL WEEK: The Coolest Adults

BACK TO SCHOOL: A New Way To Frame Science

BACK TO SCHOOL WEEK: High School and Doubts

BACK TO SCHOOL WEEK: School of Love

BACK TO SCHOOL WEEK: Intergenerational Classes

BACK TO SCHOOL WEEK: Key Questions

BACK TO SCHOOL PRAYER