Best Posts of 2008

Filed under:blog stuff, church, community, dreams, faith, justice, missional, theology, women, women in church — posted by Sonja on December 28, 2008 @ 7:39 pm

“Best Of” posts are beginning to pop up all over like dandelions in springtime.  They’re sparkly and eye-catching.  I always like them because they catch the year in review and give the reader a walk down memory lane.  But … you knew there was a “but” coming.  So often in church-y circles the “best of” posts are either all men or men in overwhelming proportions.  I’ve been blogging for more than three years now and I keep hoping this will change.  That the onset of the internet will bring about changes to this dynamic.  But I’m not seein’ it yet.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are some men (Rick “Blind Beggar” Meigs, Bill Kinnon, Brother Maynard, Brad Sargent, John Smulo, Shawn Anthony, Patrick Oden and some others to name a few) who are wholly committed to women in full partnership in life, ministry, blogging, you-name-it.  They have gone above and beyond to support women and engage them equally.

What does that look like?  I know a lot of folks are put off by idea of feminism and I’m mystified by that.  But let’s look at it from another perspective.  We all look at families and tend to agree that a “whole and healthy” family includes a mother (female) and a father (male).  No matter what your feelings are about who should be in charge and when, we all know that healthy families require both the male and the female perspective to adequately parent, raise, etc. the children.  At the very least, there are whole books on the subject of healthy families requiring two parents where one takes on the feminine role and the other the masculine (in the case of homosexual relationships).  We know very clearly what the lack of men does to a family and what the lack of a mother can bring to children.  So my question is … why do we find this lack of the feminine voice or perspective so very acceptable in church/ministry leadership?

It is in the interest of balancing out the perspectives that I present my Best of 2008 … plus one from 2007 because it was so good.

… in no particular order … UPDATED to include a recent post by Peggy Senger Parsons that is a must read.

Erika Haub – The Margins – “the church that came to me

“When she saw me her eyes teared up, and as she spoke she started to cry. She told me that she could not believe that I had let her into my home, with full access to all of our things, and then closed my door and gone to sleep. She said that she had never felt so trusted by someone; she had never felt so much pride and dignity and worth as someone who did not have to be doubted and feared.”

Kathy Escobar – the carnival in my head – “what could be

here’s my hope:

that we’d be people & communities radically in touch with Christ’s love for us & continue to risk our comfort, ego, time, money, and heart to offer mercy & compassion to others.  that we’d be somehow known as  ‘those weird people who love other people unconditionally, tangibly, and in all kinds of crazy, unexplainable ways.”

Tracy Simmons – The Best Parts – “The Rescue Parade

When people rescue dogs or trees or human beings, they are displaying how much they are made in the image of their creator. He longs to see all things rescued and restored. It’s in our spiritual DNA whether we are aware of it or not.

Makeesha Fisher – Swingin’ From the Vine – “Missional:  It Sure Ain’t Velveeta

Being missional is hard work. Getting down and dirty in people’s lives, giving everyone a platform and allowing your voice to form from within the context of community versus individual aspirations and spirituality is not a nice easy package deal. You can’t just cut off a block from the end of the yellow brick and nuke it to gooey perfection. It’s time consuming and risky and generally not very “pretty”.

Rose Madrid-Swetman – RMD -

Building To Serve Others Part 1
Building To Serve Others Part 2
Building To Serve Others Part 3

We discussed the pros and cons, the why’s and why not’s of taking the step of leasing a space. Our biggest fear was that we would lose sight of the congregation as the church. You see when we rented a basement room for Sunday worship only, everything else we did as a faith community happened in our neighborhoods, the host community and in homes. Moving into a leased space that we would have 24/7 access to could endanger us to put the emphasis on the building as the church rather than the church being the people.

Heidi Renee – Redemption Junkie – “Great Losers

I just can’t seem to walk past a smidgen of interesting brokenness or discarded story. I am so moved by outsider and found art because deep in my heart I long to be a mosaic artist. I have not yet begun to piece together those precious bits and fragments pocketed along my journey.

Julie Clawson – One Hand Clapping – “Experience and Empathy

It’s one thing to intellectually acknowledge the need for better health care around the world, I am discovering it is another thing altogether to attempt to imagine oneself in another’s position. I knew the need for equity before, but my experiences have helped me to empathize. I know I am lucky and privileged. I don’t desire to trivialize or cheapen the plight of others by claiming to truly understand, but I am a firm believer that empathy is necessary if one is to truly care and make a difference. And experience helps with that.

Grace – Kingdom Grace – “Disciples or Converts

I think that we often circumvent the real life of the Spirit in conversion methods, discipleship methods, and in the way that we function together as groups of believers.  What are the ways that we tamper with natural growth and unintentionally cause lack of reproduction and other genetic deformities?

Pam Hogeweide – How God Messed Up My Religion – “First Time To Notice A Homeless Person

He looked over at me. Our eyes locked, me the middle-class teenager from a middle-class Vegas family; him, the ghost of someone’s son now orphaned and phantomed like the nobody he knew he was born to be and die as was. It was a definitive moment for me. In that one glance I saw past the dirty beggar who didn’t have a job or a home. I caught a swift glimpse of a man who was not born for greatness, but was just born. He had no purpose, no grand plan. No derailed American dream to be somebody. For an instance I saw my brother, my father, my son and my husband. This unknown man was more than a Utah phantom. But that one look told me that not only had he become invisible to others, the true man of who he was – this beggar was an imposter of his true greatness – but more urgently, he had become invisible to himself. He did not matter.

Christine Sine – Godspace – “Discerning The Winter Blues

I was reminded that I once read that the tradition of Advent wreaths actually began because farmers took the wheels of their wagons during the wet winter months and this became the framework for the Advent wreath.  Now I am not sure that any of us would consider taking the wheels off our cars over the winter but I do think that we need to build times of rest, reflection and renewal into our schedules.  Maybe we should stop driving our cars at least for a few days so that we can relax and refresh.  We are not meant to continually live in harvest season.  We are not meant to be continually producing fruit or even be continually blossoming.  In fact plants that are forced into bloom at the wrong season by florists never recover their natural rhythm.  Most of them will never blossom again.

Cheesehead – A Cheesehead In Paradise – “A Sermon for the Celebration of the Reign of Christ

(Let me say for the record, if any of you are considering running for elected office, and someone comes to church to see what kind of sermons you listen to, and nobody finds anything even the least bit sketchy that I have said—if nothing I preach is found to be even the slightest bit counter-cultural and it’s all perfectly agreeable—that’s probably not a good thing and you should call me on it.)

Christy Lambertson – Dry Bones Dance – Abortion Series

1 – Late Night Comedians, American Politicians & Abortion Week
2 – Nuance is Bad For Fundraising
3 – Put Away the Coat Hangers
4 – Let Me Tell You About Your Experience
5 – We Have Met The Enemy and They Are Partly Right (part I)
6 – We Have Met The Enemy and They Are Partly Right (part II)

That’s why I have declared it to be Abortion Week here at Dry Bones Dance (or possibly Abortion Month, depending how long I go between posts.) Whatever your position is, I’m not going to try to change it. Really. I promise. I just want to take an emotionally charged, extremely polarizing issue, and show how our public conversation about it – from both sides – virtually guarantees that we won’t ever get anywhere on the issue.

Erin Word – Decompressing Faith – “The Tribe

This tribe is not bound by collective adherence to a doctrine or by a building, but in mutual love for each other and a desire to set each other free from the things which have chained us. My tribe is not a place where anyone has to justify their experiences, but a place where we learn from a myriad of voices. My belief in the value of Jesus in my life is unwavering; many other aspects of my faith are in constant flux as I learn and grow. This I am able to do in a community where boundaries are elastic and belief is defined only by a love for Christ. Searching together for ways to better love on the world and on others, as Jesus exemplified, is the common thread we share.

Sally Coleman – Eternal Echoes “Perichoresis

Sally writes gorgeous poetry and takes stunning photographs of beaches, sunsets and people.

AJ Schwanz – AJ Schwanz “High Bar

And then I wonder:  am I just being me-centric?  Is this something God’s calling me to, or is this me being idealistic and believing the grass is always greener?  What if it doesn’t look the way I think it should?  What if it’s right in front of my face and I’m ignoring it because I don’t like the way God’s engineered it?  When push comes to shove, would I make the sacrifice; or would I be sad, hang my head, and walk away?

Cynthia Ware – The Digital Sanctuary – “Lord Teach Us To Pray, Virtually

I see the benefits….yet there is a part of me that still feels like something is funny about it. It feels like it should be ‘in addition to…’ instead of a replacement for interacting with your small group or people that can actually pray and stop by and drop off a casserole.

Molly Aley – Adventures In Mercy – “Obama Ushers In End Times

I literally thought that God wanted me to war against my culture.  I believed that culture was out to get me, out to get my kids, out to get my church. I mistakenly forgot the real enemy, and thought it was my culture instead, unlike God, who knew exactly what the real problem was when He came down INTO an equally-fallen culture.  He saturated Himself in it, unafraid to pal around with the worst of the lot and, interestingly, the only ones He had a real problem with were the ones righteously abstaining from said culture.

Peggy Brown – The Virtual Abbess – “Abi and Covenant

What The Abbess is looking for as part of the whole missional order discussion is a “rule of life” and a “rhythm of life” that provides a group of Christ followers with a focus, a framework, for the working out of our cHesed — our already-existing sacred duty to love God and love each other — in the context of apprenticing disciples.

Sr. Joan Chittister – From Where I Stand – “A Glimpse Of Oneness For A Change

The struggle between “red states” and “blue states” in the “United States” may be a political problem but, if truth were told, “oneness” is not something religion has been particularly good at over time either. Religions and religious professionals have been far more devoted over the years to creating Absolutes of themselves. They routinely cast other religious and their scriptures and prayers and beliefs into hellfire. They persecuted and oppressed and either forced people into their own religious tribe or hounded them out of it. They made converts at the end of a sword and divided families and called one another pagans and infidels. Many still do.

Judith Hougen – Emergent Self – “Part Two – Incarnational Reality

With very few exceptions, none of the people who’ve helped me understand and walk in incarnational reality have been Evangelical Christians. Which might help explain why conservative Christians can be mean sometimes. You really must deny incarnational reality (except in theory) in order to behave so contrary to the way of Jesus. You would have to work awfully hard to denigrate others while walking in a conscious awareness of God’s loving presence. Incarnational reality demands a response–either we open to Christ in each encounter, each breath, or we honor–I dare say worship–our own feelings, agenda, and sense of rightness.

Elizabeth Potter – Still Emerging – “They Used To Call Me Betty

The lack of fit intensified as I grew older such that when I relocated to a new city a number of years ago, I decided to ‘change’ my name. Rather than introducing myself to new people I met as “Betty,” I asked them to call me “Elizabeth.” It has taken years for my family to adjust to this ‘new’ moniker, but finally I have a name that fits. It is strong, and regal, and seems ‘just the right size.’ They used to call me “Betty,” but I have chosen to rename myself. Hello, my name is “Elizabeth.”

Kim Petersen – Chrysalis Voyage – “Robust Faith

Maybe it’s why I liked this response from a listener who wrote in: “Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Doubt is faith struggling. Where God is concerned there must always be room for doubt.” Chief Rabbi Sacks picked up on it earlier in his interview by challenging Humphrys: “If you didn’t have faith you wouldn’t ask the question…Faith is in the question.” Humphrys dismisses the statement as a cop out meant to shut down the conversation, but for me this statement contained the crux of the whole issue. Contrary to popular belief, there is not a shut down in intellect and a blind leap into the unknown. There is an intentional ongoing search for Truth and a coming to grips with and peace with that which will always remain a mystery. They are not mutually exclusive. A robust faith encompasses the doubt, the struggle.

Peggy Senger Parsons – A Silly Poor Gospel  “My Bus Karma

Bon Chance, Madame” is one of my code words with God. It usually means “Heads Up Peg – this may get rough”. With no great leading on the line, I should have taken my bag back, called my daughter and gone back to their house for another week of baby snuggling. But one of my character flaws is a severe allergy to anything that feels like going backwards. And one of my consistent delusions is that the normal rules of the universe don’t apply to me. The combo gets me in trouble all the time.

Dear Sarah

Filed under:being jesus, children, church, economics, environment, faith, family, hockey, life, politics, redemption, religion, women — posted by Sonja on September 8, 2008 @ 9:10 am

Unbelievable.  I scarcely know where to begin.  I should be glad, you see, that a woman is running for Vice President.  I want to support you.  You are, after all, a woman.  You are my age.  You have children the age of my children.  We even share the same moniker … Hockey Mom.  We are both Hockey Moms.  I’ll bet you even managed your kid’s team, the way I do.  Well, then again, maybe not the way I do, but we’ll get to that later.

Here’s the deal.  I can’t support you.  You don’t even know me, so this won’t matter at all to you.  But that’s okay.  I’m just using this letter format as a cute form within which to express my ideas.

There was very little chance that I would have ever voted for your ticket in the first place because of your running mate’s slavish adherence to the disastrous war in Iraq.  But I was hoping that Senator McCain would choose someone with experience, strength, wisdom and stability to bring to the ticket that I could give serious consideration to.  Instead, we are presented with … um … well … you.  You represent none of those things.  You may have that facade, but you  are like the movie set of a fictitious western Gold Rush town … all fizz and no bang.

Your candidacy is offensive to me and many other women.  It is patently obvious that it is an attempt to manipulate us into voting for someone we may not otherwise vote for, simply because you have breasts and ovaries.  I did not vote for Hillary Clinton on that basis and I won’t vote for you on that basis either.  I don’t know who is making the decisions in the Republican party, but it is insulting and offensive that they think so little of women voters.  Most of us would rather see a person in office who is carrying out decisions that we are interested in, than someone who looks like us.  As a woman, I am offended.

Your candidacy is offensive to me as a historian.  You seem to have no sense of the office or of your place in history.  Several months ago you candidly admitted you do not know what the Vice President does.  Yet, here you are putting your family on the line and in the spotlight for what can only be seen as personal gain, if you have no understanding of the office.  The office of president and vice president should never be sought for personal gain … read what George Washington had to say on this matter.  Or John Adams.  Or Abraham Lincoln.  Or John Kennedy.  Or even Ronald Reagan.  I would suggest, dear Sarah, that you take some time to study the difference between being smart and being wise.  It takes very little to be smart, most anyone can do it; especially if one has a good speech writer and the chutzpah to deliver as you seem to.  But it takes some time and study and dedication to become wise.  This is what we need in the Vice Presidency, wisdom.  You are smart, and you proved at the convention that you can be a smartass, but you are not wise.  As a historian, I am offended.

Your candidacy is offensive to me as a citizen and as a political watchwoman.  From looking at your history in government, you seem to have little sense that the primary role of a mayor, or a governor or a Vice President is to be a civil servant; with emphasis on the word servant.  This hearkens back to your lack of understanding of history, Sarah.  My guess is that you eschewed history classes as an undergraduate and just partied.  Here is a very short course.  What seems ubiquitous and unremarkable in 2008, was radical and unorthodox in 1776.  It was this … that the nature of government is to serve the needs of the people rather than the reverse.  It was this unlikely sentiment that got Thomas Paine, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Washington, and all of our other founding fathers into such hot water with England.  You seem to have forgotten that ideal and believe that being in government is to serve the needs of those in government.  Hence, you left your tiny town of Wasilla in state of outlandish debt, you clearly have no idea how to run the state of Alaska (evidenced by the line item vetos which make little sense) and I shudder to think what would happen if you were given the keys to office of the Vice Presidency.  As a citizen, I am offended.

Your candidacy is offensive to me as a Christian.   You understand so little of what our government is intended to be that I scarcely know where to begin.  But I’ll begin with scripture, Sarah.  With the Gospel of John and your acceptance speech.  In the Gospel of John chapter 13, we find Jesus saying this, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  My dear Sarah, as a Christian and disciple of Jesus Christ, would you please point me to the place in Scripture where Jesus is shown making fun of people for their choice of citizen action?  Where He makes jests at the expense of another person for any reason?  I’ve studied the Scriptures fairly intently and I can’t find it anywhere.  But I will acknowledge that I may have missed something.  I would also like to bring the following to your attention:  the two Great Commandments as Jesus spoke of them in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 22 ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  In what fashion may it be considered loving of your neighbor, to call him a racial epithet?  How is it loving the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your  mind, to stand before a convention hall filled people and lead them chants the way you did the other night?  In many ways that you might not have forseen you have become an icon for the Christian way in this country.  You must bear that mantle with wisdom and respect.  Or we will see more articles written like this:

Democrats are not the enemy of course, but even if they are, I saw no expressions of Christian love for them.  I saw plenty of sarcasm, put-downs, mocking, and bitterness.  Palin mocked Obama’s decision to serve others as a community organizer.  Giuliani, a very wealthy and cosmopolitan man himself, made fun of Democratic elites.  I heard misleading statements and flat-out lies.  Palin falsely suggested that Obama wants to read a captured Bin Laden his rights–of course, this is preposterous and Obama has never said this, but it didn’t stop Palin from spreading misinformation.  On a more mundane level, she also suggested she had sold an expensive government plane on eBay–it didn’t actually sell on eBay, but McCain is now falsely claiming that it did sell on eBay–at a profit (also not true).  Of course, McCain is no stickler when it comes to the facts–he falsely claimed in his own speech that Obama will raise your taxes, leaving out the important caveat that 95% of Americans get tax cuts under Obama’s plan.  Mike Huckabee fired off a zinger about Palin winning more votes in her mayoral election than Biden garnered as a presidential candidate.  Sounds great–unfortunately, it’s a lie.  I am no theologian, but I vaguely remember there being a commandment inveighing against this kind of thing.

With follow on comments such as this:

 Try to make a list of 5 great things that religion has done to significantly increase the happiness and well-being of humanity. Now make a list of 10 terrible atrocities that have been committed in the name of religion. Which list was easier to make? The Republicans suddenly make a lot more sense if you stop assuming Christianity has anything to do with love. Christianity is nothing more than the sum of the actions of all Christians. (emphasis mine)

Dear Sarah, remember that little bit I dragged out of the gospel of John … they will know us by our love.  I don’t care what you want, or what you think, or what you love.  You are vastly unimportant to me, because I do not know you at all.  Except for this.  I do know that for millions of people now, you represent Jesus.  What kind of Jesus will you be?   Getting laughs, applause, and/or votes by telling lies (no matter how small), and belittling others is unacceptable for those who claim Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.   Thus far, as a Christian, I am offended.

So, we come to the end of this small exercise.  To say I am disappointed in your selection as the Republican vice presidential candidate would be a gross understatement.  I am offended by the misogyny and manipulation that the Republican National Committee is attempting with your selection.  I am terrified by the betrayal of our historic national values that is at stake.   We are indeed at a turning point in the history of our country; I wonder how many people really understand this.  How many will look back and say, “I wish I had …?”

Respectfully yours, Sonja

Rapture Ready – A Book Review

Filed under:being jesus, books, church, community, faith, ooze blogger book — posted by Sonja on August 26, 2008 @ 7:34 am

Rapture Ready - image Rapture Ready!:  Adventures In The Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture by Daniel Radosh

This book was a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.  Or perhaps a harsh emetic on an empty stomach.   In any case, it should only be read if you’re ready to both laugh at what the church has become and stomach some fairly serious criticism of our pop culture and ministry life side show and what we’ve become over the last approximately 50 years.  Every other page I was either laughing out loud, or certain I could not read another word for the sheer mortification of it.

Daniel Radosh is a thirty something Brooklyn-ite and self-described Jewish humanist who decides to wander amongst the evangelical subculture for a year and see what it’s like.  He’s inspired to this adventure by attending a Christian music/rock festival with his mid-western teen-aged sister-in-law and her friends.

He went underground (so to speak) and wandered amongst evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians to write “… a book about popular culture.  It’s about entertainment, leisure and shopping.  It’s also about politics and the culture war that engulfs America.  And it’s a little bit–but not as much as you might think–about religion.”

The book begins at SHOUTfest, meanders through the 2006 International Christian Retail Show, visits the new Jerusalem of the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, Florida, interviews and spends time with editors at a Bible publishing group, time in and with the owner of an enormous Christian bookstore, met several Christian “stars” including Bibleman and Frank Perretti, but not Stephen Baldwin although he does include a very ingenious interview with Mr. Baldwin, and he goes to Cornerstone, but he ends with, of all things, sex and an ironic interview with Ted Haggard about how many times evangelical men have sex with their wives.

It’s an entertaining read.  While Mr. Radosh did not wave his Jewishness in anyone’s face as he sojourned in the evangelical landscape, neither did he hide the fact when questioned about his faith.  He was open about the responses to this information and I found those reactions interesting and sometimes painful.

In all as I read the book, I remembered the early days of my faith journey and how I didn’t want to be a Christian because I didn’t want to “check my brain at the door of the church.”  My perspective about what a Christian was and who they are was and is that “we are like sheep, gone astray.”  Not much has changed in the intervening 16 years.  Fortunately, I’ve discovered that I can be a Christian AND keep my brains.  Unfortunately, at least according to our pop culture, that’s not the general consensus.  Nor is it the consensus of this book … painful and funny as it was to read.  Unfortunately, as Frank Schaeffer (the younger) wrote in a recent Huffington Post article:

Evangelicals get direct messages from God. So who needs tradition, let alone government? That is why Evangelicals are opposed to all structure. They hate government, and they hate the idea of bishops telling them what it means to be a Christian. They hate the idea of health care for all that might involve someone (other than voices in their heads) telling them what to do. And they want the “right” to own guns, raise kids on myths and own that SUV and believe that more drilling for oil will bring down the price of gas. They also want God to speak directly to them, never mind a community of faith. And God seems to tell them weird stuff. So today’s crazy person is tomorrow’s best selling Rick Warren or Victoria and Joel Osteen. And how can they be crazy? Look how big their churches are! They measure up to the only real Evangelical creed-the ability to make money and be successful in commercial terms.

So … when some fruitcake like a James Dobson comes along and his organization calls for rainmaking to spoil the Obama speech, or the egomaniacal cult leader Victoria Osteen co-pastor of the biggest mega sect in Houston, allegedly assaults an airline flight attendant, there’s not much other Evangelicals can do who are embarrassed by their pet-buffoon-of-the-moment, other than to wring their hands. That’s because Evangelicalism is really just another version of American individualism and the entertainment industry wherein “freedom” is interpreted as the right to be a consumer and choose one’s favorite products from ski mobiles, jet skis, a trip to the Bahamas, a new-car or joining a the local mega church of the moment. Victoria Osteen today, Rick Warren yesterday, whatever wanders in tomorrow, with a book deal and nice way of talking.

Scene Around The Sphere

Filed under:being jesus, blessing, blog stuff, books, church, coffee, community, expectantly, faith — posted by Sonja on July 29, 2008 @ 8:36 pm

I dunno if it’s a cycle of the moon.  Maybe I shouldn’t try to explain it.  But there just seems to be some stuff I need to share with you right now.  So here is some of it … in no particular order.

Rachel Barenblatt of Velveteen Rabbi is studying in Israel this summer.  Her descriptions of life in the Holy Land are not to be missed, but of particular note is this meditation with photos of a day trip to the West Bank and Bethlehem.  She has a remarkable ability to see the humanity in both sides of Israeli-Palestinian dispute that is touching and beautiful.  Here’s a little taste:

Walking around the camp [refugee camp in Bethlehem] was surreal. It didn’t feel like what I imagine when I hear “refugee camp;” it felt like a neighborhood in any one of the developing nations I’ve visited. (It’s easy to forget that once a refugee camp has existed for a few decades, the army-issue canvas tents are replaced with buildings, but it’s still a refugee camp.) We quickly acquired a cadre of small children who followed us shyly saying “hello, what’s your name? Hello, how are you?” I’ve had that exact experience in so many places, so that felt very familiar. The streets of the camp are tiny, and in every window people watched us with curiosity.

But Shadi’s remarks gave us a sense for what some people may be feeling behind the walls. “This is a ghetto,” my friend Tad said to me, sounding stricken. “Is this what our grandparents survived the ghettos of Europe for: to do the same thing to someone else?” I couldn’t answer him.

Doug Jones at Perigrinatio posted this video challenging us in the arena of forgiveness.  What do you think?  Could you forgive?

Kent Leslie is working at a summer camp this summer and has an interesting take on the usual tradition of the altar call.  I think he’s probably onto something.  If you don’t have Kent in your feed reader, I’d recommend him to you as an interesting and provocative read.  He takes his faith, both orthopraxy and orthodoxy very seriously … his writing?  Not as much.

“When you screw up, we’re going to forgive you. When you make mistakes, or break rules, or are mean or do anything wrong, we’re going to forgive you. We’re not gonna hold it against you—although if you plan to take advantage of that forgiveness and just be evil all week, we might have to send you home for our own safety and the safety of the other campers. But for those of you who are trying to do right, this camp is going to be a giant clean slate for you. No worries. No guilt. Just forgiveness.”

Then we invite them to follow Jesus, and get ’em saved from the very beginning, and spend the entire week walking in newness of life, instead of waiting till Sunday and having an altar call to “wrap up” the week.

Who knew you could find such great music at the Smithsonian?  They have blues, African, jazz, Native American … all available for electronic download (to purchase, of course).  And much, much  more.  It’s an amazing collection to prowl through.   You can hear samples of everything before you purchase, but it’s all pretty fabulous if you like folk music and music from our roots.  I highly recommend prowling around there for a while.

Pam Hogeweide is messing around again.  She challenged herself to a 10 day duel.  She’s winning, by the way.  She writing everyday for ten days and finding the supernaturally beautiful in the ordinary … things like a bologna sandwich.  Everyone said it couldn’t be done.  Read Pam and see the God-beauty in the everyday.

Updated, courtesy of BlisteringSh33p, to include (drumroll please) the 7 Hamburgers of the Apocalypse.  Do not, I repeat, do NOT read this post if you are at all queasy, or have the tiniest little bit of an upset tummy.   However, if you want to see the fattiest, gluttoniest ways to eat red meat on the planet … it’s an absolute howl.

Finally … watch this space for book reviews and an e-zine … coming soon.   I’ve got book reviews coming on the following books:  We The Purple, Feel, Hokey Pokey, The New Conspirators, Rapture Ready, The Tangible Kingdom and Oh Shit! It’s Jesus … oh, and one cd, Songs For a Revolution of Hope … oh, and coffee too … I ordered two pounds of Saints coffee.  We’re taking it to Vermont at the end of the week.  I’ll let you know if it’s a good buy.

Blessing …

Filed under:blessing, bread, church, community, prayers — posted by Sonja on July 13, 2008 @ 6:48 am

Select up to 20 friends who deserve blessing. Bless 15 more friends, and advanced blessing options will be available.
I found the above directive in Facebook one day.

I can’t decide … part of me thinks this is absolutely hilarious and giggles uncontrollably when I read it.  Another part of me finds this very, very sad because there are people out there who will believe this tripe.  A third part of me gets angry when I read it because there is something pornographic about that.  It’s using something that is supposed to be pure and holy; turning it into an economic transaction of sorts.

What do you think when you read things like this?

Babbling On

Filed under:church, expectantly, mystery, theology — posted by Sonja on June 26, 2008 @ 5:59 am

There are some blogs I simply read.  I don’t have the words to engage there, so I just read.  The other day I read the following:

In passing it is worth noting that one important reason why we should be suspicious of hierarchical top-down notion of leadership is because we know from history and from human nature that institutional systems confer social power and concentrates it at the top. The problem is precisely because of human nature that we should be very wary of such power in human hands. It almost always corrupts and damages the relational fabric that constitutes the church.

Alan Hirsch wrote those words on his post “field of dreams, part iv.”  The whole post is about nature of power and hierarchy within church structures.  As is usual with Alan, it’s quite good.  He’s published books and all, so of course, it’s good.

As I read those words, and as I continue to read them, I keep getting this picture in my head:

Tower of BabelThe Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9)

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.  As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar  and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building.  The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

  So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel —because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

So, I was talking to my friend, Doug, on the phone the other day and mentioned this to him.  Because I think that Babel is (among many things) a metaphor for how we ought not to be concentrating power in tiny little hierarchies in churches.  Sometimes when I get odd ideas like this I run them past Doug because he’ll tell me when I’m nuts.  He is kind and gracious about it, but he’ll tell me the truth.  He’s smart too, so I can’t slip very much past him.

He got excited, in a very “doug” kind of way.  And we talked about the first four sins of the Bible.  There was the rupture of relationship between humans and God (in the Garden).  There was the rupture of relationship between humans and humans (Cain and Abel).  There was the rupture of relationship between humans and creation (the Flood).  And last there was this rupture of relationship between humans and the systems they love.

So all of that is to say, I think I’m going to study these and look the metaphors more deeply in the coming weeks and how they play out for us today.  I might even write about them here.  But I’m not promising anything.  Every time I promise something that looks like a series, I get overwhelmed and run away from myself.  This creates all sorts of havoc with my cellular structure.  I wanted to write this much so that I’d remember and see what happens from here.

Little Green Men (June Synchroblog)

Filed under:church, community, environment, family, justice, synchroblog — posted by Sonja on June 19, 2008 @ 6:26 am

Green men It’s the latest fashion craze …

With the price of gas, now it’s financially wise …

And after years of eschewing the environment Christians are now flocking to the so-called green movement in droves.

Can I say this in my outloud voice?  I’m just a little bit cynical.

No, make that a lot cynical.  Cynical to the point of illness.  You see, I’ve been an environmentalist literally all my life.  I could just say, “I grew up in Vermont,” and most of you would understand.  But it was more than that.  I grew up understanding the devastating effects of pollution.  I’ve been cutting the plastic rings that encircle beer/soda cans since they came out … to protect water birds.  I cleaned road sides as a child and now as an adult I look at the trash on our roads and remember the animals who live in what has become a toilet.

We are a wasteful society and trash culture.  When we look at ourselves in the mirror, our culture of efficiency and productivity on one side of the coin, has created waste, trash and selfishness on the other side.  We cannot have low prices without using people and resources in ways that are abusive in the end.

We have had the technology for smarter cars and using less gas for thirty years.  Yet for the last ten years we have driven larger, and larger cars.  Look in any church parking lot, what do you see?  SUVs and minivans … an armada of them.

Look inside any church, what do you see?  An ocean of cheap plastic clothing.  Polyester, nylon … both derivatives of petroleum.  Made cheaply and at the expense of someone’s life in another country.   But here in the US?  We have been “good stewards” of our individual budgets.  Each family member has far too many clothes bought cheaply at the local deep-discount store.

I read on the wall of a Mennonite grocery store, “The cost of something is that amount of life which must be exchanged for it.”

Too often we have looked at our individual budgets, incomes and outgos and thought we were being “good stewards” of our money.  But have we been good stewards of our lives and of the lives of others?  Have we measured the cost of things in terms of the life that has been expended on it?  We look at cost in terms of dollars.  What if we began looking in terms of life exchanged?

What is that call on our lives?  Then perhaps, Christians truly would be little green men.

****************************************************************************

There is small handful of us posting a SynchroBlog on Green Spirituality. The posts may not be up and running until Thursday afternoon:

Is it All About the Green? by Phil Wyman
Rediscovering Humanity’s Primal Commission by Adam Gonnerman
Turn or Burn? A New Liberal Hell? by Cobus van Wyngaard
Little Green Men by Sonja Andrews
Bashing SUV’s for Jesus by David Fisher
Saints and Animals by Steve Hayes
When Christians Weasel Out of Their Environmental Responsibilities by K.W. Leslie
Green Christian Manifesto by Matt Stone
God So Loved, by Sally Coleman

Books and Passion

Filed under:being jesus, church, community, faith, hope, justice, life, love, meme, on books — posted by Sonja on June 5, 2008 @ 7:42 am

I’ve been tagged again in a couple of meme’s and very lax about responding. These meme’s, however, have taken some thoughtful response, so I’m giving myself that out.

First, Grace tagged me to tell you all about my favorite book of the Bible. That’s hard … I think I have to say, Ruth. I love the story of Ruth. If you read it thoroughly it is a complete story of God … He’s all in there, but you have to look in all the nooks and crannies for Him. That’s why I love the story so much, it’s a beautiful love story and it’s multi-layered; keep pushing through and you find more and more and more. After that, I’d say Romans. And Esther.

Who to tag? Pistol Pete, Nick Gray, Maria

Second, Erika tagged me in a meme begun by Jamie Arpin-Ricci in which he quotes:

“The life of the Christian should be burning with such a light of holiness that by their very example and conduct, their life will be a rebuke to the wicked.” (St. Francis)

In an era where Christians are largely known for the sin they oppose, this wisdom could not be more timely. Francis calls us to face the compromises of our culture by becoming living alternatives with how we live.

Jamie set up the following rules (I think of them as more like guidelines ;-) )

1. Consider aspects of our culture where we have too easily compromised, issues that you passionately oppose.

2. Then, ask yourself what it would mean for you, both as and individual and as a part of a community, to be a living alternative. Write about it.

3. Link back here to this post.

4. Tag others to participate.

It’s too easy to be morally upright about the things that matter least in God’s economy … things like sex and alcohol. Yet it seems as though those are the things that Christians are known for caring most about. We don’t seem to spend a lot of time worrying about the seven deadly sins from the classical era … pride, greed, gluttony, sloth, wrath, envy and lust. Some may say (and correctly) that these are not mentioned by name in the Bible. True. And yet … we must look at the results of these sins. They serve to devour others and their needs, rights, desires in the service of mine. They build up me at the expense of another. This is counter to the love of God and love of other that is woven like a golden thread throughout all of the Scriptures.

To be a living alternative is to understand root causes and behaviors. It is to live in the meniscus of grace, dancing with the Holy Spirit where She may take me. Living with open hands. I have a house for purposes of hospitality. I have stuff for the purposes of giving it away to those in need. I am home during the day so my young neighbor can get a ride to school when he’s missed his bus. I can give water to those who are thirsty and share my food with those who are hungry. I can live with my hands and heart open, giving away … and not storing up for myself. Do not live to devour others, but live to serve God and dance in Her Grace.

And I’ll tag: Bill, Jeremy, Peggy, Lyn , and now Doug (who I’d been thinking of all along, but got distracted!)

Modest?

Filed under:being jesus, church, life, lost in translation, women, women in church — posted by Sonja on May 12, 2008 @ 11:30 am

Fellow Scriber Wess wrote a post the other day about dress codes in church for women. He is a new dad with a tiny LightGirl of his own so these issues are largely theoretical for him, but do loom in his future. His post sparked a discussion about how women dress in church and in our culture. This sparked some discussion about whether or not women are responsible for the thought life of men.

Makeesha wrote a great summation of current modesty codes and some of their effects in the comments:

… we promote modesty from the wrong angle. It becomes about the man instead of being about the woman. It becomes about acceptance from God based on what a woman wears. In other words, I should dress modestly because my body creates some sort of temptation. My body isn’t about me, my body is about the man, about society. It’s an object to be controlled and preached about from the pulpit. My body is scary and shameful because it causes others to sin. My breasts aren’t beautiful creations that have 2 purposes of sexual pleasure and providing food and bonding for my progeny – they are temptations. My shape is to be veiled because it’s bad, because it causes my brothers to stumble. I am the object. I am the sin. I am the receiver. These are the messages the church sends when dealing with this issue. Regardless of the intent, this is what many many women hear – for some, it creates shame that causes the woman to hide away, to cover, to follow the rules – for others it creates a shame that causes the woman to seek validation by uncovering.

The rest of the conversation is well worth reading … and towards the end Wess challenged some of us to write further on the issue. So here I go.

It is currently fashionable for many in the church to hold women responsible for how men think, by suggesting that women dress more conservatively in order to “help” men keep their thoughts under control. There are nearly as many women who subscribe to this theory as men. The primary verse that is quoted to substantiate this is 1Timothy 2:9 – “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, …”

So I looked that verse up in many different versions and found that the word “modesty” is in virtually all of them. This is unusual to say the least, so it began to stick out and I began to wonder what that word was in the original text. What was it that Paul was trying to say to Timothy here?

First I wanted to verify for myself what it is that we mean in our current cultural context when we say the word “modest” or “modesty.” So I looked it up on dictionary.com and here is a summary of the definitions:

adjective
1. marked by simplicity; having a humble opinion of yourself; “a modest apartment”; “too modest to wear his medals” [ant: immodest]
2. not large but sufficient in size or amount; “a modest salary”; “modest inflation”; “helped in my own small way”
3. free from pomp or affectation; “comfortable but modest cottages”; “a simple rectangular brick building”; “a simple man with simple tastes”
4. not offensive to sexual mores in conduct or appearance [ant: immodest]
5. low or inferior in station or quality; “a humble cottage”; “a lowly parish priest”; “a modest man of the people”; “small beginnings” [syn: humble]
6. humble in spirit or manner; suggesting retiring mildness or even cowed submissiveness; “meek and self-effacing” [syn: meek]
7. limited in size or scope; “a small business”; “a newspaper with a modest circulation”; “small-scale plans”; “a pocket-size country” [syn: minor]

So to our ears, when we hear … “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, …” what that says to us is “I want women to dress modestly [marked by simplicity, free from pomp or affectation, and not offensive to sexual mores in conduct or appearance, humble in spirit or manner suggesting retiring mildness or even cowed submissiveness], with decency and propriety…” Given the context of the remainder of chapter 2, that appears to make sense. Given the current atmosphere in the western church in which we seem to have a morbid fixation on sex and sexual issues, it also seems to make sense. But was that really what Paul was saying?

I looked up the Greek word that is translated here as modest in our Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament ed by F.W. Danker (a large, heavy and imposing book). The word is only used one time in the whole New Testament and if I were smarter, I’d figure out how to type it here so you could see it. But I’m lazy. In any case, I found the word and the definition:

This term expresses the opposite of considering or treating something in a common or ordinary manner; a respect for convention. A term of reverence or respect.

Then as I was looking through all the different versions of the verses (I looked at it in the context of the whole chapter), I began to notice some footnotes that linked to it. One was for a similar verse in 1 Peter … so, okay. But there were two others that were particularly interesting. One for Revelation and the other for Isaiah. The thing I love about BibleGateway is that instead of bumbling my way through paper pages, I can just click and be there. So I did. Here are the scriptures:

The Letter to Laodicea
14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

“The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Originator of God’s creation says: 15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy, and need nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, and white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent. 20 Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me. 21 The victor: I will give him the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I also won the victory and sat down with My Father on His throne.

Isaiah 3

13The LORD has taken his place to contend;
he stands to judge peoples.
14The LORD will enter into judgment
with the elders and princes of his people:
“It is you who have devoured[f] the vineyard,
the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
15What do you mean by crushing my people,
by grinding the face of the poor?”

declares the Lord GOD of hosts.

16The LORD said: Because the daughters of Zion are haughty
and walk with outstretched necks,
glancing wantonly with their eyes,
mincing along as they go,
tinkling with their feet,
17therefore the Lord will strike with a scab
the heads of the daughters of Zion,
and the LORD will lay bare their secret parts.

18In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; 19the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarves; 20the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; 21the signet rings and nose rings; 22the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; 23the mirrors, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils.
24Instead of perfume there will be rottenness;
and instead of a belt, a rope;
and instead of well-set hair, baldness;
and instead of a rich robe, a skirt of sackcloth;
and branding instead of beauty.
25Your men shall fall by the sword
and your mighty men in battle.
26And her gates shall lament and mourn;
empty, she shall sit on the ground.

When I read those in context with Timothy and the idea that modesty is about reverence or respect … I get a whole new picture of how women should dress and more importantly … why. Once again, it’s a heart issue. It has to do with the women and, interestingly, nothing to do with men.

As I said on Wess’ post, men … get past yourselves. If you find the way a woman dresses too distracting, find something else to look at. That is your responsibility. You are in control of where you put your eyes. You. And only you. It is the man who lusts in his heart who is the adulterer, not the woman.

A woman needs to dress according to her heart. Where does her heart stand with God. Look in the letter to Laodicea. And in the prophecy to Jerusalem. God is not so concerned about sex. He seems to be very concerned about how we treat the poor. How do the rich treat the poor. Are we proud of our riches and flaunt them? Do we grind the face of the poor into the ground?

It’s very easy to create a set of rules and standards. How far is that skirt from the ground? No pants. Dresses must be made from this pattern. Etc. Etc. It’s easy to tell who’s in and who’s out by those standards. If a woman comes in wearing pants … she’s out. The problem is … what if she’s wearing pants, but her heart is right? How would you know? Is it our right to judge? Why do we think those arbitrary rules are so important?

Book Review – My Beautiful Idol

Filed under:being jesus, book review, church, life — posted by Sonja on April 20, 2008 @ 8:26 am

As you may (or more likely not) have noticed on my sidebar over there, I’m a member of The Daily Scribe. We’re a loosely organized group of bloggers and you can visit the site to learn more about us. Our intrepid leader, Shawn Anthony, finds different ways of exploiting our greatness and building our blogginess. One of those is getting books into our hands to review. In one way or another, we’re all nerds and like to read so free books are a bonus. So it was as a result of all of this that I was recently accepted as an Ooze Select Blogger. This = free books to review.

Book imageI received an e-mail announcing my first book. Approximately two days later LightBoy brought me a small package with an ominous look on his small face, “More educational hell, Mom,” he announced. Hmmm, I thought … I haven’t ordered any educational hell recently, so I wonder what this could be? It was, in fact, my first book from Zondervan; My Beautiful Idol, by Pete Gall. It had been announced in the e-mail as a confessional memoir and the promise waved that it would stand up to Traveling Mercies or Blue Like Jazz. My red flag sailed up the pole and I tossed the book onto my coffee table. Those are two of my favorite books and no mere interloper on the scene could possibly measure up to them. I didn’t even want to look at it.

And … by the way … have I mentioned this quilt I’m working on?

I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning, and curiosity killed my cat, so I picked it up on my way out the door. After all, I’d promised to read it. I might as well get started. Since I only manage to read about two pages a night, I’d need plenty of time to get the review in under the deadline. Well …

I finished it at about 9 o’clock that evening. I would have finished it closer to dinner time, except that we left the house for several hours in the late afternoon to do some shopping. I did take a break in the morning for some computer work and a couple of naps in the early afternoon. But I read the whole book in one day. In one sitting, so to speak.

So, Pete Gall is not as laugh-out-loud funny as Anne or Don, but he’s deeper than they are. Maybe not deeper than Anne, but definitely deeper and more serious than Don Miller. He packs some serious theological juice into this book, but it’s readable, ponderable and believable. It’s more than a stand-up routine. I loved Blue Like Jazz, but I read that for the punch lines and the laughs. I loved the deconstruction that was in there, but I never could quite believe that anyone really lived that life. Pete’s life is utterly believable from the opening cab ride to Burritoville, to the ending ride home to Zionville.

His life is believable because the scripted things don’t happen. He writes as if they were about to, but then … they don’t and we must wrestle with the theology and theodicy of why those things did or did not happen. Life is not a television script where all things work together for good in our human ken. What we understand as good must be wrestled with in the face of great evil and darkness even in those who would do great good. Money and food do show up at the last minute, but it’s not the result of prayer or living “righteously” as most people have us believe. They show up, no matter how Pete screws up … or sometimes doesn’t. Because God is not a gumball god. We can’t put in our quarter and get back a prize, no matter how much we want to believe that’s how it works.

Christianity has this entire worldview that treats the filth of life as impermanent, redeemable, escapable, and unable to make the bride too filthy to be loved. But we have this thing in our culture where we don’t believe a bit of it. We work so overly hard to make God look good that what we say has no credibility at all; we’re such cow-brained dullards. In our insecurities and arrogance, and our lack of honesty, we demand to see God turn lives around, to do something cool for us. To be our dancing poodle. We want to be able to tell a great story about well our lives have been transformed by this God who, to exquisite torture, simply does not do enough flashy stuff for us to feel comfortable letting his work stand on its own. We are so desperate to share the good news that we almost always fake it. We forge the miraculous and we promise more than we really experience ourselves. And we are so conflicted about how to be “good Christians” — people whose lives been turned around and made squeaky clean — even though that’s not what we experience exactly, that we have developed a twisted, hand-wringing culture where we are far less matter-of-fact about sin and temptation and doubt and the profane than are our Scriptures, our God, or even the rest of the world around us where there is no promise of rescue or redemption. We’re obnoxious fools, and our dishonesty makes us incredibly vulnerable and weak — and far from trustworthy people who could actually benefit from knowing the truth according to God. (p. 148-9)

Pete is at his best when he’s pulling together his story lines and spinning an abstract web from his concrete story slabs. The conversations are a little contrived, but that may be because he is recalling them from over ten years ago. He is better still drawing analogies which return time and again making more sense with each coda.

As we discuss our respective desires to be used, to have a mission in life, it strikes me that we’re more alike than I’d thought for a long time. Maybe we’re not the only ones. Both my mother and I are determined to point to something outside of ourselves to demonstrate our worth and our utility. The crab shell must be covered, well and completely, beautifully and wisely, by a collection of things or by the sponge of Jesus held desperately by hopelessly inadequate hind legs, or we will have no one to blame but ourselves when the squid brings the pain. We want to be important enough to be loved, both of us.

Strangely, somewhere both my mother and and I have come to believe worth and utility are the same thing. But they are not. There is a great difference between being worthless and being useless, and there is a great difference between the things that make us useful the true measure of our worth. One is what we do, and the other is what we are. One is developed and grown, and the other full and unchanging from the moment of our conception. (p. 212-13)

There are two things I wish had been different in this book. One is that I wish that Pete had spent more time exploring this value gap of worth vs. use. I think there is a gold mine of how we in the West mix up our theology with our economic philosophy in that discussion. Unfortunately, I rather think that would not have reflected his journey.

The other thing I wish had been different is this. Very early in the book, as in on page one or two, Pete admits to lying for fun and profit with people. He never really backs away from this and I can’t get rid of the image. While the book is utterly believable, I’m left with the contrasting image from the beginning of a man who lies to sell things. It is unsettling, unnerving and the reader is left to wrestle with that image. In the end there are no white hats and no black hats. Just people, wondering when and how their scaffolding will collapse, and hoping the pain won’t kill them.

Would I recommend this book? If you are person who can live with grey areas, metaphors which might collapse at any moment, or uncomfortable analogies, then yes, I would recommend this book with fervor. If you are a person who likes boxes in your head, who likes life as you now know it, and is not into questions with no answers, then no … do not read this book. So it depends. There are some people for whom I will purchase this book and wrap it up with a bow and others for whom I would suggest perhaps not reading it. It is however, a very well written and engaging memoir of one man’s coming to grips with his spiritual nature. If you read it, you might come to grips with yours as well.


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