A couple random, non-cohesive thoughts on books, Jesus, Nazis, and emergent worship

books

I continue in my diabolical effort to catch up on what feels like an entire mountain range of books– those that I was assigned in seminary but only skimmed, or skipped entirely; those that came out or were recommended to me while in seminary which I purchased or noted on my Amazon wishlist for later; and those which have come out or been recommended to me in the past year of trying [only sporadicly successfully] to be a fully functioning adult. It adds up to … well, let’s just say I can’t even bring myself to put them all up on my goodreads “to-read” shelf because you’ll judge me and/or think I’m insane.

Anyhow, I’m actively working on about 10 books right now. Anne Lamott said in an interview once,

“Reading various books at once is sort of like doing an enjoyable Stations of the Cross.”

This struck me as stupidly brilliant and also indelibly true. You put one down and pick another up, entering a different stage, a different scene, in an ostensibly different journey, and after a while of reading all of them together you realize it’s all one big journey, after all… we’re all on our way, together, to Golgatha. To Resurrection. To Christ.

Hmm… what was this post supposed to be about?

Jesus and quarters and collars and priorities

Yesterday I was sitting in a line of cars waiting to be released from a hospital parking garage by an attendant who had her mind firmly set on getting her $3 from each and every person coming through that line. From far ahead, I heard her: “No credit cards. Cash or check only.” As a person with no checks (they’re in the mail, okay?) and no cash (there were some quarters in my cupholder, if push came to shove, but that was it), I was nervous.

Then this thought occurred to me: I’m wearing my clerical collar. She’ll for sure let me off. I was visiting congregants. Win for the clerical collar!

And then that sneaky Jesus sneaked in and sneakily said the sad, sneaking truth: If ever I’m in a position where I am tempted to use my clerical collar to earn me something– a free pass, respect, attention– then that is the time to instantly, without passing go or collecting so much as two quarters from my cupholders, take the collar off.

Conversely, whenever I’m tempted to take my collar off in order to earn me something– protection from mockery or questions, cool factor around friends, gratification of my laziness– then that is the time to instantly put the collar on.

It seems to me that this is the meaning behind the “go into your closet and pray” but also “if you’re embarrassed of Me then I’ma be embarrassed of you” dichotomy I’ve always noticed in the teachings of Jesus. I think if you’re tempted to pray in public (or whatever that metaphorically relates to in your life) to make a big deal out of it, get thyself into a closet. But if you’re tempted to pray in your closet because you’re embarrassed of your faith or otherwise don’t want to be seen engaging with Christ, then get thyself out into the street on your knees. It’s not a one-size-fits-all commandment regarding closets. It’s a one-truth-fits-all commandment about intentions and priorities.

Anyway. Yeah, so that was one thing I wanted to say.

and finally, nazis

Speaking of catch-up books and the “one size fits all” theory (look, I’m making connections a little bit), I’m reading a book on Naziism that was assigned to me in not one but two classes I took, one on Barth and the other on Bonhoeffer. Did I read it in either? Nope. Though I read the introduction at some point, because I underlined something. #modelstudent #IgotanAinboththoseclassesthough #mystery

The book seeks to explain how on earth an entire country could get caught up so utterly (and so rapidly) in the rampant, raging, horrific racism and violence of a party which, less than 5 years before Hitler’s rise, comprised only 6% of the voting public.

There is a quote that strikes me: an intellectual Nazi Party member, Carl Schmitt, spoke early in the Nazi rule of “what Nazi society would look like” when it came to fruition. Here’s the author’s succinct analysis of Schmitt’s vision:

“[Nazi society’s] two constituent qualities were ‘homogeneity’ and ‘authenticity.'”

The reason this struck me is that “authenticity” is a big word for emergent worship. Our service, The Hub, claims an unbelievably clever (friendly sarcasm) acronym within our own name, where the H in “hub” stands for “Honest.” Honesty, authenticity, self-knowledge and self-expression within the presence and the grace of a God who created you unique and expressive– these are central tenets to the emergence, millennial style of church. 

So Schmitt and the rest of the Nazis got it utterly and completely wrong. (This is not news to you, I hope.)

Homogeneity and authenticity are mutually exclusive concepts. Homogeneity is where authenticity goes to die. One cannot be authentic to one’s individual and unique self if one is forced into a box with everyone else.  One size fits all is a cultural illusion, whether in the ethnicity of a nation or in our worship styles or the ways we seek and find God.  Though our essence– having been made in the imago Dei– is identical, and our calling– to resemble as perfectly as possible Jesus Christ– is identical, nevertheless in all of our particulars and aesthetics and likes and dislikes and personality types this statement must be true: We were not created by factory molds. Homogeneity is nowhere in the creation plan as we have received it.
At the Hub, we seek a community wherein your truest self is welcome– even if that truest self is weird, or a bad singer, or mentally ill, or terribly broken. We seek a worship space wherein you can lift your hands if you want or you can sit quietly and journal; you can sing or you can pray; you can participate or you can let us participate for you. Whatever you need, whatever is authentic to you– because we know you’re not like us, and that’s why we love you.

so, in conclusion:

Screw the Nazis.

A Day in the Life of a Pastor

Source: memebase

Source: memebase

Wake up at 4am, vaguely worried about something I can’t remember. Attribute it to the fact that the Board of Ordained Ministry is coming up…….. in two and a half years BUT STILL.

Call my father, ask him to talk me off my anxiety ledge.  He jokes with me about how all my problems will be solved when they elect me the new pope. We laugh. I feel better, am able to get out of bed, even take a shower! Plus 10 points!

Head to work! Pull out in front of another car and duck my head hoping my extra chins will hide my clerical collar, while holding up a hand in apology.

Stop in Panera, where a man waits respectfully for me to fully vacate the coffee bar area before he approaches it, as though I am one of those nuns who are so cloistered that if a man touches them, they get defrocked, or melt, or something.

Hear a snippet of a story on NPR about “home funerals” in which the speaker bemoans funeral homes as being clinical, sterile, and unwelcoming; thus, she says, the best option is to have a funeral at home.

Source: reactiongifs

Source: reactiongifs

Think for a while about the fact that church is no longer an option for many people, or even a category in their brains.
Consider crying.
Consider quitting ministry before the Church doesn’t even exist anymore.
Laugh at my silliness and lack of trust.
Get out of the car.

Joke with coworkers and realize I work with the best people in the world.

Read a long comment on a progressive blog which begins with a quote from a Casting Crowns song. Laugh, then nearly cry.

Source: reactiongifs

Source: reactiongifs

Begin a response to a friend on facebook RE: the “messianic secret” motif in Mark. Delete everything. Begin it again. Delete everything again. Give up. (Sorry, Brad!)

Source: reactiongifs

Have lunch with parishioners; struggle against revealing too much.  I just want to be best friends with everyone, but it turns out people don’t exactly want to know that their pastors break and bleed and suffer and sometimes lie on the sofa in sweatpants and wail. Or, conversely but still in the TMI realm, that we sometimes sing silly songs to our puppies about how they are a little bear dressed up in a puppy costume. Come on, that’s adorable.

Put on an additional cardigan because the world is freezing. Come and get me, boys; I look so irresistible in this clerical collar and multiple cardigans.  Ow ow, am I right?

Source: reactiongifs

Accidentally click a link to a terrible, terrible blog while googling translations of Ezekiel 16. (Seriously, don’t try this at home, kids. And especially not at work, like I was). Flush with embarrassment, and consider curling up and dying. Have to email our IT guy to apologize and explain. NEVER LIVE THIS DOWN INSIDE MY OWN HEAD.

Run into parishioners in the hallways and realize I love them more than I ever thought possible.

Source: reactiongifs

Call a friend. Spend a long time talking about the theological merit of a Christological view that really only takes into consideration the Passion.  Do we have to suffer to be like Christ? we ask. We (as liberal feminists who dislike pain) want to say no, but deep down we both think “maybe-probably-I dunno.”

Do my Disciple work. Realize I’ve forgotten everything I learned in seminary about the synoptic Gospels. Briefly consider just throwing the idea of “Q” at my Disciple ladies (that’s right, I have an all-girl group. YOU JEALOUS? You should be.) so they’ll spend all our time talking about that and think I’m smart. Realize this is the opposite of good Disciple-teaching.  And good person-being.

Source: reactiongifs

Source: reactiongifs

Walk the dog and call my mother. She says, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” We nearly cry together. I tell her she is one of the great lights of my life. We do cry together. So, you know, the usual.

Go to Disciple. Feel pastoral, pastorly, pastorish, and LIKE A PASTOR. Laugh to the point of crying.  Don’t even worry about being off topic, because if Jesus was present anywhere in my day, it’s here. Pray.

Watch some trashy reality television on the couch with the dog and cat. Consider reading my Bible. Fall asleep.

Source: reactiongifs

Source: reactiongifs

Lather, rinse, repeat.
Thank God.

Don’t Call Me Names: A Rant about Feminism, God, and the Southernism “Sweetie”

Listen, you guys. I know there’s big stuff going on.  The frankenstorm ate New Jersey, the election is so close that I think Wolf Blitzer’s head is going to pop off (or at least his beard will), and Advent is practically upon us so everyone in the Church world is under about as much pressure as Wolf’s neck veins.

But I am up in arms, and it has nothing to do with any of those things.

Here’s what happened.

On the way into a building for a clergy meeting the other day, I followed a middle-aged female pastor through the parking lot, since I didn’t know where I was going and she seemed to.  I had seen her before at some other clergy meetings and intended to speak to her as she kindly held a door for me.  But that’s when it happened.  She looked me up and down, frowned a tiny, slightly confused frown, and said, “Here you go, sweetie.”  Then she continued into the building and spoke to me no more.

Now.

I’ve been called sweetie most of my life, having grown up in the South.  It’s been used in lovely ways, like when my incredible, probably-more-awesome-than-yours dad texts me and says, “Hey sweetie, how’s your day going?”  And it’s been used in derogatory, pedantic ways, like when an older guy a few years ago at a church event clapped me on the back, looked down at me and said, “You’re a little Southern girl from a red state; you’re going to vote for McCain, right, sweetie?”

I expected that sort of thing, to some degree, from that man.  To him, it might or might not be fair to conclude, I was a child playing dress-up when I stepped into the pulpit.  To him, I probably went home and braided my hair into pigtails and painted my cat’s nails.  To him, I was not authoritative, or worthy of respect as clergy, because of my age and my gender.  And there will always be men like him. And I love him, because God loves him, and because he means no harm.

But I have never expected it from fellow female pastors.  Much less relatively young ones.  Women who have faced their fair share of funny looks as they stepped into the pulpit or a room full of male clergy in a dress.  Women who don’t have to imagine walking a day in my heels because they wear the same ones every day.

But here was this lady, telling me with her body language, her skeptical frown, and her use of the pedantic “Sweetie,” that I was not only not what she expected, but I was- perhaps- unacceptable, even unwelcome.
At the very least it told me that I was an oddity, the bearded lady at the circus—“Come see her for yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, the elusive Young Adult! Never before seen in meetings like this one, come marvel at her blue jeans and funky scarf, her short hair and weird sandals, maybe even catch a glimpse of her playing Words with Friends in the back row!”

Now listen, I recognize that I cannot foist all of my grievances upon this woman’s one utterance and posture toward me—nor do I want to.  I do not believe in my heart of hearts that she intended any harm.   I recognize that maybe I reminded her of her daughter, and that therefore she meant “sweetie” in a familial, motherly way.  I recognize that it’s possible that she was just coming from a funeral of someone my age, and felt emotional seeing me, and “sweetie” tumbled out of her mouth without her ever realizing it.

I have no ill will for this woman.  I love her, because God loves her.
But the whole 3-second event brings up something in me, something feminist and young and indignant and loud.

I’m mad at the society that has given me every reason jump to the conclusion that this “sweetie” was an ugly one. I’m mad at the society that nods its head in agreement that I am the Bearded Lady and this is a circus.  I’m mad at the society that says that I am wasting my youth, that I would be better off spending my days at a high-powered high-rise job, zipping to the gym before and after work to get thinner so that I can meet and marry a hot guy and have babies and spend the rest of my life trying to have it all, a la Liz Lemon.

This society says that I shouldn’t wear my collar because it makes me less attractive.
It says I should put “I’ll tell you later” on my Match.com profile when it asks for my profession because no one wants to be a pastor’s husband, or worse, boyfriend.
It says that if I’m determined to stay in this job, I’d better get used to being an associate pastor because no church wants a female senior pastor and no man would consent to being a female’s associate.

To that, I say screw it.

In my delightful little 5-member, all-girl, tearjerker Disciple class this week, we read about the law God gave to Moses on the mountain to pass on to the people.  We read about how one of the goals of the law was to set the people apart.  We read about how God asked certain people to do certain things, like how the Levites were asked to consecrate themselves one way, and the Nazirites another way.

We read that the Israelites were called out, called up, to live a different kind of life than the Egyptians and all the other cultures around them, because they were chosen.  We read that God’s people should behave differently than the world tells them to.  God’s chosen people should have different values than the world tells us to have.  God’s beloved people, whom God calls with God’s own voice, are beholden to God, not to society.

So call me sweetie, I dare you.  Tell me I’m undesirable because of my profession and my attire and my haircut.  Tell me that I, because I am young and because I am female, am not cut out to be your pastor in a world where most leaders, CEOs, and senior pastors are male and older.
The fact remains true: I am a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is my beloved, and He finds me desirable even if you don’t.  If I am wasting my youth, then it is being wasted upon the altar, to God’s glory.  And if I never “have it all” like Murphy Brown tells me to, guess what?  I already have it all.  I know, this is all cheese right now, but hey, I’m just a woman so what did you expect? (#sarcasm)

I try more and more every day to pray as St Francis would pray, over and over all night:

“My God and my All.  My God and my All.  My God and my All.”

Amen.

The Dinosaur vs. The Very Hairy Monkey: Worship Renewal in the Postmodern World

You know that friend you had in college who was studying something positively useless, like ancient Sumerian or Art History or something?  And you thought, what contribution are you ever going to make to the advancement of modern society?  What is the point?

Sometimes I think we have a tendency to think subconsciously about ministry that way.  Sometimes it feels like we are curators in beautiful but crumbling museums, scurrying around and doing our best to preserve the glass-encased treasures, artifacts, and masterpieces.  People come in, they behold the beauty we proudly present, and then they leave, sometimes changed and sometimes unchanged.

Mona Lisa on display at the Lourve.  Image credit: Wikipedia

People still visit the Mona Lisa and David even though they’ve not changed in the slightest in centuries.  I’m going to visit Rome in a few weeks, and I’ve been told to expect hour-long waits to view the Sistine Chapel and the Coliseum, despite the fact that they’re just the same as they were in the pictures in my elementary school textbooks.

So, too, God has not changed in all these years.  So shouldn’t people continue to come to the houses of worship to visit?  …Or is that metaphor imperfect?  Of course it is.

God is unchanged, but that doesn’t mean the Church is unchanged.  God is unchanged, but that doesn’t mean that we are unchanged.  God is unchanged, but that doesn’t mean the way we worship, where we worship, what time we worship, and what worship involves is unchanged.

66% of Americans believe that the traditional Church is irrelevant.
Leith Anderson says, “The Church in America is dying for lack of change.” (1)
12 million people are active, and 30 million people are interested, in alternative spiritual systems. (2)

The use of this term, “alternative,” says they want something entirely unlike what is currently being offered.  They don’t want what we have traditionally served them; they want something new and fresh, sweet on the tongue.  They are looking, searching, seeking for something else.

Obviously we need to be open to change.

(Note: We needn’t throw out the traditional model; after all, if 66% think the traditional Church is irrelevant, then 34% apparently disagree.  But as of now, the proportions are wrong:  I don’t have specific numbers for this part, but I’d venture to say that 80% or more of our worship is aimed at the 34% right now.  We have to flip that on its head.)

If 66% of people think traditional church is irrelevant, let’s give them nontraditional church.

Because we are called to give them Church.
We’re not called to protect the old traditions.  We’re not called to stand in an ostensibly crumbling building and wait to be crushed by falling stones.  We’re not called to stand in a belltower and shout at passersby about the Good News they could find if only they’d come inside. Rather, we are called to offer God to people, wherever they are, whatever they like, whomever they love, whatever they look like, whatever type of music they prefer, however they dress, and whenever they’re awake.

If young adults are sleeping til noon on Sundays and staying up until 3AM, let’s give them a midnight worship service.  If prostitutes are hanging around the bad areas of town, let’s set up shop there.  If the bars and tattoo parlors are where people are hanging out, let’s bring the Church to hang out there, as well.

Because whenever the unchurched are awake, God’s there. And wherever the unchurched are hanging out, God’s there. And whatever the unchurched are doing, God’s there.  God is not just in the church building.  When are we going to get that through our thick skulls?

We have to change because the people God wants us to reach are not going to come to us, 99% of the time.  We’re going to have to go to them.

 

But there is great risk in change.  We could screw it all up.

Consider the recent news story of the Spanish fresco by artist Elias Garcia Martinez, over a century old.

Image credit: today.com via Centro De Estudios Borjanos via EPA

A classic painting was positively ruined by a restoration-gone-wrong.  The article cited above says this: The BBC Europe correspondent described the painting’s current state as resembling “a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic.”

As I prepare in my current appointment to begin an alternative worship service, I tremble with the fear that I will end up, not with Christ, but with a very hairy monkey in an ugly shirt.

But Exodus 17 gives me faith.

The people of Israel are thirsty, they’re desperate for water.  God tells Moses to go out into the middle of nowhere (the Rephidim, the Nowhere Place, where no one would expect water to be), and God promises to go before him, and that God will be there, standing on a rock.  And water, God promises, will flow out of that rock.

God’s people today are thirsty for God, they’re desperate for Church– even if they don’t know it. Alternative worship, the nontraditional Church, this is the wilderness of the Nowhere Place, this is where living water will flow out of hard places, dry places, broken places.  This is where God has already gone before us, leading the way, clearing the path, setting up roadsigns.  And God will be there, standing on the rock, if only we will lift our eyes and follow.

 

(1) Charles Arn, How to Start a New Service
(2) Mark Galli, Beyond Smells and Bells

Devotion: In Which I (Embarrassingly) Use Bieber Fever as a Metaphor for Disicpleship

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matthew 6.24)

Well, that stinks.

I mean, we all get it that there are certain unhealthy things in this world to which we should not devote ourselves, things like wealth, fame, alcohol, and Republicanism (threw that one in as a joke… everybody calm down).

But there’s a lot of really wonderful stuff in this life– and in this job– that I would like to serve as a master, stuff that would benefit me, that would benefit the church, that could benefit the world, maybe even benefit God and God’s Kingdom.

I could serve work as a master, spending all day back-bent over my computer or zipping between hospitals, throwing myself in sum into this odd and wondrous calling, to the exclusion of all worldly callings, and would not the Kingdom of God be upbuilt?

I could serve homemaking as a master, spending all my free time cleaning and cooking and making my life neat and orderly and lovely. I know that a clean home means a clean headspace for me, so I would have more freedom for meditation and prayer and study at home, and thereby would not the Kingdom of God be upbuilt?

I could serve relationships as a master, spending all my cell phone minutes on calling my family and my old friends, doing the familiar give and take and relishing our shared memories, and in that shared time between beloved friends, would not the Kingdom of God be upbuilt?

I could serve righteous indignation as a master, campaigning for the rights of animals, and women, and the poor, and the homeless, and the uninsured, and would not the Kingdom of God be upbuilt?

And I could serve even prayer and meditation as a master, rising with the sun to fulfill my duty, to check “Pray” and “Read Scripture” off my ever-lengthening To-Do list, and would not the Kingdom of God be upbuilt?

There are good things we want to serve as masters.  But serving the things of God is not the same as serving God.

If a wife loves only the sexual fulfillment she gets from her marriage, that’s not the same thing as loving her husband.  That’s just loving sex.

And just because I loved a certain professor’s teaching style in undergrad and took at least one class with him every semester, that didn’t mean I loved him.  I just loved his work.

I think it’s funny that we Christians have co-opted the word “Devotion” to mean reading the Bible/praying.  We do “devotions.” We call them our “morning devotions” or our “evening devotions” or our “daily devotions.”
They are numberable, they fit on 1-3 pages in a pocket-sized book (whose cover is undoubtedly a water-color sunrise or a still photo of a babbling brook), and they last no longer than 10-15 minutes.

What a bastardization of that word.  It’s almost sinful.

Devotion is that thing you feel when your chest feels like it’s going to pop open as if your sternum was a button held on with one last thread.  Devotion is that things that makes your head light and your eyes teary for no reason, and you can’t think of anything else, and you can’t eat and you can’t sleep and you can’t tear your mind’s eye from the object of your devotion.

Devotion is that thing 14-year-olds feel when they gaze upon their posters of One Direction and Justin Bieber.

Have you felt about God the way your youth feel about Justin Bieber lately? (Put that on a bracelet… It’s the new wwjd: HYFAGTWYYFAJBL?) They adore him.  They spend all their free time thinking about him.  They ponder his eyes, his hair.  They have memorized ever word he’s ever written.  They consider his humble beginnings and wonder at his future.  They gather together to discuss his daily activities and the places he’s been spotted that week. Sound familiar?  Sound like anything you do– or would like to do– RE: God?

Serving the things of God is not serving God.  This is a sermon for myself today.  Though my work is ministry, just doing work is not the same as serving God as my master.  “Doing” a “devotion” is not the same thing as being devoted. 

In a moment of boldness, let me quote and amend John Wesley:

“Do all the good you can [out of love for God]
by all the means you have [which you have been given by God and for which you are thankful to God]
in all the ways you can [which God will show you]
in all the places you can [where God will send you]
at all the times you can [even if it doesn’t fit into the 10-15 minutes you blocked out at 6 AM for your “Devotions”]
to all the people you can [whom God loves and calls just as much as He does you]
as long as ever you can [out of abiding devotion to God].”