May 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Struggling with a debilitating case of writers’ block…of the “nothing seems important enough” variety.
So I apologize; this is more of an extended Tweet than a blog post. I just need to get something out there. Get something flowing. Doesn’t even have to be creative juices. I’d settle for creative molasses. Slow but sweet. Yeah, I’d settle for that.
All I have is this: I’m tired of the word “hipster.” We should go back (way back) to saying “fop.” Because it’s the same thing, right? They both refer to someone who is concerned with exclusivity, by way of being in-the-fashion.
And I think that the word “fop” is more accurately gendered than the word “hipster” for the way in which it is commonly used. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that when we talk about hipsters, we mostly refer to males. We save our derision for fashionable men because they just aren’t supposed to care that much. There are acceptable avenues for men to take to gain power and influence; a strategic concern with fashion isn’t one of them. It is a challenge to the accepted order. So we don’t like it. It makes us squirmy.
Also, “fop” sounds more clearly like a put-down than “hipster,” which is, I imagine, more to-the-purpose of one who uses the word to label another.
April 29, 2013 § 1 Comment
Today I’m posting for the first time at On Pop Theology. Check it out; you will hear about my affinities for unpopular television and ginger chews, and also, a cautionary tale highlighting the importance of bra-wearing.
“HBO’s Enlightened was cancelled last month after two short seasons on the air. (Two very short seasons; there are only 18 episodes in the series, total.) I mourned for it as one might for a not-un-expected death; I binge-watched the entire first season while consuming an entire bag of ginger chews.
My feelings for the show are complicated. They are similar to my feelings for another much-beloved show that will likely be cancelled this year, ABC’s Happy Endings. When I watch these shows, I regularly find myself thinking, “These people are so annoying. Why do I adore them so?” And then I take out my exasperation on a ginger chew…”
April 9, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I arrived at my parents’ house for a final visit before the beginning of the fall semester, 2007. I didn’t want to be there.
I had just quit my job at a coffeehouse after learning about “creation care;” I didn’t want to be “complicit” in its wasteful excesses. (“Complicit” was my new word obsession; because of it, I didn’t use paper towels or vote in the next election.)
I was supposed to see my high school friends while I was home, and I wasn’t anywhere near as awesome as I had hoped to be by the time I saw them again.
I had just said goodbye to the guy I believed God wanted me to marry, because he was going to Antarctica. Yes, Antarctica. No, I could not take a hint.
I was in what I had heard called a “valley” experience. I was confused about life, God, the universe and everything, and just sad. I was desperate to find meaning in it all, moving from book to book to idea to experience—anything to find some relief. This trip was a waste of my time.
I arrived at the house and no one was home. I let myself in, all by my lonesome with all the bird-covered beige things inside. My Utmost For His Highest had been placed in the very center of a round doily on a square coffee table; I grabbed it (I had never read it before) and went out the back door.
Wind was blowing through the tall grass and baby pines, and closer to the sky, deciduous branches pointed and flexed. I sat down on the concrete slab patio to take it all in, to relax with perhaps a cigarette and a bit of Christian inspiration. (I had recently stayed up all night one night to read a certain Donald Miller book, and was therefore quite enamored of the idea of mixing scripture and pleasure.)
And on the first page I turned to, I found myself exhorted by Oswald Chambers to give up more, give up more, give up so much more; to doubt myself more; to go crazy for Jesus even more. I put down the book and finished my cigarette.
I was deeply disturbed. For a long time—years afterward, even—I thought that it was conviction that disturbed me. That I was ashamed about the smoking, the drinking, the doubt. But no, that wasn’t it.
It was the realization that I was trying to get away from the mindset represented in the book, and I was failing horribly; with all the changes I had made to my faith to relieve the intense strain it brought into my life, nothing about the quality of my life had changed. I was still trying to “give my all” for Jesus, trying to figure out what kind of heroic sacrifice he wanted me to make, fearing the suffering that would come my way were I to make a wrong choice.
I was taking ridiculous risks for the sake of my ideals, and it was still all meaningless, because this way of relating to God meant that I didn’t experience God to be loving at all. He just wanted me to DO MORE THINGS. THE RIGHT WAY.
I thought that by believing different things, I would be out from under the burden of fundamentalism. But the way I believed had not changed. I still believed that being a “living sacrifice” meant that God wanted me to be miserable. I still believed that “mountaintop” experiences were blessings and “valley” experiences were times of testing, for pushing, for growth, for increased misery in times of weakness. God was this cosmic motivator, concerned solely with goading a Will into reality. And even now, I hold onto this view of God in some ways; I don’t know what to replace it with.
Last night I had a fantasy that I was giving my testimony to a youth group. I have this fantasy a lot. Yeah, whatever, it’s weird—deal with it. I think it is a way for me to right whatever went wrong, whatever caused me to lack so much joy in my faith. Anyways, I was rehashing this idea of “mountaintop” and “valley” experiences, trying to make sense of the valley. Trying to make sense of how some people really like that motivator-God and how others—me—find him to be such an asshole.
And I had this paradigm-shifting thought: the valley is not for trial by fire. It is not the crucible. That whole theology of the mountaintop and valley? Not in scripture. Look again to Jesus in the desert; the valley is what comes after the mountaintop, after that moment of victory and power. It is where you shut down because you are so worn and weary, you need—you cannot go on before you are ministered to by—a Comforter. You need a Nurturer. And God gives that. God is that.
And I was so relieved at this thought. I could really worship a God like that.
March 28, 2013 § 2 Comments
I expected the skies to lighten to grey as we drove home from dropping friends off at the airport, but when we pulled into our driveway just after five in the morning, the world was still quiet, cold and dark.
My husband and I dragged ourselves back up the stairs, back to bed, and it felt very right that it was still definitively nighttime in our world as we shut off the lights and pulled up the covers for the second time in just a few hours.
Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock.
Out of a dead sleep I sat up bolt-straight in the still-dark-ness. The five measured, polite raps resonated, as they might on window glass.
“Lance. Lance.” My husband was slower to come out of his slumber. “What was that?”
“Someone at the door?” He got up and pulled on his clothes. I was about to turn on the lamp next to the bed when he said, “Don’t turn on the lights.”
He went downstairs, slowly, peeking around a corner to see through the window next to the door without being seen. There was no one on our front step.
I stood at the top of the stairs as he walked around the house, looking through windows. He was in the guest bedroom when we both heard it: a groaning sound. A human sound. I just about shit my shorts.
“Babe?” Lance said.
“Did you just say something?”
But we looked through the rooms, we looked out the windows; there was no one there. Lance repeated several times that the sounds must have come from the plumbing; but that rationale didn’t help much when it was time to try to go back to sleep yet again. We both kept our eyes open, looking out for fuzzy silhouettes in the doorway, until the house brightened with early daylight and exhaustion won out over fear.
As a child, I was especially terrified and anxious at night. I was creatively terrified. To this day I need to pull the covers up over my head in order to sleep—a habit I developed during a period of time when I was convinced that some malicious person might try to stick Q-tips too deep into my ear canal, Hannah-style. And I still sleep on my side; I used to think there might be a person under my bed with a long sword. Sleeping on my side would decrease the total area of my body spread out over the bed, thus decreasing the probability of the sword-wielder’s success were he to try to stab me in the liver. Pretty good math for a seven-year-old.
And well into my adulthood I would have these fears—fears of intruders, of bad dreams, of demons—and I would try to conjure Jesus, to call up a shield of power to surround and magically protect me (believing the strength of the shield to depend on the force of my will.) My instinct the other night was to do this, to try; but when I did, it felt wrong.
“I thought I didn’t believe in this anymore, this forcing God’s hand business.”
But that thought made me more uncomfortable, still. Don’t I believe in the power of prayer?
This is the fine line that I’m toeing at the moment—not even a line, really; more like a thinning, bare field, with vague boundaries—it is in this amorphous area where I walk, this place where I don’t really know what my God does or doesn’t do in response to my desperate supplication. This is the God-who-never-leaves-you-or-forsakes-you in the dark moment of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
His kingdom will come, and then we will have our answers; but for now, in the dark before sunrise, we keep an eye out for our thief in the night. We wait.
March 17, 2013 § Leave a Comment
1. a theological term for the extraordinary graces given to individual Christians for the good of others
2. spiritual orientation and any special characteristics of a religious order’s mission or values that might be exhibited as a result of the vows that members have taken and the orientation of the order to which they belong
I grew up under the impression that Catholics were nominal Christians. This is what I was told; their tradition was fraught with “spiritual bondage.” My people interpreted Catholic practice with little charity. But in high school I started to meet Catholic Christians who challenged my religious superiority (my prejudice). I knew that what I was taught must have been wrong.
During the past eight years or so since graduation, however, I haven’t thought many reconciling thoughts about Catholicism. I have been too wrapped up in the confusing, consuming work of winnowing out the good from my own tradition, figuring out what I can keep, and what I must lose (for example, my Catholic prejudice).
But even though I haven’t been intentional about pursuing reconciliation with my Catholic brothers and sisters, seeds of reconciliation were planted in me by the likes of Shane Claiborne and Kathleen Norris and their writings about monasticism and the early Church.
In January—when I was in the early stages of my church project—I began to pursue a relationship with the Sisters of St. Paul’s Monastery, a Benedictine community about 40 minutes away from Lindstrom. My only goal was to get to know the people there and to learn about their rich (shall I say—missional?) tradition, with the distant possibility of pursuing oblation in the back of my mind.
I must say, I’m getting more than I bargained for in this relationship. And it’s very exciting! The Sisters are interested in finding new ways to connect with community members in the Twin Cities area and beyond who might be interested in monastic spirituality and practice but who aren’t sure where they might be “allowed” to get involved in an established community. (Shameless admission: I’m still in this stage, myself.) So, they are looking for help with their community outreach, and I am honored to say that I have been invited in to join them in their efforts.
So, what I have for you is an initial offering of resources as well as a request for input: Are you interested in monastic, or more specifically, Benedictine spirituality? What would you like to learn about the tradition? What kinds of resources would you use if made available to you—retreats, prayer gatherings, seminars, etc? On the blog, I plan to provide book reviews and reflections on my experiences with the Benedictine community; what else might I include?
Website for St. Paul’s Monastery
Summary of the Benedictine charism (Charism being a word that I just learned this week; I am quite fond of it!)
This beautiful history and reflection on what it means to be a Benedictine Oblate – I think that Christians of any tradition would be touched by this article’s characterization of a life committed to Christ
Taizé Prayer gathering in South Dakota — I hope I can make it to this
March 1, 2013 § 2 Comments
I posted about Pete Enns’s Inspiration and Incarnation a couple of times as I devoured/slogged/re-read/underlined/scowled/fell asleep/chewed my nails/fist pumped my way through it. In this post my imagination went wild as I made my way through the first couple of chapters, and I jumped forward into application. And here I geeked out over the text-critical method Enns presents, when I was at the mid-point of the book.
And now that I’m finished, I’m not really sure what to say about this book in terms of reflection. I was stunned by Enns’s ability to articulate complex points with such clarity. Stunned, and overwhelmed—in this book a lot was going on in a pretty small space!
And despite finding so much in this book to say “YES!” to, I have a weird intuition that I disagree with some part of this book’s premise…but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. My thoughts are still a little mushy. The further I got into the book, the more familiar it seemed; whenever Enns moved away from his examples of diversity in the Old Testament to making an apology for his method, I felt like he was saying things that I heard all the time as I grew up in the evangelical church.
Did anyone else in the reading group have this feeling?
Because his basic argument seemed to be that evangelicals need to embrace the methods of good textual criticism and admit that the Bible was written in a historical context and for a purpose, among other things. But in my experience, evangelicals already affirm these things, even if it doesn’t affect their practice of interpretation in the same way that it affects Enns’s.
As far as my experience can attest (and as Enns admits) evangelicals do believe in the importance of contextual study—this means that evangelicals acknowledge that the Word is of a time and place and situation. Scripture is of a piece with the culture in which it was produced. I, for one, have never heard this contested in any church I have attended.
Most evangelicals would affirm that we bring our own cultural bias to our reading of scripture—why else would contextual study be important to them?
And most evangelicals—again, my only evidence is anecdotal—would agree that we should take authorial intention into account when performing interpretation, and that we should be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit when we come to scripture, and that we can see the Old Testament as pointing to Christ in creative and selective ways. It feels like Enns downplays the place of these beliefs in contemporary evangelical culture; but it seems to me that we uphold these things as ideals just as he does, it’s just that our practice is diverse and idiosyncratic.
It feels like he is saying, “You already put your trust in the method of interpretation I am presenting, but you don’t apply it right!” If that’s what he wants to say, I wish he would have made it more explicit. And maybe that’s my problem with understanding the book in general; I often found myself wondering if I was missing something, and wishing that Enns would speak more frankly as to his purpose.
(And maybe I’m not alone—Krista Dalton suggests here that Enns’s over-simplification of Jewish tradition in this book [and I would argue, evangelical tradition] might be a tactic that serves to make his argument more accessible.)
The problem is not that we evangelicals don’t affirm the “incarnated” nature of scripture (at least to some extent,) it’s that the culture won’t let us talk about it—as Enns might very well concur.
February 28, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Today’s church was exercise time at the monastery, with the beautiful older sisters of St. Paul’s Benedictine order.
I had been chatting, getting to know the sisters, when a spry septuagenarian with a cane and a dancer’s body charged into the common area and began distributing weights and squishy little dodgeballs.
I hid in the back, whispering, until I caught a green foamy sphere with my peripheral vision, sailing through the air towards my head.
And this was some first-rate church, I’m telling you. Sitting in a half-circle, lifting hands, tapping toes, laughing, celebrating self-care as a body of believers, the faithful and breathless.
This post is part of a series called “Charity Goes To Church.”