October 5, 2013 § 3 Comments
Last Sunday I attended a “networking event” at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. The purpose of the event was to bring together ministry folks so that we could pray together and discuss the burgeoning ecumenical movement towards Anabaptist thought in the Church here and abroad. Greg Boyd even went so far as to predict a coming “reformation,” which tickled my imagination—what does that mean? What would it look like?
As discussion focused on organizing—we need leadership! Media presence! Conferences!—I grew impatient (as is my wont). I wanted to talk about the more fuzzy ideas of reformation (I will admit, I even shouted out an interruption about recognizing the non-Western Church, incurring what I can only describe as a “warning look” from our dear Dr. Boyd). So without further ado, here are my thoughts:
What do I want to see from the Peace Reformation?
- I want to see the Anabaptists recognize that their critique of colonialism/imperialism is not something they came up with. It came out of the non-Western Church, the colonized peoples, who by their own understanding of the Gospel came to see the power game played by their mission-izers as incongruent with their message. If we don’t recognize our non-Western brethren as the source of this theology, it becomes merely another tragic appropriation.
- I want to see an embrace of non-Western theology, in general. This is why I don’t want the Peace Reformation to call itself “Anabaptist.” Certainly, let’s be influenced by Anabaptist thought, but if we trace our roots back to the Anabaptists as our sole progenitors, we’re just another Western, imperialist church movement, asking the world to take on our categories of identity and put itself under our influence. That makes me feel icky. I want to see a true blending of families, in messy glory. Not in a gross, let’s-appropriate-someone-ELSE’s-history way; but in a way that celebrates the Church outside the West as important, powerful members of the Body of Christ.
- I want to see generous orthodoxy.
- I want to see all the good things done to raise up the poor.
- This is a big one for me: I want to see a healthy skepticism of “leadership culture” (ahem, “leadership commerce”—all these books and resources and certificate programs are sure making a lot of money for someone.) Not that a healthy concept of leadership isn’t important. But we need to make sure that our criteria for leadership are in line with our beliefs about power. It was mentioned at the meet-up last Saturday that even in Anabaptist circles the basic criteria for Church leadership are that one be a white, Type-A male. I will tell you a story about a close encounter I had with one such leader: during a heated conversation in the dark halls of a neo-Anabaptist Facebook group, a pastor began to speak condescendingly toward me and another woman in the group, twisting our words in a mocking fashion. I called him out on his unkind method of discourse, and he took to Twitter to post this:
“My generation believes boldness is abuse and leadership is arrogance. Both are lies. #realtalk #prophetswithouthonor #weneedboldleaders”
“Don’t let the tone police silence you. Bold leadership isn’t politically correct. #realtalk #prophetswithouthonor #weneedboldleaders”
“Dr. King is a hero to many now. But back then, the tone police tried to silence him. It’s safe memorialize bold leaders when they’re gone.”
No. At least in the Peace Reformation, we don’t need bold leaders. We need humble leaders. We need to be able to speak the truth in *actual* love. This isn’t “bowing to liberalism” (as was suggested by other Type-A males in the Facebook group.) It is basic fruit-of-the-Spirit stuff, to be able to engage in rigorous discourse without resorting to verbal violence. In the Peace Reformation, I want to see leaders whose Holy Spirit is a Counselor, not an aggressive, coercive convict-or. I also want them to accurately understand the power relationships that are part of the definition of “tone-policing.” (hint: the one with the privilege cannot be tone-policed)
- On a similar note: I want to see the gifts of women and non-whites to be celebrated, even if they look different from our typical (and likely to conform to the power-models of the world) ways of doing church leadership.
- I want the Peace Reformation to be Spirit-filled; pentacostal, even. And as I have said elsewhere, if we want a Church that embraces world-wide Christianity, it will probably have to be pentacostal (little “p”).
I probably could keep going for quite awhile, listing wishes and dreams and addressing grievances. But I want to turn the conversation over to you. What do you want to see from the Peace Reformation?
September 18, 2013 § Leave a comment
New post up at On Pop Theology!
Here’s a taste:
Sunday night was explosive. It was just nuts! Walter White, can you believe it, amiright?
Okaaay, no, I did not actually watch the latest episode of Breaking Bad. The Twitters tell me a line of some sort has been crossed…again. This is the draw of the show—the shocking and strange twists that are the mark of good storytelling—this is also why I stopped watching when I was only a few episodes into the first season. When a main character dissolved a human body in a bathtub, turning both the body and the bathtub into a sloshy, sinewy red soup, a line was crossed. I couldn’t watch any more. I mean, my god—that scene was supposed to be comic relief.
See more HERE.
September 2, 2013 § 4 Comments
An honest question for you, because I’m really struggling to figure this out: what do you do with teachings about God that bring hope and life to one person, but for a different person, cause her to see God as a monster, a thing to dread rather than worship?
And how does the latter person worship alongside a monster-God-lover on Sunday mornings? How could she bring her soul into agreement with her sister’s, joining her in affirming that “God is good,” when each sister’s way of defining God’s goodness is an affront to the other?
In the Christian communities I hang around, where we like to think of God’s sovereign love as rooted in the freedom he grants rather than in the authority he wields, you might hear someone talk about her sister like this: “Her god is not my G-d! Her god is a sadistic puppet master. Her view of God constitutes blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. So she’s not even a real Christian either. If only Jesus were here—oh wait!” And then you get some Bible verses.
Oh, so many times I’ve been this person. I’ve shouted “fuck you Pastor Mark!!” from the Twitter-tops. But wouldn’t you know, it got me in big trouble, and I had to apologize to someone very close to me. Because the difficult truth is that Mark Driscoll and the neo-reformed movement have—gulp—well, they have brought many people closer to the love of Christ.
And this love isn’t a caricature. It’s not a delusion. It’s just not. It’s just not. It’s real. For example, for every family that suffers under the crushing weight of neo-reformed gender roles there is another family that finds release from—let’s just say—addiction, strife, and the prison of self-sufficiency by ordering their lives around the neo-reformed teachings about marriage.
I’m not saying it’s a good teaching. I think it’s horrible stuff. But what do you do with the fact of lives changed, families changed, truly, truly, not just as an affectation or social posture but truly, down to the core, there is now love where there used to be none, and it’s a miracle? What do you do with that?
What do you do when your husband discovers supreme, tear-inducing joy from knowing he is condemned in his horrible sin but Christ has chosen him through grace to be saved from it? Can you call his God-who-chooses a monster, can you say the true love of Christ is not in his heart? You chose to share your life with him because the light of Christ is so beautifully burning in his heart—his faith is so utterly genuine, honest, wise, scripturally-informed, absolutely loving and so obviously Christian.
This is my situation. I have seen lives changed in the crucible of neo-reformed theology. I have seen lives crushed and lives changed, and I don’t know what to do with that. It would be intellectually and spiritually dishonest, not to mention incredibly prideful and condescending, to write off the neo-reformed as being outside orthodoxy, declaring TULIP a heresy, and decrying “their Christ” as a false god—and it would be too easy, too.
Powerful folks are all about “calling each other out” for the cause of preserving some kind of legitimate faith—oh, we do it “in love,” of course!—but even among the peace-lovers it so quickly turns into hard-hearted judgment games, Bible-verse wars to prove who is “in” and who is “out.”
The more Christians I meet the more I am convinced that the struggle for control over who gets to define “legitimate” faith—ehm, often it’s called “theology”—is simply the demonic distraction of powerful men. The beautiful little weird faiths found among the great cloud of witnesses—the people who pastor doesn’t know, but the rest of us do—these are my theology. And when you see theology wrapped up in a real body, with its own legitimate will and its own beautiful heart—neo-reformed as it might be—wow, it’s always hard not to look her in the eye and say, “Well now, there’s Jesus, right there.”
This is what it really looks like to opt-out.
August 15, 2013 § Leave a comment
This post was inspired by this post from Alise Wright.
Over the years I have heard a litany of Father’s Day sermons about discovering God’s “father heart.”
I’ve always found these kinds of sermons to be a bit unfair; Mother’s Day sermons are so much more positive, focusing on the supposed “nurture-instinct” of women, crafted to communicate a sense of our value (and perhaps to make up for the de-valuing of women in so much of Evangelical culture and theology.)
But on Father’s Day—and other times of the year, too—the community of Believers is asked to think about how our fathers’ love (imperfect even when they are the best fathers they can be) was insufficient to fill our deepest need for affirmation and attention. We are then to think of God as a perfect father—overflowing with the love that we feel is lacking in our lives—and this is why it makes sense for us to accept his deity.
This is “God-shaped hole” apologetics, which I don’t have a huge problem with, but as such, it is sorely lacking.
A story: I attended a Bible study for awhile in 2007 which purported to be a ministry to the college campus’s international students. Funnily enough, the leaders had no understanding of cross-cultural ministry. (For example, they believed they had converted a bunch of Buddhist girls. But they missed the part of the Romans’ Road that explains monotheism—for the students, Jesus was an addition to the many deities they recognized. I found this out in conversation, but the leaders had no idea.) At this Bible study, we had a “Father Heart of God” night where students with limited English language skills were pushed to discuss how their fathers failed them.
I was asked to read a set of questions from a booklet, and the students were to answer individually. But almost immediately I felt tension between the kind of conversation the activity was intended to create, and what was actually happening. At first the Asian students spoke with pride about their fathers working hard to support their families. But as we got deeper into the leading questions, they began to get the message that their workaholic fathers were not actually caring for them by being gone so much but rather their fathers were cold, distant, and not in any way sufficient.
A South African student said that the questions were making her uncomfortable and she didn’t want to answer any more. She was a smart cookie. Smart enough to call bullshit on the conversation.
It was an absurd, confusing, and culturally insensitive exercise. The whole “father heart of God” thing is based on cultural expectations about masculinity—for us in Evangelical culture, it’s based on the sexist belief that men are naturally disengaged from their children and that women are naturally nurturing (you have to wonder who that belief is benefiting. *cough* sexist pastors *cough*)
We therefore create a pseudo-theology of God’s “father heart” as something that provides us with some kind of ultimate emotional support. But for other cultures, God being a perfect father might mean something totally different—it might mean the total opposite of what it means for us. For some, God as the perfect father would always be away on his business, working to provide what his family needs. Emotional support would be a non-concern.
The “father heart” script is proven absurd when viewed through a cross-cultural lens; but let’s come back and look at how it works in Evangelical culture, specifically. Even though I find this whole “father/mother heart of God” thing to be based on ever-changing cultural expectations of gender, and therefore absurd, I still feel like it’s important to discuss. It is a huge part of the Evangelical paradigm, and it affects people.
As I have heard it preached, discovering God’s “father heart” is something that is supposed to reconcile us to our earthly fathers, as we forgive them for not giving what they couldn’t give—purely sufficient love. This is supposed to make us healed and whole.
But what of us—and maybe this is a stereotype, but I think women have this problem more than men—who perceived our mother’s love to be insufficient? I’m leaning back into my own cultural ideas about motherhood here, but what of us who didn’t receive all the bodily affirmation, the comforting physical touch, the nourishment of our bodies with good food that we wanted from the hands of mothers? When we focus merely on God’s “father heart,” these things come to be thought of as non-essential, even petty. Privileging God’s masculinity de-values the place of physical nurture in the development of healthy humans, which can lead to a host of problematic attitudes in the Church (i.e. minimizing damage that is caused by abuse) not the least being the de-valuation of motherhood, the hesitancy to think of motherhood as an imitation of God, and the lack of a discussion of how we might become whole and healthy when our mother’s love was insufficient.
Looking at God through our cultural understanding of fatherhood allows us to feel like we are being wholly reconciled to God’s perfect love when we are actually holding God at an arm’s length, away from our bodies. We feel like we are becoming whole persons by looking for God’s “father heart” but it is a horrible trick; when we believe the delusion that God’s masculine love is absolutely sufficient for our psychological wellbeing, we fail to recognize our bodily needs as inextricably tied to our emotional needs, and instead of becoming whole we become more fragmented, lacking an awareness of the value of our whole selves.
So what are we to do with all the fatherly language for God we find in scripture? Well, we’re going to have to look at it in a way that doesn’t depend on anachronistically inserting our understanding of fatherhood into the text. Some people find it to be helpful to think of God as both father and mother. I think this can lead us into beautiful insight, but doesn’t get us past the idea of culturally-dependent gender roles. I personally like using the terms “source” or “creator,” because they are more beautiful than, say, “parent,” yet they maintain a sense of (what I presume to be) the intended meaning.
August 6, 2013 § Leave a comment
New post up at On Pop Theology!
“A refresher, for those of you who were living in a cave (Sicarii-style) last week: Fox News put the “most embarrassing interview [they] have ever done” on the internet and in addition to launching a boatload of delightful snark it pushed Reza Aslan’s new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list.
The extreme right is up in arms over the book, and in service of God and country some intrepid culture warriors have taken to leaving fake negative reviews on the book’s Amazon profile. Meanwhile, on the more left-leaning side of the Christian internet, Bible scholars and students—in a display of epistemic humility—have continued to express excitement over the book, sharing reviews and Reza Aslan interviews.”
For more, visit the On Pop Theology website.
July 24, 2013 § 3 Comments
The year before my Great Depression my parents came to visit me in my community house in Grand Forks. I had just finished a book about a Charismatic revival in Wales during the early 20th century—a movement whose adherents claimed their prayers halted the progress of enemy armies during WWI. This appealed to my pacifist leanings. (Leanings that I can only explain as coming from the natural bent of my personality, and perhaps, from all the scripture memorization…Bible Quizzing, y’all.)
I remember saying to my dad, “Why do Christians fight in wars? If we believe in the power of prayer, why don’t we put our trust in it to bring peace to the world?”
“Who is putting these thoughts into your head?” he asked, incredulous.
Over the years since then I have encountered this same reaction from both men and women in response to my honest questions and what, to me, were thoughtful and compassionate interpretations of scripture. But in the evangelical culture, original thoughts are discredited as “rebellion,” “bitterness,” and “resisting conviction.”
All this is probably old news to anyone who reads my blog. Most of us have begun resisting the idea that doubt = sin. But what I want to talk about is the irresistible psychic draw back into those old ways of thinking—that God is in control of every detail, that he thwarts our plans because of sin, that he is the one crouching at the door waiting to expose our deepest shame. I just can’t shake it.
Backtracking a little—when I moved further into questioning the faith culture I grew up in, I began to feel more and more mentally unmoored. All of the scripts that had helped me make sense of the world were being unwritten, and I had no connections to others like me, who could help me replace the scripts with something new, healthy, and healing. This kicked me into the full-blown depression that had been percolating in the background of my life for years. But here’s the horrible thing: I knew that if I confessed my illness, and the shivery lock-jawed addiction that came with it, all my subversive thoughts, questions, convictions, and basic human agency would be credited as the cause of my troubles. The Christian authorities in my life were just waiting for the opportunity to put me in my place, and any admission of weakness would give them the excuse.
I feared them, I feared God, I feared myself. My new way of thinking suggested that maybe God was not in control of the sadness, maybe God was not thwarting me because of some inadvertent rebellion against a detail of The Holy Will that I missed because I hadn’t prayed enough. But then there came the authoritative “No,” the pull of my learned decision-making process that demanded a will outside my own to be in-charge—because I was, clearly, too weak to be making decisions for myself.
Oh. My brain. My soul. So completely without a place to rest its head.
If only I hadn’t been weak, I could have moved confidently in the direction of my convictions, but things didn’t work out that way. After the sadness subsided, I began to go to a young, hip church with a lot of rules and that helped for awhile—I got the rest from my own mind that I, perhaps, needed—until I got shunned for thinking and speaking, only confirming my deepest fears about what it takes to “do life” in a strong, vibrant Christian community.
Years later still, and I’m still figuring out how to make decisions without reverting to attempts at divining God’s Holy Will, sorting through signs like so many chicken innards or tea leaves. But thinking for myself still feels a bit dangerous, a bit like sin. And I don’t like living with that feeling, but still, it has to be right—owning my own agency—right?
July 22, 2013 § Leave a comment
New post up at On Pop Theology! Here’s a taste:
A few years ago, I worked at a coffee shop on a college campus. There was a German Masters student and first-year language instructor—a thick-necked, plaid-and-khaki-wearing bro if there ever was one—who liked to sit at the bar and chat up the younger baristas while “grading papers” (i.e. friending his female students on Facebook.)
He was a dog, that’s for sure, but every so often he would engage in thoughtful conversation. One day I asked him, “In German schools, how do history teachers address the Holocaust?”
“They never let us forget,” he said. “We had to go to presentations all the time.” And he rolled his eyes, ever so slightly.
Read more here.