The Prince of Peace and the Culture Wars: A Lamenting Meditation

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“Christ is the first peacemaker since he opened the house of God to all people and thus made the old creation new. We are sent to this world to be peacemakers in his name.” – Henri Nouwen

This is the week that we Christians celebrate the coming of the child prophesied in Isaiah as the ‘Prince of Peace.’ He was announced by angels, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

But let us not be fooled by Victorian notions of a quaint Christmas. The prince of peace came into a violent world. From the beginning he was victimized by those in power; Herod was after him and slaughtered the innocents. Jesus was born as a poor minority, unvalued and cast off by the empire.  He died violently next to criminals.

As we approach Christmas day, there is still violence–real and horrible violence. Today I received word from my Anglican communion that the former Archbishop of Nigeria was kidnapped with his driver and is being held by his captors. Pray for him.

Christians are undergoing real persecution worldwide.

My heart is heavy for the church, including for my own American church.

As we approached the celebration of the Prince of Peace, as we sit in a world where brothers and sisters undergo actual persecution, we in the USA bluster about secular media and millionaire reality tv stars.  

Somehow we’ve made ‘Merry Christmas’ a weapon in the culture wars.

We’ve heard the cry of the humble peacemaker as a call to arms.

Something has gone wrong.

How does Jesus make any difference in these petty disputes? In these endless culture wars? How can the peacemaker, the one who lays down all power, be heard in our angry shouting?

He did not come to make a Christian America. He did not come for ‘God and country.’ He did not come for our prosperity.

He came in self-emptying and in humiliation, to make a new world and to bring a new kind of peace–not the peace the world grasps at, not a peace through violently asserting our own rights, a subversive peace, a peace that comes through death and resurrection.

I want us to be a different kind of people. Yes, a people marked by sexual purity and holiness, which the world will condemn as foolishness or worse. But also a people who go out of our way to be honest, kind, and generous.

A people who aren’t interested in maintaining our own power, even a people who aren’t surprised when we’re misunderstood, misrepresented, or when persecusion comes. Our King promised it would.

A people who respond with more than tolerance–with lavish, incomprehensible love for our enemies. Not a people who are smug in our judgements, self-satisfied in our own rightness, but a people marked by a hunger, a longing to be filled, like a baby longs for his mother’s milk.

We must live by a different narrative—the story of the infant King, the Risen One. But as we marched into our high season of worship celebrating the incarnation, it was the same old culture warring.

Here’s my guess: Both sides are wrong. Few on either side would recognize the God who self-emptied, who laid down rights, who laid down privilege to love his enemies.

But isn’t that why we need him? We need that kind of God.

We’re all wrong. We’re all angry. We’re all in the war—even those of us who like to think ourselves pacifists.

I’m disappointed that the celebration of the peacemaker became another hand-wringing exercise in the self-styled  ‘enlightened’ liberal, broad-minded believers against the self-styled conservative, biblical, bold, zealous believers.  My heart aches.

In the trumpeting of our own rightness, the jostling to be on the correct side of history, did we miss the distant call to prepare ye the way of the Lord?  Is there ever enough silence to hear it in this loud world?

In the shouting back and forth, we missed a time to prepare our hearts, to accept misunderstanding with good humor and warmth, to be a different kind of people, an unpredictable people, a surprising community.

We missed a moment to prepare for the Prince of Peace to be celebrated, even in our warring world. 

We are all so predictable. But what happened in Bethlehem was profoundly unexpected. I hope we can find the shock of it, the wonder of it, again.  May it still leave us reeling.

 

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Publish The Anglican Way!

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My seminary had a church fair where local churches would set up a booth and new seminarians could walk around the room and view church options in order to decide where to visit. It was like any farmer’s market if you simply replace cabbages with congregations. I remember being bothered at the fair and not just by the obvious problems of church as consumer product.

It bugged me that all of the folks at the booths were apologizing for or distancing themselves from their tradition and denomination. Most churches were vaguely named things like, “New Life Community” and “Grace Fellowship” and “Boston Life Church” and when I’d ask what denomination the church was in they’d say, “Well, we’re Baptist but we’re not really Baptist. We don’t care about being Baptist” Or “technically, we’re Methodist but you don’t have to be a Methodist. We’re, you know, just a loving church.” It’s not that this kind of denominational ignorance –and I mean that in the literal sense of ignoring something- is surprising. For certain situations, I think it may even be advisable. In the post Christian context of New England, churches should invite all under the banner of Christ not squabble over denominational distinctives. But this wasn’t a fair for the general public. This was a fair for seminary students.

We were taking systematics and ecclesiology. In my church history classes I was learning about people who literally died to be able to be Baptists. And people who died (or unfortunately killed) to be Presbyterians.  And here these folks were talking to wannabe ministers saying, “Well, we’re just a church. We don’t have a tradition.”

A seminary professor of mine used to say, “every one stands somewhere so know where you stand and pivot from there.” What he meant is that all people and all churches are part of a tradition. Even the newest, most individual, most expressive First Emergent Church of the Super Cool Hair comes from a long line of presuppositions and men and women who thought, prayed, sought God, made mistakes, corrected, overcorrected, and lived lives. And by long line I mean thousands of years.

The point is that tradition matters and that you have one whether you know it or not. In the past month a close friend questioned all the ‘ritual’ in my church asking didn’t Jesus die to get rid of all that? But her church, though a ‘low’ church, is just as ritual laden. It comes from a particular Western democratic, individualist tradition. It’s worship is fraught with methods and choices that seem to her a given -the way “true worship” is done, but is no more of a given than using a censor in an Orthodox church or a Quaker silent meeting or a slain in the spirit kind of service or Lessons and Carrols in an Anglican cathedral.

The question is not if we’ll have a tradition but whether we will understand it, know it self-consciously, and embrace it as our own. Doing so helps us to better identify our blind spots, but it also allows us to more fully embrace worship.  We recognize how we worship an eternal, omnipresent God in our little traditioned moment of finite (but deeply valuable) worship.  Understanding our worshipping tradition invites our imaginations into a story that proceeds us and will continue after us.

That is why we need books about specific traditions of Christian worship. And that’s why I, as an Anglican clergyperson, want to be able to hand someone an accessible book that explains our tradition: our stories, ritual, way of worship, assumptions, blindspots, and beauty.  I want to tell them, “I’m so glad you asked. We’re Anglican. Would you like to know what that means?”

That’s part of why we gave to Thomas McKenzie’s Anglican Way project. Because we get asked about Anglicanism a lot. I have a lot to learn about Anglicanism myself. And he is the perfect teacher. He’s our friend and an amazingly gifted preacher. But more importantly, he knows the breadth of his tradition from his lifetime of experience in Anglican churches of all sorts. He’s a clear and inviting writer. And he cares about tradition as a means to more fully worship Jesus. Not the other way around.

So, give him money. Let’s get this book published. I need it. And the church needs it. And the fair at my seminary needs it. So, let’s do this.

An Earnest Question About Anti-science, Poor hating, Narrow-minded Republican evangelicals

Every time I hear someone pontificating about how evangelicals don’t care about science or the poor or don’t like “hard questions” or are way into being Republican, I always wonder the same thing: Who are these people they’re talking about?

I am an evangelical. I know a whole, whole lot of different sorts of evangelicals all over the world, and I’m increasingly  confused by the ever-recycled, echo chamber truisms about evangelicals.

I’m bewildered because many of the folks I know who are doing the most rigorous scientific research and working hardest to bring hope, help, and justice to the poor are evangelicals. Like these folks.
Or any number of the (literally) hundreds of evangelical students I could link to who I have personally met who are doing incredible work in science. Not to mention, this guy.

Or our dearest of friends who started this or this or this. Not to mention, these guys who were talking about social justice before it was cool (and before I was born). Or this dude. Or these guys, who just might be saving the world.

Some people like my friend Daniel so hate science and poor people that they become top of their field in medicine and then move with their families to developing nations where they give quality care to the sick.

And then folks are writing about a new sort of evangelicalism.
And stuff like this keeps happening. And this. And this.

And I hear about these stories of tremendous beauty in a dark world and talk to these kind of science loving, compassionate, justice seeking evangelical weirdos every single day.

I want to be clear: I’m not saying that this litany makes the gospel evangelicals believe true or that you should be an evangelical or that we’re worthy of any kind of respect or that the evangelical church doesn’t deserve criticism or that we aren’t all completely nuts.

But here is my honest question: Am I just really lucky?

I’m asking this earnestly. Do I just happen to know the ‘right sort of’ evangelicals, a negligible, invisible sect within a sect? Granted, I work for these guys. And they’re always coming up with things like this. But is my sample that skewed? Have I just gone to above averagely awesome churches? Because none of these science-rejecting, poor ignoring, homophobes go to church with me.  So is my experience all that unique? Or is this stereotype based on partial truths or the Moral Majority of  twenty years ago? Or is this a strawman that is being trotted out and bashed again and again? And if so, why?

Why I do and do not keep Lent, part II

icon-of-the-bridegroom-jesus-christIn my last post, I discussed the reasons we don’t practice Lent as a church. In this post, I’d like to sketch out the reasons we do practice Lent.

1.  We practice Lent to enter into the sufferings of Christ. The stories we tell ourselves about reality shape us. They shape who we are, what we believe, and what we desire. Christians want not only to believe the story about Jesus cognitively but to get it into us– into our very bones.  It’s the difference between assenting to the fact that Bono is an Irish rock star and finding yourself screaming along with him at a U2 concert. We want to think, confess, and understand, but also to encounter, worship, and be transformed by God. The primary way we do this is through liturgy in both word (reading and preaching about the bible) and sacrament (baptism and the Eucharist). But we also do this through practicing the Liturgical seasons like Lent. In order to know the Good News about Jesus holistically, beyond something that we work out in our brains like a word problem, we try to enter into this story with our bodies.

I have a friend who gives up meat and dairy every Lent. She is an incredibly gifted chef and total foodie. Her passion for butter rivals even mine (and I would go to a church made entirely of butter if I could). Lent is hard for her as you’d imagine. But she isn’t joylessly trudging through the season. She takes up this yearly practice with even a sort of humble gusto because it teaches her, year by year, through her stomach, that Jesus who was in the very place of perfection, a place with pleasure more abundant and powerful than even (dare we imagine it?) the best, richest butter ever made could give, left that place to be with us and called it a joy to do so. Her practice allows her to taste a tiny thimble-full of what Jesus experienced in his self-emptying and that helps her to be shaped by His story.

2.  We practice Lent because it reveals our idolatry and helps us to repent. There are certain things that are good in themselves but that hold too much power in our life.  When there is something without which we feel like life is meaningless or that we catch ourselves thinking we’d ‘simply die’ if we didn’t have it, it is likely occupying a place in our life that it was never meant to hold.

I have a friend who gave up alcohol for Lent one year. He’s not an alcoholic but he found that he was relying on alcohol to get through social events in a way he felt was unhealthy. Now, he still drinks alcohol but he returned to it freer, knowing that it was not what made him okay and able to abstain from it more readily. Some of us would do well to limit our working hours or practice Sabbath keeping over Lent to repent for how we rely on work or busyness to make us feel okay. I have a friend who gave up her smartphone for Lent because she felt like technology had become ,in some sense, a god in her life. She didn’t know how to live without being plugged in 24/7 so Lent was an experiment in letting go of a false god to rely on God.

3. We practice Lent in order to rid ourselves of distractions and focus on the Real.  We live in a noisy world. Much vies for our attention. The late priest and writer, Henri Nouwen wrote about the busyness and restlessness of American life that “to celebrate life together, to be together in community, to simply enjoy the beauty of creation, the love of  people and the goodness of God—those seem faraway ideals. There seems to be a mountain of obstacles preventing people from being where their hearts want to be…In this hectic, pressured, competitive, exhausting context, who can really hear me? I even wonder how long I myself can stay in touch with the voice of the spirit when the demons of this world make so much noise.” Part of the reason that I am giving up Facebook this year is that, as much as it helps to keep me connected with others, it can add to the white noise of my life, drowning out the rhythms of beauty and grace around me. I hope to spend more time journaling during Lent, especially noting the desolation and consolation of each day, a practice that has helped me notice God at work in my life, take stock of the texture of the day, and cultivate gratitude. For me, this year, Lent is an intentional turning away from distraction and toward practices that help to quiet my noisy heart.

A few years ago I began Lent burnt out and harried. I had a new baby and was working in ministry. My husband and I were struggling and I felt spent. Exhausted and depleted, I didn’t know what to give up for Lent. I was nursing, so fasting from food or drink wasn’t an option. And I felt stretched so thin, that the thought of any more deprivation made me feel unhinged. A very wise friend and priest said to me, “Don’t give anything up for Lent this year. Your whole life is Lent right now.” So that year, my Lenten practice was to leave my daughter with my husband once a week, walk to my favorite neighborhood coffee shop, and read a novel for an hour.  Self-denial it was not. This habit was a joy and the most quieting tome of my week.  I intentionally chose the novel The Book of Sorrows by Walter Wangerin  because it is the perfect Lenten book, a story of sin and redemption in a community. During that Easter season, I had a powerful, transformative spiritual experiences when God met me and encouraged me through a particular scene in that story. But that would not have happened had I not, by God’s grace and the encouragement of my community, intentionally made space for slowness and reading in what felt like a suffocatingly cramped life.

4. We practice Lent to prepare for Easter. One of my favorite characteristics of the Christian year is that there is never a season of celebration without a season of preparation proceeding it.  Whether it be Oprah, Burger King, or Joel Olsteen, the myth of our culture is that we must always be happy, fulfilled, and living our best life now!  Yet, while we are all maniacally pursuing happiness, anxiety and depression are commonplace. The truth of our brokenness is relentless even in the midst of wealth, success, popularity, or a perfectly lit, magazine cover home.   The Christian calendar allows us time to admit the reality that things are not the way they are supposed to be, a reality our hearts know all too well.

Easter is all about the hope of the resurrection, but there can be no resurrection without death first. It can be so tempting to jump ahead in the story, to focus on the joy of the resurrection and skip over the agony of the cross. Who want to remember the crucifixion? It is painful, scornful, raw, and dark. But, only when we wait, for a moment, in that humiliating vulnerable place can the resurrection truly be good news to us. When a King comes, there is always plenty to do to get ready for Him. And so through these daily, earthy habits, we prepare to celebrate our coming King.

To Conclude

At the end of the day, sharing in Christ’s sufferings, repentance from idolatry, quietness and Christ-centeredness, and preparation for Easter are all a gift of grace. The practice of Lent is a means of grace, but grace itself is a mystery that grips us however buttoned up or sloppy our Lenten practice is.  The best thing I have read about Lent this season was a little note that my priest, Fr. Thomas McKenzie, sent out in our church’s Lenten worship schedule.

I can say nothing better:

“Please remember that keeping Lent is designed to make more room for the Holy Spirit in your life.  Keeping Lent may or may not lead to feelings of joy, sorrow, happiness, or anger.  You may or may not alienate a friend, have a spiritual experience, lose weight, or feel grouchy at work.  Keeping Lent will not make you more holy or beloved in the eyes of God.  Keeping Lent will not save you.

Keep Lent anyway.”

Why I do and do not keep Lent: an introduction

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This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which begins the Lenten season. Lent marks the 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays).  It is a liturgical season focused on repentance, penitence, and preparation.

What most people think of when they think of Lent is the practice of ‘giving something up for Lent’. My dad dated a Catholic girl in high school before he met my Mom. I don’t think they were very serious, and when I ask him why they broke up, he always responds, “She gave me up for Lent.” I’m not sure if this is true or not, but we all know someone who gave up something–be it coffee, chocolate, or dating my dad—for Lent.  I didn’t grow up practicing Lent, but I am now in the Anglican church where Lent is practiced by our community. Many of us fast from something (give something up) or take on a practice or both during Lent. For those of us who didn’t grow up with this practice (and even many who did), there can be some misconceptions about why believers do and do not ‘keep Lent.’ These are worth addressing so we can better understand and explain why we enter into Lenten disciplines.

First, let’s address why we don’t practice Lent:

1. We don’t give things up because we think they are necessarily bad or immoral. This year, I’m avoiding Facebook during Lent, but that is not because Facebook is bad or sinful. I could make a good argument (and in fact have argued frequently) that Facebook is a good thing.  When people give up chocolate or meat or alcohol or coffee, it is not because we Christians think that if we enjoy something, it must be bad. Coffee, meat, alcohol and especially chocolate are very good things that show God’s goodness, creativity, and provision.

Of course, Christians ought to be interested and working toward breaking habits of sin–gossip, lust, judgment, anger, pride, and so on, but this is called repentance, which is certainly not limited to Lent. I’m not giving up Facebook in the way that I’m repenting of (and trying to give up) anxiety or impatience with my toddler. The former is a neutral or even good thing that I am choosing to fast from for a season. The latter is a manifestation of my brokenness and is a way that I’m failing to love that I need to allow God to change and heal.

2. We don’t practice Lent to earn anything from God.  Salvation is received solely as a gift (we call this ‘grace’.) And I daresay that God, who made all that is and sacrificed Himself to rescue us, is entirely unimpressed by my ability to go without sugar for 40 days. I once heard a pastor preach about how giving something up for Lent is a pointless or even harmful practice, arguing that the reason people practice Lent is because they “hate repenting.” The idea was that in Lent people give something up to sort of “score points” with God so we don’t have to actually recognize ourselves as sinners. We can sit and bask in our own self-righteousness as we sanctimoniously say, “No I would not like that glass of red wine.  I gave it up for Lent,” and smile self-satisfied at how righteous we are. I’m sure people out there have practiced Lent in this way (though I don’t know any of them). But if you do, for the love of God (literally), drink the glass of wine. Drink two.

3. We don’t practice Lent out of obligation or duty.  This way of thinking is the other side of the coin of #2. We Anglicans (or Catholics, Lutherans, et. al.) don’t think God will be mad at us if we don’t practice Lent. It isn’t a legalistic obligation to avoid God’s wrath. We believe that the entirety of God’s wrath was poured out on Christ in the crucifixion. God took our punishment on himself in its entirety. We don’t have to avoid meat or chocolate for forty days to try to make some kind of (pathetically small) recompense to an angry God. Christians believe that God actually delights in us because of what Jesus did and not at all because of what we do. Lent or no Lent, we are welcomed by God.

So why do we keep Lent? Stay tuned. Click here for more in  Monday’s post.

Why we have a bullet on our Advent wreath

We added something to our Advent Wreath this year: it is a bullet shell that has been carved into a small cross by someone who is involved in a peacemaking organization (I believe in sub-Saharan Africa).  It felt appropriate in light of all the recent and tragic violence to put it by the wreath this Advent to remember the pain and redemption of violence. Whatever you think of gun control, if you are a Christian, you believe that the gun is not our hope.  A gun will not save you or anyone else. And we must, as Christians, confess that we wait for and work for a day when “swords will be beat into plowshares.” If we, as a church, are more focused and committed to the sword than the plowshares we are hoping for, then we, as a church, need to ask what repentance and belief means in this culture and what kind of transformation we are called to embody.

1220121402There is such pressured craze to be hap-hap-happy as the holidays approach that there is often confusion or even shame about admitting the heartbreak that accompanies this season. I love that the Church, unlike the culture, knows that there can be no feasting without fasting, no celebration without preparation. And so it gives us the season of Advent to admit that things are not the way they are supposed to be. We recall together that the reason that we long for the return of Jesus is because we are in desperate need of a Redeemer and that there is enough evil in each human heart that we all need a savior-not just Adam Lanza or the NRA or the conservatives or the liberals. I need to go no further than my own mind and heart to see the evil that holds the world captive and makes me long for the coming ransom. This  Advent is the time to speak frankly of that evil and the grittier hope that has come, is coming, and will come.

When I heard about the shooting at Newtown, I immediately thought of my little girls and I cried a lot. My second thought was of The Feast of the Holy Innocents. This little known feast day falls on December 28, right in the middle of Christmas celebration. It is a day set aside to remember the children Herod slaughtered in the nativity story (if you don’t know what I’m talking about read the Christmas story in the gospel of Matthew).  These children- “Holy Innocents”- are remembered as martyrs because they died for the name of Christ, in some sense because of the coming of Christ. I can think of no other day that better captures this confused broken beauty-this ‘already’ and ‘not yet’- of human existence. We remember dying children with horror and we celebrate their lives and their resurrection to come with a feast day. My colleague, Fr. Dale Brown also thought of the Holy Innocents when he heard about the violence in Connecticut and posted a prayer that is said on December 28:

You are the God of the weak and the vulnerable.

Lord, have mercy.

You judge the tyrant and the cruel.

Christ, have mercy.

You wipe away the tears of the broken-hearted.

Lord, have mercy.

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the,Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend these little children. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, sheep of your own fold, a lambs of your own flock, sinners of your own redeeming. Receive them into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

May their souls and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace, until the day of the Resurrection. Amen.

—–

We have several dear friends who are walking through a little bit of hell right now because of the suffering of their children. When I pray this this December 28, I’ll think not only of ancient Bethlehem, but of Newtown, of Syria, of Darfur, of children who are victimized by those with more power and of our friends right here in Nashville.

It is not enough now to focus on our rights or to condemn the “sword”, we all must do the hard daily work  of peacemaking. The work of beating a sword into a plowshare isn’t easy.  Metal is bent and broken and transformed with effort and pain over time. But this work of redemption is happening even now as God works his good news of peace into every inch of cursed darkness. And that is why we put a bullet on our advent wreath: Because someone who I don’t know did the hard work of making that bullet shell, a symbol of the false power of violence, into an object of worship that speaks of the true power of the redemption of Jesus.   And I want my family, my church, and I to be about that same sort of work in small ways everyday.

Why You Should Still Talk about Politics on Facebook

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I get it. As the election draws near, most of us get tired of hearing about politics.  (And those of us who do not become political pundits or Poli. Sci. professors).

My Facebook thread has certainly had a lot of political posts lately, some far more helpful than others.  I have also posted a lot about politics as well. But lately my Facebook feed has mainly been filled up with broad threats like, “ To everyone in general: Stop talking about politics or I’ll defriend you” or cute, little memes like, “Everyone is talking about the election and I just want to look at Pintrist photos of cupcakes.”

So I ranted a little to my husband today about why I think we really should keep talking about politics on Facebook and here is essentially my argument:

There are two reasons to not talk about politics on Facebook:

1. Because you think politics don’t matter.

But here’s the thing: they just unavoidably do. I have seen so very clearly through this situation this past year how a bad policy decision made in the seemingly hermetic fluorescence of an office suite trickles down to affect real communities of real people who I love. I have seen through working with the poor and working with immigrants how the rhetoric that gets thrown out in public debates reverberates through the lives of men, women, and children in tiny, silent ways every single day.

Now, let me be clear here: Politics will not save you. The tendency of certain Christians on the right or the left to think that all would be made right if only the other team would lose and their side would triumph is entirely deluded. Too many Christians believe that one political party or the other is the hope for the church, which I daresay is nigh unto blasphemous and exactly upside-down. And let me be clear about this too: Politics isn’t simple.  I have very little faith in either party and very likely will not vote for either major candidate this year (that is a whole other post). Different parts of the church are far too quick to baptize one political party as the party of truth or worse, the party of Jesus.  Poverty, peace, church and state relationships, matters of scale and subsidiarity—all this (and more) can get ethically complicated pretty quickly.

But because politics are complex and will ultimately fail us, that doesn’t mean that politics don’t matter. Politics matter because people matter–the way we think about culture, our ideas about the truth and what it means to be human, the way we use our money, how we decide who lives and dies, who we bless and who we bomb, our laws, our history, the way we love our neighbors, how we make room (or don’t) for peace, how we care for the least and the little, how we raise our children, how we honor the elderly and the dying, how we are allowed (or not) to follow our consciences in worship and public life.  It all impacts real people, you and me and our communities. So even if your conclusion is that you can never vote again, fine, but you can’t just ignore this stuff. One must both think about these issues and engage them in whatever way one can because, whether we ignore them or approach them with intentionality, they impact our lives.

2. You acknowledge that politics matter, but don’t think people should talk about it really. 

This one bugs me more than option 1.  Here’s the thing: Whether we like it or not, Facebook is a public forum. And, for better or worse (probably worse), it is one of the very last public forums that we have left in our culture. People don’t read newspapers or magazines anymore so writing an opinion column doesn’t do much good (unless it goes viral and ends up skyrocketing around…. yep, Facebook). We don’t have an Areopagus anymore and elders don’t hang out around the gates of the city debating ideas.  Most of us don’t know our neighbors. Even if we do, massive amounts of research shows that we are getting more and more polarized politically and geographically—chances are that those you live around and hang out with think, more or less, like you do. So if you hang out with a bunch of left-leaning urbanites, it makes it harder for you to possibly conceive how anyone with a functioning brain could be against gay marriage or Obamacare unless they are simply blinded by fear, fundamentalism, or hate. And if you hang out with right leaning, business types or soccer moms, you can’t conceive why people would be for a better social safety net or for not bombing Iran unless they are simply entitled whiners who are weak and naïve.

Very, very few places remain where we are actually in “public.”  Facebook, for all its many, many flaws, is sadly one of the only spaces left where we might actually hear from people who see the world very differently than we do. And if these people are people that you know in real life like your kid’s ballet instructor or your cousin’s husband’s best friend- all the better. These sorts of friendships, however ambient or distant, help us consider that the “other side” may not just be blithering idiots or bigoted screamers. They help us to have to defend what we believe with hopefully something more thoughtful than, “Well, that’s just the way I am!”

Is Facebook the best medium for sharing ideas? No, probably not. But it is what we’ve got. Do I get tired of unthoughtful rants, the trolls, the endless repeating of soundbites? Oh yes I do. But the often inarticulate and contentious conversation that we are having as a culture will not improve by everyone dropping out of it and declaring, “No more talking about politics.” It will only improve by you entering the conversation with conviction, curiosity, and humility.  If everyone but the ranters stop talking about anything but muffin recipes and Downton Abbey, then the current political/cultural conversation –-and politics and the culture in general–will continue to decline.

So, please, tell me about your new kitten and your favorite new band. Really. Do. I love that stuff. Post pictures of your cute kids, and I will “Like” them with gusto! But also tell me what you think and why and please, please link to thoughtful articles that help you decide what you think and why. Because what you think matters and why you think it matters. It isn’t all that matters. It isn’t ultimate Truth. But it matters.

How I Went from Being a Woman against Women’s Ordination to a Woman Seeking Ordination in 25 Difficult Steps: Step 2

Well, I’ve been away a while again. I may finish this before I die. Or not. I’m mainly writing this for 3-5 friends who are terribly interested so I imagine they’ll keep reading and bear with my frequent absence, but for any one else who happens by, here you go.

So, moving on from step 1, which you can read about here, there was still some ‘ground clearing’ in my own soul that needed to happen before I could dig into the issue of women’s ordination, which brings us to:

Step 2. Stop avoiding the questions.  For years, even though I was a woman interested in ministry, I hated talking about women’s ordination. I love theology and I love theological debate and I do not mind a good argument (just ask my husband), so saying that I hated to talk about women’s role in ministry shows that, for me, this topic was scary. I was afraid of it. And I didn’t know how to begin to talk about it.  I was simply afraid of where these questions might lead. First, simply reading some of the harsher Pauline passages (regarding women being silent in church and so forth) at face value, simply hurts. Let’s be honest, most people and especially most women, don’t like these passages. They sting. You don’t see them on refrigerator magnets with little kittens for a reason. These epistles have a bite to them and can cause pain. I knew that to really wrestle with these issues, I had to look into these passages head-on. Because I view the scripture as the authoritative word of God (yes, all of it), I could not simply dismiss these passages as myopic misogeny or a relic of a bygone era from which I was rescued by the 1960’s and 70’s. I had to let them teach me. No matter where that led or how that hurt.
Beyond the apostle Paul, a lot of men (and women) in churches say things that are hurtful when this subject comes up. Paul, at least, spoke with the authority of an apostle and was a great saint. Bring up this topic among regular men and women and all sorts of stupid comments start flying about. That’s fine with me generally (since I like talking theology and God knows I say my own fair share of stupid things) but when men or women who I love and respect thoughtlessly and unintentionally said things in these conversations that carried a bit of venom, it burns.
So to avoid all that hurt, I just went a long time not really thinking, not really questioning, not really wrestling with questions about women’s ordination. I was more or less a women’s ordination agnostic who was simultaneously a woman in ministry, which of course is unsustainable long term.
But it was more than just hurt I feared. I feared becoming a theological liberal. I was worried that if I started investigating the claims of those who supported women’s ordination, I would end up becoming idolatrously obsessed with the sort of liberation/ power-seeking/ individualistic civil rights driven narrative that has come to dominate our culture. It isn’t that I worried I’d read an argument for women’s ordination and the next day become a radical feminist theologian who is replacing the bread and wine with milk and honey as a symbol of female spirituality and fertility (although this has sadly happened to people), but I had watched this issue dominate the thoughts and heart of others around me and lead them right out of orthodoxy and that grieved me beyond words. I’d rather remain unordainable–hell, I’d rather have to cover my head–and still remain faithful to the biblical and historic witness of the church catholic, still be able to honestly recite the Nicene Creed and sing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and still remain passionately in love with Jesus and robustly orthodox theologically, than be ordained off doing pet blessings somewhere invoking a god that always suited me. So, I was worried about the “slippery slope” that my own heart is capable of. Let’s face it, questioning the church is sexy. It is all the rage really, especially in the types of places I like to hang out. All questioning now is regarded as a good thing, even a brave thing. Be anything you want, but by God, don’t be a sheep. Sheep are naive and stupid and sometimes mean. But I think Christians must affirm that there are more and less faithful ways to question. That questioning, like sex, can be beautiful or ugly, valuable or cheap, holy or unholy, depending on the context and one’s own heart. I know my heart is prone to wander so I worried I’d follow my sexy questions to places that Jesus would never bid me go.
So meeting my faithful, biblical, womens-ordination supporting friends was the first step and then I had to be willing to be hurt and be willing to trust Jesus and my community to help me toward orthodoxy (and orthopraxy) and finally, finally, start looking at the issues of women’s ordination even if, at first, I still hated having to talk about it. I had to be willing to face the fearful questions.

How I Went from Being a Woman against Women’s Ordination to a Woman Seeking Ordination in 25 Difficult Steps: Step 1

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This is the second post in a series on How I Went from Being a Woman against Women’s Ordination to a Woman Seeking Ordination in 25 Difficult Steps. For all of these posts, if you haven’t read the introductory blog, please do so before you start reading the steps.
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It has been a month since I’ve posted (Jonathan has an explanation of that here), so at this rate I’ll finish up the 25 steps in about 1-2 years. Hopefully, I can pick up the pace. So let’s dive in shall we?
Step 1:  Meet people who have a high view of scripture and are for women’s ordination.  Ask them why.

From birth to age 18, my family and I went to a Southern Baptist church. God snatched me up early as a young girl and I was never the same.  I was drawn to ministry as a teenager and considered it for years, eventually concluding around my senior year of high school that I wanted to, as they say in the Southern Baptist church (and no where else on earth), “surrender my life to full-time vocational service” in the church.   I was a female in a place that didn’t ordain women, so I really had no idea what “vocational ministry” would mean for me. Then, in college, I learned more about grace and ended up becoming “Reformed” and part of a PCA church (a church which still feels a lot like home).  I was in the PCA for around 9 years and on staff at 2 PCA churches, but obviously ordination was out of the question there as well.

I had people around me in both high school and college who had an authoritative view of scripture and believed in women’s ordination, but I never asked them about it. Everyone I knew at my churches, particularly my teachers, were against it. I had read I Timothy 2, so I was pretty convinced that whatever ministry would end up looking like in my life, it did not involve ordination.
After I got married and my husband and I went to seminary, I started to meet a few people who were deeply knowledgeable about, committed to, and seeking obedience to the scriptures and yet, to my surprise, were for women’s ordination.  The first person who I got up the nerve to talk to about it was my friend Chris. I probably talked to him about it because he is gentle and pastoral, so I knew he wouldn’t try to hard-sell me on women’s ordination and because I knew he was very close friends with some PCA folks, so he wouldn’t dismiss me as naïve, stupid, or a supporter of oppression. He wasn’t the sort to participate in theology wars. He wanted to be a pastor, a godly, loving, biblically rooted man, and so I asked him why he thought it was okay to ordain women.  Honestly, I didn’t find his answer very persuasive.  He talked about uncertainty about the interpretation of the few hot-button women’s ordination passages in scripture, but mostly he talked about gifting he’d seen in women and how clearly God had gifted particular women whom he knew for preaching and pastoral care.  However, what struck me most was that he did not speak like a 1970’s era feminist. He did not talk of rights or equality. He talked about gifts and serving the church.
Around the same time, a mentor and dear friend of mine, a sort of “big brother in the faith,” began to ask questions about women’s ordination. He was ordained in the PCA, so asking these questions could potentially cost him a lot and could have even threatened his job as a pastor, but he asked them anyway. We didn’t talk much in this period, but he mentioned to me on the phone once a few books that he was reading about the biblical arguments for women’s ordination and that he found their arguments to be valid.
I soon met several more friends (many of whom are now Anglican) who believed in the truth of the scriptures and also believed that women ought to be able to be ordained. I was intrigued.
I still had no idea if ordaining women was at all a biblical practice, but Chris and my PCA mentor and my seminary friends, were daring me to start asking questions of the scriptures that I had never before asked.

How I Went from Being a Woman against Women’s Ordination to a Woman Seeking Ordination in 25 Difficult Steps

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I am currently seeking ordination to the priesthood (God willing) in the Anglican church. A respected friend who is a pastor wrote to me awhile ago to ask me why I am for women’s ordination and to urge me not to be ordained because he believes women’s ordination to be condemned scripturally. This was a completely valid email for him to send. His tone and motivation was one of love and I received his words gratefully.  I wanted to write him back a long email about how I’ve come to believe that women’s ordination is biblically permissible, but the busyness of a new baby and being in ministry has kept me from it. 

Now that I’m further along in the ordination process and have been asked similar questions by many other friends – both men and women- whom I respect theologically and intellectually, I wanted to spend some time writing on how I as a Christian woman have gone from being against the ordination of women to being a female Anglican Aspirant. 

But first, my method in approaching this discussion:

As I thought about how to address this topic, I couldn’t get away from the reality that my theological progression (or regression, depending on your perspective here) has been narratival and incremental. This doesn’t mean that there are not “cold facts” and hard biblical or hermeneutical evidence to support my change in thinking. However, a list of biblical arguments for women’s ordination alone would not have likely changed my theological convictions. Furthermore, it wouldn’t accurately portray my story, which was slow, meandering, and cumulative rather than revolutionary.  I will offer the biblical arguments that have persuaded my husband and I that women’s ordination is not biblically prohibited, without which I wouldn’t be getting ordained, but I will offer them as they came in my story, not as a bullet point list. 
 
How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-Five Difficult Steps is a recently published book by Christian Smith (It has a lot of buzz, and Jonathan wrote on it here a little while ago). I want to tell about this theological shift in a way that is systematic and yet allows for this sort of narrative unfolding, so I am ripping off Christian Smith’s method.  I will spend several posts on How I went from Being Woman Against Women’s Ordination to a Woman Seeking Ordination in 25 Difficult Steps.