Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Schism in the Church? Maybe. Maybe Not.

Tony Jones has called for people to leave the church:
The time has come for a schism regarding the issue of women in the church. Those of us who know that women should be accorded full participation in every aspect of church life need to visibly and forcefully separate ourselves from those who do not. Their subjugation of women is anti-Christian, and it should be tolerated no longer.That means:
  • If you attend a church that does not let women preach or hold positions of ecclesial authority, you need to leave that church.
  • If you work for a ministry that does not affirm women in ecclesial leadership, you need to leave that ministry.
  • If you write for a publishing house that also prints books by “complementarians,” you need to take your books to another publishing house.
  • If you speak at conferences, you need to withdraw from all events that do not affirm women as speakers, teachers, and leaders.
I appreciate the sentiment and the boldness that he expresses here.  I see it as a challenge for people who haven't or aren't doing anything about the issue of women to stand up and do something.  There are many people out there who need to see that it isn't an issue to be glossed over; it is about real women with real callings from God who are being held back by other Christians.  

But I do see some difficulties with it.  Although I share his disbelief that this still happens (see my comment here, plus, I never really even knew this happened until early 2000s, and only later learned the word complementarian), it's going to be harder to accomplish than not.

Point 1:  It's not easy to leave a church, especially if there are not that many to choose from in your town.  It's even harder if you have familial ties to it.  And a church that may not officially let women hold positions of ecclesiastical authority is actually one in which I saw men and women working together to lead the church.  Really.  In the Catholic church in which I grew up, the priest and the director of religious education always seemed to me to be a team, working together.  I never saw any indication of hierarchy.  Even though he led mass, she was always participating too, and girls and boys were both allowed to be altar girls and altar boys.  

If one feels he or she cannot leave a church, then one should not sit idly by and should continue to push for women's involvement.  Nominate them as elders/deacons--even if it isn't "allowed".  Keep suggesting opportunities for women speakers.  Give everyone you know a copy of "How I Changed My Mind About Women In Leadership".  Educate others who just don't know.  You don't need permission to have your own small group, so buy the book and discuss it with others.  

Point 2:  Make sure you can line up a new job first.  

Point 3:  This would work for someone who is a popular and established writer.  For me, not so much.  If I was offered a book deal, I'd probably take it no matter what!

Point 4:  Probably the easiest for those who speak for a living, but still definitely a fearful step to take.  

Is Tony's idea totally feasible?  Nope.  But it's a call to action to those who aren't acting.  What will you do?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What Does It Mean to Be Reformed?

A conversation between a member of a church in the RCA, a CRC pastor, and a UMC pastor.  
This is an ongoing conversation that will be hosted between these three blogs:  Renewing Your MindQuaerenda , and Mercy Not Sacrifice .  

Part I: What does it mean to you to be Reformed? 


Christian Doctrine by Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr.
Before I moved to Northwest Iowa, I had little to no exposure to "Reformed Theology".  What I knew about "Reformed" was that Martin Luther started the whole thing.  I knew two pastors of two different Reformed churches but to me, they were simply another Christian denomination.  I knew of John Calvin, but I'd never heard of Abraham Kuyper, and as I prepared to come into this community, I had a conversation with a pastor that I knew in the Christian Reformed Church .  He explained to me some various ideas about "Reformed" and as he spoke, I kept interrupting him to ask questions such as, "that's like the Methodist idea of..." or "isn't that like when the Catholics say..."
Later, to my surprise, I found out that one of the denominations in which I have roots, the United Church of Christ , has roots in the Reformed tradition.  Out here in Internet Land, Reformed most often is equated with Calvinist and the idea of double-predestination, and then Calvinist is in opposition to Armininan.  The names associated with Reformed are John Piper and Mark Driscoll.  But people I know in person in this Reformed area haven't even heard of them!  I've seen a lot of negative thought regarding Reformed, and I am inclined to say "but that's not my experience."  This is not to discount those who have had negative experiences and that have been hurt by other people and congregations who are Reformed, but rather to say there’s a lot out there that people experience differently—good and bad—Reformed or not.
Christian Doctrine by Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr.
Unlike Kelly, I grew up in the Reformed tradition. I was raised in Gibson Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan, attended private Christian schools based on Reformed theology, received my bachelor’s degree from Calvin College and later my M.Div from Calvin Theological Seminary, the official institutions of the CRC. My life has been inundated with Reformed thought for as long as I can remember. As a teenager I learned Catechism on Sunday mornings and Reformed doctrine in high school Bible classes.
I often have to remind myself that to those unfamiliar with the Reformed tradition, this can all sound like a bit much.
This backdrop has shaped who I am today and colors the way that I view the world. I readily admit that my experience is not the universal experience of folks in the Reformed tradition. While I have found Reformed theology to be a wonderful home for profound theological wrestling, deep engagement with the breadth and depth of the world, and an impetus for serious academic study, others have found in Reformed faith little to energize them or, worse, have endured intense pain (or even abuse) at the hands of some within the broader Reformed community. I can only share my own experience with the Reformed tradition.
I currently pastor a Christian Reformed Church with many folks attending our church who are faculty and students at Dordt College, a college in the Reformed tradition. Our church is shaped heavily by the Reformed emphasis, but, due to the large number of faculty, we have a strong theoretical and academic bent to our Reformed perspective.
I attend a Reformed Church that is part of the Reformed Church in America.  Our church website has a section about "accepting Christ".  Sunday morning worship has a very contemporary, Evangelical feel to it.  We use a variety of resources for classes, regardless of whether or not they are "Reformed", such as " Emotionally Healthy Spirituality", " The Story ", " Apprentice".  My pastor recently commented how doubt is an important part of faith, and that church should be the place where people should feel free to ask questions and wrestle with that doubt.  The men’s group my husband goes to just read a book in which the author wrote about his dislike for the “doctrine of unqualified submission taught by so many Christians and churches today” which definitely does not fall into the hierarchical/patriarchical view that many people associate with Reformed. 
The truth is, of course, that the Reformed camp is a rather large place. At the core, I’m not sure it’s even possible to come up with a cogent definition that would include all of those who self-define as “Reformed” Christians. I refer to the Reformed “tradition” because to me, being Reformed is as much about finding my place in a broader story than about being able to adhere to any specific theological doctrines.
I appreciate that a lot, because even though I am a member of an RCA church, my background is multi-denominational, plus I’ve also been influenced by my Jewish friends, so I tend to dislike having a definitive label, other than Christian, for myself.  I’ve also been reading a book I have, Christian Doctrine, by Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr. in which he says that “there is no one authoritative statement of faith to which all Reformed churches subscribe” and “There is plenty of room in the Reformed family…for individual differences and freedom of movement” (page 17). He believes that in order to be Reformed and Always Reforming, we need to constantly be looking at and questioning what individuals and denominations and creedal documents teach in order to find freedom and truth.  That’s very different from the popular perspective that Reformed are not allowed to question anything or anyone. 
My Reformed tradition is heavily marked by some key phrases. Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda (“The reformed church must always be reformed”), for instance. Or fides quaerens intellectum (“faith seeking understanding”) – and yes, that phrase predates our typical understanding of “Reformed” but that’s why we call it a tradition. Or Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch of creation over which Christ does not claim, ‘This is mine.’”
To me, being Reformed is about a posture of openness.
In my limited Reformed experience, that is something I have noticed.  As I said earlier, the church I attend uses a lot of materials from sources that aren’t just “Reformed”.  And one thing I’ve appreciated at Dordt College is their invitations to many non-Reformed speakers (see First MondaysThe Christian Evasion of Popular Culture ).  I had originally had a slight fear that it would be “this is the way it is and that’s that” but what I have instead learned is that it is more “let’s talk with others, let’s listen, let’s have a dialogue.”  The other day a Reformed pastor and I were talking about parenting and I’d commented on some parenting workshops I’d been to and how beneficial they were as opposed to some Christian-specific mothers stuff I had gone to, and he said that all truth is God’s truth, and I really appreciated that.  In some Christian circles, it sometimes seems that if it isn’t outwardly/obviously Christian (like having a Jesus fish on a store’s sign or something like that), then it is somehow inferior.  But what this pastor said, I think, goes along well with your earlier quote from Kuyper.
That idea points to the heavy emphasis on the sovereignty of God which is at the heart of Reformed thought, which declares boldly that God can and does speak through the wonders of the created world and that we are humbly utterly dependent upon God to break through into our brokenness with the healing of Jesus Christ.  It has the audacity to say that this world was created to bring honor and glory to God and so should be respected, cared for, and lovingly stewarded. It declares that Christ invites us into the experience of resurrected life, to experience foretastes of that coming Kingdom, and to join God in the mission of transforming all spheres of society into the vision of God’s Kingdom.  Being Reformed means that I am constantly being re-formed, constantly shaped by the experiences of this life and my walk of faith.
Since I spent some time in a United Methodist Church and briefly attended Asbury Theological Seminary, that sounds very Wesleyan to me!  John Wesley developed what is now known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which is about using Scripture, Tradition, Reason, & Experience together. 
I appreciate that. Before accepting the call to my current position, I worked in campus ministry at Michigan State University. Our (Reformed) campus ministry for graduate students welcomed students from across the denominational spectrum. We had folks who self-identified as Lutheran, Charismatic, Methodist, and everything in between. I frequently heard students say, “Our denominations are a lot more similar than I ever realized.”
To me, “Reformed” is less about a difference in theological or doctrinal positions and more about the posture with which I walk, the accent with which I speak, and the color in which I view the world.
I walk with a posture of humility, fully cognizant of my own limitations and the way in which human finitude and fallenness affects even my best intentions. Yet I walk without fear into critical Biblical scholarship, into scientific discovery, into bold philosophy, and into the intricacies of classical theater, trusting that God is there.
Please stay tuned for Part II, where Morgan Guyton questions us about Reformed thought and the problem of evil & the fall.
You also should read Rachel Held Evans' "Ask a Reformed Pastor" interview with Jes Kast-Keat.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Poor Me and Amazing Me by Anita Mathias

Sometimes, going through my Facebook newsfeed, I see two narratives: Poor Me and Amazing Me.

Poor Me status updates are largely negative: ill-health, the misadventures of children, looming deadlines, crushing work loads, exhaustion, the intransigence of schools, employers, medical services; the inadequacy of tax-payer money funnelled towards their needs,  the anguish of the entitled!

And then, on the other hand, there are Amazing Me status updates. Amazing Me won a prize; travelled to Antarctica, conjured up this gourmet creation, pulled off this domestic Goddess feat, moved mountains today, oh Amazing Me!
* * *

We started playing these roles in our childhoods. In my childhood, Poor Me would have met with no sympathy. I would have been scolded for whatever led to my Poor Me plight. Why did you allow yourself to gain weight? Get sick? Get writers’ block? Fail? Go, do something about it. Run a mile. Eat vegetables. Write a page. 

And I too get impatient with Poor Me, and come up with solutions. (Though, of course, I am silent, and my tears flow freely when there are no solutions, an incurable illness like motor neurone disease, say, an inoperable tumour, or the sudden death of a loved one.)

Amazing Me was the script I was expected to follow in childhood. Amazing me, always winning prizes; Amazing Me, dazzling my teachers; Amazing Me, achieving, achieving, achieving.
* * *

Poor Me and Amazing Me have this in common. They are both symptoms of emptiness. They both want something from other people. Poor Me wants attention—and sympathy. Amazing Me also wants attention--and praise. Both their cups are half-empty, the one who proclaims the emptiness of her cup, and the one who declares her cup runneth over, but still wants affirmation from other people.

* * *
In middle age, I am less interested in old scripts. I am not interested in Poor Me. When people Poor Me me, I hate it. I want to shake off their sympathy, which feels like a clog on my feet (though in the case of tragedy I can do nothing about, yeah, I will accept sympathy, and cry on your shoulder, if I can).

And when I tend to Amazing Me, on the days I am smart, I remind myself of the eternal fountain always flowing, flowing to fill all empty places.

And I tell myself, “Anita, you are indeed Amazing Me because you are a child of God. You are Amazing Me because you can climb into his lap and lean on his shoulder. You are Amazing Me because he sings over you; you are Amazing Me because he protects you; you are Amazing Me because no matter what goes wrong, he comforts you. You are Amazing Me because when you blow it, he puts his arms around you, and blows his spirit into you, fills you with the water of the Holy Spirit to overflowing. You are Amazing Me because he patches you together again, and you are as good as new.  You are Amazing Me because he will take you to places you never dreamed you’ll go.  You are Amazing Me because he loves you.

Anita Mathias is the author of Wandering Between Two Worlds (Benediction Classics, 2007) and blogs at Dreaming Beneath the Spires, 

A winner of an NEA writing fellowship, Anita now lives in Oxford, England with her husband, Roy, and daughters, Zoe and Irene. Visit her at Facebook at Dreaming Beneath the Spires or on Twitter @anitamathias1.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cats, Emily Dickinson, & Christian Celebrity Culture

Photo Credit: David Schell
This is the November synchroblog for The Despised Ones, a collective of bloggers.  Leave your link about Christian Celebrity at the linkup at the end of this post.  

I love cats, and I love mysteries, so when a great-aunt Emma gave me my first The Cat Who... mystery, I was hooked.  The series is written by Lilian Jackson Braun and mainly takes place in fictional Pickaxe, likely somewhere in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  In The Cat Who Said Cheese, the protagonist Jim Qwilleran refers to Emily Dickinson's poem "I'm Nobody, who are you?"  

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us -- don't tell!
They'd banish -- you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one's name the livelong day
To an admiring bog! 

In his newspaper column, he writes that "we crave heroes to admire and emulate, and what do we get?  A parade of errant politicians, mad exhibitionists, wicked heiresses, temperamental artists, silly risk-takers, overpaid athletes, untalented entertainers, non-authors of non-books..." (page 5).

Emily Dickinson was a nobody until after she was dead. So were Vincent Van Gogh, Jane Austen, Dracula, martyrs, and even Jesus (thanks to my Twitter followers for all the suggestions!).  Yet today, we have a lot of Somebodies.  We even have them in Christian culture.  Yes, I know, you're shocked.  Christians are supposed to be meek and mild and humble and not call any attention to themselves, right?  

We all want to be noticed, to be seen.  In When We Were on Fire, Addie Zierman wrote about how in over a year of attending a house church, she still felt as if she wasn't seen.  Nobody could really see what she was going through and feeling.  I remember one time a few years ago I emailed a Somebody to thank him for writing his latest book.  He emailed me back--which I was not expecting at all--and I was giddy.  On Twitter, I've been excited when a Somebody starts following me, as if their following me gives me worth.  And when they actually respond to a tweet or an email, it's even better.  And I think we each want some of that celebrity, too.  That's why we work on "platform building", so that people will take notice of us so that we can get the message out there that we believe we are called to give.  And we get jealous when someone else has what we want.  Other people get the attention for being a great writer or great speaker and are in high demand.  Well, at least, I do feel jealous at times.  And so, I sometimes stop myself from blogging or commenting on blogs in order to check my motivations.  

I think that there is a difference in how we are seen or how we want to be seen.  And sometimes, we might start off with good intentions and say "I only want to bring glory to God" or "I just want people to see Jesus in me, not myself".  I think those intentions might be hard to stick with.  The more attention we get, the more we are tempted to make it all about ourselves, despite what we say.  And then the more we get connected with other Somebodies, the more we forget about our past as a Nobody, and the more we forget to look and see the Nobodies out there, because they are invisible to us.  We do not see them.  We do see them because they haven't become a Somebody.  And yet God is different.  He sees the Nobodies.  In Genesis 16, we have Hagar, who who ran away into the wilderness after Sarai treated her harshly when Hagar acted haughty because she was pregnant and Sarai was not.  She is miserable and sitting by a spring of water, alone, when she encounters God, and God tells her to return.  Throughout her misery, God sees her and she names him The God Who Sees.  The God who sees.  El Roi saw through her pain and heartache.  He saw her when she was scared and lonely and had nowhere to run, nobody to turn to.  

She was a Nobody, but Somebody saw her.  

And we have the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well.  She's an outcast, a Nobody, coming to the well in the heat of the day, and Jesus sees her and gives her living water (John 4).  Or the man at Beth-Zatha who was ill for thirty-eight years, and Jesus saw him and made him well (John 5).  Or the man blind from birth, who Jesus sees and then heals so that he can see, too (John 9).  Or when Mary pours expensive perfume on him and Jesus sees beyond the cost of it to look ahead to his burial (John 12).  Or, after his resurrection, he sees the pain and sorrow of Mary Magdalene, and tells her he is there, and then she announces the good news that she has seen the Lord (John 20).

When it comes to Christian celebrity, it can be both a blessing and a curse.  How do we balance all of this?  How do we stay faithful to our callings when attention comes our way?  How can we be like Jesus and see people who the world deems Nobodies?  How can we use Christian celebrity to see others as Jesus did?  

Also, feel free to add more examples of Nobodies in the comments!

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: When We Were On Fire by Addie Zierman

I received a copy of When We Were On Fire  by Addie Zierman for free in order to write this review.

I really wasn't sure I was interested in reading Addie's book at first.  I'm a little burned out on reading and writing, and I honestly didn't think I'd relate to it; I thought it was more for others who grew up evangelical too and had struggled with it.  I am glad to say that I was wrong.

While I did not grow up in the same type of evangelical culture as Addie, I smiled at so many of her general references to the 1990s because I remembered them as well.

Although Addie's book is about growing up evangelical, it's not only about being evangelical.  Anyone who has been a teenage girl infatuated with an older boy can relate to that aspect of Addie's story.  Anyone who has turned to alcohol can relate to that part of Addie's story.  Anyone who has felt depressed and didn't know why and wasn't sure what exactly is wrong with them can relate to that part of Addie's story.  it's a story about being evangelical and the expectations that come with it, yes, but it is also a story about common painful experiences in life, no matter what one's faith, and that is the most important part of the story.

It is a story about a woman finding her voice and her identity.  It is a story about love and loss and faith and doubt.  It's a story about questions in faith and life.  It's a story about finding one's place in the world.  It's a story about belonging and about not belonging.  it's a story about loss and heartache and joy and redemption.  it's a story about growing up and changing in life.

Addie's book is so beautifully written.  Her writing has a poetic quality to it that makes the reader enjoy not only the story but the choice of words and how they are arranged.  This book is probably the most heart-wrenchingly honest memoir I have read and it surprised me at times at exactly how honest Addie is about her past struggles.  

This book should be a must-read for both pastors and youth pastors to enable them to see into people in their congregations that they are perhaps missing.  There is a lot of hidden pain in people in church--inflicted both by those outside the church as well as inside the church, and the more that pastors can be aware of that, the better.  

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Why I Haven't Been Blogging

I haven't blogged regularly in months.  There are many reasons for this and I figured I'd write about them today.

  • My older son started full-day Kindergarten this fall so there are a lot of school papers and notices and activities to keep up with.  This also means my younger son is home alone with me.  So I spend all day with a three-year-old who doesn't have his big brother to play with anymore.  He's a handful.  I find things like his lunch under a blanket on the couch or his drink behind the couch.   Or cookies with a bite or two taken out of them on the platter.  He loves to talk and ask questions.  And did I mention he is three?
  • The usual household stuff: laundry (lots), grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning.
  • I've been gone two weekends to go to weddings and even just making a short trip is a lot of work with a 6 & 3 year old.  
  • I've been doing a lot of cooking and baking.  Each week during the fall we host college students for spaghetti, homemade sauce, homemade bread, and chocolate chip cookies (see above comment about the three year old and cookies).  It's not just any college students.  Football players (especially Offensive Linemen) eat a lot.  A LOT.
  • These kids go through a LOT of laundry that constantly needs to be done.
  • I'm not not-writing.  When I have found time to write, I've been working on a novel.  It's been a wonderful creative outlet for me and I am excited to be writing it.  I don't know when I will finish or if it will ever make it to publication, but I love it and am enjoying it.  I am thankful that the fiction writers in my writing group inspired me to rediscover a love for fiction.
  • I've been doing some social media management/marketing/graphic design stuff for a non-profit on a volunteer basis.
  • I've been doing some social media management stuff for an athletic team.
  • I've been doing some social media management for "The Despised Ones" blogging collective. 
  • I've been doing some volunteer stuff for my son's class & school
  • I (attempt to) attend a weekly women's Bible Study and I have another small group on Sunday evenings in addition to regular church on Sunday mornings.
  • I have gotten somewhat burned out on blogging (though I still love writing).  The blogging world is so fast-paced, so competitive, so if-you-are-not-doing-this-you-will-fail, somewhat cliquish, and I wonder what I am doing and why I am doing it.  I don't think and write fast enough to react to other posts and events out there.  I read posts that make me think "yeah, I already wrote about that" or "that's what I wanted to say" and there are people who probably read mine and think "yeah, I figured that out already and wrote about it 10 years ago".  It sometimes seems as if "there is nothing new under the sun".
  • And speaking of Ecclesiastes, I have a post about it that has turned into a series that is still in draft form--it started as just a few hundred words reflecting, and then ended up at 2000-3000 words, and led me to listening to a Peter Rollins talk on Ecclesiastes which led me to reading his book Insurrection.  I also have other draft posts--I just don't feel it is all that urgent to post them until I think some more about what exactly my writing calling IS.  So I will post periodically (hosting synchroblogs for The Despised Ones, a collaborative post I am working on with a friend, etc.) and may have more time to write around Thanksgiving and Christmas (but even so, I may use that time to work on my novel and not blog).  
So that's why the blog has been pretty silent lately.