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Maybe we need to hear more about sin than forgiveness. And maybe we need to hear this from women.

Maybe we need to hear more about sin than forgiveness. And maybe we need to hear this from women.

One of the biggest news headlines this week is the sentencing of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor. If you may not have heard, Rosemarie Aquilina, the judge who presided over the case had some strong words for Nassar as she handed down his sentence. Aquilina appeared as a victim’s advocate all week as she responded with words of comfort and courage to each survivor who appeared in her court with an impact statement. “She called them “sister survivors.” She told them to push away nightmares. She thanked them and said their voices were heard. That they were not alone” (source). And as the proceedings wrapped up, Judge Aquilina told the media she would not be doing any interviews, “It’s just not my story” (source).

 

 

While Aquilina has garnered much praise for her approach to this case, she is not without criticism. Many say her words to Nassar at sentencing were too harsh, crossed a line, and showed favoritism.  In this #metoo reckoning our country is undergoing, I can’t help but wonder at what would have happened in that courtroom had another judge presided. I have read countless testimonies (this is a good primer) on victim-blaming that occurs at all levels of our justice system and is a primary reason why many victims do not come forward in the first place. The courage the gymnasts presented, and the support they received from the bench, will likely prove another wave in this turning tide.

 

One of the early tweets I read as Aquilina’s comments were being made public stuck out to me saying, “We need more women in positions of power. Everywhere.” Of course the first few responses were reminding the tweeter that several people complicit in Nassar’s abuse were women, but the heart of the comment still stood. Representation matters.

 

I am still learning the nuance of the conversation around #metoo, and I am putting my foot in my mouth time and time again as I learn. Trust me, it hasn’t been pretty. But in my humble opinion, women who have the back of other women are to be championed. And I want to be a champion.

 

REUTERS/Scott Morgan/File Photo

 

The other big news headline catching my eye this week was the continuing evangelical support for President Trump, despite new allegations of an affair with Stormy Daniels. In particular, in an interview with CNN, Jerry Falwell Jr. proclaims the faith of evangelicals is based on the idea of forgiveness and “that is why evangelicals are so quick to forgive when he asks for forgiveness for things that happened 10-15 years ago.” First off, I’m not convinced Mr. Trump asked for forgiveness, but secondly, I think our obsession with forgiveness may just be the reason we prop up abusive leaders and dismiss the pain and trauma of victims.

 

Can you imagine if Aquilina had looked at every survivor and reminded them that Nassar had apologized and their job now was to forgive? That the only way for them to move forward was to forgive? Yet this is what pastor after pastor has done to women who sit in their offices exposing the truth and asking for help.

 

It usually goes something like this, “Well, the Bible says that we are all sinners and that while we were in our sin Christ died for us. Christ died to forgive all of us. Out of your gratitude for Christ’s forgiveness of your own sin, now you are asked to forgive others. We pray it in the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And then the victim and abuser are brought together for a time of reconciliation. And we hear the stories and decide to stay silent.

 

The damaging thing here is, as Rachel Held Evans notes, there is a grain of truth to this theology. “Central to the Christian message of salvation is the scandalous good news that Jesus Christ sets both the oppressed and their oppressors free, that there is grace enough for both of them. Christians are indeed called to forgive, even when it is costly and undeserved, and Christians are indeed called to work toward healing and reconciliation even when its hard.” But there is an equal truth to be addressed: sin is a destructive and pernicious force that only grows stronger when swept under the rug. We need to boldly speak the language of sin, or the power of grace means nothing.

 

So I ask again, what would it look like if we had more women in positions of power?

 

And what would it look like if our preachers spent more time on sin and repentance than on forgiveness? What if we learned the old art of penance? As Barbara Brown Taylor notes, we dispelled of the notion of penance in the reformation because it had become a box to check and it smacked of works righteousness. But, “penance was not punishment. Penance was repair. Penance was a way back into relationship” (source). When we sin there are consequences that are far reaching. And we must acknowledge and work to repair those harms as acts of true repentance. Again, Brown says, “repentance is not complete until confession and pardon lead to penance that allows community to be restored.”

 

We teach our children that an apology isn’t enough to restore the relationship. They must show that they are repentant. They must work extra hard to act in a kind or generous or loving way to make up for the hurt their sin caused. They have to do their sister’s chores for a week to make up for the sinful way they responded when they were angry.

 

Why do we not ask the same of adults? Why is it that an admission of guilt and an apology is enough? It isn’t. It shouldn’t be.

 

http://www.silenceisnotspiritual.org/

 

So yes, we need more women leading our churches and preaching to our communities. Calling us to account and pushing us towards the hard and painful work of self-awareness. Prophesying what we do not want to hear: sin runs deep here and it must be named and atoned for. And we need to hear again and again and again, in the powerful words of John the Baptist: “REPENT, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.”

 

Amen. May your kingdom come near.

the tricky thing about sharing

the tricky thing about sharing

I see it in myself and I see it in my children: the need to hoard, to hide, to keep for myself. For me it’s the fancy bar of toasted coconut dark chocolate. For them it’s been a piece of gum or the oven-bake clay received in an Easter basket. It is this attitude of this belongs to me, there is not enough to share, if I share with you I will have less for myself.

 

I have never been one of those mothers that has forced my child to share with other kids. There is a lot of good chatter here on the interwebs that this is not the best policy because it teaches children that they can just demand their way and another child will be forced to give in. Instead at playdates I tried to encourage my children to be aware, to take turns, and to be sure they tracked down the child who wanted the toy when they were done with it to pass it along. I taught them to ask politely to “please can I have a turn when you are done with that” instead of demanding another child share.

 

And I walk that fine line of sharing when it comes to parenting siblings as well. (Let it be known I did not have siblings at home with me growing up so often I look to my husband for extra help in this area. Sibling stuff is so foreign to me!) If one of my daughters has received a gift that her sister is interested in, we have a lot of conversations about respecting that it is her new thing, and I’m sure she will let you have a turn soon when the novelty wears off, and down the road when your sister has a new toy you want to check out she’ll probably remember today and how you responded to her desire to check out your new thing. In general I am really proud of how my girls have taken this to heart and regularly share with one another and with other friends too.

 

But it is a bit trickier when they have consumable items like gum or clay. Because the reality of sharing a toy is really different than something that will actually get used up and mean there is less for her. For years I have taken the approach that selfishness breeds selfishness and generosity breaks that cycle. “Remember,” I tell them, “you don’t have to share your gum. But next time your sister has a pack of gum and you want a piece I can almost guarantee that she’ll think back to today and refuse to share because you didn’t share with her. But you can break that cycle today by deciding to be generous. I’m not forcing you, this is your decision. I’m just letting you know my experience of how this will play out…generosity tends to encourage generosity,”

 

That’s the thing about this world isn’t it? Our human nature is to hoard, to keep, to protect because we fear there is not enough to go around. If I don’t protect my own interests, no one else is going to. I am not immune to this! I am not at all interested in sharing my $9 bar of gourmet chocolate with a daughter who thinks Hershey’s bars are the best chocolate on the planet. And if I give a square of fancy chocolate to this sweet girl, who certainly won’t appreciate it like I do, there is one less square for me.

 

But then there’s Jesus, and in his topsy-turvey, upside-down, Kingdom-world we are told that God is a God of abundance. Just look at the way Jesus turned the offering of a few loaves and fish into a meal to feed a crowd with 10 baskets full of leftovers. And in Luke 6 Jesus promised us that generosity will be met with generosity: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap…” A measuring cup filled, pressed, shaken, and topped off to running over: that is abundance.

 

 

I think a lot of challenges facing our church today are rooted in a genuine fear that there is not enough. Not enough money, not enough parishioners, not enough love and grace to go around. So we put up walls and rules to keep us safe and guarantee we have enough to survive. Meanwhile people are starving just outside our doors.

 

Friends, I write this to myself more than I write it to you. I preach a good “abundance” sermon but I don’t practice it too well. I stress about my savings account and my fancy chocolate bar and my comfort and security regularly. Generosity does not come naturally to me, selfishness does.

 

And yet selfishness does not yield good measures.

 

Just the other day my youngest daughter proudly recalled how she had shared her penultimate stick of gum with a classmate. “Mom,” she told me, “my friend knows how gum helps her concentrate when she is taking a test but she didn’t have any. She asked me for one but I only had two pieces left. At first I wanted to tell her no, but then I remembered what you keep telling us about that…you know…that thing where there will be enough…”

“Abundance?” I ask.

“Yeah, abundance,” she says. “And so I gave her a piece of gum and she was so happy and thankful that I just felt happy all the rest of the day. I was really proud of myself and had good feelings about what I had done.”

 

If that isn’t a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, I don’t know what is. May we truly live in such a way that we believe in a God of abundance and give generously.

The Pharisees, Jesus, and Drawing Lines in the Sand

The Pharisees, Jesus, and Drawing Lines in the Sand

Hans Schäufelein; Christ and the Pharisees, from Das Plenarium, 1517,

 

Growing up in the church it was always pretty clear to me who the bad guys of Scripture were. I knew that the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were not down with Jesus and tried repeatedly to fool and shame him. But Jesus was too smart for them, instead skillfully and compassionately evading their traps: refusing to condemn a woman they wanted to stone, challenging them to study what is meant by God’s declaration “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” and using a story of a beaten and bloody man cared for by the lowest of low to teach what is meant by love your neighbor. Jesus’ harshest words were always for these “whitewashed tombs” who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:4) My childhood world was pretty black and white, divided into good guys and bad guys, and when it came to Jesus and his enemies, all was crystal clear.

 

But it turns out the world isn’t so black and white, and neither is Scripture. The more I learn and lean in, the more I see nuance, both/and, now/not yet and I am not as eager to fit things into neat dichotomous categories. A few years ago when I studied the book of Matthew in Bible Study Fellowship I found myself strangely empathetic to the Pharisees. As I began to put myself in their shoes I started to see how threatening the teaching of Jesus were to their understanding of God, of their holy book Torah, of righteousness, of their fundamental understanding of who they were as God’s chosen people. Jesus was upending everything they thought they understood. Now you can argue that Jesus was simply returning to the original intention, revealing to them who God had always been, showing them how they had missed the mark over the years. But change is hard, especially when the change is predicated on the fact that you were wrong. So often when confronted with our failures and offered a right perspective, instead of accepting new information we double-down, hold tighter and dig in our heels. I am speaking from years of personal experience here; humility is not my strength.

 

I started to get where the Pharisees were coming from. For Jews of the first-century, their framework for self-understanding was found in Torah, in the sacred writings of Israel. Torah gave Jews an identity as God’s chosen people and the responsibilities that came with this election. Jews viewed Torah as the eternal word of God, unchanging and normative in all times and contexts. But since life is ever changing, Pharisaic tradition was created to help Jews “continue to live in the present world but seek to discover in Torah itself the principles that would allow them to maintain its integrity as an absolute norm, yet relate it to the real circumstances of their lives.”[1] The invention of this interpretive practice called midrash kept Torah alive, present, and authoritative.

 

Christians have continued such a practice with our sacred texts found in The Holy Bible (which includes the Jewish texts). We may not call it midrash, but the work of theologians and pastors to interpret these ancient texts in light of our lives and contexts certainly feels like this practice. For example, obviously Scripture doesn’t speak directly to my use/abuse of technology, but I can find principles for caring for others, the wise use of my time, honoring resources, etc. that help me develop a healthy ethic around this modern invention. I have noticed a trend of Evangelicals to happily camp out in the Epistles because these letters of Paul, James, and others tend to spell things out more clearly than a story from the Old Testament or life of Jesus might. And yet we still must wrestle. Was Paul’s admonition against women preaching towards a specific context, or for all time and place? Did Jesus really mean we should turn the other cheek if abused? Like the Jews with Torah, Christians believe our holy text is alive and relevant and has as much to say to us modern people as it did to early believers.

 

You may already assume where I’m headed with these thoughts, but here is where I spell them out for you. A few weeks ago a group of Evangelical leaders, with (what I’m asking God to help me see) the best of intentions, wrote out a sort of midrash on sexuality they called the Nashville Statement. This, they declared, is the proper way to view human sexuality from a scriptural viewpoint, and this, they were clear to note, is the only way for followers of Jesus to do so. A line in the sand was drawn. Insiders and outsiders were declared.

 

As I read and wept in anger and grief, not only at the tone-deaf timing of the statement, but also to the damage it would inevitably cause in the lives of sincere Christ-following LGBTQ people and their friends, family members, and allies, I couldn’t help think of Matthew 23 and the weeping Jesus did over the Pharisees. “Woe to you,” he cried again and again. “You lock people out of the kingdom of heaven.” “You tithe mint, dill, and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy.” “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” “You are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of fish.” Jesus’ harshest words were always for these religious leaders and it is no wonder why my childhood-self vilified them too.

 

When Jesus walked the earth he declared that he had come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He told us that he was the embodiment of the law, the personification of it. If we wanted to know what God was up to, sure we could look to Scripture, but we should first and foremost look to Jesus. Scripture is an important, living gift. But it is not central, not a fourth member of the Trinity. To understand any of our holy texts, old and new testament alike, they must be filtered through the lens of Jesus. Scripture is not Jesus.

 

And neither is the Nashville Statement.

 

 

[1] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 50.
Prayers for these United States of America

Prayers for these United States of America

Image from Vanessa Siemens, who just wrapped up a road trip all over the United States.

I loved this liturgy of prayers from church on Sunday and wanted to share them with you, in case you are like me and are finding it difficult to know how to pray for our country these days.

We pray for liberty for each human being, that no one is oppressed or exploited.
God of mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for democracy, that each voice is heard, and no one is silenced.
God of mercy, 
hear our prayer.

We pray for peace, that there be harmony, in which each person’s gift may flourish.
God of mercy, 
hear our prayer. 

We pray for justice, that there be a just and equal sharing of power.
God of mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for a spirit of patriotism, that we be faithful to one another as a whole.
God of mercy,
hear our prayer. 

We thank you for our freedom, and those who protect it: teachers who teach to question, neighbors who act in covenant with one another, those who speak out against injustice.
We give thanks.

We thank you for the gift of our diversity, honoring each person and celebrating differences.
We give thanks.

We thank you for this land. Remind us to revere creation.
We give thanks.

Temper might with humility, and power with compassion. Mend divisions, heal fear, and restore love of one another.
Bless this nation and every nation the same, for we are all sisters and brothers.

Bless us, and make us a nation of justice and peace, a nation of benevolence and generosity, a nation of mutual sharing and cooperation, a nation devoted to healing.
Bless this nation, that we be people of mercy.

Adapted from Steve Garnaas-Holmes

Reimagining the Cross

Reimagining the Cross

 

I was invited to preach on Palm Sunday as a part of our “Wise Voices” series at Grace. On the second Sunday of each month we’ve been hearing from a member of our congregation about their faith journey and what that might have to teach the rest of us in our journeys. In my sermon I share a bit of my own story, as well as my journey of understanding Christ’s work on the cross. I hope it encourages you to think about your own view of the cross and challenges you to be invited up into the story of what God is doing today.

 

Lenten Reflections: The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Lenten Reflections: The Cross and the Lynching Tree

For seven months I was a mother to a beautiful boy with the most gorgeous curly hair and dark skin. We brought him home from the hospital on my daughter Dani’s birthday and for weeks she proudly proclaimed that she “got a brother for her birthday!” While I had parented three daughters (two biological, one foster) this was my first experience with a little boy and I polled my mom friends for advice. They all told me our bond would be different, that there was something different to a mother/son relationship. I scoffed. He was so tiny. We were his “in between” family, not his permanent one. I would love him like I loved all my children.

I should have listened to my friends. There really was something different to our bond. He was my happiest baby, with the biggest grin on the block. When daycare workers and visit supervisors would gush and coo, I would smile knowing he saved his best smiles for me. He charmed everyone he met and I was so proud to be his mom. And while I haven’t mothered him in over three years, this sweet boy still has a piece of my mother heart, and probably always will.

I think of his face as our country wakes to the issues of systemic racism. I think of his face as I hear the stories of mothers having to teach their sons to be extra careful around police officers. I think of his face when I see marchers hit the street proclaiming BLACK LIVES MATTER. I think of his face every time I encourage someone to recognize their own privilege, and to humbly share a bit of it to raise someone else up. I want this country to be a different place for all black young men but in particular I want this country to be a different place for my black boy.

But we have a lot of work to do. We have a lot to atone for. There are many things about our history as a country and as a people that we need to honestly confront. It is hard work to look upon the violence and injustice we have perpetrated.

This is the invitation of Lent—to do the hard work of repentance….

This post was submitted for my church’s seasonal blog: Lenten Muse. You can read the rest of it here.

Scenes from an Egalitarian Marriage: Christmas Ornament

Scenes from an Egalitarian Marriage: Christmas Ornament

We may read a lot about complementarian versus egaliatarian marriages in theory, but what does an egalitarian marriage look like in practice? That’s the purpose of this series: a glimpse of how roles based on giftedness and not gender, how mutual submission and genuine partnership can look in the midst of a real-life relationship-ours. 

 

Each year since we started dating Darin and I exchange Christmas ornaments. We try to get something that is significant for the year we have just had. This year when I unwrapped the ornament I was so touched at his thoughtfulness. But then when he told me more about why he had made it, I really started to cry. I am so grateful to do life with this guy and I’m thankful he agreed to my request to share the story behind this ornament.  These are his words. 

The last few years have been a thrill ride for Deanna and me as we follow God into uncharted territory in our individual and shared faiths. We have been challenged, changed, and grown at a break-neck pace through the experiences of the last 4ish years. That journey is partially chronicled throughout Deanna’s posts, so I won’t get into it here.

Since she started at Portland Seminary, Deanna has continued the hard work of challenging so many things we took for granted before this current leg of our journey began. The ideas about God, the Church, and what it means to be a part of this big, messy body that Deanna brings to the table in any given week are staggering, amazing, and often dumbfounding. Often I have to ask her to slow down and define the last 3-12 words she used. But the ideas are incredible. The way God is weaving this knowledge into the ways that God has been recently leading us both together and individually feels providential.

It is thrilling.

So when it came time for our annual ornament exchange at Christmas, I knew I had to acknowledge the multitude of ways that Deanna’s work and study have enriched and directed our lives.

One of the historical figures that Deanna spent some time studying last semester is a German nun named Hildegard of Bingen. This woman faithfully served God, often took direct inspiration and direction from God, and served faithfully in a myriad of ways as a result. She also had a faithful friend named Volmar who helped to collect and communicate Hildegard’s visions.

For the entire semester, Deanna had an old drawing depicting the two of them which hung by her desk. Often of late I feel much like Volmar, peering through the window and just trying to keep up as Deanna brings the font of inspiration and pure missional gold that flows from Heaven, through her, into our home and family. So I took that photo and transferred it onto a thin piece of cedar, then added this quote on the reverse side:

You see, the ways that God has been working and moving in our family are ones that put our family perspective and practice more and more at odds with the direction of our world, especially the direction of our dear home, America. While America seeks stuff, we look for relationships. While the military expands and bombs pile high, we seek to embrace the peace of Christ in our life, and not just in an internal, “I’ve got peace like a river,” kind of way. While everything around us seems to trend toward shipwreck, you all should see the way that Deanna stands, resolute, and confident, challenging those powers and principalities to bring it on.

This is not to say that there aren’t hard times. Times when a Bonhoeffer quote about the Nazis feels just a little too close to our current situation. Times when the brokenness of this world nearly drags us down into despair. Times when we wonder how to raise our strong, smart, sweet daughters in a world that wants to kill their spirit or their hope.

But what is being built in Deanna, and in the rest of us through God’s work in her and in our family, is stronger than those dark things. So, in the midst of the shipwreck, she (and we alongside her) stands strong and brave. She is both the quiet student waiting on the Lord to bring divine inspiration and the resolute defender of the downtrodden and disenfranchised. Two sides of the same ornament, both printed on a fragile thin strip of beautiful cedar. And I’m blessed to be hanging from the same branch as her. I hope you feel that blessing too.

 

Want to know more about egalitarian marriage and how this model is fully Biblically supported? Click here.