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Category: Getting Things Off My Chest

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

Sharing a story: Meeting God on The Mountain

Sharing a story: Meeting God on The Mountain

Doing something a little different today…

Thanks for hanging out with me! I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment about what resonated with you in my story, or how you feel about me telling a story in this video format.

And for fun, here is my friend Sasha’s blog.

Pictures I promised…

At the trailhead. Someone lost a cute grey shirt.

 

A well-maintained trail.

 

Lots of stopping and resting. I’m cool with that.

 

Spotted throughout the woods.

 

This is the one I have framed on my desk now.

 

Gorgeous views at the top.

 

A panorama version.

 

The Future Is Female

The Future Is Female

Peasant Women In A Church by Kazimir Malevich, 1912

 

Have you heard about the women leading the resistance movement these past few months?

The women who organized the largest protest march in history?

The woman who refused to argue Trump’s travel ban in court and was fired for it? Or the woman who issued the stay from the bench?

The woman who persisted when she was told to stop speaking?

The women who broke from their party for the sake of our nation’s children?

Or the women sitting on airport floors trying to help those who were detained. Some say the gender disparity there was likely 70% female.

 

A quick google search will yield woman, after woman, after woman, leading and loving peacefully and powerfully. They are getting stuff done. They are speaking truth to power. They are working their tails off. They are healers and prophets, judges and lawyers, mothers and activists, artists, scholars, preachers, teachers. They are inspiring.

 

CHURCH, WAKE UP!

 

Can you imagine what could happen to our gospel witness if we unleashed the women in our churches? Can you imagine how many would find the hope and healing of Christ if we valued feminine leadership styles? Can you imagine the transformation in our communities if we supported the creativity and innovation of the women in our congregations?

 

Trust me, Church, women would lead the revolution and the revival you all are hoping and praying for. Throw open the doors, unbind the chains, and let us get to work.

 

Woman, you are loved and gifted and called

Woman, you are loved and gifted and called

It happens without fail. Every.Single.Time. When casual conversation with old friends or new acquaintances turns to the fact that I am going to seminary, the next question out of the other person’s mouth is always what are you wanting to do with your degree? As in, what are your post-graduation plans? Why are you spending all this money? What is the job you are hoping to go after?

And every time I smile, slightly shrug my shoulders, and admit I don’t really know. I tell them that going to seminary was the fulfillment of a dream, the opportunity of a lifetime, and the next step on my adventure of being obedient to God’s call in my life.

That was my answer.

This is the face of the girl who received her seminary acceptance letter.

 

But now, five and a half semesters into this journey I’m starting to get an inkling of what might be post-seminary for me. I don’t know how it will bring the income I will need in order to pay back all these student loans, but I do know that my personality, experiences, knowledge and interests are starting to coalesce in ways that are thoroughly exhilarating and not entirely unexpected. God has been paving a path for me for a long time and I can’t wait to see what is around the next corner.

About a year ago God showed up to answer my desperate desire to know who my people are. I’ll come back here soon and share that story, but in the meantime I know with certainty that my call is to serve women, particularly by empowering women to serve in bold and brave ways. So last semester I chose a research project that had me sitting in story after story of women longing to use their gifts to serve and love and teach and maybe even pastor. And in story after story these women were told that the roles in which they could use their gifts were limited, ordained by God and obvious because of Scripture. And my heart broke time and time again.

I wept for the woman who had introduced a dying man to Jesus and was forbidden to offer him the sacrament of communion when he asked for it.

I wept for the woman who had 18-year-old boys turn their backs to her each time she came to teach at her Evangelical University’s chapel.

I wept for the women who admit to feeling limited, discounted, and redirected when they expressed a sense of calling. I wept for the women who persisted, yet were regularly confronted with fatigue, despair, cynicism, and emotional distress that many times reached the level of clinical depression.

I wept for the women who endured what in the secular world would be called sexism, where legal recourses are available for those who experience it, but in the church is often accepted and promoted as God-ordained.

And I wept for the all-to-familiar question should I stay or should I go? For many of us living with misogyny and oppressive institutional structures is torture, but the thought of leaving the home and community and family that is our Church of origin is equally terrifying.

These were dark days for me and I do not use the word wept metaphorically to describe my reaction to my research. On many occasions I put my books down or set aside the article and cried out to God. This was too much. This culture too impenetrable. The wounds too deep. The theology too entrenched. What in the world could little ‘ole me do? How could one lone woman fight against evangelical culture and Biblical interpretation, especially when women who have tried have been so thoroughly trounced?

Some of the amazing men and women I am journeying alongside in this seminary adventure. Cohort ’15 forever!

 

But the other thing my research taught me was this: woman after woman pursuing a ministry call persisted because she had support. Because her calling was affirmed instead of questioned. Because she had mentors and role models. Because she had a woman in her life serving in ways that gave her imagination to dream she could do the same.

And it turns our I’m not really alone. The voices for women’s equality in the Church are out there. And they are growing. They are getting louder. The faithful witness of men and women who believe in a blessed alliance are doing the hard work and are changing hearts and minds. So I’m going to add my voice, and I’m going to return to this topic in this little space on the internet with more frequency.

 

In case you need this today:

You are not alone.

You are called by God who created you and knows your every part.

You are loved by Christ who gave up his life to show us what real love looks like.

You are gifted by Holy Spirit who is at work in this crazy world of ours, drawing us to the heart of God.

Persist dear sisters.

I am on your side and in your corner. You are not alone.

Confession

Confession

 

I confess my fear.

I confess my lack of faith, in God and in my fellow human.

I confess that I have turned up the noise and turned down the Spirit, intentionally fueling the rage.

I confess my anger.

I confess cursing under my breath and dreaming up twitter slams.

I confess my judgement at perceived stupidity, outright hypocrisy, and deliberate misleading. I confess rolling my eyes and slamming my head so many times a day it might lead to brain damage.

I confess my my own ignorance and naivete. I confess that while I have applauded those on the margins, I have not really listened to them. They told us. We should have listened.

I confess the known and unknown ways my daily life and actions contribute to systems of injustice.

I confess the known and unknown ways my daily life and actions contribute to the harm of our beloved planet.

I confess that I drink more and eat more than I should.

I confess that I have gladly and obliviously pledged my allegiance to the empire. I confess that I have believed our systems of government were good and true and would ultimately prevail. I confess that I wholly placed my trust  in the wrong thing.

I confess that I struggle to find God in all the chaos and mess.

I confess that I have wished for power.

I confess that I haven’t been praying because I haven’t known how to pray. I confess that is a dumb excuse for not praying.

I confess that I will have to confess all of this again tomorrow.

My Pro-Life Ethic

My Pro-Life Ethic

Years ago during a meeting with my pastor I was shocked when he asked me if I was pro-life. I knew what he meant was are you anti-abortion so on that level I wasn’t really surprised. But the question really bothered me because I was a foster parent who spent much of my free time serving teen mothers, married to a man who’s recent journey with Jesus into Scripture had led him to take a pacifist stance. Wasn’t this pro-life activity in our lives revealing of a deeper pro-life ethic?

 

So yeah, if you are asking will I #marchforlife or protest abortion clinics or work to outlaw abortion, the answer is a firm and hearty NO. But if you are really asking am I pro-life, then YES. 100% as much as I know and can be YES. Here is what that fully pro-life ethic looks like for me:

I am pro refugee and immigrant. I am pro bridges and tables, anti walls and bans.

I am pro access to healthcare that is affordable especially for women, children, and vulnerable populations.

I am pro free and accessible birth control. I am pro teaching a healthy and holistic sexuality that doesn’t impose my Christian worldview on others. God is interested in all parts of our lives, including our sexuality, but our hearts must belong to God first.

I am  pro supporting not demonizing women who chose to give birth. I am pro supporting and not demonizing women who chose abortion.

I am pro foster care. I am pro adoption. I am pro reunification.

I am pro inmate and anti death penalty.

I am pro environment. Our earth sustains our life. We are nothing without her.

I am pro LGBTQ and anti policies that increase suicides.

I am pro peace and anti war and anti torture.

I am pro women and anti rape culture.

I am pro social services and non profits and churches that work to give dignity and hope to the homeless, mentally ill, convict, immigrant, poor, lonely. I am pro life and economic empowerment and firmly anti poverty.

I am pro Black Lives Matter and pro justice work that seeks to educate and rectify the systems that perpetuate racism.

I am pro gun sense legislation.

I am pro freedom and anti trafficking.

I know that there is still work to do in me and I am grateful to the kindness and gentleness of the Holy Spirit revealing areas that my pro life ethic isn’t fully embraced. I am far from perfect or righteous and I get angry at the hypocrisy I see in a movement labeled “pro life” but that doesn’t seem to embrace that ethic outside the womb.

So today and every day I stand for LIFE. All life.

 

What about you? Do you have a pro life ethic that includes more than being anti-abortion? What pro life areas did I miss?