On Theology: Choose Your Own (Feminist) Adventure


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I recently told some friends about this year’s Lent series on “Male Feminist Theology”. One of them looked at me suspiciously and said, “I know what each of those three English words mean by themselves, but I have no idea what they mean together; it sounds like you’re fitting together things that don’t naturally go together”.

People often hear phrases like “Black Theology”, “Liberation Theology”, or “Feminist Theology”, and feel like there is a profound arrogance at play–isn’t simple “Theology” enough? Why must each group have their own pet theological opinions that belong only to them? But this is to profoundly misunderstand these theologies.
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Let’s try this again: “Going (Back) to Seminary”


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Years ago, on my first go-around with seminary, I wrote for a website called Going To Seminary. The site was started by an old campus minister of mine, and it was meant to be a place for wisdom and encouragement in seminary life. Looking back on the posts I wrote then, I still can’t believe how overzealous and eager I was, just six years ago.

Anyway, the last post I ever wrote for them was called “Realizing Seminary’s Not For You“, in which I wrote about my experience of deciding to drop out of school. Many people found this post encouraging, but astonishingly, the post inspired some comments that were some of the harshest I’ve ever received online for something I’ve written. People couldn’t imagine that God could call someone to seminary and then call them out before it was finished. Surely it must be a lack of trust and faith on my part, right?

Well, I still stand by that decision, and one of the main reasons why is that it set me up to now return to seminary with a much more clear, gracious, and (hopefully) mature mindset on the whole enterprise. Since I’ve been going back to seminary, I suppose it’s time for me to go back to writing on Going To Seminary. And so I have. Today marks the return of my writing on that site (I gave y’all a heads up last week).

Appropriately, my first post is an update and follow up to that previous piece. It’s called “Going (Back) to Seminary“.

It goes through each of those reasons why I left seminary and talks about how God worked in me and my life to lead me back, albeit to a different school. I hope each of you are able to be encouraged in your own journeys with God. Also, leave some comments and let us know what you think!

Quick Christian Feminism Quiz: What do you think of this image?


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From Lynn Japinga’s excellent Feminism & Christianity: An Essential Guide (p.93):

Artist Edwina Sandys created a sculpture of a female form, arms outstretched as if hanging from a cross. The sculpture, entitled Christa, has created controversy wherever she is displayed. Critics say the statue defies the historical fact that Jesus was a man. Some viewers feel that the symbol of the cross is degraded or even blasphemed by a Christ in female form. Others are disturbed by the sexual overtones of the naked woman. Some people are troubled by yet another violent image of female suffering. A few people see in the sculpture the message that the death of Jesus symbolizes the pain of all human suffering.

The response to [this image] reveals various theological assumptions. Some people dismiss…the sculpture because they are literally false. Jesus was a man. End of discussion. Other people consider these images offensive and uncomfortable. It insults Jesus, and them as well, to think of him as a woman. These imaginative reconstructions of important events in the life of Jesus pose an important theological question: What difference does it make that Jesus was male?

Have at it. What do YOU think about this piece? What’s your first gut reaction? Why? What difference does it make that Jesus was male?
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The best piece I’ve ever read on Mental Health & the Church


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“I want to know if you smile when you see me happy again and if a tear runs down your face when you realize that your people are the reason I’ve never quite healed, that chemistry and not Christianity has been my cure.”

~ Lydia Childress,“They’ve Thrown Us Out of the Church Like Lepers”

That’s the opening quote of this amazing piece, “Jesus is not our Zoloft: Reflections on Mental Health and the Church”, by R.L. Stollar, and I think it captures well the heavy heart with which he writes.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about Stollar, what he does or what his experiences in this area are, but this blog post is absolutely stunning. It is a response and critique of a recent Gathering on Mental Health and the Church conference, spearheaded by Rick Warren. He sees many things that encourage him, and some others that further dismay him. And he is spot on.

He points out the ways that the Church has wrongly seen mental health issues and mistreated those with them, and he beautifully charts a way forward.

Please read this. Yes, it’s kind of longer than most blog pieces, and doesn’t lend itself to skimming. But if all church leaders and Christians read this and took it to heart, it could change and help so much. The Church needs to hear this.
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Writing News: Seminary Thoughts & Musings


paul-surface-coffeeJust wanted to drop a quick note about this. I’ve been asked by an old friend and minister of mine if I could share my varied experiences on seminary life and work on a couple of sites. As those writings get posted, I’ll link to them from here. But, if you’re a seminarian, let me encourage you to follow these sites for my ideas and information on how to engage in seminary preparation, study, life, spirituality, and work well. Both of these sites are in the midst of a revitalization process, so expect some cosmetic looks in the weeks and months ahead. Let me know what you think! Here are the sites:

Best Seminary.com -
Going To Seminary.com -

No, ISIS has nothing to do with the end of the world. Please stop saying that.


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It’s been a long time since I’ve been immersed in Southern Evangelicalism where a certain brand of interpreting world events looms large. I grew up in the Bible Belt, where Saddam Hussein, Desert Storm, the fall of the USSR, the growing rise of Israeli nationalism, and “slipping societal morals” were all “signs” of the “end times” or “the last days”. I sat through youth group meetings where our senior pastor would talk about how the book of Daniel had coded prophecies about nuclear weapons in space.

(Being in high school, I saw no problem with him making that argument by saying that the book’s “original language” uses the Greek word dynamos from which we get the word “dynamite”; it was only later that it clicked for me that Daniel is written in Hebrew and Aramaic, not Greek.)

Moving to the Northeast, the bastion of mainline Christianity; and attending two different seminaries from traditions very different from this prophecy-interpreting one, I was under the false impression that this whole game of interpreting current events in apocalyptic ways was rightly losing steam.

But then, this past week, the tragedy of ISIS (or the so-called “Islamic State”) beheading 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians happened. I first found out on Facebook, when I saw a procession of ancient Christian articulations of mourning filling my news feed. “Come, Lord, Jesus.” “Lord, have mercy.” “Kyrie Eleison.” I, myself speechless, decided also to lean heavily on old words from our Christian family to find comfort and express lament.

Not everyone went this way, though. After these initial responses, my Facebook and Twitter feeds began to fill with phrases and out-of-context Bible verses that I hadn’t seen in years. People were posting blog posts and verses all of which were trying to say that these deaths amounted to some unique act of “global Christian persecution” that was somehow emblematic of the world’s “last days” or “end times”.

Today I’d like to offer a seven reasons why this is wrong-headed and unhelpful:
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Lent & Male Feminism: Reflections & Repentance


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Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of the Lent season of the Christian Church Calendar. It is the time of year in which we turn up the volume on those darker whispers in our hearts to hear what they say. We turn our ears to the cries of the world bear the wounds of a weeping earth in our hearts and hands. And oh, the wounds are deep.

We come to this Lent with the weight of so much on our collective shoulders: so much brokenness, so much injustice, so much pain, heartache, death, and violence in the world. I honestly thought that 2015 would bring relief from 2014. So far, it has not.

But in the midst of the chaos that reigns both within and without, I am determined to turn my thoughts and this blog towards one area in which the Church as a whole needs to repent; an area in which I feel we can make some real progress in this day and age: Women in the Church.

I do have an on-going series on this topic that I’ve been adding to for the past couple of years, but I think it’s important and helpful to turn towards it particularly now. Lent has always had a deep connection to this topic for me.
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Some Hopefully Not-Crazy Musings on Calvinism & Predestination


John_Calvin_by_HolbeinThe Christian family is large and diverse. The little corner of that family that I occupy is usually called “Reformed”, meaning they can trace a lot of their distinctive teachings back to John Calvin. Now, if theres one thing Calvin is known for (other than the burning a heretic thing) is a section of his teaching on Predestination–the idea that before everything, God “decreed” that only some people would be “saved”, and others would not be–they didn’t make the choice in that matter, He did.

Now, “Calvinism” wasn’t actually a thing until after Calvin had died, and he had a lot more to say about a lot of things other than Predestination. Nevertheless, having just recently re-read the portion of his magnum opus that deals with this issue, I can say that even the most caricatured, extreme articulations of Calvinism out there have a strong kernel of truth. Calvin was definitely a Calvinist, in all its untactful, harsh, unapologetic glory.

In college, I got super into Calvinism and took it way too far (Exhibit A; Exhibit B). I hurt a lot of people. Then I went to my first seminary and mellowed out on it. Since then, I’ve just been absorbing lots of different strands of thought around this issue, and haven’t really made a concerted effort to synthesize them. I’ve sort of been sitting in the Mystery of it all.

This seminary semester, though, I have to bring together all my thoughts on Predestination and its related doctrine of Election into some coherency. This means I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And today, I want to offer some of my random, contradictory, messy thoughts and get your responses and help. Imagine my brain on this topic as a big ball of yarn, with each strand of thought existing together all at once, not being able to distinguish where one thought ends, where the other begins, and how they can all fit together.

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First, there really isn’t any such thing as “Free Will”. I can’t “choose” to have different parents, to fly, to shoot lasers out of my eyes, to breathe underwater, what color hair I naturally have, where I was born, etc. Arguably, the most formative, important, foundational things to who we are as people are unchosen. The point in saying this is to point out that our wills are not “free”, but are bounded by nature. All our choices are limited by our nature.
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About Heretics: Should they be Persecuted? (16th-century guest blog post)


Supplice_des_AmauriciensToday’s “guest post” is by Sebastian Castellio, a 16th-century reformer, pastor, and theologian from France. He was good friends with John Calvin for quite some time, but if there is one big, black, dark stain on the reputation of Calvin, it is his overseeing the burning of the heretic Michael Servetus. The Reformation years were a time of great strife within Christianity and much blood was shed simply because people held different doctrinal convictions. One of the first widely respected people to vehemently fight against this was Castellio. Today, especially in light of last week’s post on denominations, I want to reproduce a small portion of a pamphlet he wrote right after hearing about Servetus’ execution. This event tore apart his and Calvin’s friendship.

Most of the Christian Church doesn’t burn or kill those other Christians with wom we disagree. But still, our modern forms of “persecution” and labeling as “heretic” remains. Blog posts, message boards, tweets, Facebook comments, and passive-aggressive interviews fill the Christian blogosphere. And yet, in a post-Christian America, I find this to be increasingly unnecessary, silly, and shameful. My favorite Castellio quote is this:

To kill a man is not to protect a doctrine, but it is to kill a man.

I think the same can be said about dumb comments, blog posts, and tweets that aim to take down others that are just as sincerely trying to follow God as we are. As you read this, imagine today’s forms of attack in place of the overtly violent ones mentioned by Castellio, and I think you’ll agree this is a important a read today as ever. (This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity. If you’d like to read the unedited excerpt, you can find it in this preview of Hans Hillerbrand’s The Protestant Reformation.)

_________________

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Are Christian denominations good or bad?


luther-95theses-humor-memeI’m currently in a Church History class going through the Reformation period of Christianity. During the Reformation, Martin Luther’s partner in crime (literally) was Philipp Melanchthon. After Luther’s death, Melanchthon carried the torch as a leader of the movement spreading throughout the Medieval world. In the years following the start of the Reformation, there were several different strains of non-Catholic Christianity that popped up.

To withstand the Catholic majorities at the time, these non-Catholic groups started talking about what it would look like to unify under one banner. Believe it or not, even though all these movements were really young and were reacting to the same problems they saw in Catholicism, these groups had really big differences between them that were hard to overcome.

In these conversations, an aging Melanchthon used an old Greek philosophical phrase to suggest a way forward: Adiaphora. Greek for “indifferent things”, he used it to describe how he felt that some beliefs and practices could be considered adiaphora (non-essentials), and could be compromised on for the same of unity. He argued with his fellow Lutherans that some beliefs were more essential to Christianity than others and didn’t require so much division. The others around him, of course, disagreed.

This got me thinking about the trajectory this set for us today. We now feel perfectly free to think a whole host of different things and still call others Christians. And yet still, much of Christianity’s most bitter judgmentalism and cries of heresy, unfaithfulness, sin, and arrogance are directed towards other who are also trying to follow the God of Jesus best they can. This has caused rifts, schisms, splits, and divisions into a huge number of Church denominations. Is this healthy for us? What does Christian “unity” look like? Do we all need to look the same?
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Leading & Blogging Publicly


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I’m currently reading through Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. Occasionally, I’ll post reflections on my reading.

The chapter I just read had to do with leadership being something that is meant to be a public good. Leadership is never simply for the sake of those you’re leading. It’s meant to overflow into the systems, institutions, cultures, and communities around you. And so, our avenues of leadership are meant to be vehicles to change the world.

Thinking about this, I realized that my most public form of leadership is probably through this blog.

Of all my Christian friends (including my seminary classmates), I keep up with politics more than any. I say sadly, because I don’t have many people and places to get my thoughts directly challenged, critiqued, and kept accountable. And for me, that’s what I need. I feel like I need my mind to feel a freedom to wander and stretch and try things out–but I need others to reign me in.

This is also how I lead. My tendency is to constantly reshape my sphere of influence; to try new things and keep things fluid. For me, then, team leadership works best, so that I have people to tell me I’m crazy and need to relax. This is also why I blog. A blog is, in essence, “public writing”.

Because I tend to dwell deeply in the political realities of the world more than many other Christians in my life, I see much of my role as a public writer as bringing Christian truths to bear on real-world issues in ways that both challenge and further the polarized conversations in the world today. Through national political campaigns, I write frequently on the debates, the State of the Union, the issues, etc. in order to communicate in a clear way to the everyday person what’s going on and why they should care.
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My church let me preach another sermon. Here it is.


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Believe it or not, even after preaching my first real sermon ever, my church let me preach again. All jokes aside, I had the honor of preaching this past Sunday as part of our Advent series.

The text is Luke 1:26-38, the moment in the life of Jesus known as The Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will give birth to Jesus. Cameos in the sermon include Mary, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Barth, the podcast Serial, racism, white privilege, and the story of everything. Here’s the audio:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast here.
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Advent, Angst, & Ferguson


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When my phone started blowing up with notifications about the Ferguson grand jury decision, I was in a daze. I grabbed my pipe, poured the biggest single glass of whiskey I’ve ever had, and sat in my backyard in tears, alternating between retweeting others’ comments on the case and just staring at the sky. I watched and heard the helicopters above as they watched the Philadelphia protests below, mere blocks from my house.

I think part of my response was because of where my mind had been in the days leading up to the decision.

I recently pored over Cornel West’s biography and watched 12 Years a Slave. As the weather has gotten colder, the city’s marginalized and homeless have become more noticeable. An organization whose heart is in the right place, and who I otherwise love, put out some promotional materials that unintentionally showcased the degree to which racism and power structures are so ingrained and so unconscious. Last Sunday, I watched as Rudy Giuliani went shockingly racist on Meet The Press (what he said is wrong, by the way). For school, I watched a presentation on the Civil Right’s movement, and also read King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail. 

And then the grand jury came back. No indictment.
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My Day with Cornel West (or rather, his autobiography)


Cornel-WestIf you know who Cornel West is, I’m pretty confident in saying that what you think you know about him is probably wrong, or at best, dramatically incomplete. If you don’t know who he is, then you should.

For my current class on Leadership, I had to pick an autobiography of a leader whose perspective on faith and life is probably dramatically different than my own. The book I chose was Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud. 

My own anxiety and compulsivity make it difficult for me to read for long stretches of time. I can usually only read one thing for ten or fifteen minutes before having to bounce my mind to something else or change up what I’m reading. But, due to my own procrastination and inefficiency with time, I came to the day before my paper was due not having opened up the nearly-300-page tome.

And so I did what needed to be done. I left my electronics at home and brought nothing but the book to a nearby Starbucks. I got a cup of coffee, turned on a Jazz radio station on my phone, settled into a couch, and read the entire thing.

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Rhythms of Faith & Freedom


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I’m currently reading through Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. Occasionally, I’ll post reflections on my reading.

One big strength of this particular book on cultivating one’s spiritual existence is that it’s focus is entirely on the spiritual life as a response to what God has been doing. Most books focus more on the stuff you’re “supposed” to do. Some slightly betters ones spend their time unpacking and expressing the “beauties of the Gospel” (as they pretty narrowly, individualistically, and Evangelically define it) and then trust that these intellectual ideas and truths woo us and turn our “affections” to God. These are the same people that often see “preaching the Gospel to yourself” as the panacea for everything, be it doubt, fear, confusion, theological questions, or mental health issues.

Barton, however, comes at it from a different angle. She uses the story of Moses as a picture and type for the dance that exists between God and his people. And at each stage of Moses’ life and deepening of his calling and relating to God, she shows how God has actually been at work to, for, and with Moses long before this moment ever came.

So it’s not, “God died for you, so you can live for him!”, or, “See how beautiful God is and all the things he’s done for you! Now doesn’t that make you want to engage with him? (And if it doesn’t, there’s something fundamentally wrong with you.)”
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