Male Feminist Theology & Sinning Against Women


This is an incredibly hard post to write, but an important one, I think.

A couple of years ago, I started (and never really finished–but I will!) a blog series which outlined a systematic way that as a male, I can incorporate feminist perspectives on theology into the way I think about God and life.

I call it “Male Feminist Theology” because there’s something about truly being a “feminist” that requires having embodied the experience of being a woman–which I have not. (Similarly, I could not call myself a “Black Activist” with any kind of integrity.)

I started this series with a bunch of posts about using feminine language for God. There was a lot of blowback from that, most of it entirely unexpected. I still hold to that belief that God is gender–ful (not gender-less) and so the full range of human language, both masculine and feminine, ought to be applied to God.

And yet, in my actual-lived out spiritual life, this hasn’t seeped into my engagement with God as much as one would expect, considering how strongly I intellectually believe these things. Maybe an occasional substitute of “Mother” for “Father” in the Lord’s prayer or a Creed recitation, but I do it quietly under my breath. Only occasionally do I find myself remembering to pray to God in such terms. My unconscious reflexive depiction of God in my imagination is still fundamentally male. I have to actually exert energy and thought to try and conceive of something different.
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Because We’re Not Good: “East of Eden”, a Book Review


We all have those pieces of art–be they movies, books, music, what have you–that upon first exposure we fall in love. We turn the last page or walk out of the theater or concert hall certain that this will surely be added to our list of favorites and long-held companions. Yet, how many times do we say this and a year or two down the road someone mentions that very piece of art and we find ourselves thinking, “oh yeah, I did read that, didn’t I?” or “I had forgotten how much I loved that album!”

So often we get swept away in the immediate experience of something skipping upon the waters of our soul, leaving little ripples and echoes dancing upon the surface. But these dimples and dapples merely play on the surface for a time, returning once more to their source, leaving the waters ultimately undisturbed in their wake–the liquid plane unbroken; the deepest depths untouched.

There are other times, however, that we encounter a piece of art–or rather, it encounters us–and we are changed. It transcends mere rankings of “favorites” and “Top 10s” and weaves itself into our fibers. We do not critique and assess it, so much as it sizes and weighs us. The surface is broken and we are plunged beneath, staring humanity’s unvarnished truths in the face. And in so doing, our own humanity is actually enlarged, a spaciousness expands in our souls and we feel more human, even as our foundations are shaken.

John Steinbeck’s 1952 magnum opus, East of Eden, is just this kind of piece of art. It’s the kind of book people say they will read “someday”, only to read it and wish “someday” had come a lot sooner. So if you haven’t read it. Do so. Start today.

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Deep Sin & The Christian Soul


Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5.19-21)

As I recently finished a Church Bible Study on the book of Galatians, those verses inevitably caused some discussion.

I mean, we’ve all to some degree engaged in most–if not all–of the items on that list at some point in our lives, right? Even if you’re a Christian.

So what does it mean to say “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God”?

As we discussed it, we arrived at the answer many of us come to if you grew up in the Church: these scary statements only apply to those individuals who have these “works of the flesh” as a pattern of their life to such a degree one might be able to say that the sins have “dominion” over them. That answers it, right?

Not really. Because there are Christians who find themselves in seasons–days, weeks, months, decades, even–where these sins are their practice over time, seasons where these sins have a very real sense of dominion over them and their lives.

And, this isn’t theoretical or theological for me. To be honest, I myself am coming out just such a time.

. . . . . 

I wrote the above words a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I’ve only sunk deeper into the bewilderment of this season I’m coming out of. How does a Christian understand a period of time in which they’re given over so deeply into self-absorption, sin, and hurting of others? I’ve sat on this question, mulling it over, letting it ruminate within me to see what fruit it bore. I’ve wanted to figure out a nice, tidy answer to this post–for the sake of both others and myself.

And alas, I have been found wanting.
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Sometimes, Mercy is Sweeter Than Grace


I grew up in a pretty stereotypical Evangelical setting, which led to a pretty stereotypical back-and-forth between guilt and self-righteousness. That is, until I really heard the Gospel of radical Grace.

Many of us have this same story, where it has been so healing to hear that how God relates to us is not, in fact, based on our performance. Instead, everything necessary for God to be pleased with us has been accomplished on our behalf by his Son.

In response to this, we fall in love with God’s Grace. We pray for it, long for it, and cry for it. We read books about it, write about it, and talk about it. We try and speak it into others’ lives while trying to figure out why we don’t apply it to our own. We joyfully build our relationship with God on the glorious foundation of His Grace. It is fundamental, primary, and essential.

In short: we love Grace.

Imagine my surprise, then, as I fell in love with liturgy and ancient forms of worship, to notice the utter lack of “grace” from the prayers and worship of the earliest saints. Continue reading

Philly Tonight: A Discussion on Race & Inequality


Tonight, my church is holding a timely lecture on “The Gospel, Race, and Wealth Inequality” at our Center City Philadelphia Campus (17th and Sansom St). The talk will be given by University of Pennsylvania Professor of Social Work Dr. Amy Castro-Baker.

The event was planned months ago, but one would be hard-pressed to imagine a more appropriate week in which to explore this topic. With the events in Charlottesville this weekend, and the President’s response(s), it’s important to talk about not just the moral and spiritual roots of such division and racism, but to explore its structural rootedness in the very way we structure society and economies.

I don’t know the specific of the talk, or its general direction, but I know Dr. Castro Baker enough to trust her and to know this evening will be challenging, hard, but beneficial to us all. Join us if you can. Here’s the event description: Continue reading

After the Final “No”, There Comes a “Yes” [Good Friday Sermon 2017]


I’m really looking forward to doing a happy sermon sometime soon. But alas, I find myself preaching on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday this year–not the happiest of Church Holy Days.

And yet there is hope.

It’s fashionable to emphasize the narrative nature of God’s work in the world. And yes, it’s true–there is a progressive nature to Redemption, with a beginning, middle, and end.

But God’s work is also often cyclical, with certain rhythms and movements that return, repeat, and fold within one another.

I had this in mind as I went into this sermon. Yes, we ought to press into the darkness and doubt of the Cross without just quickly comforting ourselves with the Resurrection–we have to sit there for a bit–and yet the Church Calendar gets into our bones and souls to such an extent that it transforms the darkness. We can never sit in the Cross’ forsakenness without feeling the spiritual muscle memory of previous Easters gone by. And in that is hope.

This realization led me to largely do away with my notes (which you can find below) when giving this sermon and largely ad-lib, speaking from the heart as I wrestled with this stuff in real-time. The text selections came from Matthew 26-27, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here are my notes for your perusal. Continue reading

i am not my own (Abide with Me)





…fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens; Lord with me abide…

Both viruses and people get themselves into us, infect us, surprise us, and change us–both for good and ill. And when they depart we are left with that most complex simplicities of emotions, asking simply: what was that? The story, the episode, that previously seemed to exist with such continuity now seems so disjointed from all others that “the purpose” seems our only thought.

…When other helpers fail, and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, abide with me…

We wonder, we wander, seeking our Home, our Rest, our Selves. We recast our history in the eyes of this present trial, this present pain, this present darkness, and feel the twitch and fear that comes whenever we seriously consider all we’ve done before and all it represents within us–all the trials caused, the pains committed, and the darknesses within us.

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“Teach Us to Number Our Days” (Psalm 90) [a Lent sermon]


I had the privilege of preaching the Ash Wednesday service at one of my church’s campuses a few weeks ago. As is appropriate to that Holy Day and this Lenten season itself, we sat with words that drew us into a meditation on our mortality and death.

(I also talk about my grandfather’s death. For more about that, you can read my reflections.)

I help lead a Bible Study and sometimes, when I’m feeling artsy, to help us start a discussion on a certain text from Scripture, I’ll ask my group a question: what color is this text? As in, what’s the emotional tone? When you close your eyes, and let its words sit in you, what color are the images that come to mind? For me, sitting with this Psalm before preaching it, I felt it was a dull, pale blue–or maybe more like a burlap grey. And I have found that “hue” marking much of my time this Lent.

So even now, a few weeks in to season, I find myself returning to the themes of this Scripture text. I hope it might lead you to engage all the more deeply into this Holy Lent. The text is Psalm 90.1-12, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here is my manuscript for your perusal. Continue reading

Demand a Miracle (Merry Christmas) [from W.H. Auden’s “For the Time Being”] 


Flickr-Advent-Candles-rabasz

This is from the Advent portion of W. H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio, For the Time Being. The full text is under copyright, but it’s in this book, if you’re interested.

From Part I:

[T]ime never moves and nothing can ever happen:
I mean that although there’s a person we know all about
Still bearing our name and loving himself as before,
That person has become a fiction; our true existence
Is decided by no one and has no importance to love.

That is why we despair; that is why we would welcome
The nursery bogey or the winecellar ghost, why even
The violent howling of winter and war has become
Like a juke-box tune that we dare not stop. We are afraid
Of pain but more afraid of silence; for no nightmare
Of hostile objects could be as terrible as this Void.
This is the Abomination. This is the wrath of God.

Part II, Chorus:

Alone, alone, about a dreadful wood
Of conscious evil runs a lost mankind,
Dreading to find its Father lest it find
The Goodness it has dreaded is not good:
Alone, alone, about our dreadful wood.

Where is that Law for which we broke our own,
Where now that Justice for which Flesh resigned
Her hereditary right to passion, Mind
His will to absolute power? Gone. Gone.
Where is that Law for which we broke our own?

The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.
Was it to meet such grinning evidence
We left our richly odoured ignorance?
Was the triumphant answer to be this?
The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.

We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.

My Grandfather’s Passing (Hope in Death?)


peep-paul-dance-2Today is the sixth anniversary of my Grandfather’s death. I am reposting this reflection I wrote at the time.

This past Sunday, the day after Christmas, I watched my grandfather die. This is the first death I’ve experienced of someone very close to me. I’ve known people who had died, sure, but no one as close as this.

This man walked with me and I with him for my entire life. I sat on his knee and was tickled by his hands. I grew up hearing legends about him, and I walked in a general sense of awe and disbelief when in his presence.

His name was (is?) Lester Travis Williamson, or as I knew him for most my life: Peep (a mispronunciation due to the first grandchild’s toddler lisp).

Peep represented for me a tenacity and determinedness of love that great stories of tragedy and triumph are built upon. As their old pastor said during the funeral, he was a man that if you asked for a crumb would give you the entire loaf and then chase you out the door to give you another loaf for the road.

But this is not to be confused with the contemporary pictures of the sentimental, gratuitously giving man–cheerful, talkative, jocular, and always-optimistic. If Peep was anything, he was the quintessential man of his generation–America’s vision of a “real man”–quiet, determined, and strong. He spoke with intention in every syllable, meaning what he said and saying what he meant.

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A Theology of Clean Water, Christmas, & Advent


Tomorrow is my 31st birthday, and instead of any gifts or Facebook Wall well-wishes, I’m asking people to give $31 on my campaign page at Charity: Water to give access to clean water to those in developing country.

But it is also Advent and Christmas season, giving an even deeper and fuller reason to give, especially if you would call yourself a Christian.

Yes, as Christians we ought to care about the pain and suffering of the world no matter what chapter and verse we can cite on a particular issue. But water, however, is uniquely theological and full of meaning.

A Theology of Water & Advent

Water is an essential and mystical part of the Christian story and message, giving us unique motivations and resources for addressing the issue of clean water. The Israel story begins with God creating the world out of the murky depths. The Israelite people are set free from bondage to a prince of death and find their redemption by passing through a Red Sea, which would have held certain death and return to bondage; they enter the Promised Land in a similar fashion. God promises to sprinkle clean his people with the waters of redemption. It is by more than one water well that Patriarchs find their wives and Christ finds a woman in need of redemption. It is in the world to come that the Tree of Life is seen once more, and a River of Life flows from its roots offering life and salvation to all who drink.

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If 31 people gave $31, 31 others could have clean water


charity-water-glass

I wrote recently about how, for my 31st Birthday, I’m asking people to give money to Charity: Water to give people clean water in developing countries. I recently did the math, and this is actually quite attainable.

All it would take to accomplish my goal of giving 31 people clean water would be for 31 of you out there to give just $31 through my Campaign Page.

To me, that’s more than reasonable. I’ve even given the first pledge! This is the time of year where we ought to be thinking of others. We will already be spending for more than $31 on people we love. But what of the people whose loved ones don’t have even $31 to their name?

They deserve love also. And not just a sentiment. Not just sympathy or prayer. They deserve tangible expressions of love that actually add to their quality of life. And there is probably no more basic tangible need for such quality than clean water itself.

It’s so fundamental, so elemental. What better symbol may there be for the most essential aspect of what it means to be an embodied human in this world? Giving water is one of the most beautiful was to give ourselves for others. And it’s easy and simple.

Just go to my Campaign Page and give $31 in the next week to give someone the gift of clean, drinkable water. Thank you.

Forget Gifts. Give Clean Water for My Birthday


israel-en-gedi-1[TL;DR: Instead of gifts for my birthday, I’m asking for donations to Charity: Water to give clean drinking water to those with none. Give on my Campaign Page.]

The picture on this post is from my trip to Israel earlier this year. It’s from En Gedi, an oasis in the the desert, near the Dead, Masada, and the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. It is literally a random spring in the middle of the vast Israel wilderness.

I thought of this image as I was listening to a recent episode of The Liturgists podcast on suffering. They offered interviews, art, music, and poetry about the pain and injustice which exist on a global scale.

They lamented that many such programs leave us with no ability to do something in response. But they offered a way. They interviewed the founder of Charity: Water, a non-profit that focuses on delivering sustainable clean water wells in underserved parts of the world.

One of the best ways they have found to raise money is to ask others to donate their birthdays to Charity: Water. Instead of getting gifts, people would encourage others to give that gift-money to Charity: Water.

So that’s what I’m doing for my 31st birthday on December 20th. 

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“One Race, Different Ethnicities” [spoken word]


This is a beautiful piece by a friend of mine, Aisha Monique, from my previous church. She is a wonderful spoken word artist who wrote and performed this a couple of months ago as a way of prophetically processing the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, and hwo they fit into the broader narrative of the Black experience in America. I recently found myself watching it again, and I thought I would share.

Like the biblical book of Lamentations, this is a raw cry from the heart wrapped within the rhythm and boundedness of poetry. So grab some coffee and a quiet place and watch this. Let it sink in and sit with it. And most importantly, especially if you are part of the majority culture, just listen.

A Prayer Service of Lament for Race & Injustice


job-silohetteLast week I led a prayer service of lament at my church for the racial injustice and violence experienced in our country. I put together the below order for the prayer service and it ended up being a helpful expression for us. I wanted to share this with anyone else interested in using it in their own contexts.

Another benefit of this service is that the contemporary prayers below are not mine or any other white males, but were written by women of color and slightly modified for our context. I hope this acts as a helpful outlet to give voice to our hearts as brothers and sisters.

[Prayer Guide: pdf/docx ; Leader’s Guide: pdf/docx]

Preparation

Encourage other voices that are not typically heard at your church to read the Scripture sections. In the times of silence, encourage open prayer from those sitting in the pews. Allow space for up to 5-10 minutes of silence, and be sure to let people know beforehand to expect such long silence.

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