The past few weeks (heck, the past several years) have exposed so many fissures in the fabric of American society. It has shown how power, politics, and the invisible structures and systems around us have attempted to paper over real divisions that still remain. Last week, especially, showed us how these divisions can overflow into violence and cut to the core of the American psyche.
And the Christian Church ought to be there to give voice to this pain.
Tonight at 7p at Liberti Church‘s Center City Campus (17th and Sansom St), I will be leading a service of lament for our country, our cities, and our hurting black communities experiencing injustice. There will be time to hear Scripture, reflect, sit in silence, and also offer prayer from those in the pews. We will ask hard questions, sit in the pain, and not settle for easy answers. It is open to the public and all are welcome, no matter your religion, political persuasion, or personal opinion in this national discussion. I hope to see you there.
[image credit: photo from the Intersect Blog]
This Advent, we’re meditating on the idea of Hope by looking at quotes from Christians and talking about what they might say about our Advent Hope.
“It is precisely because the Christian hopes for the ultimate and definitive, that she also hopes for the temporal and provisional. Precisely because she hopes with joy for the dawn of the great light, that she hopes with provisional joy for the little lights, which may come and go, but which will not come and go in vain.
These little lights act as temporary illuminations that can help the Christian to look and move more properly towards that which they can only point to, but which in their proper time and place can in fact actually represent to us!
Because the Christian hopes for the Last Day, for the eternal year, he hopes for the next day and the new year, from which, whatever they may bring, he can always expect at least new indications of the coming of Jesus Christ.”
–Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV.3.2, p.938 (edited for clarity)
Read those words again. Slowly. We need these words, especially this year. As predators of consumerism, terrorism, pseudo-fascism, jingoism, escapism, and liberal idealism lie in wait to consume our souls, we need a light in the darkness. We need something to hold on to.
This is part of our series on Male Feminist Theology.
I’ve been arguing, at the outset of this journey into forming a Male Feminist Theology, that the way we think about God shapes and forms how we then live our lives. Further, God’s nature and character is so multifaceted that as theological musings enter new cultures, times, and situations, we must use particular language for where we are today. Just this weekend, I was reading Andrew Walls’ remarkable essay, “The Ephesian Moment”, where he talks about how this worked in the early church.
The transposition of a message about the Messiah to a message about the “Lord Jesus” must have seemed an impoverishment, perhaps a downright distortion. [But] Christian theology moved on to a new plane when Greek questions were asked about Christ and received Greek answers, using the Greek scriptures. It was a risky, often agonizing business, but it led the church to rich discoveries about Christ that could never have been made using only Jewish categories such as Messiah…. Crossing a cultural frontier led to a creative movement in theology by which we discovered Christ was the eternally begotten Son; but it did not require the old theology to be thrown away, for the eternally begotten Son was also the Messiah of Israel.
I see a similar thing today. Many issues of global injustice, the failure of 20th-century Enlightenment idealism, and (for our purposes) the abuse and marginalization of women gives a new prism through which to ask questions about God. We are not leaving old creeds and confessions behind; we are turning the Divine diamond of God’s nature and character to see through additional facets.
To this end, I have found it greatly helpful to focus on this idea that God’s very nature is one of Suffering-Unto-Life, or Suffering-Unto-Shalom. We’ve used these past few posts to talk about how we see this in each member of the Trinity, and today we turn our attention to the Holy Spirit. I’ve written about this before in general, but today we try to think of this in light of our sisters and their experience.
This post is part of a series on Male Feminist Theology.
Just as the Godhead itself is Suffering-Unto-Life, so are each of its members. Today we look at the second person of the Trinity: Jesus, the Begotten of God.
It’s my contention that we need a concept of a God who both knows suffering within his essence as well as fights against it. This is the only conception of God that can actually move us forward in fighting against the marginalization and abuse of women.
More traditional views of God (often having their historical source in Greek thought rather than Hebrew) make God into a Transcendent Male, Kingly, Lording figure whose primary relation to us is as one to whom we are meant to submit. This is so common, many (most?) people that just read that sentence may have not disagreed with any of it.
We are now, finally, after a long time, starting our series on Male Feminist Theology. This is the first of many posts to come.
God is infinitely complex and beyond our articulations. It’s impossible to hold in our minds at any one time all the different paradoxical truths about who God is. (As I’ve described before) depending on the particular context, concerns, or questions at hand, there are different truths about God we should dwell on and emphasize a little more for that moment.
In our day and place, I think one of the biggest issues facing the church is our treatment of women, so this post will focus on what truths about God that we (especially men) should emphasize and hold in our minds when moving forward on this issue.
For the Dead
Eternal Lord God, we remember before you today your faithful servants,
the 20 Libyan martyrs; we pray that, having opened to them the gates of larger life,
you will receive them more and more into your joyful service, that, with all
who have faithfully served you in the past, they may share in your eternal victory.
Almighty God, who, in joy and felicity, lives with the spirits who die in the Lord,
and with the souls of the faithful: We give you heartfelt thanks
for the good examples of your servants, who, even in the fear of their final moments
finished their course in faith, and now find rest and refreshment.
Father of all, we pray for those we love, but see no longer:
Grant them your peace; let perpetual light shine upon them;
in your loving wisdom and almighty power, work through their deaths
the good purpose of your perfect will.
I know, I know. One of the worst types of writing there is in the world is a white person writing about their discovery that they are privileged and this is deeply engrained. I know. This post isn’t that, I promise. Just stay with me for a little bit.
Having worked in social work for a little over five years now, I’ve grown in my understanding that racism is about a whole lot more than individuals feeling an active, conscious dislike of someone just because of their race. It’s structural, cultural, political, economic, and systemic.
(Still, I’ve really missed this at times, and old habits and ways of thinking die hard. I’m really, really sorry for that.)
Recently, I had the honor to speak at one of my church’s ministries for those in homelessness. Afterward, I walked around saying hello to the almost-exclusively black crowd there. As I made eye contact with different people, I would offer a smile to them and give them as warm of a look as I could. I did really feel a genuine warmth and love for this group.
And yet, I started feeling this…thing…within me. As I gave my smiles away to the crowd, I realized that this was a problem. I was giving my smiles to them. Something in me felt as if I, as a privileged white male, was “serving” these people by “granting” or “bestowing” upon them affection. Does this make sense? Do you see the problem?
Today we continue our Lent series, “The Weeping Word“, looking at different moments of crying, lament, and tears in the Scriptures.
In the early chapters of the Bible, there is perhaps no greater symbol of injustice than Hagar, the Egyptian servant of Abraham and Sarah. She is under forced labor, and is made by her master’s wife to bear a child by an old man. She is, in essence, a sex slave. After Hagar has her son, Sarah deals very harshly with her, causing Hagar to run away. God chases her down:
The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”
And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!
I was taking another look at the verses I wrote about earlier this week, and was struck by a few more thoughts I wanted to share. As I said then, the passage is structured liturgically. The story of Cain and Abel follows the flow of liturgy that God’s people have used for the duration of their existence. (It’s usually something like this: Call to Worship–>Call to Confession–>Passing the Peace–>Word–>Sacrament–>Benediction)
I pointed out that the blood-soaked soil “crying out” was the first instance of lament in the Bible, and it appears in the “Call to Confession” section of this odd liturgy-story, and it shows us how the world bears the weight of our own sin. Looking at it again, though, I see it means much more than just that.
Our Lent series this year is “The Weeping Word“, where we’re meditating on key places in the Scriptures where Lament, crying, tears, and weeping happen. Today, we look at the first instance of this in the Bible.
There is a particular rhythm that God’s people have always used in their liturgy. If you pay attention, you’ll see this rhythm pop up in lots of different places throughout the Christian Scriptures. My favorite unexpected place where this shows up is in the story of Cain and Abel.
The story opens with these two brothers coming to worship, answering an implied Call to Worship that issues from God. This is where the liturgical rhythm begins. God calls us to worship him, and we respond by offering him this worship to him.
But everyone comes to worship from different places, and not everyone’s heart and offering is pure.
And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
Our worship gets twisted and directed towards the wrong things, and this is what we call sin. Offering worship wrongly and to the wrong things. Wrong worship produces wickedness within us.
“Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.
For one of my seminary classes (which started this week) I’ve had to read the Gospel of Matthew. When you read a large chunk of a Bible book in one sitting, you really do get to make connections and get perspective you didn’t have before. I had many moments like that when reading Matthew yesterday, but I had one particularly poignant moment that relates to all of the Syria talk that’s going on in our country right now, and adds to my own comments a couple of days ago.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus begins preaching on his own, gathers some disciples around him and continues teaching while they watch. Eventually, in Chapter 10, he sends this community of people, encouragement, and support off to do ministry in various towns in the wider area and to do what he has been doing among them.
Which means he is alone again.
Yesterday I wrote about how our offense and struggle with evil and suffering in the world is often detached from the feelings and words of those that actually endure much of it. I said that intense Suffering doesn’t seem to produce an extinguishing of faith to those that experience it.
People have often said that the deep suffering and injustice of the world is one thing that led them to Atheism or skepticism, but this seems to be more the case for those that observe and think about the idea of suffering, more than enduring it themselves. Yes, there are stories of those that lose their faith in the midst of their suffering, but they really are so few and far between.
This is one of the main themes of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. The most powerful argument for Atheism I’ve ever read is in the famous “Grand Inquisitor” chapter. After reading it, I was so deeply shaken for a few weeks after. And it was written by a Christian.
One of the central themes of the book is that Atheism is an absolutely logical and reasonable system, but not one that can be consistently lived out. When observing the world and its injustice intellectually and from a top-down perspective, Atheism is probably more easily sensible than Christianity. But, as the book goes on to show, no matter the philosophical veracity of Atheism, no one can truly live real, actual human life as a fully-consistent Atheist and flourish as a human, in human relationships, and in human society.
Even if people think about suffering Atheistically, people usually live in the midst of it religiously.
Update: Part 2 is up.
In the religious circles I walk in, I hear about injustice and suffering quite a bit. Theology friends constantly muse about how to view these things in light of biblical revelation. Atheist and skeptic friends constantly point to these things as the inherent illogical inconsistencies that undermine religious faith.
And caught in the middle are many, many more friends, who live their lives trying to navigate their jobs, families, and relationships the best they can–all while these questions haunt them in their quieter moments or right before they sleep. Unlike the other two groups above, they don’t feel like they have answers. And this can lead to periods of doubt, insecurity, and frustration.
For every group, though, questions abound in these conversations. Oftentimes, they have a religious flavor. Why does this stuff happen? How does this relate to the goodness of God? What does it mean for the reality of God? How is God just when this stuff is real? Why does God seem absent?
These are almost never the questions I hear from the people actually going through the suffering.
A client quote I heard yesterday:
“When I was homeless, I felt like an animal, stuck in a concrete jungle. I only came out to eat and survive. Now that I have housing, though, I feel like a human again. It feels good to be human.”
And here’s the client quote I posted last week:
“I haven’t been homeless my whole life, but I’ve always been a human being.”
Below is a letter sent to our Governor from Shaun Donovan, the Secretary of HUD, about how the sequestration cuts will affect most of the programs that our clients depend on for housing (and, of far lesser importance, what I depend on for my job). Ladies and gentlemen, your representatives!
(You can read the original letter at the Housing Alliance of PA.) Continue reading
In preparation for my upcoming Guatemala blogging trip next month, I’ve been reading the wonderful book Geography of Grace by Kris Rocke and Joel Van Dyke. It opens by talking about the horrific story of Judges 19, where a nameless woman who is no more than a sex-slave, is given to a gang of men who gang rape her all night. She is then dismembered while still alive and the parts of her body are mailed to the twelve tribes of Israel. I found these lines so beautiful and redemptive in the just of such darkness.
When reading Judges 19 with a sanctified imagination, it is as if we become the disciples of Jesus on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. This passage tells of the disciples’ long walk with the stranger who is suddenly revealed as Jesus when he reenacts that meal on the night that he was betrayed. Just as the stranger is revealed to be Jesus in the breaking of the bread, so too is the unnamed woman revealed to be Jesus in the breaking of her body.
“Just as you have done it to the least of these . . . ”
lf we reflect long enough on the heart of the unnamed Woman [of Judges 19], We will come to know not only her heart, but her name as well. We will dare to give her the dignity of a name that she has been denied for more than three thousand years. We will even dare to name her the name above all others.
As grace flows downhill and pools up in Judges 19, We are confronted with what looks like a cesspool. It is offensive and scandalous beyond words, but if we can hold our gaze long enough and reflect on the Woman, she teaches us a hard but liberating truth-that she was not alone in her abandonment. She was not alone when she was handed over to the mob. She was not alone when she was gang-raped and beaten that night. She alone was not cut into twelve pieces and handed out to Israel. God was with her that night. God too was abused, beaten, raped, and dismembered. Where is God? God is with us, particularly among the least. Immanuel.