Marriage and Singleness – a reminder.

The other day in church, we prayed for a couple that is getting married soon. The pastor said something that really struck me – he prayed for the couple “as they are answering a calling to marriage.”

A calling.

callingA calling.

Somehow, in these two simple words, I found two important reminders that I needed to hear:

1) Marriage is a calling. It is a calling by God for two lives to become one. Marriage is not simply a choice by two people who are “in love”; as Christians we believe that marriage is a covenant between two people, a covenant that exists to model for the world the covenantal love that God has for us. In marriage Christians show the world a different narrative: one of steadfast love in spite of sinfulness and faithfulness in the face of hardship. In the words of one of my professors, “Marriage is a mission.” (Holla at me, Dr. K’s Book Group!)

2) Marriage is not the calling. God does not call everyone to marriage; sometimes it is “not yet,” and sometimes it is “not ever.” Only time will tell which of the two it is in each person’s life, but regardless of the answer, singleness is a calling too. Let me say that again. Singleness – for now or for ever – is a calling too. In singleness and celibacy Christians show the world a different narrative: that sex and love are not what this world says they are, that the love of God and the Church is more than enough, that singleness is a calling both to radically serve the Church and to radically be served by the Church. I preach here what I have to preach to myself, sometimes: singleness is a calling.

Much of this reflection comes from a wonderful little book by Stanley Hauerwas that I had the chance to study in a small group with one of my (favorite) professors in college, so I will leave you with a quote that I loved:

“Both singleness and marriage are necessary symbolic institutions for the constitution of the church’s life… that witnesses to God’s kingdom. Neither can be valid without the other. If singleness is a symbol of the church’s confidence in God’s power to effect lives for the growth of the church, marriage and procreation is the symbol of the church’s understanding that the struggle will be long and arduous. For Christians do not place their hope in their children, but rather their children are a sign of their hope… that God has not abandoned this world.”

– Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character (p. 191)

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A Sermon: Justice for Jordan Davis

My pastor’s sermon this past Sunday. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Jordan Davis

Signs of Life

Here’s a lightly edited version of the sermon I preached at New Community Covenant Church on Sunday. Unlike most of my sermons this one was written quickly, after the news broke from the Michael Dunn trial on Saturday evening.

In November 2012, 17-year-old African American Jordan Davis and his friends were parked outside a convenience store in Florida when an argument broke out with the white man parked next to them about the volume of their music. The argument ended when the man, Michael Dunn shot 10 rounds into Davis’ car- some of those bullets hit and killed Davis. At his trial Dunn claimed he felt threatened, that he had to stand his ground. No gun was ever found in the young Jordan Davis’ car. Last night a mostly white jury found Dunn guilty on lesser counts of attempted murder- but for the actual murder they couldn’t agree. And…

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Stop Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day – Matt Rindge

Stop-Celebrating-MLK

An extremely thought-provoking article written by Matt Rindge of Red Letter Christians, on America’s “annual ritual of misremembering Martin Luther King, Jr.” The article continues below.

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Although Rev. Dr. King often indicted what he called the “triple evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism,” America chiefly associates King with only one of these ills; our predominant picture of King is as an opponent of racial segregation.

But this image is a distortion. For in the last few years of his life, King increasingly aimed his prophetic critique at the twin “evils” of poverty and America’s militarism.

Efforts to help poor people led King to be in Memphis on the day of his assassination. He was there to join a strike of 1,300 sanitation workers seeking better working conditions, higher wages, and the right to join a union.

King raised troubling questions about an economic system that perpetuates poverty. In an August 1967 speech (“Where Do We Go from Here”) — eight months before he was killed — he declared:

“Why are there 40 million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

The Memphis sanitation strike was a part of the “Poor People’s Campaign,” which King began to organize in the last months of his life. This campaign would shift the primary focus of the Civil Rights Movement to the economic concerns of “poor people of all colors.” The campaign would seek, among other things, to secure poor people with jobs that paid a fair wage, unemployment insurance, and education. The campaign’s goals died along with King.

The week before he was killed King gave a speech (“Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution”) in which he offered an alternative economic proposal:

“. . . we spend in America millions of dollars a day to store surplus food, and I said to myself, ‘I know where we can store that food free of charge — in the wrinkled stomachs of millions of God’s children all over the world who go to bed hungry at night.’ And maybe we spend far too much of our national budget establishing military bases around the world rather than bases of genuine concern and understanding.”

In his final speech, King returned to poverty. Although most clips of his “mountaintop” speech feature the foreshadowing of his death (“I may not get there with you …”), King’s primary aim was to motivate people to support the striking sanitation workers in Memphis. Quoting Luke’s gospel, King maintained:

“Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,’ and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.”

“It’s all right to talk about ‘streets flowing with milk and honey,’ but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day.”

Restructuring society would require concrete economic changes, and King made these clear. He instructed the audience to stop purchasing Coca-Cola and Wonder Bread. He called for a “bank-in” movement, advising financial withdrawals from downtown Memphis banks and insurance companies.

King’s final statement on poverty appeared 12 days after his assassination in a Look magazine article, “Showdown for Nonviolence.” The same non-violent demonstrations used to fight segregation, King argued, should now be organized to address “the economic problem — the right to live, to have a job and income …” King called for an “Economic Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged” that would “guarantee a job to all people who want to work and are able to work” and an “income for all who are not able to work.”

Economic justice, it seems, surpassed racial equality as King’s chief concern.

“The economic question is the most crucial that black people, and poor people generally, are confronting.”

In the last year of his life, King also devoted increasing attention to critiquing America’s use of violence in Vietnam. Speaking at New York’s Riverside Church — one year to the day before he was killed — King described the incongruity between his preaching and America’s practices:

“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”

King suggested that a commitment to the world’s most vulnerable members should prevail over patriotism:

“This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy . . .”

King viewed America’s devotion to war in religious terms:

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Twenty-six days later, King again spoke out on Vietnam in a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church. He described America’s hypocritical responses to his messages of non-violence.

“There’s something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say, ‘Be non-violent toward Jim Clark,’ but will curse and damn you when you say, ‘Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children.’ There’s something wrong with that press!”

Remembering King primarily for his struggle against segregation is to misremember him. (America does with King what the Church has done to Jesus: remade him in our own image.) Domesticating and sterilizing King is the only way to integrate him into our national consciousness. The unlikely alternative would be to question two of America’s sacred engines: its economy and military. Ironically, King’s critiques of poverty and militarism are more relevant today than his work on behalf of racial integration.

To honor King, we need to stop celebrating him. Perhaps the very nature of celebration makes distortion inevitable. A National Day of Lamenting King would be more fitting, and helpful in calling to mind the ways we betray two fundamental aspects of his legacy.

**This article originally appeared on Spokane Faith & Values

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Matthew S. Rindge is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Gonzaga University. He is currently writing “Cinematic Parables: Subverting the Religion of the American Dream.”

Jesus and the Parable of the Man who Needed Health Care – Eric Pazdziora

Considering recent conversations sparked by developments in the national healthcare scene, I thought I’d share a very pertinent reflection by Eric Pazdziora, the original of which can be found here. The point of posting this is NOT to make a political statement or to engage in all the partisan positioning that has been happening – if you are looking for an argument, please look elsewhere. Rather, the goal IS to re-frame a familiar story in a way that I hope makes every Christian, regardless of political opinion, reflect anew on how we are called to live.

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Vincent_van_GoghYes, there is such a parable in the original. The first several times I didn’t realize what it was about; Jesus insists on framing the question in a way that invalidates most of our categories of discussing the issue. I’ve taken the liberty of writing my own paraphrase, with a few hopefully not-entirely-unwarranted interpolations and transpositions, to make it as immediate to you as it was to me when I saw it. The categories of people in Jesus’ story have become people who might correspond in our society. If you’re interested in debating the current political discussion on health care, I’m sure there are lots of other places on the Internet for you to do so– this is about something much bigger.  EMP

A theologian came up to Jesus one day and said, “Teacher, what exactly, in your opinion, does a person have to do to inherit eternal life?”

“Do?” said Jesus. “Well, if it’s a question of doing, I suppose you’d better start with the Law of Moses. What does it say to you?”

“Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself,” said the theologian promptly.

“Good answer,” said Jesus. “If you can do that, you’re all set.”

“Well,” said the theologian, hemming and hawing a bit, “of course, we have to understand these things with the proper doctrinal and textual nuance inherent in the social and kerygmatical context of the times. For instance, how, contextually, would you interpret the word ‘neighbor’?”

Jesus smiled sadly and said, “Let me tell you this story….

This guy was walking down the road one day, minding his own business, when all of a sudden a street gang jumped on him, beat him up, took all his money, and got away with it. The gang left him lying in the gutter, bleeding all over the place, broken bones, semi-conscious, barely alive.

Well, who should come along but a prominent conservative pastor. The conservative took a look at the guy in the gutter and felt sorry for him. But he figured that it was not his fault if somebody didn’t have enough street smarts to look out for himself in a bad neighborhood, and anyway it wouldn’t be right for someone to require him to give his hard-earned money away to the undeserving. So he crossed over to the other side of the street.

Walking the other way was a liberal community worker, and when he saw the conservative guy ignore the hurting man like that, he started an argument with him. “It isn’t right to refuse health care to people who need it– but not by taking my money– but everyone should have an equal chance– but that will give the government too much control– but the insurance companies are….” They got so into their argument that they walked away together, and left the man in the gutter.

So then a socialist* came by. A genuine bleeding-heart socialist, who was in favor of gay rights and PETA and legalizing marijuana and the whole bit. He saw the guy bleeding to death in the gutter, and he grabbed a first aid kit and started putting bandages on his wounds. Then he helped him into his Prius and drove him to the nearest hospital. Stayed with him the whole time, and told the doctors and nurses everything he could to help. Eventually they stabilized the guy and got him on life support. The socialist said, “I don’t think this guy has any insurance, so I tell you what– Here’s a few hundred dollars now, and you can send the rest of the bill to me; I’ll take care of it myself.”

“Now,” said Jesus, “you tell me: Which one of these people was a neighbor to the man who needed health care?”

“The one who actually did something for him,” said the theologian.

“Well then,” said Jesus, “go do it.”

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*The original: Luke 10:25-37Note, I chose the “socialist” simply because I thought he might be as shocking to the present-day church as the Samaritan was to the Jews– no other political statement should be inferred. 

How to Church Shop

One of the worst things about moving to a new place has to be the task of finding a new church.

Or actually I should say, one of the worst things for people who grew up in a non-denominational or independent or quasi-independent evangelical church. I can’t tell you how many times throughout this whole process I thought, “Man, this would be so much easier if I was Catholic! ”  But in all seriousness, this is the reality of the fractured Body of Christ of which we are all a part: people shop for church like it is car insurance, trying to find a favorite brand or company – or even a custom package.

But there is another side to this coin, or there can be. This doesn’t have to be the way we “church shop.” What if church shopping were less about looking for the ideal product, and more about the diversity of the Body of Christ, and learning about what your own faith?

From my experiences, here are a few thoughts on navigating the church hunt with grace…most of which were learned by trial and error!

1) Start with realistic expectations.

There is no such thing as a “perfect church.” Coming to terms with that reality fast is going to cut down on the pressure and stress of the situation. If you loved your previous church, you will not find one identical to it. If you did not love your previous church, you probably won’t find a church that has everything you’re looking for. If you do find that one church that “clicks,” I guarantee that eventually you will realize something or experience something that makes you frustrated or disappointed. We are imperfect beings, and our flaws are exhibited sometimes in greatest contrast in our communities. That’s part of what being the Body of Christ is: loving one another in spite of our sinfulness.  Don’t go in expecting things to be perfect.

2) Start with some criteria. 

I know a family that decided going into it that they would only visit three churches. After three churches, they would make a decision. Now that’s a bit excessive for me, but the point is a good one. Start with a set stopping point. Knowing that there isn’t a “perfect church,” decide when you’re going to stop looking for it. Maybe that means deciding to only look within a certain distance from home. Maybe that means doing some Googling ahead of time – making a list of places to check out, and then deciding from that list.  Maybe it means setting a certain period of time for the church hunt, and committing to making a decision by the end of that time. 

Whatever the stopping point is, the purpose of choosing one is not to have an arbitrary deadline. Church shopping is a hard process – the times I have spent without a proper church home have always coincided with some of the driest times in my spiritual life. During this last stage of Church shopping, I don’t think I realized how much of a role in my spiritual stalemate my lack of a church had. It was not until I found a church and drank deeply that I realized how hard it was to live off only sips. No church is perfect, but Christianity is a faith that can only be lived in a community – in spite of and including the inevitable imperfections. Don’t let yourself be separated from this kind of community for too long.

3) Use this as an opportunity to learn.

There is an incredible diversity in the Body of Christ, but most Christians never experience anything beyond their own tradition. Don’t let this be true of you. Try something new. Church shopping is a remarkable opportunity to experience churches and church traditions that are unfamiliar and possibly out of your comfort zone. Embrace that as a chance to learn more about the Church – one, catholic, and apostolic. Who knows? The experience might even open your eyes to God in a new way.

4) Identify things that you like and appreciate in the churches you visit.

As I was visiting churches to look for a new church home, I realized something about myself, very much to my chagrin. I found that I was developing a tendency to be very critical and disparaging, I might even say judgmental, of some of the churches that I visited. Though there is certainly a good and necessary element of critiquing that one must do while looking for a church, there is a difference between thinking critically and being critical. Churches are not perfect. There may be churches you will visit with which you have significant disagreements. There are certainly some valid critiques and even criticisms that could be applied to churches you will visit. But do not forget that these are your brothers and sisters in Christ. (Believe me, sometimes I have the hardest time reminding myself of this. Some churches just make me want to *grumblegrumblegrumble*.)

A tool that has helped me counter my tendency toward fault-finding is to intentionally identify things that I value in the church I have visited. Whether it be the friendly welcome that was offered, or the music, or the nice family down the aisle, focusing on the good has helped me to better walk the line between analyzing and judging.

5) Figure out what your deal-breakers are.

The above being said, it is completely valid to have disagreements with a church, whether that be in theology or leadership or practice. This time is an opportunity to figure out what your deal-breakers are – to figure out what you think is important and essential. This can be a chance to gain some eye-opening self-awareness, and can teach you a lot about your own faith. Sometimes, you don’t realize something is important until it’s gone.

6) Listen for the Spirit.

There may not be a “lightning” moment; there may not be any kind of moment. There doesn’t have to be one. But let this be a meditative process. If God does have a specific place for you, let him guide you to it.

On Inhabiting.

inhabit.

(v. tr.)      To live or reside in.

               To be present in; to fill.

(v. intr.)   To dwell.

.             .             .

After a too-long stage of church-hunting (more on that later), I have found a church. It was a pretty quick decision process – halfway through the service last week I nodded inwardly thinking, “This is the one.” That was the first time I had attended. Yesterday was my second Sunday, and that quick choice was affirmed through one of the most unique experiences I have had in a church.

One of the attributes I value in a church and was seeking is that the church be aware of the issues of its community. Earlier this week a young man was killed just a couple blocks away from the building where the church meets, and not far from where I grew up – only four blocks north of where my brother went to high school. These stories are all too common in the Chicago news, but this Sunday I went to church waiting to see if and how the church would address this tragedy that was so close to home. The response was surprising and inspiring, and has prompted me to think further about what it means to be a church within a larger community.

Mention of Thursday’s tragedy occurred early in the service, and it was clear in references throughout that it was on the minds of many. That would have been enough for me to think that the leadership had made an appropriate response, but engagement did not end there. At the start of his sermon the pastor said that it would be a short one, but that did not initially surprise me – it was Communion Sunday, and I have been to other churches where sermons are shortened on those days to make more time for the Eucharist. But that man was not kidding when he said “short” – I’m pretty sure the sermon was barely longer than the passage we read. (For the record, the reading was from a pretty long passage, and the sermon was very good.) After the sermon, the pastor explained the reason for his brevity:

He said, “This morning, I woke up feeling convicted that we should be outside.” He thought that the church at such a time should be a visible presence on the block, not just a church behind closed doors. And so after saying the opening Communion liturgy – as part of the Communion ceremony – the entire church filed out of the church and spread out across the two-block stretch in small groups and prayed for the community. After a few minutes of prayer we a filed back inside and took the elements.

I don’t know if anyone noticed us out on that street, and if anyone did I’m sure that they were wholly unaware that our odd-looking gathering was an act of love and solidarity for the community. That is not why I think that what we did is important. Communion is a celebration of Christ’s body – not only that he died, but that he lived. As Christians, we testify to a foolish story of a man who gave up heaven to dwell with us. He did not come to rub noses with the wealthy or live a life of safety and security, but instead was present in the suffering of the lowliest of people. In taking Communion we are reminded of Jesus’ life, and of the call to be present and active in the world – to inhabit. On Sunday, in just a small way, that is just what we did.

A new (to me) Christian perspective on gun control

In the wake of the Navy Yard killings and the shooting today on Capitol hill, and reminded of what I recently wrote about violence in my own home-city of Chicago, I’d like to share a Washington Post op-ed by Rev. Henry G. Brinton, a Presbyterian pastor in Virginia. Though my views on gun control come from a very different theological basis, I think that the principle that he suggests has the power to re-frame the issue in a way that could restart productive conversation among Christians who for so long have been at loggerheads.

“The religious community needs to unite around a message that will keep guns out of the hands of people who will use them to do violence to themselves and others, whether they are depressed young people, delusional shooters, or children who stumble across guns in the home. I’m not talking about new gun control laws, but instead a new consensus on the proper place of firearms in our society.”                    

                -H.G. Brinton

Ann Voskamp: “What Christians Need to Know about Mental Health”

An Open Letter to the Church                                                      from Ann Voskamp

(link above, or reblogged below.)
As someone with a loved one who struggles with depression, I couldn’t have said this better. (Or even half as well.)

                                                                                                      

Picture 1

So can the dark and the shame and the crush of a thousand skeletons, a thousand millstones, a thousand internal infernos.

We could tell you what we know.

That depression is like a room engulfed in flames and you can’t breathe for the sooty smoke smothering you limp, and suicide is deciding there is no way but to  jump straight out of the burning building.

That when the unseen scorch on the inside finally sears intolerably hot –  you think a desperate lunge from the flames and the land of the living seems the lesser of two unbearables.

That’s what you’re thinking — that if you’d do yourself in, you’d be doing everyone a favor.

I had planned mine for a Friday.

That come that Friday the flames would be licking right up the the strain of my throat.You don’t try to kill yourself because death’s appealing — but because life’s agonizing. We don’t want to die. But we can’t stand to be devoured.

So I made this plan. And I wrote this note.

And I remember the wild agony of no way out and how the stars looked, endless and forever, and your mind can feel like it’s burning up at all the edges and there’s never going to be any way to stop the flame. Don’t bother telling us not to jump unless you’ve felt the heat, unless you bear the scars of the singe.

Don’t only turn up the praise songs but turn to Lamentations and Job and be a place of lament and tenderly unveil the God who does just that — who wears the scars of the singe. A God who bares His scars and reaches through the fire to grab us, “Come — Escape into Me.”

Nobody had told me that –

that one of the ways to get strong again is to set the words free.

You know — The Word that bends close and breathes warming love into the universe…. and the words mangled around swollen secrets and strangling dark —just let the Word, the words, all free in you.

My Dad, he had told me that if I told, it’d slit us all.

So much for believing the Truth will set you free. So much weight for a wide-eyed nine-year-old.

So I locked lips and heart hard so no one knew about the locked wards and the psychiatric doctors and why my mama was gone and it’s crazy how the stigma around mental health can drive you right insane.

There are some who take communion and anti-depressants and there are those  who think both are a crutch.

Come in close — I’d rather walk tall with a crutch than crawl around insisting like a proud and bloody fool that I didn’t need one.

I once heard a pastor tell the whole congregation that he had lived next to the loonie bin and I looked at the floor when everyone laughed and they didn’t know how I loved my mama. I looked to the floor when they laughed, when I wanted them to stand up and reach through the pain of the flames and say:

Our Bible says Jesus said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick.” Jesus came for the sick, not for the smug. Jesus came as doctor and He makes miracles happen through medicine and when the church isn’t for the suffering, then the Church isn’t for Christ.

I wanted them to say it all together, like one Body, for us to say it all together to each other because there’s not one of us who hasn’t lost something, who doesn’t fear something, who doesn’t ache with something. I wanted us to turn to the hurting, to each other, and promise it till we’re hoarse:

We won’t give you some cliche –  but something to cling to — and that will mean our hands.

We won’t give you some platitudes — but someplace for your pain — and that will mean our time.

We won’t give you some excuses — but we’ll be some example — and that will mean bending down and washing your wounds. Wounds that we don’t understand, wounds that keep festering, that don’t heal, that down right stink — wounds that can never make us turn away.

Because we are the Body of the Wounded Healer and we are the people who believe the impossible — that wounds can be openings to the beauty in us.

We’re the people who say: there’s no shame saying that your heart and head are broken because there’s a Doctor in the house. It’s the wisest and the bravest who cry for help when lost.

There’s no stigma in saying you’re sick because there’s a wounded Healer who uses nails to buy freedom and crosses to resurrect hope and medicine to make miracles.

There’s no guilt in mental illness because depression is a kind of cancer that attacks the mind. You don’t shame cancer, you treat cancer. You don’t treat those with hurting insides as less than. You get them the most treatment.

I wanted the brave to speak Truth and Love:

Shame is a bully and Grace is a shield.  You are safe here.

To write it on walls and arms and wounds:

No Shame.
No Fear.
No Hiding.
Always safe for the suffering here.

You can be different and you can struggle and you can wrestle and you can hurt and we will be here. Because a fallen world keeps falling apart and even though we the Body can’t make things turn out — we can turn up. Just keep turning up, showing up, looking up.

Mama came Home and I found grace, a thousand, endless graces, and it is by grace we are saved, grace adopting us into a family that no illness can ever remove us from.

Grace, that miracle which even the darkest can’t consume, but only consumes you.

Light pried through the dark. A shaft came through a window like a lifeline. And the birds sang and we heard them.