Thin Places

Integrated in the entirety of our lives are thin places.

Moments which mark a transition in our stories. These thin places are sacred… because they hold within them the past and the future… the known and the unknown… the old and the new… the familiar and the unfamiliar. 5PzvOGjfQdi5cNTls9Psfw

Each day, we get to witness tiny thin places, like the sunset transitioning from a day full of light into a purple dusk that ends in a navy sky… (and if we are lucky, scattered stars and a beautiful moon).

Then, there are bigger thin places in our stories. Like, the end of a relationship, be it a friendship, marriage or a partnership…. where your heart is broken and you are moving into a new season without the intimacy of that person. Or, most especially, thin places that come at the end of life… as one passes from this life to the next. As a pastor, I’ve gotten the deeply holy opportunity to be with a few people when they transition this way. These thin moments are holy because they are set apart…. they are not like the rest of the moments. They hold a power within them that is laced with the vulnerability of deep emotion. These are the moments that you’ll not soon forget.

Some thin places hold deep joy, like the joining of two lives in marriage, or the birth or adoption day of a little one, or a graduation which marks the end of a long and difficult academic season.

Thin places take a lot of energy. They take bravery as they always possess mystery and the unknown. And most of all, they take paying attention… because although they often hold great anxiety, they can also hold great joy. They can mark our lives where we remember the very moment when we were changed.

I wonder if these strange days where our lives are off kilter in more ways than words can elucidate, if we are not all collectively experiencing a thin place.

It’s new and strange. It’s scary and unfamiliar. It’s full of anxiety and trepidation. It’s a thin place.  We are very close to it. How will it change us? Where will we go? What will we learn? What are we paying attention to?

God’s peace to you in this thin place. We are all here….. together.

 

The Risky Business of Forgiveness

Editorial note: I wrote this piece about a year ago and am just posting it this May; I hope you enjoy!

Ukraine- June 2012 214

Anne Lamott writes: “And I realized once again that we’re punished not for our hatred, for not forgiving people, but by it.”

Sometimes, the simple fact of the matter is that I am the slowest learner in the class. The problem student. And maybe the most forgetful too as I often require the learning of a lesson more than once. Sometimes I need a couple more knocks on the head than most require. Redundant? Yes. Unfortunate? You bet.

There I was… smack dab in the middle of a-sort-of-intentional-community…a group of twenty something’s spanning diverse backgrounds… you had your regular church-goers, your doubters, your intellectual types, your dreamers, your type A’s, your nurturers, your artists, and then you had me… the overly-analytical hippie with slight tendencies to avoid any and all confrontation. We regularly came together for scripture reading, communion, and confession. At several differing walks in life, we were able to commune with a fair amount of grace and decorum. Most of the time.

This was a particularly responsive night as we were sharing about personal fears, malaise, and struggles… vulnerable stuff. I, as any good analytic type should, weighed the options of whether to disclose my feelings of inadequacy and discontentment with the norm of my life. After a few moments of contemplation, I felt it my moral duty to divulge. “I’m frustrated with how I’d love to speak at my church, but can’t because I’m a woman.” I followed this statement with a rather lengthy diatribe of how I didn’t think the Holy Spirit distinguished between genders and that it just really hurt. Following my confession, one horrible girl piped up and reprimanded me for expressing such contention for the traditions of the church; she went a step further, turning her response into a rather personal attack of how “we” need to have stronger and more devout faith. In short, she verbally nabbed me. In front of the community.

There I sat, stunned, mouth agape, with no ability to respond whatsoever. Thankfully, someone veered the conversation to a lighter note as I sat dumbstruck. My first thought was that I had been betrayed by my fellow woman…a slap across the face from Mother Nature. On its heels came my disbelief at the audacity of this girl whom I once called a friend; I thought about the trust that had just been severed and the hurt that was flooding in. After a few moments of stewing, the anger set in. I began thinking of the offender’s major flaws and her general level of malfunction. I relished these thoughts and treated them as close friends for quite some time. I consciously chose to adopt a new enemy instead of forgiving a friend.

I have often heard, and even previously learned that when you don’t forgive someone, you really do it to the detriment of yourself. They hurt you… maybe physically, maybe emotionally, maybe spiritually, maybe all three, but nevertheless, they leave a mark you wish wasn’t there. You are left angry, hurt, and maybe resentful. I found that out. These emotions became welcome friends to my heart. They were the outlet in which I found solace… but they started wreaking havoc. Before long, they crept deeply in and took hold of the hope, joy, and peace that were in my heart. These were delicate. They were delicate. And I didn’t protect them. I chose not to forgive.

I’ve also heard that not forgiving means that you have given the perpetrators of your hurt more power over you than you could ever realize. You give them the power to control your joy, your peace, your hope. Your hope. They control your hope. That’s a lot of power to give away.

Forgiving them seems counter-intuitive. It seems like you are relinquishing your power, your stand, your pride and are becoming weak. But may I assert that perhaps the act of forgiveness is one of the most courageous, strength-requiring acts that a human can endeavor to achieve? It hurts to have been wronged and not be able to be recompensed or have been able to right the injustice that occurred. You were cut deeply and the breath knocked out of you. But as unlikely as it may sound, forgiveness is the route to healing of the hurt. Forgiving is taking that power that they once had over you and stripping it from them. It’s allowing a new day, to be just that.

A day that is yours again.

A day that you find your delicate hope, joy, and peace.

A day that you have courage again.

A day that you are a forgiver.

I’d like to say that I immediately forgave this fellow community sharer. I didn’t. The slow learner in me took a little longer and lost more sleep than I would have liked. But it happened… in my own messy way, I forgave her because I finally realized that the two of us weren’t all that different after all.

 So for all the hurt that we have experienced or will experience: 1) Christ have mercy on us for the evil around this place and 2) Let us be courageous. Forgiving. Healing. Then, with all grace and strength, we rise.

Then, with all grace and strength, we rise.

*******************

What experiences have you had with forgiveness and how have these experiences changed you as a person?

The Damaging Words of Mark Driscoll

I am certainly not the first blogging critic of Pastor Mark Driscoll, popular writer and leader of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington; in fact, I’m rather late to the draw to add my criticism of his teachings. But here I am, writing about him, because I believe that even if something is redundant, if it is working for peace and equality, we must never quit writing it. I have also seen Mark Driscoll quoted in the evangelical circle as some expert or hero and frankly, it disgusts me. I’m sure that he has written pieces of truth and some good advice, but I haven’t stumbled upon those gems. I have only stumbled upon the very offensive comments he has made; what worries me the most is that he rose to popularity and remains popular because of, not in spite of, Christians.

Driscoll is widely celebrated and widely disdained. It is an interesting dichotomy. He seems affixed on the idea of sex and skewed ideas of masculinity and femininity. In a facebook status, he drew much criticism for writing: “So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed?”

Thus the idea is perpetuated that a man must fit Driscoll’s version of masculinity in order to be a man. In support of my statement, here are some other Driscoll quotes:

“If you drive a mini-van, you’re a mini-man.”

“The problem with the church today is that it’s just a bunch of nice, soft, tender, chick-ified church boys. Sixty percent of Christians are chicks and the forty percent that are dudes are still sort of chicks.”See this video (which is a satirical response to Driscoll, but contains the interview that he issued the above comment).

Men who cannot provide for their families are not men and a stay at home dad is worse than an unbeliever. See Driscoll’s video here. See this video for a theological response to Driscoll’s taking 1 Timothy 5:8 out of context and making it an universal principle.

In 2006, Driscoll stated in response to the Ted Haggard scandal:

“At the risk of being even more widely despised than I currently am, I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this. It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.”

Thus the idea is perpetuated that a woman must stay beautiful in order for her husband to love her.

He also preached that it is “biblical” for women to give their husbands oral sex and actually, they should do so as a part of their marital duties. He drew criticism from the Baptist Press for this comment. I could go into further depth about the statements he has made regarding sexuality (especially homosexuality), but frankly, I don’t want them on this blog. You can check out further links from this article.

Though I try to write objectively, I find it hard to be objective here. I do not understand why he is received as a teacher, and a well-respected one. I do not understand why he is celebrated as a leader in Christianity.

So here I am, joining the ranks of those who not only disagree with Driscoll, but who say that his teaching is degrading, dangerous, and not at all reflective of the Christ I cherish.

I encourage you to heavily censor what you read from Pastor Driscoll.

Wrapping up the Festival of Homiletics

Last week concluded the 2013 Festival of Homiletics; I blogged about first half of the Festival here and now, I’d like to wrap up the Fesitval. As an introvert, I am spending much-needed alone time today processing through my notes from challenging sermons and lectures. Here I will give a summary of the lectures and sermons; I hope to sit with much of what I learned, continuing to elaborate on it with further future posts. I know that something in me changed during this week and now I begin the hard work of figuring out what that exactly means.

On Wednesday, Will Willemon (Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke Divinity and Bishop in the United Methodist Church) spoke on our God who is in constant motion, who is relentlessly self-revealing. Willemon focused on the idea that Jesus never really grew up, never matured into the calmer, more middle-aged man who would have been more king-like. How come he couldn’t settle into the God the Jews were expecting? He was a futurist, who balked at tradition, and was criticized for not keeping the Sabbath. Radically different, he continually pushed the envelope and in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

Thursday, Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber (Founding ELCA Pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, Denver, CO) led us in a healing service that I will not soon forget. Festival of Homiletics 003 Out of all the preachers who led us at the Festival, I was most excited to sit under Nadia. Heavily tattooed and quite tall, she does not necessarily come across as a Lutheran pastor, but a pastor she is, and a very, very Lutheran one. She led us through confession and absolution, then sang “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” with us, then onto the Gospel Acclamation from Mark 7:31-37.

31 Jesus left Tyre and went up to Sidon before going back to the Sea of Galilee and the region of the Ten Towns.[a] 32 A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him, and the people begged Jesus to lay his hands on the man to heal him.

33 Jesus led him away from the crowd so they could be alone. He put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue. 34 Looking up to heaven, he sighed and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened!” 35 Instantly the man could hear perfectly, and his tongue was freed so he could speak plainly!

36 Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone, but the more he told them not to, the more they spread the news. 37 They were completely amazed and said again and again, “Everything he does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak.”

Rev. Nadia began with discussing the fact that at one time in history, Martha’s Vineyard was a bi-lingual community due to the fact that 25% of its residents were hearing impaired. Deafness was viewed as a trait and not a disability. In the Gospel text, the deaf man’s friends brought him to Jesus to be healed, but the text says nothing about if the deaf man actually wanted to be healed. His friends obviously thought he was broken, but what if he viewed his deafness as a trait, like blond hair or hazel eyes, and not an impairment? If Jesus had shown up at Martha’s Vineyard, would the collective “they” have brought Jesus this deaf man to heal? Probably not. She then suggested that we often are quick to recognize and want to fix the brokenness in others, so that we don’t have to see it in ourselves. We are never ourselves, the broken people. Until Jesus shows up.

Jesus took the deaf man away from the crowd; he removed the man from the “well, non-broken” people; Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears and touched his tongue. Then he sighed, probably exhausted from the nonsense of seemingly perfect and unbroken people, then said: “be opened.” That’s all he said. Be opened. And the man could hear. Maybe spiritual healing has more to do with being opened than being cured. Be opened to the idea that your value isn’t in working 60 hours a week for people who might not even be paying attention. Be opened to knowing that your own brokenness doesn’t need to be hidden behind someone else’s brokenness. Be opened to the idea that you are stronger than you think. Be opened to the idea that you aren’t as strong as you think. Be opened to this whole Gospel of Jesus Christ thing actually, actually, actually being real. And actually being FOR YOU. Because maybe that’s what healing really is.

You can read her entire sermon here. I highly recommend it.

After she concluded her sermon, she gave a lecture later that day. Her lecture was geared towards advice and encouragement for the many clergy present. She spoke about how when she writes a sermon, it is always after she has been wrestling with the gospel text of that week, and how she almost always walks away with a limp. She will not walk away from the text until she has demanded a blessing for her people. It is a costly thing to be a pastor. Saying one of the most profound statements I’ve ever heard, she said: “I try to preach from my scars and not my wounds.” Can we all not take a lesson from this?

Then came the 82 year old Phyllis Tickle (popular author, editor, and professor) . Festival of Homiletics 004She began her lecture showing us the temporary tattoo Nadia had given her that morning. She essentially gave us an interim report on Emergence Christianity and set the stage for our modern-day Martin Luther to speak, Brian McLaren. Phyllis didn’t need any notes. She was full of information, of rich Church history, and she was as snarky as always. She has recently announced her retirement and so, she let us know that she no longer has a filter because she’s no longer worried about employment. Her talk was amazing and I can’t begin to do it justice here. I’ll briefly say that she spoke on the shift that is occurring in the church today and likened it to the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther, as the Protestant church was formed as a break off from Catholicism. The Emergent Church is the same to Protestantism as Protestantism was to the Roman Catholic Church 500 years ago. God is doing a new thing among us and it will look much different than the church you and I grew up in and around. Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), she said, is indeed dead. The canon is being reconsidered.

She ended and received a standing ovation. Coming back to the microphone, she said to the clergy: “I do not envy you, but I pray for you my brothers and sisters.”

I have ordered her book, so expect more blog posts about this.

Tickle set the stage for the final speaker, Brian McLaren (Pastor and leader of Emergence Christianity; Time magazine listed him as one of the twenty-five most influential evangelicals in America). Festival of HomileticsHe spoke on the shift of Christianity in America. This new movement no longer wants to find itself identified by hostility. He referred to Anne Rice who, in name of Christ, quit Christianity, stating she no longer wanted to be a part of a religion which requires her to be hostile. The church has historically been based upon a strong, hostile identity, saying things like: “you are going to hell if you don’t agree,” “we are God’s chosen,” “You worship false gods,” and “we possess the only absolute truth.” “Give people a common enemy and you will give them a common identity. Deprive them of an enemy, and you will deprive them of the crutch by which they know they are.” [James Alison] The backlash to this strong, hostile faith was a weak, benign faith which said: “it doesn’t matter what you believe.”

Is it possible to rebuild a Christian faith, identity, and ethos without hostility to the other?

We’ll discuss this in detail in future posts and you are welcome to discuss it here in the comments. I am grateful for this Festival from which I was greatly encouraged, but also heard some uncomfortable teachings. I am learning to sit with the hard things and let the Spirit change me. Festival of Homiletics 001