Wednesday, November 11, 2015

An Ode to Church Mothers

Where have the old church mothers gone?
I remember them from my childhood.
They were quietly watchful and forcefully present.
They ruled the church.

Where have the old church mothers gone?
The one's from my Sunday School days
Played the piano and taught me church school songs
and all the old hymns.

Where have the old church mothers gone?
They had salt and pepper hair in their young mother days.
I remember the silver, turned white, turned nearly yellow with age.

The old church mothers were
the ones who did the work of the church.
You might know them as the "Women's Fellowship,"
A mysterious group to young women who were never invited to join.

Where have the old church mothers gone?
They used to serve the funeral luncheon.
They are the ones who catered the funeral luncheon.
They used to hang the banners on the front wall of the church.
They are the ones who used felt to make those banners.
They used to set the altar each week.
They are the ones who sewed the altar cloths.
By hand.

Where have the old church mothers gone?
The ones who were my mother's mother's age?

Mine will never be an old church mother.
She left the church two decades ago.
She is still my mother.

Where will she go
as she grows closer to becoming an old mother?

Where have the old church mothers gone?
When and where will I become an old church mother?
Where will I go
when I am no longer?

Thursday, November 5, 2015


Though placed later in the Old Testament, the book of Job is widely considered to be the oldest book in the bible.  The purpose of the book of Job is to attempt to explain human suffering.

In Job, God and Satan make a bet. God asks Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?  There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”  When Satan responds that Job only shuns evil because God has blessed him and further provokes God by stating that Job would surely curse God were God to strike everything Job has, God puts everything Job has into the hands of Satan, with strict orders not to harm Job himself.

When Satan has destroyed all of Job’s wealth and taken all of Job’s children in a catastrophic accident, Job falls to the ground in worship.  “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

Not to be thwarted, Satan insists that if Job were to be afflicted in his own body, sure then he would curse God.  And so, God gave Job’s body into the hands of Satan, stipulating only that Job’s life must be spared.  Covered in painful sores “from the soles of his feet to the top of his head,” his wife says to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity?  Curse God and die!”  But Job replies, “You are talking like a foolish woman.  Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  In all of this, Job did not sin (Job 2:7-10).

After this, three of Job’s friends come to him.  They each tear their clothes and sprinkle themselves with ashes.  The sit in silence with Job for a week.  After a week, these friends of Job rebuked him.  And it is here that we see a change in Job.

In the earliest parts of the book of Job, we see Job lose his fortune, his family, and his health.  In all of these losses, Job praises God.  It is when Job is rebuked by his friends who insist he must have sinned to have earned the wrath of God that Job begins to suffer.  At this point, Job curses his own existence.

Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than for hidden treasure, who are filled with gladness and rejoice when they reach the grave?  Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?  (Job 3:20-23)

Job goes on to answer to his friends who rebuke him, but there is a significant shift in his focus.  No longer does Job defend God; rather, now Job goes on to defend himself.  Job’s suffering comes from the isolation of being with others who move from a posture of joining with Job in his suffering to attempting to explain and fix the root cause of Job’s condition.

When the question, “Why ?” is asked and attempts are made to answer the question rather than join the questioner, suffering ensues.  Vulnerability.  Isolation.

Upon learning of his diagnosis of terminal cancer, Dr. Oliver Sacks, the renowned neurologist, wrote an Op-Ed essay for the New York Times.  In My Own Life Sacks wrote:

"There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever.  When people die, they cannot be replaced.  They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate – the genetic and neural fate – of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death."

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart,” declared Job.  The famous actor, writer and director Orson Welles put it like this, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone.  Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”

Religion is humankind’s first attempt to explain how the world works – what the mechanisms are that are at work in our experiences.  As the earliest book in the bible, Job attempts to explain the how thusly:  God and Satan making a bet.

But if religion is humankind’s first attempt to answer the question how?, then divinity or God is, at its most basic, the process by which we answer the question why?  God is the means by which we attempt to transform trials into triumphs.

Job is also the earliest Hebraic attempt to make meaning out of those experiences.  “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

It is “the genetic and neural fate – of every human being being to be a unique individual,” to be utterly, beautifully, gloriously alone in this world.  To be alone does not meant to be lonely.  Suffering happens when we experience our alone-ness as isolation.

We have the ability to reach out to and connect with others.  After all, we all come from the same place; we are all made up of the same stuff – star dust.  Astrophysics tells us that everything in the known universe is made up of the elements of the first exploding star in The Big Bang when the universe began.  We live because the first star died.

The bible explains it this way:  From dust you are and to dust you will return (Genesis 3:19b).

Though each is born alone, makes the journey through life alone, and dies alone, we can through love and friendship be present for and with another.  This is no illusion.

When we seek to answer the question why with something more than our presence however, when we attempt to define the cause, when we seek to fix the problem by fixating on the notion that things must be different, when we grow attached to a specific outcome and fail or simply forget to be present in the current moment, this is when we or those with whom we sojourn suffer.

Who or what is God in the midst of suffering?  If religion informs us of the how, God informs us of the why.

Though I do believe in divinity, though I believe God exists, I do not believe that God is some being or entity out there somewhere, working here and now for God’s own purposes.  God is not a capricious puppet-master giving control of our fates to an adversary simply to settle a bet.

When faced with the most basic and complex question that can be asked, “Why do we suffer?” I can only answer one way:  Life gives.  And life takes away.  Life is still a blessed endeavor.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Lois - The GNF Cat

This is Lois.

Lois is the single greatest cat on the planet in my not at all biased opinion.

Lois's personality is basically the same as mine. Perhaps that is why I'm so partial to her. Perhaps that is why I bonded to her.

Lois is the bomb-diggety of catdom. She owns her catness.

Lois knows herself and she's okay with herself. And if you don't like Lois, that's okay. Lois does not care. She knows she doesn't exist to make you like her. Lois exists to be Lois - in all of her glorious catness with a whole lot of cattitude.

Lois looks like a cat. If you were to look up generic pictograms of cats, they would all look like Lois. This isn't to say that Lois is in any way generic. Rather, that Lois simply looks like the quintessential cat.

Lois is not only in form quintessentially a cat; in her catness, she is quintessentially herself.

Lois lives life on her own terms. She is deeply intuitive and has vast storehouses of compassion. She will use either to love well those who have earned a place in her kitty life.

Lois, however, is not your typical lap cat. Lois does not want laps nor does Lois feel a need for laps to exist.

Lois is a proximal cat. She wants to be near her people, but she does not want to touch or be touched by them. In fact, if a human touches Lois too much, she gives them "the paw." That is, Lois will use her front paw, loop it over the wrist of the person touching her, press their hand to the surface on which she sits and then apply gentle pressure to their hand. Once she's confident that she won't be touched again, she'll remove her paw. If a person does touch her again, she immediately gives them the paw again.

Lois has boundaries and she makes no bones about making them known.

If Lois loves a person, she is willing to grace that person with her presence and loud purring. That's what she does. That's how she tells a person, "Okay, you're in. You're one of my people." She sits on the arm of the chair you're in, or she climbs over your head in the middle of the night to sit on the edge of the bed, or she sits on the nightstand and she just stares and purrs at you.

Lois is a cat who never sits in laps. Except for this one time....

....when Lois sat in my lap.

I'm sure it's only because the new chair had very narrow arms, it was a rocker, and she wasn't sure of balancing on it. My sock monkey pajama clad lap seemed like a safer bet. Still, I felt like I'd been blessed by the cat-gods themselves to have received such a gift.

Lois is a cat who hates being picked up and will go spread-eagle-claws-out-murder-in-her-eyes angry if you try to pick her up. And I get it. Lois is just a cat who expects to be respected for her catness. And given her space.

And she lets me pick her up. She doesn't love it, but she tolerates it; she lets me provide full support to her body and she curls up and purrs for a few moments until she's had enough. The moment she begins to squirm, I set her down. And she still purrs at me.

Lois is a cat who isn't terribly concerned about her people (so long as there is food in the dish, clean litter, and fresh water available). Except for this one time....

....when I was having a hard day and Lois loved me. 

Lois is a cat who, rumor has it, used to love cheeseburgers and sour cream. Until her first humans had to give her medicine and human food became a delivery vehicle for those wretched pills. Now Lois is a cat who continues to love Tillamook yellow medium cheddar cheese, goat cheese, sour cream, and even crème brûlée. But she'll only eat it when I offer it to her.

Lois is kind and lovely and honest. She is a gentle and genuine creature. Lois is a cat who is utterly herself and utterly happy to be herself and she gives no fucks whether you like that or not.

I didn't know I had a quintessentially cat-shaped hole in my emotional life until I met Lois. But there she resides; and she will continue to reside there long after she stops staring at me in the middle of the night, long after she stops purring at me, long after she stops giving me the paw, long after she stops going nose-to-nose to me just to make sure I'm okay on those really hard days when I see nothing but loss and pain and death and can only curl up in a ball at the end of the day and cry for a bit before I remember why I do the work I do.

And until Lois stops doing all of those things, I'm going to continue loving Lois. On her terms. Just the way she is.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Spiritual Vomit

A new job, a new group of colleagues. We are new to each other and we are all new to the system (though my cohort is newer than I, as I spent my summer in this system). We have been getting to know one another the past two weeks. It's a process.

During my summer work, there was a colleague to whom I gravitated due to our shared interests and similar educational backgrounds. It was a very life-giving and fulfilling experience for me. This individual was my favorite colleague. That's right. I had a favorite. I'm human.

Not so, this time around. I have no favorites among my new cohort. None. Not a single one of them that I like better than the others. There hasn't been much bonding and I wonder if it has something to do with proximity. But, maybe it's just personalities. I don't know.

What I do know is that one of my colleagues inspires compassionate mourning in me whenever they talk of their relationship with their spouse. They are in love and hold one another dear and are deeply committed to one another with an unbreakable bond. Even if they don't like each other very much at the present moment.

But all of the stories my colleague shares about their marriage are painful. "I was telling my spouse last night about today's assignment," my colleague will say, "and they told me 'cut it down; no one wants to hear all that; why would you share that?'" "I told my spouse last night about how I planned to proceed with this assignment," my colleague will say, "and they told me 'You're doing it wrong. What makes you think anyone needs that much information about your life's journey? No one cares!'" "I told my spouse about this experience and they grew angry with me and yelled at me because I'm sharing this experience with you and not with them," my colleague will say.

As one person on the outside of their relationship hearing only one perspective, I have a necessarily limited view. I recognize that. I also recognize, though, that the things people share with us in our most intimate exchanges are often the things that matter most to them. And when my colleague shares about their relationship with their spouse, my colleague shares about how they are consistently verbally and emotionally belittled and invalidated for who they are.

Constant, on-going, pervasive rejection of their self.

It makes me sad. I want to ask, "Don't you realize that this is abusive? Is there a reason you're staying or a reason you're not working on this?"

But my colleague also shares this in these moments of grief: "My spouse is jealous for me. And it makes me realize how jealous God is for us and I think that's just the most beautiful picture of God's love for us."

Then, I want to throw up.

And I am grateful that I escaped such dangerous and abusive theologies. And I can only hope the same for my colleague.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Spiritually Homeless

It's a burden that's been weighing on me heavily this past month. A loss that went unrecognized by many and other losses that went unrecognized by all, including me.

When I started my summer unit of CPE, I wasn't particularly excited. I was overwhelmed and terrified and fully expected to fail. Horribly. Again.

And then it went on and it felt right and I was confident in my place and comfortable with my role and I knew that I was in the right place because I could effectively evaluate the results of my work and they were good enough (though my supervisor recently told me that my "good enough" surpasses anyone else's "excellent"). I became excited and began to plan for the future.

But as the summer moved ahead, I grew frustrated and angry and felt lost. I was grieving. I was grieving the loss of the one person I wanted to be at my CPE graduation more than any other. The one person who was supposed to be there but couldn't be. And oh, how I appreciated those who did join me on that day or who celebrated from afar, yet it was his absence that hurt, deep in my marrow.

Once I realized I was grieving, the anxiety and frustration and anger disappeared. "Ah...." I said. "Hello, old friend. So, you're back. Welcome."

And grief and loss and I communed in the space of love and acceptance that I'm working really hard to build inside of myself.

Then, though I was exhausted and overwhelmed and not quite ready (because if you've taken CPE, you know, a week off is just not enough), I started my residency ten days later.

I was delighted to learn at the end of that first week that I had gotten my first choice in clinical placement for the first unit. Wahoo! The mentor I had hoped for was the mentor I wanted. To be honest, I wasn't clear initially why I wanted this mentor, only that I knew I had something to learn that only this one could teach me.

On my first day I asked about my mentor's level of comfort working with someone from a faith tradition that is radically different from their own. I was born and raised UCC; my mentor is from the Evangelical Free tradition. My mentor said they knew this question would come up and there was no point avoiding the elephant in the room and shared a bit of their view on working collaboratively in patient care. I asked how they had developed this viewpoint and they indicated their own time in CPE as they sought to become a Board Certified Chaplain.

I was surprised by a number of things in this conversation - the first that my supervisor seems to believe that my faith is as radically different from theirs as one can get; second that my supervisor seemed to think my question was addressing some awkwardness in the realities of our theological differences; third that my supervisor left no space for me to respond; and fourth that I went home and cried. A lot. Because I came to understand another dimension of my loss.

While it is true that the UCC is denominationally extremely liberal, it is also the case that being congregational in structure, one is likely to get anything from liberal-we-barely-acknowledge-Jesus-and-may-as-well-be-UU to plenary-verbal-inspiration-women-don't-belong-behind-the-pulpit-and-gays-can-worship-somewhere-else if one simply pops into a random UCC church on any given Sunday.

I grew up somewhere between the two extremes, but certainly far closer to the second than anything that could even be defined as the radical middle.

During college, grad school (the first round) and immediate following (the first round) and before (the second round) of grad school, I attended a couple of varieties of Evangelical churches, pending on where I was at in the country at the time. And I deeply loved all of them.


Until Tim died and his death, which followed several other traumatic losses in the course of a couple of months, undid me.

Until I was grieving.

Until I was aching and desperate and lost and confused and clinging to Jesus but asking, "Why?"

Until I was told over and over and over again that I shouldn't be grieving because....

Because I had only known Tim a short time.

Because if I just had faith.

Because Jesus.

And it was invalidating and shaming to be told that my grief was unacceptable and indicated some moral or theological failing within myself to be deeply grieved that the first person in my life ever to love me (as I experienced it) unconditionally had died instantly.

And the problem was, it wasn't just some of the people I shared my grief with in the Evangelical church; it was all of the people I shared my grief with in the Evangelical church.

Though I had been raised UCC, I had fallen deeply in love with Jesus in the Evangelical church, and I never had any plans to leave it.

But my grief was not welcome. My heartache was not welcome. My anger with God was not welcome. My disappointment in Jesus was not welcome.

And as I experienced it, if any part of a person is not welcome, the whole of the person is rejected.

So, I lost this community that had been the foundational influence in the growth of my faith in God and my love of Jesus for over a third of my lifetime.

I left the faith that had rejected the wounded and broken parts of me and I returned to the UCC where my grief was accepted, where my pain was acknowledged, where my anger and disappointment and frustration were affirmed. In some places. With some people. At some times.

And I still grieve. And I still feel anger and frustration and disappointment and untenable anxiety until I can identify the grief.

While I feel that people ought to be accepted exactly where they are at, just as they are, I do not feel the same holds true for theologies. And just as I would call out people on their behavior that is harmful or damaging to other people, I believe in calling out theological positions that are harmful or damaging to people.

So, while I dearly love my evangelical and conservative Christian friends, I love parts of their belief systems and I utterly despise other parts of their belief system (and I suspect this confuses and frustrates a LOT of them).

But a lot of this blog post is just sort of there and it's a very long way to say that I feel spiritually homeless at present. I go to Temple on Fridays and I miss Jesus. I go to church on Sundays and I do not like the Jesus they have to offer. (Because it's the same Jesus who utterly failed me when Tim died).

And so I grieve.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Thoughts on the Duggar News

It was big news on social media and internet news sites - it has recently come to light that the eldest Duggar child molested four of his sisters and another young girl when he was 14 years old.

The responses have ranged from moral outrage and demands, now realized, for TLC to cancel their show, to finger pointing with shouts of "Hypocrite", to exasperation that such a fuss is being made over a mistake made so long ago, to a presidential candidate expressing his support for the family at a time when the Duggars are being attacked by the blood-thirsty media.

I don't think any of them are wrong.

Should TLC continue to air the show? I've never watched it nor do I follow the Duggars. I think it would be morally irresponsible to continue the show without addressing the realities of child sexual abuse and its aftermath. Doing so might make obvious who Josh Duggars victims are and they may not want that known.

I don't watch cable, but to a large extent, from what I've read about the types of shows TLC produces, it's not a network that should be taking on any kind of educational or advocacy role regarding childhood sexual abuse in general.

For these reasons alone, and myriad others, canceling the show was the best decision on TLCs part.

Is Josh Duggar a hypocrite? He's certainly made a name and a substantial living for himself lobbying against civil rights while pointing the finger at homosexuals as a "danger to children" while not disclosing the fact that he was at one time sexually abusing children.

But, frankly, I think hypocrisy is part of the human condition. Josh Duggar just got caught being hypocritical on a HUGE issue that affects the lives of millions of children the world over and will continue to affect their lives in many ways for years to come.

Should presidential candidates be weighing in on this issue? It might be wiser if they didn't. Is Josh Duggar being attacked by blood thirsty media? Eh. Maybe. Maybe not. Most of what I've seen in the media is an honest account of what was done and how it was handled by the family and law enforcement and how it became public. The media seems to be relatively fair and balanced in this. Every news report I read from every news source I used (from cnn to huffpo to fox) reported the same basic facts in the same basic neutral tone.

The attacks largely seem to be coming from news readers commenting on the stories both on news websites as well as on social media. And for every attack against Josh Duggar, there seems to be support for him as well, calling out the liberal dems who, from one comment made, would apparently be praising Josh if he were gay and had molested his brothers instead. (Seriously, who honestly fucking believes that?)

Josh Duggar chose to live in the spotlight in a time and in a culture where no secret that involves a paper trail is ever safe from exposure. He had to have known that this outcome was not only possible, but incredibly likely, when the Duggars began their reality tv show, at a time when Josh was already 20 years old and could have opted not to be a part of the show, could have chosen out of the limelight. He didn't and his life became open to public scrutiny. He invited the American public into his life.

The reactions I find most interesting and disturbing is the jump to defending him and discounting his actions - "he was only 14," "he got help," (we can neither confirm nor deny the promise that) "he stopped," "he's apologized," "he's asked forgiveness." "At what point do we forgive people and let them move on with their lives?"

I believe in forgiveness. I believe in redemption. I believe in sanctification. And yes, Josh Duggar is forgiven by God for his sins. That's the forgiveness that matters.

But he wasn't "only 14." He was a 14 year old boy who sexually molested four of his younger sisters and another underage female known to the family. Though the police report released by InTouch magazine is heavily redacted such that the names of his victims remain unknown, his next four younger sisters would have been between eight and twelve years old.

This was not sexual exploration between two young siblings who wanted to know what the body of the "other sex" looked like. It was the repeated victimization of much younger children at the hands of their adolescent brother.

Josh Duggar clearly knew what he was doing was wrong. He waited until other family members were asleep and only when sure he would not be caught, Josh Duggar proceeded to repeatedly sexually abuse his younger sisters and an underage female known to the family.

Josh Duggar did, according to his statements and the statements of his father, get help. He was sent away for a period of time to receive therapy and do hard work. His mother's statement, however, clarifies that he was not sent to a therapeutic treatment center that helped him understand the nature of his actions and why they are inappropriate or how they harm others (a fact that stands today as made glaringly obvious by this statement to the press).

Rather, Josh was sent to the home a family friend who made Josh perform manual labor. Josh was given stern warnings, by a police officer known to the family, about what would happen if he didn't cease his behaviors. No official reports were filed and the family never followed up with the legal system in addressing the sexual abuse of four of their daughters by their eldest child. The same police officer who warned Josh about the path he was headed down is reported to be spending several years in prison for possession of child pornography.

Josh Duggar's apology to his victims may never be known. It was ostensibly made at least nine and as many as twelve years ago. But the damage he did is obvious in reading the police reports which indicate that at least one of his victims became visibly upset, burst into tears, and was offered a tissue by the investigation office when police did become involved four years after the incidents, at which time the statute of limitations was up and justice could not be obtained via legal channels.

The statement Josh Duggar made to press, and published exclusively by People magazine, however, makes clear that his actions and apologies were for himself alone. Yes, as Christians we're called to forgive. But we are also called to be accountable for our actions. Josh Duggar never in his statement accepts accountability for his actions. The words he uses do little to acknowledge the gravity of the crimes he committed.

Josh Duggar tells us that he "hurt others" and "if [he] continued down this wrong road [he] would end up ruining [his] life." Absent is any mention of the reality of what he did. He didn't "hurt others." He repeatedly sexually abused his younger sisters and another underage female known to the family. Josh Duggar perpetrated incestuous sexual violence against people younger and less powerful than himself.

Additionally, he makes clear that he stopped not because he recognized the extraordinary damage done to victims of sexual violence, but rather that, having been caught, he was concerned first and only about his own life and what would happen if he were caught again.

Finally, his family's response is a clear indication that the church needs to do a better job of addressing issues of sexual abuse. And the church needs to start by those familiar with and speaking in the midst of such situations naming the abuse for what it is.

Josh Duggar may have "humbled himself before God" as his wife claims, but he certainly didn't humble himself before "those whom he offended." Josh Duggar didn't "offend" four of his younger sisters and another underage female known to his family when he was fourteen. Josh Duggar SEXUALLY ABUSED four of his younger sisters and another underage female known to his family.

By failing to call Josh Duggar's action what they were, Josh Duggar is given implicit permission to continue minimizing his actions and denying the consequences in the lives of his victims.

Josh Duggar (ostensibly) stopped sexually violating his sisters and family friends when his abuse came to light and he no longer felt safe continuing in his behaviors. But what of the safety of his victims, four of whom remained living under the same roof as their abuser until he moved out and whom he continues to see on a regular basis?

And now that these revelations have forced Josh Duggar to leave his position with the Family Research Council and for TLC to cancel the show, how long until the Duggars fade from the limelight?

And with young daughters under his own roof, how long until Josh Duggar feels safe to begin sexually abusing family members once again?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Loving From a Place of Privilege

1 John 4:7-21


One of the most significant challenges in preaching is taking a text that is 2,000 years removed from us and finding a way to talk about it so that it comes alive and is found to be relevant to the audience. The importance of who we are and what we do as Christians extends far beyond the hour we warm pews on a Sunday morning. It is nice, certainly, to attend a service once a week and hear the feel-good, not-so-fresh, “news” that God loves us. And love is clearly a repetitive idea in this morning’s 1 John passage.

The word “love,” or some derivation thereof, appears in our passage 29 times this morning. Twenty-nine times! That’s almost two times per verse. “Let us love one another,” “love is from God,” “God first loved us,” “God is love.”

The central point of this passage, however, is much deeper and far more significant than the warm rush of joy that often accompanies being told that one is loved. The central point of this passage is that “we have known and believe the love that God has for us.” The word “know” in this context is about more than an intellectual understanding; it means to recognize, perceive, or realize. It means that the love of God for us has been made real, experiential.

It reminds me of the time that my partner first told me that he loves me. Of course, my heart sped up a little, and my cheeks got warm as I glowed with joy and delight at hearing him profess his love. But the words had substance and were made more significant by the fact that I had already experienced his love for me - in the way he cares for me when we’re together, offers comfort when I’m anxious or sad, takes my dietary needs into account, is mindful and intentional in the way he communicates.

We know the love of God for us, not merely by words that profess God’s love for us, but rather by the realized experience of that love. The love of God for us was made real for us in the life of Jesus and his sacrificial atonement for our sins.

Atonement, in this context, means the reconciliation between God and humans; and sin is the very real issue of social and systemic injustice perpetuated by the wealthy and powerful elite - systems of oppression and injustice that still operate today.

In and through his life, Jesus exemplified the reality of God’s love for the least, over and against these systems which seek to vilify, invalidate, oppress, and destroy the “other.” God’s love was made real by a humble man who lived a life of service to others, seeking to call out injustice wherever he saw it, and who ultimately sacrificed his own life by standing for what was right, rather than cowering in fear on the day he was judged by the powers of this world.

To “believe the love that God has for us” means to be entrusted with that love. God’s love for us is not just something that we hear about, learn about, maybe experience in a rush of warmth and affection from time to time. It is a power with which we are entrusted. It is a gift abundantly given and a gift that we are expected to share.

Sharing the love of God means being in this world as Jesus is: standing against sin, fighting systems of oppression and injustice, speaking against these systems which seek to vilify, invalidate, oppress, and destroy those was are “other” than ourselves. And if we truly know - recognize, realize, experience - the love of God, we can do so without fear, because we know that at the end of all things, we stand on the side of justice, just as Jesus did, just as God does.

This does not mean, however, that such a feat will be easy. Love is about abiding - remaining with those who are oppressed.

Through the power of social media and 24 hour a day cable news-entertainment channels, we are more aware than ever of the oppressive abuses perpetuated by those in power. This has also led to a “slactivist” culture in which we can sooth our conscience, if we’re paying attention at all, by posting pithy remark of sensationalist headline on face book before our severely diminished attention span is redirected to the latest celebrity gossip or internet cat meme.

But abiding is about far more than pithy status updates on facebook or hashtags on twitter. Abiding is about a sustained effort to understand, know, and to the extent that we are able, live into the experiences of the oppressed. It is about hearing their stories and validating their experiences. It is about recognizing our own role in a system that privileges a few at the expense of the masses and continually working to change these unjust systems.

Loving others is not a sprint, a short burst of concerted effort, and where we all go home at the end of the day feeling refreshed and self-congratulatory that our voice maybe made an impact, helped bring about a change. While using our voice from a place of privilege to challenge systems of injustice is vital and necessary, loving others is about being in it for the long-haul. It’s about paying attention and being present to the daily lived reality of millions of people who are different from us, who do not share in our privilege.

Privilege is a result of one group oppressing another; privilege is the ability to deny the experiences of the oppressed because they are not the personal experiences of the privileged. Being part of a group with privilege, however, grants us enormous power to love the oppressed, and in so doing, make tangible the very real love of God for the world.

We can enact the love of God entrusted to us through creating space for the voices of the oppressed to be heard; abiding with them, hearing and participating in their stories; affirming their experiences without judgment, offense, or defense of our own.

In so doing, perhaps we can make real the prayer of the traditional African American spiritual:

Guide my feet, Lord, while I run this race,
Guide my feet, Lord, while I run this race,
Guide my feet, Lord, while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Personal Piety as a Bedrock of Oppression

Exodus 20:1-17
John 2:13-22


Those who forget history are destined to repeat it.

There is a trend in the church, in the last one hundred years or so, to focus on one's personal relationship with God, to memorizes verses of scripture, and to take single phrases or sentences or promises completely out of context.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. If memorizing Jeremiah 29:11 ("For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not to harm you....") is of comfort and gets someone through a rough patch in life, it's a lovely thing. Faith should be a source of strength. Faith should carry us through the hard times.

But if that's the farthest faith takes us, there's a problem.

The issue of divorcing scriptures from their context prevents us from understanding the wider social issues the scriptures were intended to address when they were written, and in so doing, can prevent us from understanding how those same scriptures can address wider social issues today.

The reality is that everyone subscribes to a method of biblical interpretation - a particular lens through which they read the bible. I'll be honest about mine - I read the bible, by and large, through a lens focused on social justice. This is in part because social justice is generally important to me and in part because it's an overriding theme of the text, whether you approach it with this view in mind or not.

A funny thing happens when we approach the lectionary texts for today from a social justice perspective - these two seemingly unrelated texts begin to make sense as a pair. Furthermore, the issues inherent in personalizing texts out of context become clear.

When we read the Ten Commandments as personal mandates, a couple of interesting things begin to happen:

First, we divorce the entire list from the context in which it was given - an entire people group, a nation, a whole culture has been delivered from slavery and oppression and is given a new way to live in the world, as a collective, as a group who are going to be held accountable to these laws.

While it is certainly a good thing to be mindful of our personal idols - the things we love more than we as individuals love God and God's people - and while I would certainly never suggest that honoring one's parents isn't, generally speaking, a wise course of action, the simple fact is that this is profoundly different from and has gravely difference consequences than reading this text as a collective - being mindful as a culture of what our community loves more than God and God's people, forgetting where our ancestors came from and how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt.

There is a world of difference between actively seeking as individual not to covet your neighbor's wife or servant or ox or donkey and actively seeking as a community not to covet the systems of oppression rampant in the neighboring nation that allows them to amass grotesque wealth at the expense of the poor, which subjugates women and makes them property of men, which enslaves people for the purpose of benefiting the few in power.

Reading the Ten Commandments as mores for the collective, rather than rules for the individual, allows us to keep them in the context of a nation that was just delivered from those same oppressive and abusive systems of injustice. God delivered the Israelite people from that system and then tells them "Yes, change is hard, but don't go getting nostalgic for the very injustice I just delivered you from."

Those who forget history are destined to repeat it.

Second, reading the Ten Commandments as personal rather than political allows us to focus on the letter of the law rather than spirit or heart of the law and in doing so, we begin to engage in the process of "othering." In taking the commands as personal dictates, we begin to compare ourselves to our friends and neighbors, setting ourselves apart as better than, and creating in groups and out groups.

What starts as a small matter of personal pride can quickly devolve into systemic injustice and oppression of entire groups of people as an in group seeks to gain or maintain wealth and power at the expense of the out group(s). The law, rather unifying a group, instead drives a wedge between them. Rather than bringing a community closer to God, creates roadblocks for the least of these, and even separates those in power from God as well.

The problem with systems of oppression and injustice is that while the view might look good from the top of the pile, in dehumanizing others so that we can justify our acts of oppression, we inherently dehumanize ourselves in the process.

Divorcing the scriptures from their context, holding to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the, creating in groups and out groups, using the law to solidify unjust systems of oppression is a perpetual reality.

We see this time and time and time again.

We see this when Jesus comes on the scene in John 2. Jesus shows up at the Temple during Passover, a time when the Jews celebrate their delivery from slavery in Egypt, a time when Jews remember and honor the sacrifice of their ancestors, a time when the recall the faithfulness of God in delivering their community from an unjust system of oppression.

What Jesus finds when he arrives at the Temple is the very definition of irony.

Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. The Temple system, which had been intended to keep the culture accountable, to protect the weak, the widow, the orphan and the poor, and to aid the culture in maintaining their relationship with God and with each other, has been turned into a system of oppression.

The Temple became a system in which the “haves” ruled over and against the “have nots.” The wealthy and powerful used their position as the in group to penalize the weak and poor. In othering the least, the in group found new ways to oppress and enslave the out group.

Part of Temple worship included animal sacrifice. The rules for sacrifice were laid out in the Hebrew bible. Animals set aside for sacrifice had to meet certain standards in order to be acceptable. This goes back to notion of giving God your best - choosing the most perfect cow, sheep or dove as the offering to God.

Those who had wealth and power in the Temple, however, began inspecting these sacrificial offerings and over time began insisting that the animals brought on long journeys were not fit for sacrifice. This put them in a position of demanding that more fit animals be purchased from them, at a premium of course.

For their part, the money changers had determined that coins bearing the visage of Caesar was tantamount to making an idol. They declared that these could not be used to purchase the animals required for sacrifice. Instead, they insisted that worshipers exchange such currency for Temple gold, at an exorbitant rate of exchange.

Is it any wonder that Jesus responded with anger and violence when he saw that many of the priests and pharisees appeared to see some worshipers, especially those who live in the predominantly poor outlying areas, less as faithful congregants to be protected and aided in worship than as potential sinners and sources of revenue?

There is much to be lost when we treat faith as a personal issue only and fail to consider the wider social implications inherent in texts written to a community for the purpose of building and maintaining a more just community. Treating faith as a personal issue only, without also engaging in faith within community, leads to an in-group/out-group, us/them mentality in which we seek to elevate ourselves above others, which in turn allows us to be blind to our own privileges and societal sin. This kind of thinking has always and will always lead to dehumanizing and oppressing entire people groups for the sake of maintaining the status quo.

Those who forget history are destined to repeat it.

Where are we, collectively, forgetting history today? And how are we repeating it?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

GF Lemon Blueberry Pancakes

I love pancakes.

I do not eat them often, but they're one of my favorite breakfast foods. Right up there with scrambled eggs with ham, chihuahua cheese and green chili sauce; scrambled eggs with ham, goat cheese and chives; scrambled eggs with ham, cheddar and sriracha; Eggs Benedict; D's waffles and fried ham; scrambled eggs with any assortment of tasty things and potatoes fried in duck fat.

Okay, so the truth is, I actually just LOVE breakfast foods. And D does scrambled eggs SO WELL. And he makes amazing waffles. And we collaborate weekly on Eggs Benedict because I'm good with tempering things and he's good at poaching things.

But his birthday was earlier this week, so I wanted to make him breakfast and I wanted it to be something I thought he'd really enjoy.

Since I know his love of all things lemon, and since I know he likes blueberries, I decided I'd have to find a way to make gluten-free lemon blueberry pancakes.

As the company whose gf all purpose flour blend I like best seems to no longer make gf all purpose flour, and as I can no longer find their pancake and waffle recipe to use as a baseline for using a different flour, I had to go a different route.

So, I visited another site that I've good luck with and decided to modify this recipe as follows:

GF Lemon Blueberry Pancakes:

  • 140 g white rice flour
  • 50 g potato starch (the original called for 47 and I spooned it in too quickly and couldn't retrieve the extra)
  • 23 g tapioca starch
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup vanilla sugar (talk to AB about this one)
  • 5 tablespoons butter flavored Crisco (don't judge me), melted and cooled
  • zest of one lemon
  • juice of 1/2 lemon mixed with enough whole milk to make 1 1/2 cups fluid
  • 1 large egg slightly beaten
  • fresh blueberries
  1. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the wet ingredients and whisk to fully combine.
  2. Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat until hot. Lube the skillet with a little oil.
  3. Pour batter into skillet, about 1/3 of a cup per cake.
  4. Sprinkle 7-10 blueberries in each cake.
  5. Cook until the cake is bubbly and the edges have become noticeably dry.
  6. Flip the cake and cook the other side until it stops emitting steam.
This recipe makes approximately 8 good sized pancakes. Enough for 4 people (technically), but who really wants to eat leftover pancakes? And who wants to risk the batter going funky in the fridge overnight?

Nope, as their were just 2 of us at the table this morning, that made for 4 pancakes a piece. Pure bliss.

Next time I might cut back on the sugar and increase the lemon. Just to see how it goes.