Building a community

I’ve been thinking about Janelle’s post last week and a conversation I had with a friend at church yesterday. “Jake” (not his real name) is most often in a wheelchair. He can walk short distances with one leg braced but it is painful and on some days unbearable. He has thousands of small tumors all over his body. It makes him sit awkwardly at times and his muscles are not as strong as they should be for a young man his age.

He told me that my daughter came over and asked about his leg brace. She asked, “why is that on your leg?” He responded, “So I can walk”. She then showed her Sunday School craft to him. A seemingly mundane interchange but here is what he then said to me.

“She wasn’t freaked out. It was really weird, and nice. Usually kids… people don’t even stop to talk to me. She did. She asked about me then showed the craft she made to me.”

Jake and I went on to have a conversation about how so many people ‘see’ him but don’t know what to say, so they say nothing. Or worse, talk to him like he’s a child. He said that when he is in his chair, people speak really loud like he’s deaf. Still others look right over him or past him. They are so afraid of offending him that they’d rather ignore him. It leaves him isolated and not in conversations nearly as often as he’d like.

And then there’s Jesus. Jesus speaks to those who everyone else looks over, past, or through, or flat out ignores. Jesus doesn’t seem to be afraid of offending. In fact, he engages, challenges, and invites all people into conversation.

Perhaps Janelle’s invitation for conversation on a variety of topics begins in actually engaging the people and communities most impacted. Engaging neither in fear nor with a colonialist approach. Engaging while In a posture of learning, friendship, and with the belief that we all have something to offer. We may need to confront biases and prejudices in our own lives, name them, own them, and ask for help changing them. And however difficult, we need to engage in those awkward, messy, difficult conversations.

I imagine Jesus rolling his eyes… a lot. And at lots of things. But this one in particular. How is it that so many adults get wrong what a child gets so right? Somewhere along the way, children learn to politely ignore the disabled community and to give wide swath to those of different races or ethnicities or religions or political views. And we call this being polite.

But, it is incumbent upon those who want to follow Jesus to unlearn these things.

I hope my girls never stop reaching out to others, to those with disabilities (whether the disability shows and not), to build relationships with people unlike themselves, to get to know people genuinely and share genuinely about themselves. Last time I checked, that’s the beginning of building community.

White Privilege, Poverty, and Mental Health

Today I’m sharing a GUEST BLOG POST by my friend, Janelle Junkin

by Janelle Junkin, MA, MT-BC

Even as sit down to write, I wonder if what I have to say is even worth saying and then the many faces that I have worked with over the years float through my mind like a tapestry to remind me that their stories are important and need to be told.

This last year has seen an increase in conversation about the issues of mental health in this country, especially related to gun violence. As I listen to these conversations, it became clear that people are having the wrong conversations: the question is not why didn’t “these people” seek help, but, in my opinion, what is happening in our society that is contributing to the mental health needs of our citizens? Once the question is re-formed, the opportunity for real dialogue, change and healing can begin.

Recently, I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg about the role of women in business; I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. However, as I read the book, I realized that while I had no problem identifying with her description of women and the struggles we have and the pressures put on us by society, I realized that I am white woman (I did know this before reading the book) and that I am the audience that this book is directed at. So, while it was an excellent read for me, it is lacking in any understanding or acknowledgement that the gender inequality of women goes much deeper for women of color.

As I realized that this book is lacking in the discussion related to women of color, I began to reflect more on the discussion related to mental health and violence and the lack of understanding related to gender and race: we are only discussing mental health, I believe, because it is white men committing the mass acts of violence. Having worked in the mental health field with those in poverty, mostly African American and Hispanic, I know that the conversation about mental health and violence would not be present if it was a person of color committing these atrocities and, I suspect, it would be a wholly different conversation if it were a woman.

Reading the book has re-engaged me in reflecting on poverty, violence and mental health. Inequality has so many faces and manifestations. While I acknowledge that there is gender inequality, I also recognize that there is inequality within gender based upon socio-economic status and race. Conversations about mental health are often tilted, negatively, towards those of lower socio-economic status and race; there seems to be little regard for the mental health concerns, instead it is a condemnation of “those people” and a willingness to label them with a diagnosis. However, the conversation takes a considerably different tone when it is people of a higher socio-economic status and who identify as white; here the conversation is the need for increased assistance for the families and willingness to create some type of dialogue about the role of mental health needs. I have to ask myself about the unintended consequences of such a discrepancy in the understanding and discussion of mental health needs for people of all socio-economic statuses and races. Truly, I believe that this stilted conversations, labeling and lack of understanding contribute to the myriad of mental health needs in this country. Poverty, inequality, violence, and mental health are uncomfortable, often murky conversations that do not tend to have black and white answers. For this reason, so called experts and critics of mental health often seek an easy answer, a way to categorize others without fully understanding or addressing the real issues at hand: fear, poverty, entitlement, and lack of options, lack of education, and lack of support within communities.

Until we, as a nation, are willing to enter into these murky conversations and, truly sit in them, true healing and change is going to difficult to achieve not only in the suburbs, but in our cities and rural communities, too.

Janelle Junkin

Janelle Junkin

Janelle is a board certified music therapist practicing in Philadelphia, PA; she works with children, youth and families. She is currently pursuing her PhD in International Psychology. She is an active member and youth leader at Oxford Circle Mennonite Church.

PSA for youth workers- Generation Like

Snapshot 3:25:14 6:10 AM

Finally! Douglas Rushkoff does it again. He offers a clear, engaging glimpse into the lives of teenagers that every youth pastor, parent and ministerial person who cares about teens should see.

A decade ago he gave Merchants of Cool to us. This has been used in youth ministry classes, theology and pop culture classes, workshops and referenced far and wide. As much fun as it is to laugh at the hair and clothes at this point, the categories covered make watching it today more than worth your time.

In case you missed it, a month ago, Generation Like was aired on PBS Frontline. Anyone who has had me in class knows I am a fan of PBS Frontline. While we once had to wait for the content, it is already available. So grab a cup of coffee, get comfy and you can legitimately watch a video for an hour an call it work. (If you’ve never seen Merchants of Cool, you get to watch 2 hours and call it work!)

Phyllis Tickle is 80!!

Phyllis Tickle Is 80

Every once in a while the realization hits that you are actually witnessing something or someone who is paradigm shifting for your life. Births, finding a calling, a friend on the playground who becomes a friend for life, a teacher who opens your eyes to possibility, a first date with a spouse, or the death of loved ones. All of these fall into that category. Even less frequently is the realization that there is something or someone who is paradigm shifting far beyond your own personal life.

Phyllis Tickle has been that for me and for countless others. Today is her 80th Birthday! In true Phyllis Tickle fashion, she would be both stunned that so many people care, and delighted. She is not so vain as to demand or call for attention, and not so falsely insecure that she would make anyone feel bad for celebrating. In fact, she so enjoys a celebration that to be in her presence is often a party itself. She loves life. She authentically enjoys people. She has modeled what it is to be both a woman of God and a real life woman, loving her family, church, and career. She has done so with grace.

I am often asked about recommendations for reading. In particular, I am asked about women. While there are many from which to choose, there are few so thought provoking and accessible. She is that rare writer who is both. In her writings, she invites you into conversation in ways that many authors cannot. In fact, this is characteristic of her in all areas. I have met and spoken with her twice. The first time including a lengthy conversation with Phyllis and my friend, Will Penner, years ago. The second time was this past January in a much more brief fashion at C21. In both settings, she was generous with her time, warm, and engaged. As much as she has wisdom to share, she opens space for others to do share, too. She has done this repeatedly in her life not only influencing others but encouraging generations behind her. Her faith is not one that bemoans change or decries the insights of the young. It is one that tempers, that listens, and then joins as we all look to the now and not yet. Without neither fearfulness nor trepidation she skillfully names the realities of Christianity and the church that so many only sense or are fearful to breathe out loud. You can find these writings in her most recent books.

One final point of gratitude. She is a lay eucharistic minister in the Episcopal church. She is active in her church and is clearly creedal. Listen to her heart as she throws open the conversation to a wider audience. Here is what she has to say in her most recent book: “As Christians, many of us are increasingly surrounded by fellow Christians who aren’t ‘Christian’ in the old, traditional, creed-defined way– who, in other words and by their own admission, aren’t Christian in the old tried and true ways as those ways have been understood for almost two thousand years, or better as we understood them right up until about five or six decades ago. (p. 28-29)” Difficult to tell from one small quote, but what this means is that creedal or free church, traditional or emergent, she is a welcoming presence filled with wisdom allowing wildly divergent paths to come together in faith.

For those who are worn out on faith, who wonder if there is the possibility of longevity, who feel judged and long for conversation…I invite you today to celebrate today, not only the life of Phyllis but what she has done with her life. God receives the glory. It is we who receive the blessings from one portion of her life’s work.

Happy Birthday!

Jesus’ death is all about me (part 2)

In Turnov. Taken by Amy Jacober.

In Turnov. Taken by Amy Jacober.

“The life of Christ is just extra, it’s what He did on the cross that really matters.”

Is the life of Jesus really “just extra”? I am going to say a resounding NO! It is particularly fitting to talk about this during Lent. A season in which we consider our own mortality, in which we prepare for the passion season, where the long journey to the cross is the constant backdrop. It is however never the sole destination. Jesus does not remain on the cross. Which, by the way, does not diminish its significance.

In fact, it is in this season that we can read, talk about, have sermons on and focus on the life of Christ. Just what did Jesus do in the time between arriving to a very surprised teen mom and looking her in the eye from the cross? He cared for others, taught, went to parties, worked, spent time with family, left his family to spend time with others, reached out to those rejected by society, spoke harsh words to hypocrites and gentle words to  sinners, fed the hungry, rested, healed the sick made friends, broke gender barriers, broke socioeconomic barriers, broke ethnic barriers, extended hospitality, advocated for those in need, was more concerned about doing good than what people thought of Him, sought economic justice, sought justice, included the poor and the rich. It is in His life that we find life. It is in the very ways in which he taught, both directly and indirectly that we could learn what it means to honor God, to live according to His word. God Himself came not that we should believe rightly but that we could LIVE rightly. I would argue this reveals our beliefs.

So what do I do with a student who thinks that the death of Jesus on the cross is the only thing that matters? I follow the model of Jesus as he addressed and walked alongside others who held tightly to a dominating belief. These are not bad people. They are not the enemy. We get to imitate Christ which means at times being misunderstood, ignored or worse. Sometimes it looks like inviting someone for dinner, other times it looks like pointing out that there is more than they see. We get to learn how to do so because we have His life as a model. His life was not, is not and never will be extra.

In this lenten season, don’t move so quickly from Jesus’ birth to His death and resurrection, take time to notice His life!

 

The Jesus Gun giveaway

Kentucky Baptist Convention gives away guns  to lure new members. In fact, it goes so far as to say this for an outreach to rednecks. Amazing that they can be so offensive to so many people in such a short span of time. The jokes are almost too easy on a story like this. A few notes here…I did choose a link to FOX for the story so I don’t receive loads of comments about unfair treatment from “liberal media”.Even here it reads like they have lost touch with reality. For a slightly edgier look at the same story, check out What Would Jesus Shoot?  Both stories states this is for hunters…OK. But take this to the logical extreme and it seems like the KBC will be handing out all manner of interesting items just to grab the attention of those not in their churches. Way to be transformative…oh wait, I mean just the opposite.

I am aghast at reading this…even more that it isn’t satire, a joke or a hoax. It’s real people and this is one great reason why so many are confused by those of who claim to be followers of Jesus…you know, the Prince of Peace.

 

 

Lenten Pick up 1- Kids don’t want to be seen as different

Snapshot 3:6:14 10:20 AM

In the season of lent where the conversation circles around inclusion, around Jesus being included and Jesus including others…there is still a community often missing from youth groups. It is the community of teens and their families impacted by disabilities. What I now hear most often is that a youth pastor doesn’t want to harm or insult someone with a disability. Their response then becomes to ignore that person. I’ve got news for you, that is harmful! Option B seems

to be to point out just how “different” that teen is. And by different, what gets left unsaid is wrong or disruptive. Steve Grcevich addresses this beautifully here Kids don’t want to be seen as different. 

This lenten season, let the eyes of Christ be one of the things you pick up. Just like every other teenager wants to be included, so do those with disabilities.

What if Lent were more about what to pick up than give up?

Today is Ash Wednesday. I sat in my daughter’s preschool service where family and friends were invited to participate with all the children. I loved the way this season was explained. The pastor did speak of sin but in such an age appropriate way. She talked of not being loving to others, to ourselves or to God then let the children articulate what “not being loving” looked like in their worlds. She then invited all the children to take this season not to give up anything. (They are after all in preschool, between being in control of very little and having the attention span of gnats I thought this a wise move). Instead, she invited them to be intentional about showing and telling others about Jesus.

Ash Wednesday marks 40 days of journeying toward Easter. It is a time to prepare our hearts, to reflect, offer thanksgiving and devoting ourselves to worship and service to God in His world. It’s a season to do a little spring cleaning spiritually and uncover, dust off and remember faith that has been laying dormant over the winter.

“From dust you have come, to dust you will return.” This is the phrase said as ashes are placed on our foreheads. It’s not an apocalyptic decree. It’s a statement. A reminder. It’s also a declaration of the fragility of the time in between birth and death. We live with dust all around. The dust of lives burned to the ground. The dust of rubble in a city. The dust created when new construction takes place. The dust that accumulates when we become too busy to pay attention to the corners of our rooms and our lives. It’s there, but it also offers an invitation for transformation. Where there is dust and destruction, there is an opportunity for even the smallest changes to brighten a space. Take a deep breath, slow down, don’t cut someone off on the road, laugh instead of yell when your kid does something annoying, pray, help someone else. Whatever dusting your life off looks like, make it matter in this world. Allow lent to be a time where you pick something up that draws you closer to Christ, that brightens a space allowing others around you to also see Jesus. And while you are at it, look for the ways Jesus breaks in changing you as we all journey toward Easter.

For some people, Ash Wednesday and Lent have “always” been a part of your tradition. For other faithful Christians, this part of the church calendar is new to them. And still others are hearing about it for the first time. Welcome, glad you’re here. We all belong. Glad we are all together.

 

 

 

Jesus’ death is all about me (part 1)

In Turnov. Taken by Amy Jacober.

Christ on the Cross, Turnov

“The life of Christ is just extra, it’s what He did on the cross that really matters.”

This is what a graduate student said…out loud…in class to me earlier this year. I hardly knew how to respond and thought that, a) surely I misheard, or, b) surely he did not realize the implications of what he was saying.

Not only was I stunned that he said this, but also that only one student in the entire class seemed to have any problem with it. In fact, I began to listen closely for this idea, and it seems that, in class after class, this is where the students I’m encountering are landing. The problem with this idea is that most aren’t thinking through the implications of what they are saying when they embrace death on the cross as the only meaningful action of God incarnate.

In that original encounter, I asked this student about the resurrection. Was the resurrection significant? Nope. He went on to say that we should focus more on the cross. The resurrection was just the natural progression of events since Jesus was deity. The real action was on the cross. This student honestly didn’t care if he knew anything else about Jesus, that this would be all he needed. He noted that while he was raised marginally within the church, he has recently come to learn that it was the crucifixion of Christ that allowed him the blessing of being a Christian. This newfound understanding perhaps contributes to his enthusiasm for this idea, but in no way explains the short-sited adherence to a crucifixion-only theology.

Probing again, I tried asking about the passion week, the Lord’s Supper, the tradition of the via dolorosa, even Jesus’ statements from the cross, anything else. He was adamant. It was the death of Jesus on the cross, and only the death of Jesus on the cross that mattered. The rest are nice stories that offer insights, but all point back to this one moment. Breath to no breath. Life to the absence of life. Presence to absence.

He spoke of his great desire to share this “good news,” that Jesus died for others. In fact, he said that a crucifixion-only theology could encompass all evangelism and apologetics. It was merely about the intellectual acceptance of the significance of the crucifixion. It was all about doctrine and believing this one point. The rest, from his perspective, didn’t matter.

But why hang your hat here? What was the rationale or motivation to ignore the larger context of Jesus’ death and resurrection, life, or incarnation?

Here’s my theory. This crucifixion-only theology allowed this student to focus on and elevate the notion of what he received (or receives) in this encounter. By Jesus’ death, our sins are forgiven. That is the story we’ve shared with one another. And it is true. But in this sound-byte culture, the rest of the meme gets lost.

So everything becomes about how one’s sins are forgiven and we are released into a life of freedom. The crucifixion becomes a personal catharsis. Where I leave my baggage behind. This is the good news the student shares. Come to Jesus. Leave your baggage. And go on your merry way.

Without the resurrection, or at least the insistence of the resurrection’s significance, there is no awareness of the reconciliation of humanity to God. No awareness of our need for ongoing discipleship. No awareness of my need, and privilege, to grow closer to the Creator of the Universe, the great and power and personal God.

A crucifixion-only theology places the emphasis on the bill that is paid. Jesus covered the cost, and so I no longer have to. A crucifixion-only theology is really about me and what I get. It is an intellectual assent to yet another idea that I can consume.

God sent his Son in order to reconcile humanity to himself. As such, I get to enter into relationship with God with a clean slate. Yes, Jesus paid the cost for my sins so to speak. But that is the beginning of the story. Not the end.

I’ve just got way too much anabaptist in me to be OK with anyone saying the life of Jesus doesn’t matter, but that will come in the second half of this post later this week.

Was a non-descript clone really God’s idea?

Snapshot 2:26:14 1:54 PM

Can you be a Christian and…

This seems to be a dominant conversation in my world. Almost every twenty or thirty-something I know is asking this.

I had a a young woman meet with me last week. Her biggest concern…can she be a feminist and a Christian? As we talked it was more can I be a feminist and part of a church? part of a Christian community? Everything she was reading in the Bible was setting her free. Everything she learned about Jesus brought life to her. She also has a group of friends who equated Christianity with Jesus and they let her know in no uncertain terms that Christianity was just a ruse for male domination. For men being in charge and stating why women were inferior. She didn’t see that in scripture. She doesn’t see that yet she was afraid to ask anyone in church. AFRAID! She was afraid this beautiful, loving, guiding, convicting, embracing voice of Jesus would be taken from her if she dared to ask questions. She both desperately wants to belong, to be in conversations, to grow in faith and is scared to death of finding out that what her feminist non-Christian friends have said might be true. We talked for a long time. We talked of the amazing creativity and openness of Jesus. We then talked of the struggle to be a Christian and…

Navajo

Divorced

Homosexual

Not in ministry (and don’t want to be)

In the military

A stay at home parent

A mom who doesn’t stay at home

Smart

Into science

Everything I listed above is from a similar conversation I have had in the last twelve months with someone about being a Christian and…

Seems for many people there is always someone telling them who is in and who is out. For most of the people with whom I talk, they’d like to be in. In fact they are reading the Bible, seeking Jesus, praying…and then they tell me why they have been excluded. It’s really confusing. They are facing toward Jesus, walking ever closer and yet are told why there is some barrier that they can never overcome unless they become other than what they are.  Paul Hiebert famously wrote of this years ago in a conversation on bounded sets and centered sets. In short, one why of deciding who is in is by a strict boundary, the other way is by who is seeking Christ.

The passage that is most often quoted when we talk about this inability to be Christian and is Galatians 3:28. Pete Rollins says Galatians 3:28 “is not an expression of both/and in which we retain our identity when located in a new community of believers, but rather a neither/nor where we put aside those identities…Some worry that such an idea does violence to our particularity. But far from  trying to pull back from the violence of this verse, perhaps we need to affirm it all the more strongly…” (Church in the Present Tense, p. 23, 25) In all fairness, I think Rollins was actually trying to widen the realm of possibilities for people to become “other” as transformation in Christ is experienced. His fatal flaw on this one point for me was in essentially pathologizing particularities. Just naming that he knows that is a criticism does not make it any less a valid critique.

So back to the young woman with whom I was meeting. Can she be a feminist and a Christian? I say yes. Just as I said yes to every other person with whom I have had this similar conversation. God never intended that we all be clones, looking, sounding and existing in one narrow model of what constitutes a Christian. Rollins names it, it is violence but not a violence to which we are to succumb. It is a violence from which we have been set free.

P.S. I did point her toward Sarah Bessey. What a fun conversation to let her know she is not alone on this journey!