Proximity and Violence

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Yesterday was the International Day of Peace. It’s been around since 1981 in case you missed it marked on your calendar. This is a day declared by the United Nations to be dedicated to world peace, in particular the absence of war and violence. International Justice Mission sent a petition around asking for signatures to urge the United Nations to protect those in poverty from violence. It’s as simple as this, those who are poor have less power and fewer resources and experience an inordinate rate of violence every day.

For Christians fighting poverty and violence should be a part of our every day existence. One way to do this is to move from proximity to embrace. I explain what I mean below in an excerpt from a paper I wrote for an upcoming conference. What it boils down to is this, we do violence to others when we think our not harming them personally is enough. We do violence to others when we refuse to listen or get to know anyone because we assume we already know their story. We do violence to others when we turn our heads and declare they don’t exist in our community because we don’t want to see them. We do violence when we settle for proximity instead of imitating Jesus and throwing our arms around others in embrace. It is difficult and it will change you. But isn’t that part of what Jesus has asked of us?

The conference is on Religion and Education in The Unmaking of Violence. While my paper focuses on disability, the principle is for everyone.

 

Embodied theology must also be lived out, requiring actual, real time interactions with one another. It must be more than creedal statements or vague declarations. The church needs more than proximity to those with disabilities for violence to be prevented. Arne Vetlesen argues, “there is no necessary correlation between human proximity and moral conduct…Proximity interacts with a number of factors; it does not by itself bring about, does not by itself account for, moral conduct or lack of it.”[1] We in the church must not only talk about including others, we must actually do so. Miroslav Volf discusses the inclusion of others at length in Exclusion and Embrace. As we seek to live an inclusive embodied theology we must understand “the will to give ourselves to others and ‘welcome’ them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity.”[2] Moving relationships from hypothetical declarations to proximity to embrace is a process but one necessary to unmake violence. Further, Volf assumes “that the struggle against deception, injustice, and violence is indispensable” as the will to embrace becomes a priority.[3]

The move from proximity to embrace establishes reciprocal relationships where those with disabilities aren’t just tolerated but truly integrated.”

[1] Arne Johan Vetlesen, Perception, Empathy, and Judgment: an inquiry into the preconditions of moral performance, (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1994), 275.

[2] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 29.

[3] Volf, 29.

Talk about discrimination

lestinnocentbloodJust because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

I talk with youth workers all the time about inclusion. Inclusion is woven into our very jargon when we speak of the gospel being for everyone. What we say officially however does not always match functionally.

As Ferguson has permeated the news, conversations of racism have risen again. A tragic reason, and long overdue, but the conversations are needed. What I am hearing from many young (african american, asian, hispanic, native american and white) leaders is that they know racism exists but that it is not their battle or that they just don’t see it. I couldn’t make this up. As I proceed to name a few places where I see it with them, it is as if a veil is being lifted. And then the floodgate is opened. Frustration or anger often follows. They begin to realize that they had be so socialized to see something as “normal” that they didn’t even see it as discrimination.

I hear this same comment when I bring up including people with disabilities. “Oh, yes, that is important but we don’t have anyone with a disability in our youth group / church / school / community”.

I hear this same comment when talking about including women in leadership. “Oh, we don’t have any women who are interested / qualified / called”.

And again when I talk about the gospel and those with different gender or sex orientations. “Oh yes, that is a huge issue in The church, but not my church. We don’t have anyone identifying / struggling / living with any of those issues.”

Inclusion demands that we talk, openly about all of these possibilities. Inclusion demands that we talk long before we know someone with a disability or can identify racism. You will do it imperfectly, do it anyway. You will make mistakes, do it anyway. You will receive pushback, do it anyway.

One of my very favorite books is “Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed” by Philip Hallie. It is the story of a small village named Le Chambon in France during the Holocaust. In this village, conversations of peace making, of the gospel’s inclusion for all had been taking place for 400 years. Long before they knew that they would be put to the test, long before they dreamed they may have a chance to extend life to anyone…Jewish refugees and Nazi soldiers…they talked about inclusion. It will blow your mind to see what a difference their deep seeded beliefs made when faced with a real life situation.

We are late to the party. We don’t have the luxury of 400 years of history shaping us to push hard for inclusion of all, to work for peace, to fight discrimination for a variety of people. To be imitators of Jesus inviting all to the table with welcoming arms.

Late to the party however still means that the party is going on. It’s not over and indeed, in this case I would argue better late than never.

What we do have is a choice of how to respond today. Our junior high and high school students see issues of discrimination every day. It is a part of the fabric of their lives. It’s time we adults figure out how to better model what God actually intended. It is time we learn to navigate the waters of discrimination on a variety of fronts so that all may know Jesus actually brought good news for everyone.

 

Did my time as a youth pastor

One of those stupid, “I didn’t mean anything by it” comments was made by a pastor again. It went something like this…”You’re going to love this guy! We both did our time in youth ministry and now he’s graduating to adult ministry in the church.” Really?! Did our time in Youth Ministry?! Is this what senior pastors really think of youth ministry?

 

This kind of statement comes with strong implications.

  1. Youth ministry is a punishment to be likened to prison.
  2. Youth ministry is something to survived or escaped, like prison.
  3. There is hope beyond the sentence of being a youth pastor to which all real ministers should aspire.

If you don’t like teens and never want to be a youth pastor, that’s ok. DON’T take the job as youth worker just because you can’t get any other ministerial position. If you go into youth ministry and then are called elsewhere, that, too, is ok. Go where the Holy Spirit leads.

But don’t ever, even for a moment, think it is something that is a rite of initiation, a punishment or something to be endured until real ministry comes along. Don’t talk about your days in youth ministry as if it were a holding pattern or a hazing for some greater fraternity around the corner. Not valuing youth ministry disrespects the teens you serve, their families, the church, the adults those teens become, and ultimately God.

So, dear senior pastor, you may not have meant anything by your comment of serving your time in youth ministry, but you communicated volumes. It didn’t go unnoticed. The teens in your church heard you. Their parents heard you. Other members of the congregation heard you. What you communicated is that teens are second rate. That one day they will be worthy of the best but they have to grow up first. Oh and when they do grow up, they get to reflect on the assumption that those who were with them in the most formative years of their lives never actually wanted to be there.

Parent focused abortion

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Having a baby is never supposed to just be about the parents. In fact, for many people the constant conversation becomes how they are going to do everything possible to bless their child in countless ways. But what happens when we make it more about the parents than the child or even the newly formed family?

Richard Dawkins tweeted that he would abort a down syndrome fetus. He then went on to clarify and expand on his position of aborting a Down’s syndrome fetus as not just an ethical choice, but the ethical choice. Sonoran Theological offers thoughtful insights reminding us all that our morality comes from a very different model. For more on this story, link below:

“Certainly, raising a child with Down’s Syndrome will alter the life course for the parents. Dreams will change. Careers may go unfulfilled. Social groups may shrink or change or both. Yet, such a life of service to another is cut from the same cloth as the call Jesus makes on all of our lives.”

The Harm We Have Done

IMG_4021 AngelSome weeks seem to cut deeper than others. This past week has been a steady stream of one heartbreaking account after the other. From the continued struggles for both sides in Gaza, to the deep sorrow over the suicide of Robin Williams and the intense conversations taking place around depression and mental illness to the anguish over Michael Brown and the continued struggle in Ferguson, MO; it feels like a boiling point is occurring.

What seems rather insignificant in comparison, but highlights that Christians are not faring any better at waging peace in the world, came the announcement of Acts 29 removing Mark Driscoll and Seattle’s Mars Hill. This has been accompanied by a great deal of heated debate over the past 10 days or so. I’d love to say I am surprised but this feels like a larger version of the deep struggles that have taken place at countless churches, ministries and academic institutions where focus is lost and power distorts.

Add to this has been my own journey of Surviving Christians. Not only am I talking about what I have personally experienced but the countless stories I hear from amazing people who quietly share about their own personal horrors committed by other Christians. It is one thing when anger, hatred, and violence is taking place in the world outside of faith. We are taught as children that we cannot expect those who don’t follow Jesus to live by a standard of peace. Yet, what do we do when it is those who profess Christ who are the abusers? Even worse how do we survive when those Christians who abuse are also those who are in authority as parents, pastors, or professors?

(BTW- I am still very interested in hearing from others. How have YOU survived? Has it been with faith intact? Inside of the church? Walking away from church? Are you thriving? Still in process? Stories, even difficult stories of resilience need to be shared. There are many still thinking they are the only ones.)

With this in mind I share from my favorite prayer book. Even with it’s non-inclusive language (since it is a product of over 100 years ago), the words are so meaningful today. I both love this prayer and think My God, for how many generations do we, your people, annihilate one another? When do Christians actually follow what you modeled? Have mercy!

Prayers of the Social Awakening, by Walter Rauschenbusch (The Pilgrim Press, 1910).

On The Harm We Have Done

Our Father, we look back on the years that are gone and the shane and sorrow come upon us, for the harm we have done to others rises up in our memory to accuse us. Some we have seared with the fire of our lust, and some we have scorched by the heat of our anger. In some we helped to quench the glow of young ideals by our selfish pride and craft, and in some we have nipped the opening bloom of faith by the frost of our unbelief.

We might have followed thy blessed footsteps, O Christ, binding up the bruised hearts of our brothers and guiding the wayward passions of the young to firmer manhood. Instead, there are poor hearts now broken and darkened because they encountered us on the way, and some perhaps remember us only as the beginning of their misery or sin.

O God, we know that all our prayers can never bring back the past, and no tears can wash out the red marks with which we have scarred some life that stands before our memory with accusing eyes. Grant that at least a humble and pure life may grow out of our contrition, that in the brief days still left to us we may comfort and heal where we have scorned and crushed. Change us by the power of they saving grace from sources of evil into forces for good, that with all our strength we may fight the wrongs we have aided, and aid the right we have clogged. Grant us this boon, that for every harm we have done, we may do some brave act of salvation, and that for every soul that has stumbled or fallen through us, we may bring to thee some other weak or despairing one, whose strength has been renewed by our love, that so the face of they Christ may smile upon us and the light within us may shine undimmed.

The latest Kickstarter Bible

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I am in favor of (just about) anything that gets people reading the actual Bible. I use several interpretations in working with children, teens, special needs friends and even adults. Think The Message, The Beginners Bibleor my current favorite The Jesus Storybook Bible

So I am both excited by and a little nervous about a Kickstarter project called bibliotheca.

The blog at Sonoran Theological offers some insight from a biblical scholar with a Phd in Bible. It’s not a slam on the project, rather great food for thought.

Mr. Greene shows examples of how he will update the language from the ASV, published in 1900 (New Testament, 1901 for the Old Testament). The implication is that it is primarily the language of the ASV that requires updating. Yet, his first point in the rationale for choosing the ASV over the KJV is that the ASV is several hundred years newer, and “much had been discovered about the languages & cultures in that span of time.” (This quote was taken from the Kickstarter page.) Please note, then, that there have been 114 years of scholarship since the publication of the ASV. And, I would argue, that we have learned much much more about the languages and literature of the ancient Near East, its culture, religions, and institutions during these past 100-plus years than we learned in the 300 years between the KJV and the ASV.

So what do you think?

Talking with stranger danger

p0908 013“I just told your daughter not to talk to strangers.”

“What?” I responded.

“I just told your daughter not to talk to strangers. She was on the other side of the structure playing with my boys and she said hello to me. I told her she isn’t allowed to talk to strangers and her mother would be very upset. I reminded her strangers were dangerous and if one ever talked to her she should scream and run. You’ll need to go over that with her again as she seemed very comfortable including my grandchildren and saying hello to me.” This was all said with body language and tone of voice that assumed camaraderie, shared values while simultaneously putting me in my place.

Halfway  through her reproach my daughter walked up and stood beside me listening. At the end of her reproach I thanked her for caring enough to say something. I then let her know we do talk to strangers. I let the woman know that it was important for my daughter to know that not everyone in the world was out there to harm her and she need not live in fear, though she needed to be wise. That she was to stay where I could see her, always be polite and be intentional about including others. I looked at my daughter and told her I was proud that she was polite and friendly and she had done nothing wrong. My daughter smiled, looked at the woman and said “nice to meet you” then asked if she could go play with her new friends.

Typically playgrounds are the land of the unwritten rules of acceptance between parents. We may not agree with each others parenting styles, but it is not the place to comment. It has been a place to learn to share, to introduce yourself, to help someone you don’t even know up when they fall and in general to make new friends, even if just for the hour.

This woman was annoyed with me. She clearly did not approve of my parenting choices. Her two grandchildren kept to themselves while the rest of the playground was abuzz with interaction. How sad for them. They were being taught from the beginning that “others” are scary, to be avoided. This woman listened to me for a moment then I could see her mentally checking out. Within a minute or two, she walked away, called her grandsons and told them they needed to leave now. The youngest walked away, shoulders slumped, tears in his eyes and kept looking back. It was evident he did not want to leave.

We often talk in my home about life being like a playground. Some people effectively say, “I don’t like your choices, or the way you included others…I’m going to take my ball and go home. In fact, I’m going to take my ball, the snacks, others and leave you there with “that” person who never should have been included in the first place.” It’s a terrible way to proclaim the gospel to others and the exact opposite of what Jesus modeled but it has become the accepted norm today. In fact, it is what too many college and seminaries are implicitly teaching. Be in community with our own, cloistered and protected within our high walls, send out money and do a good deed once each quarter and quickly run back to the safety of our place.

While I allow my children a fair amount of freedom, I don’t let them roam back alleys at midnight. I don’t take them to the park, grab a latte and get engrossed in my phone. I have nicknamed my husband “Safety Sam” because I tolerate risk more than he does. BUT even he has never worried about my choices regarding our children’s safety and he, too, wants our children to care for strangers.

When did we all get so scared of each other? When did we stop talking?

As Chfile0001422462530ristians, we should know and, quite frankly, do better. Jesus commanded that we share the good news with others. This means we actually need to engage with people outside our church. It means we talk to strangers. It means that people who are different, even very different from us deserve to be treated with the same kindness, dignity, and respect as those we know. And quite frankly, everyone is a stranger at some point!

Scripture talks about entertaining angels unaware when we are kind to strangers (Heb 13:1-2). Matthew 25 declares that we will be judged for our faithfulness based on how we treat strangers. We are told through the Old and the New Testaments that we are to reach out to prisoners, widows, orphans, the blind, homeless, the lame, crippled, lonely, cheating tax collectors as well as entitled rich leaders. In short, we are to extend hospitality to ALL people and specifically to strangers.

Of course this all stems from the care and concern parents and grandparents have for the safety and well-being of their (grand)children. And for those who were influenced by all the “stranger-danger” messages of the 1970s, it is understandable that we fear child abduction despite kidnappings being both at historically low levels (http://www.freerangekids.com/crime-statistics/) and the fact that only one in four kidnappings is done by strangers (http://www.parents.com/kids/safety/stranger-safety/child-abduction-facts/). What I question here is the actions taken out of this legitimate care and concern. The response does not have to be a rejection of all strangers – “scream and run away”. Nor does it have to result in hovering helicopter parents. Attentive openness suffices.

Maybe the playground is where it all gets screwed up. Not from the children, but adults who have forgotten that we need each other. Maybe those who don’t follow Jesus will do this, but for those of us professing to follow Jesus we must talk to strangers…even when they might turn out to be very different.

Faith Feminism: on being a theotokos, insults and football

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It all began when the only bad mark on my annual review was that I was spending too much time with students instead of going to lunch with my colleagues every day. The irony is that I did go to lunch with them once a week. And once a week I sat at a table, politely welcomed with an opening hello before the conversation quickly turned to football. I’m not anti-football. I just can’t talk about it every week for a solid year! This idea of collegiality was not what I expected. I had a rather romantic notion that when one was on a theological faculty with others who are considered both brilliant and godly that at least once in while we would discuss theology, ministry, the Bible…anything that had to do with our fields. I was very naive.

My time with students was much more interesting. Not only were they fascinated by what they were reading, studying, and living, but they wanted community. They wanted to wrestle with hard questions and talk about what it meant to live an abundant life! They were curious about things that did not fit neatly into the curriculum of any particular course but mattered for them as people of faith and ministerial leaders in particular. They pushed me to think and rethink what I held dear. I was sharpened as iron sharpens iron not because they didn’t respect me, rather precisely because they did. In turn I respected them and wanted only to offer the best of what I could. This meant a great deal of work on my part. Not only was I prepping for the actual courses I was teaching, I was constantly looking at theological concepts, church history, and practical theology shaping my own faith. I also had to think through how to share this with others in ways where they may not have the same vocabulary or stamina for really long dry books that seminary students and professors have. These times with students turned to meals, ice cream social, and game nights at my house. We developed a blend of constant theological conversation with a lot of prayer, laughter, food and community was built.

Ultimately, this was part of my undoing. I have been told by faculty members on more than one occasion that students are not who should receive the lion’s share of my attention. It is not politically expedient. It is not going to get me ahead in the traditional sense. I was told I was being too maternal by going to such lengths in investing in my students. I thought I was trying to bring about something bigger than myself.

The faculty’s critique became a compliment to me. Last time I checked, this is exactly what God calls us to do. (And just to be clear, I am not talking about the mistake too of us women make in never being able to take credit for anything. This is wrong and is a post for another day!)

God calls us to be a theotokos. Female and male, we are all called to bear Christ to the world. Mary bore Jesus, literally as an infant, bringing God into the world. Her calling was not any easy one; it was painful and cost her a lot. What she was able to do, however, changed the world! For some of us, we know what childbirth is actually like. For others it is a metaphorical reality. For all, the theotokos or model of bearing God over and over and over again in the world is exactly who we are to be. We are to bear God to those whom no one else sees. We are to bear God to those who wonder if God is real. We go through the pains of carrying truth within us and labor that others may know that God is real, that God loves them, that God demands justice, that God longs for relationship, in short…that God matters in this world.

As a professor and theologian, being labeled as too maternal was intended as an insult. It was intended to tell me that I don’t fit in. It was intended to harm.

On bad days, I want to scream screw you at those who have been so ivory-towered-arrogant. But on good days, I remember that I, too, have been in that ivory tower. And what they intended for insult, God meant for good. I’ll take too maternal any day over football!

Surviving Christians-2

The very person who extended an invitation for a call to ministry was the first to tell me God does not call women to ministry. He was my first youth pastor. He was charismatic, dynamic and made it seem like almost anything in life was possible.

Part of our tradition held to the weekly three part invitation, 1) for salvation 2) for rededication 3) for ministry. As a young teenager, I heard the invitation every single week asking if God was calling me to ministry. It penetrated deep into my bones. It was a question that became part of the very fibre of my being. We were encouraged to think about this as a real viable option. This particular youth pastor moved to another state but his influence in my life was huge. Fast forward a few years and I did accept that call to ministry.

The summer before I began seminary, I ran into that youth pastor. I was with the teenagers with whom I was volunteering. We saw each other, hugged and did all of the obligatory “how are you?” “you look so good!” “I miss you!” I was so excited to tell him that I had listened all those years earlier and I thanked him for the invitation to ministry. He just stared for a moment and had the most peculiar look on his face. I asked what was wrong and he said “well…I am just surprised. I don’t think women can be in ministry. I never expected any of the ‘girls’ in the youth group to take me up on that. I still think you are great! It’s nothing personal, God just doesn’t allow you to be in ministry.”

I just walked away. I said nothing. I was so stunned.

Looking back I wish I had said something! I wish I had told him that he was wrong. That even if he didn’t realize it, God was working through him! I have so gotten over the notion that God does not call women.

God has, God does and God will continue to call women into ministry.

It took a long time for me to be able to say that with confidence. It took my finally realizing that it was more important to please God than to please any leader before me, regardless of how much I respected him or her or how much she or he had taught me. Sometimes surviving is listening and realizing others are a work in process as well and not everyone is right just because they say it with conviction and attach a verse or two as proof.

ps. I am looking for stories of those who have survived Christians in a variety of ways. The stories need to be told. Not to air dirty laundry but to tell others “you are not alone” and that surviving is a real possibility!! Feel free to contact me via comments or e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you!

Hobby Lobby discussion

You should take a little trip over to the Sonoran Theological Group blog in order to see the beginning of an interesting conversation regarding Hobby Lobby. The post starts by laying out the issues, then asks:

How should a thoughtful Christian respond when the issues are not so straight-forward? How do we avoid the “party lines” that reinforce rhetoric over dialogue? How do we engage this issue when it is so complicated and so many other issues vie for our attention?

While this post does not wrap up the topic in a nice little bow, it does open the door for further discussion. So, join in and leave a comment.