WHY: Reformation Day

Today, most of America will dress up in fun or scary costumes and parade through streets of decorated houses where they can collect candy and show off their outfits. Others–the older crowd which has not yet put childhood behind them but can no longer Trick or Treat door to door –will make their way through parties and bars in an escapade of costumed identity: their chance to be someone else and not be looked down on for engaging in escapism.

I, on the other hand, and several others will not be celebrating Halloween. I’ve never actually gone trick-or-treating though my family did attend “Harvest” Festivals growing up. And while this is not a polemic against Halloween and the celebration that I still can’t wrap my head around, it is an interesting juxtaposition to what my friends and I will be celebrating:

Reformation Day.

October 31st is the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Chapel. The 95 Theses were a challenge to various practices in the church of his day and were a plea for change and restoration. Luther hoped the church would find her way back to apostolic practices and greater devotion to the gospel of grace. He challenged the church and that is what we will celebrate tonight at a pub called the Cheeky Monk. We’ll lift imported Belgian Beers created by Trappist Monks and cheer his bravery as he stood against the status quo to defend the faith and the true church.  Knowing he faced excommunication and even death, Martin Luther stood firm: Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen. I can hear his voice, shouting across the centuries: hold on to God. Hold firm, hold fast.

But that is not the end of Reformation Day and tonight, as we toast a great hero, we will also mourn the disaster that began nearly 500 years ago. While he may not have meant to start a revolution within the church, that is essentially what Luther helped to cause. We have around 30,000 denominations today and an incredible divide among East, West, Protestant and Catholic. Though it was not the first division within Christianity, the Reformation was perhaps the greatest rift in the history of the church. We have not been united since and the bitterness on each side can be overwhelming. I have Protestant friends who believe Catholics are an unsaved and even I myself am uncomfortable when my Romish friends refer to me as an “anonymous catholic.” The animosity on both sides can be astounding.

In a year when the country faces greater division than usual, I’m reminded of the destruction that our arguments, our pride and our preferences may cause within the church—and by extension the world. Believers hurl insults across the voting booths, towards their own brothers and sisters. But how would we know any different? If you’ve read the works of the Reformers, you know the name-calling, the belittling, the refusing to compromise and extend grace. Division is everywhere.

I’m thankful for Martin Luther and I’m glad he nailed the indicting Theses to the door of that great old church. Rome stood in error and needed correction. But the destruction that has resulted from those years of “reform” has been widespread. Today is an important day to remember the greatest commandments: love God and love one another. My prayer, as we toast the great Luther tonight, is that we will work towards unity within the church for the sake of our witness to a broken and needy world. Change must begin with us, and the place to start is our bruised and battered divided churches.

White Mornings

Wednesday night, while I was at youth group in flip flops and an old down vest over my 3/4 sleeve sweater the weather outside went from rain to snow. E and I are sharing my car because his serpentine belt popped off. So after he drove me home from youth group, as we crossed the street he looked up into the falling snow and said, “do you want to go for a walk?” I squeezed his hand, “just let me change out of flip flops.”

So we walked to the downtown of where I live and amid twinkling lights we strolled through storefronts older than our grandparents. We stopped in at on old world, English style pub that we’d never noticed before and ordered two mugs of piping hot chocolate. We sat in the window and watched the snow blow in the wind before settling to the ground in clumps of thick wet flakes. Trees were covered, their branches coated and their leaves hidden. It looked as though someone had begun frosting the town or painting it white for a party we hadn’t been invited to but had stumbled upon anyhow. As we walked the empty streets we found Narnia: an old wrought iron lamp stand, covered in part by the leaves of a low tree, bent beneath the weight of snow that clung to his branches. It glowed like a distant star, yellow and orange and cast its feeble rays across the snow on the ground at its base. We shouted for Mr. Tumnus but he never came. So we trudged to my home, and arrived around 11pm, tired but bright eyed and rosy cheeked from wind and pure joy of changing seasons. I snuggled in bed with an extra blanket, heard the boiler heater click on and I thought that Colorado must be the best place in all America.

The nextmorning, when I stumbled out of bed into our living room, this is what greeted me:

Tell me that isn’t one of the best and most beautiful sights to wake up to. The snow makes my heart happy. Clean, bright, pure and restful. I could dance for joy.

WHY: [missionality] it’s really not that hard

I attend what some might call a “missional” church or a church that focuses on “incarnational” ministry. In the past five years or so, the incarnational and missional movement has become quite sexy and trendy to be a part of. Maybe it’s a shift across the board in theology–a shift which sees God Himself as missional. Maybe it’s the New Perspective that is lately sweeping many off their feet and pointing from Justification to The Kingdom.

Maybe it’s just because Hugh Halter, Jeff Vanderstelt and others have written some really good books.

Whatever the cause, missionality has become a catch phrase, and it’s trendy. Similar to how we all secretly want to be hipsters, we all appear to have a desire to call ourselves “missional.” It’s always interesting to me how culture and the church slowly absorb the “other” until they actually want to be the other itself. I can recall talking with friends five years ago using phrases like “incarnational ministry” and talking about going to bars to “love on people”– I received looks of concern mingled with shock. Had I suddenly sprouted a second head, I often wondered? Why did people look at me so strangely when I suggested that to do ministry like Jesus we had to go where the people were. It didn’t seem so difficult.

Five, six years later, it’s become this new perspective in the church to see everything through the lens of missionality. Not only has it started to shape everything from youth groups to seminaries, it’s become a great thing to talk about in pubs over a pint or down by the river while puffing away on a CS Lewis style pipe. No longer are missional or incarnational churches the oddity. We’re part of networks and tours, we do conferences and write books–we’re the new “in thing.”

But what I’ve noticed lately is that we do a lot of talking about such ministry and lifestyles without actually doing anything. We like the idea, the notion of doing ministry as Jesus did: with prostitutes, sinners and tax collectors. There’s an allure to such ministry, in a bizarre way it has developed as something we consume because we want to do the cool thing, we want to be on the inside, doing what the “in crowd” does. It has sheen and intrigue. So we call ourselves missional and we theorize about what that looks like. We talk in smoky atmospheres full of alcohol and delicious greasy food and we so often say to ourselves, “ah yes, I’m in a bar or a pub and I’m enjoying a pint. I’m not legalistic about such things, in fact I may order a second! Aha! Look at me being incarnational and not attending six Bible studies but rather going to meet people where they are–here! in this bar! Where I am seated at a table that consists of–well–er–only–um–Christians.” We’re talking about it, but are we really doing it? Is the theorizing about it just making it harder? I think so.

Being missional is not just about location as we sometimes seem to think. It is, but it isn’t. For one thing, we often think about incarnational ministry as going to “where the poor are.”  So people move to the inner city to live among the broken and poverty stricken families of the hood. That’s great and I support that. But there are poor people in our suburbs too, there are spiritually and emotionally devastated families out here in the ‘burbs surrounded by wealth and affluence. So being missional is not about location in the sense of  going to the places most unlike ourselves that are “needy.” In reality, everywhere is needy.

Being missional is not about reacting to the legalism many of us inherited from parents or grandparents or aunts and uncles. Living in reaction is just as binding as living under the legalism itself. Being missional isn’t about being different from “all those other stuffy Christians.” Those other stuffy Christians might actually be more missional than the younger generation often gives them credit.

Being missional is not about being with a different “type” of person. It disturbs me when Christians talk about being with other people as though they are somehow alien or foreign simply because they don’t go to church and they have their medical marijuana card. Talking about spending time with “those people” as if it’s trendy and earning you a sick-awesome reputation is just as objectifying as treating those people as outcasts or unworthy. It makes a bizarre sort of idol out of them, like a trophy to be shown off about just how great we are for befriending them.

Being missional is about…well, relationships. Which is why it’s messy to define and yet easy to step into. Perhaps a better way to define it would be to say that missionality is about presence. And not to be entirely post-modern but the best way to explain may be with a story.

Last night, my boyfriend E picked me up after class and announced that he was starving. I was too so we drove to a nearby pub where they have by one-get one sandwiches on occasion. Our lucky night! Not only was the food on sale but we made happy hour and one of our favourite servers was working! Though we weren’t sitting in her section, Linze came over and sat with us whenever she wasn’t busy with customers or sidework. Eventually, one of her tables had departed and we bought her a beer so she really had to sit with us. We talked about her crazy roommate, her two jobs, her parents, etc. Eventually, one of the regular customers left the bar and came to sit at our booth as well. We’d never met this man but he was friends with Linze so he settled into the seat beside me and proceeded to tell us about his wife and two kids (one of whom’s name he has tatooed across his knuckles–I loved it). Even after both E and I had worked all day and I had class until 930pm, we stayed at the pub until everyone else had left and they were literally closing down (sometime around 12am). We walked out, laughing, apologizing that we had to turn down bar hopping with Linze and this other man and headed to my car. As we drove to my apartment, I said to E, “that was so much fun. Seriously. I’m so exhausted, but it was so great. I freakin’ love Linze. And that other guy was great too!” He nodded, “yeah, I would love to meet up with them sometime outside of Linze being at work.”

That’s it.

That’s all it is. We go to this pub pretty often and over the past year we’ve talked to Linze. It was so easy. On slow nights we’d invite her to sit while she took our order and chat for a few minutes. We tipped well. One night I left a note on our receipt that said how awesome she was–and not just as a waitress but as a person. She remembers things about my schooling, we remember stuff about her primary job. The thing about being missional is that you don’t have to go out of your way to do it: you see where you already hang out and you start getting to know people in that place. We go to this pub because it’s close, it’s cheap and it’s always open late after night classes. After a couple times, E just started talking to the servers: Linze, Jen, Brittany, Suzie, Elgin, Assad, and all the others. He’s outgoing like that and I like to listen. So we realized where we were and decided to show the people in that situation that they had value and worth. Someday, I hope I get to tell Linze about how much Jesus loves her. Right now, we just want her to know that we love her.

Missionality is not difficult. It’s just about being present somewhere and then being aware of who you are and who the other people are in that situation. It requires intentionality: I always try to remember one thing Linze has said and then follow up on it the next time. It requires that we actually care because people can sense when we don’t and they are turned off by the fake vibe we might give off. It requires persistence and time. But other than that, it just requires that we act as human beings who are full of God’s love–so full that it spills over onto the people around us.

That’s it.
seriously.
It’s not that hard.

WHY: I belong in Grad School

Last night we had out midterm for Old Testament: Ancient Israel. I hadn’t studied much which was nerve-wracking. I had a lazy weekend (something I needed after being gone the last two weekends), and I worked two full days before the midterm. I also had dinner at a friend’s house on Monday (poor planning on my part). So, let’s just say, it was a cram fest yesterday afternoon when I finished work half an hour early because I worked through my lunch. E showed up two hours before the exam and we got down to work.

I filled up my water bottle a minute before class started, walked in, swept up my blue book from a generous friend and settled in the back row with empty seats on either side. The professor smiled at us, prayed and then lit up the powerpoint with the three essay questions. As people started to read, there was a general sharp intake of breath when they reached the second question on the Copenhagen School and Silberman and Finkelstein.

I, on the other hand, grinned. And as I settled down to write, I actually enjoyed myself.

Afternoons

E is sleeping on my futon. He rolled over twenty minutes ago, gave me a little grin as he tucked a pillow between the crook of his plaid covered a rim and his shaggy dark hair. He smiled teasingly and then closed his eyes. A moment later, he was asleep. I wish I could fall asleep like that.

I can smell chicken in the crockpot, and I’m counting down the minutes before I stick it in the oven and roast it so the skin turns brown and crisp. We have Mormon missionaries coming for dinner and I cook so rarely for others that I want things to be perfect. I look around at my apartment as I type that and sigh. This wreck is not going to be perfect.I had chest pains a few minutes ago. Nothing severe. But sharp enough that it forced me to break from my paper which is due tomorrow morning in my first class. I looked at the leaves outside, the orange, red, limey yellow and hunter green that stand defiant of waning daylight and cold night winds. I thought, what if the chest pains meant something? Something more than anxiety? I glanced at E, still sleeping on the futon, despite the sound of lumbering trucks on our busy street and the folks that take a four-thirty smoking venture every day below my window.

I thought, there are more important things than papers and grades and fear. We’re hoping for the future, him and I. We talk about the UK, about NT Wright and Michael Bird. We use acronyms like PhD, MATh and MB. But there are still more important things than dreams and futures and hopes I’m never quite sure will come to pass.

There is here.

And there is now.

And that is what’s most important.

WHY: possible blog change

I read a decent number of blogs, personal friends, scholars and church leaders. Lately, I’ve been convicted about the state of my own blog in regards to several of my friends (like Kacie) and several theologians I read. The purpose of this blog was always to keep in touch with friends and family–originally while I was traveling and planning to go abroad. More recently it’s been a way of cataloguing thoughts and the journey of being in graduate school.

But I’ve been thinking lately about writing more academically or at least writing something with greater purpose. I don’t have much to offer to the academic community but as I’m looking at working towards a PhD in the future, I think I might want to start considering and discussing thoughts about theology.

But there is the over all hesitancy to do so, because I haven’t much to say.

Don’t worry, I wouldn’t take down this blog because I enjoy getting to share funny stories from friends, roommates and classmates. On a more academic blog that wouldn’t be possible or appropriate, I suppose. Of course, I’m also trying to figure out if it’s possible to keep the two together.

I suppose the exciting newsy sort bit of all this processing is that I’m looking forward and that’s a big deal. I had a long talk with a professor last week and now I’m realizing that I might be able to actually say something that’s original or creative. I might have something worthwhile to contribute to the world of academia.

Last week, Dr. K looked at me across the table and said, “so, with that thought, you’d be a Biblical Studies person and your concentration would be–” he paused, perhaps to let me brace myself for the news “–New Testament. And you’ll have to learn Greek.”

“and German too, probably,” I said with a heavy sigh.

“and German too.”

But he was serious. He told me I could study where I want and under who I want. He seemed a bit hesitant, nodding slowly as he considered it, “yes, well, he’s taking on PhD students now, but the question is how much longer he’ll do that. He’s getting a bit old.”

It was startling, I mean, Dr. K thought I could do this. And then dinner at Dr. B’s with Beth and Jonathan, B told me that I could learn Greek and German. He said I didn’t need to worry about it so much.

People believe in me and frankly, that’s mind-boggling.

So I started thinking about what this means, what this looks like and how I’m to get started now. One way of doing that is to start a blog where it’s more academic or less personal. But I’m waylaid at the crossroads: who would listen to me? Dr. N has us practicing theology in our reflections on John Feinberg’s No One Like Him and I’m embarrassed just reading them in front of class! Let alone giving it to the world wide internet to be picked apart and exposed for logical fallacies and grammatical errors.

But it’s something worth thinking about, I suppose.

WHY: No Facebook

I deactivated FB last night. Why? Well, first off, because I was on FB during one of my favourite classes.

Okay, granted. I’ve written three papers in the past week, worked a youth conference, and prepared a presentation for tomorrow. I’m a little brain-frazzled. And to most people, source criticism in the OT isn’t the most exciting topic (unless you’re me, then you love it). So it might seem excusable to be on FB during a three hour night class in which we aren’t allowed to have food… and of course, that wasn’t all there was to it.

Last night is symptomatic of another issue. I’ve been on FB a lot lately. I check it before going to bed at night, before class in the morning, on lunch and class breaks–I’m on there all the time.

It wouldn’t be such an issue if it was a diversionary activity. I can shut off my internet when working on a paper and that usually helps. I set goals like: finish this page and then check FB. That’s manageable. So it wasn’t only the time issue, though that certainly played into it all.

It was this:

the other night, a “story” came up on my “newsfeed.” For the non-FB people out there, a newsfeed is where updates appear from all of your friends. This story sparked a lot of anger quite suddenly and a good deal of jealousy and sadness as well. It was amazing how quickly and how intensely the emotions came. I don’t usually have much in the way of engaging emotions, hence, feeling something so intensely and suddenly was a startling experience.

I had to close my computer in order to tear my mind and heart from the invading feelings. It was overwhelming, the the depth of what I was feeling: injustice, ingratitude, sorrow, disappointment, failure, incompetency, anger and self righteousness all wrapped up in a whole lot of self loathing.

And I realized that I would never have felt those things if I hadn’t seen that story on my newsfeed. Which made me realize something I’d been thinking in the back of my mind without actually engaging:

FB causes me a lot of discontentment. Sometimes that’s in my relationship with E as I watch other friends get married, display flowers that their man brought home for them, or talk about how amazing their significant other is. It goes in reverse as well when I feel ungrateful for not pouring out my thanks to E all over the internet. Or I feel incompetent because I haven’t made us a five course meal this week with cloth napkins followed by desert which is, obviously, homemade ice cream and chocolate sauce from chocolate that is 80% cacao and totally organic-fair-trade-shade-grown-cacao-from-a-small-village-committed-to-sustainability. Whew! Is anyone else exhausted?

I feel jealous about friends who are overseas serving where I used to think God was calling me. I am discouraged by friends who seem smarter, and feel inadequate when friends post very spiritual things as their statuses–why don’t I love Jesus like that?

I realized I already have enough of a struggle comparing myself to others. I didn’t need another avenue for that temptation to plague me. So, in class, after scribbling notes about camels in the Ancient Near East, I logged on and deactivated.

I’ve already tried to check it several times, only to be reminded of my choice last night. But over all, I feel a bit less distracted, and a bit more at peace. Who knows? Maybe this abstinence from social media will stick.

Whoops

For anyone who may have read the post entitled “what we’re offering” I apologize that it was still in a rough shape. I meant to finish editing it over the weekend but helping out at a conference for high school girls plus having three papers and a presentation this coming week…. well, it just didn’t happen.

 

It’ll show up in fine form eventually.

goofy roommates

this is why I love my roommate.

 

My favourite seat in the library has a pretty great view of the mountains. On Thursday, as I pretended to write a paper on child sacrifice (more to come on that), I could see a storm coming in. At first I could make out the edges of the dark grey clouds as they edged over the mountains, but eventually those edges had crawled far east of the seminary campus and the sky was a blanket of granite slate. The mountains had turned grey blue and I could hardly make out the foothills. I knew my roomie was planning to go to RMNP (she was set to borrow my pass before it expired) so I sent her a slightly concerned text which caused the following conversation:

S: not to be mothering but because I like you : I can see a storm coming in over the mountains, so if you go to RMNP and do Trail Ridge Rd, please be careful! :o)

St: Not going anymore and thanks mom. I am playing with your camera today though. : )

S: Enjoy the camera. :o) And you’re welcome, awkward-older-than-me-daughter… wow this ish just got complicated. :p I might be tearing up as I try to not laugh in the library…

 

yep. that conversation happened.