Why: Laity

Last year, I wanted to take the Bibles out of pews. Have you seen that? At some churches, they have these things on the back of every pew that holds hymnals, Bibles and “get to know you cards.” Some places now have these on the back of each chair, or underneath the chair. As a kid, growing up in churches with chairs that folded up and made room for dozens of events throughout the week, with bare feet on hard cement floors and singing along to the words on an old school projector, I thought chairs or pews with built in book-holders were for the rich and old — probably because I usually saw in the churches that supported my parents which were full of old people and ostensibly rich by default (they were sending us money, weren’t they?).

This time last year, I wanted to walk through the aisles of such churches and pluck Bibles out of those holders. I wanted to take Scripture back from uneducated laity. I called a friend — after a hermenuetics class and flipped a lid with her. I was going on about poetry or narrative, about how people misinterpret passages of Scripture that aren’t didactic (such as the 10 Commandments, those are hard to misunderstand). It’s ironic to feel this, given my belief in the “perspicuity” or understandableness of Scripture by everyone (it was a big deal to the Reformers). Eventually, of course, I got over it. I’m even work in youth group now, where kids read their Bibles and misinterpret things all the time — like it’s their whole purpose in life, these kids end up with some weird theologies, trust me.

But last night, I was reminded why we need each other — laity and seminary student.

There’s a food pantry that serves seminary students and “the needy.” E and I go every couple of weeks, it’s good food which is fantastic because sometimes food pantries resort to quantity rather than quality. There’s certain merits to that approach; but it’s nice to have fresh fruit, meat and natural peanut butter. They serve the food in a  way that is incredibly respectful to our dignity, I need this food, seriously. But I never feel I am looked down on for that need. Last night, as they pushed the buggy of groceries out to the car, I had a lovely chat with Sue and Bruce who helped us load the food in the backseat and then asked how they could pray for us in the frosty night air. E, of course, being strong and humble said he couldn’t think of anything specific. I admitted to the woman that I’m struggling to be motivated at school and then I thought I ought to chime in on Ethan’s behalf so I asked her to pray for this house that he’s finishing.

“How should we do that?” she asked me, “I always feel selfish when I pray, you know, because I’m asking for stuff. How should we pray for his house he’s working on?”

I had to think, and think fast because it was frosty cold, my feet were already tingling from the ice beneath my booths and my cheeks were chaffing in the breeze. They were loading the last groceries when I said to her, “Well, I guess it’s more the heart. I mean, we want the house to finish well, and sell well of course. But it’s that I want him to be encouraged, to know that God’s walking with him in this, to know that he’s done a good job. I want him to finish strong, giving thanks, glorifying God. Yeah, I think that’s what we pray for.”

So she did. We held hands, all four of us in that icy parking lot on the windy hill. We bowed heads and that sweet woman prayed over us: for school, for work, for the food they’d just placed in our car.

This is why scholars need laity: to be reminded why we sit in class, research seeming minutiae and scribble our fingers down to the bone.

And this is why laity need scholars: to be reminded of the who, the what, the how we worship and remain in orthodoxy.

Because without one, the other would be lost in endless tracks of unnecessary philosophy and purposeless, too high and mighty to remember what it’s all about. And without the other, the one might fall into error, forget the past, or struggle to pray.

 

WHY: singleness, dating and sanctification

Well, well, everyone said with a smirk when we told them, and finally! with sighs of happy exasperation.

It’s been nearly a year since I finally came around and told Ethan I had feelings for him – and had had them for ages. He grinned, like a silly school boy who’s just been told that the girl of his dreams will go to prom with him. And then he recovered slightly, shrugged, said he’d known for a long time, and hugged me like I was a long lost friend.

Dating has been interesting. It’s pushed me through a lot with counseling, helped drudge up and heal things I’d forgotten were buried beneath layers of hopeful disregard. It’s been strange to discover needs and dependence – something I always let other people have and refused to find in myself. I’ve found encouragement, grace and confidence in myself – that I am loved, and will be loved. That I am in fact liked. I rediscovered womanhood, pulled down the walls of achievement and discarded the mantra that as a woman I have to do things twice as well to gain half as much recognition. Instead, my femininity became a gift and not a burden, something to celebrated and not battled.

But it has not been easy. We were both so independent, so used to our own lives and schedules. Perhaps most of all, we were neither of us prepared for the terror of needing someone else when our defense has always been to simply walk away. We still do it sometimes, me just last week. I slammed a door, stormed up to my apartment and then cried while I searched for supplies to make a lonely dinner. I’d barely stuck my head in the fridge for the third time when a fist pounded on my door and I realized I didn’t want to be alone or argue, just wanted to hug, make up and cry. I used to think I was the self-made-woman who everyone wanted to be friends with for her intelligence and skills. Looking into Ethan’s eyes that night I saw that version of myself crumble and I relearned that I need him and I need God and the self-made-man is an American myth of faulty independence. I relearn that every. single. day.

Last year, a friend of mine said marriage was hard because it was like looking into a mirror of his own selfishness every day. He said he could feel it claw up from somewhere inside him, sin and contempt, frustration over nothing, selfish angst over everything. He warned me, “you don’t know how easy you have it, being single.” I laughed, because in a way I knew how easy my singleness was, I knew because all my married friends were saying the same thing.

Today, E picked me up for work. He was late, so I was late, I stumbled in after the provost and hurried to a health screening, and I was seething while I cheerfully made small talk with superiors as we filled out paperwork. It’s not fair, my head was screaming, that he gets free use of my car and I am late to work nearly every day. The little child that personifies my selfishness was stamping her foot, arms crossed over chest and sticking out her lower lip. It just isn’t fair.

But, you see, it is actually quite fair – this give and take and compromise and frustrations that force growth. It is quite fair to be faced with my selfishness, my greed, my self absorption and unwillingness to budge on just about anything. I’m the sun in this little universe, but slowly I’m being deflated and pushed back to rightful position of tiny star orbited by nothing. It is quite fair, this learning to give up and putting sin to death. Because this is the beauty of relationship after the fall. He’s my best friend and there’s much good in that. I’m my own worst enemy and he mirrors that, he quietly, patiently, stubbornly forces me to grow. Marriage is sanctification, and dating is getting close to that refining fire.

So, to my single friends who lamented the holiday of love last week…you have it easy, in one way (one for which I’m often jealous). Don’t long for dating, don’t long for marriage as an answer to prayers and a fairy tale ending. Long for it as a chance to grow, to learn what it really means to love in spite of canceled dates, tight budgets, missed signals and reordered dreams. Long for the chance to be sanctified, to be continually reminded of the cross and redemption, of sin and futility in human nature. Because if we aren’t open to that chance of glorifying God by loving unconditionally even when things are hard – well, I don’t think we’ll make it far because we won’t have understood marriage and relationships in the first place.

Why: hope and lent

Last week one of my highschoolers told me that hope probably doesn’t deserve to be a stand-alone sort of word. She suggested it isn’t a distinct concept, separate from any other idea we communicate with words. It’s overused, she pointed out, and as I listened to the State of the Union last night — given by a man whom I watched campaign on hope and take office my last year of college when the economy collapsed — I had to agree. To my student, hope is simply another word we use to describe something we really want, a deep and longing desire.

We were outside, amid trees stripped to grey nakedness, with ice under foot and clouded blue sky over head, dotted by geese who’ve flocked to our wide open spaces. She’s a cynic and I’ve only just started my recovery from cynic to hopeful realist. We plodded along after she said all that, each looking to and fro across a landscape seemingly barren and devoid of hope. Between us I could feel the silence grow, soft and fearful as I wrestled for words to speak since I so vehemently disagreed with her.

But how does one explain hope?

It’s Ash Wednesday and there are people wandering the world with grey soot smudged on their faces in the form of a poorly drawn cross made by dirty fallen thumbs looking forward to redemption. But it’s a future redemption and today the ground is still hard and cold. Lent begins and we give things up: meat, sugar, drink or other things upon which we depend instead of finding rest in God. While the practice of fast is certainly formational, it’s also responsive and it’s worth considering in these winter months slowly turning to spring — what we are responding to.

There’s a thing that in seminary we like to call the “grand narrative” or a “controlling narrative” which serves as an interpretive lens for how one reads and interprets Scripture. As a good evangelical seminary, we usually consider this to be the story of Jesus Christ, the story of God coming in to save creation that has fallen down a winding rabbit hole towards greater and greater levels of chaos. We point to his words and the prophecies and the narrative of the seasons to say that Jesus will one day come again to restore and renew all things.

Lent, I think, the season of waiting and going without, is a response in recognition of this redemptive process. Recognizing that Jesus has come, and will come, and learning what it means to wait hopefully in the midst of this present age. Jesus is coming. He’s here, he has come. But I have not only been saved I am still in the process of being saved.* In a similar way, Lent reminds us that we are waiting. With creation we groan and wait and long for the renewal that comes in the end of times. We respond to the Gospel by entering into it; by acknowledging this period of waiting and hoping. Lent shows us we’re waiting, teaches us to long, and forms our hope for the future.

Hope, my friend said rightly, is an intense desire for something. I desperately long for violence to end, for wars to abate, for my family to come home. But there is more than just longing when it comes to the redemption of the world and the many things that make up that redemption. In the way that it’s used in political campaigns and  among high school lovers, hope is cheap and ill used, hardly needed as a word separated from desire and want. We want a better economy in the same way we hope for a job upon college graduation.

But this I’m learning: we don’t put our hopes in humanity and the world. We put it in the One who made those things and we put our faith in the promises handed down to us, the foundation of his faithfulness and the character that says he will fulfill what he has begun. This is what hope is, the faith and trust that God will see His promises through, the patient expectation that the earth will be renewed and the culmination of all things will include a new and distinctively different relationship with the One who is.

Hope is deep and more than simple desire. It pulls from the being of our person and rests on the foundation of previously fulfilled promises and the faith of those gone before us. Lent, the season of waiting helps us refocus that hope: away from created to Creator, towards coming redemption and fulfillment. Because in the liturgical season of waiting we are reminded that we are waiting existentially. We learn to long for renewal. We hang in suspension. This is the tension that Christians live in. Here, oh yes, here! But also not yet. We are expectant, anxiously so. We are waiting. And we know that it will come despite all our impatience! Despite persecutions, failures, and misunderstandings. We’re waiting, but not in empty desire.  We’re waiting in deep, founded, faithful hope.

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Phil 1. 6, 2.12

Why: the computer and the pulpit

This morning dawned early,  before the actual rising of the sun. I rolled to the sound of my alarm, rising and falling in ecstatic tones, signaling the start of a new day, a new beginning. Forty five minutes passed between the tumble from bed to newly vacuumed floor and my passage out the front door with tortilla, books and water bottle in hand. Smoothing the jersey front of my skirt down against the cotton leggings to ward against cold and chapped white legs. Ethan took my hand, his own worn with callouses and bearing paint from yesterday’s haste and together we set off to work.

The office was empty, the building not even open when I arrived this morning at 7am with the sun just peaked over cloudy mountains. So I set to work and slowly others drifted in, professors, admin, work studies and others. There was little to be updated on our website so I settled in to data entry to the tune of Voyage of the Dawn Treader read in an English tone that helps my mind stay engaged. It’s slow and steady, dragging work — this coding for mailing lists now that we’ve switched massive email communication systems. But it’s necessary and important and there’s no way to do it in this age of technology but to type it in, each name at a time, one by one of near 10,00 records.

Recently I read a Tweet by a prominent pastor who linked to a website that would help or provide resources for those interested in the “most glorious work” of being a pastor.

This morning a professor came in looking for a DVD of our Seminary President’s installation a few  years ago. As he sat down and we chatted for a few minutes. I mentioned farming, theology, biblical studies and he told me to stay in the discipline I landed in last spring. He talked about teaching, accreditation and North Carolina, PhDs and how dating throws a wrench into everyone’s plan. Finally he asked, with a sigh and a sit down at the desk across from me, what I do in the office he had stumbled into still bleary eyed and waking up from yesterday’s late night grading.

Data Entry. Website maintenance. Grunt work.

keyboard

“Couldn’t pay me enough money to do that,” he said with a shake of his head.

“You could do it,” I thought, though I declined to say it in my respect and deference of authority. Instead I remarked on the office environment, the sweet staff and the flexibility around my student schedule. He smiled and left, remarking on the attitude and encouraged me for my future. I nodded, thanked him, promised to find the DVD and thought about my job. Couldn’t pay you enough? If you had to put food on the table you could do it.

The pastor said that to be a pastor is glorious work and it’s certainly true. To preach the Word (the Word, the logos, Jesus Christ) would be a great wonder! As well as a great responsibility. To counsel wounded souls, to help them come to healing–what joy!

But does that make it the most glorious work? What of that professor, equipping leaders for youth groups, churches and for-profit companies. He preaches the Word as he preaches what it means to lead like Jesus. He leads wounded souls to Jesus and healing. Joy of joy to work with students and engage them in ways that they will take into the world that so desperately needs Gospel!

These are easy comparisons. From pastor to professor in theological institution.

But what of the job that you couldn’t pay him enough to do? What of data entry, website maintenance and communications? Is it glorious too?

I’d answer yes. In the wee hours of the morning, when I wake before the sun I don’t come to this place only for a paycheck though that is part of the reason to be sure. I have bills to pay, food to buy, rent to make. I have a penchant for caffeine and the occasional dinner out. So I want the paycheck that comes by the internet at each month’s end. But there is also something about this job, this data entry, this web updating.

It makes information easier to access. It helps students get here to learn about God, to take the Kingdom further than it was when they arrived. It drives methods of accruing support to provide for maintenance, salaries and teaching tools. This is my job.

It’s data entry, sure. But it serves the Kingdom. And this is why I crawl out of bed before the dawn, pull the dress over my head, wrap the fancy scarf around my neck and hustle down the street to a job that at times puts me to sleep and crosses my eyes with migraines. It’s data entry, mundane and seemingly menial. But it’s Kingdom work and God honouring.

And so, my dear pastor whom I love and admire, my work of coding for newsletters and emails is as glorious as the work of a pastor. Because without my work, our pastors wouldn’t get trained to do the work.

WHY: Doing Life

This week I’ve been staying with two of my high school students from youth group. It’s amazing how your life disappears when two kids enter the picture. They have homework, school events, friends and youth group. There are guitar lessons, art club and exams. Not to mention emails and junk mail from colleges. They’re out the door at 645 AM after what I hardly consider to be a real breakfast and they’re home again at 235 PM with homework and hungry mouths.

Last night we learned together how to plunge an overflowed toilet.

Tonight we’re probably going out to see a movie.

It’s a wonderful life?

When their parents left, their mother said to me that she hoped I’d have some opportunities to speak into their lives. Well, last night we talked about drinking and college and I told them all the reasons that they shouldn’t drink to excess. But I have a feeling that’s not exactly what mom meant.

What does it mean to teach kids? What does it mean when their lives are so busy? Between guitar lessons and loading the car full of DJ equipment for youth group, I’m not even sure when we’ll eat dinner tomorrow night.

We pray together before they go to bed. I told them I was writing a paper about Jesus and coffee and the importance of work for the human identity and purpose. They stared at me like I’d grown two heads. But it brought up a couple of questions… what does the crema of espresso have to do with expanding the Kingdom? And why did you stop listening to Ke$ha or half a dozen other artists?

I thought how one of my other high schoolers is going for a run with me on Friday. She has questions to ask me, apparently. We’ve just become official as mentor/mentee and I’m freaking out with my own mentor because God knows I talk more than I listen; I am a Franks and Kormick by descent and there’s mistaking that when I open my mouth. I looked  at the coffee cup when she asked me, in the same shop where I found Ethan and my mentor and a new reason to live. I stared at the brown liquid, the soy foam dissolved into sweet joy. I told her the same thing that G told me years ago, before I lived with her and the family, before I learned what it meant to be at peace in the midst of chaos.

The kids aren’t home yet, but they will be soon. I’ll have to turn down Mumford and Sons while we do homework, all jammed into the office together. Tonight, after dinner, Ethan and I will read the daily liturgy and though it isn’t expected of them, I’ll invite the kids to join us. Ethan hasn’t been here, and I’ve missed our times of eating and reading together. This is what we do, after all, this is how we experience God, how we learn of Him, hear from Him and are challenged by the words of the fathers and the movement of the Spirit.

It’s like taking Rebekah running — where I can process and feel the glory of God in the pounding arteries beneath my skin and the bite of the cold winter wind on my face.

It’s like folding laundry with G while she told me about Jesus and peace and suffering.

We do life together. We invite people into our stories, our journeys. We walk alongside one another, holding hands, laughing and crying together and learning together along the way.

Perhaps there’s another way to teach, to speak into one another’s lives. If there is, I haven’t yet found it. But I’m no parent and so I am years away from knowing. I don’t make any claim to understanding what all this is about though I keep finding myself in the midst of it. There’s so much to learn, so much yet to find and discover. This is what I do know:

walking in the way that Jesus calls always creates reason for talking, reasons for speaking into one another’s lives as we grow into the people he has called us to be.

Why: counseling

Well, cat’s out of the bag now. I’m in counseling, folks. I’ve considered blogging about this, and about my experience in particular, but for now I think I want to just offer some basic thoughts on why counseling is a really good thing — even for Christians.

Time and Intentionality
There’s never enough time for all we need to get accomplished. Trust me, I know this on a very personal level. I’m a full time student, I work three part time jobs to make ends meet, I serve in a youth group, I’m dating someone and I manage a fairly decent social life. I think in our activity obsessed culture (which is a standard mark of our Protestant roots) we are often bereft of deep, authentic relationships. Please don’t misread this. I don’t mean to say that everyone in our culture is “fake” and putting on a show (though certainly true for many). It’s that we simply can’t manage to sit down and have coffee with someone for four hours to discuss our marriages, our struggles with our jobs and our victories that are coupled with defeat. There’s a struggle to find the ability to invest in each other, not because we don’t want to, but because we simply “can’t” make the time.* Our kids play sports, we have small group, Awanas, work parties, gym memberships, work that we bring home with us and — oh yeah– sleep which takes up half of our lifetime. But when we don’t have time for each other to be real, honest and raw, we need to find that elsewhere.

Sometimes, more intentionality can fill this vacancy. I plan my life about a month at a time — not because I like planning but because I have so much to get done and I want to preserve down time with God, with friends and with Ethan. We intentionally pursue certain people who we seek advice from and are honest with. Sometimes, however, this doesn’t seem feasible and one feels like they are drowning amidst obligations and shallow relationships that aren’t providing the ability to seek wisdom and discernment. It takes time to get to that point with someone and then time to maintain it. So, counseling can provide a place where those needs (for discernment, processing, correction, etc) are met. That has certainly been the case in my life.

Generations
Also problematic for finding someone to invest in you (and hopefully you investing in others) is that many of our churches are generationally segregated. Now, I’m going out on a limb here but I’d say this is not only a problem in churches via preference issues (music, clothing, etc) but is a standard issue across American culture where generations since the Boomers have decreasingly seen the importance of the wisdom of the elders. It’s something that needs to be combatted because there is a lack of wisdom for mentoring young folks if everyone is the same age! There’s no difference in life experience if everyone is on the same stage of life (young marrieds, new kids, teenage kids, etc).

I experienced the importance of having older folks in my life when Ethan and I recently snowshoed with a couple from our church who have kids older than the two of us. We took along their hunting dog and their little lap dog. Mathilda (lap dog) was slowing down about half way through so the other couple wrapped her up in a shirt and dropped her into the husband’s backpack with her head and two paws sticking out. Midway through the process, Cindy looked at me and said “this is what you do when you have kids, okay? Your life doesn’t stop. You adjust.” I need that. I need my married friends to wipe away the rose coloured glasses and assure me that arguments are normal, that marriage is compromise, that kids are cute but hard. Ethan and I are blessed to have many older couples around us who have been willing to take time out of their schedules and mentor us in a variety of ways (whether through snowshoeing or working on a house project with E). Unfortunately this isn’t always available to people in churches were the population is primarily made up of a single demographic. In this instance, I think counseling can again fill in a gap by providing wisdom both cerebral and hands on as people work through their issues (and this is especially true in marriages).

Spiritual Depth v Self Help
Finally, I think that as a Christian one ought to seek a Christian counselor. There’s this tendency in America to be obsessively oriented towards “self-help.” We can see this in our sermons, which are three points and commonly directed towards life change/behavioural modification. There’s a difference between self help and spiritual wisdom because self help, frankly, isn’t spiritual at all. It plays at the thought that one can change themselves to be better, healthier, more whole. While I believe one must cooperate with the Holy Spirit, I strongly believe that it is God who changes hearts. I think Christian counselors can make a huge difference here. They are trained to helping people unearth belief systems that cause behavioural issues — rather than putting someone on a diet, they help the person work through why they cope with life through food. A story might suffice here. My counselor and I have often talked about God and how my warped view of the Father has severely impacted my view of myself, E, and all of life (including my inability to rest and say no to people). My counselor and I recently discussed that I have terrible thought patterns (see previous post) and at some point I simply have to stop those thoughts right as they begin. What I didn’t say on Monday was that my counselor has also pointed out my need to memorize Scripture so I can speak truth in those moments of self loathing and doubt. You see? It isn’t self help, though that is what’s offered rather commonly in our churches and bookstores and relationships (a la, have you tried X, or tried Z?). What we need instead is a call to accountability and spiritual direction.

Considering…
Should everyone be in counseling? Well, at some point, yes. Not because we’re all horribly broken in a melodramatic way. No. But we all have pasts, we are products of the way people have treated us, the way we were picked on as children, manipulated by siblings, hurt by parents who didn’t love perfectly because they aren’t perfect. There’s sin in this world and we’ve all experienced it. I think, at some point, whether it is found in a mentoring relationship or a paid counselor, we’ve all got some ish to work through and we should do that as we pursue becoming who we already are in Christ and who we are constantly being transformed into.

Have you ever been in counseling? What are your thoughts on it — useful, necessary, etc?

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*I will say that sometimes the time excuse is just that, an excuse. I don’t have time for everyone, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have time for some people.

WHY: the book of common prayer

It’s funny, you know, being a seminary student. People expect you to know the Bible and have something worth saying. They think we spend hours pouring over the text, reading it in Greek and Hebrew, studying the Vulgate and duetero-canonical books always hoping to glean something new, something brilliant, something the world is in desperate need of hearing.

But it isn’t true. In the past year I’ve read the entire Bible and that’s a fact. But after reading five books of the Bible for an exam, I don’t turn around read it for fun. I read about the Bible for fun, I don’t read the text itself as a way to enjoy my afternoons away from class and campus.

CommonPrayerCover

I heard about a Farmer’s Wife whose family reads the Bible together after every meal and I thought, aloud to Ethan and the rest of my Colorado-family, that it was the most brilliant idea I’d heard in a long time. So the next night, after dinner, Ethan tugged his worn out Bible from the reading shelf of his room and thumbed through to Isaiah 52 where he started to read Messianic prophecies and songs of the Servant.
The next night he read Romans; when he got home he found a book by a radical in Pennsylvania and calledme after I’d climbed into my lofted bed. He read the night liturgy written for the day of Advent and together we said Amen. It was a beautiful moment. But it was hard and it was conflicting in my soul. The prayer was about lifting up the oppressed and sheltering the hurt, the hungry, etc.

I lived in the inner city and I fed the hungry. We give of ourselves though we haven’t much money, we try to buy generously for others, we donate and give to causes. I have housed so many people and I am grateful for the shelter He’s provided for us to help others. We dress and live life simply so we can live frugally and give away.

But I’m also accruing debt going to school. Someday, after the PhD, what if it’s not the city but a farm? What if there are home-schooled children under foot and a mudroom full of tools, boots, jackets and rifles hung
kids at rodeohigh on the wall? What if I don’t feel called to the poor, but to the broken rich–suffocated by their wealth and possessions? What if I am called to the country, to the rural, to open fields and running water where the sky meets the horizon long before it sees sky scrapers and homeless? What of that life?

But there is more than that. There is my selfishness, my greed. E wants a big house so we can house families–two or three at a time–so we can bless those coming home from the mission field, those who need time away from their churches, give them rest, comfort and a slower pace if only for a day or for weeks.

Me, I think of extra mud on my floor and beds to be made, sheets to change, food to be bought and cooked. When will I do my writing? When will I research?

Ethan thinks of giving without thought and I think of saving for a rainy day when I’ll provide for myself and forget to rely on God. He gives time and I retain it, cloistering myself in the library, away from anyone who might distract from my all consuming obsession to learn.

Scripture, for this reason makes me uncomfortable,  nervous and frustrated.

I like my  life.

I like my dreams.

What if Scripture calls me to give them up? What if my dream isn’t the one He’ll reveal? Or what if my dream is His calling but it’s to be laced with sacrifices of time, cleanliness, money and sleep? Do I want to follow that? My heart, when Ethan read the scripture and prayers was that I don’t want it. I want to be left alone, unchallenged, I to follow my own desires.

And this, I realized, is the greatest irony of being in seminary: learning to teach the things I’m so afraid to accept for myself. Scripture, good, beautiful, strong and convicting is not something I enjoy reading but it something for which my soul yearns as I am slowly growing into who I already am in Christ.

WHY: Church Seasons

If you go to a church that is at all liturgical you’ve probably just started Advent. This weekend, during service, someone lit a candle and discussed hope, peace or something similar. (unless you attend a Celtic church  like me, in which case, it’s the third week of Advent) I think that church seasons are a great way of ordering the Christian life, walking through the ministry of Jesus Christ and his time on earth. It’s not something that I grew up doing, but it has spoken to me for a long time as a beautiful way of uniting the church body in a pattern of devotional life throughout the year–and not only the local body but also the universal body.

Right now, the church season is Advent and I love Advent. It’s my favourite season–right up there with Lent. Advent comes from a Latin word meaning coming and it refers to not only the coming of Jesus at Christmas but also his final coming when the world will be set to rights once and for all.

This year, so much has gone wrong in the world: hurricanes and typhoons, shootings and fires, floods and droughts, and conflict at every level of human society. I’m excited for Jesus to come–as a baby, as a mysterious child full of divinity while maintaining humanity. But I’m also looking forward to the distant future, when God will consummate his promises to Adam, Eve, Abraham and countless others.

Jesus is coming! He comes in 20 days!

But Jesus is coming later, to fulfill the promises, to be faithful to his covenants and to do what he has always planned: make shalom for all his people. And with the rest of creation, we grown in anticipation for that final, glorious day which is the beginning of all things.

WHY: leaning left

I mentioned yesterday that I am in the final crunch before exam week and Christmas break. For that reason, I have not been able to research the Supreme Court’s decision on the Sebellius case and the health care laws. While I’m cautious about a number of things on both sides of the health care plan, I have certainly benefited from the system thus far and have some tentative hopes for it. That being said, I also have a number of concerns for not only religious reasons but economics as well.

I read an interesting article recently* and appreciated the moderate stance taken by the author, David Opderbeck. I also appreciated something he said which finally put to words the conviction I’ve been feeling regarding my theology about the health care system…

 

I wonder when “individual freedom” became the sine qua non for Christian social ethics about health care? It seems to me that Christians of all people should be willing to sacrifice some of their “individual freedom” in order to ensure that everyone, particularly “the least of these,” has access to health care.  In scriptural and Christian theological terms, true “freedom” is not libertarian license, but rather is the full participation of a person in God’s self-giving love.  And true “freedom” is never about isolated individuals – as God is a Triune community, so we as human beings can only be truly “free” in community.

Of course, even if we agree that Christians should be willing to give up some “individual freedom” to facilitate health care for others – or, perhaps better, that Christian freedom means moving beyond selfishness —  the question remains whether such care should be provided through government, through private associations, through Churches, through families, and so on.  There is a long and tangled tradition of Christian political theology on all of these questions – and, at least in my opinion, there is no simple right answer.

Finally! Someone was able to express much more eloquently than I can my concern with how many politically conservative Christians approach this issue. My struggle over the past few months has been discerning what Jesus calls us to in serving selflessly and giving to those among us who are in need–and how that plays into allowing the government to take control of health care to provide more access to care and medicine.

But I also wonder what the role is of the church–why have we not done more to help those among us find medical care, why do we so easily abdicate responsibility to the government (or why do we allow the need for government to play that role) instead of demonstrating the love of Christ by caring for people ourselves? The food pantry I attend has medical services during the evening session. I think that’s fantastic–while I’ve not taken the church up on that free service–I’ve watched many other individuals and families utilize that. Should there be other churches offering similar things? Could we use our benevolence funds for that? Perhaps if we did more we wouldn’t need the government to take such a large role in the health care system?

Or, as we watch the government take on that role, how should we react about our money being redirected? Especially as Christians, shouldn’t we remember that the money was never “ours” in the first place rather than grumbling as it’s taken away in taxes that provide medical care for the neighbours down the street? I don’t have a clear answer on this. I’m still processing all of it (and I of course have several reservations on what those dollars pay for in medical care–a la abortions). There are a lot of considerations here, and the Bible doesn’t speak very clearly on this issue…so we have to do a lot of formulating on our own based on some Biblical texts and based on our knowledge of the character of God (who we are to emulate) and the call or mission of the church…That’s a lot of thinking and theological development on this massive issue that is going to consume the country over the next several months and years.

What do you think?

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*I know I’ve recently been citing Scot McKnight quite often as well as those who guest-post on his blog. He’s just had a plethora of worthy things to consider lately.

WHY: Roommate

I contemplated living alone for a while. I thought: “I need a place to study, a place to bake and not be in anyone’s way, a place to have my HS girls and not worry about inconveniencing, a place to sleep amidst my odd schedule, a place to be away, to be alone, to just be.” 

Well, I couldn’t afford a place on my own.

So instead, I got a super loud, super intense roommate.

E calls her Sassy Stacey. It’s a perfect description. From facial expressions to the snarky way she swivels on her heel, from her teasing manner to the bite in her green chile (yum!) my roommate is a sassy little woman. She’s absolutely fabulous. She’s loud and crazy, her life is too busy and she leaves me love notes all the time–on the table, on my bed, and the ladder to my loft. She loves well, she is strong but wounded as is every human being you’ll ever meet. She’s beautiful and I love her to pieces.

Tonight, after a long day of data entry at work and a noisy night at the food pantry, I came home to her, sitting on the futon under two flannel blankets, knitting a purple scarf. I made myself tea and then sat down beside her to listen to her story of the day. It’s a familiar tale; much like my own. Customers are annoying, inconsiderate, and demanding. Her coworker was slow or too chatty, they ran out of something, the drawer didn’t balance, etcetera, et al. But she didn’t tell me about her day. Instead, she started crying and told me what she’s struggling with these days. I held her hand, sipped my tea and listened.At some point in the evening, she apologized for crying but I shook my head. No, I said, I like it when you cry. It reminds me that I’m not too busy to listen. And it reminds me that I have feelings too.”

“Of course you have feelings!” she practically exclaimed, “you cry over homeless people and old men.”

I laughed and then found tears in my own eyes. I didn’t say outloud as she prattled on with more stress and fears but I did think to myself that this is why I live with a roommate. Yes, money was an issue when I looked for a new place. Yes, I don’t like being a single woman by myself at night with all the odd people living in our world. But mostly, I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted someone to live with me, to challenge me, to frustrate me, to love me and to encourage me. Someone I could build into and serve and forgive when days were hard. I wanted to live with someone because I wanted to be reminded of my humanity and my constant need for community.

Maybe it’s just me but, I think that might be why the body of Christ is so important for believers: to remind us of our fallenness and our absolute dependence on God and one another. More than that, though, the body reminds us of the imago dei and the ways in which we shine like stars in the universe as we grow up together into maturity in the faith. We remind each other of what our humanity is, what it should be and what it will be as we slowly grow into who we are and who we are called to be.

love my roommate.