Monday, December 31, 2012

Reading the Bible

I was inspired to write this post based on a Facebook question crowd-sourced by my cousin Kelsey.  She asked, "I would like to read the Bible in one year.  Please friends, give me suggestions on any good resources for this goal, plans that are online or in print.  Have any of you completed this yourself?"

I used to tell everyone that I really disliked reading the Bible.  But that was never actually true.  I hated what people do to each other with the Bible.  How it is used as a wedge and a way to divide us instead of a place for conversation and a way to look at what brings us together.  I actually love the Bible and because of my love for it, I react strongly when people use it as a weapon.  So Kelsey's question got me thinking, why read the Bible?  And how?

I have read pretty much the entire Bible and the apocrypha.  Not in any particular order and not in one sitting or even one year.  But now, halfway through seminary, this is what I have learned about reading the Bible and what I offered to my cousin.

The most important place to start is by asking, what Bible?  There is not one Bible.   There are many, many different translations.  Some are undoubtedly better than others, but we have something to learn from each of them.  Catholics use a different canon than Protestants who use a different canon than Orthodox Christians.  It is really important not to limit yourself to only one translation.  And this might come as a shock, but the Bible is not chronological and not entirely a historical record of human history.  It is human-generated, divinely inspired, record of God's action in the world.  The Word is a gift given by God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to nurture us in faith and in life.

Next, don't forget the apocrypha.  The day that I learned that these books of extra-Protestant-canonical literature existed, my mind was blown.  Reading them might feel frightening to some people, but I can only see their potential for enriching the entire experience.

Throughout the various eras in human history in which the biblical canons were formed, the majority of people of faith were illiterate.  Really, the scriptures were not available for the common people to read until the invention of the printing press and the translation of the Bible into the language of the people at the time of the Protestant Reformation by Martin Luther.  Therefore, "reading" the Bible for one's self is a relatively new phenomenon.  That is why I suggested reading the Bible aloud in community with others.  The real advantage here is that we all hear different things in the texts, and we can hold each other accountable in our study and interpretation.  This is why I also suggested the practice of lectio divina a form of reading and meditating on the scripture.

One of the most fascinating things to me is the history behind the formation of the Biblical canon.  So I suggested to my cousin that she do a little research behind different parts of the Bible.  One of the places where this is most interesting to me is in the formation of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  In literature as ancient and revered and redacted as the Bible, nearly every word is included for a specific reason.

Finally, I suggested to my cousin Kelsey that the most important thing in reading the Bible is that you are actually reading a library, a collection of individual books, and not a singular whole.  The Bible contradicts itself, some parts are downright ugly and awful, but there are really beautiful parts too.  It is far more enjoyable if you let it live for what it is, instead of attempting to make it into a composite idealistic whole that does not actually exist.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Returning home... not always what it is cracked up to be.  On Christmas Eve I visited the church I grew up in, Hope Lutheran, in Bozeman, MT.  It was terrible.  I have never felt so lonely in a worship community.  My family was a huge part of this church even ten years ago, and now, I didn't know a soul in this church and have never met either pastor.  This congregation built a huge new building about four years ago or so, and the space is pretty cold.  Literally and figuratively.  There are also four screens that project images and text (like a megachurch), a drum set, a sound booth, a big clock on the back wall.  In other words, I didn't even recognize it.  I was very impressed that the pastor was a non-manuscript preacher, but otherwise, nothing really stuck out.  It was sad.  There was even a wall of name tags in the foyer.  They sang a praise and worship song during communion distribution.  Ick.  No one greeted us.  No one seemed to care that we were there.

The whole experience of worship at this church was not anything that I could remember from the church I grew up in.  Everyone seemed to be completely isolated and interested only in what was being fed to them from the projection screen.  It felt like the audience (because it definitely didn't feel like a congregation) was just waiting for the next slide so that they could sing the song or read the text.  They even projected the announcements and instructions about how to light your candle during Silent Night. The more things change...the more they still change.  I will not be returning to this congregation for worship.  In other news, I attended the other ELCA church in Bozeman and absolutely loved it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

How long O Lord, how long?

Kyrie Eleison.  Evil came to an elementary school today in Newtown, CT.  Preliminary news reports indicate that a shooter came to an elementary school, focusing most of his attention on a single Kindergarten classroom.  A Kindergarten classroom.  My mother is a Kindergarten teacher and a ton of my relatives and friends are teachers as well.  If this can happen in an elementary school, it can truly happen anywhere. And it needs to stop.  Right now.

Reports indicate that there are about 26 people who lost their lives, as well as it is reported the shooter's mother was a teacher at the school, and reports indicate that she was a Kindergarten teacher.

How long O Lord, how long?

How many more times does this have to happen before we really and seriously talk about gun control?  There is no argument that can justify the fact that someone who is crazy enough to shoot up an elementary school should be able to get within 100 miles of a gun.  The gun rights lobby opposes all efforts to regulate gun usage, saying, "people kill people, guns don't kill people." Crazy people who have no business getting their hands on guns use guns to kill people.  No, you cannot legislate crazy, but you can make it harder to get guns.

This is the second shooting this week.  Sunday there was a shooting in a mall in Portland, OR where two people were killed while Christmas shopping.  It is time to have this conversation.  Those of us who live in communities that have been ripped apart by gun violence, and who know people whose lives have been changed forever by these public acts of terror, know that it is too late for this to be a conversation.  We need action.  I have yet to set foot in a movie theater since the shooting this summer.  And now, thousands and thousands of children are going to be afraid to go to school.  It is not okay.  Something needs to give and I think it is access to guns.  This is the final straw.  Below is a portion of a friend's facebook status, who was in the Aurora movie theaters this summer during the shootings:

"None of you know what it's like to see the devastation of a crazy person with a gun. None of you know what it's like to be covered in the blood of a strangers body that's been ripped apart by bullets."

Kyrie Eleison.  Hug your families a little closer today.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Teaching the Commandments

Along with the fine distinction of law and gospel, comes subtleties in teaching the law, or the 10 commandments.  Here is another excerpt from my final exam in my systematics class.  

The first three commandments are intended to inform our relation to our creator as creatures.  Lutheran teaching of the commandments occurs on three levels, first, what God wants from his creatures, next the resistance that God encounters from these creatures, and finally, what God does in the end.   The First Commandment and its appendix dictate that the human creature is to have no other gods.  Martin Luther teaches “To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart” (Book of Concord 365) and “that to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God” (365).  I believe this commandment is often only partially taught in most confirmation classes.   Indeed, trusting the God of Israel for one’s existence is commanded, but the other side of this commandment is that the creature is not to make an idol of any other thing in this temporal life, which can include money, knowledge, job, relationships, etc.  Luther writes, “We are to trust in God alone and turn to him, expecting from him only good things…” (367).  The sinner’s resistance is that we prefer our own invented Gods.  In the end, God gives faith and God provides justification through no doing of our own. 

The Second Commandment prohibits us from calling upon the name of God in vain.  This obviously applies to deliberate use of God’s name when supporting falsehood, but applies more subtly to false preachers and others who attempt to justify themselves.  Luther defines this as “…it is either simply to lie and assert under his name something that is not so…” (373).  This is why it is important to have a preacher, to hear what God is doing, so that one might hear the true word.  In baptism, we receive God’s name for our use.   It is also important to note that it is appropriate to call upon God’s name in time of need or in praise, or when in service to others.

The Third Commandment pertains to time set aside for worshiping God. Luther states that Christians need not concern themselves with the literal application of this commandment according to Jewish law, but rather recognize that it provides the time and opportunity for rest and worship that might otherwise be filled with other things (376).  Luther also teaches that the day itself is already holy, because it was created by God, but “it becomes holy or unholy on your account, according as you spend the day in doing holy or unholy things” (377).  This is important teaching in congregations who have made an idol out of Sunday morning worship.  Worship happens when one is in the place of hearing the Word of God, but also learning and retaining it.  This intentional time set aside on a regular basis (and not just Christmas and Easter!) is what God is commanding.  God sends a preacher to help us ponder the Word and how it continues to live. 

Theologian of the Cross and Theologian of Glory

From time to time I like to post some of what I am working on in seminary.  The following is an excerpt from my final exam for my systematic theology class at Luther Seminary.  One of the major distinctions that we worked on this semester was the difference between law and gospel and between a theologian of glory and a theologian of the cross.  

The theologian of glory and the theologian start out from a very different place in their paradigm.  The theologian of glory assumes that we “fell” from a high place of glory and we are destined to return to that place, and to do so, must only follow the law (doing the prescribed “right things”).  A theologian of the cross knows that we were born sinners from the very dawn of creation and that we are constitutionally incapable of saving ourselves, we need the actions of a radical incarnate God who would sacrifice his own son on the cross. 

The theologian of glory desires to activate the will to do things and reads scripture as a series of precepts (if you do this…you will receive this…).  This theologian believes it is entirely possible to return to glory eventually and will engage in this relentless striving until their death.  They believe that their spiritual aspirations, and all associated actions, will draw them closer to God.  They also believe that they can understand what God is doing and see the cross as making up for their failures along the path of glory.  The theologian of the cross knows that their own actions are futile in salvation and only the justifying act of the cross saves.  A theologian of the cross is always at risk of becoming a theologian of glory, for this is the natural temptation of the human creature.  The glory story is addictive, because it becomes about me and what I want and what I believe I am capable of doing.  The theologian of the cross understands that the law was not given for us to return to glory, but rather to maintain order in this old creation, while we are yet dying.  A theologian of the cross knows that the law and our attempts to justify our lives through it were forever put to death on the cross, and acknowledges that there are no more loopholes in this justification by faith alone.  

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


I am sitting in a coffee shop off Broadway in Denver starting to write my final exam for my Systematics class at Luther Seminary.  So naturally I am doing everything possible to postpone starting this project.  I have a huge stack of textbooks next to me, and a woman sitting nearby struck up a conversation and asked what I was studying.  When I said that I was working on my MDiv and what I planned to do with it, I got the most interesting response yet, "That is so brave."  I told her that I had never had that response before, and she said, "I think that is the sort of thing that we need to change the world.  Keep doing it."

Sometimes it feels foolhardy and next to impossible to follow this calling, but other times it feels just right.  So that is where I am today.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Waiting for transformation

Su Teatro, on Dios de Los Muertos
 Denver.  A. Hanson 2012.
Yesterday marked the start of Advent.  Our guest preacher at church was James, the HFASS contemplative in residence.  He raised an idea in his sermon that I am still thinking about today.  He remarked that we are waiting in the darkness, waiting for transformation.  I think that is really what Advent is all about.  We are waiting to be born again in the sure and certain hope that comes in the incarnate Christ, yet, we do not understand that for which we wait.  So we wait impatiently.  For a transformation that we could never enact for ourselves.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why an Incarnation?

This was a challenge posted by emergent theologian Tony Jones on his Patheos blog Theoblogy:  

Why an Incarnation?  

He writes, "I'm most interested in what the incarnation tells us about God, human beings, creation, the Cosmos, the End Times, Heaven, Hell, salvation, or anything else from a Progressive Christian Perspective,"

This is some useful stuff for me to begin thinking about because I am preaching for my congregation on Epiphany, which is also my last Sunday in Denver.  

So, why an incarnation?  

Honestly, I think it is because we would not listen any other way.  When I am saying we, I mean humanity throughout all time and in all places.  We tend to think that we know best what we need, and generally that comes down to what we want at a given time.  The Messiah the Israelites wanted was a king in the Davidic line, a monarch of military might.  I think we still want the same kind of Messiah, a savior of our own personal choosing who is at our beck and call, who hates the same people we do.  I really don't think if left to our own devices we would have ever picked an infant born among farm animals in a stable to a teenage mother, with an earthly father who was a carpenter, and a heavenly father who is bound and determined to break through the walls we have constructed around our hearts and in our world.  It just doesn't make sense, and yet, I think that is precisely why God chose the person of Jesus Christ as Savior of the world.  

God in Christ broke into our world quietly with the birth of an infant on a dark night in Bethlehem.  And as the cry of a newborn shattered the silence of the night, the Word became flesh and lived among us.  This so thoroughly upends our assumptions about God, that we simply must listen.  Jesus Christ continued to smash our ideas about God as he kept company with unsavory characters, healed those who seemed beyond all help, and died the most undignified death possible, on a cross.  With the incarnate Christ we have a God who is fully human and fully divine.  Our God knows the fullness of human experience, including deep joy and deep pain, which means we are never alone.  

But why an incarnation?  Because of love.  God knew that humankind would ultimately reject (and crucify) the person of Jesus Christ, and yet still came into the world as a vulnerable infant, to attempt to reach our broken hearts, all the while knowing that our sinful nature would prevent us from seeing the gift that we were being offered. Yet he loved us so much that he did it anyway.  The incarnation of Word made flesh tells us that we have a God of love, who knows us far better than we will ever know ourselves, yet loves us anyway.  That is the gospel.  

Why Advent?

Credit: Gregory Walter (Occupy Advent)
The season after Thanksgiving has a name, and it is not Christmas.  Despite what Target would have you believe, Christmas has not yet arrived.  I went to Target last night to pick up a few things, and found that the entire back half of the store seemed to have exploded into a veritable cacophony of red and green and glitter and ribbon and beads and baubles.

This Sunday, December 2nd, marks the first day of Advent.  Advent is probably my favorite season in the liturgical year.  It is the start of the church year, in which we wait with joyous expectation for the coming of the incarnate Christ on Christmas.

With regards to holiday seasons, Advent gets perpetually skipped over.  Christmas is more exciting.  It is more fun to rush through the season of waiting because we are bad at being patient.  We want gratification and we want it now.  It is more fun to surround ourselves with things that are red and green, flavored with peppermint, and that comfort us in the midst of the darkest time of the year.

Advent is a season of darkness.  It is before the coming of the promise of Christ.  Waiting in the darkness is pretty countercultural to us now, but it was also countercultural to the first century Israelites who received a king that they never expected.  They wanted a fine king, in the Davidic tradition, but instead they got a infant born in a stable surrounded by farm animals, to a carpenter and a teenage mother.  Not your typical royal stock. And Jesus continued to smash assumptions throughout his life and through even his death on a cross. So just like those who received Jesus Christ at his first coming, we too await the arrival of a king who comes quietly and unexpectedly in the darkest time of the year.

The Occupy Advent movement blog, and their FaceBook site, is an interesting place to start.  Advent is outside our cultural norms.  What does it mean to wait for a blessing that we cannot even comprehend? What does it mean to trust that the promise will be fulfilled even if we can't understand how or why?

Luther Seminary (my soon-to-be home, as of about January 10th, 2013) publishes a daily meditation guide for Advent.   You can download it here.  This is how I will be shaping my spiritual life in this season of waiting.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Scenic drive?  Probably not.
In seven weeks I will be making a big move.  I will be moving from Colorado, which has been my home for nearly 7 1/2 years, to St. Paul, MN.  I need to complete some classes at Luther Seminary in order to be ordained in the ELCA.

This is quite the pilgrimage.  I know just a handful of people in Minnesota, and moving there in January is probably the worst idea I have ever had. But there is a preaching class only offered in the spring, with an exceptional professor, Dr. David Lose, so I need to go now before my internship next fall.  However, I have very mixed feelings about my move.  Colorado is my home and the Midwest is not.

It is looking like I will be heading out from Denver on January 7th or 8th.  I am drastically downsizing my belongings right now, as in, if it doesn't fit in my Jeep, it is not coming to MN.  I will probably take it very slow on my drive, taking three days instead of two.  I am taking a whirlwind trip to Montana for Christmas, and will come back on 12/27 in order to finish packing and getting everything in order here.  I am not happy about this move, but I know that I need to do it in order to continue to pursue my calling.


I spent Thanksgiving this year doing something just a little bit different.  My church puts on a big Thanksgiving spectacular called "Operation Turkey Sandwich."  This is my third year participating.  The theory behind it is that many people have to work on the holiday and are not able to be with their own families, or they might not have families to spend the holiday with, and could use a little kindness on a sometimes lonely day.  We make sack lunches that consist of turkey sandwiches, stuffing muffins and pumpkin cookies.  Our church made and distributed 1,045 lunches to people working at 7-11's/other gas stations, hospitals, police stations, fire departments, etc.  It was a good time.  There was even a spontaneous dance party in the middle of the sandwich-crafting.

Buying bread for 1,000 sandwiches at Costco
I went to work in the afternoon at the women's homeless shelter where I work part-time.  I have some amazing coworkers, and along with a family of fantastic volunteers, we  pulled off dinner for 60 women.  Some of the food was cooked in advance, most of it was not. We had five turkeys, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, salad, pies, dinner rolls, and sparkling cider.  And in a nod to so many Thanksgivings spent at my Grandma Amy's house in Montana, I even put wooden bowls of olives and mixed nuts on every table.  I worked again last night, and the ladies were still raving about the holiday.  I really truly love these women at the shelter and it was a wonderful way to spend Thanksgiving.  Because I really think that is what it is about.  Surrounding yourself with wonderful people, stripping away extraneous stuff that doesn't really matter, laughing, and enjoying community.  So it wasn't a holiday in Montana with my family of origin, but it was with a family of my own creation.

With my friend Amy S, getting ready to make sandwiches

Monday, November 19, 2012

Advent Conspiracy

So every year for the past four years or so, in preparation for holiday gift-giving, I have been participating in something called the Advent Conspiracy.  Basically the concept is that the meaning of the season is somehow lost in the consumerism and buying of STUFF.  There is a video embedded below that describes this kind of alternative way to prepare for the holidays.  Black Friday makes me vaguely nauseated every year.  So I am vowing to not buy anything that day and spend time with people I love instead.

Essentially the idea is that instead of buying gifts for your friends and loved ones, you make them.  So I am getting started early this year with making presents.  There is something really profound about showing your love for someone with every stitch or bead or whatever.  So today I dug out all my yarn and knitting needles.  In addition to making gifts, you can also provide services for others.  Think like the coupon books that you made for your family as a child.  I especially love to cook for other people.  Just not for myself.  So I am planning on doing most of the cooking for my family while I am in Bozeman.  Hanson crew, get ready for falafel and tzatziki, chicken chili, pumpkin soup, quinoa, spaghetti squash, sweet potato enchiladas, and so on.  I also make lefse to eat on Christmas Eve.

So my gifts aren't always perfect, but I put a ton of myself into them.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Forced Rest

So this week I finished up finals but it took everything I had to do so.  Tuesday morning I woke up with the tell-tale scratchy throat.  By thursday I was coughing so much I was unable to sleep.  I deliriously took my Hebrew final at 5pm and then crashed.  It was like my body finally said, "That's enough, thanks for playing.  We are going to take a break now."

So I have spent the last three days sleeping and resting.  Because I am literally unable to do anything else.  I went to urgent care yesterday morning after a sleepless night of coughing and wheezing.  I have sickness induced asthma, and it hit me hard this weekend.  It is amazing how exhausting endless coughing can be.  I had a breathing treatment and got some oral steroids and more powerful cough medicine.  It is good that I went when I did because this was not going to get better on its own.  So I am living into my forced period of rest.  I have a couple friends who have been bringing me food and making sure I am okay.

So I hate being sick, mostly because I am impatient and prefer to be doing things at 75mph, so being forced to slow down is not my favorite.  But this is not always a bad thing.   So today I am going to be content with the fact that I managed to do a load of laundry and take a shower.  Accomplishment for today.  Off to take a nap.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


So last week I had my second major interview with my candidacy committee.  This step of the process is called Endorsement and is the second step in a three part process.  I was "entranced" in August 2011 as an official candidate.  This first step marks the transition into an intentional process of discernment with one's faith community and Synod.  The second step of the process is Endorsement and affirms that I have specific gifts and a calling for a specific ministry, in my case, the ministry of Word and Sacrament or ordained ministry.  What people call a pastor.  The third step of the process is called Approval and will occur after my pastoral internship is completed and shortly before I finish my coursework for my Master's of Divinity.

My endorsement interview included the director of candidacy, who is also a friend and mentor, a member of the candidacy committee who is also a chaplain, and one of my professors from Iliff, my pastoral care professor.  Back in August I wrote a 10 page essay that asked a ton of questions in preparation for this interview.  The interview was about 90 minutes long and while grueling, was an excellent experience.  I feel affirmed and encouraged in this path.

So what is next?  My next step is to secure an internship placement for next year.  Tomorrow morning I have a Skype interview with the contextual learning office at Luther Seminary and then will start interviewing with placement sites this winter.  Hopefully an internship will be finalized by March or April and then I will know where I am spending 2013-2014.  Goodness, I am getting awfully tired of moving every year.

I am moving to St. Paul in January to continue my Lutheran formation classes at Luther Seminary.  Lots of exciting things are afoot.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Highlands Lutheran Church

Back in September I worshipped with Highlands Lutheran Church as part of my visiting churches project.  I am also concentrating on this church as part of a research project for my sociology of congregations class.  HLC is an interesting study because they are a somewhat traditional lutheran church (in terms of theology and practice) but have a very vibrant young adult population.  My research project will end up being 25 pages or so, so I definitely won't post that here, but I might post some of what I learned.  At any rate, here are my experiences from worship.

Highlands Lutheran is in terms of physical space, a very traditional congregation.  They have a typical sanctuary with pews and a raised chancel.  The worship service was traditional and involved the hymnal and liturgy that I have known my entire life.  Which is comforting and makes me feel a part of an ELCA church wherever I go.  The very small choir did an excellent job of leading the worship.  I also appreciated the remembrance of baptism that happened at the start of the service.  The pastor did a really excellent job of welcoming visitors and making sure that we knew what was going on during the service.  This seems to be a fairly small congregation, and they seem to really like each other a whole lot.  My experience as a visitor was that while the pastor was really welcoming, the congregation was not sure how best to do that.  Sharing the peace is the most awkward part of visiting a congregation like this.  During this time in the service they are all greeting each other and hugging one another and talking about their lives.  A visitor really feels like an outsider.  I do not think that this is intentional, but things done (or not done) out of simply not paying attention are still not helpful.

What I learned:
1. It falls to the pastor to make sure that visitors know what is going on in the service, and they will come back if they feel like their presence matters

2. However it also falls to the pastor to make sure that their congregation knows that they share the responsibility for welcoming visitors.  Church is not a social club.

3. I think having a physical reminder of baptism (in this case actually involving water, not just words) at the start of every service is a huge part of our identity as Lutherans.

Monday, October 29, 2012

How to Install a Bishop

Photo credit Dale Horkey 2012

On September 23, 2012 the Rocky Mountain Synod installed Bishop Jim Gonia.  We are so blessed to have this incredible leader inspiring our Synod.

There is a complete video stream from the event, it is about three hours long.  I am a part of the line of processing church leaders.
Bishop Installation (video link)

This service included a 60 voice choir, liturgical dancers, a brass choir, 180 rostered leaders processing and a church absolutely stuffed to the gills.  It was a beautiful service, but exceptionally long.

Here is what I learned about installing a bishop:
-the laying on of hands is really, really cool.  What a moving experience to witness
-the ecumenical bishops present (Methodist and Episcopal) were also an incredible tribute to partnership.
-It is not necessary to sing every verse to every hymn.
-I know it is really difficult to work out of the logistics for serving communion to 300-odd people, but there was a really awkward pause of about 15 minutes in which no music was planned.  The organist should have vamped or something.

Over all a really moving and powerful experience.  I was blessed to be a part of it.

I am somewhere in this sea of people
(photo credit Dale Horkey 2012)

Bethany Lutheran Church

I am behind in my blogging about visiting churches!  Yesterday I visited Bethany Lutheran Church, which is in a southern suburb of Denver called Cherry Hills Village.  My dear friends Julie and Scott had their son baptized there yesterday.  Bethany was one of the first churches that I visited when I moved to Denver seven years ago.  I went there for about three months and stopped going because during that period of time not a single person greeted me as a visitor.  So I did not have high hopes for this worship service, although I was there to celebrate with and support my friends.

This the largest ELCA church in Denver, so I have been there for a few concerts and most recently the installation of the Rocky Mountain Synod bishop in September.  The sanctuary itself is very large, there are some beautiful stained glass windows and a very large pipe organ.

I was there for a baptism, and it was probably the most moving baptism that I have witnessed. Julie and Scott had each of us bring a cup of water from our home (Julie also had me bring a cup from the Episcopal church building where HFASS meets) to add to the fount.  The ELW Order for Baptism was performed, but at the end, the pastor added something that I had never heard before, but really liked.  The pastor held Julie and Scott's son and looked directly into his eyes and said, "You belong to God."  This is the clearest articulation of baptismal theology that I have heard, and I loved it.  They also invited the children of the congregation to come stand around the fount and witness what was going on.

The rest of the service was kind of lackluster.  Yesterday was Reformation Sunday, which is a really big deal for Lutherans, but instead of using the lectionary texts and preaching about what this sunday in the church year means for Lutherans, the preaching pastor gave a sermon about tithing.  Asking for money in church makes me feel profoundly uncomfortable, which is something that I definitely need to get over.  But as a guest in a congregation that is not my own, getting brow-beaten about supporting the congregation feels awkward.  The other thing about this church was that they did not really seem to care if a visitor knew what was going on or felt comfortable. However, what really got me was their announcement about gluten free wafers and grape juice at the Eucharist.  The presiding minister announced, "If you can't have regular wafers or wine, you need to come to the center station."  Which is awkward and exclusive and makes people feel immediately ill at ease, especially if they are visitors.

So here is what I learned about my visit to Bethany Lutheran:
-I loved what the pastor did at the baptism.  I love how he articulated what baptism meant and really meant it.
-I love that children were invited to gather around the fount
-You will inevitably have visitors, so please don't make it awkward for them to be there.
-Don't cause shame for people who cannot take in the "regular" elements of communion.  They are just as much a part of the body of Christ as everyone else.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Skewed Normal

A. Hanson Denver 2011
I've worked in homeless services for quite a few years now.  No matter how many times I hear the stories, I never, ever get used to them.  Maybe I shouldn't, because the second you become jaded and calloused, you probably have no business doing social work anymore.

I get a skewed sense of normal as a result of this work sometimes.  This morning I did an intake for a guest with a really sad story, they are all sad stories, but this woman's story seemed even harder than those of others.  It is just really difficult to see a woman who is holding so little hope for herself. Sometimes we have to help hold hope for others.  And that can be draining, which is what I feel today, but also an honor.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Perspectives on a Year of Biblical Womanhood

One of my first concerns before reading this book, and indeed about any discussion of womanhood/manhood, etc, was about my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community.  To be clear, this is not the aim of the book.  There are plenty of other books available on the topic.

However, I worry about the bigger picture of how gender roles impact our society.  And some of the greatest propagators of inequality are those of the Christian Evangelical tradition.  Some of the likely readers of Rachel Held Evans' book.  So we cannot afford to look away.

By arguing that there are two complementary roles (man and woman) in one type of relationship, heterosexual marriage, you only see a tiny portion of the spectrum of human experience.  There is such a huge spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations and WAYS OF BEING HUMAN that it serves no one to just confine it to a narrow understanding of what love can be.

There seems to be a general understanding of what it means to be man or woman or family that has been co-opted by some Christians as normative.  It generally looks like a married, two-parent household, that is middle class, goes to church on Sundays and lives in a community surrounded by others who are similar.

What Rachel Held Evans does really skillfully in this book is to detail that there are many, many ways that women lived their experience in biblical times.  There was Hagar, the slave sent into the wilderness by Abraham's wife Sarah, there was Sarah herself, Moses' mother who sent her son away to protect his life, Jael the fierce warrior who drove a stake through a man's temple, the wise Elizabeth who counsels the young Mary, and my personal favorite, Mary Magdalene who heralded the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  There was not one way to be a woman in the Bible, just as there is not one right way to be a woman now.

The bisexual woman pastor, the straight suburban church lady, the elderly lesbian woman and her partner, the young teenage girl who is trying out her role in the world, and the exhausted wife and mother...they were all created in the image of God.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Respecting Scripture

What does it mean to respect scripture?  Is it somehow disrespecting scripture to try to live into its precepts?  By honestly asking questions of the text is it being dishonored?  What might we be missing if we never do this?

To start, there seems to be several veins of criticism surrounding this work, most of which appears to come from people who have not even read the book.

The biggest controversy has been called Vagina-gate by Rachel Held Evans herself.  This centers around the idea that the word vagina is used in the book and as a result of this, the largest Christian bookstore chain in the country has refused to sell it.  This controversy has taken on a life of its own and has the potential to overtake the actual book itself.  I have nothing here to say except, GET OVER IT!  This is so not the point.

The other vein of criticism seems to be that by undertaking this project, Rachel Held Evans is somehow "disrespecting" or making a mockery of scripture.  There is where I really have something to say.

There seems to be a sort of paranoia about questioning or even critically engaging scripture or the religious practice informed by it.  It is my theory that some people (by no means confined to fundamental or evangelical traditions) view the Bible as a sort of house of cards in which each layer is dependent on the others to stay upright.  If one layer is too closely examined or touched or even if you breathe on it, the whole house of cards might collapse.  The thinking goes that if order to preserve the integrity of the Bible, it must never, ever be questioned.  The really funny thing is that we (and this is the royal "we") seem to think that we actually have the power to "destroy" scripture.  That is fairly arrogant and downright wrong.  The Bible is the living, revealed Word of God and nothing that WE do can change that.

I have been tracking several news stories in which Rachel is criticized for making a mockery of the biblical precepts for the role of women.  I could not disagree more vehemently.  I think the most honest engagement with the Bible is admitting what parts make us uncomfortable or don't make sense, then sit with them.  It means we are thinking about them and living with them and engaging in conversation with them.  Sometimes that means sitting on a roof or sleeping in a tent or sewing your own clothes like Rachel Held Evans.  More often it means engaging in real honest conversation, listening to the preaching of the story of Christ on the cross as if your life depends on it (because it DOES) and not just blithely swallowing whatever you read or hear.

Rachel Held Evans says it really well, "I keep loving, studying, and struggling with the Bible.  Because no matter how hard I fight it, it will always call me back."  (294)

In the Lutheran doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Martin Luther says that the approach to studying scripture should be three-fold:

a. Oratio: prayer and reflection that puts you under the scripture (most of the time, we never make it past this point)

b. Meditatio: the intense anatomy of the text and examining the text's role in the story of Christ.

c. Tentatio: the opening up of your soul to scripture, and this can involve suffering.  The point at which the scripture truly works you and you can finally begin to preach it.

So, keep loving, engaging, and yes, even fighting with the Bible.  Let the text work you. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Amazon Review

My review of Rachel Held Evans' book is up on Amazon.

The text is as follows:

I have to admit when I first heard about this project quite a few months ago I thought the whole premise was a bit crazy.  It was something sensational about addressing men and sleeping in a tent that had been overblown in the media.  I also hold very strong feelings about evangelical theology, complementarianism (gender roles) and a woman’s calling for ministry.  I will admit that before reading the book I had some preconceived notions about the whole premise, so I sympathize with readers who might feel the same way.  But the idea intrigued me.  So I gave it a chance and I found myself alternately laughing, shedding a few tears, and really critically thinking about the views that I hold and why I hold them.  I learned a lot from this book and I highly recommend it. 

 As a woman preparing for ordination in a mainline Protestant denomination I am forever confronting stereotypes of what women should and should not be doing in the church.  I know that I am blessed to be able to follow my call and feel deeply for my sisters in Christ whose voices are silenced in public ministry because of their gender.  The quote that sticks with me from this book pertains to calling.
Rachel Held Evans writes, “A calling, on the other hand, when rooted deep in the soil of one’s soul, transcends roles…My calling is to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself…If love was Jesus’ definition of ‘biblical,’ then perhaps it should be mine.”  (295)

Being a Christian woman is NOT about following a certain set of behaviors, advocating an ideal that does not exist, and living up to the expectations of others.  It is about love.    

If you are looking for a book that prescribes, reinforces, or advocates some ideal of biblical womanhood or rigid gender roles, you will be disappointed.  This is not a how-to book.  If you are looking for a book that will challenge, inspire, and upend some of your assumptions of “biblical womanhood,” you will love this book.  Spoiler alert: there is no such thing as “Biblical Womanhood.”  Held Evans skillfully combines candid reflections on her project with journal entries from her husband Dan, as well as profiles of female characters in scripture, interspersed with the most intriguing biblical commentary that I have read to date (and as a seminarian, I read a lot of commentary).  Rachel Held Evans manages to critically examine biblical texts while still honoring the spectrum of women’s experience and we all come away better for her “experiment” in living biblically.