New Website

Since November, we at Highland Park Community Church have been working with our hands and hearts in preparation for reLaunching (or a grand reOpening) on Easter Sunday (April 12, 2009).

We have been painting, cleaning, buffing floors, replacing windows, reconfiguring pews in a circular formation, purchasing new equipment… we have been studying the book of Philippians, discussing vision and mission, doing various OAKS in our community (Outrageous Acts of Kindness)… we have been praying for specific families in our community and for the larger community in general….

It’s been hard, at times exhausting work (I’m sure even more so for our pastor and her husband). And we have no idea what God is going to do on Easter Sunday. Will there be 30 people? 60? 100? 200? The theme of surrender has been on my heart the past few weeks. This is not truly “our” work. We’re participating with God in what He’s up to in Levittown. This is His… all of it… all the people…

I’m writing about this today because recently our website has gone LIVE. Check it out here:
www.highlandparkcc.org

Please pray that we will be faithful in being God’s instruments during reLaunch and beyond. Pray that we will be sensitive to the Spirit’s movement and release our dreams and hopes to God. Pray for strength and perseverance for our core group. Pray that God will prepare the community, the hearts of people, to receive His Love through us. Thank you!!!!

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Speaking Against Myself

For my theology and culture class, we were asked to respond to Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, on the issue of women and head coverings. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit, because of my Mennonite background. In some circles “the covering” is still an issue, even today… not so much in the larger denomination (Mennonite Church USA) but certainly in the smaller and more conservative groups. Anyway, here is my essay in response to Paul.
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As I search these verses for meaning for today, in suburban America, I cannot help but look back a few chapters to put this passage in context. Chapter 9 immediately catches my eye. In verse 19 of that chapter, Paul says: “though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.” Then he goes on to warn against idolatry and to encourage the Christians of Corinth to “do everything for the glory of God” (10:31), whether they are eating or drinking or serving or worshipping. In my opinion, the key to interpreting 11:1-16, is actually found in the last verse of chapter 10: “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so they may be saved.”

I think Paul’s approach to the issue of women’s head coverings has everything to do with furthering the Gospel in Corinth. Just as he admonishes the Christians to eat whatever food is given to them when they are houseguests of an unbeliever (10:27), not themselves questioning where it came from; he contends that women should not bring disgrace upon themselves by putting away their head coverings (11:6). The meaning in this passage for us today, in general terms, is to examine our social structures and “judge for ourselves” (11:13) what is behavior that will bring offense, and what will nurture relationships that may win converts to Christ. Neither meat offered to idols nor women’s head veilings are issues that we grapple with in suburban America, yet the underlying principal Paul uses to approach these issues is central to following Christ in the here and now. The principal itself is counter-cultural in America—to give up our right to choose for ourselves how we would like to conduct our lives, so that we might not bring offense to anyone; but rather open doors to new relationships with non-believers.

Paul’s deepest passion was to see the Gospel spread and new churches flourishing, and he believed that imitating Christ, the bringer of the Gospel, was the way to do this (11:1). In Paul’s mind, the way to imitate Christ was to lay down his life, lay down his rights, making no claims to his personal freedom. The hymn Paul quotes in Philippians 2 seems to shape his Christology and thereby, his life as a disciple of Christ (“he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing… taking on the very nature of a servant/slave…”). Thus, Paul was a first-century man, living in a first-century world, teaching fledgling Christians what it meant to empty themselves and follow the way of Jesus in the nitty-gritty of their daily lives.

This passage has often been used to further arguments for male-only leadership in Christian churches. In verses 7-12, Paul addresses issues of proper lines of authority based on the second Creation account in Genesis 2. What I find interesting is where his interpretations of the second Creation account lead him (and yes, I am being very intentional about saying “the second creation account,” because in the first account both men and women reflect the image of God. Paul is being selective here). The fact that woman was created for man and not man for woman, is not the end of the story. The fact that man was created first and woman created out of man is not the end of the story. The end of the story is that neither men nor women are independent of one another, but that they come from each other and all of them come from God alone. Men and women need each other and depend on each other for different things, which is just as it should be. I do not believe that Paul sees the birth of the Church as an opportunity to push for equal rights for women or for the subservient position of women. Which statements of Paul in this passage concerning women should bear more weight for us? Neither. His point is to do what will bring honor to Christ. Paul views being found ‘in Christ’ as an opportunity for us to lay down our lives in service to one another and to God, not as an opportunity to demand what should rightfully be ours.

I realize that I am a woman at an evangelical seminary, a pastor of worship, a former youth pastor, and someone who often speaks strongly on behalf of egalitarian church leadership. How can I, in good conscience, be saying all of this in my essay? I do have a fairly sensitive justice radar and a hot temper to go along with it. I am not afraid to say what I think most of the time, either. I am an egalitarian. However, I have come to believe that those of us who are passionate about issues of justice and equality must work for those things on behalf of others and not ourselves. If I am fighting for my right to preach, my right to lead or my right to hold authority; then I am not following Christ. And I have difficulty even typing those words. But isn’t that what Paul says over and over in his epistles—serve, love, empty yourself for Christ’s sake, submit, follow in Christ’s footsteps, become a slave in order to win some to Christ? In a freedom-loving, independence-loving, rights-loving society such as ours; these words are tough to swallow. I am called to stand up for the orphan, the widow, the poor, the oppressed; but I am not called to stand up for myself. I am “not seeking my own advantage, but the advantage of many,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:32.

1 Corinthians 11 is a step toward self-emptying love. It can be used to argue for culturally specific guidelines for women or for universal guidelines for women. Perhaps the Holy Spirit knew that both patriarchal groups and feminist groups would need the tempering this passage offers. We are not called to be independent of one another, or to lord anything over each other, male or female. We are called to empty ourselves for the other. If that means covering my head, shaving your beard, dressing up when you’d rather dress down, serving coffee when I’d rather be preaching, cleaning toilets when I’d rather be teaching, or for some maybe it means leading when they’d rather be invisible… whatever it means, it should be for Christ’s honor and for the sake of others, not for our own sake.

Sex and Seminary

I decided to do something bold tonight and attend class in a formal dress, high heels, with make-up on and hair curled. I was curious to see what kind of response I would get, because my usual attire is frumpy, non-gender-specific clothing (sweatshirt, T-shirt, jeans, sneakers). I was surprised to discover that the men of my cohort were very intentional about NOT reacting to my new look. Even my male seminary friends outside of my cohort had to be prompted before they would talk about it. I asked some of the older men why this was… why say nothing, why avert your eyes, why pretend that I wasn’t dressed up at all instead of complimenting me or at least acknowledging that I looked different? He replied that it was fear—fear of being misinterpreted and then accused of harassment, fear that I would take it as condescension and be offended. While this makes sense to me on one level, could it really be so after three years of classes together? Are they afraid of me as a woman? Really? That saddens me. I would have hoped that we would be beyond such surface tensions by now.

Then again, perhaps they aren’t the only ones feeling some fear. I present myself in a certain way to this group, every single week. While I do not do it entirely consciously, my habitual appearance is decidedly un-feminine. I cloak and cover all the parts of my body that could be construed as sexual… large shirts that hide my chest, long shirts that cover my hips, low heels that do not accentuate my legs, no make-up, my hair often uncombed and thrown together haphazardly (some of this is due to my day-job as mommy of preschoolers, but I don’t think that’s all of it). Not conscious, but very interesting… am I trying to pretend I am not a woman? Being a woman in this setting is clearly difficult. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t… sometimes I forget I am when we’re in the midst of an intense discussion (I’m just one of the guys, right?).

One of my cohort-mates remarked on the sexier outfit I brought with me but did not wear: “What is that doing in your closet, Kris Anne?” He was half-kidding, I know, but it was an honest question. In our Christian sub-culture, there are definite rules about what is and is not appropriate for women to wear. This is not often discussed, however, except in the homes of adolescent girls as parents forbid certain items of clothing to be worn outside the house. And the reasons given? It’s immodest, too revealing, too distracting to the men and boys. There’s a definite air of shame around these conversations, even as the poor girl is just beginning to get used to her womanly figure. She hasn’t even had time to appreciate its beauty, and she’s being told that it’s only there to be covered properly.

I am certainly not one to argue against modesty or privacy. And I do understand that men are visual creatures; I would never want to knowingly manipulate their thoughts in a sexual manner. I would never want my daughter to place so much value on her body and its sexuality that she places her self-worth in how men respond to it, and then does everything she can to attract attention to it. She has a powerful mind and spirit and so much to offer this world, apart from her sexuality! I hope I raise her to appreciate all of who she is and treat all parts with respect and care. That said, I am concerned about the sense of shame we place on young girls and the way we label their bodies.

I wonder about the sense of shame I carry into seminary every night. Why do I hide who I am? I’m accepted more easily by myself and my brothers when my femininity is thoroughly covered and hidden away. It’s termed a distraction when it’s highlighted or accented. The very fact that my brothers were afraid to talk to me about the way I appeared tonight reveals the Christian label we place on women’s bodies: DANGER. Is that a burden I should rightly bear; is it my problem to manage? Or does the real problem lay elsewhere, since according to scripture, my female body bears the image of Almighty God and is named “good” by God Himself?

Thank God He doesn’t let go