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!!!!

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?

The Hope of Easter

I wish my brain were not so completely fried at this moment, or I would write much more about NT Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. But the truth is, I just completed my seven-page paper and need to get some sleep before my all-day class tomorrow. This book is one that every pastor and really, every Christian, should read. We have gotten way off-track in our theological orientation toward “saving souls from hell for heaven,” rather than working alongside the Spirit to bring in the Kingdom!

I am not suggesting (nor is NT Wright) that heaven and hell do not exist, but when Jesus was raised from the dead, the Kingdom broke through on earth and it continues to break through… when Jesus returns at the end of this age, Heaven and Earth will be joined… all creation will be redeemed and made new, all things will be set right once again, our bodies will be raised and transformed (and we all will face judgment… all of us). This world is NOT headed for disaster, but for new creation!  “May God’s Kingdom come, may His Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven!”

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As I often do, a few key quotes:

“The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious expeirence, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being “left behind”), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises this hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is the true Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun… how can the church announce this [good news]? If it’s actively involved in seeking justice in the world, both globally and locally, and if it’s cheerfully celebrating God’s good creation and its rescue from corruption in art and music, and if, in addtion, its own internal ife gives every sign that new creation is indeed happening, generating a new type of community, then suddenly the announcement makes a lot of sense” (p. 227)

“The large-scale hope of the whole cosmos is the great drama within which our little dramas are, as it were, the play within the play.” (p. 80)     SURPRISE, it’s not all about us! (that’s me talking, not NT)

“Every act of love, every deed done in Christ and by the Spirit, every work of true creativity– doing justice, making peace, healing families, resisting temptation, seeking and winning true freedom– is an earthly event in a long history of tings that implement Jesus’ own resurrection and anticipate the final new creation and act as signposts of hope, pointing back to the first and on to the second.” (p. 295)

“When the church is seen to move straight from worship of the God we see in jesus to making a difference and effecting much-needed change in the real world; when it becomes clear that the people who feast at Jesus’ table are the ones in the forefront of work to eliminate hunger and famine; when people realize that those who pray for the Spirit to work in and through them are the poeple who seem to have extra resources of love and patience in caring for those whose lives are damaged, bruised, and shamed– then it is not only natural to speak of Jesus himself and to encourage others to worship him for themselves and find out what belonging to his family is all about but it is also natural for people, however irreligious they may think of themselves as being, to recognize that something is going on that they want to be part of.” (p. 267)

“When [God] corners us and finally takes us in his hand– we find to our astonishment that he is infinitely gentle and that his only aim is to release us from our prison, to set us free to be the people he made us to be. But when we fly out into the sunshine, how can we not then ofer the same gentle gift of freedom, of forgiveness, to those around us? That is the truth of the resurrection, turned into prayer, turned into forgiveness and remission of debts, turned into love. It is constantly surprising, constantly full of hope, constantly coming to us from God’s future tos hape us into the people through whom God can carry out his work in the world.” (p. 289)

The never-ending conversation

Last Tuesday our seminary cohort sat down to (try to) tackle 1 Timothy 2 and the issue of the role(s) women should play within church. It has been years since I have heard anything new in this conversation. Basically, it’s all in how you read the text, how you understand the ancient context, and how you hold the whole Bible together. Reading only one of Paul’s passages on women or one of the Gospel stories where women play a major role or one of the Old Testament narratives involving women is dangerous. It’s dangerous because then one misses the depth and the contradictions that lie within the passages of this Book that we call our Authority.

As I wrote my paper last week and continued to think about this issue once again, this thought occured to me: my call in Christ, whatever specifics it might hold (preacher? teacher? pastor? shepherd? leader? who knows!), is a call to lay down my life just as Christ did. This call that I claim is a call to service, to slavery, to self-emptying love. Yes, even those who suffer injustice, whose voices are ignored or marginalized, who are abused and neglected— the call is the same for everyone. Part of me recognizes the deep truth in that and responds to it. Another part of me rages against that. I was born with a very sensitive justice radar, and my instincts rise up and urge me to take a stand against injustice. Someone has to name what’s wrong in this world WRONG. I am realizing now that this urge to stand against injustice is a gift, a very good thing, as long as I am using it on behalf of OTHERS rather than myself. My call is to lay down my life and not to take it up again. Ouch.

This is not say that I think I should stay in a situation where I am being marginalized or my voice is not taken seriously. I think at times in our lives, it may be completely appropriate to step away from a task for the sake of our own mental, emotional, spiritual health… perhaps even for the health of the group in which we were serving… and to state the reasons why: “This position was not life-giving for me. I found it difficult to function in healthy ways here. I do not believe I was a good match for this group.” On the other hand, if we are stepping away out of a desire to punish them for what they did to us, or to teach them something or get back at them… can you sense the difference in the attitude? One is Christ-like living. The other is not.

Here is a great quote from The Shack by William Young (p. 148ff):

[Jesus is speaking here] “Mack, don’t you see how filling roles is the opposite of relationship? We [God] want[s] male and female to be counterparts, face-to-face equals, each unique and different, distinctive in gender but complementary, and each empowered uniquely by [the Holy Spirit] from whom all true power and authority originates… I came as a man to complete a wonderful picture in how we made you. From the first day we hid the woman within the man, so that at the right time we could remove her from within him. We didn’t create man to live alone; she was purposed from the beginning. By taking her out of him, he birthed her in a sense. ” “Oh, I get it, ” Mack interjected…”If the female had been created first, there would have been no circle of relationship, and thus no possibility of a fully equal face-to-face relationship.” “Exactly, Mack… Our desire was to create a being that had a fully equal and powerful counterpart, the male and the female. But your independence with its quest for power and fulfillment actually destroys the relationship your heart longs for… Just like love, submission is not something that you can do, especially not on your own.”

In Genesis 1 & 2, 1 Corinthians 11, Ephesians 5 and 1 Timothy 2, I see this theology. Mutuality, partnership, mutual submission, servanthood, a willingness to empty oneself for the other. There is no grabbing for position or power. There is no concern for proper hierarchy or positional authority. The concern is an unbroken circle of relationship.

“Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman, but ALL THINGS COME FROM GOD.” 1 Cor. 11:12

Do I still get angry when I encounter systems that marginalize and devalue female wisdom and leadership? Yes, of course I do! Am I learning to let God be the justice-bringer? Am I learning to love and serve those who believe differently than me? I sure hope so. I want to be faithful to Christ’s call.

More thoughts on Exiles

A few more reflections on M. Frost’s book, Exiles: living missionally in a post-Christian culture

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Exiles need each other as they live fully in the empire without giving over their allegiance to it. After reading this book, I think I am beginning to see where we (American Christians) have gone wrong in nurturing our exile-groups. We focus so much time and energy and resources on relationships within our churches—building unity among believers, nurturing relationships within our ‘church family’—that we have forgotten what truly creates community. Frost briefly describes something called “communitas” (see pp. 108ff). Communitas happens when groups of people bond over a significant experience. It often happens when battles are fought together, when people experience major life transitions together or when they go through tragedy together, or when people find a common cause that they feel passionately about and pursue that cause together.

Frost notes the example of the young men from the Ndembu tribe, who leave the tribe for a time and participate in the rites that make them men in the eyes of the people: “The young tribesmen, while in this liminal, or ‘limbo’ stage, discovered a depth of community so great that it transcended what we normally mean by that term… a portent and distinctive form of social community that led to a spontaneous experience of intense intimacy and equality. It was undifferentiated, egalitarian, nonrational community” (p. 109). I find these descriptive terms surprising and compelling. They turn my traditional notions of community upside down. In traditional church, we differentiate all over the place—clergy and lay-people, men and women, old members and new members, regular attenders and visitors, children and youth and adults. We are not egalitarian, though some congregations may strive to be. Rather, we stratify and concentrate power according to position or gender or other categories. And we are rational. We use logic and reason to define ministries and goals, vision and purpose. While there may be many reasons for all of these things, some very good reasons I am sure; we have missed a key to community.

Some would say that we need the differentiation of roles and position to have order and in order to get anything accomplished. Some might argue that without clear organization in our churches there would be chaos, loss of direction and even immorality. That is true, I suppose, but I fear that the cost of all our structure and organization is actually the death of real community. We bring groups together and set up times for study and discussion and demand that they be a community (this was exactly my task as a youth director: build the youth community!). How often does it actually happen in the normal ministry routine? Hardly ever. Rather, community happens when, once a year, we go on a mission trip together. That is when “community” is born, by shared trial and error and success while we work toward a specific goal. Frost puts it this way: “I wonder whether Christians don’t do well to build community as an end in itself. We build community incidentally, when our imaginations and energies are captured by a higher, even nobler cause… Christian community results from the greater cause of Christian mission” (p. 108). I wonder what it would look like for daily, weekly mission to bond a group of Christian exiles together. I have a dream of our church basement becoming a food pantry and used-clothing shop for our community in these difficult economic times. What if we could find a way to offer people jobs, too? My imagination is burning…

Journal Entry

Today, I offer this journal entry from my current seminary class on the book of Acts. We are reading a theological commentary by Jaroslav Pelikan, published by Brazos Press. I am reflecting here on his entry entitled “Mary the Theotokos,” a theme he picks up from Luke’s first chapter of Acts. Luke makes a special note of the women who are gathered with the disciples, and especially he notes the presence of Mary. Pelikan offers, in his commentary, reflection on the Tradition of Mary, based upon the theological writings of the early Church Fathers. Below is my response.

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After reading this entry, I am shocked that this is the first I have heard of the comparison between Mary the Mother of Jesus and Eve (Pelikan 2005, p. 45). This strikes me as a very foundational piece of theology; one that could actually do much to correct the male domination of American evangelicalism. I may be overstating that a bit, but it clearly raises the role of the female in the Great Story to a new level. She is the God-bearer. There is no Messiah without her humble obedience. She is the vehicle of salvation, certainly not in the same way Jesus was and is. Nonetheless, her faithfulness to her call is essential in the salvation story. She gives birth to new life, thus she is the new mother of all who live; just as Eve was the first mother of humanity. Contrasting the choices and lives of these two women, examining the way God acts through them both to bring redemption—there is so much theological meat there—and it saddens me that most of our churches have been missing out on the treasure.

How do I see this as a corrective against male domination in American evangelicalism? I don’t know that I could go so far as to revere Mary with statues in front of church, or pray to her. I do, however, wonder what it would be like to hear her name in church as much as King David’s or Solomon’s or Paul’s or Peter’s. Granted, there is not nearly as much biblical material written about her. On the other hand, if we based a character’s air time in church on their significance to the Story, Mary would have to be right up there with David and Jesus.

In addition, there is another angle to Mary’s title of God-bearer, and that is the way the Church continues to carry on Mary’s role even now. We bear God in the world as we live in it, as we are Christ’s Body on earth. We often speak of the Church as Christ’s bride, and certainly that analogy is present in scripture. However, I do not think it is too much of a stretch to also draw this parallel from scripture as well—that the Church is now God-bearer. Our task is different than Mary’s, but no less a privilege and no less a responsibility. We are invited to answer the call with her words: “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 ESV). If she is not a model disciple, who is?

Going even further, the imagery of birth could be used so richly in our churches. The paradox of agony and joy, pain and relief, is a wonderful way to describe the life of a Christian. There is blood, sweat and tears, along with the beauty of being reborn. One needs great patience and perseverance in order to bring forth the life of Christ—what a perfect analogy for spiritual formation! While I am certain this would push the edges of orthodoxy for most evangelicals, I also believe that the image of God giving birth brings fullness to theology, if we truly believe that our God is beyond gender, and both male and female were created in His image. He gets His Hands dirty with us. He labors right along with us to redeem creation. He deals with sin, not by remaining apart from the damage, but by entering into it and absorbing the pain and agony.

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What are you responses to this?  Have I opened a can of worms, once again? 🙂

Amen, sister!

Follow the link below to a great post by Emily Hunter-McGowin. I find her wise, articulate and mature.

She put into words many of my feelings regarding our behavior during this election season.

http://thinklaughweepworship.blogspot.com/2008/11/on-evangelical-response-to-presidential.html

If you’d like to engage in some conversation regarding Emily’s post, you are more than welcome to here at Driven to Wonder or feel free to comment at her blog, too. She seems very open to discussion.

Preachermom

I have tried to post something here a few times in the last week… obviously it hasn’t happened.  My days have been filled with responsibilities as mommy, student, wife, preacher, neighbor, worship leader, friend, daughter, sister… I actually feel privileged that my life holds so much variety and refuses to let me get stuck in one or two roles alone. I’m blessed in all these things, and I hope that what I learn from each one, informs the others– that I don’t just get stuck with my head in books or my hands in dishwater or in conversations that are not informed by serious study and reflection.

I was talking with some of my seminary cohort friends about how much I will miss my Tuesday nights at class, once we graduate this spring. I said something like this: “But think about it, guys, this is the only night when my identity is not defined by my relationship to someone else… I’m not someone’s mom or someone’s wife here, I’m just me. I need that!”  To which one of them wisely replied, “That’s not a very Christian way to think about it, Kris Anne… what about your relationship to all of us?”  It’s always good to be reminded of our self-centeredness (Lord knows I need that from time to time… no snarky comments, please). He was absolutely correct to gently reprimand me! How could I forget that I am their sister and friend? I have responsibilities toward them, as well, not the least of which is love! I’m not there primarily to have my needs met.

However (and this is a big however)… I have seen too many young wives and mothers define themselves completely by their roles which center around the home and family, to the detriment of their full identity and calling in Christ. I have seen some of these women wither inside, suffocate, suffer depression, fail to thrive as gifted and called Christ-followers who are, in reality, set free in the Spirit to explore and play on the playground of life! Equally so, I have seen husbands and fathers trapped in their role as bread-winner, cut off from the playground of family and neighborhood and church, wrapped up completely in demanding careers, unable to have room to breathe and explore their whole identity as Christ-followers.

Please hear what I’m NOT saying, which is that it is wrong for a woman to CHOOSE her home as her only sphere of life. It is entirely possible that that is where some women find their playground of life. I wish more young Christian women would give themselves permission to explore their full personhood, though– to listen to their spirits and not “should” themselves into a quiet death (“but I SHOULD be fully committed to this, it SHOULD bring me life and fulfillment, I SHOULDN’T need more than my husband and children and church friends”). There is more than one right answer to the question, “What does the life of a godly woman look like?” Too often, evangelical Christianity is uncomfortable with multiple right answers to questions such as these.

So, yes, I’ll be very sad come graduation time in May. I am so thankful for the opportunities I have had these past three years. Among my biggest cheerleaders and strongest supporters has been my loving husband.  He is dedicated to seeing me thrive as woman of God.  I hope I communicate just as loudly that I am dedicated to seeing him thrive, too. We’re here to serve each other!

I also hope I find ways to encourage other young women to explore opportunities and roles on the playground of life. So many people have made these years possible for me (from finances to child care!), and as my seminary brother reminded me, I am not an individual. I am always in relationship with others! If there is one should I want to live by, it is that I SHOULD pass on the blessings passed on to me!

Love and Difference

I’ve been talking with a number of people recently about the nature of relationships and how we, in churches and in families and with our friends (or fellow cohort members!), navigate our differences. How do we talk about them? How do we express love when we not only disagree, but passionately and deeply disagree– when we feel anger toward those on the “other side” of issues (gun control, taxes, women in leadership, capital punishment, pacifist Christianity, etc.).  How do we react when we simply cannot comprehend that a follower of Jesus would stand on the “other side”? How well do I love these people? And how do I experience love from them?

These questions caused me to think about the past, times when I have struggled to love and be loved by people close to me who have not shared my views on important issues… times when I was surprised to find that those I thought were kindred spirits with whom I could find common ground and common passion, where actually not “on my side” at all when it came to some of things I cared deeply about. (even my choice of language here illustrates the sense of battle lines being drawn and sides being taken in a war… images that I do not believe are helpful or healthy when we’re talking about relationships within Christ’s Body, but they reveal the very real emotions we’re confronted with situations such as these)

When we meet someone, how long does it take for us to peg them? “Oh, she’s a flaming liberal with no morals! Oh, he’s a rigid, arrogant conservative! There’s an extrovert for ya! He’s so shy you never know what he’s thinking. She’s a loud mouth! He’s just a dumb jock. She’s an airhead. That one’s got an eating disorder of some kind, I know it. It’s obvious he hates himself or he wouldn’t do that!”  There are all kinds of labels out there; we make all kinds of judgments within seconds of seeing someone or meeting someone. How flexible are these boxes we’ve put people in? Do we allow for growth, for change, or even for misunderstanding (our boxes could be completely wrong!)?  We all know the suffocating feeling of having been “boxed” by someone and struggling to get out and let our genuine self shine through.

Why is it that we long for same-ness in others? And why do we find difference so threatening? Is it that love of truth eclipses love of people in our very weak, human hearts? Is it self-preservation that makes us want to flee from those who are different? I wish I understood my own attitudes and behaviors in this mess. I know I haven’t always loved well… my boxes have not always been flexible enough to let someone out to shine. I know I have drawn battle lines in self-preservation, rather than giving myself away in love.

Though I seek to be a woman of peace, I know I have enemies. Jesus’ call to me is clear, though. Love my enemies– turn the other cheek, walk with them, carry their load, welcome them in with hospitality. Love considers the other before the self, love is merciful and patient and kind and enduring. Jesus absorbed the violence of his enemies on the cross, and he calls us to bear our own cross as well, dying to self. Ugh. How miserably I fail at this when it comes to those with whom I’d rather argue the point! And I’ve known the alienation and loneliness of being labeled and boxed and un-loved. It’s terribly painful.

May our boxes be more flexible, God… and may we learn love.

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