Pilgrimage

My seminary cohort, the group I have spent the last three years studying, conversing and sometimes arguing with (in love of course!), is busily preparing to go to Italy at the end of the month. We have been reading some books and repsonding to them:

Serving with Eyes Wide Open: doing short-term missions with cultural intelligence by David Livermore
The Road to Emmaus: pilgrimage as a way of life by Jim Forest
La Bella Figura: a field guide to the Italian mind by Beppe Severgnini

The book I’ve been ruminating over the most is the one on pilgrimage as a way of life. Basically, Forest encourages his readers to approach every day of their lives as a journey with Christ and toward Him, to anticipate meeting Christ in others in every moment, to live with a constant sense of awareness of God’s Presence. *sigh* I do not do this well. I tend to live by lists… I make them and I check things off. Laundry, check. Shopping, check. Pick songs for Sunday, check. Send emails, check. Set up babysitting, check. Dishes, check. Cleaning, check….

I am an extrovert for sure, and enjoy spending time with people; but I can be very task oriented and have probably been more so over the last three years as I added school to my already full life. After reading this book, I long to slow down and savor each moment (even if my hands are busy with household or church tasks). I want to notice things and notice people. I want to live with my eyes wide open so that I do not miss where Christ wants to meet me in another… even, perhaps, my children… especially my children! It sounds idealistic and impossible, yet does that make it a worthless pursuit? Something in me yearns for that kind of spiritual growth and formation. In one sense, I don’t care if I never reach the goal. The point is the journey.

For more information on our cohort trip to Italy, visit

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?

Living as an Exile

As our seminary cohort prepares for our week-long trip to Italy in May, we are required to read and respond to several books. One of them is Exiles: living missionally in a post-Christian culture by Michael Frost.  I have only just begun reading this book. So far, it is inspiring. Frost asks us to imagine ourselves living in exile, since Christendom no longer reigns supreme in our American society. We must come to terms with the fact that we have lost our place of privilege, and we must consider how we will respond– retreat? assimilate to the dominant culture? or, Frost would say, live dangerously… Here are some interesting and thought-provoking quotes that I am chewing on:

“Exiles are driven back to their most dangerous memories, their recollections of the promises made by Jesus and his daring agenda for human society. Exiles are prepared to practice a set of dangerous promises, promises that point to the kingdom and are not caught up with the prevailing values of the empire. Exiles will mock the folly of that empire by offering a dangerous critique of a society wracked by greed, lust, selfishness, and inequality. And finally, exiles will sing a repertoire of dangerous songs that speak of an unexpected newness of life. What makes these things dangerous is that they are practiced under the noses of those who don’t care to hear them. When no one in the empire wants to be cast back to the radical story of Jesus or to see the biblical promises being enacted, the reaction can be brutal at worst, disdainful at best. How much more dangerous, then, it is to criticize the empire when everyone seems so satisfied with it as is” (p. 10).

“Jesus was the ultimate exile. Thinking equality with God a thing not to be grasped after, he humbled himself and allowed himself to be ‘exiled’ on earth.  And like all good and faithful exiles, he enters fully into life in this host empire without giving himself over to it completely” (p. 29).

Frost makes these comments about the way we read the Gospel stories (our dangerous memories) and respond to them: “We still want to assist Jesus by making him grander, more ‘saviorlike’ than he really appeared, and in doing so we domesticate him. We want to wrench him from the pages of the New Testament, where he is presented as a real man who suffered and died and rose again. And yet, the incarnation remains an offense of monumental proportions. Theologically, the idea of God presented in human flesh is absurd enough, but as if to emphasize that the incarnation calls for action, not just reflection, God’s human manifestation ocurs in an exceedingly ordinary way… the one thing we can’t bear for Jesus to be is ordinary, for his ordinariness invites us to follow him by providing us with a template of how to be Godlike even as an ordinary human being… the appropriate response is personal allegiance to this Messiah, not merely a reliance on the benefits of his work” (p. 37).

I am challenged by Frost’s thoughts here. Do I live like an exile in my world, fully-engaged in it yet not given over to it? Do I live like Jesus lived, or have I so removed him from ordinary human life that I let myself off the hook from following in His steps? What are my dangerous memories and dangerous songs? How do I offer a dangerous critique of this empire that I live in? I wonder…

Reflections on Acts

I wanted to post some of my reflections on what the book of Acts has to teach us as American Christians living in the 21st century.  This is actually an answer to one of our take-home quiz questions. To my cohort brothers from seminary– I’m trusting you to not read this until AFTER you’ve finished your quiz (if any of you are reading this post right now).

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In a paragraph or two, and in contrast to other NT books, what do you think Acts has to teach or challenge our contemporary American context? What are some practical ways in which you could use the book to do so?

There are (at least) three themes that stand out in reading the book of Acts. The first is the church in conflict. This theme is clearly important to Luke, as he puts the Jerusalem Council in the center of the narrative. As the Gospel spreads and the diversity of the growing group of believers multiplies, conflict increases over issues of praxis. What does faithfulness to Jesus look like? Does it look different for different ethnic groups? Are there things all Christians everywhere do or don’t do? While conflict is addressed elsewhere in the NT (such as in some of the Pauline letters), the issue of ethnicity and the conflicts that arise due to ethnic differences is unique to Acts. Certainly it is an issue churches continue to struggle with today. Acts has much to teach us about how to grapple with issues that threaten to divide Christian groups.

Another theme that could speak powerfully to American evangelicals is citizenship. A careful study of the various interactions between the apostles and those in authority reveals an interesting balance between submission/respect/participation in society and claims of loyalty to Jesus and His Kingdom alone. Peter and John are bold and steadfast, but not disrespectful to the Jewish council (chapter 4). Paul preaches about one true Lord, Jesus Christ, and His Kingdom; yet he also takes advantage of the privilege of being a Roman citizen (see chapters 22-25). It should be noted that he is clever in playing his enemies against one another, too (also in those chapters). In a nation such as ours, with uneasy claims to a Christian heritage, a study of Acts could challenge us to rethink what it means to place our full allegiance with Jesus Christ, yet live peacefully and charitably in this society. Are there times and places to stand against American authority and what the government may ask of us, gladly bearing the consequences for the sake of Christ? Are there appropriate times to appeal to the advantages of American citizenship, for the sake of the Gospel? Paul addresses similar issues in his letter to the Romans, chapter 13, but the issue is played out in the Acts narrative in a unique way and in more depth.

One last theme that is unique to Acts is contextualization of the Gospel. In this NT narrative alone do we see the movement of the Gospel from culture to culture, the expression of church evolving as the message spreads. We have examples of sermons preached to different groups of people, to Jews in the early chapters and to Greeks later (chapter 17). As our culture changes, as postmodernism takes hold more fully in our communities, how can we contextualize the Gospel as the apostles did? What about our language and symbols need to change, so that people can hear and receive the Good News? Acts speaks to these issues very well.

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!

Leadership- on mission together

For my seminary class on “Leading Congregational Change,” I’m reading Roxburgh and Romanuk’s book The Missional Leader: Equipping your church to reach a changing world. I actually started by just skimming this book, but it thoroughly caught my attention, so now I’m reading it more carefully.

One of the first things they do is compare the old model of “pastoral leadership” with “missional leadership.” Pastoring, for them, means the following: significant meetings always include the pastor, ordained staff take care of the people and their needs, pastor’s schedule is shaped by people’s needs, preaching and teaching is didactic and offers the answers for life, pastor is the “professional” Christian and a celebrity, pastor plays the role of conflict suppressor and peacemaker and recovery expert, he/she is a maintainer of the church.

Missional leadership, on the other hand looks like this: Pastors are cultivators of an environment, they are coaches and mentors, pastors release people for ministry and mission, they ask questions and invite people to engage scripture as a living Word, they teach using stories and metaphors, they recognize their role as significant but not the sum total of the Body, they facilitate conflict and recognize that tension is okay, they encourage imagination and creativity, and they look for local opportunities and models of ministry.

I resonate with missional leadership, but, wow is it hard to get people on board with this new model when the old one is so ingrained in their hearts and minds!!! I can hear the question, “Well, what will she DO all day if she’s not visiting the hospitals and the elderly, and attending meetings??” So why are we changing the model of church leadership?

It would be nearly impossible to deny that change is needed. Another section of this book that has caught my attention deals with the change in our culture. In this age of the information explosion and what many call ‘discontinuous change,’ the authors say: “one result of uncertainty and massive change is that people turn inward to their private selves, and at the same time turn the public world into a means of achieving their own private security or identity… The bridge between private and public has been dismantled to the point that ‘the sole grievances aired in public are sackfuls of private agonies and anxieties.’ Communication has become largely narcissistic- private therapy through public discourse with gurus such as Dr. Phil and Oprah” (p. 67). That paragraph stopped me cold. From what I’ve seen… so true. We’re so afraid– afraid of losing our rights, losing our identity, losing our way of life and whatever we have to hold onto– that we’ve crawled into our shells. We don’t really engage each other anymore or the world, for that matter.

Want to know what the authors believe the answer to be? Narrative. A story. “For people to become something more than a collection of individuals crowding together for warmth, they must recover A COMMON NARRATIVE that gives sense to the present and shapes the future” (p. 69). How simple and how profound… actually, at first it sounds silly. But I’m beginning to believe in the power of stories. They have shaped and formed me over the years, and I see them forming and shaping my own children as they grow. Maybe it’s not such a silly idea. What is my congregation’s story within God’s Great Story?

Oh, God, make me a pastor who cultivates true community and tells the Great Story and the community stories well! Amen.

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