Theology

But I Say to You

By Rev. Joseph Pusateri

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:27-28, NRSV).

I have been hearing a horrifying thing a lot lately.

Since the rise of Donald Trump’s popularity in the GOP primary race, a significant number of people have been saying in the media (and to me personally): “He’s saying what we are thinking, but afraid to say because of political correctness.”  Now what is horrifying to me is that I had no idea there were so many people with outright hatred and contempt for Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, the Chinese, Democrats, Republican rivals and whoever else has inspired Mr. Trump’s wrath.  Now, I treasure political diversity in our community.  I think it is a gift that we have conservative, liberal and independent people in our congregations and neighborhoods.  I have no desire to tell people how to vote and I think that to do so—especially as a minister—is distasteful and inappropriate.  But it is nothing short of sinful for anyone—especially a disciple of the crucified Jesus—to remain silent about a disturbing phenomenon in this country in the 21st century.

I can think of no plainer way to say it: Jesus commands us to love God and each other, especially those we consider our enemies.  Period, amen.  Whether you believe that larger or smaller government, far-reaching or less intrusive foreign policy, progressive, regressive, flat, low, high or no taxes are better for a self-governing democratic republic as the United States of America strives to be, wonderful.  That is your right and I encourage you to exercise it and engage in a robust and civil debate on how we shape a more perfect union.  But bigotry, xenophobia, religious, gender, racial, orientation or ability-based discrimination is uncivil, sinful, demonic, wrong, evil, un-American and un-Christian.  Even for the Christian who believes only she/he and people exactly like them are going to heaven, and that everyone else is going to hell, is not justified by a single word Jesus ever speaks in scripture to treat anyone on the planet with anything other than love, even to the point of giving one’s life.  Which is, by the way, exactly what Jesus did for people—even those (and especially those) who hated him. 

This is why I do not like so-called political correctness: it hides who the bigots are.  If there are lots of people who hate immigrants, women or people of other races, by God I think we should know who they are.  It gives us a more accurate picture of reality and the work we need to do to repair deep wounds in the social body.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus goes through a litany of “You have heard it said… But I say to you,” phrases, which inform us of the high moral standard Jesus expects us to abide by if we are to be faithful.  He says, “You have heard it said that you should not murder.  I say to you, don’t even have hatred in your heart.”  In other words, of course we shouldn’t murder people, but if we are all wanting to kill each other and simply not doing so in order to be compliant to the law, so what?  What God is after is your heart.  Don’t hate people.  At all.  That’s what God wants.  And if you don’t hate anyone, not murdering people takes care of itself.  The same goes with lust.  Let’s not wear out our arms patting ourselves on the back for not committing adultery.  Big deal.  The point of God’s intention for faithful, human behavior is to not have lust.  When lust is absent, adultery does not happen as a by-product.  

What has been called “political correctness,” or the rules about what you can/should say or not say about other people is like what Jesus calls the law.  But if we want a civil and prosperous society, the rules about speech (like adherence to the letter of the law) are not the point.  We shouldn’t have bigotry in our hearts.  Imagine Jesus saying, “You have heard it said ‘do not say the n-word.’  But I say to you, love black people like you love your own family.”  The horrifying perversion of this is what we are seeing right now.  People who have been resenting the politically correct instruction not to slur Muslims, immigrants and minorities are celebrating the right to hate openly.  That would be like the people Jesus was preaching to only hearing the first part of the teaching on murder:  “What did you say Jesus?  The old murder law is out?  Great!  Because I can’t wait to kill some people.”

We have a lot of work to do.  Whether Mr. Trump becomes the president or not, the lid has been torn off and what was festering underneath is not pretty.  To be fair, I love Trump supporters.  I really do.  I love them because they are human beings, my neighbors, and God’s kids.  I think most of their grievances are legitimate and deserve to be heard.  But because we have stifled sane, civil dialogue across boundary lines, this horrifying spectacle is the result.  I am pleading with those of you who follow Jesus, to help lead this community, nation and world to a place where the law of love might bind us together.

(UN)Resolved Baptism Rites

[Best of [D]mergent 2015]

By. J.C. Mitchell

This entry is part of the UncoSynchro blog, a writing collaborative effort from #Unco14 focusing on subversive themes of faith and life. The topic for January is (Un)Resolved.

Why did John baptize Jesus?  There are many answers, but the question is how did Mark, Q, Matthew, John, and Luke, handle John baptizing Jesus in the Jordon? They clearly marked it as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and thus the passing of the reigns from the one in the wilderness to the one that would take on our culture’s violence through death itself. 

Having grown up in the Roman Catholic tradition, I found baptism mysterious.  It was not the ritual or the idea that it may have washed sins away, but because we referred to this important rite that happened before we could establish memories.  This ritual of entrance into Christendom required no participation.  I had issue with this when I found myself exploring my faith in the protestant world, which led me to the Baptist mindset that we of the Christian Church (DOC) uphold. 

I do not believe any human being can do anything to deserve the grace, the forgiveness, and the love that is represented by the water, but I felt it must be much more meaningful if the ritual was engaged by the one being submerged.  I was once invited to Cokesbury to be part of the brainstorming team for their new Confirmation Curriculum.  I was already a DOC Minister, but I had been working as an Associate Minister in an UMC church so they simply assumed I was of their tradition. It became evident when I spoke of making Confirmation something special, like Baptism.  And this is really the only difference, or at least should be, when we baptize.  For we uphold one baptism as a reflection of God’s Grace, not human action what so ever.

So today I uphold our tradition in the denomination I am ordained, but I am not resolved that this is correct.  It is true that we are open to accepting baptism from other traditions and we believe it is God’s work, but what are we saying by doing it at an age of consent? I am aware from baptizing and confirming children that the understanding ranges, but I have felt it essential to commence with the ritual, even if I was not sure they understood.  However, I am not sure how to commence with a person that is not able to profess their faith, for we even call it “believer’s baptism.”  We Disciples understand the submergence is due to the individual’s profession of faith, even if we uphold it is God’s work, not ours.

This is a concern for me because of my son, and my work at the Church Open Gathering, for I know great people that will not able to profess their faith.  I know that many of you pastors and Christians will say there are obvious exceptions and my son and my friends should also be submerged in the Love of Christ.  But that is my point, that they should not be baptized as an accommodation, or worse with an exemption by the elders, for we understand that the work is done by the Divine, not by the pastor, the church, nor the individual under water. 

Unless we truly profess that Baptism is the work of God alone, we may not include everyone as equally baptized.  This may be why Jesus joined us without a profession of faith.  I find myself unresolved about the ritual, but I understand it should truly reflect the Grace for All.  

A Little Consistency Please

[Best of [D]mergent 2015]

By Dr. Lisa W. Davison

I am a fairly open-minded and intelligent person, but one thing has evaded my comprehension for some time now. No one takes the biblical texts more seriously than I do; I’ve spent my life studying, exploring and learning about the bible gaining a working knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (the 3 languages in which the biblical texts were originally written), so that I do not have to rely on someone else’s translation that is far removed from the extant biblical texts and tarnished by human biases. Granted, my own translations are also influenced by my biases, but I have made it an intentional effort to remove myself from and critique those lenses with which I read the bible. I cannot say the same for all translators; some of whom have claimed that they are merely giving a “literal” translation of the original language (i.e., Hebrew, Aramaic, & Greek) into the target language (in this case English). This is absolutely impossible.

At this point, I must say a word (or more) about this term, “literal”, and all of its derivatives. In my lifetime, I have heard countless, well-meaning people of faith who claim that they believe the bible to be the very words of God; therefore they take/read the bible “literally.” Really? How can a thinking person make that claim with a straight face? If one begins reading at Gen 1:1, it is not very long before this “literal” approach starts falling apart. In what order did God create the world (humans first or last)? How many animals went onto the ark (2 every kind or 7 pairs of some with 1 pair of others)? I could go on and on. In addition to these inconsistencies of the Torah, there are more glaring examples of how folks who claim this “literal” approach fail to be consistent. Ask them if they have sold everything and given it to the poor, as Jesus taught (Luke 18:22, Mat 19:21, & Mark 10:21), and they will quickly tell you that Jesus didn’t mean that “literally,” and they do it with a straight face. Really?

As I once heard Rev. Peter Gomes, former Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard School of Divinity and the Pusey Minister at Harvards Memorial Church, say: “There are no true literalists; there are only selectivists.” This is spot on! All of us, who claim that the biblical texts have some authority/influence in our lives, are SELECTIVISTS. We select which texts we take somewhat “literally” and which are meant to be seen as “metaphorical” or too outdated to be binding in this 21st century world. So, the question must be asked: “How do you make that choice between those texts that are to be taken ‘literally’ and those that must be further interpreted and/or discarded?” The problem I encounter over and over again is that people cannot answer this important question. They cannot tell me why Lev 18:22 is to be taken “literally,” even though this text does not say what they want it to say, but Luke 18:22 should not be taken “literally.” They cannot explain why a strange text from the Pauline corpus about some sort of orgiastic behavior is a clear condemnation of same-sex relationships (Rom 1:25-26), but Jesus’ clear condemnation of divorce (Mark 10:1-12; Matt 19:1-9) no longer has the same authority. They cannot tell me why they think 2 commandments (Lev 18:22 & 20:13) from among the 613 commandments in Torah are still binding, while they eat their bacon (Lev 11:7-9) cheeseburgers (Exod 23:19) with abandon and ignore the clear commandment that sassy children should be stoned (Deut 21:18-21). They must intentionally ignore the use of “Sodom & Gomorrah” by Jesus (Matt 10:14-5; Luke 10:10-12), or they would have to acknowledge that even he understood that it was a teaching story against inhospitality not homosexuality. Why do they want to argue that the age of the earth must match the internal (and inconsistent) chronology of the bible, but they do not want their doctors to treat them with only the “medical” knowledge and advancements available in the 2nd century CE?

Why, one might ask, are these people unable to answer my basic question, to provide a consistent hermeneutic1 by which they interpret and apply biblical texts? For many, the answer is simple. They do not want to admit that they only take “literally” those texts that do not step on their own toes or negatively impact their desired lifestyle. I hope they would still agree that the biblical endorsement of slavery (Lev 25:44-46; Eph 6:5- 9; Phil) is no longer justifiable, and surely we are not stoning adulterers (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22), otherwise D.C. and Hollywood would be a great deal less crowded. Perhaps their congregations would be as well.

In an effort to be candid, I will share my hermeneutic for reading biblical texts. As a follower of the way of Jesus, I value and recognize the two “greatest commandments” that at least 2 gospels (Matt 22:36-40 & Mark 12:28-34) attribute to Jesus: “Love God with all you are(Deut 6:5) & “Love your neighbor as yourself(Lev 19:18). Every text in the bible must be evaluated with these questions: does it teach me to love God with all that I am and does it teach me to love my neighbor as myself. If the answer is “no,” then I must delve deeply in research to seek an answer as to why this text might be in the bible. If the answer is “yes,” then I must also delve deeply into the exegesis of the passage, so that I do not just bend it to approve of what I do and what I value.

In addition to a consistent hermeneutic, I also weigh biblical texts in light of logic, scientific knowledge, and contemporary contexts. Do I believe that evil spirits cause human diseases? No, so I do not go to an exorcist or priest when I have a headache, fever, or other signs of illness. I would say that the same is true for many of the well- meaning folks I have been describing. So, I wonder why, if they are thoughtful people on other topics, they do not apply the same level of thought to the issue of same-sex relationships? I would welcome that conversation, that honesty, but I’m still waiting for someone to offer that opportunity.

_______________

1 “Hermeneutic” refers to the interpretative framework that one uses in interpreting and determining the applicability of biblical texts. In biblical studies, we seek to have a consistent hermeneutic, meaning we evaluate all biblical texts through this framework. 

Giving Thanks for Public Education

By J.C. Mitchell

 

So at the table sits my wife, my son’s teacher, principal, school psychologist, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, the 2nd grade general education teacher, a district representative, the physical education teacher (with a passion for adaptive sport) and his private ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) therapist.  We all sit on the small seats the children use so that we can keep our child in more familiar surroundings while we discuss his education.  There is a lot of data and writing; however, it is the stories that seem to say the most and help us to create solutions.  The team atmosphere is a must and we are lucky to have such a good team for our child.  I am all too aware that is not always the case, but I share this gathering around a school table as one of the things I am most thankful for, education for ALL.

Some may see professionals and complain about the salaries of these educated and overworked people who are essential to much of our economy.  I am sure that many professional, like us clergy, are in debt from our education, debt that will be sold by banks to make money..  Nonetheless, I am happy that there are still people who uphold education, and specifically education for all children.

In the state I live in we had people who wrote this as part of the constitution:

"It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders."  Article IX, Section 1   Washington State Constitution

Is that not wonderful?  Read it again, and notice these words: paramount, ample, education, all.

It was brought to the attention of the State Supreme Court of Washington via a lawsuit by McCleary.  And the McCleary ruling made it quite clear the state was not fulfilling the state’s own constitution.  That has led to significant problems, because while everyone in both caucuses like children, they can’t find enough revenue to amply fund education for all. 

So I look at where my taxes have gone and I realize not enough went to education, I am even more thankful for all those passionate educators gathered around that table, the para-educators that fulfill the plans throughout the school day, the bus drivers and aids, all of whom care for my son.

I could be bitter about the struggle for the right resources for my son, for children of color, for the poor, for those with other disabilities.  I could be bitter the answer is too often in the future and never funded, or I can get involved in my local, state, and federal politics and include Thanksgiving in our economy over the mindset named for the day after.

 

I encourage clergy and other church leaders to get involved in education, especially access for all, because this is a justice issue. For more information about the McCleary decision in Washington, click here. Whatever state you live in, as you give thanks this week, give thanks for public education, and get involved or we may soon see turkeys running this country because we forgot Thanksgiving.  

 


Looking For Jesus In All The Wrong Places

By Rev. Evan Dolive

(This post originally appeared at evandolive.com)

Starbucks has been in the press a lot recently over a design choice. Traditionally November is the start of “red cup” season at Starbucks as they begin their journey into the holiday season. This year, however, is causing a stir.

Joshua Feuerstein is a minister and has millions of followers on Facebook and Twitter. He and his backward red MLB hat take to the Internet in an effort to “rally” others to his point and his theological framework. He has ranted on subjects like evolution, same-sex marriage and even Target’s decision to make their toy section gender neutral.

Recently he took to the Internet to complain about Starbuck’s “attack on Christianity” in this so-called “era of political correctness.”(video above)  In Feuerstein’s mind, the removal of snowflakes, reindeer, snowmen and the like is akin to trying to remove Christianity from the public sphere. His solution? Instead of telling the barista your actual name, tell them your name is “Merry Christmas” (so lying is ok?) in an effort to “force them” to say “Merry Christmas” to you.

This argument of a hostile corporate removal of Christianity is one that has no basis; Christianity is not under attack from a coffee company or any company for that matter. Sure I do not like the commercialization of Christmas but not having “Merry Christmas” on a cup or a Christmas tree in the mall is not something I worry about, it doesn’t prove or disprove my faithfulness, it is not a threat to my relationship with God and Christ.

The story of the birth and ministry of Christ is not Starbucks’ (or any corporations) story to tell. This story of the coming of the Messiah is one of all people of the Church to tell through their life, their sharing and their embodying the teachings and actions of Jesus.

Starbucks’ previous red cups did not have “Merry Christmas” emblazon on them and the company still sells “Christmas Blend” coffee and even has a Advent Calendar. So just because the words “Merry Christmas” do not appear on the actual cup, this is an attack on Christianity?

The problem is Jesus is not found on the outside of a red cup from a multi-national coffee chain. If Jesus and all that Jesus stands for is not found at the bottom of a bottle or in prescription medications, then why would Jesus be found on a cup?

Jesus is found in places we would never expect.

Jesus is found at bed 57 at the homeless shelter.

Jesus is found at the bedside of an ICU room or at a hospice.

Jesus is found in the glassy eyes of a single mom receiving food assistance for the first time from the local food bank.

Jesus is found in the undocumented worker who harvested the food we eat.

Jesus is found when people of faith set aside their theological differences on Sunday mornings and strive for a more just and loving society.

Jesus is found in the laughter of children.

Jesus is found in the cool wind of fall.

Jesus is found where ever the faithful for God gather to worship.

Jesus is found when we give.

Jesus is found when we serve.

Jesus is found when we love unconditionally.

Jesus is found when we liberate.

Jesus’ love, grace and mercy cannot be confined to a single Sunday or even a red paper cup.

We cannot and should not limit the movement and presence of Christ to the four walls of a stained glass building or even a red paper cup.

If we are going to claim to be Christ’s followers then how we work, where we serve, the things we give need to emulate the ministry and movement of Jesus the Christ.

Having a barista write “Merry Christmas” as your name on a red paper cup for your triple venti toffee nut latte is not helping the cause of Christ. Rather take the $5 you would have spent on yourself and give it to someone who needs it is the definition of selfless giving and the gospel.

So the next time you are in Starbucks and you order a drink in their pretty red cups, do not look for Jesus on the cup, look for the Jesus in the world around you; you never know where you might see him.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

The Red Cup in My Own Eye

By J.C. Mitchell

I have done a great job avoiding the red cups, but I must admit I have enjoyed the numerous posts from all type of Christians and non-Christians alike who think this is absurd.  I assume the marketers at Starbucks where ready for some disappointed in such a sleek and classic design that they came up with.  It is a risk to pick a minimalist design, but it does harken on the years past and encourages imagination. As a guy that grew up with a mother who worked in print and retired from the Ad Council as a VP of production, and took an interest in my parent’s occupation (an article for another day), I am intrigued by the red cup.

Of course as a Christian, I would desire blue or purple cups during Advent leading up to white for Christmastide.  Red is for Pentecost.  But I don’t expect a corporation or even a local coffee roaster to do my religion for me.  The church does that work.  I always found the Church’s colors being different gave me comfort away from the bustle of the mall and the secular celebration of the Solstice, carefully hidden in a manager. 

But ignoring these cups has been hard, and then the message was clear.  We all agree. Most Christians and non-Christians all agree this is not something worthy to talk about.  We all agree this is not what makes a good Christian.  We even agree these is not what we imagine a good Christian would worry about.  But we keep talking about it. Even most Christians and non-Christians, like myself right now, are reporting on the absurdity of this. Or so it seems, many of the very funny jokes and memes I have seen, in defense of the red cups, imply those desiring St. Arbuck profess their faith for all the world to see, are idiots, wrong, and even not Christian.

Whoa….how easy is it for us to create a victim together so we feel more unified. 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere I go. Yes, the War on Christmas is back—and those of us who think the War on Christmas is absurd are participating in it just as much by taking sides in the Battle of the Cup.

And I await the Christ Child (in my tradition) to break light into the dark world ,we decorate with Red, Green, and Gold to Celebrate longer days, and yes Purple, Blue, and White in our Christian story of no more violence. No more scapegoating. 

Happy Holidays!!!  But first, bring on the turkey!  

Where I will give many Thanks for René Girard who has helped me to see this light. 




The Resurrection will Not be Televised!

By J.C. Mitchell
The Muppets are returning and we are excited in my house.  Well, my wife and I are; our son knows very little about the Muppets, having even missed Muppet Babies.  He has been told he will be watching it, but of course he will ultimately be the one in control.  It will either be entertaining on its own, or entertaining to criticize it.  I look forward to that show coming into the home again as I remember watching it in our basement in Connecticut on a black and white television.  
However, is not my biggest complaint about the church the line “we have always done it that way?” That, too, must be driven by the same nostalgia that excites me about puppeteers reenacting old characters and ultimately old jokes.  
Many churches are stuck on their 11pm sitcom.  They repeat it over and over, and with or without an endowment will determine how long the show will continue to air.  Every so often there may be an interruption for a joy (a new program, a new active family or group, a new pastor, etc…) or crisis (“we interrupt to bring you breaking news”).  Sometimes there are the great “Kermits” out there that start revitalization of the church in a new way with the old structures.  A revitalized church with an individualized plan may be more sustainable, but too often it ends up being more about the community that grew, than the world we must change.
When was the list of a sustainable church read with these markers?
    Congregants arrested for shielding mosque (or other awesome SJ acts)
    Helped establish healthcare for all
    Homelessness eliminated in the locale
    Prisons are shrinking 
    Work against (internally and externally) racism, sexism, and ableism, as part of the daily struggle 
    Lives are changed in the neighborhood
    The naked (who want to be clothed) are clothed

Instead I am asked about these markers:
    Number of members (worshipping, active, etc.)
    Number of those people you serve (outreach)
    Building looks wonderful
    Enough parking
    Young families engaged
    Funds brought in

The resurrection will not be televised, for it must come from something new out of the death of the old, and it will look nothing like what it was.  Only in our own scars, the scars on the Body of Christ, will we know we are in that new place, called out to be that love that is so shocking. Jesus reminds us when he speaks of the contractor who hired day laborers outside the home improvement store, and paid them all equally despite picking workers at various times.  And when those paid what they agreed to for the entire day saw those who worked a fraction of the time, they were asked by Jesus, “…are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’”(Matthew 20:15b).
“Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it.” Jim Henson stated what he knew in his gut, and truly the church cannot simply be a new episode, or even a new fancy movie, it must be start new in one’s gut before it can grow like a blackberry bush you planted in your garden.  

 

love each other


The Problem of Heaven

By J.C. Mitchell


    I was talking recently with someone about a novel from the 19th century that we both enjoy and felt it spoke to humanity today as it did then, which led us to say the more things change the more things stay the same.  It is both comforting and extremely frustrating, especially when it comes to stories of human drama. Why is it that we do we not learn from these stories we keep telling each other, but we are comforted by telling these stories of our human drama, and then still see them played out in the news again and again?  


If we could simply follow the ideal narrative there would be no drama, and things would be perfect.  I was asked once in all seriousness if heaven would be boring? They imagined a place of perfection (and I think harps and clouds as well), and it was a true concern for this person.  And should it not be our own concern as well?


Not that heaven would be boring, but that the idealized imagery of heaven has become something we cannot imagine on earth.  In one respect that makes perfect sense that the culture (or more traditionally “kingdom”) of God cannot be imagined in our world, as we are working to bring this reality of the Divine to Earth, but I think we need to be able to imagine  like the writer of Revelation wrote,  

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:1-2)


The writer included the images of a city and of marriage, both are filled with stories and many are messy, the stuff that makes good movies and novels.  It is the stuff of life that is included in his imagery of the new heaven and earth we are all working and waiting for.  


This is important: if we truly pray as we are taught and we say, “On earth as it is in heaven” we must understand how our current imagery is a problem. 


It is less about the afterlife whenever we talk eschatology (heaven, hell, and end times), but it is about our life now, so when we think that heaven is unattainable we hear excuses for not working on solving problems for the environment, poverty, race, disability--because there isn’t anything we think we can do that will insure success.  Thus we do not work on these things because we cannot imagine heaven on earth, with all its human drama. 


Heaven must include all our stories, written and unwritten, of human drama, and most stories do uphold redemption and salvation, even if the ending is not wrapped up neatly; that is how we should imagine perfection, or in other words, heaven..  


Most miracle stories I know have been messy and full of drama, but in it God is found and God’s perfection must include our stories. In order to move beyond repeating our dramatic history, let us get to work writing the hard chapters we are terrified to start…

 

Reverent and Rule-Breaking: There's a Woman In the Pulpit

 Available today at Skylight Paths Publishing, Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Available today at Skylight Paths Publishing, Amazon and Barnes and Noble

I have had the pleasure of being part of the RevGalBlogPals community, a group of active clergywomen bloggers, and the great honor of being a contributing author in the RevGals first collective book There’s a Woman In the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments, and the Healing Power of Humor, which is being released today by Skylight Paths Publishing.

As Rev. Martha Spong, director of RevGalBlogPals and the editor of this work (as well as a seminary colleague and friend of mine), states in the introduction, “Our community includes people who are single and married and partnered and divorced and widowed, gay and straight, cis- and transgender, parents and not, clergy and clergy spouses and laypeople, with an age range of twenty-something to seventy-something…” and we come from a variety of denominations around the world. In short, you will not find another work with the personal voices of such a diverse group of clergy women.

Included in this diversity of clergy women’s personal stories are some common threads: the difficulty of following one’s call into ministry by a still male-dominated patriarchal church structure, sometimes calling women away from the denomination of their youth; the focus by others on what clergy women wear and look like; wrestling with theological questions and walking with people on their faith journeys. 

There are prayers and poetry, laments and reflections; tales of baptisms and communions, deaths and births, revelations and resolutions. The stories shared are often of those intimate moments in ministry: placing ashes upon the forehead of a stranger; praying for a dying stranger; baptizing a child; being in the ER when people are informed their loved ones are gone. These intimate moments are shared beautifully, and as I read them, renewed in me the understanding of God’s call to this important ministry I am part of as a Christian pastor.

As I read each woman’s story, I recognized my own frustrations and trying times of being a woman in ministry. I especially resonated with the tales of breaking the rules. Standing in the line of Jesus, women called into ministry have been called to break the rules—even if their denomination ordains women. We still are challenging a status quo, a cultural idea that men are ministers and women are not. And in subtler ways we have been breaking rules even in our liberal, affirming contexts, because the work is not done to welcome all and to follow Jesus’ call.

This is not just a book to give to the clergy woman you know, though she will enjoy it, I’m sure. This is the book to give to anyone considering the ministry. This is the book to give anyone who loves Jesus but isn’t sure about the church and its laundry list of rules. Guess what—some of the clergy aren’t so sure about those rules, either. Yes, there is a place for you. There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and she’s inviting you in.


Ministry in the Conversation...

By Rev. Mindi

In most congregations I know, if a ministry event or program got down to being just two or three people (and one of them was the pastor), they would probably look to end it soon. And until a year ago, I would probably have done the same thing.

We began our Pub Theology ministry just over two years ago, when I began at my current congregation. More accurately, we joined another congregation’s Young Adults group in the city and met with them at least once a month. Then we received a grant between the two congregations, and decided to start a new location closer to us. The idea was to grow and expand and have new folks join in and start new pub theology ministries. For a while it worked, we had other locations and folks joining us from Meetup and other online sites. Fast forward two years, and the other church group doesn’t meet anymore, and the other locations have faded out, but we still meet. Although we have had as many as fifteen, we are most often down to five or less, and sometimes just two or three. And there have been a couple of times I have been the only one.

I mentioned to my Pastoral Relations Committee once that it might be time to pull the plug on this ministry. “Oh please don’t,” a member told me. “Even if it is just you that are there, you are there on behalf of the rest of us.” Me, having a beer—or more likely, a Diet Coke—and waiting for people who will not show up that evening. No, I disagreed with her. But she continued.

“You see, I know someone who doesn’t go to church and thinks the church is just a hypocritical place. But when I told her about our Pub Theology, she listened. She said she could go to a church like that someday. And I keep inviting her and one day she will come with me. But until then—you never know who you might meet.”

It’s true, I don’t. And if I stop going, there is no opportunity.

However, I’ve stopped thinking of our Pub Theology ministry as an outreach opportunity—except for the fact that twice a month, we tip our server generously and are a witness that there are still good, kind people in the world who happen to be from a church.

Instead, I’ve seen it as a place where ministry happens in the conversation, and these kind of conversations just don’t happen in the church that we are used to. 

One of our attendees brought a friend one day who remarked that we got off-topic really quickly. Every week I bring a question or a thought to begin the conversation, and we stick with it maybe five minutes. We try to get back to it but inevitably are sidetracked. Sometimes those attending feel bad that we got sidetracked. I don’t. Unless it is someone railroading the conversation, I welcome those side trails to the discourse. That’s where I learn about relationships, work, values, goals in life, dreams that have been delayed or died, broken relationships, sorrow, joy—you name it. That’s where the real ministry is taking place, in these conversations about the lives we lead. We’ve gotten to know each other on a much deeper level than we have on Sunday morning during worship and coffee hour, or during Bible study, or any other traditional church ministry activity.

In some ways I wish we’d stop calling it Pub Theology or whatever phrase we are using, because the theological discourse—while interesting (our topic last night was hell, whether there is one or not) rarely scratches the surface. What does dig deeper is talking about our lives. And it’s there that we find the harder questions to ask and answer.

We’ve had as many as five in recent weeks, or as few as two, but they still come. And I love these meetings so much and I’m so glad that my congregation understands that they are not full of people all the time, but they are leading to fuller life.  And as one attendee said a few weeks ago: “This is Church. Right here, right now. And it’s church on Sunday morning, too. But this is no less church for me here than there.”

Ten Things You Should Know To Welcome People of All Abilities to Church

By J.C. Mitchell

1.    If you have had one or even a few people with special needs in your ministry, this does not mean you know how to welcome all.  Very often when I tell a pastor about my ministry at Open Gathering they start telling me their one success story (which I do enjoy learning from), but they do not seem to understand there is more to do to welcome all.  This is not unlike someone saying there is no more racism because Obama was elected president.

2.    Accommodation is important, but it is not in and of itself welcome.  Having a ramp at the back door may be a financial reality, but if the main entrance is accessible to all that is much more welcoming.  

3.    Having a cry room is great for babies, but children that are old enough to start learning to sit in the sanctuary may make noise. Suggesting that they should go to the cry room is inappropriate.  Yes, some parents would rather go to the cry room, even with a kindergartner or older child, but it should be their choice.  Many children with autism, for example, need to learn by doing the same thing, so going to the cry room the first time will become the way the child goes to church, creating an extra and unnecessary step in learning.

4.    Using person first language should be the assumed way of talking about a person with disabilities. (For more information check out Arc's Website)  Yes, there are some that use their different ability as a proud identifier, and if they desire to use a descriptive such as “aspie” of course use that when referring to them specifically, but one’s name is still preferred.  This is less about offending one with a different ability, but to help those to see the individual and not the diagnosis. 

5.    Do not diagnose.  You may be obsessive and compulsive, but that does not mean you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (if you suspect you do, you should get help as well as a diagnosis).  This goes with many diagnoses and when a person hears others being labeled incorrectly, you belittle those that actually live with that diagnosis.

6.    Avoid the word “struggles. “ Unless you say struggles as a descriptive of the way our culture accepts and includes people with different abilities.  

7.    Do know that life is harder, more expensive, lonely, and stressful for families with someone with special needs in the family.

8.    Never assume, as you know what that spells.  Thus keep this question in your pocket, “how can I help you?” rather than “do you want me to show you the cry room” or “Don’t you think your child may be happier to wait in the fellowship hall until Sunday School” (Most kids would be).

9.    Talk about this welcome openly and be open to places you fail.  It may be not possible to include every child in a program like VBS, but work with the parents to include all children.  Generally if you tell me, “Your son is welcome and we will figure it out” after I tell you he has a disability, I am much more suspicious than the church that asks specific questions with a desire to make it work, for the latter knows it is hard work.

10.    When a parent tells you their child has a disability or a diagnosis, refrain from saying, “That’s OK” or “I am Sorry.”  The latter to me is less offensive for it is honest, but the former is simply annoying, for who are you to tell me if it is OK or not?  I realize you mean well, but to say, “thank you for sharing” or bonus “thank you for sharing, and how best can I interact (or help) your child and/or you?” is ideal.  Often the reason we feel compelled to share with you that our child has a special need (or if one self-advocating) is that we think you should know, and we already know it is OK and at the same time awfully difficult.  So if you can go beyond the pleasantries, you will be much more welcoming.

11.    Bonus: Know that the work to welcome all will never be completed, and there is no program or book that will give you all the answers, but I do suggest these three books to develop a theology of inclusion:  

Vulnerable Communion by Thomas Reynolds

The Bible, Disabilty and the Church, by Amos Yong

The Disabled God, by Nancy Eiesland

 

Don't Box Christ this Xmas!

By: J.C. Mitchell

I must admit I love both Christmasses.  Yes, both secular and religious.  I love the celebration of the incarnation: Emmanuel, God with us.  I preach about the Light breaking into the world and the return of The Christ.  We celebrate this festival because of the resurrection, and even more specifically to undermine the Gnostic idea that the incarnation did not happen.  Ironically I find those that are trying to keep the Christ in Christmas actually uphold Jesus the baby as a magic baby bringing salvation, despite the four Gospels (and even Paul) making it clear it was the Passion and Resurrection that did that, not simply his Birth. 

I spend little time worrying or fighting with those Christians that do not know their history, don’t really know the Bible, and reject careful and respected academia, who keep saying we should keep the Christ in Christmas and freak out when we use the common short hand for Christ, “X.”  There is much to do preparing for Santa, baking cookies, watching Christmas specials that have a great message but little to do with Jesus.  This is just as much Christmas, or perhaps even more important. 

I have friends of other faiths that share Holiday Cards.  I know many who never darken the door of the church who will be celebrating Christmas.  Yes, consumerism will invade this wonderful celebration, but tell me when it does not in our current culture.  What I do see are people starting conversations in public.  I see people giving more.  I find there is an emphasis on love, family, and friends.  The sense is we do desire Peace on Earth, and this time in the Northern Hemisphere when it is getting so dark, we all seem to dream it together.  But then some Christians, while not criticizing the consumerism, criticize Rudolph, Frosty, and the Jolly Ol’ Santa and have a hissy fit you said Happy Holidays. 

I would remind them that the Baby they claim to worship said, “Whoever is not against us is for us,” (Mark 9:40) and generally he told us to love one another, before there was anything called Christianity or the Church. 

So when you see a meme or hear someone say Keep the Christ in Christmas, ask yourself (but ask them if it’s safe to do so) should we be in the business of containing Christ?  Is not the Anointed One capable of using the world to fulfil the mission of Love and Peace for everyone? 

The Christ will not be contained by any church or religion.  As Anthony Barlett pens,

[Jesus] reinvents compassion as infinite modality, making it boundless, without structural limit. And when this example is raised up in the deathlessness of resurrection it is stabilized ontologically, as a final truth of being. It thus becomes an enduring human possibility, able to embed itself in the neural pathways of humans who look to him in faith as a true and living realization of the human.

Let us Xians follow the one that teaches us compassion by living that compassion to everyone, no matter what they believe or have done to us or our friends.  Let us be perfect like The Divine One as Jesus explains, “…for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous”(Matthew 45b). 

God bless us, everyone. –Tiny Tim Cratchit

Bartlett, Anthony (2011-03-16). Virtually Christian: How Christ Changes Human Meaning and Makes Creation New (p. 148). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.

 The drummer boy is not in the Gospel, but it is a Gospel story as well.

The drummer boy is not in the Gospel, but it is a Gospel story as well.

(Un)Carnation—Finding the Divine in the Man, Jesus

By J.C. Mitchell

I am participating in the UncoSynchro blog, a writing collaborative effort from ‪#‎Unco14‬‬‬, focusing on subversive themes of faith and life. The theme for December is (Un)Carnation.

I have claimed to have a low Christology ever since seminary.  What that means has changed at times, but any good theology should not be carved in stone, and even when it is just ask Moses, it can be shattered.  When I say low Christology, I am referring to the importance of Jesus’ humanity, yet our scriptures are all written after Jesus walked the earth.  So we depend on scholars and especially those of the Jesus Seminar to shed light for us. Now there are some who think the Pauline writings are the most important to knowing the man Jesus because they were written the closest to his life, and others who dismiss Paul altogether because he did not know him.  There are those that see Jesus as a peace loving forgiving leader, and those that think he was a zealous revolutionist.  


Thus it is actually easier to for people to agree on Jesus the Christ as God, pre-existing, and still sitting at the right hand of the Father.  You can refer to the Nicene Creed as a great early example of Christians making a statement together about the divinity of Christ, and yes, that includes his humanity, but there does not seem to be an attempt of to create a concise statement of consensus about the man, Jesus of Nazareth.  We have generally moved to acknowledge he did not have blue eyes and a northern European complexion (but honestly I did meet those who still held onto that image when I served in ministry in rural America).  


So while there are great differences in Christianity, almost all Christians can still agree with the Nicene Creed, even if they define some of the terms differently or have a different understanding of its statements, for it deals with Jesus as part of the trinity, part of God: it deals with Jesus as God.  So why then do we celebrate the incarnation, as if it is the most important part of our year?  There are many reasons why in the 21st century we celebrate Christmas as the largest holiday, and as most of my readers will know, the popularity of Christmas can be traced to secular need of a celebration this time of year that could be nominally associated with one’s religion, as these people were themselves only nominally associated with the church.  This escalated in the 19th century with a poem, The Visit from Saint Nicolas, and a book, A Christmas Carol; snowballed with merchants to the holidays we have now.  I am not cynical, for I love Christmas, the secular extension of Thanksgiving to New Year’s, while also wary of the capitalists’ take on this celebration in the dark, awaiting the light (but we are offered lights to buy).  


However, Christmas has become something so huge and I am aware the celebration is not really of the incarnation, but rather the birth of a Divine King.  This is truly why the birth narratives were included, so that one would not follow the Gnostics who could not understand, believe, and/or accept that Jesus was a person.  The incarnation: Jesus the man, the son, the carpenter, the preacher, the healer, the man that walked in Nazareth to Jerusalem, is what I ponder when I hear him called Emmanuel, God with us.  Advent and Christmas have let me down in such exploration.  During Ordinary Time we explore the ministry of Jesus, but when we look at the feast that celebrates the Incarnation, it is about a baby king, which was bowed to by shepherds and magi, to demonstrate his divinity.   Even those who understand the meaning of Advent will be exploring the return of the Christ, not the incarnation.


To explore the Incarnation, to explore the answer to WWJD, to explore Jesus of Nazareth the man, will not result in an easy creed Christians can agree.  However, what I have observed when one does explore the humanity of Jesus, they must depend on anthropology as well as other disciplines.  The anthropological exploration of theology helps remove the human violence and fear of death from the Divinely Inspired message of love and life.  When we search for the historical Jesus, we depend on anthropological methods to set the scene, and thus it becomes clear what is cultural and of human origin in scriptures, and what is written that has been influenced by the Divine.  This is an essential part of our theology, for when the scriptures are read with the 21st century mindset, we project our own culture upon the scriptures.  Written in such a different time, in very different languages, they were also written in styles we struggle to understand.  However, when we search for Jesus the man, we must grapple with the huge cultural differences that are reflected in the scriptures and see the greater truth, what I would term “God.”


So even if we cannot unearth 8mm film of Jesus or his own memoirs, we must search for this man who is also divine, and in doing so create awareness that humanity has interwoven its fear and violence, with God’s call of love and life, into religion, including Christianity.  So while I will celebrate Christmas in all its forms, I will continue to search for the man Jesus to help me to see the Divine in the world.