Writing

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. 




Home-made Food

By Colton Lott

 

Writing these articles for [D]mergent, and namely you, is a process. The idea for an article usually pops into my head a week to ten days before you read about it on Friday. I write it up a few days later, revise it, send it for review, and then the electrons push it out for you to enjoy over morning coffee.

What I’ve just listed is the ideal process, and I think in the course of this summer I’ve had the sequence of events flow that perfectly and that smoothly once. I have an irrational faith in process, though, and despite my best efforts, I secretly believe that if I could just follow the process more carefully, I would churn out blue ribbon articles every single week.

Last week was a struggle to get “Incarnational Connections” to come together. I don’t think it was my best work, even after considerable editing. I was moaning to my editor (my significant other) that I was disappointed in the piece.[i] I wasn’t sure if I had a good idea behind all the clutter of the words or if my problem stemmed from attempting to polish a mundane experience into a holy lesson.

As I wailed on, she listened and finally said, “Colton, I think you’re trying too hard to be your professor. People don’t expect you to be smart all the time. Sometimes, people just want something that’s simple and good.”

Besides writing, one of my other passions is cooking. When I was a little kid, I borrowed a mortar and pestle to make new spice blends like Emeril Lagasse. Every Thanksgiving, my favorite memories were helping Dad with the pumpkin pies (we have a secret family recipe, which is mostly contained on the back of Libby’s Canned Pumpkin). I’ve always loved the interactive art of cooking much like I enjoy writing. You throw some things here, a dash of this, a little of that, and out pops an article/three course dinner.

Creating, and subsequently enjoying, fine dining and ideas are incredibly important. One stretches their palate and their mind. A form of beauty or goodness is often understood in a deeper or new way. To put it bluntly, we grow.

But when we over-emphasize haute cuisine or delectable writing, we can forget the importance of their sustentative qualities.

A few years ago, the leaders of the church I was interning with wanted to start being more spiritual leaders. As such, they were going to start by using the same daily devotional book. I hated their choice of devotional. I didn’t want to say anything, but I knew that I would be asked my opinion. Despite my earnest attempts to be delicate, I nevertheless spilled out that it bored me due to its exceptionally simplicity.

After the meeting, my minister pulled me aside. He told me that he loved to dive into a juicy article on theology and enjoyed the heady stuff. I quickly assured him that I had no doubt that he enjoyed reading such things, and I hoped he knew that I wasn’t trying to say that he was overly sim—

“But,” he continued on, “it’s important to find something that is nourishing on a daily basis, too.”

In our search for the perfect dish, made with obscure ingredients and the garnishes positioned so carefully that a magnifying glass is required, do we stop and thank mom for the meatloaf and mashed potatoes? Is there an understanding that the mac-and-cheese can come out of a box sometimes? I can only imagine what pressures pulpit ministers feel to provide fresh bread to their congregations.

At heart, I think I’m asking about whether a middle space exists. Is there a place where both exquisite and home-styled ideas can be enjoyed and seen as valuable? Can we nosh on “God loves you” and challenges to Anselm-ian theologies of substitutionary atonement?

After writing about vulnerability all summer, I’m sharing one of mine with you: I want you to think that I am intelligent, that I have something to say, and that you’ll read my articles and share them because they’re good, not just because you’re my grandmother/college friend/church elder/impressionable youth. But when I boil it down in the stock pot, my calling in this time and place is to be cooking up good food for my family, friends, and church. Optimistically I can put a flair on my work, but most importantly I hope we can all commit to being both sustained and stretched as we continually search and experience the Kingdom of God.

So with that being said… pass the biscuits!

-----

[i] It should be noted that my grandmother also proofs my articles for grammar and content. I am much loved. 

 

Father who art on Earth...

By J.C. Mitchell

Father’s Day is approaching. I know because my wife asked me what I want for father’s day.  My response was to ask “is that this or next Sunday?”  Too often Father’s Day seems like an afterthought, and honestly that is fine, and seeing the physical and social pressures that are placed upon mothers in our culture, I honestly think we should do Mother’s Day at least twice a year--perhaps we add the 4th Sunday of Lent to align with Ireland and Nigeria.  It is true that fathers on television have been generally portrayed as clowns and idiots, and often the butt of jokes, but being paid more than women and other perks of being male overrides this petty complaint of how fathers are portrayed in the media. 

So what do we celebrate, besides our grills and hammocks, on this upcoming Sunday? Well I am not really sure, so I went to the Bible to get more confused.  The fathers in the Hebrew Bible ranged greatly with some very questionable behaviors, and the Gospels did not shine more light on the subject, except for Joseph--a man willing to be a father to one born to his virgin wife.  Talk about a step-dad stepping up, despite great cultural pressures to shun her.  But Papa Joe was not featured during Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps he stayed at home to make some money or maybe he died, but we are certain he raised one fine man.

One thing Joseph does make clear: a father is not simply one that impregnates someone.  Of course we know that, but what makes one a father?

I believe it is a loving one who aches when his child aches.  What makes it different than a mother I don’t know, but I myself only know that of having parents and being a father. 

In the almost seven years of being a father I may not have figured it all out, but I have figured out why Jesus’ best model of a father is termed the prodigal son, although to many are renaming it (I believe properly) as the forgiving father.  My son has not asked for his inheritance (and if he should that would be a great laugh), nor has he prodigally spent money, but I have found great wisdom in this story.

I do not write simply of the forgiveness he displayed to the son that wasted money.  I cannot imagine not being able to forgive my son and forgiving is definitely part of being a father. This generous forgiveness is certainly a metaphor for the Divine Father, for as Jesus says this is the nature of God’s perfection.   However, when the feast is going on, the elder son returns from the field angry and jealous.  This is exactly why I feel this scene with the elder son is where Jesus is hinting at us earthly fathers: this father just welcomed the other brother home with great compassion and celebration, should not the other son in a perfect family taken his father’s lead?  Of course, it gets real with this rivalry and jealousy.   

The father responds with, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours…” and this has become key for me.  While I do not appreciate my bed being claimed at 1 am, I know it is not simply about the physical things that are his as well as mine, but all of me is accessible to him at all times even if he doesn’t realize it.  We don’t know if the elder son went into the party understanding the love offered by the father, or stormed off in a huff (or a myriad of other options).  But we know that the father understood that everything that was his was also his children’s, and it was given even before it was asked.  It is not the son, it is father who loves like a mother hen, who teaches me about being a Papa.

 



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…

 

Slow Down, and read Slow Church

By Rev. Mindi

My small local clergy group was taking suggestions for new books to read, and me with my smart phone and sometimes smart mouth decided to search right then and there for a new book rather than taking a month to go do research. In my Amazon recommendations popped up Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison. I really didn’t know much about it but that it was a brand new book, and that the book has a Twitter account that followed me, so I followed back.  It was really by chance and Amazon’s logarithms that I began reading this book.

But I’m so glad I did. Smith and Pattison are not pastors, not professional church leaders, but were inspired by the Slow Food movement to think about church life as an alternative to the “McDonaldization of Society” as George Ritzer coined it. (I read The McDonaldization of Society back in college and still have the book on my shelf—it was a profound wake-up call to the capitalist production machine that our society functions by: the idea that we have to make more stuff and make it faster, and that even our self-worth has come to depend upon it).  Slow Church looks at how church, just like the rest of the institutions of our society, have bought into the hyper-fast production-based model. “Decades, if not centuries, of taking shortcuts have repelled many people from the faith and diminished the quality of our life together” (117). We have tried to short-circuit discipleship and evangelism.

You might think at first that this is a book for a more conservative or evangelical audience, not for a mainline congregation—but we have done the same thing in the mainline church. Maybe we haven’t watered down the Bible to a tract that fits in the size of a business card, but we have (often) failed to do a good job of teaching our children and youth what it means to believe in and follow Jesus, what it means to be part of the church, how to participate in the kingdom of God.

Furthermore, we have failed to connect with the greater community, and that is the key of Slow Church—a reminder for us to slow down and reconnect with God, others and nature. “The ‘ecology’ of Slow Church is embedded in the interconnectedness of creation and God’s reconciliation of all things” (90).

Mainliners don’t differ much from our evangelical or fundamentalist kin in that we also water-down and short circuit the uncomfortable parts of our faith. We don’t do mourning well. Where our evangelical and fundamentalist kin will jump to “there’s one more angel in Heaven,” and lots of celebration that a loved one is now with the Lord, we do the same: we water-down the grieving process and try to jump into getting over death, rather than struggling with the suffering. Slow Church looks at the way our society as a whole has tried to just overcome suffering rather than the “willingness to enter into the pain of others” (83). If we are going to be committed in community to one another, we also need to be willing to suffer together as well as rejoice. This is what it means in particular to be part of Christian community: that we do not suffer alone.

Slow Church is about digging deep and being engaged and committed to the process of God-growth in us and around us. This commitment happens with God and with each other and with the greater community. Slow Church goes back to the roots of our faith in Scripture—Sabbath practice, discernment, community—and asks how we can re-engage with our roots and develop long-term, lasting foundations.

My major critique of this work is that  while my experience resonates with the book's view of church and society, I wonder if similar parallels would be drawn by my colleagues of color and different church cultures. I often err on the side of viewing US culture as homogeneous when it never has been; even critiquing the McDonalidzation of our US culture comes through a white lens, as the McDonalidzation was a white creation to begin with. Just some food for thought.

I highly recommend Slow Church. It is not often that I read a book that I say, “Yes, Yes!” out loud while reading it. I often highlight while I read; this time, I made notes as to what parts to quote for my next board meeting when we talk about stewardship. Each chapter has good discussion questions at the end for small groups or churches. The authors also have a blog: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slowchurch/ and are active on Twitter and Facebook.