Religion

Sharing Soup of Faith and Love

By J.C. Mitchell

I have been drawn to cooking for years prior to being an artisan baker in New England and a pastry chef on Manhattan Island.  It started in earnest when I was at Hampshire College, where we had a farm on campus and great vegetables to prepare for the six or so housemates.  Most of us were vegetarians for various reasons, from environmental to peer pressure, and our greatest source for inspiration did not come from the Internet, for that was just an idea to us in those early nineties.  It actually came from books, from actual restaurants: Bloodroot and Moosewood were the two that stand out in memory (and continue to serve vegetarian meals).  I owned Sundays at Moosewood, but in our college kitchen someone had the purple Moosewood Cookbook, where I discovered a recipe for Brazilian Black Bean Soup. 

I am sure I referred to that recipe the first few times I made it, but soon that soup was second nature, and often called upon as a cheap way to feed a bunch of people.  I have been cooking this soup now for 25 years without referencing the book.  I know it wasn’t exactly the same every time, but every time it was used to serve a larger group of people. Inevitably there was someone who said, “I don’t like beans” or something else negative, but by the end of the meal, their bowls were empty.

This soup has for me been a sign of my hospitality, which is an important part of my faith.  I have to admit that often food has made its way into my ministry, from cookies to pot-luck casseroles, from pretzel making with children on Good Friday, and hot crossed buns with the moms during Lent, over thanksgiving meals with homeless families, to the great meals with those gathered at Open Gathering.  I even once got up before dawn as an associate minister and set-up over half-dozen bread machines so that the sanctuary would smell like baking bread for World Communion Sunday.  And of course, I have become a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), where we base our worship around the Holy Communion Meal.  For me, food communicates as much as hugs and words, and the latter are often the least clear.

In what I would argue was one of my hardest meals of my culinary career, I was called to make this soup.  I was living in Belfast, where I arrived with all my items in my backpack, and had found a flat with a woman from Newcastle and a man from Portugal, and I must say there was no priority to stock our kitchen, let alone toilet paper.  Getting used to syrup being Gold’s and not from a tree, and the lack of rinsing the dishes was easy, but finding something I could make that tasted good for a dozen plus people was a challenge.  Of course the black bean soup was the answer, finding orange juice was the only challenge. The soup was ready and beer was chilled.

Our guests arrive, and one of the older students was a Cockney from East London, who said something that sticks with me to this day.  People were eating the soup with beer and bread and it was a cacophony of conversation and spoons in soup.  It was clear that many of these vegetarians had not often eaten vegetables that were not fried or covered in cheese.  So my Cockney friend sitting on the settee filled with others leaned forward and said to me after eating some, “This is great” loud enough to hear over the music.  I smiled.  I probably said thanks, but he started to sit back on the settee, and turn to his cushion neighbour and spoke as shoveling the soup past his bearded lips, not aware I could still hear him clearly. “What the f@#k is this?”  He didn’t care to hear the answer; he simply kept eating with the music, the music of fellowship.

This is my faith-sharing goal.  I want people to experience me through my following of the forgiving victim I call the Christ.  They don’t have to thank me, but they certainly don’t need to know what it is, they simply need to experience the hospitality and love. 

Our Faith Recipe may had started with a book, for many of us we realize we cannot be anchored to it as if it is an idol itself; we must live it daily in the real world.  When I received the original Moosewood Cookbook for my birthday, and opened to this recipe I had not seen in print in 25 years, I realized how much more important it is to live my faith then keeping my faith in a book, and also I realized I have been calling the soup Cuban for the past quarter century, while it was actually titled Brazilian Who gives a F@#K what it is called? Just keep sharing. 

A Short Rant on the Conceit of Always Being a Moderate or Why You May Be All Wrong Because You Think Nobody Can Be All Right

It's been another hellish week. More people dead. The temperature of the country is elevated. People on both sides, #BlackLivesMatter vs. #BlueLivesMatter, have brandished their rhetorical swords. The intensity of the debate seems always threatening to burst into something more violent, even apocalyptic given the right frame.

It's difficult to witness so much raw emotion competing for the moral high ground. The discourse itself strikes many as frightening.

But you know, I’m growing a little weary of a particular brand of centrist who feel themselves to be so above the partisanship that afflicts the rest of us. Not all centrists, of course. I'm talking about the folks who are always sniffing around the edges of debate, arguing that the problem is as much to be found in the format and tone of the debate as in the issue in dispute.

From their standpoint — so conspicuously removed from the theological and political sty in which the rest of us wallow — the “left” and the “right” are merely dupes of liberal and conservative overlords. Whereas these kinds of moderates and centrists see through all the parochial agendas the rest of us are just too simple to perceive.

This heroic cast of self-justifiers glide through life unburdened by a need to take a stand on anything — except on what they believe is the meritoriously self-evident issue of not taking stands. Their orthodoxy can be summed up simply: There is no issue so nuanced that it can’t be cleaved down the middle, leaving two halves that correspondingly (and by definition) miss the truth, which can always be found at some point equidistant from both poles.

Consequently, the only cause over which it is worth getting exercised is getting exercised over causes. Any conviction, on this account, must take a back seat to the primary conviction, which is that no one should hold any conviction more strongly than the conviction that no conviction is worth holding strongly. The tone police brook no opposition on this.

And it is somewhat understandable. Staying so decidedly in the center is the most convenient place because it often requires no real action; it often requires doing not much more than staying in the middle, passing casual judgment on those convinced that some action or another is necessary—that the most important virtue is saying nothing that might be perceived as offensive. And it has the added virtue of looking wise, since by its own definition, it possesses the only real wisdom, which is that the truth of any issue cannot wholly exist on either the left or the right.

But even a casual reading of the Gospels suggests that Jesus worried more about doing the right thing than about being perceived to be doing the right thing. He cared more about speaking the truth as it regards loving one's neighbor than about maintaining a studied neutrality in the face of religious or political partisanship.

Let's be honest, sometimes the truth can be found hovering in the middle. Centrism isn't wrong by definition any more than setting up shop on the left or the right.

But here’s the thing: While those on the left or the right are obviously beholden to narrative structures that offer views of the world from particular perspectives, those in the center are too.The difference, however, is that those committed to life in the center as an end in itself are often the least likely to recognize the debt they owe and the masters they serve.

And when it comes to masters, Jesus repeatedly expressed a few strongly held opinions about that too.

 

Revelation Trumps Rules

By. J.C. Mitchell

I remember some professor in class explaining that for Jews keeping Kosher, or the rules for Shabbat, had different levels of interpretation, which is   why some groups define the rules differently.  I remember in college lighting the match for a Jewish roommate for Shabbat, and I was confused as to why using a lighter or match could be considered work.  This prof explained that some people added human layers of rules in order to assure they were following the Divine’s Desire.   Explained that way, I am reminded of how rules can be comforting.   We know what to expect, and within a rule you can convey great nuance as well as simple restrictions; this is found in the Ten Best Ways, the Ten Commandments.  Yet as we know, rules can be left to interpretation.

Not only are rules as subjective and as personal as the person who lights a Shabbat candle, we often desire the social other to follow the same rules. This is how we design our religion and our religious practices.  However, we balance rules with revelation.  Amos even laments our rules (5:21-24):

I hate, I despise your festivals,

   and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,

   I will not accept them;

and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals

   I will not look upon.

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

   I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

But let justice roll down like waters,

   and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

 

Jesus takes on the deeper religious rules of scapegoating and sacrifice and stands up to continue living.  Jesus is the revelation that our desire is to follow the desire of God and not the rules humans have layered upon our lives to assure our own order or comfort, often hiding the blood of those sacrificed for peace.

Nonetheless, it seems that the churches today that have more rules also have more people in the pews.  We claim to desire a relationship with Jesus over simply following rules. However, recently I had a revelation of my son using a napkin.  My seven-year-old son has autism and I can tell you simply making the rule, “use your napkin,” does not work.  Months of us reminding him positively, after every bite, has created a situation where he now wipes his hands and face as often as most boys his age, perhaps even a little better, as he has incorporated this act into his ritual of eating.  Not by a rule, but through the intense relationship. 

This is how everything is taught. For our child, including safety rules like, “you can’t go outside without permission,” would be as effective as me making burnt offerings.  So we make the ritual of asking “Go outside, please,” part of his routine of going outside, through the intense relationship of us making that a positive expectation, but is that not what we need to do as the church. 

We are commissioned to be the Church, The Resurrected Body of Christ, to be the revelation in the world; not rules.  Rules are easy--trust me for I know--as I desire to make a few rules for my son, but alas, I will need to stick to the relationship of revelation, and that helps with Church as well.

A little more exciting then napkins and door, here we are feeding birds at the zoo.

I Wasn't Born This Way

By Colton Lott

 

I was riding in the car with my brother, Chase, a few weeks ago when I asked him, “Does it ever both you that I’m so liberal?”

Before I could even get the words out of my mouth, he replied quickly and decisively, “Yes!”

My heart broke a bit because I never intended to be a polarizing force nor did I ever try to be part of the “fringe.” I’ve become fairly lefty-loosey in my thinking, which is tolerable in the rest of the world but down right heretical in my home-base of rural Oklahoma.

As I thought of how Chase and I became separated by a political cavern, I wanted to retrace my steps. I previously scorned folks who embraced their socio-poli-religious tribe, and now I can be identified with a moniker. How did this happen? Why was it that I developed ways of thinking, speaking, voting, and living that gained me the title of “one of those liberals?” I wasn’t born to think a certain way, and for the most part I wasn’t raised to be this way. Somehow, I developed and evolved into a card-carrying lefty that annoyed my brother, worried my paternal grandmother, and delighted my father, because he now had a sparring partner. Why did I carry reusable shopping bags much to my brother’s annoyance? Why was I giving a theological and biblical explanation of embracing same-sex marriage to his friends over their “man-meal?” Why did I stop using masculine pronouns for God, even though saying “Godself” is clunky, strikingly out of place in the milieu in which I am living, and generally considered overkill here?

Some of this evolution is due to my education. I went to a small, liberal arts college, and even though “liberal arts” refers to the breadth of academic disciplines and not to a political position, there is a good chance one can discover the fine art of being a liberal in such an environment. Some of it was other members of my family, and as I’ve written before, my maternal grandmother had a profound effect on my thinking at a young age. But even though she was left of center, she was one of a few in my family.

When I dig as deeply as I can into myself, the biggest reasons that I grew into who I am is because of my faith and my experiences in churches with thoughtful clergy. I carry those silly bags into the local grocery store because God’s creation is beautiful, and it was God that crafted humanity for the care of that creation. I go to the Local Grocery Store, and avoid Big Box Stores whenever possible, because I believe God calls us to be generous, that we shouldn’t glean our pennies off the backs of producers and workers—that a worker is worthy of their hire and deserves to live a full life for a full day’s work.[i] I speak about communities that have been afflicted by prejudice by those with privilege because that is what I read Jesus doing in the gospels. My faith was taught to me through a church and by ministers that value education, deep reflection, and taking the Biblical narrative serious.

It would be a woeful oversight to say that “Jesus made me liberal,” because there are quite a few that claim “Jesus made me conservative.” But my experience, wrapped in my family, my civic community, my faith community, my educators, and the travels and journeys I have taken along the way color the way I read the Bible, and in turn the holy texts have colored the way that I see each of these influences in my life.

I’m sorry, Chase, that I have grown into that which is aggravating, silly, or in your opinion, wrong. Just please know that I am trying to follow Christ in the way I know best because of who I’ve become. I don’t think, act, vote, preach, or believe this way in spite of Jesus, but because of Jesus. Although we disagree, and we do so frequently, know that at the core of these conversations we both have a heart that so desperately wants to help others…to be and share good news, good news which saved both of us, albeit we understand this in vastly different ways. Even though it can be uncomfortable, we manifest God’s love in our own distinct way. In love much is the same and we don’t have to call it liberal or conservative; we can simply call it love, be thankful for it, and take comfort that it perpetually exists between us.

---

[i] Chase, who reviewed this post before I published it, told me that in our hometown the Big Box Store pays more per hour than the Local Grocery Store. While I would still question buying practices and misuse of power, there is something to be said about challenging presuppositions and being forced to live in a world of economic grayscale. 

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.  



Actions Speak Louder Than Doctrine

By J.C. Mitchell  

I hear Christians of all types say how you treat one another is more important than doctrine.   I can think of two men that remind me of this reality.  The first is John Meis, a student who subdued the shooter at Seattle Pacific University. In Meis’ statement  he writes, “When I came face to face with the attacker, God gave me the eyes to see that he was not a faceless monster, but a very sad and troubled young man.”  He held him for the authorities, and yet still saw the murderer as a person.  This is a powerful statement and it truly comes from a deep faith, which I imagine has been shaken.  I must admit it gives me hope for the world and Christianity that this college student would compose such wonderful response to a horrific experience and share what he saw: another man, not a monster.  I do not need to know John Meis’ doctrine to know that even in restraining another, and specifically a murderer, he still saw and thus treated Aaron Ybarra as a person, and certainly at one of the most trying times of seeing the Creator’s hand in every person.  Meis remarks it was the Divine that empowered him.

The other man that reminds me that how we treat one another is more important than our doctrine is Frank Schaeffer who wrote Why I am an Atheist, Who Still Believes in God: How to give Love, Create Beauty and Find Peace.  Schaeffer recounts his life thus far, with wonderful and powerful prose.  Now I would not peg Schaeffer as an atheist, for he prays daily and is an active member of a Christian congregation, but he embraces his doubt.  I find this refreshing, and this should not be confused with being agnostic: “I don’t view my embrace of opposites as a kind of agnosticism. I view it as the way things actually are. An agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in God. I’m not that person. I believe and don’t believe at the same time.” (14)  While this may not seem possible to some Christians or atheists, it is Schaeffer’s experience of the Divine, of the world, and thus we should explore this with him, for it has led him to a place where it is easier to give love, create beauty and find peace.

I would love for everyone to share their faith journey, but what makes Schaeffer’s particular interesting is that his parents were famous evangelicals, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, and he was involved in promoting the religious right. He rejected religion altogether, but now is able to fully embrace the mystery of the wonderfully mysterious love many of us call “God.”  Schaeffer shares his epiphanies and doubts in an engaging way weaving his life experiences, Biblical knowledge, scholarship, and art, that I imagine atheists and Christians (or for that matter all people of faith) would agree with his conclusion, which I started with: how you treat people is more important than what you believe.

Schaeffer shares moving stories about his very conservative parents who would have told you that homosexuality is a sin, yet they saw each person as a child of God and saved any judgment for the divine, even renting a home to a lesbian couple.  This proved to be the same non-judgmental love he felt when as a teen he and his now wife found themselves as unmarried and pregnant.  His parents embraced him and Genie, for doctrine about marriage is not as important as love.

One of the most interesting points Schaeffer makes is comparing Denmark and the USA.  In Denmark,  the culture lives the mission of Jesus, by taking care of everyone and providing education to everyone, but very few go to church.  While in the USA we consider ourselves to be a religious nation, and we know children go to bed hungry, have inadequate health care available, and education is influenced by your property taxes.  This juxtaposition of cultures has to rattle all Christians to consider what is more important: your dogma or how you treat the social other?

“How we treat others is the only proof of truth we have. That proof is not found in any book. It is only found in the expression of unconditional trust we may sometimes see in the eyes of the people who know us best.” (91) It is in our families and those we are close to where we, like Schaeffer, find the unconditional trust and love many of us call the Divine (God), and when we can look at those that have hurt us and others and see them as a human, we are on the way of truth. 

How we treat one another is according to Frank Schaeffer the key, and I believe Jon Meis lived that out in that instance he saw a “a very sad and troubled young man” even if do not agree with Meis’ belief that “God gave [him] the eyes…”  Meis did. 

 









No more Either/Or; Now Both-And

By Rev. Mindi 

“The world has changed.”

I hear this all the time in the church: “The world has changed.” And of course it’s true, and of course it’s the same. Nothing new under the sun. World without end. And we don’t like change.

I think one of the most difficult changes for people, however, has been this shift from Either/Or to Both-And. This is within the church and within society in general. And perhaps the shift has come in waves across generations, through Women’s Rights, Civil Rights and in GLBTQ equality; and this wave of Both-And is just finally smacking the shore and changing the Either/Or landscape forever.

Church doesn’t look like it used to. Church was in a big building with a big committee and the most important thing were two-parent-heterosexual young married couples with children coming through the door.

Churches now have a building and don’t have a building. Churches now have heterosexual and homosexual couples and single people and no children and children and couples not married and older people bringing their grandchildren and animal blessings for pets in October and they meet in traditional buildings and coffee shops and movie theaters and homes and schools.

Even in the SBNR (Spiritual-But-Not-Religious) debate the wave has drawn over the conversation: Church now is full of religious and spiritual people, and so are coffee shops on Sunday mornings and bars on Tuesday nights. The either/or dichotomy is not working.

It’s not working among families where dads stay home and moms go to work or *gasp* both parents share parenting and work roles. Or parents partner with other adults to co-parent and form relationships beyond traditional models. Or among people who are genderqueer and do not claim a traditional male or female identity. Either/Or thinking does not work in families or churches anymore.

And while we have a long, long way to go, many of our churches are starting to look different among the younger generations as multiethnic families grow up. We all have heard the statistics: White-Euro-Americans will no longer be the majority racial/ethnic identity among those under 20 by the year 2020. Everything is changing. Our identities are going to be changing, and this will be huge for traditional White-Euro-American churches. Some of our traditions and cultural practices will change and I don’t think we’ve recognized that yet. But it’s coming.

Either/Or isn’t working anymore.

And in fact, I’m not sure it’s never worked, if we believe in the fully-human-*and*-fully-divine Jesus. Jesus was not Either/Or. Jesus was Both-And.

Jesus ate with the leaders as well as with the poor. Jesus welcomed the children and welcomed the adults. Even when Jesus said, “You cannot be my disciple if you do not hate father and mother,” we know James and John loved their mother and Peter his mother-in-law and we know they were flawed people who still were Jesus’ disciples. Even when Jesus used either/or language with the disciples, we know that Jesus still came to that group who had utterly abandoned him to the cross and said, “Peace be with you.”  Even Jesus cannot be bound to the Either/Or. It’s Both-And.

Both-And gives us room for tradition and innovation.  Both-And gives us room to teach our history and embrace the newness of change. Both-And says all people are welcome, whatever kind of family or no family.  Both-And says traditional pastoral ministry and new community ministry are needed by the church.  Both-And says yes to traditional church at 10am on Sunday and yes to new ways of being spiritual community. Both-And says that our understandings of gender and sexual orientation and race and culture are all being challenged and are more fluid than we had thought. Both-And says we have more than one option when it comes to challenging the human rights abuses in Syria and in other parts of the world. Both-And says there are many options for peace.

We’re moving to a Both-And world. That’s not to say it isn’t scary. The things we once knew we don’t anymore. The world is changing. I don’t have all the answers. And I won’t say it’s always a good thing, but it is what it is.

Everything is changing. Let’s be sure we’re alert, aware, and ready for the wave coming. World without end.

Vulnerability as the Way of Christ

I recently created this Pecha Kucha to help explain how I see Mimetic Theory and the Theology of Disability combine to help demonstrate how we know Christ through vulnerability.  You may ask what a Pecha Kucha is, and that is a good question.  It is a Japanese term for a simple presentation format where you show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images advance automatically and you talk along to the images, thus it is a perfect way to have many presenters without going on and on.  Of course I am sharing this via the internet, for the other purpose of Pecha Kucha is to intrigue people about the presenter.  I hope you are interested in the ideas or at least intrigued and thus connect with me through Open Gathering, Dmergent, the FB, or Twitter to keep the conversation going.  So you will need 6 minutes and 40 seconds (well a little longer as we included an intro screen).  There is a navigation element if you need it as well.  You will also need Flash. 

I hope this raises more questions, so we can together be vulnerable and find the Christ together.  Just click on the image below to start the Pecha Kucha...

Silence

by Rev. Mindi

Nation, we’ve had a rough seven months.

Superstorm Sandy. Newtown. The Boston Marathon. West, Texas. Moore, Oklahoma.

And there are more tragedies that don’t make the national news, or at least not to the same degree. The Mother’s Day shooting in the 7th Ward of New Orleans. Other school shootings. Gang violence. Homophobic violence.  Massive fires in Southern California. Natural and unnatural disasters.

It’s all a bit too much for us to take at times. For many of us, our first reaction is shock and shared grief. It may hit very close to home (for us, my husband’s cousin lost their home in Sandy, my in-laws live in Newtown, and we own a home in Southern Oklahoma where we lived just a year ago) or it may just be the shared shock and grief we have when a child, the epitome of innocence and hope and joy, is killed.

For others, our first reaction is to act. How can we help? What can we do? We hear the stories of heroes, the First Responders, the ones who put their own lives in danger to save the lives of others. We hear the stories of teachers who bravely shielded the children in their classroom from bullets or tornadoes. We want to do something that can help and honor those who have given of their lives.

But still, for some, there is a need to say something. A need to speak, a need to put meaning into words. And this is very, very dangerous ground. There was a flurry of activity on Twitter yesterday, much of it deleted today, but the stings of those words are still fresh.

From the right, we hear this is God’s will. We hear Scripture spoken as if to say this is part of God’s plan. We hear words of judgment and condemnation of those who claim to speak for God.Those words, even if one agrees with them, do NOT bring comfort to those who are mourning, do NOT bring healing to those who are hurting.

From the left, we hear blame. We hear messages about climate change, lack of funds for disaster relief, and poor payment of teachers. We hear words of judgment and condemnation towards those who disagree with them.  While one might agree with these opinions, those words do NOT bring comfort to those who are mourning, do NOT bring healing to those who are hurting.

Church, we are called to be different. We are called to be Living Hope.  We are called to both action and silence. 

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”  John 11:32-37

Perhaps our own response ought to be silence, weeping, and then action. Perhaps words are utterly unnecessary, and even harmful.

*You can give through the One Great Hour of Sharing (Week of Compassion) in your local Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), American Baptist, United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Church of the Brethren, Presbyterian Church USA, Cumberland Presbyterian Church, AME Zion, and Reformed Church in America to help those in Oklahoma with tornado disaster relief.

Coming Out as a Christian Liberal

By Rev. Mindi

I attended and graduated from a small, liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest, a college affiliated with my denomination.  In my first year, I became involved in all of the different Christian organizations on campus, ranging theologically from middle of the road to conservative. The few theologically liberal Christians on campus that I knew (that admitted to being Christian) didn’t attend most of the Christian organizations’ events or kept quiet about being theologically liberal most of the time, as I did for my first year.

But by my sophomore year I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. I didn’t like hiding part of myself just so I could feel like I belonged and fit in to Campus Crusade or any of the other groups. I grew up in a congregation that was Welcoming and Affirming of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning folks, and there was a group on campus that was the equivalent of a gay/straight alliance. In addition, my pastor had recently written a book about his journey as an evangelical pastor coming from a place of “love the sinner,” to full acceptance and affirmation of gay and lesbian people. I wanted to share this book with the group and hopefully find a place where I was welcome with my liberal Christian theology.

I attended my first meeting and after about a half hour, I finally introduced myself. When I mentioned I had brought copies of my pastor’s book for free, I heard a collective gasp as people’s eyes grew wide. I suddenly realized they thought I was there to condemn them and I quickly had to assure them that was not the case.  Once they knew I was not only an ally but convinced by my beliefs that God’s love meant a full inclusion of all people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, the tension left the room.  Following the meeting, several people stayed and we chatted about our religious backgrounds.

What followed was story after story of rejection. A Missouri Synod Lutheran who had faithfully attended church with her grandparents until she came out at seventeen and when the church rejected her, she rejected the church and Christianity. A Catholic who now identified as spiritual but not religious. An evangelical Christian who was now an atheist because she had not experienced love from Christians in the way she imagined love was supposed to be.  Story after story after story. 

And finally, a story of acceptance.  After almost everyone had left, a woman who identified as a Quaker and attended the local Friend’s meeting spoke to me. She spearheaded change in the food purchases by the campus cafeteria in regards to migrant worker’s rights and was involved in raising awareness of social issues on campus.  She shared that it was her trust in Jesus’ teachings in why she was involved so much in the local community.  But as far as I know, she never shared about her faith in that way outside of this small gathering, with the few who had not left.

It’s time for liberal Christians to come out and stand up. This week, Jason Collins came out (and I had to look up who he was because I’m not an NBA basketball fan). Sixteen years ago yesterday, Ellen DeGeneres came out on live TV. I was in college, junior year, at a “coming out” party put on by the student group and the one fraternity on campus that did not discriminate based on sexual orientation.  Every day, people come out to their families, to their pastors, to their bosses, to their friends.

How many liberal Christians still hide their beliefs, because they don’t want to rock the boat? How many liberal Christian pastors stay quiet when a member says a derogatory slur, making the excuse that “they are a long-term member, I can’t offend them,” or some other excuse? How many liberal Christian leaders say nothing because “the issue hasn’t come up in my congregation”? 

How many more stories will we continue to hear of people who have been rejected by their church, so they have rejected their church, their religion, or God, altogether?

It’s been seventeen years since I sat in that campus room and came out as a liberal, welcoming and affirming Christian. After that moment, I didn’t hold back from my friends my views. Eventually I dropped out of most of the campus Christian organizations, except for one, the Student Chaplain’s group. My junior year also marked the year I was not alone. While I had known a few other liberal Christians on campus involved in the different organizations, they had kept quiet in public about their views. But my junior year, two others from the Student Chaplain’s joined the gay/straight campus alliance group. And one eventually came out about her sexuality as well.  And that all happened because one night I was hanging out with members of the alliance group and these two Student Chaplains came up to me and I introduced them and invited them to join the alliance group.  

It’s been seventeen years, and yet I know so many pastors still afraid to come out as welcoming and affirming or open and affirming today. It’s long overdue, friends. Come on out. Stand up for equality and justice for all LGBT folks. Even if you don’t think your church is ready to join O&A or W&A yet, they aren’t going to get there at all unless they know their pastor will help lead the way. And you never know what youth is hanging on by a thread, needing to know not only that God loves them, but that God’s representatives in their community—their church and especially their pastor—love them too. Otherwise, I fear that more college campus alliance groups will be filled with the same stories mine was—stories of rejection and loss, instead of stories of Christ’s love, faith, and hope.

Jesus Really Doesn't Care about Christianity...

By Dennis Teall-Fleming

Wow, I have to say, while I really like some of Lillian Daniel's work over at Huffington Post, her book When 'Spiritual But Religious' Is Not Enough is terribly disappointing.  Rev. Daniel might think she's doing someone a favor with this book - maybe Christians who don't think they're spiritual enough? - but what she's actually written here is just another Christian diatribe against an "Other", in which Daniel uses what I'll call the Classic Dichotomy to "prove" one's faith better than this Other, and/or that this Other falls short of being genuine, meaningful, and authentic.

This begins right away in the first chapter, "Spiritual but Not Religious?", in which she  describes this new and very real category of religious identity, for millions of people (I'll abbreviate it as SBNR) in very derisive and juvenile ways:

"Let me guess, you read The New York Times every Sunday, cover to cover, and you get more out of it than the sermon....And don't forget the sunset.  These people always want to tell you that that God is in the sunset....So you find God in the sunset?  Great, so do I.  But how about in the face of cancer?  Do you worship that as well?" (pp. 5-6)

SBNR people "have set up a vacuum in which the answers [to classic questions about existence, theodicy, etc.] get invented without any formation or guidance." (p. 7)

SBNR families feel so fortunate to have so much material and financial success, with no real introspection on what being this "lucky" may mean for the great majority of people in the world that don't have these things.  "Feeling lucky is another religion altogether, one that says that the gods pick one teenager to live in the suburbs of the richest nation on earth and another teenager to starve.  In a worldview of luck, righteousness is really not at home." (p. 10)

SBNR people don't realize that "we are stuck with one another", and just want to associate with the people that are exactly like them. (pp. 12-13)

The criticisms she creates about SBNR ideology could just as easily be, and are easily drawn as, caricatures for every religion, including Daniels'.  I've seen so many of these "straw man" critiques of other religions, and Daniels' creation of this Classic Dichotomy here- comparing the worst in "Them" with the best in "Us"- is just as sad to read through.  Christians like Daniels have done this for millennia, to Judaism, all forms of Paganism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism....and on and on.  The reality of how these Others actually live their religious lives is so much bigger than the caricatures we Christians want to create in our imaginations.

Now that last reference is a place where Daniels admits that "The church has done some embarrassing things in its day, and I personally do not want to be associated with a lot of it." (p. 12)  So I think I'll reverse her critique at this point, to show how embarrassing a simplistic diatribe like Daniels' work looks.  I'm certain that lots of SBNR people wouldn't want to be identified and lumped in with the category of SBNR Daniels contrives, and I trust that most SBNR are not this caricature.  So, as a fellow Christian, I'll reverse the entire critique, to show how easily contrived and caricatured this kind of Classic Dichotomy is in a Christian context:

"Why would I want to be a Christian, or even consider that a valid way in the world?  I've encountered LOTS of Christians like you in my lifetime, I almost don't need to have a conversation with anymore, because I know exactly what you're gonna say!  

Let me guess, you read the Bible every Sunday, four whole passages each time!, and you get more out of it than anything else in the real world....

"And don't forget the church you attend.  You people always want to tell me that that God is in that building....So you find God in that building?  Great, so do I.  But how about in the face of cancer?  Do you worship that as well?  

"You Christians have set up a vacuum in which the answers [to classic questions about existence, theodicy, etc.] get invented without any formation or guidance.

"Christian families feel so fortunate to have so much material and financial success, with no real introspection on what being this 'lucky' may mean for the great majority of people in the world that don't have these things.  Feeling lucky is another religion altogether, one that says that God picks one teenager to live in the suburbs of the richest nation on earth and another teenager to starve.  In a worldview of luck, righteousness is really not at home.

"You Christians don't realize that we are stuck with one another, and you just want to associate with the people that are exactly like you."

Plenty of Christians that Daniels, and I, are embarrassed by, and don't want to be associated with, fit easily into this critique.  We wouldn't want our faith to be defined by them, and I at least don't want anyone trying to convince me to abandon my faith and way of life because of the way these other Christians represent it.  It's time to retire such Classic Dichotomies, because they just don't describe the reality very well, for any one Christian, for any one SBNR person, or for any other person of faith or way of living.  Every religious way can be praised or panned, depending on what you read or who you encounter.  Both SBNR and Christianity span a spectrum from the sane to the silly, and Daniels' plead to SBNR people to leave their silliness for her sanity is simply dishonest.

Daniels also needs to realize something else here: it's not an issue of a "trial separation", from following Jesus and/or being part of Christian community, for most SBNR people (chapter 32), because there's no plan or process for SBNR people to return in which they'd find authenticity.  As much as Daniels and I might appreciate these gifts in our own faith lives, SBNR people just, might, not, really care about the importance or Jesus, or how meaningful being a part of a community of his followers might be.  I would hope that someone as thoughtful and insightful as Daniels would understand this, but maybe she doesn't: SBNR people just might not care about Jesus.  And why should they?  It's pretty clear to me that you don't need Jesus to stay away from judgmentalism, or from setting up false "We"'s and "They"'s (chapter six) (Daniels needs to take her own advice here, because this is exactly what she has done in this book- set up a "We" Christian against a "They" SBNR category!); you don't need Jesus to welcome all to the table (chapters 12 and 14) or to be hospitable (chapter 15); you don't need Jesus to welcome immigrants (chapter 21) or to know that God isn't done with us yet (chapter 30); and you definitely don't need Jesus to recognize the beauty of nature (chapter 20).  It's terribly obvious to me that most people in the world today- Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, et. al.- don't need Jesus to see these things, to live into these truths.  I don't see why we would expect this SBNR category that Daniels contrives and critiques to need him in these ways.

And lastly, the final takeaway from reading Daniels' book is the most important for me to say: Jesus really doesn't care about Christianity...

Whether I need Jesus in my life or not (which I desperately do), whether I find ultimate meaning and value in being a participant in Christian community (which I certainly do), I just can't believe that the Jesus I know would ever really care that everyone else in the world need and find those things, too.  I think Jesus celebrates human authenticity even in people that couldn't care less about him, or the communities of disciples that work to follow him.  Jesus really doesn't care about Christianity, because the Christianity that Daniels and I struggle to live within is not what Jesus ultimately cares about.  Whether I look at the Christian scriptures in the New Testament; the other Christian scriptures excluded from that canon; the best sources from the rest of Christian history, witness, and tradition; or the Jesus alive and present in my life today, I just don't see how he could confine himself to just caring about whether people become Christian or not.

Jesus doesn't care about Christianity.  He certainly cares about Christians, but he also cares about the other 80% of human beings that have existed throughout the centuries.  What I'm certain Jesus doesn't really care about is whether any one person becomes a Christian, especially if that's not something that will help that person become the most authentic person God calls them to be.  What Jesus does care about is each human being committing to That Which helps them to become the most genuine and authentic person possible.  For people like me and Daniels, that will, most likely, always be in a Christian context and community.  For everyone?  SBNR, Jewish, et. al.?  Well, it just seems to me, well, no.

Jesus doesn't care about Christianity, but he will always care about all humanity, and in that all of God's creation, long after Christianity is gone.  I invite Daniels, and everyone else like her, who take such a disparaging view of any person that isn't Christian anymore, and/or people that never were—SBNR or otherwise—to consider this way of seeing things, the way I'm certain Jesus does.

Rev. Dennis Teall-Fleming is a Commissioned Minister in The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Leading Minister at Open Hearts Gathering, Gastonia, NC and Mad Monk! for Asheville Monastery, Asheville, NC.

Reclaiming Religion

By Rev. Mindi

In the aftermath of the events of the past week, now that a suspect in the Boston bombings is in custody, now that the media has buzzed once again with the purpose behind the bombings being Religion—how are we to respond?

First, we need to take this question out of the “Islamic Extremists” reasoning.  While both suspects may have identified themselves with Islam, it’s clear that for the deceased suspect, he didn’t understand the Qu’ran at all (claiming that “the Bible is a cheap copy of the Qu’ran” he obviously doesn’t understand how to read history, either), and the younger suspect had only been to the local mosque once in the last three years, smoked marijuana and drank, all activities that would not be condoned by a typical “religious” Muslim.  In short, though these two brothers may have claimed to identify with Islam, they didn’t really understand the very religious tradition they claimed as what had driven them to bomb innocent civilians in their anger against the United States. 

While fundamentalism can be dangerous in any religious tradition and certainly we have seen the results of fundamentalist Islam, I see a tide shifting in the media portrayal and coverage. It is no longer about Islamic fundamentalism, but religious fundamentalism, and not even fundamentalism but religion in general.  When “religion” is labeled as a reason for why people would kill innocent civilians with homemade bombs, we all are getting thrown under the bus.

This adds fuel to the fire of why people reject religion altogether. They hear the shouts of the Westboro Baptist Church (which neither is Baptist nor a church, in my opinion, though they may be located in Westboro) and see Christians as hate-filled people. Even if, as most people know, the Westboro church is rejected by most Christians, there are enough other churches that reject lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks that people don’t want to be associated with a church, let alone Christianity. 

My concern about this recent hype in the media and the use of the word “religion” is that the discourse is going beyond the extremists, beyond the fundamentalists, beyond the right-wing branches of religious traditions. The journalists are reporting that the older brother was becoming more devout, “praying five times a day.” As one of the basic principles of Islam, that’s like saying “they began taking communion every Sunday” about a Disciple. The basic practices of a faith tradition become extreme to the rest of the world.

Religion is getting a bad reputation, and those of us in church leadership ought to be concerned about it. Because the real problem is not religion, it’s the use of violence that uses religion as a cover. It’s the use of religion as a blanket excuse to kill in the name of God, when we kill in the name of humanity, in the name of violence.

There are plenty of verses about peace in the Qu’ran, in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures, in many other religious texts around the world. Most religions, since ancient times, have had passages and practices about peaceful living with one’s other religious neighbors, alongside the passages that justified war and violence.

What happens when we allow the media to characterize any one religion in a negative light? Eventually, it catches up to all of us. 

In the “Spiritual but not Religious” conversation, the pull to reject religion is greater with these kind of definitions. When religion is labeled as the reason for one’s negative, violent actions, it is hard to reclaim the word religion as anything good. But we must do so. If our argument for religion is that being part of an organized community is better than being solo or being part of a detached community (lest we run the risk of assuming that people who identify as Spiritual but not Religious aren’t part of a community, so be careful here) we need to speak out against those who would characterize Muslims and Islam, against voices within Christianity that are violent, hurtful or abusive, and we must not be silent.