Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sermon for the Slaughter of the Innocents, December 26 2010

Texts here.

Well, good morning! Merry Christmas! I hope you had a nice, relaxing day - one full of joy and celebration - time with family and friends and loved ones - a day of abundance, of loving-kindness. I hope you had that - because today’s reading yanks us out of our reverence and abundance into darkness and terror.

So the child Immanuel, G-d-with-us, is here. He has come! Angels announce his birth to shepherds, who rejoice in all the things G-d has done. The stars themselves align to mark his birth. Wise men from far away bring royal and extravagant gifts. It makes a beautiful picture - just like our kids in the Christmas pageant - all wondering and reverent around the manger in the final tableau.

Then Matthew tears us away from the Christmas-card picture. The shepherds leave, the angels ascend, and the magi take off by a side road to avoid Herod. The wise men, you see, were well intentioned: they saw the star when it rose, and knew that it marked the birth of the King of the Jews - so they brought royal gifts, and they went to the royal house of Jerusalem, to Herod the Great. They expected to find the royal child in a royal palace. They weren’t precise on his birthdate - sometime two years before. The problem was, no child had been born to Herod’s family in that time. So the wise men, well intentioned as they were, tipped off Herod to the birth of a rival king - an enemy - a challenge to the throne.

So Herod reacts the way that kings react when their throne is threatened: he destroys the competition. He commands the death of every baby boy in and around Bethlehem, two years old or younger. If he kills the child, there is no threat, no enemy. And so the voices of all the mothers, all the children, all the women and men and every resident of Bethlehem, become one voice of wailing and loud lamentation. And Joseph and Mary and the baby escape to Egypt, to stay until Herod is dead.

So G-d is with us! Immanuel has come! And they try to kill him. Mary and Joseph have to run, escaping in the darkness, to protect their newborn child - the Son of G-d.

Now this does not work.

The Son of G-d should not have to go into hiding. The Son of G-d had his birth proclaimed by angels - marked by stars - acknowledged by wise men in far away nations. Such an amazing baby should not have to hide. The angels should take up flaming swords, and stand guard around the simple stable, just daring Herod’s soldiers to come closer. This is the story we might want. It works much more neatly if the Almighty arrives, laying down some serious trouble for Herod and anyone else who wants to mess with G-d’s Son. It’s easier to have fire and brimstone raining down, the clouds torn open by giant hands and a loud booming voice saying, “This is my Son; back off.”

But this is not what we get. What we get are silent stars, angels gone, wise men sneaking home, and Mary and Joseph escaping to Egypt with a tiny crying baby in their arms.

This would be upsetting - if it weren’t true. It is true, and it is true because the same thing happens over and over for the next thirty-three years. Throughout the story of Jesus’ birth, life, and death, we get a picture of G-d doing unexpected and unsettling things. G-d in infant form has to run away to Egypt. Then G-d in adult form shows up at the River Jordan and proclaims that the kingdom of G-d is at hand. G-d welcomes tax collectors, and prostitutes, and Samaritans, and sinners, and Romans, and people who just aren’t - welcome. G-d talks about justice, and love, and compassion, and mercy. And when the powers-that-be finally get their hands on G-d, there is no angel with flaming sword, no fire and brimstone, no voice from heaven - there is only the cross. G-d is born among us, G-d lives among us, and G-d dies among us. G-d comes to earth, and the world comes to kill him.

And this is how our lives are, too. Some of us celebrated yesterday. We were surrounded by friends and family, our loved ones. We played board games or chased our cousins around the tree or watched new babies play together. We went for a walk in the snowfall. We made krumkake and ate spiral-cut honey-baked ham and drank eggnog and cider. We opened present after present, and watched as our loved ones opened theirs. At the end of the day, the house was full of joy, and good smells, and little scraps of ribbon and wrapping paper.

But some of us - and some of our friends and co-workers and neighbors - some of us who celebrate the very same birth of the very same Jesus - some of us woke to a cold house. Some couldn’t be with loved ones - some didn’t want to be with family. Some didn’t have enough presents. Some didn’t have enough food. Some were having their first Christmas without a child, or a spouse, or a parent, or a sibling. Some of us woke up, and found ourselves running to Egypt.

Mary and Joseph’s escape is the truth of our own story. The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay is not a magic amulet. He doesn’t protect Mary and Joseph against Herod’s army. Nor do the wise men, or the angels, or the stars. Jesus is born - as extraordinary as a birth can get - and then suffers the same pains we do - the same longings, the same despair. This is the truth of our life. Not every scene is the children’s pageant tableau. And not every day can be Christmas. Each one of us will have days, weeks, months, even years when we feel that all we are doing is escaping to Egypt. We feel Herod’s threat - death and destruction - everywhere. We are threatened by our own past and our own pain. Our bodies begin to fail us. We flee families and friends and communities - even church communities - where G-d’s mercy and lovingkindness cannot be found.

And Immanuel - G-d is with us, even in the suffering.

G-d is with the innocent children when Herod’s soldiers strike. G-d is with the mothers weeping in Bethlehem. G-d is in Mary’s arms as she and Joseph disappear under the cover of nightfall. G-d is standing at the banks of the Jordan, getting his feet wet and his toes sandy. G-d is with the sinner and the tax collector and the prostitute and the Roman, not only when they stand before Jesus but in every moment of their lives up until then. And G-d is at the cross. G-d does not transcend the pain of this world - does not call on angels to deliver him. He feels with us, suffers with us, and dies with us - to raise us to new life.

G-d does not send angels with flaming swords
but mercy, and compassion, and loving-kindness.
G-d does not fight the powers-that-be with yet more power,
but with love.
G-d does not strengthen us for war
but for peace - for hard work - for justice.

G-d is with us in all our sufferings, and G-d’s presence saves us.

And we are given Christ - this tiny, helpless baby,
who disappears into the darkness and flees to Egypt,
but who will one day return.
Who will one day begin to teach of all the good things G-d has done for us,
all that has been done out of G-d’s mercy
and in the abundance of G-d’s steadfast love.
We are given this tiny baby, Immanuel, G-d-with-us,
who dares us to dream of a world
with no ruling from Herod, no flight to Egypt, no wailing and loud lamentation in Ramah.
This tiny,
suffering G-d
comes among us
to call us out of our own suffering,
to open our eyes to each other’s pain,
and to embolden our hands to begin the long and hard work of redemption.


Texts for the Slaughter of the Innocents, December 26 2010

Isaiah 63:7-9:

I will tell of the loving-kindness of the LORD,
all the works for which we give praise,
because of all the LORD has done for us -
yes, all the good things G-d has done for Israel,
all that has been done out of G-d’s mercy
and in the abundance of G-d’s steadfast love.

For G-d said, "Surely they are my people,
children who will not lie";
and G-d became their savior.

G-d was with them in all their sufferings,
and G-d’s presence saved them.

In love and compassion G-d redeemed them;
G-d lifted them up and carried them through all the years.

Hebrews 2:10-18
It was fitting that G-d,
for whom and through whom all things exist,
in bringing many children to glory,
should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father.

For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,
saying, "I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you."
And again, "I will put my trust in him."
And again, "Here am I and the children whom G-d has given me.”

Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood,
he himself likewise shared the same things,
so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,
and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.

For it is clear that he did not come to help angels,
but the descendants of Abraham.

Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect,
so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of G-d,
to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.
Because he himself was tested by what he suffered,
he is able to help those who are being tested.

Matthew 2:13-23
Now after they had left,
an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
"Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt,
and remain there until I tell you;
for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him."
Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night,
and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.

This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet,
"Out of Egypt I have called my son."

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated,
and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem
who were two years old or under,
according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
"A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."

When Herod died,
an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,
"Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel,
for those who were seeking the child's life are dead."
Then Joseph got up,
took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.

But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea
in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.
And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee.
There he made his home in a town called Nazareth,
so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled,
"He will be called a Nazorean."

Monday, December 20, 2010

What a queer blessing I have.

Kristi’s choir had a gig at the Guthrie, singing carols in the lobby before A Christmas Carol and 39 Steps started.  Afterwards we went out to Spill the Wine, and I met her director and his wife.  His wife’s an Ole, a music education major, and an Ole Choir graduate.  It was pretty much impossible for us not to get along.  We did a little reminiscing about choir, and Dr. Armstrong, and such.  It was cute in a music nerdy way.
Then suddenly the conversation shifted, and I found myself in a middle of a methodological explanation (on three glasses of wine…hurrr) of my call and what it means for me, for Kristi, for us, and for the church.
This happens a lot.
I don’t know in what proportion it happens to straight pastors and pastors-in-training, but I feel like it happens to me more - that conversations with strangers or acquaintances at parties and dinners suddenly turn into one laptop short of a PowerPoint presentation on what the church could be if it took a sideways glance at what Jesus wanted it to be.
These conversations are primarily happening with people who grew up churched (as is the majority in the Midwest) but now, in their twenties and thirties, have not found a church home.  Some are wary of religion, some disinterested, some downright angry.  Yet our conversations are exciting and life-giving.
(Okay, there are some people who are jerks.  But I am pretty sure, from other behaviors exhibited during the same gathering, that they are jerks in other situations, and therefore not worthy of spending my down-time arguing with.)
I wonder if my “queer” calling speaks to those who are “outside” the church tradition in a way that a straight pastor does not.  Am I, the long excluded, seen as a fellow outsider - another person the church has failed?  Is my calling not a manifestation of the insanity of Bible-thumping but a startling and fascinating commitment to an institution that has condemned, vilified, damned, and (at best) ignored me?
Am I not a supporter of the system, but one committed to its renewal?

Friday, December 17, 2010

My first semester of seminary is done.

Hebrew final cancelled.  Paper on ministry with queer youth submitted.  Mark final emailed.  Systematic theology essay sitting on my hard drive, to be printed and turned in tomorrow.
And suddenly my first semester of seminary is over.
It’s a little anticlimactic; I finished the very final paper alone in my apartment, with Kristi at work and Oliver asleep in his cat cube.  I’ll drive to campus tomorrow to turn it in, but I don’t know if I’ll see anyone.
I feel extraordinarily ambivalent.  
It is fitting, I think, for me to feel torn at this moment.  Life back in school has been a total subversion of all my unconscious expectations about school.
I had, to begin with, no idea what I was going to learn this year, and not even an inkling of how much.
I had no idea how many heart would swell and ache in daily worship with excitement and joy.
I had no idea (although I might have guessed) how great a support Kristi would be to me, how accommodating and loving and compassionate in my times of overwork, undersleep, and stress.
I had no idea when I finally turned that application in last March that I was going to have moments where I felt totally alone.  
I had completely forgotten how hard it was that first semester at Olaf, when I was eighteen and completely redefining myself after spending so many years as a sick girl.  If I loved my Olaf friends four months ago, I love them so much more now - for simply being the amazing people they are, and radically allowing me to participate in that and to grow and celebrate and laugh and cry and dance with them.
Now I have begun to add new friends to this community that I rely on for strength, joy, and celebration.
I had no idea how many amazing people I would meet this semester.  Perhaps abstractly I knew that G-d sometimes calls incredible, gifted, wondrous individuals to serve the church.  But I had no real concrete expectations for how amazing and diverse the student body at Luther Seminary would be.
If I have any confidence in my call, I have so much more in theirs.
If I am excited to be a part of the church, so much more now am I to be when I see the leaders that G-d has called.
I have loved this semester because it is absolutely where I should be right now.  And I am very pleased to be done with finals and to know that the next two weeks are at my leisure (well…except for the Christmas pageant, the December 26th sermon, the confirmation retreat, and the Peace With Justice Congregations project…) 
But part of me is not eager for one-sixth (yes, even just one-sixth) of my seminary education to be over.
And part of me is so terrified to even think about going into the world and living out what I am learning.
Yet so much of me is so excited, and so amazed, by the blessing of the other students around me.  I believe that Christ is coming and G-d’s kingdom is about to break in solely because of their dedication, their compassion, and their brilliance.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

If you meet the Buddha in the road...

There is a Buddhist saying that goes, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”
I ran across this as the title to a book on an old index-file card in the Rolvaag Library at Olaf.  I was in the middle of turning said index cards into notecards for class, but I took this particular card, tucked it into my Oxford Annotated NRSV, and decided to come back to it later.
Four years or more later, I have no idea where the card is.  The phrase occurred to me again today - only G-d knows why - so I looked it up.
The road, the killing, and even the Buddha are symbolic.  The road is generally taken to mean the path to Enlightenment; that might be through meditation, study, prayer, or just some aspect of your way of life.  Imagine meeting some symbolic Buddha. Would he be a great teacher that you might actually meet and follow in the real world? Could that Buddha be you yourself, having reached Enlightenment? Or maybe you have some idealized image of perfection that equates to your concept of the Buddha or Enlightenment.
Whatever your conception is of the Buddha, it’s WRONG! Now kill that image and keep practicing. This all has to do with the idea that reality is an impermanent illusion. If you believe that you have a correct image of what it means to be Enlightened, then you need to throw out (kill) that image and keep meditating.
Sam Harris at Shambhala Sun says:
Like much of Zen teaching, this seems too cute by half, but it makes a valuable point: to turn the Buddha into a religious fetish is to miss the essence of what he taught. In considering what Buddhism can offer the world in the twenty-first century, I propose that we take Lin Chi’s admonishment rather seriously. As students of the Buddha, we should dispense with Buddhism. 
The Zen Master warns: “If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him!” This admonition points up that no meaning that comes from outside ourselves is real. The Buddhahood of each of us has already been obtained. We need only recognize it. Killing the Buddha on the road means destroying the hope that anything outside of ourselves can be our master. We must each give up the master without giving up the search. The importance of things lies in the way we have learned to think about them. How often we make circumstances our prison and other people our jailers! At our best we take full responsibility for what we do and what we choose not to do. The most important struggles take place within the self.
And, interestingly (and a little eerily), a blog post by someone named emmy:
If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. It ain’t the real Buddha, but more likely a manifestation of your own longings and desires. You can’t see the Buddha. You’re not supposed to. As soon as you “see” the one you are to go through, your way is blocked. The Buddha says, “[E]ven this view [about no one in particular possessing The Truth], which is so pure and so clear, if you cling to it, if you fondle it, if you treasure it, if you are attached to it, then you do not understand that the teaching is similar to a raft, which is for crossing over, and not for getting hold of.” Listen—follow the voice—keep going.
So:  if you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha, because any concrete experience of the one Being, of the mu (the nothing-beyond-nothingness), is false.
My first thoughts were:  isn’t this interesting in comparison with Christianity.  Buddhist teachers say to kill the manifestation of Buddha because it is false.  We killed the Messiah because he was true.
We could pretend we killed the Messiah because - as the Buddhists would argue - no man can be the manifestation of G-d.  But the opposite is true.  We killed the Messiah precisely because he was the manifestation of G-d.
We killed the Messiah because we already knew who we wanted him to be.  We wanted a powerful leader, who would crush the Romans, who would purify Israel.  John the Baptist wanted one who would cleanse with fire.
And we got Jesus.  Born in a stable to an unwed mother.  Raised in backwater Nazareth.  Gets mouthy with the religious leaders, won’t get into debates about taxes or life after death.  Eats meals with people we don’t like.  Touches the unclean.  Talks about the absurdity of G-d’s mercy, and asks more of us than we can bear.
So we kill him.
And we kill him every day.  We are lax when we should be strict, and we are angry when we should be loving.  We quash new ideas with cynicism disgusted as realism, and we maintain traditions that choke the life from us because we fear the new.  We draw lines.  We debate endlessly.  We box up mercy.  And I sit here googling “If you meet the Buddha on the road” while children sleep homeless.
Yet every year we gather in the dark to say:  come again!
When he comes, will we only kill him again?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Faithful friends who are dear to us...

Today, as in many other class days, tangents were gone off upon during systematic theology.
In order to keep myself from swearing more than usual (and I was swearing under my breath quite a bit when we hit the 20-minute mark), I started thinking about Christmas cards and presents.  Who do I still need to buy gifts for, when will Kristi and I get the time to write and mail cards, is there a cute photo of us from the year that we should get printed?
As I look at our card list, I realize how many people that we love are from our years at Olaf.  We road tripped this summer to see Hannah in Milwaukee and Liz in Madison; Emily and Paul were just in town over Thanksgiving; Amanda and Kira were here last summer; Amy and Sarah are our Saturday brunch buddies; we just saw Catherine, Steven, and little Asher on Monday night for dinner; Eric and Abby’s save-the-date is on our fridge; we just saw Sarah at Christmasfest; we lounged at Becky’s cabin this summer with Liz and Sarah and Kevin and Jose; Joel just met me for beer and theology talk last month; there were tons of Oles at my birthday party last spring; we did Sauce/Cause Trivia night with Sam and Joel this summer.   
It occurred to me too how many people I’ve met at Luther, just in these short four months (how can it be finals already?!), who will be added to the Christmas list in our future.  It is a really great place, and there are some really great people.  
Living twenty minutes away from campus makes “community building” tricky - I don’t have the privilege of walking down the hall and knocking on a friend’s door when I need to hash out an upcoming paper or that day’s class discussion.  If I want to watch a movie at 2am, the only person who’s joining me is Kristi - and the cat.  So I tried to be intentional these past few months; I sought out “community building” activities and stayed on campus later than I needed and arrived earlier than necessary and friended everyone I could on Facebook.  And I definitely fretted about friends and friend groups - Kristi can attest to that.  There were weeks when I was 83% ready to pack up and move closer to Luther, because I couldn’t imagine building quality friendships unless I was within walking distance of campus.
Now, as the semester ends, I realize how many great people I’ve been blessed to meet, and to call my friends.  
Friends who sit with me in chapel, and sing with me in choir.
Who eat my cookies and share their cheesecake.
Who annotate our conversations with their own books and article suggestions.
Who counsel me through crises of doctrine, and laugh with me when Guillermo says “cheeks.”
Who pull up yet-another-chair for lunch and fill my meals with laughter.
Who take that extra moment to shout “Hey girl!” as they’re dragging themselves from 8am Greek and pass me in the hallway.
Who talk football with me on Mondays when the enlightened of us grace the campus with our green-and-gold.
Who foolishly enter into bets with me on Packers-Vikings games, and properly pay their bets with a pint at Manning’s.
Who invite me into their own circle of friends.
Who call when I don’t show for Bible study.
Who email me scholarly articles with Harry Potter references.
Who find reason to celebrate my nerdiness.
Who have begun to know my story, and to honor it, and share theirs.
And friends who have, so amazingly, begun to join my “cloud of witnesses” - the people in my life who have laid claim to my audacious extraordinary call and said, “Yes.  Yes.  Yes.”
May G-d continue to surround me
with physical manifestations of Her lovingkindness;
may I stay open and aware to the same;
may we all strive to create community in the midst of seeming impossibility.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I wept in chapel today.

Not the kind of weeping that I'm used to - the tears of joy and love at the unexpected and imperfect beauty of a congregation together, or the tears of self-actualization as I begin to unwrap a tiny part of myself that needed to hear the Gospel and hadn't yet been opened.

No, I wept because there was a little scared seventeen-year-old girl inside me throwing an absolute shit fit.

Backing up:  today, Marie preached in chapel, and organized the worship.  Marie is one of my favorite people.  We're the same age and graduated from Olaf together; we shared religion classes, and chapel worship, and student congregation council meetings.  Marie was and is one of the clearest manifestations of the best things about being Lutheran.  She's always been an advocate for "people like me" and I trust her completely.

And the worship she put together was spectacular.  She integrated a great, student-led worship band, and had a PowerPoint presentation to accompany her sermon.  This is new stuff for Luther Seminary daily chapel; we are pretty old-school as far as worship goes, sticking to the hymnal almost exclusively.  And I was really excited for it, because I think that the old-school style is horrifically overused and that we're getting the serious short end of the stick in our worship training because of it.

But all this did not quiet down the scared little girl inside me.

Scared little girl started squirming when the lesson was read from next to the altar instead of directly at the pulpit.

Scared little girl started kicking when the sermon was done sans manuscript and from the area around the altar (again, instead of the pulpit).

Scared little girl went into full-on fight-or-flight panic mode when the PowerPoint was turned on.

Because scared little seventeen-year-old girl was remembering every single church service with praise and worship, and a message preached from the floor, and Scripture read from PowerPoints - every single service like this that has been bookended by the reminder that "people like me" are not welcome.  That we are an abomination.  That we are condemned.

When the Prayers of the People were done over improved keyboard, with "Take Me As I Am" as the response, the scared little girl inside me screamed.  I tried to calm her, tried to tell her we were safe and no one was going to cast us out, but the prayers underlaid with music beat against her like fundamentalist fists.  I  wrapped my arms around myself and tried to keep it together, tried to sniffle as if I had a cold and not as if tears were covering my wretched face.  Scared little girl wanted to run, needed to get out, but we were in a middle pew with people on both sides - there was no way to leave without notice.

I felt every emotion just like I felt them when I was seventeen and very broken and lost.  So I was crying too; crying because I could not calm the scared little girl inside me, and crying because she is still inside me.  Much as I want to believe that the wounds of condemnation have been healed over by the grace of Christ and the love shown to me by so many of His children, they are not forever gone.  They are still there.  The scared little girl is still inside me, and still scared, and still ready to run.

This is why I think that worship today was horrible  and why it is essential.

I am fighting the scared little seventeen-year-old Emmy whenever a drum set accompanies the hymns or a screen drops behind the altar.  I stay far away from any church that uses praise and worship music - because so, so, so often, this music is a harbinger of a theology that will tell me to curse G-d and die, for this life I love and the woman I cherish is worthless.

And I want it.

I went to Selah, the Sunday night worship and praise service, for three years at Olaf.  For the first two years I did not feel unsafe.  Catherine led worship, and Catherine was a friend who I trusted.  There was no condemnation, no hatred, no abomination, only the beauty of the music.  Then leadership changed, and the self-centered music began to come in, and Christus Victor reigned supreme.  Whether this indicated a change in theology or only demonstrated what had always been believed, I do not know.  But I stopped going.

I long now for the beauty of Selah, for those moments of freedom and joy and celebration.  I want again to sing praise and worship music - but there is nowhere safe.  So, so, so often it is a symbol of a theology that will gleefully destroy me and my queer brothers and sisters in the name of the idolatry of fundamentalism.  I do not seek it out.

But here at Luther, I would be safe.  I would be safe to sing those songs again, and to learn new ones, because I stand in the company of Marie, and Jamie, and Kayla, and Kim, and so many others who know who and what I am and yet stand next to me.  I must learn these songs - we all must - because so many of them are beautiful and good, but also because so many Lutheran churches hunger for a life-giving service that can be made from this music.  How are we to know how to select praise and worship music, and to incorporate it into our Lutheran worship, if it is never played in our own house of worship?  This is the only place now that I am safe to learn these songs.

May G-d soothe the scared little girl inside me, and may she learn to sing again.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Christmas season.

All my roommates can attest that the Christmas season starts, for me, in October.  That’s when I begin baking cookies and planning presents and hanging Christmas lights and dancing wildly around my room while conducting the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Carol of the Bells.
Yeah, I’m that girl.  I’m Christmasing before Macy’s.
I’ve toned it down for Kristi (no decorations till Thanksgiving) but I’m still blasting the Muppet Christmas Carol “It Feels Like Christmas” on my commute.  First snow?  You bet I’m playing in it.  And on the altar of my heart, all year round, is a string of white Christmas lights.
I’m a Christmas kid.
I was raised a Christmas kid.  Come November, our house was full of Italian cookies baking.  Mom and Dad put up a pine tree every year even though Mom was allergic and it made a heroic mess of the floor.  In December, we hung a wooden Christmas tree with a drawer for every day - an Advent calendar with an ornament for each day till Christmas Eve.  We filled every shelf with Santas and carefully set up Mom’s dime-store creche.  And on Christmas Eve, the whole neighborhood set out luminaria:
Christmas means family and tradition - especially of my mom, who worked so hard to give me a normal childhood in the midst of my dad’s compounding illness and my growing loneliness.  
Then I went to Saint Olaf College where CHRISTMAS IS INESCAPABLE.
Christmas trees in the commons.  A fire in Fireside.  Lutefisk and lefse in the caf.  Alumni showed up in snowflake sweaters.  
And stressed out students steal the caf trays just to slide Old Main Hill, and above quiet hours you’ll hear Boe Chapel bells.
And I sang in the Saint Olaf Choir and guys there is NOTHING LIKE THIS.  ANYWHERE.  EVER.
And then:
I met this incredible, amazing, wonderful, brilliant, compassionate, funny, wonderful woman.  And we fell in love.  And it was Christmas.
How could I not be a Christmas kid after all this?  How could I not be unbearably exuberant at the first sign of snow?  How could I not have a smartphone half-full of carols and choirs? 
Good and loving and lectionary-conscious friends remind me every year that I’m rushing the Advent season by starting my Christmas music at the same time as department stores.  I’m not waiting for Christ properly.  I’m not taking time, savoring the season, waiting in the darkness for the light to shine.
To this I say:  Tough Christmas cookies.
I know what they mean.  And I won’t subject anyone to my ridiculous Christmasing before the time is due.  But the Christmas season has become, for me, more than cookies and choirs and tradition and celebration.  It’s more than presents and It’s a Wonderful Life and eggnog.  
It’s the kingdom of G-d on earth and it’s bursting out the church door into every corner of the world.
At the heart of everything the secular culture puts us through to get to Christmas - the constant chirp of spend! spend! spend! and the endless renditions of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” on the radio - is something good and real and trustworthy.  Something about love and compassion and generosity.  Something about G-d bless us, every one! and G-d rest ye merry gentlemen and turning the world around.  It is, truly, “a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
Maybe it’s just the naiveté of a silly twenty-five-year-old who ought to know better, but my heart’s choir is singing O Holy Night all year round, and I hope to G-d-with-us it always is.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

"Never Been Kissed"

Tonight's Glee was about teh gays.

This is a really empty summary, but it's true.

It dared to ask:

What does the world do to people like Kurt - boys who don't fit our mold of masculinity?
What does the world do to people like Coach Beiste - straight women who don't fit our mold of femininity?
And how does what we do affect Dave - the closeted Neanderthal football player?

I grew up gay.  I always was.  Even when I was coming up with a complicated scheme to ask Eric to the Sadie Hawkins Dance or flirting with Nate in French class, every move was made to draw the attention of the girls around us.  At sixteen, I finally opened my mouth and admitted it - to myself, and to my friends.

I was never bullied.  I was never made fun of.  A few friends did tell me that I was going to hell.  But they were friends, and they had the goodness (I do think it was goodness) to tell me what they thought was truth to my face.  In the high school world of cattiness and backstabbing, I was treated like a human being.  (Church was another matter, as I've said before.)

In my senior year, I came out to my entire AP Psychology class.  We were told to re-create the box of ourselves - the outside that we showed to everyone else, and the inside that we hid.  I built a triangle box, and covered it in rainbows, and when the time came for my turn to share whatever I cared to share, I opened the box.

Many of my classmates opened their boxes and bared their souls that day.  But I was the only one to receive a card the next day - started by two of my classmates, and signed by all of them, saying, "Thank you for your courage."
(And yes...I still have it:

And I still have it.)
Now, it was a high school of six hundred to a graduating class, and there were only thirty in AP Psych.  And there was certainly cattiness everywhere, and mean things thought and said.  And I was fighting my own darkness - it wasn't all rainbows and unicorns.  But when I think about how my sexuality was handled - all I remember is love.

My world is not the world for all gay children and youth.  Many of us are born into families that hate us.  Many of us go to church and hear ourselves damned.  Many of us go to school and are mocked and teased and hated even more.

Some of us end up on the street.

Some of us end up on drugs.

Some of us end up in abusive relationships because it's the only place we can find love.

Some of us - Seth, Asher, Justin, Billy, Tyler, Raymond, and now Brandon - can't survive.

And I think all of us feel alone.

I was blessed to be born to a family and a church and a community that loved me.  It is the church's job now to be that community to every one of my suffering queer brothers and sisters.  There is too much hurt in the world, and too much joy to be had, for us to be silent.

The Anglican Covenant.

I grew up Episcopalian.  For many and various reasons I started a-wanderin' from the Church when I was fourteen, and left officially at twenty when I was confirmed into the ELCA at Boe Memorial Chapel at St. Olaf.

It was a tricky choice to make at the time (May 2005), because the ELCA was not officially recognizing the ordination of gay and lesbian partnered people, while the Episcopal church had been doing so since 1996.  Mom pointed this out to me on more than one occasion, but I was committed to joining the Lutheran church; I thought I'd found a denomination that was doing church differently, where the theological integrity of the Episcopals (which I loved) was combined with the passion and joy of the Evangelicals (which I also loved).

It would turn out, in the long run, that many of the things which drove me nuts in the Episcopal Church - tradition for tradition's sake, the perpetuation of hierarchy, the reluctance to throw out people who perpetuated oppression and cruelty, and a basic inability to keep out pastors who never should have been granted positions of spiritual power - are present in the ELCA as well.  But I believed then, and still do now, that the theological groundings of the Lutheran Church allow more space to fight against these things than I found in the Episcopal church.  (Check back in four years and see if I'm still singing this song.)

The ELCA has finally put one leg into its big-boy pants and allowed the ordination of individuals in publically accountable lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships, a.k.a. the queer folk.  We've still got a long way to go, but the major administrative roadblocks are down.  And I recognize that the ELCA's non-decision is a nice, covenantal, loving way to try to keep everyone together, and I'm trying to respect that even though I personally would very much like to tell certain members to take their oppressive, heterosexist, cruel, anti-Christian and anti-Lutheran ideas and go play elsewhere.

Today, I read that the Anglican Communion - of which the Episcopal Church is a province - has its very British knickers all in a twist about teh scary gays, or as they persist in saying "the homosexuals" (which is inherently heterosexist - try googling "gay Christians" vs "homosexual Christians" and see the diversity of results!).  There is apparently now a committee trying to get everyone to sign The Anglican Covenant, which as far as I can tell is a big sheet of paper that says a lot of vague things, but if you read every letter down the left side it spells out "PRIESTS:  NO WOMEN, NO GAYS."

It's been my opinion for a while that the Episcopal Church should just say PBbbbbhtt! to the Anglicans who can't get their big-boy pants on, but I know this is not a very Christian opinion and blah blah blah.  I'm somewhat with Bishop Spong on this one:  "Look, y'all, if you're not going to have a grown-up conversation with me, then I'm not going to have one with you."  I don't have to care.   Pbbbhttt! I can say to them!  Take your pointy hats and your funny curse words and go play somewhere else.  But I do care, because this is my home church that you're messing with, and I care about my queer brothers and sisters in all churches.

So I've been reading blog posts & articles on it, and I have to say:  Anglicans are blessedly verbose.  I do love them for it, but good grief.

I'll end with this comment from Matthew Duckett's Is The Anglican Covenant Catholic?  I do think that Bob's concept of "gnostic lite" fits well for my Lutheran brothers and sisters in the NALC, LCMS, and WELS:
As I read your analysis, what came to my mind is that those wanting the Covenant are at least "gnostic light," if not full-on gnostic. They hold the truth. They know if you are worth of membership, and will vote on it.

By this understanding, this would reduce the Anglican Communion to nothing much more than a bunch of Freemason-like friends that admit women as members (even if they can't be positions of power). Truth is what the Memberhip Committee says it is.

I'd rather miss looking through the glass dimly with my friends. Jesus had words about those who say they see clearly.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


To celebrate Reformation Day, Kristi and I took the Belief-o-Matic at BeliefNet:

Questions and answers and a little bit of responses:
Q1. What is the number and nature of the deity (G-d, gods, higher power)?
I chose: “Only one God--an incorporeal (no body) spirit, supreme, personal G-d Almighty, the Creator.”

Q2. Are there human incarnation(s) of G-d (or of gods/goddesses)?
I chose: “One incarnation.”
For me, this is Jesus, obviously – but Kristi and I had a good talk about choice #4: “No particular incarnations because God is all and all are God (or God is in all).”

Q3. What are the origins of the physical universe and life on earth?
I chose: “God is creating and controlling the phenomena uncovered by scientists. Or there are other spiritual explanations, but not in conflict with scientific discovery.”
This is a tough one – I'm on the side of “spiritual explanations that are not in conflict with scientific discovery.”

Q4. What happens to humans after death?
I chose: “The soul's spiritual development continues after death so that all may eventually experience the indescribable joy of closeness to God. Hell is not a place but the tormented state of remoteness from God.”
Kristi chose: “There is definitely an afterlife, but the specifics cannot be known or are unimportant--most important is one's conduct in life.”

Q5. Why is there terrible wrongdoing in the world?
I chose: “Egoism (self-importance) leads to desire, craving, and attachments, which can lead to unwholesome thoughts and behavior, i.e., greed, hate, and violence.”
This is a reasonably Buddhist view, but I think it is also a faithful picture of the Judeo-Christian tradition – that our self-importance causes us to neglect G-d and our neighbor.

Q6. Satan's presence results in much suffering.
I chose: “Disagree.”
Kristi chose: “Not applicable.”
And we agreed that our answers stemmed from the same belief: that humanity is perfectly capable of creating much suffering on our own, without the assistance of Satan.

Q7. Why is there so much suffering in the world?
I chose: “None of the above; human suffering has nothing to do with the supernatural or karma.”
Another answer, “Unwholesome thoughts and/or deeds (greed, hatred, and violence) in this or prior lives return as suffering (karma),” was close – but Kristi and I agreed that the use of the word karma made it hard to choose that answer. Since we don't believe in reincarnation (but, Kristi adds, “I don't not believe in reincarnation”), we couldn't attribute suffering to karma. But there's no question that our human sins, a.ka. bad deeds, are revisited to us or others in this life as suffering.
Q8. Worship:
I chose: “The Supreme Power, G-d, or Gods.”
I am not sure, at this moment in my life, that I believe in the Trinity, either as “three persons of one essence” or “each a distinct essence,” but I know that I believe in G-d, so I chose what I could surely commit to.

Q9. Baptism (or initiation) ceremonies:
I chose: “Not required.”
But I believe that they are meaningful, and I will gladly encourage and perform them when the time comes.

Q10. Regularly confess or repent:
I chose: “All sins/wrongs, but not necessarily to a cleric.”
Yeah, priesthood of all believers!

Q11. Doing good works (deeds) and acting compassionately is:
I chose: “Necessary.”
Because I don't believe you can be saved and be a sh*t. I mean, obviously we are, because we are justus et peccator, but I don't believe in cheap grace.

Q12. Choose ALL statements below that represent your beliefs.
I chose:
“All, even the wicked, are rewarded after life (e.g., go to heaven, merge with God) as God(s) is infinitely good and forgiving.”
“Live very simply; renounce worldly goals and possessions.”
I trust in what was revealed to Julian: “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Q13. Elective abortion should be accepted (not proclaimed or treated as immoral).
I chose: “Disagree.”

Q14. Homosexual behavior should be regarded as immoral or out of harmony.
I chose “Disagree” and gave it a high priority. Like I do.

Q15. Roles for women and men should be prescribed.
I chose: “Disagree.”

Q16. Divorce and/or remarriage should be restricted or punished or condemned.
I chose “Disagree”; I do think “restricted” might get at what I believe, but I'm not sure it was the right word.

Q17. Social betterment programs (e.g., equality, anti-poverty, education) should be fundamental.
I chose “Agree” and gave it High priority.

Q18. Nonviolence (e.g., pacifism, conscientious objector) should be fundamental.
I chose “Agree.”

Q19. Prayer, meditation, or spiritual healing practices should be favored to the exclusion of conventional health treatment (for all serious conditions or certain types of serious conditions).
I chose “Disagree.”

Q20. Revering nature or the environment should be fundamental.
I chose “Agree.”

My results – top five, plus some interesting ones:
1. Liberal Quakers (100%)
Probably because of the social justice and pacifism questions.
2. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (89%)
3. Reform Judaism (88%)
This surprised me, and then it occurred to me that my commitment to the one G-d rather than the Trinity might be the reason.
4. Unitarian Universalism (86%)
Don't they agree with everyone?
5. Neo-Pagan (83%)
I have no idea how I got this one.

20. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (48%)

22. Eastern Orthodox (44%)
23. Roman Catholic (44%)
I wonder if it's the same 44%.
25. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (32%)
26. Nontheist (31%)
27. Jehovah's Witness (20%)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Coffee hour as the comments section.

Allie at Hyperbole and a Half is the greatest.  She blogs & draws about terrifying or embarrassing events in her life, and has this community of readers who all shout "OMG-D ME TOOO!"  It's a big cathartic affirmation-fest.  I love it.  (Bloggess Jenny also does this.)

I am convinced that if the church could learn to do what Allie and Jenny do, but in worship, we would see attendance go through the roof.  People are hungry for a space to be themselves - their embarrassing, awkward, weird, funny selves.  People are hungry for a place to admit their shortcomings and their fears.

The church has not made a place for this.  Yes, we have Bible studies and small groups, and you might get this in those - but on any given Sunday, we gather in a big group and even though we say We are bound by sin and cannot free ourselves and Christ have mercy and Forgive us our sins, our faces seem to say that everything is hunky-dory.  We pretend like we've just won the award for having it all together:

This is baloney.  We are all hurting.  And we need space to hurt.  And I'm starting to wonder if segregating that honest, hurting time into small groups (which not all members attend) is gypping everyone.  Small groups hinder us by:

-  Allowing us to choose our own small groups.  If we make our small groups fluid (for the sake of accessibility), it becomes too easy for me to say "I'll go to the Friday evening group because Julia's going" or "I'm leaving the Wednesday afternoon coffee group because I'm sick of David's ranting."  Worship says:  tough cookies.  David is just as much worth your interest as Julia is.

-  Asking for more time commitments.  We're running out of space we can call "church time."  When I was in elementary school, there was nothing going on after school on Wednesdays because it was church time.  This was a given.  Homework was lighter on Wednesday nights, because teachers had been told that a majority of their students had other commitments.  Now I have kids who don't show up at 9:15 on a Sunday morning because they have a soccer game at 10.

I'm not saying that the secular (a.k.a non-church) culture needs to make time for us, or that we should give up other occupations to devote more time to worship.  These two things may be true, but the facts are that secular culture isn't going to give worship more time, and we aren't either.  What I'd rather argue is that if the culture isn't making space for us, and if we can't make oodles of space for ourselves, we should focus on making the space that we do have worthwhile.  That hour on a Sunday morning should be life-changing.  We should not require everyone else to plug-in to small groups, Sunday School, adult forums, Bible studies, etc. in order to get the fullness of the church - not because those groups aren't worthwhile but because not all members of the church can commit to them.

So:  What if worship - not small groups, not Bible studies, not weekend retreats - what if worship was intimate, and moving, and gave us a safe space to look into the darkness?  What if our Sunday morning experience of Jesus was one who faced that darkness with us, who said, "Hold on.  I'm here.  It sucks now but we're going to get through it."?  What if the coffee hour on Sunday morning looked like the comments on Allie's and Jenny's blogs - where people felt free to share their barrenness and need, and others responded in love by sharing their own?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I do not have much of a personal prayer life.  I know that I should, but I don't.

I've had a rough couple of weeks.  Integrating into a new community is hard for me.  (This is one of the reasons I write things down now:  I had forgotten until just recently how long it took to hit my stride at Olaf.  I do not want to forget again.)

Yesterday morning it occurred to me that, yes, yoga in the morning and better meals for dinner would be good, and would lower my anxiety, but - what about prayer?

So I'm tossing in a prayer in the morning between toast and coffee.  These prayers are nothing elegant.  They consist mostly of "I'm screwed.  Please help."

And ... oooh dear.

I forgot the reasons I don't like to pray.  First:  because it opens a channel for Jesus to speak into my barrenness, into my absolute crap of a self.  The crap me does not like Jesus interfering.  He's into accepting everyone and pursuing justice and it's just not fun or easy.  I do not particularly care to hear over my cup of coffee that I need to pay more attention to the problems of those around me than to my own -- even though I know this is true and good.

But second - I am bothered by prayer because it does change me.  I've felt extraordinarily better the past two days.  I've felt peaceful.

And this bothers me.  A lot.

Why should I receive anything?  Are Adam and Sarah comforted as they pray in the midst of the loss of their twin boys?  Are the children in Haiti filled with an inexplicable peace even as the cholera racks their bodies and families and communities?  Are my friends and compatriots at Luther any more soothed, any better able to sleep or to wake?  If not for any of these, then why for me?

I do not like this.

Yet it is the only way I can survive.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Three years ago, a beautiful light in this world was destroyed.

Katherine brought light and joy to everyone she met.  I knew her only as an acquaintance, but even our short encounters were filled with her kindness and intentionality.

Katherine is now more widely known as "the Craigslist nanny," the girl who answered an ad in Minneapolis, and whose body was later found in a trunk.  The facts of her murder are gruesome and sickening.  Her murderer is now in prison, for life, with no chance of parole.

Katherine's little brother, Karl, was married this past weekend.  I know Karl also as only an acquaintance, but we have several mutual friends, so my Facebook feed has been filled with photographs and congratulations.  Yesterday I was meditating on the beauty of this:  that a month and week and days so filled with pain, death, and grief are now colored with joy and celebration.  Katherine would want it this way.

Then today, Adam (of and his wife Sarah had to see their twin baby boys born - at twenty weeks old.  They survived for an hour.

How do I force myself to care about Hebrew verb tenses and creatio ex nihilo vs. primordial soup and the meaning of "pistis" in Mark's gospel when the world is so full of absolute despair and barrenness?

I know that all I am learning now will help me to stand in the midst of darkness and nothingness.  I know this.  I do.  And I believe it.  I simply do not believe it at this present moment.

Lord have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Lord have mercy.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What I'm starting to suspect about church...

I met with Dr. Zscheile last week to talk about the Congregational Mission and Leadership concentration.  The intent is to develop "new missional leaders", which is a fancy way of saying that you spend time learning how to start new churches and how to redevelop stagnant ones.

This is really, really interesting to me, because I've become convinced in the past five years that the way we "do church" right now is killing pastors, congregations, and people - and is entirely antithetical to the body of Christ. 

I don't just mean "American Christianity", where Caucasian Jesus nukes the Arabs while holding an American Flag and riding a triceratops (although obviously that is antithetical).  

I mean the programmatic life, the insistence that if we "do" worship or Bible Study or Sunday School or youth group or whatever "correctly", then we'll get more members.  I mean the idea that these things can  be done "correctly", and that more members is the ultimate goal of the body of Christ.

I think the truth is that the church is an assemblage of absolutely horrific, idiotic, flawed people, who are required to love each other because Jesus said so - and you make a family out of that, and you go through pain together and you get in fights and work them out and you stick it out not because you "get something out of it" or because "we need more members" but because it's just so beautiful.  

So I'd like to learn how to do that.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Barefoot, naked, trapped, and free.

Telling a coming out story is an act of coming out itself; it reveals not only who I am now, but where I've been, and what scars and blessings mark me now.

My story is impossible for me to tell, yet; there is too much still to unpack.  But I can give one snapshot, one hour my life:

I am seventeen years old.  Raised Episcopalian, but now wandering in the wilderness of who G-d is and how to worship.  This wandering has brought me here:  Threshing Floor, the Abundant Life Assembly of God youth group.  Bekah, a close friend from school, brought me.
I've been attending for a year.  Mom says "Don't."  Mom says "When they know who you are, they will not welcome you."  I tell her, with infinite teenage wisdom, that she is wrong.  But I do not tell anyone at church who I am.  Bekah knows, because everyone at school knows; but at church I am silent.

It is October 16th.  Tonight we have a special youth group:  pastors-in-training from a seminary with ties to Abundant Life are coming to preach.  I am excited, because I have felt a call to ministry since I was twelve.  Maybe this is how I can live it.  Maybe they will show me the way.

A young man gets up to preach.  He has a different style than our youth pastor; angrier.  He begins to rail on drug and alcohol abuse among teenagers in America.  I nod, along with the rest of the group.  Yes.  This is evil.  This is sin separating them from God.

He moves on to abortion.  The rest of the group nods.  I hesitate.  I do not know much; I am only seventeen; I am the daughter of liberal parents.  When he moves on, I am grateful.  I am not sure where I stand, and I am glad not to have to worry about it.

He says, "But the greatest threat to our teenagers today..."

I hope that he will say depression, or anxiety, or loneliness.  I am fighting all three.  I think everyone is lonely.  Maybe if we admit it, we can defeat it, together in our loneliness.

"The single most sinful threat to their very lives...

is homosexuality."

My throat closes.

I see Bekah's head turn.  She is looking at me.  I cannot move.  I cannot think.  Everything is slowing down and speeding up.  I hear his words but they have become an angry babble, a hellfire spreading through my heart.

He condemns them, and condemns me.

I close my eyes, praying for something, anything to happen.  Please G-d, please.  But nothing happens.  He continues - his voice louder - his shouts beating down the pulse of my heart.  I am naked before all of them.

Without knowing that I am, I am standing.

He pauses and looks at me, but continues preaching.  I am standing, silent, and then I am turning and walking out.

I have taken off my shoes, as many of us do to start worship; I am barefoot, my sandals left in the sanctuary with my Bible and purse.  I cannot turn back.

I push open the door to the lobby, and stand in the light there.  Finally the vise around my heart releases, and a flood of tears overcomes me.  My bare feet carry me to the girls' bathroom.

I weep.  Oh G-d, oh G-d.  I do not even know what I am crying for; only that I feel so impossibly and irrevocably broken that even G-d will not hear me.

But someone does; there is someone else in the bathroom now.  I hope that it is Bekah, and it is - she calls my name.

But when I come from the stall, there is someone else with her - one of the youth leaders, J.  J has dark hair and bright blue eyes, and I've never talked to her before; tonight, she is full focused on me.

She begins barraging me.  What is in you that made you abandon worship?  I cannot answer. She assumes, and continues.  What kind of wicked temptation is this?  I cannot answer.
She softens a little.  I was tempted too, you know, when I was your age...

And so begins a story I only half-hear, about temptation and sin and damnation.  Her words pound against me.  I am no longer in myself; I am floating above, trying to escape.  Bekah stands, unsure, seventeen years old, powerless.  J leans closer, nailing the words of condemnation against my skin.  I am trapped.  Everything I have ever learned about G-d and Jesus and love falls away.

J wants me to pray the sinner's prayer, to turn to Christ and accept salvation.  I hear the words but I am stone.  She lets my silence hang in the air.

And in the silence, I know what is true.

I feel my heart.  Not pounding; not stopped; not choked -- a steady, sure beat.  Tears fill my eyes again.  J, seeing that the moment is at hand, jumps at my emotional wreckage and says:

"What do you want, Emmy?"

And I say:

"I want to leave."

I walk from the bathroom.  I hear J call my name but I do not turn.  Bekah catches up to me, says she'll get my shoes, says she'll meet me in the car.  I walk outside and sit in her Crown Royal until worship is over and we leave.

I know that J thinks that I turned my back on G-d.  What J does not know is that I have no such option.  I am dead without G-d; I know this, for I nearly died the year before.  Now, my only choice is to submit to the terrifying truth:

I am a beloved child of God.

I am gay.

And in the truth of these, I am called to preach.

This is all my little self knows.  I knew it at seventeen when the preacher-in-me took the scared-and-scarred-girl-in-me by the hand and walked her out of a place that would have killed me.

I knew it at nineteen when I opened my first theology book - Martin Luther's Three Treatises - and felt my heart expand in the joy of coming home.

I knew it at twenty when I was confirmed in Boe Chapel, and later that year when I met Kristi.

I knew it at twenty-four when finally, finally, finally, the scared-and-scarred-little-girl saw a church stand up and say "Yes" to me and my queer brothers and sisters.

And now I see it every day, in the place where I will be taught to live out the promise of preaching in the midst of my absolute brokenness.

I know the truth; and it has set me free.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Yesterday I confessed (perhaps foolishly?) to my precept group in Systematic Theology that I don't think I believe in the Trinity.

This is kind of a big thing to admit, especially for a kid raised in a high-church Episcopal congregation and a pastor-in-training who hopes to never have to skip the Nicene Creed in liturgy.  (I love the creed.  I absolutely do.  It connects me backward and forward to Christians in time, and I believe what it confesses.)

I think G-d is G-d, who has been manifest & known to us in three ways:
- the Father/Creator/Y-h/G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
- the Savior, Messiah, and Christ: Jesus of Nazareth
- and the Holy Spirit present at creation and at Jesus' baptism and now running rampant through the world.

I do not necessarily subscribe to an understanding of these three manifestations as "persons."  Once a liberal arts religion major starts breaking down one's ability to conceive of G-d as male, and then as a deified human, and then as really anything that can be conceived...talking about three-persons-in-one-essence doesn't necessarily stick to the wall of one's mind.

Maybe I just don't know what is meant by "persons".  Maybe when the Church Fathers have said "persons" they meant "manifestations."  I may not know enough definitely don't know enough to know.

May G-d bless me to know what I need to know.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I cannot even begin to write about Seth, Asher, Justin, Billy, Tyler, and Raymond, but to say:

This is my family.  The world kills them.  And my heart is too heavy to speak.

At the moments when I let my mind & heart awaken to the absolute terrifying darkness of what is going on, I feel absolute despair.  How long, O LORD, how long?  If you had been here, they might not have died.

When I cannot speak except for words of lament, I let my soul run and hide itself.  I've been carrying Manna and Mercy in my backpack since Monday; just knowing it's there soothes my heart.

And I've been reading blog posts; I try not to read the comments, because it seems that even in the face of six queer boys dead there are people trolling the Internet to proclaim God's salvation in hate.  But I read - I am thankful for Twitter where good blog posts are offered up and the Outlaw Preachers sing loud and clear - and I am pulled to the surface for a gasp of air.

May G-d have mercy on my weak and tired soul.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Several months ago I had this conversation with Anna, one of my dearest friends whose faith has completely changed mine.  (I call her Hannahla, for reasons unknown to her or me, but I'm so used to doing it now that it feels odd to quit.)

Now that you've opened yourself up to more communication from me, I'll be pelting you with questions.

Question about using G-d instead of the full name:  how do you pronounce it?  Do you say "the LORD" instead, like saying Adonai instead of Y-h?  Or is this a written based situation only?  Google is inconclusive on the subject.  Although I learned that orthodox Jews say Ha-Shem, for "The Name," which I like.  

It would be good for Christianity to be more intentional about things.  I feel like if I adopted saying Ha-Shem or anything besides God, I'd spend a lot of time explaining it and sounding pretentious rather than inspiring/reminding others to be respectful of the name.  But this could be fixed if a large part of Christians would spend more time UNDERSTANDING WHERE THEY CAME FROM and less time hiding pedophiles, converting "pagans," or protesting at military funerals.  Sigh.

from your dear gentile friend.


Hi Em,

Pelt away! I look forward to any questions you have for me, and I'll answer them as best I can. 

We write G-d instead of "God" because anything that has a name of G-d written upon it is considered holy, and therefore we risk desecrating the name of G-d if the paper we wrote on is ever thrown away or destroyed. There is a process for properly disposing of holy items such as prayer books that have worn out or become unuseable, much like there is a process for properly disposing of a tattered American flag. But as a rule, even non-religious Jews don't write "God," and default to the G-d in writing. 

In terms of pronunciation, G-d is pronounced the same as "God." It is spoken as well as written. Commonly, as you said, folks will say HaShem instead of "God," mostly because it is the title G-d refers to him/herself with in the Bible. Even non-religious (secular) Jews will say HaShem, but for them (us) it is a comfort issue. When spoken, "HaShem" feels more like a name than a title, like Adonai, Elohim, etcetera, and in general folks are more comfortable saying it than they are saying "God." 

There are many sayings that use Hashem, such as Baruch Hashem, a catch-all phrase. It can be used in greeting:
A: How are you?
B: Baruch Hashem. 

Another saying is B'ezrat Hashem, with G-d's help:
A: We will have the SQL server up and running again by 4pm, B'ezrat Hashem.

Jews rarely use the English word "Lord," which in Hebrew is Adonai or Elohim. Although, I think it's funny when someone is saying "Oh my G-d" on English TV the Hebrew subtitles say "Elohim!" Also, the Jewish equivalent of the phrase OMG is "Oh my gee-dash-dee!" It's mainly a joke, I don't know how many folks actually use it. But I think it's funny. 

So anyway, there you have it. G-d is pronounced "God," and Hashem is a delightful, catch-all phrase which is applicable in just about any situation. I'm all for you using the term if you like it! It's fun and will be a conversation starter! 

I hope this has helped! Please bring me all your questions!!! I love being religion-geeky with you!!! 

Your She-brew,


This question - of what do I call God - has been bothering me for months.  On the plane to the Leaders in Ministry conference in Boston this June, I was scrawling Greek letters in my journal, trying to figure out how to write "The revealed in-Christ God" because it was all I felt I could confess to:  I know God because I know Christ.

Today (right now, actually...this is sort of an "extended work break" if you will) I'm working on my paper for Systematic Theology and arguing that Ted Peters, in his book God -- The World's Future, fails to make a good transition between talking about the "ontological shock" experience of God (similar to Otto's numen, I think) into the biblical God.

And I wrote:

"The experience of the numen is terrifying precisely because it raises ontological questions: who am I? who is God? what is my purpose? The God testified to in Hebrew Scriptures and embodied in Jesus of Nazareth does not ask these questions - this God raises them and then answers them!"

This string of words bugged me.  It was clear - to me, anyway - that the God I talked about when I said "who is God?" is not the God I talk about when I say "the God testified to in Hebrew Scriptures".  The first God is a descriptor for the terrifying numen, a sort of general bigger-than-self thing.  The second God is the God who tore open the sky and descended like a dove and went around for three years saying "Please be a little bit nicer to each other."  (And we killed him for it.)  I know this; I hope Professor Hansen can tell; but the word is the same.  And I do think words matter.

So, for today, I resolved it this way:

"The experience of the numen is terrifying precisely because it raises ontological questions: who am I? who is God? what is my purpose? The G-d testified to in Hebrew Scriptures and embodied in Jesus of Nazareth does not ask these questions - this G-d raises them and then answers them!"

"God" is a word used to cover everything - every deity, every concept of every deity, every thing bigger than ourselves.  (And it gets used as a swear.)  "G-d" is something altogether different:  it is my God, the One who creates, the One who redeems, the One who sanctifies; and it reminds me that this is not just "my God" but the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

May G-d make me worthy of trying to understand.