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Genesis 26-50: Sibling Rivalry

The second half of the book of Genesis is largely concerned with families. We have family trees laid out over whole chapters, and the stories trace the events in the lives of these people from long ago. And honestly? They sound like incredibly dramatic people.

I know a lot of folks have a hard time getting around the fancy Biblical language, particularly if you have one of the more flowery (or old) translations, but if you can get down to what’s really going on, it’s basically a soap opera.

I mean, Jacob sells his birthright to his brother in exchange for dinner?  My brother and I spent our teenage years creating elaborate bargains as we both tried to get out of mowing the yard, so on one level I get making goofy trades with your siblings. On another level, we were just arguing about yardwork, not our entire futures! (And last weekend, we were laughing about the lengths we both went to, which seem really funny now that we have our own homes.)

Then, later in the chapter, Joseph’s brothers literally sell him into slavery. Most of this story winds up being about how Joseph copes, how he interprets dreams and becomes a valuable member of the household where he’s a captive. But it starts as the story of some guys who are really horrible to their little brother, and I think this is one of those stories that only seems okay if you don’t think about it too hard. If you do stop and consider it- you could definitely see this on some daytime TV.

And I’m gonna be honest here- I sympathize with the brothers a little bit. Not about the slavery thing, that’s obviously unconscionable. But teenage Joseph does not come across as a real likeable guy. I mean, Dad likes him best, so there’s clearly some jealousy there. And I do think that’s normal. I’d be really sad if I thought my parents liked my brother better than me.

Plus, Joseph has to go telling them about that dream that (he says) prophesies them bowing down to him. Had they not invented humility yet? It’s kind of a jerk move to lord it over your older brothers that you’re the favorite son, plus God has given you these cool gifts, and someday you’ll be nice enough to let your brothers serve you! I would also not be too pleased.

I often find myself saying that people have always been people, and they probably always will be. Genesis is a large part of my proof for that. There will always be siblings who argue. There will always be people who treat each other poorly. But there will be people like Jacob, who works patiently for years so that he can marry the woman he loves. And there will be people like Joseph, who start out sort of painful and grow up and become better people- and like the brothers, who probably learned a lot about humility and forgiveness.

And just like people don’t change, God’s presence doesn’t change either. He is with Joseph, interpreting dreams and, I assume, providing the reason and will to live. He is with Jacob and Rachel on their wedding day. Even when the stories are about the families, God is always present, blessing and sustaining. And even when it’s all about us, God is there.

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Book Review

Creed: What We Believe

Hey, hey, party people! Welcome back to our corner of the world, where ideas are free and love is fierce. 💓

I want to share my thoughts on Adam Hamilton’s Creed: What Christians Believe and Why in hopes that Christians who are on the fringe (new to faith, distancing self from faith, or somewhere in between) or are struggling with doctrinal red tape will reconnect with the origins of Christian faith and establish a stronger relationship to it based on the very basics.

Story: The book seeks to define Christianity through analysis of the Apostles’ Creed. The book is broken into 7 chapters- an introduction followed by 6 chapters focusing on the key elements of the Creed which include God, Jesus Christ, The Holy Spirit, The Church and the Communion of Saints, The Forgiveness of Sins, The Resurrection of the Body. Hamilton also includes an appendix which features various historical editions of the Creed, including some other key Christian influenced creeds, namely the Nicene, Athanasian and Chalcedonian Creeds.

PerspectiveWhile Hamilton and I belong to the same sect of Christianity, this book doesn’t come across through that lens, which I appreciate. Labels have the tendency to become convoluted and the essence of the Christian faith is not something that should be. Creed does a fine job of reminding us of this. Every chapter presents a balance of how each piece of the Creed relates to the Christian faith, both on the individual and corporate levels. Hamilton’s writing is accessible to those who have done some theological study and easily relatable to those who may still be trying to find their way as Christians. I must commend Hamilton for well placed usage of conversational tone, as it makes the text easier to connect with on the key points.

Style: Full disclosure: I was prepared not to jive with this oneI previously read Adam Hamilton’s Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say and had a difficult time connecting to his style, as it seemed very pedantic and mechanical. I was pleasantly surprised to find something different in Creed. Hamilton engages the reader by simplifying the themes and concepts of the Creed while weaving in historical perspective, language considerations and personal anecdotes that paint a clear picture of what Christianity is truly all about. Hamilton is also candid about many of the hang ups that people have with organized faith/religion. While I don’t use these terms interchangeably, people’s perspectives on one are often informed by the other which Creed illuminates in an objective manner that helps the reader to check bias in light of what is being presented in the text. Check out this except from the intro.

Our most important beliefs, whether expressed in the Apostles’ Creed or in other ways, affect our understanding of what it means to be human and our convictions about values, morality and relationships. Ultimately our most deeply held beliefs or convictions shape our goals, ambitions, hopes and dreams. These kinds of convictions are seldom scientifically verifiable; nevertheless we should carefully consider and question them and should be able to make a compelling case for them.

My recommendation: I feel especially called to recommend this book to those who have questions about their faith. While this isn’t an encyclopedia of Christianity, I believe this text tackles many of the issues that Christians often grapple with. As someone who doesn’t have too many questions about where I stand in my faith, I was encouraged to learn more about the roots of where that faith came from and pleased to walk away with language that I can share with others that reflects the essence of the Christian faith, doctrinal commentary aside. There is a small group study video that can be used as a great tool to open discussions among friends or in your faith communities. My church used this resource and I enjoyed the additional perspectives that were shared on the DVD. The chapter on the Forgiveness of Sins was calling to my soul with every page. I hope that you will find similar, life giving wisdom in Creed.

Here’s a link to the book on Amazon.

 

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In Weakness, There is Strength

Hi, again, readers! Your resident Catholic and Scripture nerd here! I know that Catholics often get a bad rap about not knowing our Scripture as well as we should, but I think people are really surprised to find that we know more than we even realize at times!

I’m not here today to talk about Catholics and their relationship to Scripture, however. I am here to talk about someone else who also gets a bad rap but happens to have written much of the New Testament:

St. Paul.

My love for St. Paul is well documented. I have a personal blog that I have kept updated on my love of him for years. I also think that I mentioned previously that I lived for a year in religious life in a convent. The religious order that I joined took their mission and name from St. Paul. So perhaps I am a little biased, but please hear me out.

Paul was certainly a man of his time and far from perfect. He was a devout Jew who did not understand or appreciate Christ early on. In the book of Acts of the Apostles, he is mentioned as consenting to the execution of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen (Acts 7-8). He also is perhaps not beloved because of some phrases like this one from Ephesians that he wrote and are very much of his time (and often taken out of context):
” As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word…” (Ephesians 5: 22-26. It goes on, but another one of St. Paul’s flaws is also his love for run-on sentences, so I will spare you some of the rest).

I see the problem with the items about Paul listed above, but I don’t consider him a problematic character myself. Paul himself is the first to admit that he is flawed. One of my favorite passages of his, happened to be read at Mass yesterday:

“Brothers and sisters:
That I, Paul, might not become too elated,
because of the abundance of the revelations,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan,
to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.
Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,
but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.”
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Paul, I believe, is one of the success stories of Scripture. When he finally encountered Christ for himself in a powerful and tangible way (as described in Acts 9), he has a complete change of heart. He completely abandons his old ways of persecuting Christians and becomes a faithful one himself. And not only is he baptized, he meets with Peter and the other early Christians at Antioch and becomes imprisoned for his newfound faith as well as instructs and encourages other new Christians with his letters. He goes on to say that it is “no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). He essentially renounces his entire self for Christ. How many of us can say that?

I want to go back, however, to the passage from 2 Corinthians listed above because it is one of my favorites. It also happens to be so completely contrary to what our idea of success and strength are today. I have many “thorns” in many “sides” of myself that humble me and I believe keep me going back to God. I, however, unlike Paul, constantly go to God and beg Him to pull them out! I am not grateful for these wounds or weaknesses as Paul is, because I am very much a product of our culture.

I think this idea of strength in weakness is so counter cultural to our world today. Just look at our government leaders and their approach to those considered to be “weak.” Instead of seeing those considered “weak”- like the poor or the immigrant or the elderly- as a strength to uphold and elevate, our approach is to keep them down so that the “strong” can appear even stronger. Those on top never want to be seen as weak.

From one perspective, I can see how Paul’s theory does not maybe play well in global politics. As a country, we don’t want to be seen as weak. But how much stronger might we seem if we were a country who embraced our so called “weaknesses” rather than exploit or oppress them?

This, of course, is so much easier said than done, and may seem complicated. I have been reading “The Holy Longing” by Ronald Rolheiser (which I highly recommend. It is amazing how a book written in the late 90s is so scarily relevant today) and Rolheiser addresses many issues with our society, but particularly pertaining to social justice. He describes social justice as differing from charity: “Charity is about giving a hungry person some bread, while justice is about trying to change the system so that nobody has excess bread while some have none.” (Rolheiser, The Holy Longing, pg 169). To enact social justice in this way, would be to admit that there is weakness. It would be to say that our system is unjust and that some are seen as “weaker” than others. Too many people right now do not want to fix our systems because they perhaps like having power or want to seem superior to others. If we fix our seemingly weakest spots, though, and help to make others strong, wouldn’t that help increase the strength of the whole over all?

I may be over simplifying things, but I think another one of our problems with our society is that we over complicate things. Justice could, perhaps, be much simpler if we didn’t complicate the system so much to begin with. Another thing that Rolheiser points out in his book is that justice has to be more than an ideology: “…for a Christian, the ultimate motivation in working for justice may never be a simple ideology, irrespective of how noble that particular ideology may appear. Rather both the truth that inspires the quest for justice and the energy that fuels it must ground themselves something beyond an ideology” (Rolheiser, The Holy Longing, pg 173). For us Christians, that truth is Christ. For others, that truth may be peace, equality, or that energy that Rolheiser speaks of.

For me, one of the hardest things about this most recent administration and state of our country has been that I have felt this divide between ideology and building the Kingdom of God. So many Christians that I know, chose an ideology, I believe, over working on building the kingdom that the Gospel refers to, which includes building up the weak.

St. Paul continues to be an encouragement for me in these tough times. As the author of Hebrews says (some scholars say that the author was St. Paul as it has a similar tone to the rest of his letters, but this is debated by others):
“Consider how he [Christ] endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” – Hebrews 12: 3 & 4

It is true that Christ made the ultimate sacrifice so that I might not have to shed my blood. However, much blood has been and is being shed by those who suffer from injustice. I pray that we can move beyond charity, and work for true justice, even if that means admitting our weaknesses. For in our humility and weakness, we can be made strong, if we are allowed the freedom to exercise our own strength.

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The Freedom of Being Finished.

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Hello, dear family. Another day, another lesson. We discover, we connect, we move forward.

 

So I’m not a huge fan of devotionals. (*Gasp in Christian*) When I was a kid, my mother and a bunch of other women from the churches I grew up in would gather in all of their puffy-haired, Charlie perfume wearing glory with covered Bibles in tow and discuss it. My mother and father both collectively had countless books of “devotionals” written by numerous authors on our bookshelves. I never saw my parents as consistent in their practice of them, though, and I was no different as I got older. I find it incredibly difficult to connect with what someone else is saying about the scripture, especially in such brevity.

 

When I began attending an Episcopal church and fell in love with liturgy, I couldn’t get enough of it. The beauty of it all was that it was scripture presented to the people. The homily of course (what non-denom evangelicals call the “sermon” or “message”) is a matter of a person’s interpretation, but the rest of the Eucharist Rite is hymn and scripture, prayer and response. In its simplicity, I found restoration, and I was hooked.

 

In a discussion with the Rector (read: “senior pastor” in evangelical-ese), I was told of an app for my iPhone that are called Offices, these are provided daily and taken from the Book of Common Prayer. I was elated, here was all that I loved about attending church in a format I could access every morning and every evening.

 

Full disclosure: There is nothing brief about these Offices, especially not in comparison with typical evangelical devotions, most of which can be completed in less than ten minutes. I’m a slow reader, but with hymns these usually take me about twenty minutes, sometimes more if I take my time. Also, if you’re interested you can find the ones I use by going to your App Store and searching “Mission St. Clare”.

 

All of this is merely the pretext for what I want to discuss today, because as I was going through this morning’s Daily Office, I was reading a portion of Galatians 2 that I know well enough, and always makes me laugh a little on the inside. This is the passage beginning at verse 11 in which Paul opposes Cephas (Peter) and essentially calls him a hypocrite. My brain puts it like this:

 

Uh, hey man. Like, you ate with these people the other day. Why not now?

Oh yeah, bruh. I mean, I just sorta need to–

Save face? Dude, you’re such a hypocrite.

What did you say?

You’re trying to keep some law that isn’t even relevant anymore. What are you, a Pharisee?

*gasp* How dare you?!

 

Look, my brain is its own special place, okay? I almost always reword passages of scripture in a way that makes me laugh, because trust me there’s plenty to laugh about as you make your way through the Bible. (People who can’t laugh at the Bible annoy me something fierce.)

 

In Galatians 2:21, Paul hits us with this gem: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Er, that’s NIV translation by the way, which isn’t my favorite but it’s what I had nearby.)

 

Oh, Paul. You have to love him. (Me in my head: Do I, though?! DO I?!) The mental gymnastics he puts us through while reading his work is unbelievable. My poor ADHD-addled brain usually has to read what he says at least four times before it starts to come into focus. So many people quote the passage just before this verse: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” This verse is important, too, but in my view it absolutely MUST be put in tandem with verse 21 that follows it and in the context of this passage as a whole.

 

(CONTEXT IS SO IMPORTANT WHEN YOU READ THE BIBLE, OKAY?! OKAY.)

 

The death of Jesus is arguably the most pivotal moment of human existence. I believe in the Big Bang (*gasp*), I believe in evolution (*clutches pearls, sweats*), and I believe in the expansion of the universe (*faints*), all of these are critical moments in science and the history of mankind. All of these events are contingent upon one another for us to inhabit the natural world in which we live. But the SOUL of a man, the intangible stuff of his being, it all hinges on this moment.

 

Jesus walks the earth, he is condemned, he is hung on a cross as a criminal, and he dies. Before he dies, he utters some pretty freaking important words:

 

IT IS FINISHED.

 

Let’s stop. Take stock. What is exactly finished here? For so long, I think the shallow interpretation of this passage that I was left to by neglectful spiritual leaders was the interpretation that Jesus was speaking of the tribulations of the final days of his life– the anxieties, the cruelties, the pain, and the suffering. This would make sense, right? Only Jesus never really considers himself in terms of his own pain and suffering. We see human emotion from him quite frequently– compassion, temptation, even anger. Rarely though, does he seem concerned with his own welfare, merely with his message. (Jesus: A Two on the Enneagram?? Discuss!)

 

Why then, would it logically follow that Jesus was uttering a phrase of thankfulness for his death and the ending of his suffering upon his last breath? Answer: It doesn’t!

 

The Greek word used in the Gospel of John to describe Jesus’ last words is “tetelestai”, a form of the Greek verb “teleo” which means “to bring to an end or complete”. Again, I think it’s patently false to infer that what Jesus is bringing to an end or completing here is his own life. No, in his own words while he was still alive, Jesus speaks of a “ransom” (Greek word “lutron” which is translated as “to loose”, found in Matthew and Mark).

 

What Jesus is accomplishing here is the abolition of sin. The complete and total erasure of it, from every human who has ever lived or will ever live. In the moment of his death, we are taught that Jesus becomes sin itself, so much so that even God cannot look at him. Upon his death, sin is finished. It has been conquered, once and for all.

 

THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS WE TALK ABOUT.

 

Why then, do so many congregations today continue to teach that a humans inherent nature is “sinful”? How do we define sin? Through the law? Through OUR law? Through a socially defined moral law? What is the law in a post-crucifixion world? Is it what government determines it to be? What happens when governments change or shift? If we are unbound from Old Testament law exquisitely and painstakingly detailed throughout the Old Testament, why are moral parameters constructed by biblical authors like Paul and not put forth by God himself?

 

Therefore if we cannot define sin as a breach of the law because law is man made and therefore subjective and in flux, and if sin was abolished upon Christ’s death and a breach of human law or social morality does not constitute sin, then what is sin and where does it exist, how is it defined?

 

Reader, it is now that I would like to posit that “sin” is a condition of the mind and not of the heart or the spirit. Jesus, in his life’s work, repeatedly says phrases such as “you deceive yourself/yourselves” and “do not be deceived”. What is the great deceit here?

 

The great deceit is the belief that sin is a present and active condition rather than a dead and absolved one.

 

We continue to believe we are sinners, even after Christ uttered his final words, and so we spend a life struggling for purity and absolution when it has already been provided.

 

It has already been done.

 

But we keep striving, trying to do something that’s already been done.

 

It’s like trying to knead bread dough after it’s already been baked.

 

My loves, my beautiful friends, sin does not mar you, and there is no law against which you struggle, no action that can separate you from the love of God. Rather than torturing yourself into compliance, believe in the depths of you that your redemption does not want for any stringent obedience. It exists, no matter what.

 

Your sin is loosed. You are free.

 

That is the gospel truth. And it’s worth dying for.

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“Pop Art” and the Divine

Hello again, readers! It is your Catholic, pop culture loving friend here. In addition to being a pop culture fanatic ( I crush the Arts and Entertainment category at every Trivial Pursuit game and pub trivia night!) I am also a teacher. So naturally summer is my favorite season and I am very much enjoying the fruits of my labor currently.

When I first started teaching, I had to learn how to best use my time off. Taking a week or two to do absolutely nothing is a must, but one can only binge so many shows on Netflix before it starts to get unhealthy. Something that I have a major interest in (besides all things pop) is art. And so far this summer, I have signed myself up for two art classes and have already made visits to some of my favorite museums and galleries. Experiencing art is something that engages and relaxes me, so I can think of no better way to spend my summer than learning more about it and creating it.

Visual art and faith have been linked since the beginning of human existence. Before we could write, our ancestors created cave paintings to tell their stories and communicate. Art can explain and articulate things that merely words can’t. And while I certainly consider writing an art form, this post will be mostly about visual art.

That being said, I did just finish reading Madeline L’Engle’s literary work: “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art” (which I highly recommend) and she articulated things that I understood about art but couldn’t put into words myself. She essentially asserts that art and the sacred are linked. Whether or not the artist is a religious person, the act of creating connects him or her to the Divine. This explained to me in a very tangible way why it is that I connect to art so much.

In our world today, connection seems to be “easier” with smart phones and social media. Yet, it is very evident in the way that we continue to mistreat one another and the social injustices that still exist, that we need to connect to one another still more.
Here is where my pop culture moment comes in.

In times of political stress, art has always been produced as a reaction to the climate. If you look at the movements of art in the post World War 1 and 2 eras, you get incredibly radical art movements like Dadaism and Surrealism as well as Abstract Expressionism. In times when people do not know how to grapple with what is going on around them, we create.

The same can be said of this political climate and in particularly through the art of video. I think of all of the commercials and tv episodes that have become ways for us to deal with the backlash of this oppressive climate. However, I am particularly struck by the visual art created by musical artists like Childish Gambino and most recently Jay Z and Beyonce.

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Image still from “This is America”, Childish Gambino taken from CNN.com and Google Images

If you haven’t watched “This is America” by Childish Gambino, it is violent, but unfortunately so is our society which it is reflective of right now. Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, makes several statements with this song and also his video. There have been several articles written about all of the symbolic movements and visuals featured in the video. From the Jim Crow poses that Glover makes, to the white horse of the Apocalypse running through the background, to the all too reminiscent police and gun violence scenes- Glover covers hundreds of years of African American oppression in only a few short minutes.

Similarly, Jay Z and Beyonce create visual art with a political statement with their latest video for “Apes**t”. Jay Z and Bey have separately released videos that make political statements while presenting the viewer with beautiful visual art. Take for example Beyonce’s “Formation” or Jay Z’s “Moonlight.” (the latter by Jay Z takes it’s title from a predominately black film that was an Oscar winner in 2016, but was incorrectly announced as “La La Land”- a very, very white film). Both make statements on what it is to be black in America in accessible, visually stimulating art.

BeyonceJayZLouvre

Image still from “Apes**t”, The Carters, taken from Tidal and Google Images

In this new video for this song, “Apes**t” off of their new joint album, Jay Z and Beyonce are dressed in glamorous, beautifully fashionable clothes and shown standing in front of iconic pieces of art in the Louve. First of all, the fact that this couple has the power to shut down an historic tourist attraction to shoot this shows their clout and achievement. The beautiful shots of them posing regally in front of primarily white paintings by white artists is striking and surely intentional. Beyonce gets much of the screen and lyrical time, and at some points, she also makes strong gestural movements, similar to the striking moves that can be seen in Glover’s “This is America.”

Here we have different artists- Glover and the Carters- exploring and emoting what it means to be a black artist in the political climate right now. As a white woman, I cannot begin to understand fully or pretend to explain their experience. All I can do is accept and experience their unbelievable art and attempt to analyze their meaning and what it says about our world today. And to bring this all back to the spiritual, even though these are pop culture artists and art forms, they invite us to connect to our world, our humanity, and ultimately, our Creator.

Art has always been a connection to the Divine as well as a reaction to the culture which it seeks to reflect. I appreciate these artists’ attempts to create so that we as humans might have more connection to each other. I pray that we can see reflections of our Creator in these artists and artworks as well as in one another. And I continue to pray for our country so that these artistic movements may one day be reactions to joy and equality rather than that of oppression.

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Conviction & Swimsuit Season

So, it’s that time of year again when all of the ads start selling the swimsuit body. By now, you’ve likely seen a zillion commercials for fitness programs, meal prep plans and pills that will (maybe) make you look like the ultra thin model they have chosen to promote their product. The barrage of these messages can wear on our nerves and our relationship to fitness, to the point that we find ourselves ignoring them. That is unless, we aren’t. No matter how “good” we’ve been throughout the holiday season, the ad market is constantly telling us we need what they are offering. We all need the impeccably chiseled bodies that prance across our screens. We all walk our own walk when it comes to body image and wellness and some of you may be further along in your fitness journey, rising high above the media influence. Kudos to you. For those of us who aren’t, this one’s for you.

As modern women, the pressure is higher than ever to look the part. Mothers are expected to present perfectly coiffed and polished children, complete with sparkling appliances and hip mom hair. Singles feel the pressure to always be flawlessly manicured, made up and pliant- because how else will you catch a spouse? The emphasis on physical appearance has become so important, that women are actually killing themselves to keep up. Young people between the ages of 15-24 with anorexia have 10 times the risk of dying compared to peers, Journal of Eating Disorders, 2015. Even more disturbing, is the other end of the age spectrum. From 1999- 2009, hospitalizations involving eating disorders increased for all age groups, with those aged 45-65 increasing the most, accounting for 25% of all hospitalizations, Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality, 2011. So where do we stand as Christian women in addressing this oppression? Are we circulating scriptures to help with weight loss (read: THOUSANDS of pins on Pinterest) or are we looking at ourselves with the love of our Creator?

Reader, hear me: I am by no means claiming to have mastered this. I love my pedicures and balyage as much as the next Kardashian and am in no way trying to shame subscription to current beauty norms. What I do know is that the standards perpetuated by our culture that lead 7 in 10 women and girls to report a decline in body confidence and increase in beauty & appearance anxiety (Dove Global Beauty & Confidence Report, 2016), which they say is driven by the pressure for perfection from media are pervasive and REAL. What I want to discuss is our confidence and the source that it stems from.

In Hebrews 11, we are reminded of all the Old Testament stories of those who exhibited great faith and were blessed and/or honored God with their acts. The Message translation spells it out nicely.

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. Hebrews 11:1-2

Let’s unpack: If faith in God is the source that makes life worth living, what place do dissatisfaction, imperfection or comparison have in our lives? If we believe that God is all powerful, good and loves us more than we could ever comprehend, how could we possibly allow a commercial to debunk these truths? How could we see ourselves as anything less than divinely beautiful? Dear reader, I know you may be thinking “Get real, Tonia. We live in the 21st century. Appearance matters and last time I checked, God isn’t following me around breathing heavenly dust over me to make me a 10 to everyone I meet, nor is He whispering sweet nothings to me when I roll out of bed looking electrified.” And while I’m not trying to start a fight with you, I would argue that He is.

In Hebrews 11:3, we learn that the world is called into existence by God’s word-what we see is created by what we don’t see. That means you and me and People’s Sexiest are all created in the same spirit of light and love, and regardless of our waistbands or teeth whiteness, we are all perfectly and divinely created. God’s word says we are wanted, chosen, beautiful and more precious than rubies, so who are we to doubt this? So what if those jeans from last year don’t fit. Why does it matter that your contouring technique isn’t perfect? Would you really let the fact that you went to work with eye boogers contradict the overwhelming love that God has for us, flaws and all? NO! As, Christian women, we know better. We know that we serve a God who made us in an image of strength and love. My challenge to you is to live in it.

Resist the urge to compare yourself to the woman in the next fitting room. When you have days of doubt and self loathing, lose yourself in the Word. Open your heart to receiving the loving Spirit of our creator, day in and day out. I promise you 10 minutes of Pinterest spiraling on love/beauty scriptures will change your attitude (DO IT). If all of this seems too fluffy and sunshine-y to break down the spirits of dissatisfaction and insecurity that have been speaking over you, I invite you to sing a new song.

Consider that your identity is essential to the world. You are more than eye candy. God created you for a specific role in His Kingdom, to reflect the light and love that our Creator has for each of us. Any force that contradicts these truths is an enemy to all that God has planned for you, which is greater than you can imagine. Still not convinced? Meditate on this:

We already are what we want to become. We don’t have to become someone else. All we have to do is be ourselves, fully and authentically. We don’t have to run after anything. We already contain the whole cosmos. We simply return to ourselves through mindfulness and touch the peace and joy that are already present within us and all around us. I have arrived. I am already home. There is nothing to do. -Thich Nhat Hanh

You are perfect. You are loved. You are divine. Seek confidence in our Creator. His supply is endless and He gives it freely and without judgement.

wj

My heroes, Wendi & Jessee who love Jesus, themselves and fabulous swimwear

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History Has Its Eyes On You.

Fam, today I have so much to say that I’ve been staring at a blank screen for nearly an hour now, not knowing where to begin. My heart is heavy as I sit here, I spent most of the day yesterday crying and raging at the heavens as images poured in of inconsolable mothers, children, and families being separated and isolated. I will admit, my first instinct always with images like these that feel unbearable is to look away, to tell myself I can’t bear it.

But reader, it is vital that you look. Let it sink in. Let it bring tears. Let it stir up within you righteous anger. If it does not stir these emotions within you, I would urge you to ask yourself “Why?” At the end of the day, this has become a political discussion when it is anything but. It is a discussion of morality, of ethics, and of what we are willing to tolerate in this country.

I have often heard from people that church is a place that “uplifts” them or “encourages” them, a safe place, a place to feel happy, a place to be in community. It is now that I will encourage you that if this has not been discussed in your church, if your faith leaders are not openly and vocally disturbed and heartsick over this matter, please find yourself a new church.

In a coming post, I discuss the law and those who, in Jesus’ time, lived their lives according to the law. Jesus often condemned these people, he called them “hypocrites” and “vipers”. He said on more than one occasion that these leaders looked for their salvation within the law and that they would not find it there– for this, he was put to death. My loves, this is not a new story. Ascription to the law and the seeking of salvation within the law is a tale as old as time. As human beings, we often delight in the law.

Laws have order.

Laws make sense.

Laws give us a sense of right and wrong.

Humanity is messy.

Humanity is corrupt. (So we’re told.)

Humanity needs a standard.

I don’t like throwing around talking points– we’ve all seen the discussion and the debates on social media, I’ve engaged in several myself. I am baffled by the total lack of compassion and common sense that I am seeing before my own eyes; bigotry and racism justified under laws that are distorted and twisted, believed by individuals with very little context or understanding.

There is, however, one suggestion that I would like to make.

The law is fallible. It is flawed. It is vulnerable to the usurpation of its righteousness by evil men who have traded their compassion for power, men who have systematically torn down their empathy and their humanity to construct greed in its place. As I’m sure many of you have seen, the atrocious acts committed by Adolf Hitler in Germany during the second world war were upheld by German law, perfectly legal. Now, nearly eight decades after the fact, history abhors Nazi Germany. It is a subject that makes people uncomfortable and rouses that righteous anger within us.

Germany did not become Nazi Germany overnight. A long stream of sociopolitical events preceded what it ultimately became. It started with a country with a collapsed economy, poverty and hunger running rampant everywhere and no ability for people to provide for their families. (Sound familiar?) It continued with charismatic and boisterous politicians who told the common people that their livelihoods had been stolen from them, and that their country was destined for greatness, ordained by God to be the greatest nation on earth. (Still sound familiar?)

As many survivors of the Nazi regime have attested, the horrors of mass graves, concentration camps, the euthanization of whole families, and the ruthlessness known by history did not appear instantaneously. It came about gradually and then all at once. It was allowed when feelings of disenfranchisement created by social privilege allowed those in power to demonize, dehumanize, and ultimately torture and murder millions of innocent lives.

After the 2016 election, I was told countless times to “just give him a chance”, “we don’t know that it will all be bad”. Things began to increase slowly, but I saw signs to hope– marches and demonstrations that drew thousand (even millions) of protesters, petitions and town hall meetings that were overwhelmed by people demanding justice, action, and accountability from their lawmakers. In my own part of the state I live a Congressional Representative refused to hold a town hall on healthcare and the Affordable Care Act because he knew he’d be overrun by righteously angry citizens with questions.

In 1999, after the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, Al Gore gave a speech in which he said: “The young killers at Columbine High School do not stand for the spirit that is America”. Well reader, I’d like to take my inspiration from Mr. Gore and say to you that this administration and its participants in Congress do not represent the spirit that is America. I have been disheartened by the massive support thrown behind outrageous policy and enforcement at the hands of this administration, and most of this justification and normalization taking place within the evangelical church.

I could go talking point by talking point and deconstruct it, correct it, point out its flaws and errors. I could talk about logical fallacies (and boy, are there a lot of them), I could talk about immigration law that is being massively manipulated and misunderstood for the benefit of those in power, I could talk about all of that.

Rather simply, though, I will say that this is not an issue of law or politics. To make it so is a deflection that removes an individual from the responsibility that humans have to each other to provide care for one another with empathy and granting of dignity and basic humanity. We cannot teach this morality– what we can do is demonstrate it. I find it nearly impossible at times to have sensitivity or consideration for those who are trading their human soul to the talking heads at Fox News, ruthless individuals who thrive on incendiary claims and the money it makes them. I wring my hands at the disappearance of critical thinking and analysis and the deconstruction surrounding intelligent media within itself. Many times, I simply want to scream that I cannot understand how anyone can look at the images I’m seeing and read the accounts I’m reading and propagate it with any single justification.

Reader, it is indefensible to separate a mother from her child. It is appalling to place families and humans in the conditions we have been placing them. It is antichrist to see a family with children fleeing from persecution, political turmoil, rape, and imminent threat of murder, and to tear their children away from them, detain them, and send them back to their war torn countries without their children in their arms. From the countless Biblical passages in both the old and new testament that speak to the treatment of immigrants and refugees, I remember a time when Hebrews 13:1-2 came into sharp focus for me.

At the time, I was living with my grandmother and she told a story of a woman who came to stay with them for several evenings. They knew only this woman’s first name and none of her story or where she came from. My grandmother said she had an accent, but she couldn’t quite place it as this woman told colorful and vibrant tales of her journeys and her struggles. During this time, my grandparents were struggling heavily. It was during the financial collapse of 2008 and my grandmother had lost her job and foreclosure on their dream home was imminent.

During her brief stay in my grandparents house, this woman told them countless times that everything would work out, that struggle was needed to rise higher, that they would yet see the fruits of their labor. My grandparents did lose the home they had worked to build. They saw hard and dark times. They toiled. They took care of my grandfather’s ailing mother. When she died, she left them an inheritance. They have a home again, they are retired, they live happily and comfortably. My grandmother wholeheartedly believes this woman was sent from God.

As she told me this story, she quoted Hebrews: “Let thy brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Hospitality is not baking someone a cake when they’re sad. It is not a fellowship brunch for the Womens Auxiliary on Sunday evening.

Hospitality is much more gritty. It is opening your home when you feel you have nothing to give, when you are in scarcity or want. It is bringing in those who have been cast out by the social caste that tells them they are unfit to exist in their clean and morally superior society. It is risking name, reputation, livelihood, and life in pursuit of putting on the skin of Jesus Christ and opening your arms and your hearts to all who have been deemed the least of them by an abhorrent, law-obsessed culture.

Hospitality is the heavy stuff of love. We cannot do it alone. If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes even more to raise the oppressed out of their oppression. Sure as I sit here typing, I know it will ask everything and more of me, and I know that it is worth my everything and more that I have to give. Because when we entertain the broken, the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the outcast, the demonized, we entertain angels.

I hope with a hope beyond what I can comprehend that I am not alone in this fight. We are tired, we are browbeaten, we are discouraged, but my dear, beautiful family:

We are not defeated.

We will win.

History has its eyes on us. And love wins. Every single time.

 immigrants
*Image courtesy The Washington Post
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Genesis 1-25: In The Beginning

Hi everyone! Quick disclaimer before we start. The only person I speak for is me. Nothing I say is the official opinion of Grace and Feminism, Anamchara Fellowship, or any church in particular. I know plenty of people have different interpretations of Scripture than I do, and that’s great- all are welcome here! Now…

Genesis 1-25 picture
Credit: NewAtlas.com

Let’s begin in the beginning. It’s one of my favorite parts of the Bible, these opening verses. I love the ebb and flow of the days and nights and the poetry in the repetition of the words. “…And there was morning, and there was evening…” those first days, and every day since.

The words ground me in time; they make me feel the passing of the days and the seasons. The church year itself has some of the same effect on me, with Pentecost feeling like the end of school before summer break and Advent giving me the feeling of coming back home and settling into the year again. As we recount our Creation story, I feel the wonder of our world, brand new and opening up to life for the first time. I feel the amazement at what God has created for us. Never mind that I don’t take the story literally- the truth in it is that “God created”, now how many calendar years it took to do it.

I only read the first half of Genesis for this week. It’s a 50-chapter book, so I’m doing us all a favor and splitting it into two weeks.

I’m glad I did, too. There’s so much ground to cover- literally generations of people and accounts of some pretty wild events. I stopped at the end of chapter 25, right after Esau sells his birthright to Jacob. This comes on the heels of a lengthy list of begats which, if you follow it straight through, probably gives you a nice, broad family tree (I did not get out paper and write one up, but I bet you can find them online).

I have a hard time picturing these stories happening; part of that is because I don’t believe in them literally. For example, archaeology tells us there was some massive flooding several millennia ago, so the story of Noah and the ark may be the survivors’ explanation for why they (or their ancestors) were spared. But I don’t think some guy built a boat and gathered up the animals- except for the unicorns, according to that song- and floated with them for six weeks.

The other part of it, though, is that it’s just so far removed from my own time and place that, even when I try to picture the events, I just don’t know what it is I’m supposed to see. I could research this and learn more about it, of course. We do know some things about how people lived in that place, about the time Genesis was written down and in the preceding centuries.

But as often, what I find myself doing is filling it in. Take the story of Adam and Eve, for example. They’re naked in a garden, so that’s enough information for a mental image, if you’re comfortable having one. But because I’ve read the book Good Omens so many times, I always picture the serpent wearing sunglasses and snakeskin shoes (or at least presumably they were shoes, as the narrator says). And I imagine the angel with the flaming sword giving it to Eve and having to explain himself to God.

None of that is in the Bible! But Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (GNU) wrote such an engaging account of it that, even though I know the Bible story, it’s their account that I picture. And if you think that’s bad, wait until we hit the Gospels and I tell you about a book called Lamb…

But I think what we learn from Genesis doesn’t have to be literal stories. When I read Genesis and repeat the stories that have been told for millennia, I find beauty in the tradition of them. I love thinking about how I’m just one more person in a world’s worth of people to hear these stories and learn from them. I’ve got thousands of years worth of people who wondered how the giraffes like the ark, or how long it took Isaac to figure out that he was the sacrifice- and what the conversation in their home was like afterwards! Just like the opening verses of the chapter, the stories of Genesis help me find my place in the history of my faith.

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It’s About Time!

Hi everyone! I’ve got a project I want to start with you all. See, last week in church, the kids’ choir performed their spring musical. It was so great! It was called The Old Testament Fast Forward, and promised to give us the entire Old Testament in 10 minutes or less.

Well… they came close. The “Producer” came onstage about ten minutes in to let the audience know that we should scratch out “ten” and write in “twenty”. When she came out again to let us know that it was going to be more like half an hour, maybe longer, one of the other kids asked, “How much more do we have left?”

“About 900 years!”

And then they sang a song, to the tune of the William Tell Overture, wherein they named a lot of prophets really quickly.

And after that, one of the kids made a suggestion: If you felt like you were missing some details, maybe you could go home and read your Bible for ten minutes a day? Then it would be like reading the entire Hebrew Bible in ten minutes!

I’m not sure I buy the logic, exactly, but I love the idea.

Here’s my big confession: I haven’t read the entire Bible. Large chunks, sure, but not every word. And I think it’s more than time that I changed that. So my project is this, and here’s your formal invite to participate: I’m going to read one book of the Bible every week. If it’s a long book, or a rough week, I might get halfway through. I’ll be giving myself whatever grace I need. And once I’ve read, I’ll blog about it.

I’d love for you (yeah, you!) to read some or all of it with me and I’d love to know what you think in the comments here or on our facebook page.

Here’s the caveat: I’m not a theologian. I’ve never taken any classes, I don’t know a lot about translation, and I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time studying other texts for context. (I may use the study Bible my priest gave me, however, because I think footnotes are just the right amount of additional information for me right now.) So the responses are going to be my thoughts, my gut feelings, and my opinions.

I don’t speak for the Grace and Feminism team as a whole (none of us does) and I don’t speak for the Episcopal Church or Anamchara Fellowship, either. The only person I speak for is myself, and I want to invite you to speak for yourself, either in the comments on this post or on our facebook page. Talking and sharing our own traditions, interpretations, and ideas are all great ways to put real thought into the Bible and our faith!

The Bible isn’t like other books; I don’t expect the novels I read to be divinely inspired and I don’t expect to live the rest of my life according to the things I learn from them. It’s great when God speaks to me though something I read, or when an author says they felt that the Spirit inspired their writing, and I do get a lot of really solid life lessons from books, but… the Bible is so much more than that. That said, because I can’t give you deep theology for everything I read, sometimes I’m going to respond on a basic, personal level. There might be weeks that we talk about history, or culture or language, but there will also be weeks where I just write about whether I liked the stories or not.

If you’re up for responding, I invite you to do the same. It’s okay not to have deep theological conversations about every passage. We’ve got a whole lifetime to read and re-read and we’ve got to start somewhere! So I invite you to check back every Sunday for a post from me and I can’t wait to hear what you all have to say!

Happy reading!

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“Is It Like In ‘Sister Act’?”

Hi everyone! Sister Mark here. I’m Grace and Feminism’s resident Religious Sister. I’ve been a Sister since taking my vows in January, 2017. My dispersed order, Anamchara Fellowship, was formed in 2000 in the traditional Celtic style. Back when there were only three digits in the year, the Christian church in the British Isles had a different style of Religious Life than most orders you see today. Their monastic communities sometimes included men and women in the same order, women in leadership, married members, and a unique style of spiritual formation.  “Anamchara” means “Soul Friend”, and exemplifies the way that Brothers and Sisters of Anamchara Fellowship are meant to live within the world, as Anamchara to everyone we meet.

I’ll post more (a lot more!) about Religious Life in the Episcopal church, but I want to start with a question a lot of people have asked me over the last couple of years as I began the spiritual formation process and prepared to take my vows. In fact, people still ask me all the time- most recently, I was cornered by a middle school kid at our church youth retreat. H wanted to know: “What’s it like being a nun? Do you like it?”

Taking vows
Here I am taking my vows. The filter hides the terrified look on my face.

 

Whether I like being a nun is a fairly straightforward question- I do like it! It’s fulfilling and peaceful to do God’s will and I get a lot of satisfaction and beauty in feeling that I’m exactly where I’m called to be. And I like my community of Brothers, Sisters, and Companions. My life is better for having them in it- there’s even a weekly DnD game a bunch of us play!

I think this would be different if I had somehow ended up in Religious life against my will, or against God’s call in my life. I think that if that were true, I would find the responsibility oppressive, the community stifling, and that sense of peace and satisfaction missing. I once heard, or possibly read, the observation that your calling is “where your great joy meets the world’s deep need”. I find great joy in living as a Sister, and it is the place God is calling me to fill a need.

I don’t always know where that need is, and sometimes I think that this might be the fulfillment of my call, simply to be present when and where I find myself. Some people find the fulfillment of their own calling in a job or ministry. I think maybe mine is to be available at all the odd times, when there is nobody else. To stand in the middle of difficult questions and the moral decisions nobody else wants to make.

And that’s terrifying. I am so little in control of that- I have been approached in the grocery store, in museums, and in churches. I have heard stories of health disasters, miracles, questions, faith, and doubt. I have no formal training in ministry or spiritual direction or therapy- I just say a prayer and hope God will give me words. I think about Moses a lot.

As scary as it is, I love that this happens. It’s so special to be able to be there for someone, to know that their step is a little lighter and their heart a little brighter because you cross their path.

Of course, I haven’t answered this question in it’s most basic form, which is: what do I do all day? I don’t wander around in my habit waiting for someone to need God, and because of the way my community functions, I do need to hold down a job.

So, that’s a lot of what I do. I have a secular job that I enjoy very much! A lot of the folks in my community work in a helping profession or a church- we have a lot of priests. My own job is very secular, but I don’t see that as separate from living a life in which I bring God wherever I go and remain available for whoever needs Him.

To give you a sketch of what my life is like day-to-day, I got up a little after six this morning and made faces about having to get out of bed. Then I showered, dressed for work (in a nice pant-suit type thing; I don’t wear my habit to the office) and drove the half hour or so that it takes me to get there. I usually sing loudly into my steering wheel while I drive.

Once I was settled at my desk, I checked my work email and then my personal email. Morning Prayer in my community comes daily by email. One of the Brothers writes it up every morning, so each day we say something a little different. We work our way through a couple of prayer cycles so Morning Prayer includes, each day, different members of the community and other orders.

Given the time that Morning Prayer comes out, I usually pray it sitting at my desk. It takes a relatively short time and then I get to work. There’s a break mid-day for lunch and some time here and there to chat with my co-workers. My office likes to talk about hockey and movies, and argue about food- usually cake vs pie or triscuits vs wheat thins. I’m hungry at work a lot!

When my workday is over, I head home or meet with friends. One night a week is DnD night, another is a standing dinner date with my best friends. We do all the normal stuff- watch movies, go out to dinner, and talk for hours. Sometimes I go hang out with my Mom and Dad and our cats, who all live nearby. Sometimes I have chores to do- laundry and dishes, the same as anybody else.

At some point in the evening, I say Evening Prayer and depending on which friends I’m with, sometimes someone will join me. I really enjoy having company while I pray- but even when I don’t, I know that my Brothers and Sisters around the world are praying with me.

After we’ve hung out for a while, or I’ve watched a movie or done my chores or read a book, it’s time for lights out. I finish the dishes and brush my teeth and say Compline before I turn off the light and listen to podcasts until I fall asleep.

This often raises the question (and it’s not a bad one) how is this different from anybody else’s life? Lots of people pray a lot and go to work and hang out with friends. Why bother to be a nun if you’re not going to move into a monastery and work for the church?

It’s a really good question and honestly, one that can be really hard to answer. In style, my life isn’t very different from what it was before. I do a lot of the same things. It’s the substance that is changing and, with God’s help, will continue to change. Others’ mileage will vary, but for me, the difference is in my approach to life, the all-in, ride-or-die work to focus on God and being God’s hands and feet in the world. The difference, then, might be the intensity and constancy of the commitment.

That means that I work every day to be more patient, more kind, to embody God’s love more deeply. Because I am visibly religious, I have taken on a burden that I think many people do not feel to represent Christ in everything I do, without exception. This is really hard and I am nowhere near as good at it as I would like to be, but it is that growth to be more and more like Christ that is the substantial change you should be able to see in me.

So, what’s it like being a nun? In some ways, that’s a question God answers for me every day in unique ways. What can I do today to be a good nun? How can I serve You? And He always has an answer, whether it’s immediately clear or not. As for whether I’m happy in this life, here’s what I’ve learned: following God’s will is the outcome that will make you the happiest, even when it’s difficult or frightening or a lot of work. I would recommend it to anyone.