04 December 2017

God as labouring woman

In our study at Campus Edge, we've been going through Winner's book, Wearing God. I've enjoyed it tremendously, although I have to admit that some of the images of God that we've explored just didn't work. Laughter was one that didn't really relate, and the image of God as laboring woman or nursing mother really didn't work for the group. However, I found these images, as shaped by my own experience, helped me grow in appreciation of God's love and nurture for us.

I especially found insightful what Winner wrote in regards to seeing God as a nursing mother. Speaking of the power found in nursing, Winner notes: “your body has the power to keep someone else alive. . . and as Gandolfo explains, ‘Like the power of a nursing mother, the power of divinity is the power to comfort. Babies who nurse often seek out their mothers’ breast not only when they are hungry, but when they are tired, frightened, or distressed.’”Winner, Wearing God, 167. Furthermore, “to picture God as a nursing mother is to picture both our dependence on God and God’s radical self-limitation for our sake. After all, in nursing, the mother gives herself over to her child and allows her life to be determined by the child’s schedule and the child’s demands.” Winner, Wearing God, 167. Knowing the cost involved - that my life and schedule got turned upside down to meet our little's needs - this image of God as nursing mother makes me appreciate God's care and comfort for us in a new way.

In light of my own appreciation of those who provide day care for my child and my recognition of the challenges in looking after children, it is fascinating to me that Winner picks up on Moses dialogue with God in Numbers 11: Moses asks why he should be taking care of these children, as he did not birth them? Winner provides the following commentary on the passage:
“Numbers 11 could be read as a parable about short-staffed day-care centers, about a society that does not allot adequate resources to caring for children to supporting mothers or hired child-minders. It is striking to me that, in Numbers 11, God reaffirms the decision that God made when God called Moses to lead Israel out of bondage in the first place – the decision to place the children of Israel in someone else’s care . . Perhaps this is another way that God puts God’s own power at risk. This is not the groaning vulnerability of labor or the chosen self-limitation of nursing. It is a different kind of risk: putting work that is important to you – in this case, the work of redemption – in human hands.” Winner, Wearing God, 176. 

30 November 2017

The God who hides

I really appreciated this image of God playing hide-and-seek that Winner describes in her book, Wearing God:
“We might of think of God as one who plays hide-and-seek. When playing the game, the children who are hiding almost always give themselves away by laughing or giggling. Our job, as friends and disciples and reverencers and lovers of the Lord, says Land, is to listen for God’s laughter. . . kids who play hide-and-seek usually hide in the same places over and over again, and so the parent or friend tasked with looking might reasonably know, even without the sound of laughter, where she is likely to find the one hiding. This is true of God, too. . . God hides in bread and wine, in silence, in gardens, in cities, in prisons, in huger and privation and poverty, in song.” Winner, Wearing God, 236-7.
I believe God is actively working in the world - but sometimes I act like I don't. I act like God is lost, instead of seeing it more like hide-and-seek, where I will see where God is and has been, if only I look and listen properly.

29 November 2017

A child brings a whole new set of social interactions

Bringing the child to a home day care for the last few months has made me realize that I've entered into a whole new world of social interactions, and I once again have limited idea of what to do. 
  • Do I talk to the other parents? If so, how much and what do we talk about? Perhaps how cute their child is, what milestones they might have hit, what their weekend plans are? 
  • How much do I talk to my day care providers? I'd like to know how much the little slept and ate each day, whether she had a bowel movement or her diaper leaked, and whether she was generally content. Or if there's anything I could do to make life better for her or the day care providers. But should I ask about their weekend plans? About what it's like to run a day care? About their children? About living in Lansing?

I already feel a bit socially awkward in many situations, so I'm not particularly excited to recognize that this new situation has given me more social interactions to negotiate. This is on top of figuring out how to respond to people's interest in my child (how do I thank them appropriately for their compliments, should I offer to let others hold her or let them tell me first, when is my distraction with the little okay and when is it insulting to someone else, etc.). 

On the other hand, all these new social interactions help me remember what it's like to feel socially awkward again, which is a helpful thing to remember when working with people negotiating the weird social interactions of the academic world. It also provides me with a learning opportunity about how to treat people with dignity and learn to appreciate who they are as individual persons (and not simply as the parent of that child or the person who looks after my child). And lastly, it reminds me that I can probably never thank my day care providers enough - or even know how to adequately express to them my thankfulness to God about how they keep my child safe and show her how much she is cared for.

31 October 2017

I want you to believe this way, but....

I think one of the harder parts of being a pastor (and probably being a parent) is acknowledging that, while I very much want someone to believe a certain way because I think it will bring them joy, peace, and meaning, I can't make people believe things.

Instead, I try to live a life that invites people to hear what I believe, to see the good of what and why I believe, and to extend grace and hospitality to people even when they don't believe what I want them to and/or think they should.

This, I think, is especially true when it comes to sexuality or any aspect of one's self that is deeply ingrained in your understanding of who you are (i.e., identity). Christianity Today recently published a good article that highlights that, arguing that "you can't just tell us what to believe. Instead, Gregory Coles argues that:
"Persuasion comes through gentleness and patience. We sometimes act as though committed gay believers should have their approach to reconciling faith and sexuality entirely worked out, right this moment. But those who have trod the same path know how painfully difficult this is to manage. Coles is humble enough to admit that he does not see the answers with complete clarity. . . 
The church might give the same space to work out these issues as many churches do with unmarried couples who visit. These churches patiently work with them as they return week after week, as they slowly come to understand the Bible’s teaching on extramarital sex. Can we not have a similar attitude toward same-sex-oriented people, especially when their situations are so much more complex?"

24 October 2017

Jesus as the bread of life, the non-gourmet kind

Lauren Winner, in her book Wearing God points out how we have the tendency when we imagine Jesus as the bread of life to think of that as 'foodies' might. But, if God really does have a preference for the poor and hungry and exhausted among us, Jesus should probably not be likened to gourmet bread. Jesus, after all, is not a luxury, but sustenance.

Winner says:
“I realize I am at some risk of turning the God who provides food into a ‘foodie’ for whom cooking the right food at the right time of year has become both a pleasure and a mark of status. Surely our image of God as provider of food might also include my mother, home from a long day at work and utterly without the energy to cook, microwaving a bag of popcorn for herself and opening a can of Chef Boyardee for me.” Winner, Wearing God, 108. 
Winner’s response to objections to the second image is almost as insightful:
“God became incarnate, and God knew exhaustion and finitude, and God has a preference for those with no margins in their lives, and out of solidarity, God probably sometimes hands around a can of SpaghettiOs to the saints.” Winner, Wearing God, 109.
While I don't know if I could appreciate the taste of SpaghettiOs anymore, the image Winner presents definitely gives me something to chew on.

20 October 2017

How long it takes me to write a sermon

This past weekend I preached at a wedding. It was a good experience, except that it took me a long time to write the sermon. Thankfully, writing a sermon is no longer the excruciating experience it used to be, but it still feels like it takes a lot more of my time and energy than it should.

To be honest, though, it takes a long time because of all the time I spend avoiding writing the sermon. The actual writing of the sermon, when I finally do it, probably takes up less time than all of the avoiding. I'm not sure how I feel about that, other than the obvious sense that I really should do something to change that . . .

19 October 2017

A sermon on love: the bliss and the work

This past weekend, I had the honour of preaching at a wedding. The texts for the wedding were 1 Corinthians 13 and Song of Songs 2:8-10, 14, 16a; 8:6-7a. Since I'd put the time into writing the sermon, I thought I'd post much of it here in the hopes that it would bring encouragement to others.

On a joyous occasion like a wedding, it seems fairly obvious what love is. The different sides of love – the joy and the effort involved - are found in the two texts we read today. We hear the delight of love in Song of Songs – this is the sort of love that causes one to be willing to do anything, from airport good-byes to leaving family and friends and starting a new life somewhere else. 1 Corinthians 13, on the other hand, provides wisdom for showing how the love that starts a marriage can continue to grow in the years to come and overflow to those around them.

The love that is described in Song of Songs is an overwhelming love. Even the language used is a bit overwhelming: “Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” Those are words of longing, words that might fit better in an email or letter between two lovers today and not words that we connect with church.

Yet, Song of Songs captures the passionate love of a man and a woman for each other, a passionate love that is shown best in marriage. And in marriage, we get to claim – My beloved is mine and I am his. There is something wonderful in those words – a commitment to each other that is part of the very goodness that is marriage. And this love is, as Song of Songs chapter 8 says, “as strong as death, It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away..”

Yet, love can be all consuming, and the text of 1 Corinthians 13 gives wisdom in showing how the fire can keep burning while also warming all those around it. 1 Corinthians 13 describes what love looks like when we put it into practice:
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

This is the kind of love we all want to receive. We know that we need this kind of love – because no matter how hard we try, we'll still be late, we'll forget things, and we'll hurt each other. When this happens, we need the kind of love that keeps no record of wrongs. Yet, practicing that love is hard.

It sometimes seems easier to speak in tongues, as the first part of 1 Corinthians 13 talks about. Even as hard as it is to speak Dutch or English, it is something all of us can eventually learn – and despite the frustration involved, there is laughter in the times when we do sound like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. There is also the adventure of learning another culture and the surprises we come across. We discover that a simple word like fine – even if sounds exactly the same in both languages – doesn't mean the same thing. When a Dutch person says fine, they actually mean good. When an American says fine, they actually mean not so good – or don't talk to me because I'm busy!

Love is figuring out these assumptions about words and actions – assumptions we didn't even know we had! That is hard work, as it requires much patience and a desire not simply to say fine, I'm too busy and irritated to figure out what it means to be kind to you. Instead it requires a continuous striving to love each other honestly and with our whole person.

Thankfully, we do not need to do this alone. God has promised his help and has given us friends and family to help all of us practice love. And just as we receive love and encouragement from those around us, our love (including the love between husband and wife) is meant to overflow to those around us. To people we love and to all who cross our paths.

It will be hard, but practicing this love is definitely worth it! The second half of the text talks about the frustration of seeing an image only dimly in a mirror. Today that's like the difference between getting to see each other via Skype and getting to finally see each other in person. And that joy found in finally being together – the joy of finally getting to say – My beloved is mine and I am hers – that is worth all the hard work.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.