12 November 2018

Exegesis on the Widow's Coins

I really appreciated Abbot Andrew's recent musings about the widow's coins (Mark 12). Through looking at the surrounding text and the whole Bible, he both validates the widow's offering (encouraging us to do likewise) while also questioning a system/society that would take a widow's last coins.

The following are his own words:
"Highly troubling are the preceding verses where Jesus denounces the scribes who “devour widows’ houses.”. . . the juxtaposition of these references to widows raises questions. The questions become more worrisome when we recall how the prophets denounced those who oppressed widows and orphans almost every time they spoke out on social issues. The very next verse on the other side of the story of the widow and her two coins raises even more urgent questions. In response to a disciple’s commenting on the great stones of the temple, Jesus says: “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Mk. 13: 1) This suggests that the poor widow is giving her last two coins for a bad cause.  . .  
Is this poor widow a bad example, then? By no means. This poor widow reminds us of the widow who gave Elijah some of the last grains of meal that she had after which she expected to die with her son. (1 Kings 17: 12) . . . Since giving everything is a sign of the Kingdom of God, the poor widow is a sign of the Kingdom while the rich man who went away sad and the rich who contributed lavishly to the temple treasury are not."
I encourage you to read his exegesis on the passage (it is fairly short).

02 October 2018

Strong women

One of the obvious joys of my work are the students that I work with. They are curious and intelligent, gracious and loving. And they are strong: one has to be, in order to persevere through grad and professional school. As my daughter grows up, I pray that she remains curious and grows in love for others. But I also pray that she might grow in strength.

One of the students who I've been getting to know was recently highlighted on a forum for women in music. The following are some of her words:
I come from a family full of capable women who have been excellent role models for me. . . Growing up I was very fortunate to have my mother tell me all the time that I could do anything boys could do, and that I could be anything I wanted to be. I like to joke that this actually made it hard when I had to decide on a career, because there were too many options! 
I also remember an important moment that happened during a lesson with a movement coach. . . . At one point the coach stopped me and said something akin to, “Strength can be feminine too. You don’t need to apologize for your presence, or for taking up space, or for the sound you can draw out of this instrument.” I don’t think she necessarily intended for this statement to have the kind of life-changing impact that it did, but it has altered the way I think about myself ever since. 
I pray that all of my students, both males and females, will recognize that strength can be feminine - that women are strong and that strength involves emotions and connections. Those are words that I pray for both the students I work with and the daughter that we are raising.

27 September 2018

Sharing sadness

The other day when I asked someone how they were doing, I got the usual "I'm doing okay" response. And I knew that my response was expected to be that I was also doing okay.

I was doing okay, but I was also sad. It was important for me to be honest about how I was sad, and so that was what I said. Even if I didn't have the words, being sad was the best way to capture my disappointment that Matthijs and my life was not - unlike I'd hoped and expected - going to get less busy in the coming months. On top of that, there'd been sad news from friends in our 'old life:' a lot of changes were happening, which might mean more freedom and joy, but also meant great loss.

In acknowledging my own sadness about how things were going in my life, space opened up for the other to talk about her own disappointments and sadness. She, too, had been confronted with the challenge of her life getting a lot more complicated, as a valued research partner wasn't doing well.

I was thankful that opening up about my own sadness about things happening in my life gave her space to share about the complications in her own life. I found it a comfort to share my sadness, but also comforting to listen. Her situation helped put my own situation in perspective. In the midst of my own sadness, I was glad that others cared for me and listened well, and I was able to be there for someone else in the midst of their challenges.

24 September 2018

Mystery and Certainty in Theology

Vicky Beeching in Undivided expounds a bit on what she learned about mystery and certainty in theology after being tutored by Bishop Kallistos Ware. She quotes Ware as saying:
"'In the Christian context, we do not mean by a 'mystery' merely that which is baffling and an insoluble problem. A mystery is, on the contrary, something that is revealed for our understanding, but that we never understand exhaustively, because it leads into the depth or the darkness of God' (Beeching, 95).
I appreciated her further thoughts on the subject of certainty, of which the following quotes give a sense:
"The more I pondered it, the more absurd it seemed that theology could be neatly explained in a theology textbook." 
"The obsession with fixed answers felt increasingly wrong to me: if God can fit into a box, it's no longer God we are dealing with but someone made in our own image." 
"Evangelical theology seemed to paint a picture of God - a graven image of sorts- and tell everyone else it was the only likeness of him that existed." 
"Bishop Kallistos introduced me to a new perspective on what it meant to be faithful to Christian history. We weren't diminishing it by changing our minds on certain things; that was all part of the journey." Beeching, 95.
I had read Bishop Kallistos Ware's book on Eastern Orthodox Theology when I was in college. I remember still how much I appreciated what I learned then of the Orthodox Church - where the focus was less on getting the right answer and more on living for and with God. Years later, as I read his words and their influence, I am reminded again of how much I appreciate making space for less certainty in belief, space that I'd like to share with the grad students I minister to.

12 September 2018

Discontent with Church

Shortly after writing my last post expressing my discontent with church, I read an article expressing the good of such discontent. I appreciated that, especially as I'm still not entirely sure about my own expression of discontent, as it feels too much like complaining. I have been taught that complaining makes one more part of the problem than the solution. And complaining doesn't seem to be particularly good at communicating how God is working.

In his recent Banner article, Chris Schoon lists a number of movements throughout history that were birthed out of discontent with the church: "those who launched renewal movements sought a more transformative practice, a more biblically rooted doctrine, or a more robust and personal piety than they had experienced in the church of their day and age. Their reform efforts attempted to address gaps in the church’s character and witness as they realized that the church in their particular contexts was not yet what it was intended to be."

Furthermore, Schoon argues that "In order for the church to be the church, we need a certain amount of holy dissatisfaction with the way things are, and especially with the way we are living as God’s people."

I don't always know what to do with my disappointment with my local church. I do know that it makes me long to once again be part of an intentional faith community (new monastic community), even knowing how imperfect that is. And it does make me want to be more authentic and honest in my own relationships with others, as well as striving for authenticity and honesty in the community of grad and professional students that I pastor.

10 September 2018

Chafed by Church

I was grouchy in church yesterday. Since it was church, it seemed fairly obvious that this place and time gave me ample opportunity to sort out with God why I was grouchy.

Part of the challenge was that I was annoyed that I was grouchy. After all, despite it being full, I'd had a blessed week at work: I'd had (and overheard) encouraging conversations at our Welcome BBQ, it's been exciting to think about and plan new activities, I pondered how people of different faiths being present at pub theology are a blessing, and I was deeply thankful to have met with some staff and faculty for prayer this week.

I was also annoyed that I ended up late, especially since it felt like I'd actually left early (and not just the usual: barely on time). Yet, I'd let the little walk from the car to church, we'd stopped to check if there were any lingering students to greet, and I'd made sure the little was excited about being in nursery before I left her there. And so I ended up walking in late to the congregational meeting.

When the meeting ended and we were encouraged to talk to others, I realized that as much as I cared for many of the people around me, I was lonely there. I missed having more people like me: (female) professional, over-educated, (working) mom (of a toddler), and/or under 50. I also missed people who weren't there, especially those who've been leaving - some people have been taking a break from (this) church, others have left, and still others have moved away for jobs or school.

As I was quietly sitting in church, sorting through how I felt with God, I saw someone walk in, someone who I know who has been struggling. For a moment, there was a look of sadness on her face, and then she put a smile on. Her presence - and sadness - reminded me of others who are struggling in the community. And I bulked at putting my own 'happy face' on. I didn't want to talk about my daughter, even though I love her and delight in her. I didn't want to sing happy praise songs; I wanted to lament about the suffering around me. It felt empty singing about God's holiness when we didn't also speak of God's justice on evil, scary though it might be. And I didn't know how to bring into church all the ways I had seen God working in my job this past week. I felt chafed.

Thankfully, God is capable of working in and around my feelings. I was welcomed by old friends and unexpectedly hugged by someone who is becoming a new friend. I was challenged by the sermon. I saw an older couple who I love reach out (again) to a younger couple who have moved into their neck of the woods. God worked in the midst of (and perhaps even through my) feeling of being chafed to meet me.

20 August 2018

Ready? Maybe

The school year is almost ready to start. And this morning I feel ready and excited for it.

Matthijs begins his comprehensive exams today (ends Friday at 1), and today I do my first 'resource/welcome fair,' meeting potential students. Campus Edge has hired a part-time staff person to help me out, the little is doing great at daycare and pretty great at home (we have no real complaints, although her sleeping and eating habits are a bit haphazard), and I've spent quite a bit of time this summer resting (by reading lots, biking, and enjoying Lydia). So we're all as ready as we'll ever be!

I don't know what this year will bring. I do hope for the following:
- Matthijs will enjoy more freedom in his program (after the comps get finished),
- Campus Edge will reach more people, especially those struggling with faith,
- I will continue to love and delight in my job, but also be able to work on (and finish up a good draft of) my dissertation,
- Lydia will continue to be healthy, cheerful, and independent, and that we will all enjoy her growing ability to communicate.

Most of all, I pray that we will be able to welcome the challenges and adventures of this coming year with joy and courage.