24 April 2017

Adding an identity, instead of changing one

As I near the end of my pregnancy, my joy in getting to meet the small person has increased, but I still have mixed feelings about becoming a parent. Part of the mixed feelings come from my sense that I've never really seen myself as the mom type. I have been open to having children, but I've also been fairly content not having a children (a feeling I considered gift when I was still single at 30).

I have no desire to stop being who I am - a pastor, biblical scholar, wife, friend, Christian - in order to become a mom. Or even to replace one of those identities with the 'mom' category. As much as I expect that I will deeply love our child - because of God's grace and the calling God's given Matthijs and me, I also don't expect that I will all of a sudden start becoming excited about babies in general.  So one of the things I wondered about through the months of pregnancy was how I would add another identity - that of Mom - especially when church culture seems to see being a Mom as taking over one's entire identity (and becomes one's sole and/or primary calling). And especially when academia tends to see being a Mom as being incidental or inconvenient.

I'm thankful to have encouraging mentors along the way: these past months I've had lots of good conversations with women who have 1-2 children and work and love their job. Online there have also been encouraging examples, such as an interview with Katharine Hayhoe where she talks about the challenges related to children: "Having a family is hard. Having a dual-career family is even harder. And the reality is that the more kids we have, the harder it is. One is very portable, two are manageable, three becomes more challenging, and four... well, with four you have to consider that at least one person’s career has to be full-time parenthood for a while."

The part of the interview that I found most encouraging was reading about her disastrous trip when she went without her 2 month child to an important conference:
it was a miserable experience: sleep deprived, still coping with some horrendous health issues and surgeries that had followed the baby, just trying to find a place in the airport where I could pump, taking milk through security. It’s more accepted now, but back then they were like, "What is this? I don't know if you're allowed to take this through," and that was when I lost it. I have a vague memory of screaming something along the lines of, "I squeezed every single ounce from my body! And you are not going to take it!" in the TSA line. It was ridiculous. 
I don't find it at all hard to imagine myself doing the exact same thing. And when I can imagine myself relating to her at a low time in her experience with being parent plus everything else, I find it a lot easier to imagine that I, by God's grace and with Matthijs's gracious and wonderful help, will be able to know best how to take on the calling of parent while not forgetting or neglecting the other things God has called me to be and do.

11 April 2017

Thoughts from Bolz-Weber on Good Friday

As we approach Good Friday, I wanted to share the following quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber about Good Friday:

"Good Friday is not about us trying to 'get right with God.' It is about us entering the difference between God and humanity and just touching it for a moment. Touching the shimmering sadness of humanity's insistence that we can be our own gods, that we can be pure and all-powerful. . . . Good Friday is a stark and unapologetic display of remorse. Remorse for the way in which humanity kills ourselves and the creation and love and God him/herself."                           Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints, 140-1.

17 March 2017

A different way to follow God

Karen Swallow Prior recently wrote an article articulating how her unanticipated childlessness has allowed her to be used by God in ways that she hadn't expected. As she puts it, "The contributions God has allowed me to make to the church and the world are contributions specific to being a woman, and, further, a woman without children."

I found her words both encouraging and challenging to read.

As one who spent my twenties single and my thirties childless, it is an article that resonates with me.  The church has often seemed to be very enthusiastic about people getting married and having children, and not as enthusiastic about other possibilities. It is thus deeply encouraging to hear someone share the following words, proclaiming the good of a different way of following God.
"The church often doesn’t know what to do with those who—whether by circumstance, conscience, choice or simply through the brokenness of creation—fall outside the mold that shapes this ideal of family life. There is an unspoken assumption that this failure to fit the pattern is just that—a failure. To be sure, sometimes we break the mold by our choices, even our sins. But ours is a God of great imagination and infinite surprises. He sometimes calls us out of the standard mold and into a new one."
At the same time, I also found the article challenging. As Prior puts it, "While it’s certainly true that our passions and talents hint at our calling, God sometimes calls us to things we don’t want to do and don’t have a knack for." I am not so good at appreciating God asking me to take a different path than what I had expected, no matter how good it might be or how much it might honour God and bless others (and myself.)

15 March 2017

Galavanting in Michigan

To celebrate Michigan State's Spring Break and take a break from normal life, Matthijs and I spent some time galavanting through Michigan last week. We spent a day in Detroit, explored Portland and Ionia, and spent some time in downtown Grand Rapids.

Below are some highlights:
- We explored the Detroit Historical Museum. I appreciated especially the Gallery of Culture, as it gave a glimpse of some of the more complicated history of Detroit, including some of the riots and violence that gave Detroit its strongly negative reputation. The role of sports was also intriguing, as it brought people together while also appearing to be a way to avoid the racism, poverty, crime, and other troubles of the city.
- We bumped into The Whitney, a gorgeous 1890's mansion close to the museum. We came during happy hour, so lunch upstairs at the bar was not only enjoyable but also affordable.
- We explored the Detroit Public Library with its gorgeous architecture and artwork.
Ionia Courthouse
- And then we stopped at Ikea on the way home because there were a couple of household things we wanted to pick up, and we ended up also getting a desk for Matthijs - one where the height adjusts, so he can actually get his knees under it in a comfortable way.
- We discovered that Portland, MI, isn't all that exciting: however, it has great paths both for walking and biking.
- Ionia, MI has a bit better architecture, as evidenced by this lovely house for sale and the picture at the side of the courthouse.
- Ionia, however, has nothing on Grand Rapids, especially the Heritage Hill area where we spent the night (see Logan house at the side and a map of Heritage hill houses that we followed for as long as we could handle the cold).
Logan house (plus a Frank Lloyd Wright-ish house beside it)
- We saw the musical Ragtime. The production was very well done, and it led to a couple of fascinating conversations about how the musical (and the early 1900s) has a lot of connections with today: the place of immigrants, the role of women, one's place in society, racism, and even the role of sports as both a distraction and something that draws people together.

The break was good, as was the opportunity to explore and delight in new places.

13 March 2017

Bolz-Weber on the danger of becoming closer to God

Several weeks ago I picked up Nadia Bolz-Weber's Accidental Saints (2015). It was good - the kind of book that reminds you of the joys and challenges of trying to notice how God is working in the world around us and in and through each of us.
The following struck me as being profound:

"I [Nadia] was asked by an earnest young seminarian during a Q &A, 'Pastor Nadia, what do you do personally to get closer to God?'
Before I even realized I was saying it, I replied, 'What? Nothing. Sounds like a horrible idea to me, trying to get closer to God.' Half the time, I wish God would leave me alone. Getting closer to God might mean getting told to love someone I don’t even like, or to give away even more of my money. It might mean letting some idea or dream that is dear to me get ripped away."                              page 8.
I appreciate her honesty in naming the danger in becoming closer to God. Oftentimes as Christians we talk about how we ought to and can become closer to God but neglect to mention the cost of opening ourselves up to God.

Matthijs and I own both of her books, and we'd be happy to lend them out for others to read. 

20 February 2017

Paying attention to the details in a story

At Campus Edge we've just started looking at the Elijah and Elisha stories. These are wonderfully odd texts, so it makes looking at them more closely both useful and interesting. There's much to discover, as was made more obvious when I started reading Thomas L Brodie's The Crucial Bridge, which has pointed out a lot of the details and patterns in the text. I was so excited about what I'd been reading that I shared the insights with Matthijs, and I am looking forward to sharing them in the studies I lead.

It always fills me with delight when I can understand the Bible better because someone passes on what they've learned from paying attention to the text. Alan Jacobs's recent reflections on Gabriel Josipovici's The Book of God is another example of someone whose paying attention has filled me with delight and has made me wonder further about what the Bible actually says. Jacobs suggests that, on the basis of what is actually written in the text, Solomon's building of the temple was more his idea than God's. It's a fascinating thought - not one that had occurred to me before, but one that does correspond to the disquiet I've had about Solomon and his holiness: how could someone so wise and dedicated to God spend so much more time building his own palaces than God's temple and be so led astray by all of his wives?

I encourage you to read all of Jacobs's thoughts about the building of the temple - both David's role in it and Solomon's role. He argues that it was Solomon's idea to build a temple, and that the temple was even a misunderstanding of what God wanted. Jacobs notes:
Solomon clearly believes that the Lord wants him to build the Temple, perhaps because that’s what David told him; but, again, God’s declaration in 2 Samuel 7 says nothing about a commandment to build, and here in 1 Kings 5 he has still not said to Solomon, or to anyone, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” The whole idea is Solomon’s.
God wasn't interested in a temple: he was interested in obedience. The prophets would reiterate this idea years later. According to Jacobs, 
Solomon seems to get this. When the Temple is completed and he utters his great prayer of dedication, he indeed emphasizes the necessity of obedience. But he also repeatedly suggests that now that the Temple is built it is time for the Lord to fulfill all his promises to David’s “house” — as though by building the Temple Solomon has asserted some kind of claim upon the God who made the whole cosmos and raised up Israel and put him, Solomon, on his throne.
This fascinates me because it echoes the claim that Israel seems to have: You, God must do something for us, at least partly because we have this temple and we sacrifice to you. (Or because we took your ark with us - cf. 1 Samuel)
Jacobs concludes with the following: 
I don't mean to bring too much of a hermeneutics of suspicion to this party, but this looks suspiciously like an inversion of the Mosaic law: rather than God giving the law to Israel, Solomon gives the law to God. And the leverage that he hopes to bring is the promise that the Lord will be honored by the nations as God through the magnificence of “this house that I have built.” Look at  what I have done for you! Aren't you grateful?“ The Temple is a magnificent technological achievement, and Solomon insists that its purpose is to glorify God, since "this house … is called by your name”; but it certainly seems that Solomon is hardly indifferent to his own power and glory.
I don't think it takes much effort to recognize how we often relate to God in the same way: Look at how good I have been - therefore you must bless me. Fascinating how a close reading in the text can be verified by other texts and can also help us recognize some of our own bad theology.

13 February 2017

A prayer

I was asked to do the congregational prayer in church yesterday, as well as to do the offering announcement (for Campus Edge). As part of Campus Edge's mission to encourage the development of community, this semester we've been studying love and sexuality, recognizing how hard it is for us to be a loving community to each other, especially in the area of sexuality where there has been a lot of hurt both from and within the Christian community. As part of Campus Edge's desire to do intellectual inquiry, we've been studying the book of Ecclesiastes and its sometimes too realistic view of how difficult and meaningless life can seem. These aspects of the ministry are included in the following prayer, as well as other prayer concerns related to university life.

Almighty God, we come before you with our thanks and our concerns. We thank-you for the work that you are doing in this church and in the ministry of Campus Edge. We know that you have been guiding this church as we remember our identity. We trust that you will continue to be with us and with the calling you have given us and the people you have given us to encourage. 

We pray for the world. It is so easy to be overwhelmed by what is happening in the news. We pray for those areas affected by war and famine, shootings and floods. We think especially of Yemen, Somalia, Israel-Palestine, and especially Syria. Bring comfort to all those who are suffering in these places. May those fleeing their homes find a safe place to continue their lives and may these countries become once again places where people can flourish. 
We pray also for all those who are foreigners in this place – we think especially of the international students at Michigan State. We pray especially for strength, comfort, and wisdom to those whose connections to home and their own futures feel more precarious because of the recent travel ban. 

We bring before you the church. We pray for the wider church and how our witness to You is tarnished by all the ways we fight with each other about what it means to follow Christ, especially when it comes to things we are passionate about, like politics. Help us to work together to take care of the weakest among us and to protect each other from danger. 
We pray specifically for the work of your church at MSU. We pray for those who attended the apologetics event with Ravi Zacharias – may it lead to further questions and people knowing you more. We pray for all the ministries, including Campus Edge, reaching out to those on MSU's campus: that we might provide places where people find fellowship and support as well as space to ask questions about faith and know You better. 

We bring before you the communities of which we are a part. We pray for our families and friends, for the community of this church, for those participating in Campus Edge, and for the wider community of Michigan State. We pray for the illnesses and suffering that we know about and for those things we don't know about – whether that be surgeries or cancer, financial troubles or relationship troubles. Whether the suffering be physical, emotional, or spiritual. 
We pray especially for those who are questioning You – that they might not feel alone but instead be comforted by knowing that many before them – from the author of Ecclesiastes to numerous saints – have wondered about the purpose of life and your presence and role in it. 
We pray also for those for whom sexuality has been a burden and a cause of shame and suffering – whether that be infertility, pornography, one's relationship status, one's attractions to others, or other things that are simply too difficult to name. May they – may we all - know your grace in this complicated area of our lives. Give us the courage and wisdom to know how to be honest and open with each other, to listen well, encourage each other and to be a strong community to each other. 

Knowing that you hear all of our requests, we pray these things in Jesus' name. Amen.