24 December 2018

Advent: longing

It has been a season for me of reflecting on the challenge of being female: about the power of women in ministry and sexism, about women's angerabuse (especially at Michigan State), and about what leadership looks like. The reflections have brought with them my own anger at how hard it is to be female today, especially when one goes against expectations.

And so I long for a time and a world where women's gifts are valued and used and when women aren't blamed for abuse (or seen primarily as victims or sinners). Yet, as much as Advent is about longing for the world to be better, Christmas is about remembering how with Christ's coming the world is already better (and one day Christ will come back and everything will be fully right).

The longing is articulated well in recent articles that I read: Longing for All things to be made right and Rahab the Survivor.

Heather Walker Peterson in Longing for All Things highlights how through their Jesse tree, she is seeing the ancestors of Jesus in a new light. She is reminded of how Abram lies "to the Egyptian pharaoh about his wife Sarai being his sister. He was protecting his own skin but not the skin of Sarai, who was a hair’s breadth away from sexual relations with the Pharaoh. Our daughters, seven and nine, although not in complete understanding, are offended. And so am I. How had I lost the grievousness of Abram’s sin in my familiarity with the story?" In reading the story of Ruth and Boaz, she hears again "Boaz telling his male workers to keep their hands off Ruth while she was picking up the leftover grain. I’m glad for Boaz’s integrity, but I wish that the people of God who worked for him didn’t have to be told. Things are not all right."

Jennifer Lucking, in Rahab the Survivor, highlights the strength found in this ancestor of Jesus, while lamenting that her strength and desire to follow God faithfully are often left out when we talk about her:
Most of the Advent stories I’ve read about Rahab go something like this: “Rahab was a prostitute! Rahab was a liar! A harlot! But even someone as shameful and bad as Rahab is in Jesus’s lineage.”And I understand this type of storytelling: we are meant to recognize that despite our own sinfulness, despite the wrongs we do, we are redeemable and we are loved by God. Other articles I read about the women listed in the lineage of Jesus included words like sordid and notorious.. . Today I am choosing to see the resilience of Rahab the Survivor. She was proactive and went to the spies with a plan (see Joshua 2:8, 15-16). Rahab was confident and bold as she proclaimed what she knew (Joshua 2:9-11). She advocated not just for herself, but for her family (Joshua 2:12-13). She was faithful to what God was doing in her life. She is Rahab the strong. Rahab the leader.
As much as the articles point to a longing for the world to be better, they also remind me that through Christ women have been seen and given voices. And we, as Christians, have the ability to use the power of our words to tell a different story: a story that highlights that Jesus comes from a line of women of strength and perseverance who dared to risk everything for God and who cared deeply about justice.

21 December 2018

Advent: hope

Several months ago, the Banner published an article about infertility that spoke to me, as it describes well the messiness of infertility and the messiness of hope.

They describe the challenge of not knowing, as well as the difficulties of hoping when one is continually disappointed but each month brings with it the possibility of new life:
"Every month we go through the repeated cycle of hope, then fear and disappointment. . . At times it seems easier to stop hoping than to live with the heartache of repeated disappointment. But it’s hard to know how to mourn when you don’t have definitive answers."
The author also speaks of how unhelpful many people's comments are. They "reveal an unwillingness to sit in ashes with us. This incapacity for solidarity is painfully sad and incredibly isolating for those suffering. Is it any wonder more people don’t speak up about infertility in our churches?"

Finally, the author speaks of the messiness of hope.
Someone will inevitably ask, “Aren’t you forgetting about the gospel and its offer of hope?” Eschatologically, our hope is secure—the risen Christ will return; sin, Satan, and death will be no more (Rev. 20:7-21:4). But hope—biblical hope—should lead us to be more attentive to present suffering, not less. Hope is not an opiate; rather, it keeps us crying out to God. Hope should lead us to groan laments because things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be (Rom. 8:18-27), such as the continuing mutilation of black bodies, the usury of Latino labor without providing legalized status, and, yes, even the silent suffering of infertility.
Hope is fragile, sometimes even dangerous. And yet we cannot live long without hope. 

04 December 2018

Not yet.

Advent is the season that we await and long for the coming of the kingdom of God. For as much as Christ's first coming already brought forth the kingdom, the kingdom is not yet fully here on earth.

Without intending to, yesterday became filled with experiencing the emotions connected to the 'not yet.' Perhaps it might be better to say I was overwhelmed by the emotions related to the hard things I felt inadequate to do: hard things that were a result of sin and brokenness. Instead of recognizing my sadness and anger, I avoided reality with computer games and fighting with a program on my computer.

Yelling at God would have been better way of acknowledging my overwhelmedness and all the emotions: not because I expected to prove God wrong on any of it but because I needed to remember that God hears and cares. Crying would also have helped me, as it would have made me able to mourn the brokenness of the world and myself, as well as to mourn in response to the pain and disappointment I witnessed from those who were/are part of the community I love in Amsterdam.

When I express my lack of desire to be part of a world that is broken, including myself, I open myself up to being comforted. Last night the comfort came in having the exhausted child I love fall asleep in my arms. And it came through a conversation about a woman who insisted that Jesus' Kingdom was also for her and her daughter, now already (Mark 7).

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.