02 January 2018

A child's protest

On the last Sunday of Advent we attended a church where the children would help move an advent calendar to the correct date. As the last Sunday of Advent was also Christmas Eve and many people were planning to go to church that evening and/or the next day, the church service was sparsely attended.

The pastor began the children's message by saying that even though it was tradition for the children to help advance the advent calendar, as this Sunday there were not present any children. . . Precisely at this moment she was interrupted by a fairly loud noise from Lydia, almost as if Lydia understood and wanted to protest being ignored. The pastor laughed with the rest of us, let us all know that she was going to say that there was no child old enough to help her move the calendar, and then invited Lydia and Matthijs up to help her.

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 . . .