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And then God showed up.

photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin cc

photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin cc

I wasn’t going to put up a blog post today.  Fact is, I’ve been feeling pretty ambivalent about keeping this blog going at all.  I vacillate between “It’s not worth the energy; no one reads it” and “It’s so important; this is what I’m passionate about.”  I am alternately discouraged that I don’t have the stats to rival my favorite bloggers and discouraged with myself for not producing whatever would earn me those stats.  “I am tired; I am weak; I am worn. Take my hand, precious Lord.”

So yeah, I wasn’t going to post today.  I was feeling whiny and small and overlooked.  I was feeling voiceless.  I was giving up.

But this morning I woke up at the crack of dawn.  Which I hate and never do because morning people are all terrible, chipper, and HAPPY in the morning.  I cannot relate.

But this morning I woke up anyway, before the sun was up, before my husband was up, and by 6am I had tossed and turned myself right out of bed, into my clothes, and across the street to the misty, deserted salt marsh.

The marine layer was so low I couldn’t even see the tips of the mountains to my left or the horizon between the cloud cover and the Pacific Ocean on my right.  Everything was quiet, except for that man talking loudly on his phone as I passed his window.  (Who makes calls at 6am? Morning people!)

I walked slowly, not quite contemplatively, through the sage along the gravel path and wound my way across the estuary. I stopped on the bridge and watched the ducks and leopard sharks swim in wide circles and figure 8s.  I breathed deeply. I looked up at the misty morning, still dark enough that my sensitive eyes could take everything in through their own lenses and not the dark ones I carry with me everywhere.  I continued on.

I turned on my iPod and played a guided Lectio Divina reading I downloaded from my new friend Christianne Squires’ Cup of Sunday Quiet. (I highly recommend it, by the way!) I walked slowly through the salt marsh, noticed my breathing, and listened to a gospel reading in Christianne’s measured voice.  I walked. I breathed. I listened.

And then God showed up.

I don’t know why I am always surprised when God does that.  But I am, every single time.  Maybe it’s because at the bottom of everything, at the very root of the deepest lies that cause the woundedness in my life, I don’t believe God is trustworthy.  Still.  Even after all the healing, all the truth, all the trust God and I have built up in our relationship over the years.  Even after the dark night of the soul and the wilderness experience and all the ways God has tried to mature my faith, even now I am still surprised when God shows up.

I expect it more often. I trust that despite my lack of faith it will happen.  But I’m still surprised.

Or maybe it’s more that God just enjoys surprising me.  Maybe it’s that God delights in delighting me.  Maybe it’s like God is playing hide-and-seek with the child in myself.

Me: God, where are you? I’m looking for you.

God: Here I am! You found me!

And you know what? I just couldn’t wait to get back home and put up this blog post.  Because really and truly, my lovely readers, know this: God delights in delighting you, too.  God enjoys surprising us.  God, with infinite wisdom and gentle grace, continues to show up for each of us, every time.  All we have to do is get quiet, get listening.

All we have to do is show up, too.

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Gender-Inclusive Language; Gender-Inclusive God (Part 1)

From the archives: originally posted January 16th and 17th, 2012

I grew up in a politically and spiritually conservative Southern hometown.  When I was younger, I thought conversations about gender-inclusion were silly, that people who made such a big deal out of small things were petty and that they should stop trying so hard to fight against what’s normal and accepted and expected.  The first time I read dear Madeleine L’Engle‘s Walking on Water, I agreed with her when she wrote,

I am a female of the species man. Genesis is very explicit that it takes both male and female to make the image of God, and that the generic word man includes both….That is Scripture, therefore I refuse to be timid about being part of mankind. We of the female sex are half of mankind, and it is pusillanimous to resort to he/she, him/her, or even worse, android words….When mankind was referred to it never occurred to me that I was not part of it or that I was in some way being excluded.

I agreed with her because I thought that was my experience, too.  I thought I understood myself as intrinsically included equally in the world alongside my brothers, my father, my male classmates, and all the men I knew.  All through grade school, high school, and most of college, I maintained this understanding.  Then in my search for a church community near my college, I stumbled upon a respectable little PCA church nearby.

Being ignorant of the difference between PCA and PCUSA denominations, I began attending. For a while, I enjoyed the verse-by-verse explication of Galatians in the Sunday School class, and I dutifully followed the class into the sanctuary each week for the main church service.

But then I noticed something disturbing.

The senior pastor, a man, would lead us in a weekly congregational prayer for all the men in seminary and all the men on the mission field, asking God to empower the future leaders of the Church.  I found myself wondering, what about the women in seminary and the women on the mission field?  At the time, I already had close female friends in both categories, not to mention I have a number of female missionaries in my family tree, including my grandmother.

Then I noticed something else. There were only men up front.  Men preached.  Men led and performed the music.  Men prayed.  Men served communion.  Men took up the offering.  Once I saw a woman stand up to share an update about the Children’s Ministry, and I was shocked when she stood on the ground in front of the pulpit while the man in the pulpit unhooked the microphone from its stand and handed it down to her.  Why didn’t he just move over so she could speak on the raised stage where everyone could see her? I wondered.  Her speech seemed disembodied because I could only see the slight movement of the top of her head as she spoke. I was disturbed to see a woman in ministry so publicly and literally positioned below a man in ministry.

That was the last time I attended that church.

I didn’t think too much more about the issue until I moved to California after college to enter seminary.  I was surprised at some of the reactions I got from my friends back home.  Some asked me what degree I was pursuing and were visibly relieved when I told them I wasn’t planning to be a pastor.  Others actually told me I was going to hell and stopped speaking to me.  While some of my family members were supportive and even encouraging of my seminary training, others became hurtful and even combative, telling me I should come home, that I shouldn’t be in seminary because I’m a woman.

Then there were the people I met in seminary, both students and professors.  Not just women, but men were advocating for women in ministry, arguing for equality, and providing opportunities for women to step up into leadership positions.  My seminary has a seminary-wide gender-inclusive language policy, and I was surprised as I began sitting in lectures and writing papers how thoroughly ingrained I was in gender-specific language, especially when it came to language about God.

The more I thought about the language I used, the more I realized that I had been wrong when I thought the issue was silly and petty.  I was wrong to agree with Madeleine L’Engle that everyone was intrinsically included in gender-specific language.  The more I learned about the history behind the language and the way it had been used to marginalize and oppress over the centuries, the more convinced I became that it was my responsibility as a woman, as a Christian woman, as a Christian woman who–dare I say it?–has been given certain qualities and skills of a leader, to hold myself to a higher standard of language and to advocate for gender-inclusion, not just in language but in life–church life, home life, and public life.

That’s a tall order.  And as an introvert, as a conflict-avoidant person, and as woman who grew up believing barefoot-and-pregnant was all was I meant to be, living into my calling as a female Christian leader seems impossible. Yet, God does not call us to impossible tasks, for the Bible tells me so: the Spirit of God does not make me timid but gives me power, love, and self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7).

Indeed, the Spirit I received does not make me a slave to culture or to other people’s expectations of who I am supposed to be so that I return to live in fear again of coloring outside other people’s lines; rather, the Spirit I received brought about my adoption as a daughter of God–by which I receive all the honor, standing, and inheritance of the Most High God. And because of this Spirit and this adoption, I cry out to God with all the confidence and innocence of a toddler calling for “ma-ma” or “da-da” (or “a-ba”)…and I know God answers me with all the immediacy, care, and tenderness of a proud and loving parent (Romans 8:15).

To be continued in the next post.

 

Mini-sabbatical: Gone to school (Part 2)

Hello Lovely Readers!

I’m on my way to Arizona for the second half of my training in spiritual direction.  Just like last time, I’ll be posting daily reflections on Of the Garden Variety.

NOT like last time, I have a special treat for you! While I’m gone, I’m beginning a new series of guest postings called “Five Questions on…”

So lots to see here over the next couple of weeks.  Come by and check out the variety of perspectives on HBTB issues like food, exercise, dating, church, and more!

 

I’m Back! When it doesn’t feel like Lent…

I know, I know. I promised new posts for last week and didn’t deliver. Getting back into the swing of things after being in Arizona for two weeks proved more time-intensive than I expected. But now I’m back and ready to write!

If you’re wondering about my experience in Arizona, you can read my daily reflections over at my old spirituality blog: Of the Garden Variety.

This week I have a few disconnected thoughts to share with you lovely readers.  Let’s dig into it.

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We are just under two weeks away from celebrating EasterHow is your Lenten season going?

For me, I’ve been so preoccupied with preparing for Arizona, being in Arizona, recovering from Arizona, and looking ahead to my next trip, that I’ve pretty much lost sight of Lent this year.  Rather than a season of reflection, contemplation, and experiencing the disconsolation of being without, I’ve been rushing, working, and experiencing sensory and information overload.

So what do we do when our season of life does not match up with the church calendar?  What do we do when the sermons and sharing of our community of God don’t resonate with our current experience?

I think we run into this dilemma more often than we like to admit.  We experience loss, but our community is full of celebration.  We experience rest, but our community expects more participation.  We experience peace, but our community is full of unrest.  We experience doubt and distance with God, but our community seems threatened by our questions.

Sometimes it’s so much easier to walk alone.

But community is central to our Christian faith for a reason.  Yes, we need the freedom to be who we are and where we are on our spiritual journeys, but we also need the experience of community to help us grow and change.  Community can be challenging, but it can also be revealing and healing.

When I think about participation in the community of God, I always return to Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

We can never achieve this “wholeness” simply by ourselves, but only together with others. – Letters and Papers from Prison

(If you missed it, you can find our 4-part series on community in Bonhoeffer’s writings here.)

We need each other not only to fully experience God but also to become fully whole in ourselves.  I may not be in a season of life or a frame of mind to really engage in Lent this year, but being surrounded by a community of God that is engaged in Lent helps keep me linked to the seasons of the church year and reminds me that there is more to life than my momentary experience.

And who knows? Maybe next year I will be the one reminding my community just what the season of Lent brings to our experience of God.

That’s what community is all about.

Mini-sabbatical: Gone to school

Hello, my dear lovely readers!

Well, I’m off to Arizona for a short certificate program in Spiritual Direction.  Because of the schedule while I’m away, I won’t be posting anything new on HBTB for the next two weeks. I’ll be back to the regular schedule on March 11th.

But don’t worry!  If you miss me, you can follow my experience on Twitter and over at my old spirituality blog: Of the Garden Variety.  I’ll be reflecting daily on my classes and what God is stirring up, whatever that may be!

Be sure to follow that blog if you want email updates while I’m away.

You can also sign up for the monthly newsletter to get exclusive updates, book recommendations, suggested meditation exercises, and more.  If you sign up before the end of the month, you’ll get the link to an exclusive guided meditation video for Lent when the newsletter arrives in your inbox.  Newsletters come out the last day of the month. Best part is, it’s free!

Forward Friday: Seek the Hidden Life

This week we’ve been discussing what Lent is all about in the wise words of Henri Nouwen.  We’ve looked at being ready, returning to God and our true identity, pursuing the hidden life, and being reconciled both to God and to others.

There are so many ways we could use what we learned this week to move forward toward a holistic body theology.  But this weekend, let’s focus on what we need first to get it all started.

Seek the hidden life.

There are all sorts of ways we can pursue the hidden life that Jesus modeled for us. This weekend, look for opportunities to choose the hidden life over the praise of the world.

Here are some ideas:

  • Make an anonymous donation.
  • Get up early or in the middle of the night for some alone time with God, and don’t share your experience with anyone.
  • Put a rubber band around your wrist and take a moment to pray (without anyone noticing) every time you notice it’s there throughout the day.  If anyone asks about the rubber band, just tell them it’s there in case you need it.
  • Perform a random act of kindness when no one is around to see or thank you.  This could be anything from running the dishwasher to picking up trash on the sidewalk.
  • Fast something. Whether it’s for Lent, for the weekend, or for a day, give something up, and make sure no one notices except you and God.

 

Reconciliation and the Hidden Life

 

On Monday, we looked at an excerpt from Henri Nouwen‘s Sabbatical Journey and unpacked some of his reflections about Lent.  We focused more on the beginning and end of the passage, but today I really want to focus on what he says in the middle.

Jesus stressed the hidden life.  Whether we give alms, pray, or fast, we are able to do it in a hidden way, not to be praised by people but to enter into closer communion with God. Lent is a time of returning to God. It is a time to confess how we keep looking for joy, peace, and satisfaction in the many people and things surrounding us, without really finding what we desire.  Only God can give us what we want.  So we must be reconciled with God, as Paul says, and let that reconciliation be the basis of our relationship with others.

I always love how honest Nouwen is about what it’s like to be human.  He acknowledges all our fallen nature, our pride and guilt and selfishness and all the rest, yet he uses his own vulnerability to draw us into closer relationship with the Divine.

How often I fail at living the “hidden life” Jesus modeled for us.  How easily I am distracted and motivated by the praise the world gives.  How quickly I stray from the one thing I want.  The psalmist calls it an undivided heart.  John calls it remaining in God.  Nouwen calls it communion with God.

It is only when we are living this hidden life that we are able to be in right relationship with others.  It is only when we acknowledge our need for and accept God’s forgiveness that we are able to acknowledge our need for and ask for forgiveness from others or give them our forgiveness, even if they do not ask or acknowledge the need.

Lent is a time for reconciling ourselves to God and to others (not to mention to ourselves) so that when Easter morning comes, we are fully able to understand and celebrate the event that forever reconciled the world to God.

This process is big and important. It is difficult. It requires humility and honesty, vulnerability and transparency.  It requires intention and space.

But the good news is, reconciliation starts with God, and with God, it is already finished!

 

That Loving Embrace

I’ve gotten in the habit of reading at significant moments of the church year the book Eternal Seasons: A Spiritual Journey Through the Church’s Year, a collection of writings from Henri Nouwen associated with the different times of the church year.

As always, Nouwen’s writings have the uncanny ability to focus my scattered thoughts and emotions and say exactly what I want to say about Lent:

I am certainly not ready for Lent yet.  Christmas seems just behind us, and Lent seems an unwelcome guest. I could have used a few more weeks to get ready for this season of repentance, prayer, and preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus…

Jesus stressed the hidden life.  Whether we give alms, pray, or fast, we are able to do it in a hidden way, not to be praised by people but to enter into closer communion with God. Lent is a time of returning to God.  It is a time to confess how we keep looking for joy, peace, and satisfaction in the many people and things surrounding us, without really finding what we desire.  Only God can give us what we want.  So we must be reconciled with God, as Paul says, and let that reconciliation be the basis of our relationship with others.  Lent is a time of refocusing, of re-entering the place of truth, of reclaiming our true identity.

Two things most striking to me about this passage from Sabbatical Journey.

1) He admits he’s not ready for Lent.  I love this honesty! It gives me the freedom to admit that I’m not ready for it, either.  For all my efforts to slow down, rest, and develop a rhythm of life that creates space for the contemplative life I am pursuing, I find myself continually distracted by unnecessary things, preoccupied by the demands of the moment, and anxious about things that don’t really matter.  It’s nice to know Lent can sneak up on even the best of us.

2) He defines Lent as the time for returning to God and reclaiming our true identity.  The image that comes to mind is God with arms outstretched and a huge smile, eagerly awaiting my return to that loving embrace.  I sense that God is excited about this time of year when we take time out of our day to call our wandering attention to the presence of God around us and within us, still knocking, patiently waiting for us to open the door.

It is only when we are safely in this loving embrace, flinging the door wide open and saying, “come on in,” that we are able to experience ourselves both as fully known and fully knowable.  We are finally able to recognize ourselves as the beloved children of God, welcomed into the family as we all prepare together for the coming of Easter.

So maybe you’re not feeling ready for this season either.  Maybe you’ve been distracted and rushed and overwhelmed.  Well then, you’re not alone!  You’ve got 36 more days to reconcile yourself to God and prepare for the death and resurrection of Jesus.  You’ve got 36 more days to remember who you are, whose you are, and return to the loving embrace of the One who has been waiting for you all along.

Forward Friday: YOU define body theology

I’ve been thinking all week about Isherwood’s definition of body theology as created through the body rather than about the body.  Our tendency is to relate to our bodies as something “other,” as a separate entity that is not the same as our “self.”  As Isherwood says elsewhere in that chapter, our language betrays our perspective when we say that we have bodies rather than that we are bodies.

This weekend, take some time to reflect and perhaps journal on the following question:

How do YOU define body theology?

This question is more than a cognitive exercise in generating a pithy statement about what you believe the term “body theology” means or what the phrase evokes in you, though these are of course useful exercises as well.  What I’m really asking here, what I’m encouraging you to ask yourselves this weekend, is this:

How does who you are as a mind-body-spirit being, designed by and created in the image of the Divine Being who defies all category and definition (including age, race, and gender), and believer in and follower of the way of the incarnate, flesh-and-blood, living-and-breathing, dwelling-among-us, crucified-and-resurrected Emmanuel (which means God-with-us) — how do YOU define body theology? 

How is body theology defined through the unique physical human being only YOU can be?  What does your experience of being alive in your own skin bring to the table? What does your body teach us about who God is and about who we are as the community of God?  How is God made manifest in and through you that is only possible because you are a bundle of tangible flesh?

This is a big question.

Open yourself up to the possibilities presented by this kind of approach to theological reflection.  Really sit with the reality God reveals to you.  Write it down or talk through your experience with a trusted friend.

Then come back and share in the comment box below.  What came up for you as you meditated on these questions?

What is body theology? another definition

This week we’re exploring the various definitions of body theology out there.  Read HBTB’s definition of body theology. Read James B. Nelson’s definition from Monday.

Now let’s consider an excerpt from Introducing Body Theology by Lisa Isherwood and Elizabeth Stuart. Take some time to read and reflect on the passages below.

[B]ody theology…creates theology through the body and not about the body.  Working through the body is a way of ensuring that theories do not get written on the bodies of “others” who then become marginalized and objects of control. It is also a way of deconstructing the concept of truth that Christianity used to hold so many falsehoods in place.  Once one moves from the notion that there is absolute truth into which the bodies of people have to fit, the way is open to begin questioning and we soon realize that truth is not the issue in relation to prescriptions about the body, but power.  Christian history shows us the extent to which power has been exerted over bodies in the name of divine truth and the crippling results.  If the body is given the space and power to speak what will be the consequences for both the body and theology?

… Body politics have exposed the underlying power games at work in sexuality and society and by so doing have become a source of inspiration and liberation for many.  Christianity is an incarnational religion that claims to set captives free, it tells us it is a religion of liberation.  Yet it underpins many of the restrictive practices that body politics expose.  In some cases Christianity has been the instigator of these practices because of its dualistic vision of the world.

The questions being posed in our time are to do with the body, that of the world as well as the individual.  Can body politics ever become body theology in a truly radical and transforming way?  This might mean for example, that the Christian religion…risk taking the bodies of women seriously as sites of revelation in the creation of theology….That it develop a sexual ethic that takes seriously the desire of all and integrates it into a mutual and freeing celebration of embodiment.

…The Christian faith tells us that redemption is brought through the incarnation of God. A redemption that could not be wished or just thought, even by God herself, she had to be enfleshed.  Therefore, it can be argued that until the body is liberated from the patriarchal ties that bind it, many of which have been set in place by Christianity, creation will never understand the truly liberating power of incarnation.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  React to and engage with the quotation above in the comment box below.

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