Women in Ministry or Women in Silence?

Reposted from another blog of mine should someone think I “lifted it” :-):

A couple posts ago, I wondered if Scripture was contradictory, especially with Paul’s proclaiming of Jesus’ Gospel of inclusion. Apparently, I jumped the gun and didn’t read far enough. I’m so grateful for women who do exegesis so I don’t have to. Here is an excellent series (Parts One, Two, and Three) about Women in Ministry and particularly the explication of the problematic passage about women keeping silent in church found in 1 Corinthians. The posts and subsequent comments by readers are excellent. Thanks Tia!!


Church and God’s Comfort During Suffering

Almost everyone I know asks where God is when we suffer. Today, I was asked this very question. I don’t know the answer, but I think this woman has an outlook that I think comes closest to what I’ve come to believe over the years. She writes of the guilt she doesn’t feel over her son’s chronic illness and how she is supposed to reconcile that with Psalm 91:

I am left with this: This experience belongs to everyone it touches: The illness itself is my son’s path to walk, his burden to bear. Our family’s path lies in learning new ways of living with each other through sorrow and concern and changed expectations. Our path lies in developing bonds that strengthen our relationships, finding ways to accommodate the emotions and reactions that come when a beloved members lives with chronic illness. I don’t know where God is in all that, but I am confident that there is a God, and that God is really, really big. Bigger than the bible, bigger than the church, bigger than Christianity. Big enough and good enough to provide meaning for our existence, even if it’s not in Psalm 91.

This has been on my mind lately and especially so this morning as I trotted off to church with my bible.Yep, I bit the bullet and went to church. Taking the stance that church is just ONE aspect of my faith and not the be-all and end-all of faith has helped me deal with the disappointment that I have had in other Christians (as I’m sure they have with me as well). I realized that new believers are set up to rely way too much on other Christians in the church. The real never lives up to the ideal in my opinion. But I’ve noticed that the farther away I get from the institution, the more my spiritual vision clears and I can accept them for what they are and for what I am; completely imperfect, but completely accepted by God anyway. Taking it a step further (something other Christians should do, but don’t), I realize that I am just as untrustworthy as any other Christian in the church. I have failed to keep my commitments, but I also refuse to beat myself up over it any more.

Friday afternoon, I had lunch with the pastor I’ve mentioned in my blog previously. It was a very nice lunch and I think we put our relationship back on friends status. I’m glad. I’m sure she’s glad. I saw her today and honestly I feel no more animosity. I wonder where the bitterness came from before, but maybe it’s always necessary to step away from the situation to see it properly. A trial separation in relationships is always good. Obviously, some churches are very abusive and we should flee from those. But, this situation was as much my doing as theirs. So can you say “heaps of burning coals?” I came to Sunday school this morning and the love and warmth I received from the people there was overwhelming. Remember I had resigned my membership and am no longer on the rolls. It didn’t matter. I hugged and was hugged. I worshiped. I studied. We laughed and exchanged prayer requests. It felt mighty darn good. Am I setting myself up for a fall? Perhaps. Do I think all my problems will be over? Nope. I’m sure there will be disagreements and other run-ins, but I feel so at home there. It was such a relief to be back. I’m strong enough now to hold to my beliefs and convictions. This church honestly does not try to change your opinion, they just have strong ones of their own and aren’t ashamed to speak them out loud. But that’s the risk we take in forming and maintaining relationships. I think now, wiser and mentally healthier, I’m ready to take on that responsibility. Like the post quoted above says:

I don’t know where God is in all that, but I am confident that there is a God, and that God is really, really big. Bigger than the bible, bigger than the church, bigger than Christianity. Big enough and good enough to provide meaning for our existence…

Blessings to You,

Everyone Needs an Ark, But Not All Are in the Same Boat

I’ve mentioned before that I work in a large church. When I tell people this they usually look skeptical and wonder what it is I DO all day! After all, the church must sit empty 6 days a week right? Well, that’s what I thought when I signed on 7 years ago, but I’m here to tell you, I earn my not too insubstantial pay. We are open 8-5 every day, Mon-Fri. The phones ring all day long and outside groups meet here every day of the week. We have weddings, funerals, and other life marking events. We have homeless people coming in for money and we have workmen going about the daily business of repairing the roof, the air conditioning, the water damage from the leaks. You name it, someone’s repairing it. I kind of like the thought that we are here for people to stop by and chat after a meeting or ladies group. I know some of these people better than those at my own church where I live. It’s sad when they die and it’s joyful when they marry.

Just today, one of the pastors was discussing this Sunday’s reading about Noah and the ark with me. He said that he learned an old joke in seminary. With all of the animals and all the people on the ark, there must have been quite a smell going on. He said, the joke was, “If it weren’t for the storm without, they couldn’t have withstood the stench within.” Funny as that is, he said, the church is like that as well. I had to laugh because it is sooooo true. Most people who find no shelter from the storms in their lives find a good port in the church, regardless of the “stink.” I think I’m beginning to realize this is true. Despite what we have to put up with in church; the hypocrisy, the gossip, the petty arguments about buildings and meetings, etc., it’s still better than being in the world outside, which practices the same things only on a more vicious scale. I’m not saying we sanction abuse or that we ignore abuse. I’m not saying that we put up with mega-maniacal pastors and pastors that suck the congregation dry of resources. Clearly this is not what Jesus meant by community. But there are pockets of sanity out there. I happen to work in one and if it weren’t for these people, I would have given up on it long ago.

God knows I’ve tried to. I’ve been angry. I’ve yelled. I’ve thrown tantrums and berated others. I’ve not been a good friend. I’ve used people and I’ve not followed through on my promises. I’ve come to realize that being a Christian and going to church is VERY MUCH like being married. My marriage analogy on another web site seemed to be a particularly good fit and was effortless to write at the time because it rang so true. But also like a marriage, someone always gives up first. True, it always has to be us that does it in Christian circles. Rarely, do both parties work on the marriage at the same time and save all concerned from a divorce. In fact, the “church” is notorious for its love it or leave it attitude. The problem is always the individual never the system. That’s how you smell true bureaucracy. But, where I work, I see reconciliation going on all the time. Where I work, I see love and a whole lot of wisdom being dispensed by pastors who genuinely care. We have such a great time here, that I wonder why all churches can’t function this way. And it’s also the number one reason why I can’t give up on the church I attended in my home town. If it happens here, there’s hope for it.

We’ll see how it turns out. I’m not rushing back into church or anything, but I’ve gotten little signs that perhaps I should take a look. I’m wiser now. I’m not so naive. And, I’m hopeful. It’s a port in my storm. Sure, it stinks sometimes, but I’m not strong enough to ally with those in the world who claim they have your best interests at heart but are really only in it for the ideology or the identity politics involved. In some ways that’s how the church and the “world” are alike. But in a lot of other ways, they couldn’t be more different. I think I really do need my ark.

“Squishy Things Called Emotions”

In my quest to find God, there have been numerous instances of my shifting sides, going from one extreme to the other, questioning my allegiances. Most of them, however, have to do with religion and the institutional church than it does with the question of God’s existence. I think I’ve always assumed God existed, even from childhood. I don’t remember being taught to pray, but I did it a lot! I don’t remember ever learning a dogma of any kind, so I never thought of it. It’s almost as if I was led by God to come to the point where I could accept the love of Jesus. Emotion you say? Why of course it is. And that is precisely the argument David Brooks uses in his article “Neural Buddhists” to explain why atheism will never undermine belief in God. Belief in the bible will be challenged, but belief in God will go on. Studies of the brain show that humans are not the computers scientists think we are. Brooks believes that

If you survey the literature (and I’d recommend books by Newberg, Daniel J. Siegel, Michael S. Gazzaniga, Jonathan Haidt, Antonio Damasio and Marc D. Hauser if you want to get up to speed), you can see that certain beliefs will spread into the wider discussion.

First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions. Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love. Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.

In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate. The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It’s going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism.

Brooks goes on to say that Buddhism is the only belief system that allows for transcendence without laws or revelation and that may be so. There are many good principles in Buddhism. But in reality, what adherents forget is that Buddhism is just another religion with rules and regulations like any other religion. Faithful Buddhists decry this religious aspect of their beliefs just as some Christians and Jews and Muslims denounce the institutional aspects of theirs. The only difference is that Buddhism does not posit a personal interactive God who cares about the world and everyone in it. Personally, I find it fascinating that the religions that claim God personally cares for us and interacts with humankind and carries out the wishes of the faithful are the same religions that espouse apocalypticism and have practiced ethnic cleansing in their own histories. Conversely, even though Buddhism has also been somewhat institutionalized, its emphasis on self-realization or self-transcendence has not led to such activity. So, it follows logically that the more personal one’s religious God is, the more that that God thinks and acts like petulant human beings. Perhaps Brooks is right in that the next evolutionary step to believing in the Divine is the de-personalization of one’s God.

I’m not sure people are ready to give up that idea.I’m not sure how Jews and Muslims deal with their own ideas of a personal God, but as a Christian is was extremely attractive to me to think that God deals personally with each of us through prayer and supplication (2 Kings 20:5); that God died personally in our stead, for our sins (Romans 5:6). While I am not a big fan of institutional Christianity, I do know that stripping Jesus Christ of his deity, disconnecting the man/prophet from his God, and stripping God of all semblance of personality will never “play in Peoria” as they say. I see it as a good thing that people are starting to wake up to the fact that Christianity, the religion, is just another big business that makes some pastors rich and defeats the purpose of the spirituality of loving one’s neighbor. Unlike some, however, I’m not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I’ve met people made better by faith and I’ve met people who made themselves

Why I Keep Coming Back to Faith and Religion

Because there’s nothing else more interesting to talk about, that’s why. Politics you say?

Politics is boring and means nothing in the long run. Obama will win the presidency and things will go on as they always have; the rich get richer, the middle class will still exist from paycheck to paycheck, while the poor in this country will starve as millions of dollars go overseas to enhance the coffers of corrupt regimes.But HEY, we can “dialogue” with those corrupt regimes and all will be swell. What’s so new about that? We have no part in this process and to paraphrase Obama, the reason I turn to religion is because there ‘ain’t nothing else to take my ‘flustrations’ out on, ‘ya know?’ Well, I agree. Without my religious studies, I’ve become downright BORING!! Without scriptures to study, I have no interest in studying ANYTHING! At what point do you stop fighting and go with the flow?

But seriously, I don’t think losing one’s religion is all that exciting. In fact, my struggles to define my faith have provided some of the juiciest moments in my life. My struggles with people in church has been the most rewarding. It occurred to me that, while I have been making a show of looking for another job, I have long forgotten why I took my present job to begin with. I was sick of academia, sick of politics inside the university, sick of the state system that sucks you dry and leaves you with nothing. I took the job I am in now because it’s freedom personified. This church taught me that there is freedom to believe, freedom of movement, freedom of thought and leisure time outside of work. Yes, and freedom to believe the way I want to. I don’t have to pretend that I believe the party line. I also realized that I am far from a humble person. My chief sin in life is pride. I take so much pride in myself sometimes that I can’t see what a shitty job I’m actually doing at my workplace. I feed off the office gossip. I revel in talking about people needlessly. Let’s face it, there are always some people that we work with or that we know that make us worse persons not better ones. I am also touchy about being acknowledged for my accomplishments, whatever those may be. I have an inflated sense of self-importance and for some reason, and I’m always thinking that moving elsewhere will take care of all that. Says who? I will just take my shitty attitude with me somewhere else. How long before I start moaning over there?

On another point, I’m not sure who commented here on the blog about the fact that my dreaming about my former pastor is perhaps a step toward nudging me to reconciliation. What keeps us (read: me) from taking those steps? Pride of course. Insistence that I was completely right and she was completely wrong. Insistence that I knew better than she did about church matters. Pride in my importance and in my perceived role in the church. It’s the mistaken notion that I was a valued member when really, I was probably the patsy to bring the axe down. I actually wrote the pastor an email this morning acknowledging my complicity in the church ganging up on her at the Pastoral Relations meeting fiasco that started it all. I could lay the blame at the church’s feet because they did spur me on, but afterwards I felt about 1/2 inch tall. Who was I to be spokesperson and “correct” others? Yet, I spent hours on the phone listening to complaints so that I could exercise that spirit of correction on their behalf. So, why do I feel so shitty about it? I also actually miss her company, even though she had some things to repent of as well. But you know what? I’m not good at reconciliation. I’m only good for breaking off what doesn’t work for me.

So, I think I will refocus, with a new and improved lens, my study of religion and my nurturing of my own spirituality in whatever form that comes in. If it’s in the bible, great. If it’s in the Upanishads, who cares? I’m done fighting the unwinnable fight about dogma and doctrine and truth claims that can never be proven. Dogma’s neither here nor there anyway. It’s all about how we allow grace to flow through our relationships isn’t it? I need to learn to keep the tap of grace flowing through me and not allow it to stop with me. I’m spiritually clogged. If I want to keep the bible as my spiritual Drane-O then who does it hurt? 🙂 Blessings!

Strange Disconnect Between God and Jesus

In the past, over at De-Conversion blog, I’ve wrestled with God and the issues of pain477px-jacob_wrestling_with_the_angel.jpg and suffering and evil and conflict. I have come away from such discussions believing that the God of the Jewish scriptures is not the same God that Jesus knew or prayed to. Yesterday, I wrote about my affinity for Jesus and what that means for me today, as if Jesus is another being entirely from this God. And I believe he is. I believe he is the ultimate expression of an unknowable entity we call God.

Strangely, the whole of my life as a believer, there’s been this strange disconnect between the Christian concepts and explanations of God and this Jesus of Nazareth. Although Christians emphasize that God and Jesus are One and that this God is the same as He was in times past, I tend to separate them out into a kind of bad cop/good cop scenario. God, for me, has always been that great step-father in the sky, one who is really only looking for ways to fuck up your life, to make it harder to live normally (not that I couldn’t do as good a job myself). Jesus, on the other hand, was kind of like your big brother who protects you from the monster in the house. I’ve never thought much of trying to reconcile the God of Jewish scriptures and His inexplicable behavior because frankly for Christians, it’s pretty clear that the New Testament superseded the Old Covenant. It has too, or well, you might as well convert to Judaism. The Jewish God is far removed from the God of Jesus and Paul. Jesus was accessible. Jesus, I could relate to.

Now I know to other Christians this is weird behavior/belief on my part, but why does anyone believe anything anyway? Because it’s a comfort. Because they want to. They can justify all kinds of strange theology and they have! So when I separate Jesus from the Father, it’s a safety and comfort issue for me. It’s also because I’ve never really believed Christian explanations about how this God acts in the world. His behavior, as Christians tell it, is inconsistent and incoherent, so there must be a reason for it. No wonder non-believers scoff. I would and have scoffed as well! And the reason this God is inconsistent is that the Jewish writers of the scriptures presented God as they saw Him at the time. This image of Him did indeed evolve over the years, just as the Jewish people have evolved. The concept of God as seen through Christian eyes has also evolved over the years. I believe that God is so remote and far removed from the world that He is a being you go to with the monumental things and only then very, very sparingly and with much trepidation. God will not intervene in human affairs. He only did that once in Jesus. There is no guarantee you will be heard or even noticed with this God. Jesus, you can go to anytime, anywhere. It’s kind of like those Catholics who approach God only through Mary, so she can pave the way first, soften the blow. I get around the inconsistencies by knowing that God probably doesn’t hear. That’s Jesus’ job.

Now, I know that some will think this theology is “incorrect” and some will try to “reason” their way to a strange consistency between Jesus and God as the same Being, but I cannot equate the two except in purpose only. Nor do I see any evidence that God intervenes. It would seem that Jesus is God’s last statement to the world. The bible is clear that the tulip-flower.jpgactions of one do not jibe with the actions of the other. In theology, the five points of Calvinism has always suited me because of the concept that God knows the end from the beginning and not only knows it, but wills it completely. It fits in with Deism nicely. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, this concept of God’s knowing and willing history from the beginning is accepted, albeit, not in the Calvinistic sense, but in the sense that it is useless to speculate why God would require the sacrifice of His son to appease Himself. It was willed. End of discussion. All other speculations are moot. In other words, all of history was part of God’s program from the get-go. We don’t know why or how and it really doesn’t matter. We just know that it is.

Now reconciling all this with free-will does not concern me much either because I don’t believe free-will exists in any sense of the term that we define it now. There are so many variables at play in scientific terms that no one could logically infer a cause/effect from any set of actions let alone from a specific God-action. It’s far too complex. However, a Being such as God could reconcile it. In a way, this is entirely freeing. Sure, it doesn’t answer why some of us live such hard lives to the point that we feel we are being punished for something, but you can ask “why?” until the cows come home. You’re just not going to get an answer. At some point you have to make peace with the fact that there is no answer in human terms. Why do some people believe and some don’t? Why are some murderers who come from perfectly fine households and some who grow up in hell become saints? Some make peace with these dichotomies by giving up on the question. Some make peace by accepting all that is as a mystery. Still others make peace by continually raging against the machine. I’d like to thank hughvic over at De-conversion blog for not only injecting some fun and humorous dialogue into dreary debates demanding “logic,” (with little humor), but also for throwing a new word my way that has helped me make peace once and for all. The word is “fideism.”

In fideistic thinking, (especially my fondness for Kierkegaard’s way of thinking on faith) no amount of reasoning will get you to God. By the same token, I would posit, that no amount of reasoning will get you to a consistent Christian theology either. There are times when I can see that only individual elements of theology may be true, but taken as a whole they appear ridiculous and irreconcilable. Even I can figure that one out! But the God of the Old Covenant is one of those concepts that just needs to be left alone. Since I’m not an inerrantist, I don’t believe that the bible paints a necessarily accurate picture of God all the time. All it shows us is how the Jewish concept of God has changed through the centuries,stained_glass_pip0_fm08_wy4y_b4h1_ecg9_vph4_e3cs_zq0w_93b6_v79r_8r4n_vvcd_lkra_rhfg_ghj4_548x_j0bh_qvf7_9oto_hfcm.jpg culminating in Jesus’ concept of God. I think a “picture” of God and His ways will always be beyond our ken and our reach and yes, our reason. I’m fine with that. I’m tired of wrestling with a silent angel. This God neither needs my defense against charges of cruelty any more than this God needs to be extolled to the world as an object of worship. Jesus, for me, embodies all I need to know about this God. Jesus, for me, is all I care to know about such a God. The rest can forever remain a mystery because it doesn’t concern me. All I can hope for is the ultimate justice for the wrongs of the world. That’s what I have faith in. The ultimate “righting” of an off kilter world. Isn’t that all anyone hopes for?