Thursday, March 6, 2014
OK--so here's how it works for me: there are three interconnected pieces to the practice that I find meaningful. First, I love chocolate--I mean, really, really love it. I eat it every day, usually more than once a day, and it's a go-to reward/pick-me-up/consolation prize--you name it. So, it's a genuine sacrifice for me not to eat it for 6 weeks or so. Am I replicating Jesus' sacrifice on the cross? No, I am not--and, regardless of what you are doing, neither are you--that's not the point. Rather, giving up chocolate is way of reminding myself that God comes first in my life, before anything else; and this "giving up" of something I desire is a form of offering something that I love up to God. And at the same time, it offers me the opportunity to reflect intentionally on all my desires, being honest with myself about the ways they deepen and enhance my relationships with God and others, and the ways they obstruct or weaken them.
And this leads to the second piece: every time I think about chocolate or see chocolate or miss eating chocolate--and from my vantage point, that is quite frequently!--I'm reminded of God and this Lenten walk, and I'm prompted to say a brief prayer of gratitude for the food I do have, or a prayer of intercession for those who go hungry. So, with the removal of a daily act that often is quite mindless [popping a piece of chocolate in my mouth as I'm walking out the door and talking on the phone], space has been created for a more mindful connection with God and with others.
Finally, the last piece of this practice is that it gives me a chance to put a little more in the offering plate each week. I'm not breaking the bank with my chocolate consumption and I'm not actually doing the math--calculating what I'm not spending each week and so on--so I don't want to overstate this. It's really more about connecting my "giving up" with a concrete "giving to" my neighbor, connecting a "taking away" with a "giving back."
So, there it is. Say what you will: giving up chocolate for Lent may be superficial, it may be childish, and there may be a dozen things I could do that would be "better"--that may all be true. Nevertheless, I have come to truly value--even look forward to--this practice, and I plan to keep it.
Ultimately, though, I think what is most important is finding a Lenten practice that really works for you in the particular time and place you find yourself this year. One of the things I love most about Lent is that it provides the structure and explicit invitation to a more intentional engagement with one's faith in a way that manifests itself in concrete practices in the world. Of course, I could take on any number of spiritual disciplines any time of the year, but mostly I don't, so I treasure Lent for carving out the time and place for spiritual reflection and discipline, and offering what I find to be an irresistible invitation to these practices year after year. I hope you do, too.
And six weeks from now, I'll be the one at the Easter Vigil with the chocolate in her purse, waiting for the joyous proclamation that "He is Risen!"
Monday, February 24, 2014
You may, as a Christian, believe homosexuality is a sin. And you may, as a Christian, marshal biblical and theological arguments to support that belief. I know those texts, I know those arguments, and I understand the resulting theological opinion. [Just to be clear, I do disagree with it, however: I believe that gays and lesbians are sinners in exactly the same way heterosexuals are sinners--by virtue of our common sinful human nature, not by virtue of whom they love.]
However, what is entirely illegitimate is to take that belief one step further, and argue, on religious grounds, your right not to serve gays and lesbians. This is what has happened in Arizona: read the story here--http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/21/us/arizona-anti-gay-bill/
The opening line of the story says it all: "Arizona's Legislature has passed a controversial bill that would allow business owners, as long as they assert their religious beliefs, to deny service to gay and lesbian customers."
Here's the problem. While Jesus didn't say anything explicitly about gays and lesbians, he did have a great deal to say about one's neighbor and the obligation a Christian has in regards to her neighbor. In a word, that obligation is love. Let's take just two of the most famous examples. First, in the Gospel of Matthew, a lawyer asks Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” [Matthew 22:36-40]. The second example comes from the Gospel of John, in the hours before Jesus’ arrest.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
However, the other thing that I firmly believe is that all women should have the same access to both birth control and abortion facilities, regardless of their economic situation; and this is why this post in The New Yorker is so unsettling:
As the author notes, issues of race and class are involved in who gets abortions--not least because of who has access to reliable birth control--and where/how they get them. I was particularly disturbed to read that women in Texas who can't make a 500 mile trip to the nearest clinic choose must travel into Mexico to buy a drug that has dangerous side-effects as the only alternative.
We were just talking in one of my classes about Hinduism, and my students were uniformly [and rightly] critical of the caste system, which oppresses so many people--particularly women--in India still today. However, they also recognized that even though we don't have an "official" caste system here [and, to be fair, India doesn't either, having legally abolished it in the Indian constitution in 1949], we still have a deeply unjust social system that discriminates against both people of color and people who are poor. So, in the case of abortion, which is legal in this country and thus should be available to anyone, but in actuality is vulnerable to a wide range of restrictive legislation, we find ourselves with a two-tier system in which the white privileged group has access to safe health care, and the minority underserved group lacks that access.
This also is a theological issue: regardless of whether or not you think abortion should or should not be legal, it certainly is unjust to have it available only for those who have money and status. If women have the right to make decisions about their own bodies, then all women have that right, not just wealthy women. And if women have the right to choose whether or not they want children, then all women have that right, not just white women. Forcing women in poverty to have children when they have neither the desire nor the means to care for them isn't justice, it's surrogacy; and if we want ourselves and our own daughters/wives/sisters/mothers to have access to a safe abortion if [unfortunately] we/they ever need it, then we need to make sure that same access is available for everyone's daughters/wives/sisters/mothers, regardless of their skin color, where they live, or how much money they have.
Friday, February 14, 2014
I have been thinking a lot the past two weeks about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s shocking drug overdose, especially after being in San Antonio with my friend Adrienne--we talked about it quite a bit. I'm still trying to process the whole thing, really. According to one article, Hoffman first entered rehab back when he was 22, and then stayed sober for two decades before relapsing two years ago. He went back into rehab last May, but obviously, it didn’t take: he died with a needle in his arm and reportedly 50 bags of heroin nearby.
I am not addicted to drugs or alcohol myself, nor have I ever lived with anyone who is/was, so I admit to having an entirely outsider’s perspective on this. From that vantage point, I confess to being shocked that someone could be drug-free for 20 years—20 years!—and still be at risk enough to be able to slip back into such destructive, painful behavior—even unto death. How was he not able to develop different coping strategies, alternative stress-releases, a stronger support network? Why wasn’t twenty years enough to kick the habit for good?
The only way I can make sense of this—even a little bit—is through the theological lens of sin, and the language the church uses to describe how we are captive to behaviors that we hate, irresistibly drawn to words and deeds that tear down and destroy—and on top of it, powerless to free ourselves from them. Particularly in a Lutheran understanding, sin is not something we can overcome by working hard, avoiding temptation, or thinking good thoughts. It is inextricably in us, and taints all of what we do and all of what we say. We can’t get away from it, and every single one of us lives with it every single day.
And yet, at the same time, we are responsible for sin—heroin doesn’t inject itself—and we willfully and consciously make awful choices, and we do and say horrific things, even while knowingfull well their consequences. Whether we are addicts or not, we all have had the experience of making a really, really bad decision—with full awareness and deliberation—and suffering greatly because of it. We cheat, we steal, we lie, we have affairs, we live beyond our means, we exploit others, and all kinds of cruel words drip from our lips daily. Why do we do those things? Why can’t we stop? And so when you really pause and think about it, aren’t we all “addicted” in some way? It seems to me that addiction is a metaphor that accurately and vividly describes the experience of being “in bondage to sin.”
Late last week, someone sent me an article Russell Brand had written about his own addiction—and let me say, I had low expectations [I hadn’t read anything by him before]! However, Iwas amazed at the depth and honesty of his reflections—and unsettled by the stark power heroin still wields in his life, even as he is 10 years sober. He begins the article by noting that even though he has been drug-free for a decade, the last time he thought about heroin was “yesterday.” And resisting what is still seductively alluring to him requires “constant vigilance”—“incredible support and fastidious structuring.” You can find the article here: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/mar/09/russell-brand-life-without-drugs.
So what to do? Clearly, I have no great new words of wisdom, no fresh insights to share: I wish I did. The only thing that seems very important to me to reiterate in the face of the debilitating addictions that compromise the lives of so many people is the enduring power of a community of love: a community made up of people who are deeply aware of their own vulnerability and powerlessness; people who don’t judge—but also don’t offer “cheap grace;” people who have the patience and courage to abide with the addict in her moments of doubt and weakness, until the desire for the escape, the high, the calm, the oblivion drugs provide passes. In short, the power of the body of Christ. The church has a bad reputation as being the home of judgmental goody-two shoes, a place where only the squeaky clean need apply. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth; and in fact, the church is the place where those most aware of their sinfulness gather, because they know more than anyone their need for God’s forgiveness and grace, and for their sisters’ and brothers’ love and kindness.
Monday, February 3, 2014
Saturday, February 1, 2014
I have been thinking so much about issues of race [and gender, and class] these past few weeks, and especially this week, as I helped lead the Anti-Racism Workshop on campus, and then had my first day of 21st Century Theologies of Liberation. It's so hard to talk about diversity--especially in a context where there is precious little of it: people quickly get defensive, and just want to "move on"--aren't we over this by now? We aren't, of course, and our lack of ability to talk about it not only diminishes our ability to stand in both solidarity and friendship with others, but also diminishes our theology, as we refuse to allow ourselves to hear deeply and be transformed by the concerns of others.
Related to this, I'm also concerned about how the lack of constructive conversation around both race and gender contribute to the lack of constructive conversation about bodies--those of you who read this blog know how much I care about that! Theology is embodied, and when we leave the particulars of our bodies out of the conversation, we promote the lie that our thinking with/talking about/relationship with God only involves our minds--or our "spirits" [whatever that means, as though there were some disembodied "spirit" we could identify]--and thus, concern for our own bodies, and the bodies of others, has no place in "real" theology. That is simply not true: God cares about our bodies--after all, God made them and called them "good," in all the shapes, sizes and colors in which they come--so we should care about them, too.
In her Facebook post, Mary highlighted the phrase "color-amazed world," which came from this sentence: "I yearn, not for a color-blind world, but for a color-amazed world where distinctiveness and diversity aren’t washed out but are noticed and treasured as God’s gracious gift."
Isn't that a fabulous phrase? Even more, isn't that a fabulous image of the Kingdom of God?
Monday, January 20, 2014
I just finished reading this interesting Huffington Post piece
where the author offers a list of seven criterion by which you might evaluate whether or not you are a "Martin Luther King, Jr. kind of Christian." Here they are, without the supporting King quotes:
1. Does your faith encourage an active and prophetic stance towards creating justice in this world; or does it explicitly or implicitly encourage a complacency towards inequality here on earth with the idea that faith is more spiritual than social and that it will all work out in the afterlife?
2. Does your faith affirm the fundamental dignity and worth of all people and reject any claims of superiority, ether explicit or implicit, based on identities including race, religion, sexuality, gender, class or nationality?
3. Does your faith encourage critical examination of the context and deeper meanings of teachings and scriptures and is it open to continued revelation of eternal truths that come with new knowledge, instead of a fundamentalism that idolizes the past?
4. Does your faith promote non-violence, and believe that war is only to be used as a last choice or not at all? Does your faith confronts and rejects any teachings that might cause anyone to act with violence or incite rage or hatred towards others?
5. Does your faith further interfaith cooperation and empower your ability to feel compassion for the suffering of those who are different from you and see the wider interconnected responsibility of the human family instead of caring only about and for those in your immediate group?
6. Does your faith promote social justice and equality as well as individual charity as both integral parts of the Gospel?
7. Is your faith grounded first and foremost in love, and do you believe that love, not dogma or judgment, is the defining characteristic of God?
Christian faith isn't meant to be kept under lock and key, trotted out only on Sunday mornings as a means to reassure ourselves of our good standing before God and then put safely away for the rest of the week. Our faith is vibrant and dynamic--it wants to get out there and do something, both to glorify God and serve our neighbor. It is in this loving activity in the world that faith finds its meaning--not that we are saved by that activity, or that we get heavenly bonus points or bragging rights for that activity, but rather that we both experience and show forth the transformation worked in us by the power of the Holy Spirit as we are conformed to Christ, who lives in us. It's a faith that's not just for Sundays, but for every single day of our lives; not just for ourselves but for others.