My Cup Runneth Over

January 19, 2009

To the extent that there were Bibles in my life growing up, it was the King James Version all the way. I was a competitive child and wanted to win every contest, including the Bible verse memorization contest at Mt. Zion (the church where my Baptist family goes and my dad grew up). I memorized this verse in this context (along with, amusingly, lots of verses that are not significant at all but were easy to memorize and, thus, win the contest). This passage still speaks to me even though I rewrite it a bit in my head these days.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

I love this for so many reasons. A God that restores my soul. That invites me to lie down in green pastures, and walks with me along still waters and is with me when I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death. I don’t even know really much what a rod and staff are, but reading it in this passage, it just sounds comforting. I always sort of skip over the part about the enemies, and get to the part where God anoints my head with oil. Have you ever had your head anointed with oil? I have, and it makes you feel so special. (As a side note, I tried to figure out a way to incorporate this into a healing service at a UU church a few years ago, but it was just a little too much, I think, for the congregation at the time. I have not given up though.) Surely, I will dwell in God’s house forever. And ever. Sweet. I just love the idea that no matter what I do, or where I go, God has built this house of love around me – full of still waters and pastures and, yes, even valleys of the shadow of death – but in all of this God is with us. It is coming back to these sort of verses – with such a long tradition (I can see myself right now saying this along with my Mammaw and my Dad and my Aunt and all the elders of the church who loved me so much) that I miss Christianity and think maybe I could become Episcopalian. I know I can’t. And won’t. And don’t want to. But sometimes the thought sneaks in.

I thought of this verse now because every once in a while I am just knocked over by how much my cup runneth over. I sit in my nice warm apartment, two cats at my feet and one sleeping on my rocking chair pillow behind my head, eating frosted flakes, drinking tea, with my supportive, kind, lovely partner in the other room. We are both working on our computers – him for his job (we feel so lucky he has one these days) and me for my school in my doctoral program that I am so lucky to be a part of. And I just think, geesh. What a life I live. Full of love. From my friends and my family. A faith community we love. Gosh, it even makes me feel thankful for our neighbors downstairs who are playing very very loud base right now. Ah, the lessons they have taught us about loving your neighbor! It is hard when it is literal and your neighbors are not very lovable. But I suppose the idea was to do it especially to those who are not lovable.

So I am thankful this evening. And, as a side note, procrastinating on a paper that is due. But it doesn’t take away from how thankful I am. And how ashamed I am, sometimes, that I am not able to better be thankful for all that is good in my life instead of focusing on all that is not that good. Gotta work on that. Or even, as they say, pray about it. Give it up. Hand it over. And know that I will fail again and again, but must just keep opening myself up to change and transformation and keep in mind what I wrote about for the New Year. Trying harder isn’t always the way to go. So, maybe I will not try harder to be thankful, but see if I wait, and walk in green pastures and beside still waters, listen, rest, praise, and worship… maybe my thankfulness and gratitude have been there, and I just need to be able to see it and let it wash over me.

Or something like that.

Much peace, E


The Rick Warren Bru-ha-ha

December 20, 2008

I am of two minds on the Rick Warren matter.

My first reaction is to say, “Look, I don’t like the guy either. I don’t agree with his theology. I don’t agree with his politics. But it isn’t like he was chosen to be the minister-in-chief or something. He is giving an invocation. I know it has a lot of symbolic meaning, but it doesn’t have any practical consequences in and of itself. It is a gesture of the president elect to say, ‘I am not a president only to progressives or to liberals, but a president to the whole country.’ And, there are big parts of the country that can identify with Rev. Rick Warren. And, as conservative evangelical pastors go, he is one of the less offensive ones who has at least made some overtures toward changing the tone of the rhetoric. My hope is that it is a gesture that will soften the hearts of those who would tend to be more opposed to Obama and his policies. It will not solve many problems, but it is a gesture of unity, which people are always talking about. You know, one country, working out our differences and that sort of thing. By saying all of this, I don’t mean to say that I don’t understand why people don’t like it. Heck, I don’t like it either. But I see it as a strategic move that may help in the long run with things that matter more than who gives the invocation at the inauguration.” (It is of course another matter whether there should be invocations and benedictions at inaugurations anyway.)

That said, it occurred to me how often discrimination against women or the GLBTQ community can often be chalked up to theology, while few people will stand for discrimination against ethnic minorities chalked up to theology. I try to imagine if someone gave the invocation that said that they still supported slavery based on theology. Or that women should obey thier husbands based on theology (heck, Warren may agree with the second of those statements). What would it mean to have someone give the invocation as a gesture of unity and goodwill who was known to support legalized discrimination against women – that they should get paid less, that rape should be less of a crime, that they should not have inheritance rights? Hmm. No matter how symbolic or strategic that would be, I would be feeling really unhappy about this. So then I started rethinking what I said above.

And now I just don’t know. The thing is, so many of these difficult issues are totally intrackable. “We” dig in our heals. “They” dig in their heels. We write on our blogs about why we are right. We affirm each other at our churches about why we are right. We are smug. We know whose side God is on. And where does this get us? What is the way forward toward better understanding each other, finding common ground to work on together, even, dare I say it, finding areas where compromise makes sense. I am not talking about any particular issue, but rather all of these very intense social and political issues that are so close to our hearts – all of our hearts – and where it seems so difficult to move forward.

I’m guessing having Rick Warren give the invocation at the inauguration isn’t the answer. But I wish we could come up with a better one that just insisting on how right and just we are and getting offended and indignant. Not that I am somehow immune to this. I do it to. But there must be a better way…


On the question: Can you be a person of faith and a feminist?

December 16, 2008

Wow. There is a post over at www.feministing.com, a third-wave feminist blog which I tend to really like (although the style is not always exactly my style), titled Can you love God and feminism? I was a little shocked by the title, but thought that perhaps it was simply meant to be provocative.

Um, I think it was actually serious. And even if it wasn’t meant to be serious, many readers are taking it that way. The post is about a very conservative brand of Christianity that is very sexist, and then somehow asks, from that, if feminism and loving God are somehow incommensurable. I think the author of the post does not really think this, but also has not thought out (well-enough) the implications of her framing. It leaves open the door for the worst framings of Christians and feminists… Christians who must somehow be incapable of valuing equality and the full humanity of all people, or feminists who are somehow incapable of connecting with or unwilling or uninterested in the divine. I feel like to ask, “Can you love God and love feminism?” is like asking, “Can you love men and be a feminist?” Or “Are all feminists feminazis?” It is just a bad way to frame the question that doesn’t do justice to the complexity of the issues or people involved.

As someone whose job and studies as a doctoral student and, you know, like my entire life calling, is, in many ways, at the intersection of feminism and faith, reading many of the comments was like a huge punch in the stomach. I suppose it is good. A good reality check. A good time to reach out to people. A good encouragement to post more about this on my own blog.

I encourage those of you who are are feminists of faith to include your voices in the comments over at the post on feministing. You have to register once in order to comment, but it only takes a second. There are so many posters on there who have clearly been convinced by more conservative parts of religion, particularly Christianity, that the patriarchal versions of Christianity are somehow all there is of it. There are likewise rather naive framings of Paul and Jesus and the bible as all totally feminist friendly. Oh, is there outreach work to be done. What surprises me so much is so many self-identified feminist posters who are so dismissive of the experiences of people who are feminists and people of faith. Like just totally excluding them as valid, dismissing them as “duped” or tricked or just wrong. How very unfeminist.

One question that someone posted that perhaps readers here could help with is: Does anyone have suggestions on where to get your feminist Christian fix? I’ve been trying to find some sort of blog or magazine or anything, and I know there’s a lot of academic work out there, but is there anything a bit more…I don’t know, enjoyable to consume?

Sadly (I need to remedy this) I am much more familiar with the academic work, and not more popular stuff. Anyone have any ideas?


Don’t you bet this is a fun church to attend?

September 4, 2008

Church Sign: Kissing Girl Leads To Hell

The Associated Press reports that “a church in the Columbus [Ohio] area is turning heads with its public spin on the pop song I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry. (For more on the song, including the lyrics, you can see my old post on it.)

A sign outside Havens Corners Church in suburban Blacklick has the lyrics from the song’s chorus, “I kissed a girl and I liked it” — and adds, “Then I went to hell.” … Church pastor the Rev. Dave Allison said the Bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin, so the sign is intended as a loving warning to teens.

Yeah, that seems really loving to me. And I bet it is super-effective too. I sure won’t be kissing any girls now that I have read that on a church sign and I bet all the teenage girls in the area won’t be either. Good thing we have been warned!


Real Live Preacher

January 13, 2008

Rather than write a slick post as to why I like www.reallivepreacher.com (which would involve further procrastination on the mind-numbingly slow paper I am writing), I thought I would just cut and paste the email I just sent to my mentor (who was my Christian youth minister back in the day) as a way to suggest this very nice blog I like.

To: Michael
From: Elizabeth
Re: a blog i think you will like

as you know, i can be somewhat christian-a-phobic with jesus this and jesus that. but this blog is a christian (gasp) that doesn’t leave me annoyed. i liked what he wrote on his jan 12 mustard seed post

Jesus once said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed. It is the smallest of seeds, but when it is planted, it grows into a large tree and the birds of the air nest in its branches.” So it is with goodness and with evil. Seeds are planted, either in selfishness or in goodness and service. What grows from those seeds is only known to those who are there. The ones who planted the seeds often never know what good or evil comes of their actions. Further, the idea of sin suggests that all of us have planted seeds of evil from time to time. I know that I have. Grace is being forgiven for the evil I have begun in this world. Redemption involves the changing of my heart and life, so that I can be a part of goodness.Pretty simple deal really. I don’t know why we Christians have made it so complex.

it may not be quite that simple, but i still really like this guy. i wish all christians could be so unannoying.

www.reallivepreacher.com


Maybe I am a charasmatic UU?

October 1, 2007

So the search for a home church is on. It is so much harder than I thought it would be and brings up all sorts of issues. One of the main ones is: I want to want to go to my church. I don’t want to go to church because I should join a church. I don’t need to be ultimately fulfilled each and every Sunday. Everything does not have to be perfect, but I need to find a church that I am excited to go to. And for this to work, I need to feel something during worship. And I need to feel welcome and not awkward. This has both to do with me and my mindset, as well as the way churches are. This brings me back to my megachurch days where there was a whole team of people trying to make church welcoming and enjoyable and they did a great job. I know that this can cross the line and turn into “church lite” or all warm fuzzy feelings without grappling with the hard challenges. But, for me, it didn’t. What it meant is that I could bring my coffee to worship with me, people were friendly and nice to me, I could sing along with the songs and feel them, and I could even get so excited about a song or about something that was being said that I could put my hand up in the air and say “amen!” All the prayers were not written out – they came from people’s hearts right then and there. And the sermons were not all written out – they were not polished or perfect, but they were more spontaneous. There was a sense that we didn’t have to control everything, or think everything out, and we could give some of ourselves, even recklessly give ourselves, over to some power that was awesome and overwhelming. I am not trying to hark back to the good old days of megachurch life – there were lots of problems with it too. But I guess what I am trying to express is a desire for something more charismatic. For something to get lost in and overwhelmed by. For something more welcoming and less stifled feeling. It sucks so much feeling like an outsider each Sunday. Is there a way to make visitors not feel like outsiders? Maybe it is impossible. I don’t know.

It is important for me to stress the balance here – this is not meant to be some sort of indictment of Unitarian Universalism. I feel like too often individuals’ struggles with an aspect of UUism turns into a “Gosh, UUism can’t get anything right.” So I don’t mean to imply that there is some sort of crisis and we need to rethink everything. I suppose I am reflecting on whether or not I am longing for something that we are not. For me, and others that want get overwhelmed by God and lost in the spirit and warmly welcomed by people who really seem to want us there, is this just something we need to find somewhere else? Or can this be us? Or is it asking us to be too many things to too many different people?

p.s. Afterthought: I wonder if this has more to do with being in New England than being in Unitarian Universalist churches? Or, if it has more to do with me feeling more at home in churches that are like the one I grew up with and it is really about me and not the churches I’m visiting? Probably all of this plays into it.


Meet Jesus: My running list of things that would somewhat traumatize lots of people I know

June 14, 2007

I just got a huge kick out of what is probably a great book. It is called Meet Jesus: The Life and Lessons of a Beloved Teacher and it is on the front page of the UUA bookstore website. It is so something I would get for my kids (if I had them) but I just envisioned some of my dear and beloved more traditional Christian friends and relatives and how dreadfully horrible this book would seem to them – you might as well give your kid a book called “How to Be Evil.” This goes in the same category with the tradition at my home UU church where everyone is invited to dress in costume the Sunday closest to Halloween and sing a song called “The Witch Song” with the following chorus:

Who were the witches, where did they come from?
Maybe your great great grandmother was one.
Witches were wise, wise women they say,
And there’s a little witch in every woman today.
There’s a little witch in every woman today.

Perhaps you have to come from a Baptist charismatic background to appreciate the absolute horror that these two very nice UU innovations would invoke. Why makes me laugh, I don’t know. It just does. It would so not be funny if these ideas were even ever mentioned anywhere some of my nearest and dearest. Or in my hometown. So not funny.
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An article on Ratzinger’s comments about how Christianity and European priests “purified” the indigenous people of what is today called South America

May 18, 2007

So I wrote a post a few days ago about how Ratzinger (known by some as Pope Benedict XVI) said that the indigenous people of what is today called South America were “silently longing” for Christianity and had welcomed the arrival of European priests who “purified” them. There is a good article here on CounterPunch about it – Ask Pope Benedict When Does Genocide Purify? by Adam Jones. (When you go to the link, scroll down a bit to see the article.)


Christian Blogs I Like (and other musings on Christianity)

May 15, 2007

Well, I was sitting here thinking about writing a post about how I still wish sometimes that I could find a way to make Christianity work for me. There is a long history to this, and I think it is mostly a longing for tradition, for familiarity, for a personal God that is right there with you, for well-defined framework. But, honestly, that is a long post that needs more thinking, so enough on that. It does bring to mind the recent post at Arbitrary Marks that resonated with me about Unitarian Universalism and why we don’t have widespread appeal:

We’re peeling back the curtain on a magic show, explaining the tricks, and then going on with the show, asking everyone to applaud when the rabbit is pulled from the hat.

I’m not saying I do (or don’t) agree with the whole post, but I think that there is something to that statement for me, in that when the tricks of Christianity were thought out, the curtain was pulled back, I couldn’t really deal with it anymore. It had to be real-er for me. So, that is why I like Unitarian Universalism, is because we have, in a sense, said “Okay, we’re not going to pretend like we have the number one best way of doing things. We’re open to lots of different ways.” So you can still talk about Jesus but you don’t have to only talk about Jesus (which drives me nuts a Christian churches – Jesus this, Jesus that – as you can see, there is a reason that this didn’t work for me). (Can I just say I know this is not completely articulate, but this isn’t a newspaper – it is a blog – and I sometimes use it to work out thoughts.)

So I think my basic point of the musings thus far is that it works for me to explain the tricks of religion (so-to-speak) and acknowledge we don’t really actually know how it works, and that there are lots of legit paths to trying to understand how the world works, none of which we can really say is right. Various possibilities for relating to the divine… or for praying… or for personifying God…. or ways of relating to the world in a spiritual yet non-theistic way…. you get the picture.

For me, sticking with Christianity you still have to talk about Jesus like he is somehow more important than other people, or that Biblical stories are somehow more powerful or meaningful than other stories. I don’t see anyway around it. You just can’t be Christian without somehow favoring the Christian narrative. And I just can’t bring myself to do that. Yet, I can really really understand why people prefer to have that sort of framework rather that the really broad possibilities that Unitarian Universalism presents. It is harder, I think. At least for me.

Now to the starting point of this post which are two Christian blogs that I like. I am always so happy to find Christian things that don’t turn me off or make me feel weird. There is a church here in Boston called Hope Church that is one of the few Christian churches like that for me – I can go and everyone feels pretty normal, non-dogmatic, and non-annoying. I hardly ever feel like rolling my eyes or ranting. These blogs seems similar:

Going Jesus which I saw linked on Ms. Kitty’s Saloon and Road Show Maybe it was the WTFWJD tee-shirt that made me feel like this was a blog that I could relate to. (Note that recently the blog has focused on her baby. But there is other content if you go further back.)

And Real Live Preacher which I’ve seen in a few other contexts, including mentioned on Going Jesus.


Ratzinger

May 14, 2007

Despite the fact that Joseph Ratzinger is now referred to as Pope Benedict XVI, around our house my German partner and I still call him Ratzinger. This is mostly because this is what we called him before he was the pope when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. An important point, I think, is that before it was called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith it was called Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition. Inquisition. Remember that? Or rather those? Inquisitions. There was a string of them – Roman, Spanish and so on – where heretics were put to death and where people were forcibly converted to Catholicism. Luckily, the Catholic Church doesn’t burn people at the stake anymore, but Ratzinger’s former leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I think, speaks to the sort of guy he is. He is about the purity of the faith. From his perspective. He’s hardcore about keeping things they way they are – no gays, no women, no birth control, abortion and none of that wishy-washing acceptance stuff.

And, I know this is not nice to say about someone, but gosh every time I look at him I imagine that to be what the devil were to look like. If such a person existed, which I don’t actually believe in. I stress, I am not suggesting that he is the devil, but just that he looks like what I would imagine such a nasty slimy character to look like. Maybe such feelings are encouraged by statements such as the one I am pointing out below – which just confirms what a huge disappointment and upsetting person I find him to be.

He apparently said in his final speech while visiting Brazil (and several places have reported this so it must be true…it is just hard for me to believe someone who is apparently smart and well-read could say something like this) that the indigenous people living in what is now South America were “silently longing” for Christianity and had welcomed the arrival of European priests who “purified” them.

Not to be dramatic about this, but I just want to make this clear. The pope of the Catholic Church said that the people who lived in South America before the Europeans arrived were “silently longing” for Christianity, welcomed the Europeans, and were “purified” by the priests who arrived. (If anyone can find the full text of the speech, I would appreciate it. I spent 10 minutes googling it with no luck.)

As with many things JR says, I am never sure to what extent he just says things and to what extent he really believes them. Not that it matters that much, but he is supposed to be a smart, well-read guy. I guess smart people can have terrible beliefs, but if you are well-read how can you say something like that?

As Debitage points out, the next line in many of the news reports on this is just about as absurd and dreadful: “Many indigenous rights groups see the conquest as ushering in a period of disease, mass murder, enslavement and the shattering of their cultures. ” (This particular version from Tracy Wilkinson of the LA Times.) The indigenous rights groups think this? Excuse me? Don’t you mean historians? Don’t you mean “Anyone, including historians, who has looked at the evidence realizes that contrary to the Pope’s characterization, the arrival of the Europeans and their priests resulted in rape, mass murder, pillage, and enslavement. This neither purified nor fulfilled a silent longing.”

Anyway. This the post is the start of what I hope to be at least three weekly posts. I have considered that it isn’t nice to be so critical of a person many people (my grandmother, in particular, may her soul rest in peace) really like and think you shouldn’t say anything bad about. Yet, I think when popes say things like this, any respect they should get by virtue of their title or role goes out the window. I hope that Ratzinger stops being the pope very soon and someone else is elected who is less racist, imperialist, and pompous, among other things.

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