People of the Books: 10 Lies the Church Tells Women by J. Lee Grady

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I posted last, but then again I can totally believe it—I’ve gotten settled in my chaplaincy job, I have a new car, I’m navigating the complications of living with my best friend, I’ve been to my denomination’s conference.  It’s been a lot.  Thank you for sticking with me while I slammed into that.

I have a backlog of book reviews for you, so I’m going to try and get some of those out.  I have no idea what my posting schedule will look like, unfortunately; I work a 24-hour shift every other weekend and a movable 12-hour shift during the week, so my schedule is all over the place.  But I’m not gone, not yet.

366184So, this book.  It’s a bit of a tangle to review because on the one hand, it’s super fabulous that this is written by a white evangelical for white evangelicals to prove that women are *gasp* real people really called by God to really lead in the real Church. Grady also tears apart the idea that women are in some way incomplete without a man and how that is so short-sighted for God’s power among God’s people—an argument that the whole of the Church often misses as it shuffles unmarried women around because it doesn’t know what to do with them. (“No verse in the Bible says that God’s ultimate purpose for a woman is to find a mate and then reproduce. On the contrary, the Scriptures say that our lives can be made complete by only one thing: a constant, abiding relationship with Christ.” 151)

On the other hand, it’s written by a white evangelical who goes way right sometimes, actually describing modern feminism as man-hating infanticide at one point.  In no universe can I get behind something so completely out-of-touch, especially as a modern feminist who doesn’t hate men and really isn’t all that interested in infanticide.

But oh, how I can cheer for the fact that this guy figured out that God calls women on purpose and is telling other guys on their own level. That’s one of the things that is missing from a lot of liberal theological discourse: Scriptural explanation for ideological premises.  In my experience, a lot of left-leaning arguments leave the Bible behind, which means a conservative and a liberal are never really speaking the same language to talk about hugely important issues.  But Grady takes the main verses used to silence women in church and totally dismantles them within Scriptural boundaries—six million cheers for that.

Grady also dismantles the idiocy of the Proverbs 31 woman, which makes me happy.  While I appreciate the strength many women draw from that description, it’s an impossible level of perfection and energy.  It often ends up harming women in the Church because they can’t measure up and therefore must be sinful in some way.  “First of all, we need to understand that the Proverbs 31 woman was never meant to be interpreted as normative for every Christian woman…The ‘woman’ described here is actually a composite—the passage was never meant to describe one woman.  (If it were, she would indeed be an Old Testament superwoman, since she never seems to sleep or stop working!)” (160)  Grady also notes that the aspect of this women being an independent businesswoman as well as caretaker of the family is often hidden away, which is twisting the Scripture to support a bias.

The thing about this book is that it’s for a very specific audience and it is in no way a scholastic enterprise—there are maybe three main sources that he’s just repackaging.  But again, I want to stress the importance of having a voice within the evangelical community use Bible-based reasoning to advocate for women in leadership.  We listen to the people like us, and this guy’s voice will carry a hell of a lot farther than, say, mine.  Let me give you a rundown of what “lies” he’s debunking so you can see what that looks like:

  • “God created women as inferior beings, destined to serve their husbands”
  • “Women are not equipped to assume leadership roles in the church”
  • “Women must not teach or preach to men in a church setting”
  • “A woman should view her husband as the ‘priest of the home'”
  • “A man needs to ‘cover’ a woman in her ministry activities”
  • “Women who exhibit strong leadership qualities pose a serious danger to the Church”
  • “Women are more easily deceived than men”  (Grady has a great rebuttal to this on p. 137 in which he points out that pretty much every “false religion” ever has been invented by a man, so the idea that they’re less easily led astray is crap)
  • “Women can’t be fulfilled or spiritually effective without a husband and children”  (If you’re curious as to why I’m cheering for this one being included as a lie, see my post on being single in the Church)
  • “Women shouldn’t work outside the home”
  • “Women must obediently submit to their husbands in all situations”

If you’re thinking, Reader, that these sound super outdated and surely no one outside of the very thin slice of crazy evangelicals is still arguing any of this, let me tell you a story about my church conference last week.  A couple of resolutions regarding gender came up and I kid you not, I heard at least four of these brought to the floor as reasons why the Church should not commit itself to standing against gender-based violence and prejudice.  And I’m in a mainline denomination that ordains women and has for decades.

A thing I really appreciate about this book is that Grady doesn’t just debunk the lies, he offers what he calls “fixes,” or action points:

  • “We must repent and apologize for gender prejudice”
  • “Christian men must vocally defend the right of women to preach the gospel and lead the Church”
  • “The church must stop misusing the Scriptures to limit the ministry of women”
  • “Bible-believing churches must dismiss the notion that women’s ordination is a ‘liberal’ position”
  • “The Church must stop ignoring the ugly sin of domestic abuse”
  • “Christian women must respond to injustice with forgiveness—not revenge”
    (This is where he got into his feminism-bashing, fyi, but his core point isn’t far wrong)
  • “The church must reject human control—from male and female—and settle for nothing less than the Holy Spirit’s direction”
  • “We must take reconciliation and healing to women who have been offended by the Church”
  • “We need to encourage millions of women to go to the mission field in the twenty-first century”
  • “Christian women must take an active stance in this crucial hour”

I don’t agree with all of these, but I do agree with many of them and am cheering for this dude for laying them out like that.  So three stars for effort and saying what needs to be said to those who need to hear it; ideologically we’re still not on the same page, but I support his support of my ability to do ministry every day of the week.

 

Rating:  3/5 stars  3-stars

 

No Justice, No Peace

Sorry this is late, Reader; I had half an entry written yesterday and then left work early to sleep because I was exhausted on every possible level.  I napped for a good chunk of the afternoon and then slept ten hours last night and I’m still tired to my very bones—but I’m working on it.

I did take the time, however, to get up last night and go to a gathering in support of Black Lives Matter here in the Land of Pilgrims.  I would say sorry, this is a blog about living into Christianity and I’m going to detour into politics, but that would be untrue.  Living into Christianity, I’m learning, is politics.  I’m not saying that we all have to declare a party, but I am saying that we’re doing something wrong (or not doing something) if we sidestep politics, especially if it’s so as not to upset people.  Jesus was an upsetting dude; He rattled the cages of a lot of folks in His day simply because He understood Himself not to be bound by the conventions of His leadership.  We as His followers have to step into the uncomfortable places where we find injustice to be light and salt and all that other stuff that would be much easier if it didn’t involve pushing other people’s buttons.

So I went to this thing because seriously, enough is enough.  I cannot in good faith—literally, in my faith—continue to say “oh, what a shame” and then pass on the opportunity to put body to voice.  Facebook rants are not enough.  Interpreter tossed this my way, indirectly, so I moved some other plans and roused myself to go on a steamy Friday night to listen.

That, actually, was my main purpose:  to listen.  This was a gathering where folks who are black could speak their piece and not have anyone talk over them, not be told they shouldn’t be angry, not be told that it wasn’t that big a deal.  I stood in this park and listened to rants, to slam poetry, to raps, to pleas, to stories of persecution and pain and loss, to exhortations, and to sorrow stretching hundreds of years because this was not a place for me to talk.  I’m white, and regardless of my feelings about that it is a biological fact.  I can’t speak to the black experience in America because I don’t have a clue about it, so I went, and I listened.

I’m glad that I did; some powerful things were said.  It was in a sense even more powerful because a family member had texted me as I was on my way over to tell me something and asked where I was going.  On my response that it was a Black Lives Matter rally, she responded that white lives matter too, that all lives matter.  They do not matter equally, I said, one white person to another; if saying that Black Lives Matter makes you defend your own racial value as though there is a limited number of resources that their assertion is taking away from you, then no, not all lives matter.  It’s an imperfect world, she responded; as long as we treat others as we want to be treated, that’s all we can do.

Wrong.

God has not called us to try, Yoda that He is.  God has called us to do, on a systemic level.  If you love your neighbor as yourself but see that they are wounded by another and do nothing, where is your love?  If you patch up a wounded man at the side of the road but don’t take him to an inn for long-term treatment, do you still get to claim being the Good Samaritan?  If we as people of faith content ourselves with simply being nice on a person-to-person level, then change will only happen on a person-to-person level.

I’m not saying that that’s bad or that that can’t change the world; it can, most certainly, and it is on that individual level that change happens at all.  But looking at the imperfections of the world and saying it will always be that way is saying that I don’t need to build the Kingdom because it’s not meant to be here on earth.  False!  We are called every day to be ready for Christ’s return; we are called every day to do something with the gifts that are given to us.  If we are just burying them in the ground and saying the world is frightening and imperfect, do we truly think Christ is going to be pleased with that?

So that was an awkward conversation.  But then I was at the rally and listening—and then I was marching.  The organizers decided to shut down one of the main shopping areas downtown with a long march of these hundreds of people to say that we are here and we are not going away, and I must say I was very unsure of whether or not I’d stay.  The police were out in force, several counter-protesters gathered with their American flags and their hatred, death threats had been made on the event’s Facebook page.  I’m moving soon, I need to avoid things like being arrested or shot.

Then I realized I was thinking that and that that was why I needed to stay.  Walking away is an option for me; if something had gone down, my being a white churchgoer would be a source of great protection for me.  My fellow gatherers of color likely wouldn’t have that; so I marched with them, clapping along to the chants—-but often being unable to speak them.

Here’s the thing:  I’m not into groupthink at all.  I also think words carry great power.  So it was hard for me to shout things like, “No justice, no peace!” because I want peace.  I have no desire to start a fight.

But am I not already in one?

 

 

He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to Yahweh.  (Proverbs 17:15, WEB)

People of the Books: Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz

Hullo, Reader!  Thanks for your patience with me in my not warning you I’d be dropping off the radar last week; I had a conference last weekend (and also confirmation at church), so I wasn’t able to get to this.  But I’m back now (albeit a day late)—happy Saturday!  Have a book review!

Quo Vadis (which has apparently been made into a movie that I’m going to have to see now) is another of those books that somehow magically made it into my library when I wasn’t paying attention.  I have no memory of buying this or being given it, but I know I’ve moved it from at least one place to another with me.  In my great I Have to Read All These Books Before I Move Them Again project (yeah, it’s not going well; Reader, I own a lot of books) I finally decided to sit down with this one.

I must say, it was slow going at first.  Sienkiewicz doesn’t pull punches in how he sets up the story; he expects you to keep up as he throws you into 60s A.D. Rome under the craziness of Nero’s rule.  But stick with it; once you get situated in the overwhelming city (fortunately, my version had a map at the back so I could follow Sienkiewicz’s characters talking about where things were), you realize this is a pretty epic story.

The basic premise is that Marcus Vinicius, a nobleman of one of the ancient families and a decorated soldier now hanging about in Rome, falls in love with a gal named Ligia.  Add in the complication—Ligia is a Christian.  This is a time when Christianity was kept on the downlow because it wasn’t outright illegal but it definitely wasn’t liked, so Ligia’s faith is already questionable but also it’s a totally foreign idea to Vinicius.  He has all the power and wealth he could want; why on earth would someone want to follow a faith that tells you to give up stuff like that?  Foolishness.

So with this very simple plot, off we go.  Of course it gets more complicated; it’s set against the backdrop of Nero, who was batshit crazy and a half.  Petronius, Vinicius’s uncle, is one of Nero’s advisors (of a sort) and through his eyes we get to see the court falling apart as Nero loses touch with reality more and more.  The main punch of the book is when Rome gets set on fire, which Sienkiewicz described brilliantly, hauntingly, and horrifyingly.  For a city that large and that flammable to catch fire would indeed have been a sight for the ages, but the amount of people it displaced for the whims of a mad emperor is just staggering.

And then Nero blames it on the Christians—cue lions, torture, gore, and all of the awful debauchery that Rome could offer.  We of the 21st century are scary good at causing pain, but we have nothing on Rome.  They were terrifying in the amounts of ways they concocted to kill people; it’s even reflected in the language.  There are over thirty different verbs for “to kill” in ancient Latin.

I do try to correct folks when they think everything from Jesus to Constantine was lions eating Christians because that isn’t true.  Wide-scale persecution was relatively rare; most of the time Christians were mistrusted and ignored or simply thrown in jail for a while.  But sometimes they became scapegoats of epic proportions, and Sienkiewicz does a fantastic job of capturing how frightening and overwhelming that would be.  And one of the best parts about this book is that it makes you look at Christianity itself all over again.

Christianity is so completely embedded in modern Western culture we simply can’t look around without seeing it.  But when it was new and weird and secretive and still being ironed out—I don’t want to romanticize that at all, but I do love reading stories that make me remember it.  This is a time where there aren’t written stories but instead you would hear the Gospel from Peter himself (yeah, Peter and Paul have bit parts in this; it’s pretty awesome because I’m always ready to have them be ornery humans with their own doubts and fears, not knowing how much they would become pillars of the Church).  This is a time when there are the earliest of hymns, when people were still using the fish (ichthus) to identify each other, when books like Revelation make sense because people really did think Jesus was coming back any day because surely the world was tearing itself apart at the seams.

Sienkiewicz definitely has an angle—Nero bad, Christians good—but this isn’t at all a religion pitch.  He returns over and over again to how hard it is to be part of this faith and how different the early version of it was compared to what we know.  And the remarkable thing is that he was writing at the turn of the 20th century yet you can tell his heart is in the history of this rather than any attempts to convert the reader (of course, he would likely have assumed all of his readers would have been Christian already anyway).  Some of the characters don’t get Christianity and end the book still not getting it and yet being fully themselves, and five million points to an author who respects his/her characters enough not to try and force them into conversion moments.  My only real problem with characterization is in how Sienkiewicz talks about Ursus, Ligia’s bodyguard; a lot of the language there is very much about how this barbarian (they’re political hostages from a northern kingdom) is so very slow and more brawn than brains.  That caught me up several times because it’s so bald, but Ursus was still a real and marvelous character who actually stands in for the reader sometimes when we’re trying to understand what’s going on.  He also becomes a paradigm of loyalty and an example to be followed.

There is violence and sex and this is not for the faint of heart, Reader, but it is well worth the time, especially in this more modern translation (mad props to W. S. Kuniczak).  It’s a great story as well as a really well-written imagining of the early days of Christianity. I’ll definitely be keeping this on hand.

 

Rating:  4.5/5 stars  People of the Books:  Why I Am a Catholic by Garry Wills

 

Becoming a Born Storyteller

Oh, my dear Reader, guess what?

I preached for the very first time this past Sunday.

It’s still unutterably bizarre to say that simply because those who preach are other people.  I don’t preach.  I am not a preacher.  I felt this way when I was not a teacher but I taught, when I was not a writer but I was published, when I was not a runner but I completed a 5k, when I was not a soloist but I sang by myself in front of an audience.  It’s not so much that I don’t believe I’m capable of any of these things as I simply don’t see myself in those roles—don’t people realize I’m still an unreliable 15-year-old?  Surely I can’t be doing accomplished things; other people do accomplished things, people who have their shit together.

Except that’s not true at all; anyone who tells you they have their shit together only has their ability to lie together.  We are all of us tripping over our own sets of mismatched baggage, hoping no one else notices the duct tape on that corner where the zipper always slides open just a little bit.  So for me to say that of course I don’t preach when, in fact, I have, is kind of silly.

And Reader, you know what?  ….it was pretty awesome.

I don’t say that to ignore all the parts that weren’t awesome.  I preached three different services on Sunday and shook like a leaf through every one.  I woke up at 2:15 in the morning (the first service starts at 8) because I was wound so tightly that I simply could not continue sleeping.  My anxiety was through the roof as I imagined all the ways I would screw something up, let someone down, or—absolute worst of all—simply not say what God needed me to say and substitute my own words instead.

For certain I have much yet to learn, but I’m willing to spend a lifetime learning it because at the end of the day I was flat exhausted but content, happy to have been doing something that fit like a glove you know you’ll grow into.  And part of that was, as I said in the sermon itself, that I got to tell stories.

You may have noticed, Reader, that I love telling stories.  I’ve been telling stories since I knew how to string events together.  It’s my favorite thing, really—that and listening to stories.  I love hearing the stories that others tell of their first date, their favorite dog, the character they made up in the 6th grade, the dream they had when they were 25, the moment they found the right job, the reason they’re people of faith.  Some people are born storytellers, knowing every place to pause and all the right gestures to create a scene somehow everyone can see.  Other people grow into it, feeling out their own understandings of themselves and their narrative pace.  Still others never find their groove at all, getting lost in rabbit holes and tangents and never able to finish their tales.  That doesn’t mean they don’t have stories, though; just takes a different kind of listening.

The thing about preaching is that a huge portion of it is learning to tell stories.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve been telling them for twenty years; preaching is telling stories for a new purpose to a new audience and also a fair amount of getting out of the way of the God Who has a much grander story to tell.  One of the hardest things I found when writing my sermon was letting go of the things I wanted to say.  I had all these stories I wanted to tell—but they didn’t fit, and I knew they didn’t fit, even if I couldn’t have told you what I was trying to make them fit into.  In preaching, I have to learn to craft God’s stories rather than rehearsing mine.

The constricted freedom of this blog is definitely part of learning that, Reader, and I thank you for coming along with me and for helping shape how I understand this kind of communication.  This weekly challenge to pay attention to the God-moments of my life is fabulous practice for listening, and your comments on how you connected (or didn’t) with my stories help me understand that I can’t talk just to hear myself speak.  I have to keep learning how to pull apart the extraneous bits to get at what needs to be said.

Today in the Jewish calendar is Passover, the remembrance of the exodus from Egypt when the Hebrew people were “passed over” by God’s Plague of Such Desperate Measures that Children Died from It.  It is an annual holiday of Jewish people remembering who they are and challenging themselves to be something different—seder ends with “next year in Jerusalem,” that next year the Jewish nation will be together again in the land God promised them.  I get to go to a seder tonight at a local temple (srsly, I’m super excited) and listen to their stories, to the way they tell it for the first time and the fiftieth.  And that will likely make it into a sermon some day, because their storytelling will teach me how to tell stories, making me better at that craft.

Even though I was totally born with it.

 

 

And He told them a parable… (Luke 21:29a, AMP)

Christ Is Risen, Indeed

Happy Easter, Reader!  Christ is risen!

It’s an old tradition (no, I don’t know how old, but I do know that “the lorde is risen in dede” shows up in Tyndale’s Bible in Luke 24, and that dates to 1526) for Christians to say this during Eastertide (Easter season, Easter, however you want to say it; it’s not just one day, in case you didn’t know, it’s 50.  Seriously.  We party ’till Pentecost) and expect the response, “Christ is risen indeed!”

“Indeed” isn’t a word that gets a whole lot of play these days; it’s often thought of as stuffy or proper, easily replaced by “seriously” or “really” or, if you’re a youngerkind, “for realz.”  (Why yes, I do sometimes say that.  Try it.  It’s actually pretty fun.)  “Indeed” itself doesn’t even have a meaning other than amplification, usually—or does it?  I went searching in the Oxford English Dictionary (it’s a favorite hobby of mine) and found some interesting things:

indeed, adv.
1a.  In actual fact, in reality, in truth; really, truly, assuredly, positively.
1b.  Freq. placed after a word in order to emphasize it; hence, with n.=actual, real, true, genuine; with adj. or adv.=really and truly.
2a.  In reality, in real nature or essence, opposed to what is merely external or apparent.
3.  Used in a clause which confirms and amplifies a previous statement.
5a.  In dialogue, used to emphasize the reply (affirmative or negative) to a question or remark.
7.  As an interjection, expressing (according to the intonation) irony, contempt, amazement, incredulity, or the like.

Reader, how apt!  The call-and-response ritual becomes affirmation, becomes expression of amazement, becomes the spoken recognition of the impossible.  Christ is risen—indeed?  How on earth (or off it) can that happen?  This central miracle of the Christian faith is utterly outrageous; Death wins, no one comes back from that (unless they’re super creepy and otherworldly).  I mean, check out this graphic I found about how resurrected folks fare in the popular mindset:

Obviously on a historical and faith-based level I take tons of issue with this, but in terms of recognizing how crazy the thought of following a risen human is I find it pretty accurate.  There is no way this should work.  Christ is risen—say what?  How does that work?  Is He a zombie now?  And surely He isn’t actually alive; somebody just took the body.  April Fools’.

Which, of course, is what the original folks tried to say.  Check this out—Matthew 28:11-15:

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

Later addition?  Likely; it’s not like Matthew sat down and wrote the gospel the day after Easter, anyway.  But immediately people said no way, this can’t be real.  Christ isn’t risen; dead people stay dead unless something nefarious is at work.  So when Christians get together and say, “Christ is risen!”  “Christ is risen indeed!” they are making a hell of a statement.  The impossible has happened, we say to each other.  Yes, the impossible has happened!  How crazy cool is that?!  So what?

Ah, “so what.”  Why does it matter, other than being a slightly creepy but really neat magic trick?  After all, Lazarus came back from the dead.  So did Jairus’ daughter, and that widow’s son.  And even outside of the Gospels, Elijah resurrected a guy, Elisha resurrected a guy, Paul resurrected a guy, Peter brought Tabitha back; in point of fact, it seems like people couldn’t really manage to stay dead in the ancient world, so why does it matter that Jesus did?

Because He predicted this; nobody else said yeah, I’m going to snuff it but it’s temporary, brb.  Nobody else had any idea that Death could be anything but final—check out how made Lazarus’s sisters were that Jesus hadn’t come sooner.  They were totally sure that dead meant dead, even though their own history had stories where that wasn’t the case.  But also because Jesus didn’t have any help.  In all the other stories, somebody had to go get the dead person and bring him/her back, but Jesus was alone from start to re-start.  This is both incredibly awful and marvelously fantastic because it means that Jesus is stronger than Death.  He doesn’t need anybody else’s help because He is the help; all by Himself, he took the one thing none of us can defeat and walked away (with scratches).

And lives!  Not only is Jesus alive, but He’s alive in a real way—not as a zombie or Dracula or anything, but a breathing, eating, functioning person every bit as human as He was before.  That…that’s mind-boggling, is what that is.  And it’s the core of Christianity; that we celebrate with each other the reality that the Guy we venerate went through the ugliest and most painful death and then came back and had breakfast.

That’s style, when you think about it.  I mean, God most certainly has a wry sense of humor, but really.

So in this Easter season, if you find yourself or someone else doing the Easter response, listen to it.  Hear what an incredible thing it is that we say Christ is risen—and then respond in incredulity and hope and wonder that yes, He is risen.

Indeed.

 

Now it was Miriam from Magdala, Joanna, the Miriam of Jacob and others together with them who were telling these things to the emissaries.  But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.  But Peter got up and ran to the tomb. Leaning in, he sees only the linen cloths. And he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.  (Luke 24:10-12, TLV)

Advent, Week Four/Christmas, Day One: Hark, the Herald Angels Sing

Merry Christmas, Reader!  It’s technically Christmas even though I haven’t slept yet, and I’m super excited and running off of the energy of how awesome my church is at Christmas and incredibly much I love Christmas and yes, you can throw all of the Elf references at me you want (although my excitement skews in a much different direction).

So what better hymn to bridge Advent and Christmas?  Why, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, of course!  It has the added bonus of lyrics by Charles Wesley, one of the founding brothers of my denomination (United Methodist) and author of literally over 6,000 hymns.  Of course, he originally wanted it slow and stately, which isn’t my cup of tea for this song.  It’s a whole song of joy that Christ is finally born—get your party on, y’all.

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, Christmas is my favorite holiday.  It always has been, actually, though for different reasons throughout my life.  But nowadays, I love Christmas to pieces because it is overflowing with joy and hope and starlight.  This song has it:  these angels are singing that “God and sinners [are] reconciled.”  Reconciled!  We are no longer set apart from God!

Not super into atonement theory?  Okay; how about “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see / Hail the incarnate Deity”?  I love that one of the things people found super weird about Christianity in the early days was that a god would be stupid enough to trap himself in a human body—especially when he then got killed for it.  That’s not to say that there aren’t sacrifice narratives in other early religions (there’re a lot of them, actually), but it is to say that God became human, from the squalling infant who couldn’t even focus on images in the cradle to the bleeding Man who refused to step outside of the mortal process until He broke it in half.

Still not seeing the joy?  Then try this on:  “Light and life to all He brings / Ris’n with healing in His wings.”

Reader, you can’t possibly tell me with a straight face that you aren’t excited about the possibility of light, life, and healing.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me; this isn’t my attempting to convert you to Christianity (although if you want to have that conversation, please know that I AM SO TOTALLY DOWN FOR IT and would welcome your questions and conversation most heartily).  It is, however, my attempting to show you why I danced my way across the chancel (stage) at one service tonight in front of God and everybody, and why I went to two services after having worked a full day, and why I’m still not in bed even though it’s half-past one in the morning and I have to get up in a few hours to drive to a family Christmas, and why I want you to see that joy can include happiness even if happiness is not the same as joy.

BECAUSE HOLY CROW CHRIST IS BORN.  Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!  Hail the hope of an end to strife!  Hail the One Who was born a king even though His cradle was a manger!  Hark—listen!  Hwæt!  (That one’s Old English, because I may as well get all my nerdery on.)  The angels are singing, challenging the nations to rise joyful in triumph that God broke His own differentiations to chase after Her confused and beloved children.  God tucked all of God’s Self into the form of a human baby boy; hell, God suffered puberty on our behalf.  That’s some love, right there.

God came to earth and understands fully what it is to live as we live—not to drive cars as we drive or to to fear gun violence as we fear or to eat McDonald’s as we eat McDonald’s, but to love as we love and cry as we cry and hurt as we hurt and laugh as we laugh.  He came to tell us that She was willing to do whatever it took to get our attention and return us to the relationship He had wanted from the very beginning when She breathed life into us and called us, called us good.

Hark, the herald (messenger) angels are singing!  Do not be afraid, for they bring you tidings of great, deep, and abiding joy.  Merry, merry Christmas.

 

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  (Luke 2:13-14, KJV)

 

People of the Books: Renovate or Die by Bob Farr

I know, I know, this is a terribly cheery title—and painful, after last week’s post.  However, my books to review are piling up on my desk, and I do need to do them.

This was an assigned book attached to a larger church examination process in which I am participating (with Magister, actually, so pester him if you want a different perspective).  It is not a book I would likely have picked up on my own, I must admit.  This is partially due to the fact that I get really touchy about the alarmist thinking/speaking of many How To Christian books that proclaim the Church is going to fold next week under the pressure of modern agnosticism and the lack of relevance and so on.  I do think that the Church needs to remake itself, but I think that’s always the case; the Church of the first century didn’t work in the sixth, or seventeenth, so I don’t know why we’re so surprised it doesn’t work in the twenty-first.  People change.

God doesn’t.  And I feel like that gets lost sometimes—God meant for us to gather together in some way and say that hey, this God thing is pretty cool, we should talk about it.  It’s why Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep.  He didn’t have any literal sheep.  He was a carpenter, He wouldn’t have known what to do with sheep.  But He did have a heart for people gathering around the things He’d tried to teach, and that’s the Church.  It ain’t going to go quietly into that good night, y’all.  I wish folks would stop saying that it will, as though our inability to understand PowerPoint is going to crush the Kingdom on earth.  Sorry, but we’re just not that powerful.

That said, this book.  I always look at books through an editor’s eyes, mostly because I am one.  So I was rather disheartened at the layout of this; some of the pages were poorly set, the font was a weird choice, and there were those little “this is important” pop-out text boxes with choice quotes that you just finished reading anyway why do you need to highlight them again like in magazines.  (I really don’t like those highlight boxes.)  And the epilogue absolutely should have been the foreword; it made little sense at the back of the book.

So yes, that’s judgmental of poor Abdingdon Press, but I think that we don’t get a pass on being good at publishing just because we’re Christian.  If anything, the quality of what we produce as people of faith should be outstanding.

As to content, this is kind of meant to be read as a sequel to Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by Robert Schnase.  Farr builds on Schnase’s practices by giving a bit of a practical push to them, and I really appreciate some of the structure that Farr adds in terms of distinctions.  He molds his thesis around the idea that really doing the five practices requires renovation and that there is a difference between redecoration and renovation:  in redecoration, you’re changing the outside of how something looks, but renovation requires that you go in and knock stuff down and rip stuff out.  He argues that the Church needs to do some renovation, and I think that part is true.

However, the way he goes about it seems a little severe to me.  He talks about how staff should totally change with a new pastor (which I completely disagree with, as I think this shakes up the church too much and also gives the pastor way too much centrality), and he makes the assumption that every older person does that just because young folk know how to use Google means that that’s the only language we understand—even as he’s incorrectly categorizing types of electronic communication and misnaming things like blogs.  Yes, learning now is different than it was in the 70s, but we’re still looking for authentic relationships that don’t hand us Jesus in touchable watch format.  In fact, there are a couple of places where Farr makes it quite clear that he doesn’t expect young folk to be reading this book at all, which is an annoying example of how writers keep talking about us without ever talking to us as a generation.

Farr takes a while to get into his swing and I most certainly don’t agree with him on everything (for one thing, he puts Bible study waaaaaay further down the list of things that need to happen in a church, especially with youth, than I would; in my mind, if we don’t have Scripture at the core of things, we might as well be running the local Y), but I think this is a solid book to read in conjunction with the Five Practices one (which I’ll review on here soon, really).  If nothing else, he says really smart things like this:

We don’t need more members.  We need more disciples of Jesus Christ.  (71)

Yes.  Yes to that.  Yes also to this:

I think it is a good thing to start slow with new people.  Please don’t push them right into a committee.  Start them in hands-on ministries where they can see lives changing.  (62)

Also, for the record, Farr is speaking from within the United Methodist church, so that shapes his voice and suggestions and understanding of how pastors and congregations work together.

It’s a good tool in the box of working through congregational change and growth.  Not the best, but I’ll hang on to it.

 

Rating:  3.5/5 stars  3-5-stars