Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Talking About Talking About God

To talk about God, many would think, would be easy. The reality however, is that God is not necessarily a concept about which everyone shares the same assumptions. Rob Bell, in his most recent book What We Talk About When We Talk About God, sets out to clarify the baseline assumptions, thereby mapping out the conversation space for the Christian notion of who God is.

Reading Bell, I feel almost guilty. His work is not the sort of intellectually stimulating piece that I try to usually read (with varying degrees of success and failure). To be honest, this is in fact the first book by Bell that I have ever read. I have used his Nooma videos. I have used his "The Gods Aren't Angry" video. I have even seen him in person on his Smashing Ice tour (my thoughts about that here). I bought Love Wins at a closing Border's store over a year ago, but have never read it. And I own Jesus Wants to Save Christians, but this book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, is the truly first of his that I have read from beginning to end. His conversational tone pulled me in and made it hard for me to put the book down, which is something because the most common time for me to be reading this book was as I laid in bed. This book was not something that I had to ponder and wrestle with, but engaged me.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Limit of Identity

Yesterday I had the opportunity, as a member of the Multi-Faith Council at Chatham University, to sponsor a panel of women from different faiths. The panel members were invited to attend and speak on "Journey... Gender... Job: the intersection of spirituality, womanhood, and vocation." The speakers represented Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They were all different women with different career paths and different faiths, and yet the storied they told had incredible resonance with each other.

They each spoke of discerning their career paths while remaining true to their faith and the identity they understood to flow from their faith. The woman from Judaism spoke about becoming an actor while moving into a distinct understanding of her place within Hasidic Judaism, which posed some problems as a woman performing in front of audiences, usually on the Sabbath. The young Muslim woman also faced challenges to her faith. From wearing the hajib while in high school in Turkey, where it was banned for high school students, to her career in finance where she couldn't work for a bank since taking interest is forbidden by the Qur'an. The Christian woman was a physician who works part time for a Christian health clinic that serves everyone but notably the under-served. 

What I found interesting was that even as a man, I found their stories particularly illuminating. While these women ran into limits that their faith imposed upon them, they accepted those limits in faith. I felt like many men who are pursuing something like a career, meet such limits with an equal determination, meeting the opposition with an equal or slightly greater than equal reaction, so we can get what we want. Listening to the women though the acceptance of the limits still allowed them to further what they understood the vocation they were being called to while still in keeping with the tenets of their faith. They saw the limits as an extension of their identity, who they were in connection to their understanding of God, while I believe many men would see the limits in opposition to their identity. 

I do not want to discount the very real limits placed upon women particularly by traditional faiths. However it was also something to hear these women speak about their trust that even among risks and challenges they followed where they believed God was calling them and how they believed that their life was better for it. Too often we believe that following God take something away from our lives. These women's discussion showed very clearly that God's presence and activity in our lives can be richer than we could imagine. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Papal Conclaves and Elections...

This morning on NPR I heard one of the hosts of Morning Edition say, "Black smoke from the Vatican signals that the cardinals failed to elect a new pope." While technically correct, I suppose, the words created great dissonance in my ears. Then I tweeted and posted on Facebook:

In trying to report the process of electing a new pope, the media seems to be treating the process as just another political election. It is hard enough to elect a president from two candidates who have been campaigning for months (years?). However it all happens on one day, that people go to the polls, check a box and it is over. With a papal election, the process is not so simple. Every cardinal who is eligible represents very distinct constituents and now might represent all of them.

The process of ecclesiastical balloting is more about discernment than getting the job done. Having watched bishop elections in synodical and churchwide assemblies of the ELCA, these ballots are prayerful and time-consuming. They are not meant, perhaps, to be efficient. But we take the time to discern, because: 1.) candidates haven't (hopefully) been campaigning, and 2.) we hope that the continued slow process gets to what the whole body desires and gets our sinful selves out of the way. Being around the process is incredible when momentum swings toward a particular surprise candidate. There is no guarantee that the right person is always elected, but in the church it beats a campaign.

I have said to friends that I would likely use something like "Black smoke at the vatican signals that the cardinals are still considering who will become the new pope." Yes it is not as clean and neat as "failed to elect" but it speaks more about the process too. Cardinal Ratzinger took seven ballots to become Pope Benedict XVI. I would urge all to pray that the right amount of time is taken... and that whomever is chosen, the new pope is one that increases unity rather than division.

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Problem With The Bible

Well, not the bible exactly, but "The Bible," the History Channel miniseries seeking to bring an exciting and epic view of the holy scriptures before television audiences.

I will admit that previous attempts to make biblical movies has always left me somewhat disappointed. Sometimes the treatment of whatever biblical story being shown is just bad. But more often than not, what is problematic is the interpretation of the story being shown. After all in trying to create a movie from a biblical story, there have to be choices. What to cut, what to leave, what gaps in the story can be filled, and what is the best way to do so.

3rd Sunday in Lent -- The Testing of Christians

We hear it all the time when people are trying to encourage others, "God doesn't give us more than we can handle." People can interpret Paul's passage in 1 Corinthians that way when he writes that "God does not test you beyond your strength." But it isn't really about individuals, and it isn't really what Paul is up to here.

Excerpt from Sunday's sermon:
Perhaps as the community of faith that follows Jesus, we are called not merely to provide platitudes that weigh people down when life seems hard, urging them to follow the cult of the individual, telling them to be strong so if they fail, it will be their fault, rather than the avalanche of societal pressures that pushed them down the hill. The community’s testing is to remain faithful in all of the pressures of life. Our testing is how to respond to those who suffer, whether poverty, anxieties, illness, addiction, grief, or any other of a million or billion ways that our world’s brokenness makes itself known.

The full sermon text is here.

Listen or download the sermon: