Sunday, May 31, 2009

"This is not how things are supposed to be!"

Today in class we took the Meyers-Briggs personality test (which I have taken more than once before). However, the difference this time was that I got a slightly different personality type/description than I have in the past, and that got me thinking about what has or hasn’t happened that could’ve influenced how my personality has changed in the last year. As I was processing that, I was catching up on my blog subscriptions (yeah, I really like to pay attention in class) and read this post:

“I was again reminded of something I knew but need to stay rooted in as I teach: at a certain point, transformation in our lives and our communities comes not only from more knowledge, but rather from engaging a hope that has the courage to hold deep communion with grief. I do not know how it is possible to arrive at new visions of justice on this earth unless we are willing to enter the sorrow of all that is not well, and yet everything in me wants to resist that sorrow. I am still learning how to grieve; I am still learning that if I have the courage to enter the most broken parts of myself, that new life will be found in the journey. For people who know me well, they know that I like to grieve alone. I rarely bring my tears before others anymore. And yet, there is something profound and healing about communities who are willing to sorrow they collectively long and labor for more justice and mercy in this hurting world.”

I really think that I (and apparently my Meyers-briggs personality type) have been changed by my life circumstances recently. In the midst of grieving over this broken, painful mess of my family (and identity therein) being pretty thoroughly disassembled--where I feel conflicted and angry and sad and about 547 other emotions that I'm not sure I can even identify. I have never been so aware of God pulling me towards some sort of purpose. I have no idea what it is--but it’s kind of exciting. I have been experiencing a new excitement for life that I haven't felt for a while (even when things were awesome). This is God changing me, this is God pulling me though this pain and into something better. I’ve not only felt grief….but I’ve also felt life. Sometimes the exploration of the broken places of ourselves, through looking at the pain, through giving up the need to hold it together…that is where God meets us.

Friends will fail friends, things will break down, the father I am supposed to have will let me down, I will fall short of the person I was created to be. People pass away, things change, what was won't be again. And where do we go from there? It’s in those moments where all you have is a cry from the deepest parts of your being--"This is not how things are supposed to be!" that God is shouting back, “I know! And I’m weeping with you!”

Everyone at some point in their life will deal with grief, and everyone at some point will feel joy and excitement--usually in some strange combination. We will feel it and we will feel for others when they are experiencing it. It reminds me a lot of the kingdom of God and how its a constant tension of the already and the not yet, the brokenness and the redemption, injustice and justice, the mess and the beauty, the profane and the sacred, the grief and the joy. It’s when someone dies, that you see the friends rally with the family. It’s when there’s a natural disaster that you see cities pull together to take care of each other.

We must live in healthy, loving community with others, because sometimes you can’t keep it together—but it’s in those times that God will use those around you as witnesses to the fact that it’s ok to fall apart and as reminders of the relationship with God from which you feel so distanced. We all feel and experience the brokenness of the world, but we must always remember that God is pulling us towards the "not yet", towards the time when he will fully redeem everything, and he wants us to participate with Him in making this a reality. When things are good, we must remember those in the broken, messy, grieving places to remember who we are. While there is pain and sorrow, there are so many more awesome, wonderful, happy, beautiful moments where you can spot what the Kingdom is, where God’s will is done, where things are how they’re supposed to be…

"How many of the most significant moments in your life came not because it all went right, but because it all fell apart? It's strange how there can be art in the agony..." -Rob Bell

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"I'm not a Feminist, I'm a Christian."

Ok, so I'm afraid writing that post last week has unleashed the blogging-beast...time for you (if you choose to keep reading) to experience more of my figure-it-out-as-I-write prose, eh..."prose" makes it sound fancy. It's really just a blog. Blog, yes...I like that word. Nothing official...just me attempting to express bits of ideas via blogging. Lucky you, ha.

If you were to ask me directly, I'd say "Yes, I am a feminist." However, I don't like to just state that on its own. The word "feminism" summons images of feminazis running around burning bras and kicking men in the shins (and elsewhere). Like with any ideal or social reform movement, there is a spectrum of opinions and ways-of-living-out the same idea. I don't believe in kicking people, it's not very nice (however much I may want to at times). Yes, I believe the central ideal of feminism--equality for men and women, the ability to have the same opportunities made available, the freedom to choose one's life path, etc. However, the issue is SO much bigger than that, and I don't think it can be discussed in a vacuum--society and theology play so much in shaping this and many other issues.

The title of this post is from one of my favorite books by a chick named Sarah Sumner. She, by societal standards, is a feminist. However, she will never use that word to describe what she believes. A major premise of her book is that feminism is not a new idea, it is the world's attempt to achieve what God has purposed from the beginning but what has been ruined and poisoned by, well, us. Ideally, Christianity should be the flagship/standard for equality and justice in and for everything--gender issues, slavery, minorities, environment, the poor, on and on...but instead, most Western/American churches are know as what? The most segregated hour in the nation. The place you have to be "good" to hang out at. The group that you run away from if you're a feminist b/c they'll force you to be quiet (or at least make you feel bad for not wanting to be). The people with no problems (or at least, that we don't talk about)--get your act together and then you can hang out with us.

How awesome would it be if we were straight up with our crap, but worked together as a group to move forward and grow? What if the church was known to be the most inclusive societal institution, if it was where you went for acceptance? What if the government didn't need to provide social security or aid grants because the Church took care of the needs within its community? What if it encouraged ALL people (male, female, every ethnicity, adolescent and elderly, every social class) to serve each other equally and to find/pursue what God's call for their life?

It makes me so mad (and pretty embarrassed) when I hear stuff about anti-homosexual christian groups being semi-derogatory and outrightly aggressive when it comes to government laws being passed or not (yet the homosexual group organizes a peaceful protest); or when Christianity is used as justification for wars started by governments (crusades anyone?); or when Christian groups say that stuff like 9/11 was caused by NYC's sin; or when prominent Christian leaders say "It's great that the ladies love Jesus, but if we're going to win this war, we need the men" *coughMarkDriscollcough*. Ah, it makes me crazy! Sure, within Christianity (like with any ideal) there is a spectrum on which it's members fall. However, it seems that equality and justice (love/serving others in public) should be included in that list of "Stuff You Need to Believe/Do to be a Christian".

This is all sounding negative, but I have hope. I love where I see the church moving. It's slowly becoming a more global and less "American" body, it's starting to increase its support and activism for global justice issues, women are finally being allowed a place to serve aside from just Children's ministry, its starting to recognize that environment responsibility is actually a big deal. It's all a matter of the Kingdom, the already-not yet. We live in this broken, messy, painful world and are broken, messy people...but every now and then we get the privilege to see moments of how things will be. How they'll be someday where God will be with us, where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Until then, God, give me compassion to see how things are and courage to help bring them closer to where they should be--and will be some day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Justice is what love looks like in public."

I've been mulling over a lot of different things lately, but haven't had the energy/time to actually put them down into words...until now. Please excuse the occasional, semi-unorganized word vomit.

There are so many fields of study, so many approaches to life, so many different forms of spirituality (or lack thereof), so many theories on what's important and what makes life worth living. But really...what does it all mean? Why isn't there one explanation or approach for everything--how to be happy, how to live life, what should be true priorities, etc. Theology tells us that understanding God and his word will give us meaning and purpose. Psychology says that understanding one's thoughts and emotions will bring us self-awareness and empowerment. Science says that we are biological creatures wired to respond in certain ways to our environment--life is about survival. So, which is right? Which is the "way" to live life? Are some right while others are wrong, and who decides? I don't think any of them are wrong, but how can we incorporate them into a realistic lifestyle and a means of being personally fulfilled and relationally/service oriented in the world?

Understanding and developing oneself as a person individually (and relationally with God and with others) is one of the most essential and most difficult tasks required of us as humans. If we don't...we waste life, wandering obliviously through relationships and experiences. If we do, we face intimidating self-examination and unguaranteed steps that hold the potential to be equally terrifying and exhilarating.

Personally, I approach this issue from a theological and psychological frame work. Psychologically, knowing my own fears, relational habits, strengths, weaknesses, and the effect of my upbringing and past are major players in knowing who I am. However, theology says that knowing who I am only gets me so far. Knowing "whose I am" (props to Ashley for this terminology) both supplements my strengths and overrides all of my fears, past, and weaknesses.

Ok, so...I know who I am (sort of, ha) and I know whose I am...but how does that play out in living in this world that has injustice, unfair expectations, pain, and disappointment? I believe that a sense of empowerment--a feeling that you are valuable and that you are allowed to pursue what you feel called to--is SO essential. But how do you do, or even figure that out, in the face of...well, life? Forget tragedy, just expectations from others can be enough to kill any sense of empowerment--make good grades, graduate college, succeed, be popular, get married, have kids, have a successful/happy family life, make money......and what happens if you fail at one of these? Forget even fail, what if you take longer to attain something on this list than the average person? Maybe you don't even want some of this, or you were born with something that inhibits your ability to achieve. Maybe everyone around you tells you you can't, or you're stuck in a hopeless situation that makes you feel powerless...

....then what happens?

Knowing "whose I am" and that I belong to and am liked/noticed/loved/cared-for by God gives me an identity outside of socioeconomic status, education, achievement, friends and even my parent's marital status. But how can can I...relay this to others--this empowerment through relationship with God...finding strength outside of oneself and the freedom to use that strength to pursue what I am called to and passionate about (whether housewife, business professional, social activist, or farmer). I feel this is so important and often get frustrated that I can't just hit people with the empowerment stick and be done with it. How does one help people achieve this...or even just get on the road towards empowerment-though-God?

We are always told to find something we love and pursue it...but sometimes finding something we hate and working to change it can be an even more powerful motivator. I hate seeing people be marginalized and told they don't matter. I hate seeing people be stuck in a role they hate but feel obligated to fill. I hate that so many of our life decisions are governed by fear. I hate seeing people give up before they even start. I hate when people are told they don't (or can't) think for themselves.

I guess this all comes down to the fact that we are in a broken world. Perfection will never be achieved, pain and injustice will exist, people (including myself) will make decisions out of fear...but that does not mean we can't fight against it. It does not mean that I can't do anything...if I can help even one person feel slightly more connected to and empowered by God, feel more like they do matter, feel less stuck filling a hated role...then I will consider all my efforts worthwhile.

Dr. Wes Stafford said "We are not given strength to be strong for ourselves, we are given strength so we can stand for those who are too weak to stand for themselves. And we are not given courage for ourselves, but to be courageous for those who are scared." God, help me use your strength and courage for those who can't, and help me accept it from others when I am too scared and weak to ask for it myself.