Archives for posts with tag: theology

We pray to You, the Father, the Son, the Eternal Spirit: the God of hospitality.

We pray languidly to You before our consumptions. We invite You to eat with us because You are easy to welcome at table. We pay no heed to the poor, the sick, the starving – Your inconvenient incarnations. You are a welcome guest, or so we say, but if You smelled like the streets we would leave You at the door. We “say grace” but in this feasting we are graceless.

Teach us to eat with eyes opened and hearts softened. Teach us to rejoice in our food, our drink because this day You have given, and tomorrow You may take away. Teach us Your radical hospitality and how to widen our circles. In order to welcome You here, we set aside ignorance, apathy, gluttony, and thoughtlessness.

We pray in the name of the One who was spurned from many tables, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

 

~Annie Bolger Quick, editor

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I love the book of Ecclesiastes. It is one of my favorites and I return to it frequently. When life turns me on my head, Ecclesiastes reminds me that life has always been turning people on their heads, even the wisest, most knowledgeable, most secure of people.

The most recent “disaster” in my extensive history of medical disasters was the sudden loss of 25 lbs, for which the only explanation are my ongoing surgical complications. On a five foot tall frame, 25 lbs is a lot of weight. Before I knew what was happening, my body could not stave off infection and became ravaged with fever, nausea, and pain.

But I am a lucky one.

When I am starving – quite literally starving – for nutrients and medicine and care, I take a short drive to the hospital. I can spend as many days as I need, get all of the attention that I need, have IV bags full of nutrition custom-made for what I need.

Hunger is a term which has three meanings (Oxford English Dictionary 1971)

  • the uneasy or painful sensation caused by want of food; craving appetite. Also the exhausted condition caused by want of food
  • the want or scarcity of food in a country
  • a strong desire or craving

In round numbers there are 7 billion people in the world. According to the 2012 World Hunger Education Service, 13.1% of them are hungry. That is almost 1 in every 7 people.

The numbers… the statistics… we’ve heard them all. We’ve felt them, too. We’ve felt the sheer immensity of them. We’ve grieved the complexity of the world in which we live, where food prices soar, governments exploit agriculture, and systemic violence and class systems ensure that the poor will always be with us.

For me these days, hundreds of milliliters of completely accessible nutrients course through my veins for twelve hours each night. I am fed with food that is more than sufficient for me. I look at the homeless man on the corner of Division St and the disparity between us makes me queasy. I feel guilty. The dizzy, spinney, sick feeling sends me back to Ecclesiastes. “There is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God.”

Ah. Ecclesiastes turns me back around. It is not wrong to enjoy. My guilt matures… if it is not wrong to enjoy food and drink, then the question becomes howhow to enjoyhow to enjoy and celebrate and still stand in solidarity with those who cannot join my feasting?

This is the Holy Frustration.

I want to dialogue in my community about this question of how. DL’s proposition is powerful… cooking theologically… inspiring.  It is incredible that we can turn even our eating and drinking into a holy experience and an act of solidarity: the kingdom of God coming like yeast in dough.

~Annie Bolger Quick, editor

In celebration of International Women’s Day, here is an article by Jim Henderson in RelevantMagazine.com

Jesus often gave women a platform. Why doesn’t the rest of the Church?

Jesus didn’t have favorites, but … He did play favorites.

At least that’s the impression an uninitiated reader of the Bible could get. In general, Jesus seemed tough on Jewish insiders and soft on heathen outsiders. However, when it came to women—He basically liked them all.

Just think of the Samaritan woman; the foreign woman who begged for the crumbs off the table; the woman caught in the act of adultery; the woman who prostrated herself at His feet, kissing them and washing them with her tears before letting down her hair to dry them; Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary; the women who stood by Him when He was crucified while the men hid; Mary Magdalene, to whom Jesus first appeared after the Resurrection. He seemed to be drawn to women’s authenticity, loyalty and openness to God, regardless of their beliefs or nonbeliefs.

What’s interesting is that Jesus not only honored and protected women (a traditional role), He also provided them with a platform from which they could expand their influence (a countercultural role). As scriptural screenwriter-in-chief, the Holy Spirit chose to cast many women in the lead supporting actor role of the Gospel stories. This was because the star of the show (aka, Jesus) was quite comfortable working with and alongside women.

It’s a fact that Jesus did not choose a woman to be one of the Twelve, but it’s just as true that He did not choose a man to be the first person to witness and announce His Resurrection. It’s also a fact that no women were included in the inner circle of three who were present with Him at Gethsemane and the Transfiguration, but it’s just as true that no women followers bear the shame of having denied Jesus publicly.

The Spiritual Exodus of Women

How would you feel if you were capable of leading, thinking, guiding, shaping and forming a spiritual community but were denied the opportunity to do so? This experience leads some women to walk away from the Church, Christianity and in some cases God.

Many women are discouraged. And while some of them, particularly young women, leave the organized church only, others walk away from the faith altogether. In fact, in 2010 the Barna Group found that 26 percent of Americans have changed faiths or adopted a significantly different faith view during their lifetimes. Barna released its study just after the author Anne Rice famously renounced Christianity on her Facebook page. According to Barna, Rice “shares a spiritual profile with nearly 60 million other adults nationwide,” most of whom, the research found, are women. Since breaking with the Catholic church, Rice has publicly reaffirmed her commitment to Christ several times; however, Barna’s report notes, “The most common type of spiritual shift was from those who were Christian, Protestant or Catholic in childhood to those who currently report being atheist, agnostic or some other faith. In total, this group represents about one out of every eight adults (12%), a category that might be described as ex-Christians.” Disillusionment with their church and religion was cited as one of the top reasons people gave for leaving their faith.

But for many women (particularly wives and mothers), leaving doesn’t mean walking away; more often it means showing up without being present. Women often do this because they want their husbands and children to grow spiritually. They participate at the minimal levels and give just enough to ensure their families are included, even if the women are not growing themselves. They seem to be masters at finding ways to feed themselves without requiring as much from the place they call church.

Doctrinal Division

There’s a lot of confusion among both men and women about what the Bible does or does not say about the role of women in the Church. Women struggle (often in private) trying to determine whether their churches’ positions on women’s roles are genuinely God’s ideal or simply a reflection of dogmatic conditioning and cultural bias. The most ardent students of the Bible on both sides tend to be the ones who are most certain their view of the biblical role of women is the correct one.

Given the polarization, it’s dismaying how uninterested Christians seem to be in trying to understand why their brothers and sisters can read the same biblical passages and come to opposite conclusions. We need to learn how to stay in the room with differences and not “break up” over every biblical disagreement.

We need to start a new conversation about women and Church. At the very least, Christians need to think more honestly about these issues. There is room to grow and new things to discover about how God wants to use women to move His Kingdom forward. That’s why it’s important to to read, ponder and think most deeply about the things that cause disagreement. Not to win but to learn. We need to stop comparing our best with others’ worst. We need to stop criticizing each other and open our own ideas to critique.

My bias is that, just like men, women should have as much influence as they’re capable of exercising in the Church. But my opinion, regardless of how deeply held it may be, doesn’t give me permission to ignore, dismiss or demean those who disagree with me. And it especially doesn’t give me an excuse to be mean. Jesus told us to love one another—not to agree with one another.

Celebrating Women

Evangelicals are passionate about personal sin—swearing, adultery, gossip, drunkenness, lust, anger and so on. They have significantly less interest in systemic sin—racism, greed, selfishness and repression of women. This low view of systemic sin, this privileged paradigm of power, makes it easy to ignore the way women are treated in Church.

I recall once hearing Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Friedman put it this way: “Those with power never think about it, but those without power think about it all the time.”

But the worst thing is millions of women have given up protesting, given up trying to move forward, and allowed themselves to be convinced that they aren’t and shouldn’t want to be men’s equals in the Church that dares to name itself after one of history’s most radical advocates for women—Jesus of Nazareth.

Take a closer look at the women who will be and are currently part of your community. Listen—really listen—to them. And more important, consider the radical way Jesus related to women in a culture that sought to shut them down, curtail them and control them.

Taken from Resignation of Eve: What if Adam’s Rib Is No Longer Willing to be the Church’s Backbone? by Jim Henderson. Copyright © 2012 by Jim Henderson. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

         Gender. Is it a category which applies to divinity? Is God gender-less? Is God gender-ful? Controversy is hot over the 2011 edition of the New International Version of the Bible and its use of gender-neutral terms to refer to God. From the midst of the conservative camp, I am sensing an emerging theological undertone that dares to argue that God is predominantly of one gender. Blogging on the topic has kept the debate fresh in my mind, and while this post is winding and slightly disjointed, it serves well to help me think through the issue.

We must talk about God, but God is beyond language. The best we can do is image God through our language, and the ancient way to speak about God is metaphorically. The parables of Christ are crucial because they demonstrate that metaphor is an indigenous Christian language. One advantage to metaphorical theology is that no one metaphor has to illustrate everything. Deficiencies can be covered by other models.

There are many examples of metaphoric language describing God. In Deuteronomy 32:18, God is both the father and the mother who gives birth: “You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.” In Job, the writer talks about God both mothering and fathering: “Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens (Job 38:28-­29)? God is also described as a woman in labor and giving birth. He is seen as being in pain and crying out, gasping for breath. “For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant” (Isa. 42:14). Again the feminine imagery is found in Isaiah 49:15, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you.” God is a comforting mother, “For thus says the Lord: ‘As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you'” (Isa. 66:12‐13). Isaiah describes God as both mother and father in this hymn of praise: “Look down fromheaven and see, from your holy and glorious habitation. Where are your zeal and your might? The trembling of your womb and your womb-­‐tenderness? They are withheld from me. For you are our father” (Isa. 3:15‐16, literal translation).

With such strongly feminine imagery used in Scripture as God-descriptive, why does the tendency lean so strongly toward the use of masculine terms for the Divine in liturgy, prayer, and worship? The forms of scripture, creed, and historical theology in which Christian tradition is carried are encased in and formed by male-dominance. Theology is a matter of language, and of finding the best language available to speak of the concerns of faith. Theologians are very aware of the nuances and sway of language. It is not just the naming that is at stake, but that the naming establishes the relationships, the gridwork through which faith is mediated to women and men.

Roger E. Olson writes in his blog “Some Thoughts About ‘Christian Feminism’” that “insofar as we use the Bible’s predominantly male imagery of God we teach people that maleness is closer to God than femaleness. Without doubt that has been the case throughout much of Christian history.”

Sexism, like racism, is an insidious disease that affects everyone in a world saturated in it. Christians should be at the forefront of the battle against sexism, resisting the blight that it spreads throughout God’s created relational ecosystem. Supplementing predominantly male biblical imagery of God with female imagery, especially drawn from the Bible itself, seems to me to be a critical step in the movement toward biblical equality and restored personhood.

In the introduction to Dorothy Sayer’s article titled “Are Women Human?” Mary McDermott Shideler raises an equally viable concern, “Male and female are biological categories. Masculine and feminine are cultural categories. Both are impersonal classifications with real but limited usefulness. We cannot live or think effectively without classifying our experiences, but always we must ask whether the categories we are using are adequate for the problem we are considering.”

Are the categories male and female, masculine and feminine, “adequate” terms to describe the referent we are considering [God]? Is the God revealed in Scripture through both male and female, masculine and feminine terms classifying himself as one or the other? (Notice my use of the masculine reflective pronoun “himself”. It is unnatural, coming from my tradition, to use any other English pronoun. Perhaps other languages serve this purpose better.)

Olson’s critical follow-up questions to the case for equality are my food for thought these days: “But does throwing out male imagery of God in favor of predominantly female imagery solve anything? Or does it simply reverse patriarchy?” That is the danger that I find in modern feminist theology. The point is not to undo the harm that has been done by centuries of patriarchy via reversing the crime committed, the point is to redeem biblical images of God and the biblical purpose of personhood.

How is that to be accomplished? How do I move forward? I find that my tradition inhibits me from speaking of God in any terms but masculine ones. That is the great, almost imperceptible power of breakthroughs such as the new NIV translation. Slowly but surely, I will learn to speak of God as he speaks of himself. I will learn to see him as more than one gender or another.

In conclusion, I can echo the words of Olson once more: “God has no gender, in spite of the predominantly male imagery of God in scripture. I promote teaching that both male and female characteristics are valuable but prone to distortion and that both genders need redemption without in any way destroying or even undermining their uniqueness as created by God. I promote Christian leadership without hierarchy. I promote liturgical renewal that is not ideologically driven. I promote teaching boys and men to be suspicious of our socially-driven tendencies toward patriarchy without demeaning maleness itself.

 

~Annie Bolger Quick, editor