Sunday Superlatives 1/18/15

IRL…

A highlight of the week was the opportunity to spend some time with Jonathan Martin, one of my favorite writers and just a kind, open-hearted, and wise person. Dan and I enjoyed giving Jonathan a little tour of Dayton and enjoying a tasty meal and rich conversation. Few people have been as encouraging and supportive of my work as Jonathan. I’m so grateful for his friendship and insights. Be sure to check out his writing. He and Dan are both very tall! 

Another gift this week was the chance to worship again at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland, Tennessee, which has become our church family, and which I write about in Searching for Sunday. I took advantage of a bright blue sky on Sunday to get a photo: 

You can find more snapshots of “real life” at Instagram.


Around the Blogosphere… 

Funniest: 
“Dad Fills Out Daycare Questionnaire Honestly For His 11-month-old Daughter
 

Wisest: 
Ben Irwin with “The Day I Was Walter Brueggemann”

“For Brueggemann, reading the Bible well requires navigating between two extremes: the literalist impulse of fundamentalism and the historicist impulse of rationalism. One treats everything as literal, historical fact, imposing modern expectations of “accuracy” and “precision” on ancient texts. The other denies any meaningful connection between the text and reality. Both reflect a reductionist approach to the Bible. Both fail to consider the importance of genre when reading scripture—the codes, if you will, through which the authors described (and critiqued) reality for their audience.” 

Coolest: 
NASA takes biggest picture ever
 

Most Relatable: 
Mike McHargue with “Shamed and Shunned”

“Churches are full of people hiding. I'm in the Atlanta airport as I write this, and during this layover I've gotten three messages from people who asked me for advice because they are afraid of being ‘found out’ at church. One is a man who doubts a lot about the Bible and wonders if God is real or not. Another is a person who told me she's afraid of going to Hell because her beliefs about God have changed–even though she's still captivated by Jesus. The third is a young woman who is exclusively attracted to other women. All three of these people long to know and feel close to God. All three are terrified of discussing their relationship with God with their friends at Church, and are even more afraid of talking to their pastors. Houston, we have a problem.”


Most Powerful:
Benjamin Moberg at Sojourners with “LGBTQ Christians: Hope for the Unseen”

“There were fifteen hundred people in Portland. There were 46 states and 14 countries represented. There were major cultural leaders speaking as keynotes. There were remarkable moments, like when Justin Lee announced his plans to meet with the president of Focus on the Family to discuss LGBTQ youth homeless rates. Yet none of the major Christian media outlets covered the conference. None of them told our story. None of them bothered to show. And in their silence was their declaration: You do not exist." 


Most Eye-Opening: 
Jennifer Soble with “We lock up poorest, not most dangerous” and Joseph Shapiro at NPR with “How Driver’s License Suspensions Unfairly Target the Poor” 
 

Most Enlightening: 
Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller at This American Life with “Batman” 


Most Challenging
Rev. Amy Butler with “Will the Church Fail or Fulfill Martin Luther King Jr's Legacy?”

“The deep and foundational tragedy of Ferguson and New York and so many other places across our country is that people who live and work and raise families in the same neighborhoods do not know each other, do not understand each other, and therefore cannot love each other.”

Most Insightful: 
Kelley Nikondeha at She Loves with “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” 

“The question remains–why do we resist gathering? Why are we willing to stone the prophets but unwilling to gather under God’s wing? Maybe we don’t want to hear that the ways that seem normative to us, defending ourselves and nursing our prejudices, are ineffective. Maybe we are hesitant to see who else gathers under the wing of Jesus. Maybe we think we are beyond the need of a mother or any need of nurture. Maybe we’re afraid there will be too many or they’ll be too different and we like our idea of a select, similar few.”


Best Tribute: 
Jelani Greenridge with “If You Love American Music, You Have Andraé Crouch to Thank” 

“…The legacy that Andraé Crouch represents is a combination of musical excellence and a fearless sense of multicultural inclusion.” 


Best Reflection: 
Sarah Bessey with “A Lament for Nigeria”

Best Response: 
Kate Wallace at The Junia Project with “They Say the Church is Feminine” 

“Women may indeed make up the majority of people in the pews (for now), but they do not make up even half of the people who make decisions about church services or experience. If men really aren’t going to church, it doesn’t seem to be the fault of women. Perhaps the Church leaders who are making these claims should stop shaming the faithful, and start asking them for help…Yes we need men in our pews. We also need women in our pulpits, on our elder boards, at the communion tables, on the worship teams, and in our denominational leadership. The Church is “too feminine”? No. I’d say the Church isn’t feminine enough.”


News… 

We’ve had an AMAZING response to the announcement that Nadia Bolz-Weber and I are teaming up to host “Why Christian?” – an event scheduled for Fall 2015 that will bring together a group of storytellers whose work reminds us why we follow Jesus in the first place. Learn more here, and register soon as the spots are filling fast! 
 

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So, what caught your eye online this week? What are you reading? What’s happening on your blog? 

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Marriage, Ministry, and “Troubling the Waters”: A Guest Post from Andy Kort

Andy Kort and Mihee Kim-Kort are Presbyterian (PCUSA) clergy who live and work in Bloomington, Indiana. Andy is pastor of First Presbyterian Church and currently working on his Doctor of Ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. On any given day he can be found enjoying a solid cup of coffee, running at the Y, or bemoaning the plight of Pittsburgh sports. Mihee is the staff person for UKIRK @ IU - a campus ministry to Indiana University students and spends her days reading and writing snippets on her phone while chasing after their three kids.

Today’s post is an excerpt from Yoked: Stories of a Clergy Couple in Marriage, Family and Ministry, a collection of true stories is written by Mihee and Andy. They share their unique perspective on the joys and challenges of ministry in alternating segments, forming a collective narrative that illuminates the inner workings of a clergy marriage, even as it inspires with heartfelt tales of life in ministry. This excerpt is from a chapter written by Andy, who talks about the two voices—his father’s and his wife’s— that have shaped his own voice in his identity as a preacher and pastor. Enjoy! 

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Mihee’s voice reminds me of line in the old hymn “Wade in the Water” that speaks to God’s “troubling” the water. I never really understood what that meant, and I’m still not sure I do. But as I think more about it, I have come to imagine it is a reference to God’s active participation in this world. The still, peaceful, and easy waters of this world often invite us to a state of placidness. At the worst, we simply go along with the flow, afraid to deal with all of the challenges that come with making ripples, let alone waves. Perhaps God troubling the water causes us to, or calls us, to the radical work that causes ordinary folks to drop their proverbial nets and follow a certain rabbi. 

Mihee’s prophetic voice has troubled the waters of what, I am sure, could have been, and at times still might be, a glassy-lake life and ministry. As we took classes like “Cultural Hermeneutics” together and other classes in theology, she challenged me in a way that Calvin, Barth, or Augustine could not. I was suddenly engaged in, found myself thinking about, and talking about, issues that as a white middle-class suburban American male I had not had to wrestle with before. I looked at church, my preaching, my use of words, my relations with others, and the larger world in way that was new to me. 

I began to think about the power and the impact of one’s voice. As she began serving her churches as an Associate Pastor, I really began to think about even the little comments we make to each other. This is because she would share with me some of what others have said to her, comments literally about her voice—“talk louder and use the mic!”—the well-intentioned, but condescending, comments about how young and cute she looked in her big black robe while leading worship—“just like my granddaughter!” After we had been married for a few years she was asked the question that is no-one’s business: “When are you going to have kids?”  I’ve had my fair share of stupid comments about my beard or haircut or tie, but I can let those roll off after a few minutes of shaking my head. But when it happens to Mihee, something within me stirs to make sure that I am never that insensitive to another.  I’m not sure I’d be aware of these things, or give them much thought, if I was not married to a member of the clergy.

Mihee’s voice troubled the waters and as a result re-shaped my still developing voice. I’m not going to lie and say it was, or is, an easy process. I saw things in myself and I listened to things about her life that are hard. But as these conversations, fights, and experiences played out I have come to see that she has influenced me in ways that my dad, or anyone else for that matter, could not. 

She has taught me that my voice is useless—a clanging gong or a noisy cymbal—if I don’t back it up with action. If I don’t “practice what I preach,” as they say, then what good does it do? Mostly she has challenged me to be more courageous. She has challenged me to live with conviction. She has taught me how to remain faithful (or at least try to) in the midst of hardship and the confusion that comes with asking “How long O Lord?” …She has gently pulled, pushed, and kicked me out of my zone of comfort and familiarity.     

But as I continue to grow in life the more I can see that while I am influenced by, and who I am because of, many people, I am still God’s unique creation—with my own voice.

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Be sure to check out Yoked: Stories of a Clergy Couple in Marriage, Family and Ministry by Andy Kort and Mihee Kim-Kort. 

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Post-Evangelicals and Why We Can’t Just Get Over It

It’s strange how the ghosts of your last church haunt the new one. 

You’ll be doing the hard part, the showing up part, and suddenly a word or a song or the presence of a plate of deviled eggs grinning back at in you in the fellowship hall will flood every sense with memory—at once nostalgic and painful, comforting and sad.   You will eye the nearest exit, wondering if the ghosts can follow you out the building, if you’ll ever really shake them for good. 

I remember when I first heard the term “post-evangelical,” how I hated it and loved it at the same time.  Oh, I rolled my eyes at its pretension, its unapologetic smacking of smarter-than-thou. And yet I glommed on to the label, to any label really, because a label means you’re not alone. A label means you can be classified along with species of a similar nature. A label gives you a family, an order, a name. 

“It’s nice to be Episcopalian now and not post-evangelical,” I told Dan on the way home from church one cloudy afternoon, feigning a security I didn’t actually feel. “Who wants to be defined by what they’re not?” 

 “I don’t know,” Dan said, calling my bluff. “Seems like we’re all a little post-something.” 

I’ve been reading articles lately about how people like me need to just get over it already, either suck it up and embrace evangelicalism or pack up and move on.  The writers accuse us of painting with broad brushes (this is often true), of consumerism (this is sometimes true), of abandoning orthodoxy (this is rarely true), of deconstructing just for sport (this is almost never true). Then they charge us with printing up silly, oversimplified labels to slap onto all that we condemn, and I can’t help but recall all the labels I learned from them—feminist, liberal, postmodern, evolutionist, nominal, lukewarm, heretic—and think, where do you think we learned how to do this, folks? 

Sure we tend to over-share. Sure blog posts recounting 10 Ways Evangelicalism Failed Me are a dime a dozen.  But when you grow up believing everyone outside evangelical Christianity is going to get spewed from God’s mouth at best or cooked for eternity in hell at worst, when the people you love most in the world belong to the evangelical community and want you to belong to it too, making a deliberate step out of that tradition is a big deal.  When you grow up believing that your religious worldview contains the key to absolute truth and provides an answer to every question, you never really get over the disappointment of learning that it doesn't. 

It’s a lonely, frightening journey and most of us are limping along as best we can. 

My little evangelical church in Birmingham, Alabama was the first place, outside of my immediate family, where I knew I belonged, where I knew I was loved. It was the community that introduced me to Jesus, that lowered me into a still pool of water and called me child of God. It was evangelicalism that taught me to value the Bible, to give and receive testimony, to totally slay the motions for “Father Abraham,” to make deviled eggs. And it was evangelicalism that first told me that being a woman limited my potential, that science was not to be trusted, that democrats and gay people and Episcopalians were my enemies, that asking questions about these things was wrong. 

It was evangelicalism that told me who I was and it was evangelicalism that told me who I wasn’t.  You don’t just get over that. You don’t just trash it all and walk away

Like it or not, our religious traditions help forge our identities. The great challenge, the one that took me a book to articulate and which I suspect will take me a lifetime to work out, is to hold every piece of my faith experience in love, even the broken bits, even the parts that still cut my hands and make them bleed. 

We are all post-something. 

We are all caught between who we once were and who we will be, the ghosts of past certainties gripping at our ankles. 

There’s no just getting over it. There’s no easy moving on.

So I ask for grace—from the communities that now receive me and from the one that first taught me what that word means. 

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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.