A Church for My Daughter

From Theresa Latini

My experience and interpretation of church, particularly worship, has shifted significantly at crucial formative moments in my life. One of these shifts occurred in seminary. As I learned the theology of Reformed worship and as I witnessed skilled practitioners, I became a critic of sorts. I paid attention to the liturgy in a new way, wondered about the ritual significance of its elements, and expected historical continuity within innovation. I was learning, and part of that learning included a moment of analysis, which of course had to lead back to full, embodied participation.

In the past year, I’ve found myself considering worship through a new lens, through the lens of motherhood. This actually began when I was pregnant—the advent of parenting. I’ve found myself listening anew to hymns, prayers, the passing of the peace, benediction, and yes, the sermon. Is this the message I want my daughter to hear? Do I want her to be formed spiritually in this particular milieu? What would these actions teach her implicitly as well as explicitly about God and herself? 

I suspect this reflection will be ongoing, and I look forward to the day when I talk with my daughter about it. For now, I’ve come to some preliminary conclusions about the kind of Christian community that I long for, for her.


Casseroles and Cakes 

From Jennifer L. Holberg

Several years ago, I had breakfast with one of my former professors, whose husband had died unexpectedly a few weeks earlier.  She had never been a religious person or very interested in talking about faith. And yet, when I asked her how she was coping, she answered, “I think I might join a church.” 

I tried to not to act surprised (surprise being a rather a bad response in a life-long Christian, one would think, especially one who had had actual training in evangelism) as I responded with something vague about it being a good place to consider questions of mortality and eternity.

“No,” she said. “It’s not that.  It’s because I’ve always heard that church people bring casseroles and cakes when there’s trouble. And look in on widows.  Help them with leaf raking and other chores. I don’t have anything like that—and it sounds very appealing.  Is it true?”

I assured her we were quite expert in the “casseroles and cakes” division and that care of widows was an ongoing imperative throughout the Bible. 

But I was intrigued.  It would have been easy to dismiss this as her mistaking church for a social service or a club.  Yet, it seemed to me that if she were attracted to the church because of seeing our care for each other, because of seeing a winsome community, maybe that wasn’t the worst thing.


Bringing Mystery Back

From Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

You can't tell me there is no mystery
It's overflows my cup

This feast of beauty can intoxicate
Just like the finest wine

Come all you stumblers who believe love rules
Stand up and let it shine

These are excerpts from Bruce Cockburn’s 2004 song, “Mystery,” found on his album Life Short Call Now.

I like the song. I like mystery. It feels like almost everyone likes mystery these days. It is a good antidote to the cold objectivity that has owned the last few centuries. Mystery, intuition, folk-ways, Jesus—they’re all making comebacks; sprung free from the straightjacket of hyper-rationality. Mystery is a key part of Christianity’s breakup strategy with modernity.

It is also a healthy astringent for worship with too much chatter and theology with too many answers. Sometimes it feels like mystery has almost become a church-growth strategy. More and more I hear the actual word “mystery” slipped into worship. Candles, silence, icons, and chanting tossed in at no extra cost. Don’t misunderstand. I actually appreciate most of this, whether it really puts millennial butts in the pews or not.

But there are reasons to poke around a bit in our new enchantment with mystery. I’m not looking for reasons to go back to the bad old days. And I realize that trying to scrutinize mystery, having “reasons” to study it, seems somewhat to miss the point, contrary to the very nature of mystery.


"Emerging adulthood," Part 2

From Jessica Bratt

Picking up where I left off last time, I want to take another look at “emerging adulthood.” In two weeks, the third and last installment of these musings will consider what bearing “emerging adulthood” has on the church.

I’m intrigued by what in particular seems to represent “full” adulthood in people’s minds. What would you say if I put you on the spot and asked, “how do you know when someone is an adult?” I suspect many would answer with some combination of what have been traditional milestones of adulthood: moving out of your parents’ house, finishing your education, becoming financially independent, starting a career, getting married, buying a home, etc.

I’m not really sure how useful those measurements are anymore. The milestones are still important, of course, but do they really reflect a straightforward delineation of life stages? I think not. From where I sit, at least, those milestones play an entirely different role, and happen in all sorts of different sequences, for my young adult peers. Some of those changes are because of drastically changing social landscapes and economic realities – for instance, the length of time and expense required for higher education and advanced degrees, and the economic downturn and accompanying constraints on the job market.

The traditional milestones of adulthood seem relativized not only by the timing of their onset, but by how fluid they are.


Too Wonderful to be True?

Director Jack O’Brian adapted the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to the Broadway stage several years ago, and it enjoyed a run of 626 performances. For the production, David Yazbek composed a lovely waltz:

Look at the way the moon behaves.
Look at the way she paints
A silver ribbon on the waves.
On thing I’ve learned and I’ll share with you- 
Nothing is too wonderful to be true.”

This is essentially the angelic announcement of Gabriel to Mary: nothing is too wonderful to be true. “Nothing shall be impossible for God!” But, for many 21st-century people, when they hear Christians confess that Jesus of Nazareth was “conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary,” they instinctively believe this is entirely impossible, and absolutely too wonderful to be true.  

Those in the modern world who struggle with Jesus’ Spirit-conception and Virgin-birth are in good company. Joseph and Mary themselves, the very parents of Jesus, both struggled with Gabriel’s good news. Remembering this enables us, then, to avoid the chronological snobbery which hears the Christian confession and responds smugly, “well, now we know that this sort of thing can’t happen.” Joseph and Mary never had a collegiate biology class, but they did know full well how babies were made. Gabriel’s good news would have sounded every bit as outlandish in the 1st century that it does in the 21st.

What then, are Christians getting at when they affirm Jesus’ Spirit-conception and Virgin-birth? They aren’t asserting Mary’s perpetual virginity, and they’re not denigrating women, sex, childbirth, or physical life. They are asserting that Jesus’ life is of a divine (“conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit”) and human (“born of the Virgin Mary”) character. Jesus, Christians say, is God-Among-Us, God moving onto our soil, God in our very flesh and bone.  

This feature of the Christian story sets it apart from all the ways humans have ever approached God. None of the world’s major faiths has been so audacious as to say that God actually became breakable, and entered so fully into the confinements, frailty, pain, and death of this planet.  

This was wonderful to Lauren Winner. Winner, as she was exploring Christian faith while a graduate student, writes in her memoir Girl Meets God, 

“The very first thing that I liked about Christianity, long before it ever occurred to me to go to church, or to say the Creed, or call myself a Christian, was the Incarnation: the idea that God lowered himself and became a man, so that we could relate to him better.  In Christianity, God got to be both a distant and transcendent Father-God, and a present and immanent Son-God who walked among us. Christians spend their time talking to God who knew from experience what it was like to get hungry, to go swimming, to miss a best friend.”

Maybe nothing is too wonderful to be true.

Jared Ayers is the founding and preaching pastor of Liberti Church in Philadelphia, PA. He is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College, and is currently finishing an M.Div. from Western Theological Seminary’s Newbigin House of Studies. Jared and his wife Monica have been married for 10 years, and love calling Philadelphia home. They’ve been graced with two sons (Brennan and Kuyper) and a daughter (Rae Ann).

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