Wednesday
Sep172014

Exodus 16: Gif Style

I just wrote an entire blog. Hit the save button. My internet went out. The entire piece is now missing. This is how I feel:

The piece was about preaching at my friend's ordination at New Brunswick Theological Seminary this weekend. I celebrated the work of chaplains, as his call is to chaplaincy. I spent a good amount of time inviting you to look at Exodus 16 with me as that is what I'm preaching on.

In 14 verses someone complains, or talks about complaining 14 times. Scripture says the Israelites would rather die than continue in the process of liberation.

I'm sure Moses was feeling pretty good after he stretched out his arms and God moved the sea. I know I would. Now the Israelites are in the wilderness, hungry, and not comfortable. Superstar Moses is now being blamed. The whole congregation of Israel turns on Moses and Aaron and complains. I'm sure he felt a little more like this:

God and Moses talk. God says, alright alright, I will remind them it was I who took them out of the land of slavery and I will provide for them each morning bread from heaven. I wonder if there was gluten free, too?

The vegetarians were happy, but the carnivores wanted a little more. So God said I will give them meat in the evening. And in the evening the carnivores ate quail.

The thing that keeps sticking out to me in this is that God, in the midst of their vibrant complaining, drew nearer to them. It was like God was saying "Oh yeah, I want to hear more of what troubles you." God didn't distance God's self but God came closer.

God could have done this:

But no, God said to Moses to tell the people "I hear them." Not only did God listen, but God also showed up in a cloud. God's glory was noticed by all the people.

Liberation, freedom, salvation is difficult work. It's not always fun. It's not always comfortable. Wilderness is scary. But here's what I know from this text and here's what I know from Scripture, God is present. God might not take away the difficult feelings, but God is present. We are not alone. That's what chaplains do. They can't take away the pain. They can't make it better. Chaplains offer presence. Chaplains stand in for God and remind us we are not alone. 

So enjoy the bread for today. There is enough for you and there is enough for me. Everytime you meet at the Table of God be reminded that God hears you, receives you, and meets your needs.

And while this isn't exactly what my other blog said, I sure had fun retelling the story of Exodus 16 Buzzfeed style. Not so frustrated, but feeling more like this:

 

 

 

 

Wednesday
Sep032014

We begin, again

Yesterday at 2:00 PM it hit me that I am no longer on vacation; I wanted my afternoon nap.

It was my first day back in my office since the beginning of August. I felt like one of the school kids whose pictures I saw on my Facebook timeline holding a poster: "Madeline 2nd grade", "Jack's first day of school", and "Reverend Jes, year 3 pastor."

The first day back after a lengthy holiday is wrought with joy and anxiety. My first day back to school in sixth grade was terrifying. What was middle school? Why did I have to be a foot taller than everyone else? Why is everyone so mean? My first day back to high school my junior year, however, was amazing. My campaign for class president (with the slogan "Cast your vote for Kast") had worked at the end of the previous year, setting this junior year up with a different set of questions. What legacy will I leave as I lead my junior class? We have to have the best homecoming float this year so what will I encourage us to make? How much will I be able to improve the food served in the cafeteria? First days (school, job, volunteering, etc...) are anchored by questions and goals.

Like many of you, books were a big part of my vacation this year. My book list included young adult fiction, novels, biographies and the feminist existential theorist Simone de Beauvoir. I hang out in existential thought often. "What does this even matter?" is a question I find myself asking consistently, particuarlly at the beginning of new years. What value does this bring to me and the world around? How is value measured? What makes this meangingful?

I think, if pastors are honest, we also ask these questions. "Does my ministry matter?" "Does this church matter to this neighborhood/city?" "Does my faith matter to the world?" These are faithful questions that allow us to reflect with God. I consider these questions to be prayers. I think John Calvin would agree. In the Institutes he wrote, "All the wisdom we possess, that is to saytrue and sound wisdomconsists of two parts: the knowledge of God and our ourselves. (1.1.1)" 

By the time I got home from work yesterday I was sleepy. I didn't get my afternoon vacation nap (though I did 20 jumping jacks in heels to wake me up), but it was more than the nap. I came home knowing that the congregation I serve, my ministry, and the year ahead of me mattered. So I exerted heart and thought because I believe God has called me to this. I've heard the statistic that half of all ministers starting out will leave the ministry in five years. Half! Whoa! I'm curious about that number. I'm so competitive I almost take it as a challenge, but honestly, I also genuinely believe that ministry matters. I do not believe the church is dying and I get so annoyed when I hear people say that. Church is changing, of course! More people are doing church so much differently than just a pew on Sunday morning. I have friends who have planted dinner churches, pub churches, garden churches, and other unique ways of gathering around Word and Sacrament. The people of God will always continue to meet, we just aren't going to keep meeting in the same way. Ministry matters!

Maybe you are in need of some encouragement this year and are also wondering "Does my ministry really matter?" Maybe you are a deacon and wondering "Does this even matter?" Maybe you are a lay person who serves your church and city who is wondering "Does my service even make a difference?" Maybe you are a seminarian who is starting a new school year and are asking yourself "Is this really what I need to be doing with my life?" Or maybe you are a pastor and you, too, are beginning this year wondering "Does my ministry matter?" Most of us ask this question, it's so very human.

I came across this video recently on the SALT Project website and offer it to each of us, espeically my ministerial colleagues, as a response to our question "Does this even matter?" Rev. Julian DeShazier has an inspiring Word of hope for us all. 

God's blessings to each of us as we travel back from our holidays and begin, again.

 

Wednesday
Aug202014

James Cone, The Persistent Widow, and Theological Responses to Riots

Jes Kast-Keat is currently on holiday and has invited Daniel José Camacho to write today. Daniel is currently a Masters of Divinity student at Duke University Divinity School. He graduated from Calvin College in 2013 with a major in philosophy and minor in congregational & ministry Studies.

I was profoundly disturbed when I saw the chilling images initially coming out of Ferguson, Missouri last week. Mike Brown, another unarmed black teenager, laid dead in the streets. His mother: crying, pleading. Brown’s father: holding up a sign reading “Ferguson Police Just Executed My Unarmed Son!!!”. Then came the images of Ferguson police’s militarization and brutality in response to protests and unrest. What pained me, in the midst of this, was knowing the inevitability of many—but certainly not all—Christians failing to understand the gravity and lopsidedness of this situation. Yes, the robbing and destruction of stuff is bad but that is not the same as the occupation and destruction of people. I stopped and prayed: “Dear Jesus, please help the church avoid abstract talks of reconciliation & peace that avoid addressing police brutality/militarization.”

The situation in Ferguson made me recall something that James Cone had written in 1975. In the book “God of the Oppressed,” Cone recounts his disappointment with Christian responses to the Detroit riot during the summer of 1967, responses which simply deplored “unrest” and failed to see the fundamental issues at stake. He writes:

I knew that that response was not only humiliating and insulting but wrong. It revealed not only an insensitivity to black pain and suffering but also, and more importantly for my vocation as a theologian, a theological bankruptcy. The education of white theologians did not prepare them to deal with Watts, Detroit, and Newark.

I wonder how much has changed. What in our theological formation has prepared us for Ferguson?

 

This summer, I’ve been working at a summer school program hosted at a church. As the seminarian on staff, I’ve spent a good amount of time preparing children’s sermons from the Gospels. One thing that struck me was my own unfamiliarity with a particular parable about a persistent widow. As a church kid, born and raised, I thought I had deep if not faint memories of almost every single parable. But then I came across this passage from Luke 18:

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

I wondered why I had never really heard about this “bothersome” widow; she had never been held up to me as someone to emulate. Perhaps this omission is connected to the widow’s pursuit for justice and our own discomfort with people who demand justice, who insist on it unrelentingly.

The remarkable thing about this parable is that it’s supposed to be about praying and not losing heart. And the example we get is the “in your face” widow who wants justice against her opponent. Maybe this is a good example of Ora et Labora. We pray, yes, but we also work. We do. We dismantle. We work to change the conditions of this world.

How should we respond to Ferguson and to the many places in our country and world that resemble it? We pray. But we also have a lot of work to do.

Wednesday
Aug062014

Lamentation

I know it's not Ash Wednesday. It's not even Lent: a  time in our church calendar where we are given space to mourn, lament, and prayerfully think about the problem of evil and sin in this world. Yet I will be preaching on lament this Sunday because there has been so much violence and saddness manifested in the world this summer that the people of God need to take this heaviness to God in worship.

Scott Hoezee wrote an excellent blog yesterday entitled "The Sad Summer" addressing the very things that we will take to God in worship. He named many of the events, and topics, that we will be praying for and interceding on behalf in worship. I was particularly struck by the paragraph that Scott talked about children in vulnerable situations and comparing this with Theresa Latini's wonderful piece "Top 10 Signs that You're a Mother of a Newborn." He wrote:

In all of this, it is the suffering and the death of the children that all but smother my spirit.   Last week in her first blog since returning from a bit of maternity leave, Theresa Latini wrote a lyric piece on the wonder of being a mother and the splendor of a new child.   And what Theresa wrote there is very much how life is supposed to be.   But in too many parts of this world children are in a very different situation.  As Pulitzer-prize winning author Sonia Nazario (author of the newly relevant Enrique's Journey) has reminded us, the children fleeing to the U.S. from Honduras really are fleeing for their lives as the drug cartels have taken over and are now forcing 12-year-olds to become either junkies or drug dealers or both.  And instead of helping these desperate kids, we have turned them into a political football who have a good chance of being shot by Rick Perry's National Guard troops or ballyhooed as criminals and worse by Tea Party folks whose "America First" attitude puts a big piece of duct tape over Lady Liberty's "Give me your tired, your poor" plaque. 

Meanwhile, why do children have to be blown to bits while hiding out in a school?  Why do they have to fall 33,000 feet because someone thought it was a good idea to give idiots one of the world's most sophisticated missiles? 

I think of my childhood of running around and getting muddy in a pretend fort in the back of my grandmother's house. I had the luxury of using my imagination while never being at risk of any real threat with the exception of a bee sting here and there from my grandmother's garden. Many of the children we see on the news don't need an imaginary fortress of safety they quite literally need shelter from much greater threats than the garden bees. My justice radar goes off so quickly inside me and I think how is this fair? The reality is, it's not. So we pray for justice and the mercy of God our Creator.

I love the lament Psalms. Just under 50% of the Psalms have lament themes in them. That's a lot of honest prayer. That's a lot of ungilden communication with God. That's a lot of angry and sad words to God. Where do we go when we are pissed off at the injustices in this world? We go to God. I think lament prayers come from the most faithful for it takes a lot of faith to cry out "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" This is not a prayer of abandonment of faith, this is the prayer of someone who has entered the depths of faith. 

If honesty, unfiltered thoughts, are the noticeable features of a lamentation then the backbone of the prayer is a deep and faithful trust in God. Think about it, if one did not have a hope in God, why would one even bother to offer their laments? The backbone of lamentation is hope. We lament to find hope again. What we don't lament will never change.

John Witvliet, in his 1997 Reformed Worship article entitled "A Time to Weep", says the basic structure to a lament prayer is:

  1. Our lament begins with invocation, a startling confession that even in times of crisis, we approach a personal and accessible God
  2. Then, our lament freely addresses this personal God through the picturesque gallery of images used in direct address in the psalms. 
  3. Our prayer continues with bold lament. We bring our most intense theological questions right into the sanctuary.
  4. Then our prayer continues with specific petition: heal us, free us, save us
  5. Finally, our prayer ends with expressions of hope, confidence, and trust, however muted they might be by the present situation 

Carol Bechtel taught me how to love the Psalms, and boy do I. They are so human to me and I need the humaness of spirituality quite often. I need the human God in Jesus. The cool thing about lamentation is that we don't have to just pray the Psalms we can actually write our own lament. John Witvliet's guidance provides a helpful structure for us to pray our own complaints. I have many journals filled with lamentation for global catastrophes and personal annoyances. Lament gives us a place to put our anger and complaints. Instead of repressing our anger (how awful!) and instead of blasting it on our Twitter feeds to passively deal with (also awful) let's take our anger directly to the source of all creation: God! Trusting that God is as merciful and full of steadfast love as the Old Testament writers convey we can come to God and pray "How long, Oh Lord, will fighting in Gaza continue? How long, Oh Lord, till domestic abuse is no more? How long, Oh Lord, will the church fight about who is truly Christian? How long, Oh Lord, till racist systems are no more? How long, Oh Lord, till peace? Truly, how long, Oh Lord?"

This Sunday we will cry out to God on behalf of our fellow humans around the world. This Sunday we will use this season of Ordinary Time to grow in our practice of lament. 

My colleague in NYC, Peter Armstrong, reminded me of Sufjan Steven's "Oh God, Where Are You Know?" I often need music to worship and to express what groans inside of me. I leave this song for your listening. Sufjan so wonderfully sings a lament for us to partake in. On behalf of the world, and behalf of our personal grievances, we turn to God in lamentation trusting to find hope time and time again.

 

 

Wednesday
Jul232014

#FaithFeminisms

Feminism, like faith, is not monolithic. 

Over the last few weeks a group of feminist on Twitter found each other and began dreaming. We are holy-resisters and hope-filled dreamers of faith. We are diverse in all the ways one could possibly hope for diversity. Some of us are evangelical, some liberal, and some radical. We all want to talk about feminism and faith. What began as a simple idea of a week of five blogs hoping to nuance faith and feminism conversations has turned into a hashtag movement #FaithFeminisms. Someone generously made a website for us www.faithfeminisms.com that not only amplifies our blogs, but people are able to add their faith and feminist blog to the conversation, too. This movement has caught the attention of Rachel Held Evans when she blogged this week "We need feminism..." Suey Park, activist who caught the medias attention this year, is also participating in the conversation (stay tuned for her post today and Friday). Voices of all sorts of feminists are making their thoughts known this week in what we are referring to as a flash mob movement on the internet. My spouse has given us one of his platforms that he created called "Thirty Seconds or Less" where we are all able to offer our actual voice to the conversation in a 30 second podcast. Everyday this week four to five podcasts are broadcast. Instead of just sharing about the project, let me share some of the voices.

 

While we did not plan this, we think it is providential that the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene took place during this week. To the first minister of the Gospel we dedicate this week to her.

From RCA minister, Reverend Adriene Thorne, listen to her 30 seconds:

"As the great granddaughter of a slave woman who loved God and believed in abundant life for all people, faith and feminism are intertwined for me.

With a mama and play mamas spoon feeding me faith like the grits and gravy I grew up on, I have to preach abundant life for women and girls in particular. God’s nurture is in women’s bodies around kitchen tables. God’s power is in women’s bodies around communion tables.

I thank God for Sarah, Hagar and Rebecca, for Eva, Hilda and Marilyn and their legacy of faith and feminism for my daughter."

 

Listen to 30 seconds from scholar Krista Dalton"

"You invite me to the table. 
You extend your hand and make space for me. 
You tell me you understand my feminine experience. 
You show me all the ways you’ve advocated for me. 

Yet, 
You forget or just don’t recognize
that when we both come to the table, we are not equal. 
The table has worked for you in ways it hasn’t for me. 
The table has always been yours. 

As long as you have the power to invite me to the table, the table has no room for me."

From Reverend Mihee Kim-Kort in the PC(USA):

"I look at Anna bouncing, reading, singing, and vibrating with an odd vitality and joy and beauty. My mother cooking, cleaning, buzzing around the house with endless energy. Both are bookends to my life, pulling and pushing me to work towards a world of love and justice.

Already I see the seemingly inconsequential coming after Anna, her voice, her body, her worth, and value. These insidious microaggressions need concise words to bring truth to light.

Being a feminist, Jesus or Christian or whatever, means joining in the work of something bigger than yourself, your blog, twitter, or social media, and sometimes that just means you need to get out of the way."

 

Austin Brown, Resident Director at Calvin College, she writes:

#FaithFeminisms has been the slowest conversion of my life. There was no flipping of a switch, no church service revelation, no falling to my knees in wonder. It was borne slowly, tumbling and kicking inside, peeking out to see if it’s safe, grasping and begging for air. The midwives of friends, authors, sisterhoods, mentors and preachers it has taken to help her live would form quite an extensive list- crisscrossing the country, reaching from heaven to earth.

It almost never was. There was too much of “Eve is the reason sin entered the world” and “Ham’s curse is the reason Africans were enslaved.” What is a girl to do knowing she begins curses with one hand and embodies them with the other?  There was nothing redeeming about my womanhood or my race in Scripture. Eurocentric depictions of the Divine didn’t help either. Sunday school Bibles, archeological documentaries, feature length films all created a white, male God. (Read more at the blog called "Loving Eve and Loving Ham")

I encourage you to head over to www.faithfeminisms.com and listen in on the conversation. Perhaps you identify as a feminist and have a piece that you would like included, please add your voice! Perhaps you are curious about our understanding of how feminist and faith could be connected, this conversation is for you! If you are on Twitter, check out #FaithFeminisms and glean the collective wisdom and stories.