Meanderings . . .

From StillSpeaking:

Can reading be a form of prayer? I think so.

Not all reading. The books that are marketed as “page turners,” or with words like, “you won’t be able to put it down,” aren’t in my experience all that conducive to something like prayer (though they may get you through a long plane ride).

But many books – not only the Bible – but all those books that cause us to listen, to wonder, to pause and to ponder, can lead us to reading that is a form of prayer. A listening for God, a being seized by something deep and holy and true.

“Why are we reading, if not in the hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?” asked Annie Dillard.

“Why are we reading, if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we feel again their majesty and power?”

For most of my life, I’ve begun my days early and by reading. For me it is a form and time of prayer, a time to listen for and to God. It is a time that leads to other prayers, including this one:

“Loquacious, still-speaking God, thank you, thank you, thank you – for books and for writers, for words and for reading, and for those who taught me to read and to learn to love it.”

Reflection by Anthony B. Robinson

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From Bruce Reyes-Chow:

Every once in a while during some online interaction, I find myself pounding my head on my keyboard in frustration and asking myself, “Why bother?” The frustration is usually born out of a conversation about a political or theological tweet or update, when it becomes clear to me that some folks are more interested in winning battles than building community. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for vigorous and passionate debate, and I am often complicit in exacerbating unhealthy dialogue, but too often it seems that we slip into modes of communication that seem to say that the only way I can be built up is for you to be torn down.
Honestly, sometimes building community just gets too damn hard and I want to quit. It’s not worth my time, my energy or my effort. After all, I could be doing so many other things that would be so much more worthwhile. And then I remember this great exchange from the movie, “A League of Their Own,” when star player Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis),wants to quit the team and she is challenged by manager Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) to ask herself, “Why?”

Jimmy Dugan: Shit, Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that.

Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard.

Jimmy Dugan: It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard … is what makes it great. (Read the rest of this post here)

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From Emergent Village:

What you give leadership to will always grow. That is, if I give my time to getting in shape, I’ll get in shape … If I give my time to creating a great teaching ministry on Sunday morning, then we’ll provide a service to people who really like that kind of ministry. Since we know most Sojourners don’t wake up Sunday mornings looking  for a good sermon, we’ve decided to put our energy, efforts, and focus into the  incarnational aspects of our church instead of the presentational aspects. – Hugh Halter

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From Diana Butler-Bass on the Future of Faith:

In many cases, I’ve learned from “enemies” how NOT to behave in the world. Indeed, a dear friend, who once watched as I was struggling with an institutional crisis, said to me, “Diana, the point of this is to teach you how to be a leader. You now know how to listen because no one has listened to you; you now know how to respect others because you haven’t been respected; you now know the importance of the outsider because you have been cast out.” I hadn’t thought of that until he underscored this for me–I realized how often we take negative experiences and return evil for evil. That’s a primary problem in our political life and global relations–not to mention the life of denominations and congregations. But Christians should be able to break that cycle—and turn even the most painful experiences and worst criticism into a life of learning how to do better, how to forgive, how to love more. Understanding, listening, discernment are the basic practices in living a life of forgiveness—and when one is hurt, those practices are often blocked by fear.  But the more you do them, the more habitual they become. And it becomes easier to learn from everything from mere differences of opinion to verbally violent attacks.

That’s what I’ve learned personally. As a church, I hope we can learn defensive-less-ness. Jesus was not one who was much interested in protecting or defending. Jesus was about loving and laying aside. Movements that are about “protect and defend” are far outside the Gospel narrative, outside the witness of Jesus.  They aren’t Christian. We need to understand the fears that motivate such movements and the people attracted to them. But we must be equally clear that there is another way–and we must always, always, always stand as communities of conviction based in love. (Read the full interview here)

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“Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.” – Paul Tillich

“What the Gospel forever takes away from Christians is the right to judge between the poor and the unworthy poor.” – Dorothy Day

“Be wise not to use or abuse people to pursue vision and projects. Vision and projects may perish. People don’t. Value people.” – Eugene Cho

‘”Good morning, God,” I said to start the day. “Good God, morning,” I said after sighting headlines “Police slam Catholic Church”.’ – Father Bob

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From Eagle Brook Church:

Clearly, the most creative Church promotional video I’ve seen in a while. But then what would you expect from a church with nearly 15,000 members?

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And now for something weird and wacky: For the Bible Tells Me So? And our ‘worm’ on ‘Can of Worms’ tonight is: “Should parents be allowed to execute their own children?”

Scriptural Marriage

What is it with the fixation Evangelicals in the U.S.A. (and, increasingly, here in Australia) have on standing against marriage equality?

It seems that the majority of conversations I have with American Christians online somehow end up on this issue.

And these conversations are more often than not liberally sprinkled with phrases such as “God’s Word says . . .” or “We need to get back to Scriptural Marriage.”

To the first, I will reply: “Do you mean your interpretation of one of the many English translations of the collection of documents determined by the Church of the 4th-5th centuries to be included in what is called ‘The Holy Bible’?” (For the briefest of history lessons, see the Christian Canons section of this Wikipedia article.)

To the second, there are numerous answers, but this is one of my favourites from Chad Estes, written during the ruckus caused by the revelation that proceeds from the sales at Chick-fil-A (an American fast food chain) were going to right-wing Christian ‘family’ groups fighting same-sex marriage:

Thank God. At least somebody has the guts to stand up for our scriptural heritage. I guess I’m just not sure which heritage he is referring to.

  • Adam and Eve– married a woman created from his own rib. Kind of cool. Kind of weird. (Personally, I couldn’t find one of these, even on Craig’s list.) It was also necessary, although creepy that their kids had to marry each other. (I know my kids wouldn’t stand for that.)
  • Abraham – had a wife, Sarah, and a concubine, Hagar, and he fathered nations from his sons from both of them. When Sarah got jealous Abraham sent Hagar and their son out in the dessert where they nearly died. (Somebody should have gone to jail for abuse.)
  • Isaac & Rebecca – His dad sent a servant to go pick his wife. (I don’t have a servant and my kids want to choose their own spouses.)
  • Jacob married both Rachael and her sister Leah. (I love my wife’s sister, but not like that.)
  • Onan and his sister-in-law – They were supposed to get married after his brother died, but Onan didn’t want to have kids with her. (I told my brother’s wife that I was available for her if the unmentionable happened and she would have nothing to do with it. She gagged and walked out of the room.)
  • Potiphar and his wife – she tried to pull Joseph into her bed. (I do own a shotgun, Jamie.)

Okay, let’s just say I don’t want a biblical marriage from the book of Genesis. Let’s move on to the rest of the Old Testament.

  • Find an attractive prisoner of war, bring her home, shave her head, trim her nails, and give her new clothes. Then she’s yours. — Deuteronomy 21:11-13 (I bite my own nails, I’m not going to start trimming someone elses.)
  • Marry a prostitute like Hosea (Roxanne, you don’t have to put on the red light.)
  • Purchase a piece of property, like Boaz, and get a woman as part of the deal, like Ruth, who will come to you when you are drunk and night and uncover your feet (If you know what I mean).
  • Go to a party and hide. When the women come out to dance, grab one and carry her off to be your wife.– Benjaminites  in Judges 21:19-25 (Actually, this one might work.)
  • King Xerxes found his wife through a yearlong beauty contest. (But ever since Donald Trump started running the beauty pageants I just want him fired.)
  • Solomon – Marry a thousand women (how could the world’s wisest man be the craziest?)

Isn’t there a man after God’s own heart when it comes to marriage? How about King David? How did he get a wife?

  • Circumcise 200 of your future father in law’s enemies in order to win his daughter’s hand.
  • Kill a friend of yours and take his beautiful wife that you watched bathing.

Okay, let’s leave the Old Testament out of this. Let’s look at some New Testament examples.

  • Joseph and Mary – (Immaculate story, but hands off my wife’s womb please, God.)
  • Um, New Testament couples please? Are you serious? There are no examples of “biblical marriages” and how they met, married, had kids, and got along? How in the world are we supposed to figure this out by being Biblical?

Here’s another interesting take on this topic:

So please do not say ‘Biblical Marriage is between one man and one woman’ because, as you can see, that is a premise that just can’t be solidly defended from the Christian Scriptures.

Unless, of course, you refuse to consider any verse that does not support your own definition of marriage. (In which case, I would recommend you read the results of this study: ‘God, as it turns out, looks a lot like you‘)

The Sacrament of Beer with Friends

I belong to a pub group.

I say ‘belong’ loosely since there is no membership as such, just a few mates who get together every other week to have a beer and talk about anything and everything.

We’re all bruised and battered from bad religion and could collectively talk your ear off about how some church or church leader failed us and those close to us in the past. Overall, I think we’re pretty much on the level now and are optimistic about our individual places within our own worshiping communities. (You would correctly assume that we all are professing Christians, though I would suggest that we are all in different places on our journey and across the conservative-progressive spectrum.)

I also listen religiously to Homebrewed Christianity and love Chad’s and Trip’s take on things.

That’s where I came across Michael Camp’s great new book Confessions of a Bible Thumper. Conversational. Nostalgic. Relational. Straightforward. Michael takes us down his own path from being a somewhat-reluctant Jesus-freak to following a more progressive spiritual path. And how could I relate to his experience!

One thing that stood out to me in the podcast where Michael is interviewed [listen to it on iTunes] was the phrase he used ‘The sacrament of beer with friends.’ That use of the word ‘sacament’ bounced around in my head for a while. It often seems not quite right to put a deliberately ‘sanctified’ word alongside something that, in some of our growing-up stories, was presented as being so unholy and demon-like.

In reflection, I came to see how what we do every few weeks truly is a sacrament.

The word ‘sacrament’ has several similar definitions, some of which are outright religious in nature, and refer to observances such as Holy Communion or Baptism. But there is an underlying meaning along the lines of ‘Something regarded as possessing a sacred character or mysterious significance; a sign, token, or symbol.’

That is our pub group. It’s not, as our partners may think, some sort of male-bonding time or mutual back-slapping and high-five-giving session. No, we’re not even out to make our get-together a religious experience. Rather than a deep conversation about the nature of the trinity or the theories of atonement, you’re more likely to hear talk of interest rates, new building designs, or how bad the Crows are playing. But yet there is a sacred character to it (beyond the holy ‘spirit’ of a good brew!) It is a place that has a degree of significance in our own lives. It is a sign or a token which says that we see the need for sharing our journeys, unloading our hurts, and encouraging one another. It is sharing the sacrament of beer (preferably a Toohey’s Extra Dry) with friends.

And, while we don’t consciously remember Jesus in bread and wine, it is Communion in the truest sense of the word–a sharing of our time, our stories and our lives, even if it is only for an hour or so on a Tuesday night in a room full of pool-players and dart-throwers.

I’m really enjoying Michael Camp’s new book and I’m sure you would too. You can read an excerpt here, or check out Michael Camp’s book website here. But most of all, I’m gaining a new appreciation of the everyday joy of sharing with friends. As Bryan Berghoef writes in his (also excellent) book Pub Theology:

“. . . good things happen when we sit down at the same table together and talk honestly about things that matter–and frankly, having a beer doesn’t hurt.”