Why Not Getting Naked (sometimes) Matters

by LainieP on May 13, 2010

© Tom2898 | Dreamstime.com

(This post also appears on my Open Salon blog.)

Ann Bauer‘s recent story about her covert escape from a marriage encounter weekend has inspired some pretty pointed comments. While some are predictably cruel and trollish, others ask this reasonable (and paraphrased) question:

“Nobody was holding you against your will. So why did you feel the need to sneak out of the hotel in which the program was held?”

I can’t speak for Ms. Bauer and her husband, of course, but my suspicion is that, like many of us, they are uncomfortable with confrontation. A less dramatic, but more obvious, retreat could have resulted in a regrettable interaction with their manipulative hosts and, perhaps, other participants.

(Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.)

The article gave me a chuckle and reminded me of an incident that occurred about 15 years ago: A friend invited me to visit her new-agey encounter group. The mixed-gender group (there were about 9 or 10 of us) met in a posh, suburban home that belonged to two of its members, a middle-aged, married couple.

The evening began with the facilitator suggesting the evening’s activity, which was as follows:

  1. Everyone strips naked.
  2. Each person takes a turn sitting in front of a large mirror.
  3. After appropriate contemplation of one’s own reflection, the mirror-gazer then tells the rest of the group what s/he likes about her/his own body.

She asked what we thought of this, and for a few seconds, nobody said anything. So I spoke up: I explained that I was completely uncomfortable with her proposal, and while I did not mean to disrupt the group, I would not participate in the activity.

She looked bemused and explained that, as nudity was commonplace in this program, she didn’t think it would be a problem.

My friend apologized for not explaining this to me before the meeting.

I offered to sit in another room.

The facilitator, showing signs of agitation, pointed out that the group’s purpose was pushing personal boundaries, and that maybe I should ignore my discomfort for my own benefit.

I politely acknowledged the potential validity of her assertion. I also explained that my clothes were staying on.

One group member (and its unofficial leader) became offended and offered to drive me home if getting naked was such a problem.

Over my friend’s protests, I accepted his offer.

After a bit more huffing and puffing, the group finally conceded that, in the future, members should warn guests of possible required nudity. The group also asked the facilitator to choose another, clothed activity. The meeting continued without further disruption.

In truth, I felt badly about the incident. I believe in the “when in Rome” principle, and really didn’t like the fact that my refusal to remove my clothes was such a problem.

Then something strange happened.

When the program for the evening was over, we scattered around the kitchen for snacks. Several group members came up to me and thanked me for voicing my opposition.

(Apparently, these group members, including the people who owned the house in which it met, weren’t crazy about the exercise either. They each spoke of their fear of saying anything, and again thanked me for having the “courage to stand up for myself”.)

The incident left me befuddled. I was in my mid-twenties at the time, considerably younger than the other attendees, most of who were old enough to be my parents. Why were these folks, older and wiser than me, so afraid of acknowledging that that they wanted to keep their private parts private?

(They were probably afraid of having to tangle with the group “leader”, who didn’t hesitate to express his contempt for those less enlightened than himself.)

So I while I understand the commenters who question the choices made by Ms. Bauer and her husband, I’m not going to join their chorus. Heaven knows that I became significantly less brave over the years myself, often staying silent when it was wrong to be so. So instead of telling Anne Bauer off, I am going to try and remember the girl who kept her clothes on, figure out where that courage came from, and put it good use.

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Well, it has been awhile, hasn’t it? Truly, being a tea-writer is pretty time consuming, and frankly, when it comes to being a “Christian” blogger, I haven’t felt like I’ve had much to say.

But Steve Hayes, part of the erstwhile synchroblog that I’ve been a part of for a couple of years, just posted his response to the “10 Questions” that Brian McClaren raises in A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith. I thought I’d give them a shot, both as an exercise in perhaps discerning where I am at with this whole emergent thing, as well as an excuse for posting to this blog again.

More later.

10 Questions

1. What is the overarching story line of the Bible?

There isn’t one.

2. How should the Bible be understood?

“How” should it be understood? Perhaps we need to be asking “whether” it should be understood.  Or even better, whether it “can” be understood.

3. Is God violent?

Yes.

4. Who is Jesus and why is he important?

Jesus is God thumbing his nose at The Way people think things ought to be.

5. What is the Gospel?

The good news that things don’t have to be This Way.

6. What do we do about the Church?

Nothing. We will probably get more done that way.

7. Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?

Unlikely. Before we can address human sexuality (and I suspect this question is a euphemism for “Can we discuss whether it is ok to be gay and a christian at the same time?”) everyone needs to calm down. We aren’t there yet.

8. Can we find a better way of viewing the future?

Possibly, but it will mean losing a lot of programming.

9. How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?

As human beings? Sheesh.

10. How can we translate our quest into action?

We don’t even know what our quest is. Let’s try figuring it out first. Or not.

Here are the other bloggers who have participated in this discussion:

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Filling in the Gaps: Badly

by admin on October 16, 2009

cracksA few weeks ago, Michael Spencer (aka Internet Monk) posted a hypothetical scenario entitled “That Not Exactly Married Couple” and solicited comments from his readers:

An unmarried couple, living together for five years are attending your church. They are unmarried because the woman’s ex-husband is threatening to reduce child support if they do marry. The couple plans to marry next year when the child support ends. They are now asking to join the church: What do you do?

The post generated  some great discussion. Sadly, however, some commenters began to accuse the hypothetical couple of “fraud” and even “criminal” behavior because they were living together to avoid losing child support.

A similar situation developed on Salon about two months ago: Rebecca Golden wrote about her part-time job cleaning houses. It received many compliments from Salon letter-writers. But then a few folks noted that Ms Golden is on disability and, you guessed it, began to accuse her of benefits fraud.

When confronted with information gaps, people are quick to fill them. Unfortunately, we often choose to fill them with negative, rather than positive, assumptions.

After all, based on the information that Michael gave us, the hypothetical couple might just as easily been hamstrung by a vengeful, controlling ex-husband who knew that his ex desperately needed money to care for their disabled child, but who also enjoyed putting her in a “difficult” position by preventing her from being legally married.

And Salon readers could have thought to question whether those on disability can have some earnings (they can).  But in both cases, folks went straight for the jugular, despite the fact that the readers on Internet Monk are supposed to be Christians, and Salon readers are supposed to be liberal, hip, and intelligent.

Right.

Now, of course, I point this out because I am well-familiar with this sort of behavior: It is one of my specialities. I assume the worst about people and situations, even when the information that I have doesn’t really point to such a conclusion.

I’ve considered the following reasons for my negative assumptions:

1. I don’t want to look/feel like a fool, so I preemptively try and be clever. (So I figure I will be wise as a serpent and all that.)

2. I don’t want to be disappointed. (So I will assume the worst and if I am wrong, well, then I have a pleasant surprise!)

3. I’ve watched too many crime shows on TV.  (Bad Lainie!)

But whatever my reasons, these negative assumptions about others are bad things. They take up my time and energy in negative thought and self-righteous indignation. They can lead to my bearing false witness, and, perhaps more importantly, this way of thinking is a real bar to relationships with people.

(And can you imagine anyone wanting to join a church where people assume you are a criminal fraudster just because of your living arrangements?)

I’m working on finding other ways of filling gaps. . .I’m going to start, or try to start, with a bit of grace.

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Eulogy

by admin on October 4, 2009

(I preached this eulogy today at the memorial service for my friend and roommate who died recently. It is a transcription of sorts, so it may not flow as naturally as a standard blog post would.)

When I first met John I was struck by two things: His beautiful blue eyes and his angelic face. I was dazzled.

I was not really surprised then, when I found out that John was in the business of beauty.

It was his profession, after all. After high school he studied cosmetology, became a hairdresser, and established a career in making women beautiful.

In fact, John did a lot to make the whole world beautiful. A classically trained vocalist, he sang for choirs in both Virginia and Chicago. He was an excellent cook, a remarkable interior decorator, and managed to train up the sweetest dogs I have ever met.

Beauty, you see, wasn’t just John’s profession, it was his vocation.

And it wasn’t an easy one.

In a world ruled by the values of functionality, profitability, and efficiency, beauty can seem frivolous. Fussy. Unnecessary.

But without beauty, the world becomes a harsh place devoid of warmth and joy:

After all, beige cubicles may efficiently divvy up office space, but the employees who inhabit them are usually eager to depart for crowded neighborhood bars decorated with the work of local artists.

Grey linoleum may not show much dirt, and it may clean easy, but a colorful rug brightens a room, and is so much kinder to our feet.

And slicing off refrigerated cookie dough may be faster and makes for fewer dirty dishes, but the resulting cookies can’t compare to those that are made from scratch.

Now, John, so sensitive to beauty, took the small cruelties of everyday ugliness hard, and this could be irksome to those around him. But while coworkers may have chafed at his use of a gram scale to measure out hair color, the two Miss Americas that he styled were undoubtedly grateful for his precision

John may have been overly critical of perfectly good restaurants, but nobody could eat his stuffed cabbage rolls without appreciation of his culinary skill.

He could be harsh with his comments while watching HGTV and playing “queer eye for the straight homeowner”, and he could exasperate his partner with demands for a $6000 sofa; But he could also make the humblest spaces not only livable, but a delight.

When I read the scriptures for today’s service, I saw that they both conveyed important truths about beauty. In our Old Testament lesson we learned that our purposes, pains, pleasures each have their place, each have their time, each have their season.

And while goals of functionality, profitability and efficiency are to save time, the spirit of right season uses time to bring forth that which is lovely and desirable:

Just as ripe tomatoes in season are so much more delicious than their hothouse counterparts, so is right timing, right measurement, important to the creation of beauty.

And in our gospel passage, Jesus offers a curious companion to this right timing of beauty: He implores his disciples to be both salt and light to the world. Salt makes food delicious and a shining lamp draws attention and lights the way for others. Both saltiness and illumination are aesthetic qualities, just as right measurement and timing are: In skilled hands, in a trained voice, or even in the colorist’s mixing dish, they all come together to create beauty that delights the soul, and enriches the world.

John entered our human community for many reasons, but chief among them was his constant reminder to all of us that there is more to life than utility: He taught us that good hair and good food, majestic singing, cheerful pets, and well-coordinated décor matter, especially in a world quick to dismiss such things as “luxuries”.

Now today, we who were touched by John’s life and who received from him the beauty which he so freely shared, are gathered here to remember John in death. Now John’s timing at the end. . .it wasn’t good.  But the beauty that he brought us, and taught us, still remains with each of us who sit here today.

And that’s the thing about beauty: Once it is created there isn’t much we can do to control or stop it. We’ve all had our heads turned by a particularly beautiful garment in a store window and we’ve gasped with awe at a spectacular sunset. We carry our experience of beauty into the next minute, the next hour, the next day, the next year.

We are changed by this beauty.

Just as encountering John changed all of us.

Now the season of John’s life has been cut short, long before it came to its proper fruition, yet its salt and its light are not so easily halted. As we have lifted our voices in song and in prayer together, we have testified to the tragedy of his death but have also celebrated the wonders of his life.  That John’s friends and loved ones are united in worship today demonstrates the power of the gifts that he shared with us.

In closing, I would ask that all of us here, during the coming weeks and months, do John and his life honor by acknowledging the marvelous gifts he gave us during his life:

Take extra care with your holiday decorating.

Stop to taste and correct the seasoning for your stew.

Pause to listen to the beautiful opera being played on NPR.

Show the world that you learned from John.

And teach others what he taught you.

Show the world that John was needed.

And know that you are needed too.

The season of John’s life is over.

The season of your life continues.

Walk in the light.

Amen.

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holdinghandsA post on Internet Monk (on how the church needs to be a place where we can find companionship in repentance) brought up some memories for me. I’d like to share one of them.

At the beginning of 2008, I found myself embroiled in some utterly horrific personal circumstances. Things were so bad, I still have difficulty making sense of it all.  I had been wronged, and I had wronged others. I was both offender and victim, betrayer and betrayed.

(Never in a million years would I have thought that I would have done what I did, or ended up where I was.)

At one point, things got so bad that I had to take down this blog for awhile. This was a necessary, but devastating decision: This blog had become my lifeline. The one thing that I could do “right” at a time when everything was going so wrong.

I remember that cold January morning, several days after removing my blog, when I realized that I could no longer feel the presence of God.

(I overreacted, certainly, but in my confusion, rage and misery, I felt as though my life had been stripped of all meaning and purpose, and that included God.)

On the train to work, I realized that I was going to  have to let people know that I was now an atheist.

(I was perplexed as to how such an announcement ought to be made.)

In spite of everything, I had the good sense to postpone broadcasting my infidel state: I was in the office for a few hours when an email showed up in my inbox. It was from fellow blogger Shula (aka Sensuous Wife).

(I didn’t know her well, but that didn’t matter. Shula knew that I was in big trouble.)

She wrote:

“If you’re in a valley, I hope you’re not in there by yourself. If you’re in a foxhole, I’ll crawl in there with you and sit a while.”

(She didn’t offer to heal me, cure me, or fix me. She didn’t offer rebuke or “the truth in love”. She didn’t try to motivate me into wholeness. She simply offered to be present with me in my pain.)

Sitting with someone who is in pain and suffering is a tough thing to do. It is a tiresome, painful, and upsetting process.

(And yet Shula was still willing to do it.)

Our instincts often tell us to “fix” the problem, or to encourage the other to “fix” the problem themselves.

(If only it was that easy!)

It’s hard to sit  with someone who is full of pain and who can’t get beyond that pain or to take appropriate action: Particularly when that person bears responsibility for his/her circumstances. The temptation is so strong to just tell a person to “suck it up”, learn their lesson, and move on.

(As if being responsible for one’s own pain makes it any less painful.)

After receiving Shula’s email and offer of presence, we became friends. My behavior, thinking, and circumstances didn’t change right away, and in many ways, my pain (and behavior) became far, far worse before it got better.

(But I had someone with me. And she never went away.)

We can certainly make the argument that some people need to hear some “hard truths” to if they are ever going to change. I agree with this, and I am grateful for those friends who, during this bad time, confronted me with some of those hard truths.

But the fact that I needed to change didn’t nullify my pain, nor did it nullify my need for the presence of someone who could be my companion through this experience. Like most people in emotional pain, what I mostly needed was time to process, change, heal, and regroup.

(It took a bit more time than I thought I would.)

(But Shula gave it to me anyway.)

Thank you, Sister.

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da-vinci-leonardo-proportions-of-the-human-figure

“And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.” –Peter Scholtes, They’ll Know We are Christians By Our Love

As many readers of this blog know, I have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition on the Autistic Spectrum. The condition affects my communication and social skills, causes me to be very sensitive to sensory stimuli, and makes it difficult for me to adapt to change and the unexpected.

For a Christian, these can be hard challenges to discipleship:  My neurology is ill-suited to welcoming strangers, to caring for the poor, and to be in community with other Jesus-followers. Yet, I am called to do so anyway.  So I try to work with, and sometimes against, my challenges in order to follow this path.

One of the most helpful things for me in coping with my autistic spectrum disorder symptoms is the theological value/doctrine of imago dei: I believe that human beings were created with an inherent dignity that ought not be compromised. Thus, I have decided that my inherent dignity is going to be the guideline for my behavior and social interactions. For example:

  • I will not engage in behavior that humiliates or embarasses me. No matter how stressed or overloaded I get, I will not have a meltdown in public. I will guard my tongue.
  • I will not tolerate ill-treatment from others.
  • I will not compromise the inherent dignity of others by treating them badly, humiliating them, or putting them in a bad position with my own bad behavior.
  • I will not compromise the inherent dignity of others even if they are compromising their own dignity or attempting to compromise mine.

My development of what I call the “dignity baseline for personal conduct” as a way of addressing my own problems has also informed other aspects of my thinking, particularly my views on social ethics and politics.

Like healthcare, for instance.

Mental and physical health are important, when either is compromised, we experience that dysfunction keenly:  We hate the way we look and feel when we are sick, we often can’t function effectively in our vocations when we don’t feel well, and we are compromised in our ability to be in authentic community with others.

Healthcare must be a priority for Christians (and historically, it has been, in the development of hospitals and medical missions). We uphold our dignity in caring for our own health, and we extend that dignity when we care for the health of others, particularly the most vulnerable among us.

(In fact, preserving the dignity of the vulnerable (and the sick are particularly vulnerable) is a pointed (and non-negotiable) charge given to the people of God throughout scripture.)

Yet under our current healthcare system, here in the United States, I have witnessed the following dignity-robbing scenarios:

  • I’ve seen an elderly woman crying in a drugstore  because she couldn’t afford to pay for her much-needed medication.
  • I’ve known seniors who have had to consider divorcing their disabled spouse so that spouse could get the nursing home care that he or she needed.
  • I’ve known people with abscessed teeth and festering sores who have spent months in agony, oftentimes battling infections, who could not pay for the simple procedure that might end their pain and prevent further compromising of their health.

I am well-aware of the concerns regarding “socialized healthcare” and the argument that government cannot solve everyone’s problems. However, I would note that the Church has not managed to stop assaults on human dignity such as those that I have described above.

Why is this? And given this situation, why are some Christians convinced that their “right” to avoid taxation in order to provide healthcare to others trumps their obligation  to care for the vulnerable?

Just wondering.

This post is a belated contribution to the August Sychroblog. Other synchroblog posts are listed below:

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Oi! I've been deleted!

Oi! I've been deleted!

What Started It All

A few months ago, Wikipedia deleted the entries for The Apostolic Johannite Church and one of its priests, Father Jordan Stratford. The Apostolic Johannite Church (aka the AJC) is a small, but active, denomination in the Modern Gnostic tradition and Father Jordan is one of  the movement’s most prominent writers
and personalities.

(NOTE: In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that I have several friends in this church, and once held my ordination credentials in a church that had a strong relationship with with the AJC.)

The official decision to remove the AJC’s listing was based on the group’s lack of “notability“. Wikipedia’s guidelines require that listed topics receive significant coverage in “reliable sources” that are  “independent of the subject”.

The AJC, being a small church, hasn’t been mentioned in a whole lot of secondary sources, though as Father Jordan Stratford (an Archpriest in the AJC) notes, there have been a few such mentions. Apparently these weren’t good enough, and the AJC lost its entry.

Frankly, I am conflicted on this issue:

Wikipedia’s current policy of requiring reliable third-party sources for article subjects is not unreasonable: Without some sort of qualifying criteria for inclusion, Wikipedia might find itself obliged to include every minister ever ordained by the Universal Life Church.

At the same time, I am also aware that many New Religious Movements (aka NRMs) don’t have the money, nor the influence, to attract huge amounts of media attention.Yet within certain communities and/or subcultures, they are both important and well-known, and for those who are researching such NRMs, a well-written Wikipedia article can be incredibly useful.

I believe that Wikipedia can take this opportunity to reconsider its standards and make Wikipedia a useful resource for NRM researchers. Instead of holding all articles on  NRMs and/or specific organizations and personalities within NRMs to their current standards of notability and reliable third-party sources, Wikipedia might consider some alternative guidelines, such as:

  • Is the personality or organization a part of a religious movement that is included in Wikipedia? (Rationale: If a religious movement in included in Wikipedia under standard notability guidelines, there is likely to be real interest in those groups or individuals that are a part of that movement.)
  • Has the organization been in existence for a significant amount of time (i.e. 5 years or more)? (Rationale: An organization that has been around for awhile, without much in the way of financial or institutional support,  likely has some substance. . .and significance.)
  • Does the organization have a significant membership and/or affiliate organizations?(Rationale:  Local affiliates/members testify to the organization’s influence.)
  • Are there references to the personality or organization  in the web or print publications of other organizations/personalities within the movement? (Rationale: Again, mentions in a NRM’s literature/publications testifies to the notability of one if its organizations/personalities.)
  • Has the organization or its leaders participated in conferences, conventions, or other gatherings? (Rationale: See above.)
  • Has the organization or personality produced significant literature (even if it is self-published)? (Rationale: The IRS uses this standard in judging whether a religious organization is “bona fide” and entitled to tax exemption. Writing and producing literature, even if it is self-published, takes committment. This may not make an organization/personality “notable” but it does testify to its legitimacy.)
  • Does the organization have legal status (i.e. has it been incorporated)? Does it have a physical address?  (Rationale: See above.)

It is my hope that the powers-that-be at Wikipedia consider their notability guidelines in light of the needs and resources of New Religious Movements and their researchers. Again, this is not to say that all standards should be removed. It is just that the current standards might be unreachable by some very significant organizations and people, and this harms, rather than enhances, Wikipedia’s mission.

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When it All Falls Apart

by admin on June 24, 2009

(This is a homily that I preached on June 20th, 2009, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The scriptures of the day were Genesis 3:14-21, Psalm 86, and John 20:24-31.)

______________

Throughout the course of our lives, there will be times when everything goes wrong.

Our plans are scuttled,
our relationships falter,
and sometimes even our very foundations are rocked.

Now we humans are resilient. Sometimes we can bounce back stronger than ever. But other times “bouncing back” isn’t so easy.

Sometimes “bouncing back” isn’t possible.

Sometimes it all falls apart.

The Bible begins with a story about things falling apart, and boy is it a doozy.

God had created the heavens and the earth and all of their inhabitants.
And God said that all of his creation was good.

In fact, it was very good.

But then it began to fall apart.

Eve had a talk with the serpent who put ideas into her head.

She talked to Adam and put ideas in his head.

Next thing we know, they are being disobedient, eating forbidden fruit, and sewing up fig leaf loincloths for themselves.  God is displeased, and the relationships between God and human, human and animal, and human and human will never be the same.

The serpent, part of God’s good creation, is now cursed among animals, and will be in violent confrontation with humanity from here on out.

As for the man and the woman? They have gone from being unified in their shared vocation as both stewards of creation and as co-creators of humanity, into their own separate, painful struggles:

The woman will continue to bear children, but the process will be frought with pain and danger. And even worse, her relationship with her husband has been distorted into one of hierarchy and dominion, rather than unity and love.

For his part, the man will continue to care for creation and eat of its fruit, but he will have to struggle for it. He will suffer his own pain as his flesh aches from strain and is cut by the thorns and thistles that compete with him for the land he works.

And after this inauspicious beginning,  the scriptures will continue to testify to this brokenness in creation.

The Psalmist sings from his own brokenness:

“Hear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.”

He also sings of his own broken relationships:

“The arrogant are attacking me, O God; a band of ruthless men seeks my life— men without regard for you.

He sings to  God, pleading for mercy and strength:

Turn to me and have mercy on me;
grant your strength to your servant
and save the son of your maidservant.

And God listened to the Psalmist and all those who throughout the ages prayed for his lovingkindness.

And in the fullness of time, God incarnated as a human being and walked among us. Yet even for him, things fell apart: And for his disciples, those who had been with him throughout his earthly ministry, this “falling apart” was still fresh in their minds.

For Thomas, it sounds like his memories were a little too fresh: He hadn’t been present when Jesus had appeared to them before, and his grief was so profound,  he could not allow himself to believe that Jesus had really risen from the dead.

Even after all the miracles he had seen Christ perform, even after being assured by the other disciples that Christ had risen, Doubting Thomas demanded proof, and he demanded proof in the form of  physical contact with Christ’s body.

And I can’t blame him. Thomas probably figured he couldn’t withstand the pain of losing his friend again.

We who are gathered here today have, in our own ways, experienced everything falling apart: Some of us have lost marriages, others, friendships. Many of us here have lost a bishop or two,  we’ve lost jobs, reputations, and our possessions.

Our foundations have been rocked, and for some of us, recovering, setting things right, may seem to be difficult, maybe even impossible.

But as I looked over our scriptures today, it struck me: Each in its own way, tells the story of someone for whom everything fell apart.

Yet nobody ever lost their vocation:

The serpent may have been cursed, but he wasn’t eliminated. He was still a beast, still a part of God’s creation, and what a very interesting part he is!

The woman still gives birth, still cares for her children, and still works with man to fill and subdue the earth.

The man continues to work, to till his fields and to grow his food and male and female together continue to rear families who become generations who become nations.

The Psalmist, even in his pain, intersperses his laments with magnificent words of praise, fulfilling his vocation, and our vocation, to praise and honor The Living God.

And Thomas, maligned through history as “Doubting Thomas”, never left the fold, continued to be a disciple even when his terror at further pain kept him from believing without seeing. He takes his rightful place among the Apostles, and one of the oldest Christian churches, founded by him, still thrives in India.

And not us forget our Lord Jesus, whose resurrected body bore the scars of his vocation as the Lamb of God given for the sins of the world: Even in his resurrected body, these scars remained, a physical reminder of his vocation.

And it is there, in that scarred body, resurrected, and soon to ascend, that we find reconciliation: His physical body reconciled fallen humanity, and divine logos; Tortured and murdered flesh was resurrected from the dead. And now we who have believed, even without seeing, have been provided with the Word of God, which tells us of his signs, so that we may become part of his Body, his church, even as we are nourished by it in the form of bread and wine.

And we, sitting here, will share that meal today.

Even though, in various ways and to various degrees, things have fallen apart for us,  none of us has lost our vocation. Not a one.

Have our vocations been transformed by sin? Of course they have. Do they look the same as when we first received them? Of course they don’t.

But we never lost them. We could have lost them, just as God could have wiped out creation and started over again. But he didn’t. Humanity, nature, and beast continue in vocation, and God continues to be faithful.

This weekend, we celebrate a new, imperfect, representation of Christ’s body in the form of our church. We who are here, clergy and laity, come from different traditions, with different stories. We each bear own wounds, reminders of the fallen-ness of creation. We also each bear gifts for ministry, reminders of God’s faithfulness in upholding and preserving our vocations.

As we begin our work in earnest this day, in our meetings and in our time of prayer and fellowship, I would ask that we remember:

The Genesis story, in which even a rebellious creation is preserved by the most High God.

As we live out our vocations, may we stand firm in the foundation set by He who set the foundations of the universe.

I would ask that we remember:

The Psalmist, who in his agony and persecution, remembers to that he can ask God for his care and provision.

and

As we live out our vocations, may we remember that we can cry out to our Everlasting Father for strength and care.

I would also ask that we remember:

Thomas, the grief stricken disciple, who could not believe even the words of his friends, yet who remained with them, as faithful as he could be, until he could get the proof that he needed of his Lord’s resurrection.

and

As we live out our vocations, may we remain faithful with that portion of faith that we have been given, be it large or small.

I would finally ask that we remember:

The body of our Lord, gloriously resurrected, yet still bearing the scars of his tribulations.

and

As we live out our vocations, may we never forget that the scars that we bear, those inflicted by others or those of our own making, do not compromise, change, or nullify the vocations with which we have been charged. And let us remember our Lord, who was not ashamed to show his  scars to others, that they may be reconciled to him and others.

That was his vocation.

And now it is ours.  Amen.

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(This months synchroblog is part of a synchroblog/synchrosermon on International Women’s Day. The focus of the synchroblog/synchrosermon is on Biblical women.)

When I read In Cold Blood , I found myself stunned by Truman Capote‘s writing style. It wasn’t just that he was a superb writer (which he was) but that he wrote in such a non-manipulative way. Instead of expressing his own shock and outrage at the unprovoked murder of an entire family, he told the story as he understood it, leaving the reader’s humanity to determine his/her response.

I thought it a very adult way to write,  a way of encouraging the reader’s development of character, the development of his/her soul, if you will, in the reading of such horror. My response to the story told  me something about myself, rather than how I “ought” to feel about the distant event that the story described.

I contrast my praise of Capote with the overwhelming indignation I feel every time I read the story of The Unnamed Concubine in  Judges 19:1-30. I can’t read it without my blood running cold. I am left weak and shaking at the end of what scholar Phyllis Trible described as a “tortuous and torturous path“, wondering after reading this “text of terror” why its author fails to offer a disapproving word.

In fact, I have often wondered why God didn’t see fit to offer a disapproving word on the subject of a woman who leaves, and then is persuaded to return to a man whose cowardice is equaled only by his astonishing hubris. A man who hands her over to a rape-gang and then chops her into parts to demonstrate his indignation at that same rape-gang.

And so I stew. Reading the story and getting angrier at God and the writer for not offering redemption by writing my indignation for me. Re-reading the story and looking for a hint of “the God who sees”: The God who  rescued Hagar from the desert.

There is none.

The writer told a story.

The writer didn’t tell me how I, or anyone else, should feel about it.  Instead, we are left to pay attention to our own reactions to the tale. If we dare.

Some commentators, like John Wesley, seemed to believe that the concubine got what she deserved for leaving her “protector” at the beginning of the story.

Other commentators rush to defend the concubine by pointing out that she wasn’t “at fault” for the original quarrel.

Feminist theologians, on the other hand, draw parallels between the plight of this nameless, socially helpless woman and the plight of other nameless, socially helpless women.

When we read this story, each of us is presented with an opportunity to examine our own responses to this tale:  A woman leaves a man and is persuaded to return to him. Her reward for doing so is to be fed to a pack of rapists, cut into twelve pieces and scattered among strangers.

What is our reaction to this story?

Do we seek to explain it? If so, how?

Do we want to place blame? If so, where?

Do we want to justify the actions of the woman’s “protector”? If so, why?

Do we want to make someone other than the woman the focus of this story? If so, who?

Do we want to place God or “God’s will” somewhere in the story? If so, when?

And what do our reactions to this story tell us about how we feel, or how we feel we should feel,  about women?

Visit the other synchrobloggers below:

Julie Clawson on the God who sees
Steve Hayes on St. Theodora the Iconodule
Sonja Andrews on Aunt Jemima
Sensuous Wife on a single mom in the Bible
Minnowspeaks on celebrating women
Michelle Van Loon on the persistant widow
Lyn Hallewell on women who walked with God
Heather on the strength of biblical women
Shawna Atteberry on the Daughter of Mary Magdalene
Christine Sine on women who impacted her life
Susan Barnes on Tamar, Ruth, and Mary
Kathy Escobar on standing up for nameless and voiceless women
Ellen Haroutunian on out from under the veil
Liz Dyer on Mary and Martha
Bethany Stedman on Shiphrah and Puah
Dan Brennan on Mary Magdalene
Jessica Schafer on Bathsheba
Eugene Cho on Lydia
Laura sorts through what she knows about women in the Bible
Miz Melly preached on the woman at the well
AJ Schwanz on women’s work
Pam Hogeweide on teenage girls changing the world
Teresa on the women Paul didn’t hate
Helen on Esther
Happy on Abigail
Mark Baker-Wright on telling stories
Robin M. on Eve
Alan Knox is thankful for the women who served God
Lainie Petersen on the unnamed concubine
Mike Clawson on cultural norms in the early church
Krista on serving God
Bob Carlton on Barbie as Icon
Jan Edmiston preached on the unnamed concubine
Deb on her namesake – Deborah
Makeesha on empowering women
Kate on Esther
Doreen Mannion on Deborah
Patrick Oden on Rahab
Scot McKnight on Junia
Jonathan Stegall on Eve
InHo Kim on Sarah
Mimi Haddad on deception

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More on How I Waste Time

by LainieP on December 12, 2008

A few days ago  I blogged on how I waste time by inappropriately reacting to situations and circumstances. Since the incident mentioned in that blog post, I have been trying to observe myself engaging in this behavior in hopes that I might detect a pattern and correct it.

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To both my relief, and dismay, I have discovered that there is indeed a pattern. My relief is the result of having detected a pattern, but my dismay is the result of discovering that this pattern is pretty complex.

To demonstrate, I am going to use the following (fictional) scenario as an example:

1. Someone calls me a “dummy”.

2. I react by feeling hurt, sad, angry, and confused.

3. My hurt feelings give rise to one or more of the following responses: I snap back with an insult of my own, I wander off feeling sorry for myself and trying to figure out why that person doesn’t like me, I begin to wonder if that person is going to try and turn others against me. . .and so on.

Notice that my responses (which take up the bulk of my time and energy) are not directly the result of being called dumb, but are instead in response to my hurt feelings. My responses are only secondarily connected to the situation: The time and energy that I invest in my responsive actions is primarily connected to my emotional reaction, not the incident itself.

This is a hard pattern to challenge and change, so lately I have been just trying to pay attention to this process.  I’m trying to catch myself between my emotional reactions and my continued response. I’d like to think that eventually I can get enough distance between the emotion and my response so as to figure out whether I am making an appropriate investment.

I’ll keep trying, anyway.

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