Thursday

take up a different story


Sabbath keeping is contrary to so many popular myths, the greatest, perhaps, that we are the sum of all we produce or own. Rest embraces God’s grace and provision over performance or consumerist striving. “To insist on Sabbath is to give testimony to the subversive knowledge that God’s bias is in favor of freedom.” Sabbath reconnects us with Life beyond the exacting grind or madding crowd, honoring the One for Whom and with Whom we labor all those other days.

I have a post up at Deeper Story this week, and I nearly forgot to link you to it on this end. If you don't mind, I'd love to hear what Sabbath looks like in your own practice or community.

Friday

violence in the snowy fields



The cover of the October issue of Harper's belongs to Rebecca Solnit's Silencing Women. (Her popular essay, Men Explain Things To Me, appears in a forthcoming book of the same name.) The article is behind a paywall, so I read it at the library and then drove two towns over to get my own copy like the responsible literary citizen I can be.

The piece, about how women's testimony and voices are discredited, will be achingly familiar to many. It's worth a trip to the newsstand or library to read in full. Here's an excerpt:

Still, even now, when a woman says something uncomfortable about male misconduct, she is routinely portrayed as delusional, a malicious conspirator, a pathological liar, a whiner who doesn't recognize it's all in fun, or all of the above. The overkill of these responses recalls Freud's deployment of the joke about the broken kettle. A man accused by his neighbor of having returned a borrowed kettle damaged replies that he had returned it undamaged, it was already damaged when he borrowed it, and he had never borrowed it anyway. When a woman accuses a man and he or his defenders protest that much, she becomes that broken kettle. 
So many broken kettles. 

The story is always timely, but it seemed especially so to me having just read a thread over at David Hayward's Naked Pastor where a number of women spoke out about just that kind of treatment at the hands of leaders in the Emergent/emerging/progressive church movement. Nearly one month and eight hundred eighty-six one thousand seven comments later, that thread is still live, but I've not read much external commentary on it. A lot of people probably wish it would go away. It's unseemly, distracting. When such conflicts arise, it's worth examining who assumes the role of arbiter of What We Should Be Focusing On Instead and who are considered to be indecorous, un-Christlike troublemakers and unreliable narrators.

Of course, women are not alone in the experience of having their witness discredited or personhood diminished. Historically, it's even more common for people of color, (and women of color get it on multiple axes). Queer people and abuse survivors of all genders can similarly find their perspectives cast as untrustworthy against those who, across lines of power, are deemed less emotional and more objective, rational, and deserving of the benefit of the doubt by default.

It's exhausting. So many of the supposed "bad guys" and "good guys" behave in identical manners, which shouldn't surprise: no camp, theology, or political bent is immune from protected power, boys' clubs, gaslighting, mean girls, misogyny, bullying, or systemic violence. Across the board, celebrity emperors have no clothes, but few even bat an eye.
It’s not just bros and jocks and finance dudes and yuppies and Christians and Republicans who are shitty to women. Being part of a counter-cultural or progressive community does not give you a free pass to be shitty to women without being called out on it. We need to hold our own communities to an even higher standard than we hold those in the opposition, we need to welcome criticism, and we to realize that the ones who call out shitty behavior in these communities are not the threat, but that those who protect it and shield it from criticism are. (On sexism, sexual assault and the threat of the ‘non-bro’) (h/t Dianna Anderson)
Left-leaning Christians can't just point fingers at abuses at Mars Hill or Sovereign Grace and ignore the same destructive power dynamics repeated in our own relationships and communities. The sun still hasn't set on empire. It's hardly endemic to the right, and it's decidedly not a vague metaphor for meanness or whichever critics we don't appreciate. Empire is present in every system privileging the powerful at the expense of "the least of these." Followers of the One who esteemed outcasts and undesirables, whose own inner circle offered nothing in the way of legitimacy or prestige, and who was ultimately executed by the literal empire colluding with religious authority should know better than to water down this most potent theological concept and critique of abusive, violent power.

We can do so much better, friends. Eyes to see. Ears to hear. Hands to heal.

Feet to move: first to last, last to first.




Tuesday

goldenrod and the 4-H stone


Our lawn is already blanketed in orange leaves. Jim grew a little pumpkin patch that he and the kids are wholly smitten with, and summer is decidedly over, which is something of a relief for this camp family. Dylan's in first grade, James started up at a new pre-school in the afternoons, and it good to be back into fall rhythms again.

The end of the month means linking up with Leigh Kramer, whom I got to spend one delicious afternoon with in Nashville this summer. I've barely written here much at all lately, but I figured this was as good a time as any to dip my toes back in these waters again.

Read

Preston Yancey's Tables In The Wilderness releases today. I'm gonna go ahead and admit that I was a little nervous to read Preston's book. He's a talented writer, as blog readers surely know, but he's young, and I just wasn't sure what to expect from this memoir, which largely covers his time in college.

I needn't have worried. What it is is an honest, warmly told coming-of-age story about growing into one's faith and finding the kinds of friends who help us to become our best selves. Preston's book writing is humble, and I appreciated the way he navigated finding a home in the Anglican tradition while honoring his roots. His is also the first and perhaps only evangelical book I've read to make a noticeable, concerted effort not to use masculine pronouns for God, which was a happy surprise.

I've got one hard copy of Preston's book to pass along. Just leave a comment below and I'll get it in the mail to one reader shortly.




Amy Turn Sharp's sexy little book of poetry is glorious.

Wendell Berry's A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997. Beauty.

I read this back in the summer, but Barbara Brown Taylor's Learning to Walk in the Dark is so thoughtful I might have to get my own copy and read it again. She reclaims literal and metaphorical darkness as inspiration for personal and spiritual growth, and it's haunted me in the best way ever since.

James and I read Joyce Sidman's and Pamela Zagarenski's Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors and were so charmed we requested everything else the library system had, and we've now got two more books of poems on deck. Our little library is a gem, and life finds us there two or three times a week.

Watch

I think Scandal and Parenthood are all I'm really watching, besides old episodes of Lie to Me on Netflix. I watched Mixology during a massive re-organization of the kids' rooms. I don't know really know anything about the new fall season.

Movies: Wish I Was Here, Divergent, That Awkward MomentThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Those are the only ones I can even remember seeing/liking, and that was definitely in August. Hashtag old.

Listen

Lots and lots of Bill Deasy and Gathering Field.


Etc.

September has been something of a recovery month. Everything sort of gets away from us during summer camp, and in September we wrestle it back: family dinners, the house, the yard. Camp celebrated its centennial, and we got to see a bunch of old friends. Jim and I got dressed up and attended one of those schmancy fundraisers that people must invite us to because they perceive we need a night out (true), because it's surely not our deep pockets.

I finished a few writing projects. Started doing yoga again. We're trying to get a wood burning stove installed. (What's a farm house without one?) It's mostly been a month of quiet and ordinary work. Well, that and the lice. Parenting, man. Not for the faint of heart.

What are you reading, doing, cooking, listening to, raving about of late? Tell me something good.



Thursday

the gift of ordinary time



Like the moon orders the tides, the horizon draws seekers to the shore’s edge each evening at sunset. The pull is magnetic and almost liturgical in its rhythm. From our vacation perch atop this tree-lined street, we watch the pilgrims flock. Neighbors appear on porches, cradling drinks, eyes trained westward. Kids abandon bikes where the sidewalk ends. Spilling out of cars and homes and on foot, they head for the sea, casting off shoes in the dunes. Where sand and sky kiss surf is holy ground. We pause together, bearing witness to the beauty which descends like clockwork and grace.

I'm up at Deeper Story today with a meditation on paying attention. I hope you'll click over to read the rest.


Monday

like precious oil poured on the head


We are each other’s priest: co-bearers of good news, deep burdens, and great joy. Evangelical Protestants are quick to claim that we require no mediator but Christ, but as Bonhoeffer reminds, the Christ in my heart is weaker than the Christ in my brother’s–or sister’s–word. When my eyes are weary and my heart is faint, I need you to kindle the flames of faith. At times, we’re all the paralyzed man on the mat in Luke 5: saved by the faith and faithfulness of our friends. We carry each other into the presence of God that we may be seen, known, and healed. 
But what about the times when we can barely stand to look each other in the eye? When listening turns to mockery and blood boils hot? When we’re frustrated, furious, and exhausted, what hope have we for pleasant unity then?

I've got a post up at A Deeper Story today about community, conflict, and the discipline of solitude. You can read the rest here. [This is where you click over, Dad!] I'd love to hear what you think.

is "progressive" christianity a useful distinction?


Some of my peers have gravitated away from labeling themselves "Christian," even if they've largely kept the faith. They just follow Jesus or perhaps consider themselves to be more spiritual than religious. Others add modifiers like "progressive" or "post-evangelical" to differentiate their beliefs from the faith of their fathers.

My faith has evolved, too, as I've grown, which I imagine is the case for most people. I've never felt drawn to exchange labels, but I recognize also that I hold the advantaged position of not bearing deep wounds related to the Church. I've been a Christian since I was a kid, and I'm still a Christian. I'm not particularly concerned that you'll think I'm one of those Christians, whoever they are. Christianity is diverse, and while I claim all Christians as kin, I speak only for myself.

Even when my bag was pinned with a "Who Would Jesus Bomb?" button and my feet marched in protests, I didn't really consider myself a "progressive Christian". My politics were surely formed by my faith, but I considered myself as ordinary a Christian as anybody else at church, even if we cast different ballots.

Recently I stumbled across a conversation on Twitter about the difference between "liberal" and "progressive" Christians/Christianity. One respondent offered that in the UK, progressive means "hyper liberal", but in the U.S. it seems to indicate "moderately liberal".

I don't think he's wrong; that does seem to be how the terminology can function in the admittedly narrow lexicon of post-evangelical, post-fundamentalist American social media users, but it also reveals in part why the label  is so profoundly unhelpful.

For one thing, on the political spectrum, although progressive and liberal are sometimes used interchangeably, progressive does not functionally mean "moderately liberal". By and large, political progressives are more radical and populist than liberals, rooted historically in the United States with activist movements for labor and education reform, environmental conservation, and women's suffrage, among others. Liberal politicians today are generally establishment Democrats, while progressive candidates are more likely to represent third parties and more radical reform platforms. Candidate Obama was fairly progressive, but he isn't a progressive president by any real stretch of the imagination. Progressives, who by definition seek greater progress, exist further to the political left of liberals.

Then there's the other problem, which Fred Clark explains: "The theological spectrum does not mirror the political spectrum for many, many reasons, the most important of which being that there is no such thing as the theological spectrum.'”

You could try telling that to third way-ers whose theological identity seems to hinge on a unique ability to mediate the allegedly hostile, polar wastelands of progressive and conservative Christianity, but I don't think it would go over any better there than with the crowd who narrowly defines orthodoxy as whatever they believe, branding anyone and everything else "liberal," regardless of affiliation. (Adding to the confusion, liberal theology is a historical thing, but it's worlds apart from what most of us would recognize as postmodern or "progressive" Christianity.)

[Slacktivist]

I suspect that growing up in evangelical communities for whom "liberal" was akin to a Scarlet "L" pushes post-evangelicals to embrace "progressive" as their preferred signifier, but does progressive indicate anything meaningful in the context of popular theology?

Blogger Zach "Quitting the Progressive Christian Internet" Hoag "heartily embrace[s] the progressive label in its simplest definition of 'not conservative or fundamentalist evangelical.'” I agree with Zach that plenty of Christians claim the label as a static "Not Like Those Christians" badge of distinction, but that sort of definition by negation is a weak baseline for an identity (particularly for one employed by a progressive Christian website). Failing to adequately define one's terms leads to the unhelpful lumping together of disparate theologies, people, and groups as well as throwing other Christians under the bus in ways that aren't entirely charitable. Fundamentalism isn't interchangeable with evangelicalism, and I'm left wondering what exactly sets Hoag's or anyone else's faith apart as a progressive? Comfort with mystery, tension, and questions? Affinity for liturgy? Less rigidity? More diversity? Social justice? I'm not trying to pretend that I have no idea what folks mean when they say "progressive Christianity", but many of the popular signposts aren't peculiar to Christians of a more progressive bent. Christians across time and tradition, including those typically thought to be conservative, practice a generous orthodoxy.

Hoag expresses concern for "unhealthy conversation...which so often wields the 'progressive' label as a weapon against anyone less 'progressive,'" seeming to argue that interrogating a self-identified progressive is off-limits: folks are progressive if they say they are, and any challenges to aim higher, go deeper, or listen closer to the margins will be dismissed as unhealthy and even violent. That's certainly played out in his comment threads lately, where queer, female, and other dissenters have been deleted, blocked, and branded as toxic trolls (while a sexist, sexually demeaning joke is left to stand). Also perplexing is the cake/too desire to don the progressive label, transcend it by exemplifying Jesus' own alleged "third way", and then grump should anyone point out that the left is more progressive than the center by definition.

If this is "Progressive Christianity," the theobrogians and Illuminati gatekeepers can have it. But unfortunately for them, "progressive" remains a political label. It doesn't function particularly well as personal branding, but as long as they claim to be progressive, we will ask to see their work:

  • Are they/(we) practically oriented toward progress, justice, reform, and people at the margins?
  • Do they/(we) pass the mic, or do they/(we) prop up entrenched hierarchies further benefiting them/(our)selves?
  • Are learning, change, and liberation ongoing, or is a one-and-done changing of the mind on an issue good enough?
  • Are they/(we) truly affirming of racial, ethnic, economic, sexual, gender, and class diversity; blackness; people of color; women; survivors; and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer Christians and people, or is nicer, gentler discrimination sufficient "progress"?
  • Can they/(we) recognize and subvert oppressive power dynamics--even if personally implicated? Do they/(we) caution patience, civility, better humor, greater reason, and less emotion across lines of privilege, assuming faux-neutrality and a moral high ground they/(we) are perhaps not worthy of?
That's some of what I mean when I use the term progressive, and as long as we're operating from different definitions, worldviews, assumptions, and expectations, progressives are bound to conflict. More than that, we are talking right past each other in what amounts to different languages, and the ways we communicate often reinforce rather than subvert established hierarchies and systemic injustice. Perhaps acknowledging that self-described progressives aren't on the same theological or political pages, easing up on the language of forced-teaming and hyperbolic war, is a step toward understanding and even progress.

As a Christian whose politics are progressive and whose theology leans feminist/liberationist, I'm looking for a demonstrated commitment to justice, peace, and liberation among those who'd claim the progressive label, and I want to know that you believe in inequality. In Christian terminology, I'm seeking to loose the chains and break every yoke. I'm looking and working for repentance, resurrection, and all things made new. Yesterday's victories are worth celebrating, but the harvest is plentiful, and there's much yet to do. I name white supremacy and misogyny among the "powers and principalities" for which Christ died and over which he rose, and I admit that the rules are different according to privilege and power. There are times to listen and times to move our feet, and those most accustomed to leading are not automatically the best equipped for the work of birthing and building better paths forward. 

Progressives of faith, like all humans across time, won't agree on everything, but at the very least, might we affirm a commitment to progress? Can we pin down a definition more meaningful and motivating than "Not X"? Can we interrogate whatever's standing in the way of our movements toward justice--even if it's us!--unafraid of "surfacing tensions already present" and seeking the sort of peace that's hard-won?

I dare say we'd be making progress.

Thursday

#FaithFeminisms: i believe in inequality



My feminism is (almost) done talking about equality. 
If we take folks at their word, it would appear that almost everyone already believes in it. We wouldn’t dream of being racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, or otherwise discriminatory. We know better. We’re good, welcoming people with the best intentions, but if Wisdom is truly proved right by her deeds, something is deeply amiss.

The conversations happening around #FaithFeminisms this week are tremendously challenging and inspiring. It's rare to find evangelical, liberal, and radical voices in one place, but it's happening here, and I'm excited to contribute my voice in print (and literally, as well). Spend some time on the site and consider linking up a post of your own. Good things are afoot.

Sunday

#FaithFeminisms: A Calling Out

 

Pssst. Exciting happenings are afoot, and you're invited to contribute. The Spirit is making ways in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Come by and have a look.


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