Thursday, December 12, 2013

Advent 2 Sermon

A link to my Advent 2/Preaching Final sermon. Preached at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer on December 11, 2013.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Letter to Dean Jan Love of Candler School of Theology Regarding the Distinguished Alumni Award that will be given to the Rev. Eddie Fox

The following is a letter that I sent to Dean Jan Love of Candler School of Theology regarding a Distinguished Alumni Award that will be given to the Rev. Eddie Fox of Tennessee on September 27th.  The Rev. Fox has been an outspoken opponent of the inclusion of homosexuals in the United Methodist Church.  

Dean Love:

I am writing to you as a concerned member of the Candler community, a future alumna of Candler School of Theology, and as an ally of the children of God who identify as LGBTQ .  I am saddened and disappointed to learn that a Distinguished Alumni Award will be given to the Rev. Eddie Fox, an individual who has chosen to stand against the inclusion of homosexuals in the United Methodist Church.  The decision by our institution to honor an individual who has been so vocal, and instrumental, in keeping those who have been marginalized away from the Church sends a disgraceful message of unwelcome to our past, present, and future students who identify as LGBTQ.

Dean Love, I ask that you and the board members responsible for this decision will consider, in addition to the above, the following:
For Candler students who will someday engage in parish ministry, how will this type of association reflect upon us as ministers of the Gospel to our congregations; congregations that will most surely include dear ones who have been turned away from the Lord's Table because of their sexuality? 
How will honoring Rev. Fox be perceived by future students who are considering Candler School of Theology?
Will Candler choose to honor someone who stands so defiantly against the inclusion of ALL God's CHILDREN in the body of Christ? 

I came to Candler because I believed that I would receive not only an excellent theological education, but because I believed that I would be part of a community that was working to repair the tears that have occurred in the fabric of Church.  By honoring the Rev. Fox as a distinguished alumni of Candler School of Theology we are not drawing the circle wider.   We are not working to repair the negative image earned by the Church so widely held in today's society. We are not opening hearts, minds, or doors. We are, once again, caving to pressure from those loudest of voices that perpetuate fear and exclusion. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this communication.  It is my hope that you, and those responsible for this decision, will choose to deliver the message of radical welcome that was exhibited by our Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ by rescinding your decision to bestow this award.

God's Peace.
Karen Stephenson Slappey

"'In presenting the minority report, however, the Rev. Eddie Fox said that any United Methodist statement on human sexuality needs to be “clear, concise and faithful to biblical teaching. Leaving out the statement that homosexuality is 'incompatible with Christian teaching' would be confusing, especially for members of the church outside the United States, Fox said."

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

the wild goose after party

"now, what kind of festival are you going to?  and what is this wild goose thing, anyway?"

i must confess that rather than to try to explain exactly what the wild goose was to friends and family of a different theological expression, i sent them to the festival website.  i'm not to afraid to have theological discussions with those whom i do not see eye to eye, i'm just tired of having them.  on the wild goose website there are catchy tag-lines about the intersection of spirituality and justice, however this does not translate to the folk at home who think spirituality is new age, or that justice is something that is done by a judge with a gavel.

i'm not alone in my quandary regarding how to explain my alternative religious lifestyle and related experiences. i had conversations with many people within the wild goose community who are struggling about how to explain this movement, and, even more, wondering how they can carry the spirit to their people at home and proclaim it. 97.24% of the individuals i met at wild goose 13 have some sort of denominational affiliation, and happily so.  i did not meet anyone who was like," yeah, i'm here this weekend to decide whether or not i'm leaving my church." what i did encounter were lots of people asking  how questions  in those woods by the french broad river.  "how do i share this with my family and friends? how do i engage in this kind of work when i'm back home? how do i use this brand of theology to reconcile my relationships? how come i have to pee every five minutes?" (actually, this last one was my question and the answer came to me at 3am one morning when i awoke in my soggy tent to the sound of the river and realized i had never spent so much time in the presence of running water and RAIN.)

seriously though, so many questions that began with this how...

now, i am a "why" person.  i remember reading in a a book by donald miller a few years ago about how it was easier to be a how person than it was to be a why person.  being a how person is easy.  they spend their happy existences wondering things like "how am i going to get paid?" or the equally important  "how am i going to get laid?"  to be a why person is much more complicated.  why people question the purpose of the universe, themselves, and related intrinsic processes.  but what happens when why people get around to being how people? and eventually, i would like to posit, it happens to the best of us why-ers.  especially when we want to know how to share something as profound as the wild goose movement with with those we love as well as those who, theologically, annoy the hell out of us.

one of the more intriguing how conversations i had last weekend was with a guy named j.  j is a 2nd year divinity student who studies at a university far north of north carolina.  he and some of his traveling companions were part of the supper group that formed in my camping location next to the river.  j and i talked about great seminary-esque topics like kathryn tanner, and atonement theories, but the most constructive conversation had more to do with the aspect of what next, a variation of  this how thing.  as this was my first time at the wild goose festival, i am not privy to things that have happened at past events beyond videos and writings by various speakers.  but now, having attended a goose, i have to say that while the speakers and the music are incredible they are not the most generative aspect of this gathering.  the most generative aspect of this gathering are the hundreds of conversations that happen around campfires, in the sharing of group meals with people who were strangers less than 24 hours before, and ideas exchanged between volunteers as they serve the children of the festival in the kid's tent. back to the how do i carry this home and my conversation with j...j wondered, "as this movement grows, when will it become appropriate to become self-critiquing?"

wait. what? we're all having such a good time and you want to self-critique?

* * *

i was a participant in several conversations where i learned in some way, or another, about how people had been wounded by the denominations of their childhood, and for some, denominations of which they were still members.  they were critical, and rightfully so.  a few times during the festival i told my own stories about how when i was 16 years old one of the ministers of the fundamentalist church where my family were members tried to cast a demon out of me (um, it didn't work), and about how i was "asked to leave" the private bible college of the same denomination for certain sins that were committed with a partner of the opposite sex who was allowed to stay and finish his degree.  i did my share of eye rolling, face palming, and #SMH-ing in reaction to stories i heard about infractions committed by conservatives, fundamentalists, and crazies. i heard myself offer words like "wow, i hope you can find some healing and experience reconciliation." now, maybe this makes me sound like i am wise and super jesus-y, but now that i am at home and i have had time to reflect upon my experiences at the goose, i realize my words are hypocritical.  you see, i am guilty of making people, those who so differ from myself, politically and theologically, the other.  even though i treasure the wild goose festival for the beautiful, safe space that it is, and  my spirit was soaring even though my tent was flooded and i was slogging everywhere through the mud, it took coming home to figure out what j meant when he talked about self-critiquing. and for me, it means that i have to examine myself and decide whether or not i want to keep cloistering myself behind books by progressive theologians or make attempts at conversation and communion with the other side.

so, my personal how is not just about sharing with my people back home what the wild goose festival is all about. my how question is how do i keep this same brand of wild goose freedom when i enter into those spaces where i share air and break bread with the people who think my following this particular path toward god is akin to a trick of the devil? how do i share the spirit of the goose with those that have made themselves the "other" to me, and with those whom i have made the "other"? participating in marches and protests for equality and social justice in the name of christ is the easy part. harder to do is figuring out how to engage in reconciliation with those, who because we see the mission of the church and the person of jesus very differently, there have been harsh words, separation, and alienation?

i need to find some sort of balance.  there has to be some middle ground that can be found that honors the prophetic words spoken at the wild goose festival by the rev. dr. william barber who said, "speak so the haters will know they hate" and the civil, interfaith dialogue that i witnessed between brian mclaren, ani zonneveld, and stuart davis; a christian, a progressive muslim, and a zen buddhist.  for me this will take place by becoming, once again, engaged with individuals from whom i have removed myself, with boundaries of course.  the most fantastic thing about the wild goose festival, like i said, is not the planned venue events, but the spontaneous community that comes in shared food, drink, and conversation. but, similar to the frequent critiques i have made of my theologically other brothers and sister regarding their tendency to cloister themselves inside gated, conservative communities, i know that i am just as guilty.  i do not actively seek out communion with those that i do not share the same set of beliefs.

as i looked around the campground, the festival attendees, and the crunchy little town that is hot springs, nc, i was thinking that this is what the kingdom of god looks like.  but, unless i, and maybe i can even say "we", are willing to go off the proverbial reservation, we are in danger of becoming nothing more than a community hiding behind that proverbial gate, hanging out in our own country club, with our own set of rules for membership. this thing, this movement, is too good not to be shared.  just like the communal meals and spontaneous dance parties that happened at wild goose, we need to actively invite the theological other to eat and drink and pick up glow sticks and dance.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What Would Jesus Drink: Adventures in Missing the Point

So, I'm a seminarian.  This means that during the school year I spend countless hours reading about, writing about, and discussing theology.  The topics available for discussion are endless, yet one contentious debate continually rises to the surface: what would Jesus drink?  There are, of course, other worthwhile debates about things like the incarnation, dispensationalism, and theodicy, but none of these debates bring about the same fervor and passion as that of pontificating upon what the son of god would drink while winding down at the end of long day.  Now I know there are those of you out there who are thinking, "Hello? Jesus drank wine.  Haven't you read John 2 and that whole wedding at Cana thing?  There are probably even those of you who believe that the wine was not fermented, and to that I say... well, never mind.

Yes. John 2.  I have read it. Several times. But I should have mentioned earlier the specifics included in the "what would Jesus drink" controversy revolve around a certain brand of brew... PBR.  Pabst Blue Ribbon is currently recognized as the hipster drink of choice and is popular among the college crowd, for its $2 price tag in your bar of choice on a Tuesday Saturday night.

Now it's time for me to confess.  I am a beer snob.  Well, I was, until I quit two well-paying jobs and enrolled in grad school as a full time student.

Some say that seminary is a calling, and following a calling usually involves some kind of sacrifice.  One of my sacrifices is that I now drink beer that I would not have touched a year ago, but I digress, sort of...

More important to this whole seminary journey is a dying to self. As this is not a super sexy concept, it's preferable to become distracted. I cannot blame my fellow seminarians for attaching a theological significance to Jesus' beer of choice. While this may seem like a concept of great significance, Paul, the guy who wrote a good portion of the New Testament, seemed more concerned with the whole dying to self thing. Jesus would probably agree.  (I'll let you know after I finish my New Testament survey class that comes in my second year.) So, every day, if I am taking my journey through this chapter of my life seriously, and some days I actually do, I have to make the decision to die to myself and my to ideas regarding god; especially those ideas that are my own creation.

What does this have to do with PBR?

The "what would Jesus drink" argument isn't new. It is an argument that has raged in many forms throughout Christian History.  People have been labeled a heretic over much less than believing that Jesus drank a certain kind of beer, and certainly, many were labeled heretics over much more. So, you see, this brew-ha-ha has just been repackaged for this time and cultural context.  Thus, I think it's less about what Jesus drank and more about how we want to re-create god in our own image and make god more like us. The question we might want to ask ourselves is not "what would Jesus drink?" We might want to ask "Do we want to be more like Jesus or do we want Jesus to be more like us? Are we guilty of assuming that Jesus only loves the people that we want him to love? Does he really judge those that we choose to condemn? Are we really in charge of such things?" Granted these questions will probably not be debated with the same zeal and intensity as whether or not Jesus would drink PBR, but I think they are good place to start if we really want to start being a community that accepts everyone, even those that don't act or think (or drink) like us.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Why I Don't Want to Say the Creeds. What I learned in seminary, Part 2.

So, if you read my last blog, the one where I give a very tongue in cheek account regarding what I learned during my first year in seminary, I need to warn you: You're about to think I'm schizophrenic.  I want to say, first, that while I enjoy incredible community among my colleagues and I have never felt so affirmed regarding my call into ministry, I spent the majority of my first year in seminary really pissed off.  I was prone to bouts of foulness and one never knew when I would just up and start howling at the moon.  And now, about three weeks past clicking send on that email to my professor containing my final paper for the semester, I thought I could just  move past the "angry me", but I'll be damned if she didn't show up again today...of all places on my front porch...while I was reading...theology.

I should explain. One of the sources for my anger during this past year was a class called History of Christian Thought, better known to Candler students as HT501 and HT503; don't ask me what happened to 502 because I have no idea.  Anyway, during semester number one we had the laborious task of muddling our way through 1500 years of church history...Two. Times. You would think that once would be enough, but after we had a skeletal framework of the historical timeline, we then went back and read primary documents from the Church fathers with a few female voices like Mechtilde of Magdeburg mixed in so we could hear about how she mystically made love to the Divine and wrote some trippy God porn, but I digress. It was during this time that we studied the church early church councils.  Now, I know that no one really likes church assemblies or synod meetings, and these councils were no different.  The Council of Nicaea that happened way back in 325CE was called not to celebrate Christian unity and charity but to codify the rules surrounding Christianity.  These rules were crafted by the powerful lest any "heretics" go around spreading some "bad" theology.  Decisions had to be made regarding who was in and who was out. Unfortunately, this action of in-ing and out-ing never stopped.  It still happens, it is still ridiculous, and it still sucks. So, to be at a place where I'm supposed to be learning how to be an instrument for unity, a place where we're all like "rah-rah we're all one body", and be confronted with a history of heresy was to say the least, frustrating.

Fast forward back to today and me being pissed off...again.  I have been reading "Take This Bread" by Sara Miles.  Miles converted to Christianity in a unique way.  She is Episcopalian, founded several food pantries in the San Francisco area, and is a proficient swearer.  Thus, I loved her book. Anyway, as Miles was not a cradle Episcopalian, and did not attend a traditional church that followed a formal liturgy, she never said the creeds.  Not the Nicene, not the Apostle's, she did not say them, nor does she.  Reading about the experiences of Sara Miles was liberating.  Someone else out there did not say the creeds because they found them divisive.  During worship over the past six months when it came to the place in the liturgy where the congregation recites the creeds together, I have either not been able to breathe, or I have said them through gritted teeth and tears in my eyes.  People may want to argue for the communal aspect of saying the creeds, but one cannot deny that these statements which some see as beautiful statements about what the church, catholic, believes about our Lord and Savior are codifications. They represent rules that have become fetishized rituals that often serve to separate more than they unite.  So, while I'm not entirely sure how this will play out with an ordination board I do not think I will be able to say the creeds.  There have to be other people for whom going through the motions because of tradition is not an option.  I don't think I'm the only one. There have to be more people like me out there.  I hope there are.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

When "Feet' Just Mean Feet

So, I just finished my first year in seminary, and while that feels like a major accomplishment, I realize that 1) I am not even half way through this crazy endeavor; there are two more grueling years ahead of me, and b) I don't know anything. Really.  I mean, I learned lots of stuff.  Good stuff.  Stuff that might help me in bar trivia, or in a Bible verse search competition, but the really hard stuff? Nope. There was no "hard stuff you will be asked by your parishioners" class, and Candler School of Theology is definitely not like Hogwart's.  I did not get a wand and spell book to help me make problems like injustice, poverty, war, or prejudice disappear.

So, when I told my friend Alisha that I wanted to guest blog in her what I learned in seminary series I was excited for...about 5 minutes. Then I was like well, what the hell did I learn in seminary because it sure as hell wasn't how to give easy answers? 

 If I can say one thing for sure it is that faith is full of ambiguity, and because of that ambiguity, because I know for sure that I do not, and never will, have all of the answers, God will have to work through my weaknesses.  A few years back, I remember hearing a commencement address delivered to graduating seminarians at Iliff School of Theology by Nadia Bolz Weber, an ELCA pastor in Denver, and a total bad ass.  In addressing the anticipation by the graduates of being let loose on the Church, and their questions about whether or not they were ready to face all of the challenges that entering ministry was sure to bring, the answer was "of course you're not ready".  Bolz Weber reminded those seminarians of what the seminarians I know, as well as a few, ahem, practicing clergy need to hear: play to your weaknesses. When we play to our strengths we get cocky.  We think we know the answers and this is where things go terribly wrong.  So while this may seem to some a huge waste in tuition money, it's what I got.

Well. Wait.  I did get a few more things out of the year.  They are listed below.  Some of them may make sense.  Some of them I'm still trying to make sense of myself.  For your reading pleasure, I present "Other Seminary Stuff That I Learned":

  • Don't think meat.  You'll only hurt the ball club.
  • The mere mention of Real Madrid can unite a room full of refugees from all over the world.
  • Academics make shit up, and you can, too.
  • Being in seminary and starting the ordination process is akin to a ticking, biological clock.  
  • Don't be like Elihu (from the book of Job). That guy is a jerk.
  • If you don't like the denominations out there, start your own.
  • Gluten free wafers are bigger than you think and will stick to the roof of your mouth.
  • References to feet, sometimes really just mean feet.
  • Christianity cannot be lived in a vacuum, and neither can seminary.  You need community.