Posts Tagged ‘Theology’

Is God on the Side of the Oppressed?

Oppressed

The question “Is God on the Side of the Oppressed?” came up in one of my favorite 0nline discussion groups. My simple answer is “yes,” but there is much more to say about that…

God is always turning things upside down on us: greatest is least, lose your life to gain it, last will be first, caring about the least of these, and so on.

As far as my brain can understand it, when it comes to power struggles, God is not interested in our human determinations about who “deserves” anything. As soon as we decide to pick favorites, God subverts our arrogant ordering and picks the opposite.

The pecking order is not God’s idea though because God loves all people! But those who seize power are “feeling the love” in some way whereas the last-chosen are not. So God takes the side of those who are being dishonored–even to the point of dishonoring Godself to do it–because their needs for love, acceptance and whatever else are the least met.

One tricky thing about the human pecking order though is that it can change on a whim when someone new seizes power or when those in power decide they want to give or take status. It’s like that one time when all of a suddenly a new Pharaoh came along who didn’t know Joseph, you know? So, who is “on top” in human pecking orders isn’t necessarily static–so God readjusts, because God doesn’t take kindly to any of God’s beloved people being oppressed.

Also, our “place” in human pecking orders can vary from one group to the next. As a pastor’s wife in a small church and trained church worker, I’m a “big fish in a small pond.” But if I were in a very large church next door to a Lutheran college or seminary with lots of students and professors attending, I would be a relatively “small fish in a big pond.” I’m the same me, but my “place” would be different. Okay, lame example, because there’s not oppression involved, but you get the idea about different groups and different pecking orders. But, again, God readjusts and ministers to us at our point of need when we are feeling lowly.

I don’t think any of us are all one thing–either always oppressors or always oppressed. And yet, I think we are all both capable of oppressing in more ways than is comfortable to admit and vulnerable to oppression in some degree or another.

God loves us all the while—all of us, all the time, no matter what.

But God is setting things right—dismantling our human pecking orders, welcoming the outcast, giving hope to the poor, washing feet, and all that. God is subverting our expectations with a prodigal love that won’t quit.

Of course, the ultimate expression of God’s subversive love is through God’s coming to be one of us in the person of Jesus. Through Jesus, God embodied the most excellent way of love, love so selfless that Jesus didn’t even consider his divinity as something to be exploited, love so complete that Jesus endured suffering and death, love so powerful that Jesus rose victorious over death itself.

And…God wants our partnership—to wash one another’s feet, to flatten the pecking order, to smash the patriarchy (I just love that phrase, so I had to throw that in there), and to proclaim the Good News of God’s love to all people.

God calls us to align ourselves with God’s purposes, with God’s way of love. It is not easy and we can’t do it on our own because on our own those crazy pecking order ideas keep creeping up on us! Rather, the Spirit of God brings us to trust in the Good News of God’s love in Christ Jesus, and we are transformed by our victorious Lord to spread God’s love to all people.

And so, in Christian freedom, we are called to serve the least of these and in so doing, serve Jesus. We are called to help the poor and oppressed, bring good news to the captives, love children, welcome the outcast and show God’s love in word and deed to everyone everywhere.

We are called to live in such a way that we are Jesus to others, that they will know we belong to Jesus because of our love.

So, yes, God is on the side of the oppressed when we start making sides. But God would rather us not make sides at all. And God would rather that none of God’s created people be either oppressors or oppressed. And God continues to work to draw us all to God’s side—to God’s way of love.

I’m a Jesus Feminist Because I Don’t Have to Be One

I'm a Jesus Feminist

My friend Sarah Bessey coined the term “Jesus Feminist” and recently published a book by that name. She has invited others to reflect on the ways they identify with this term. Here’s my take: I’m a Jesus Feminist because I don’t have to be one.

I grew up in a time and place and in a home where, as a young woman, I had every opportunity. This was so completely true that I took feminism for granted.

I even bought into many of the negative stereotypes of feminists. I could disparage feminism in my youth because of the rights and opportunities that past feminist movements afforded me.

I didn’t have to be a feminist because of all the hard work for women’s rights that had already been done.

While I never knew a woman pastor growing up, I was in a denomination where women were permitted to serve in every capacity in the church. But I became acquainted with other denominations where this was not the case.

My own first experience in which I felt I was treated differently because of being a woman wasn’t until college. A guest-lecturer utterly dismissed an insightful comment I made after class only to go right back to chatting away with the male student that was still in the room.

But this was only the beginning. Over time I began to learn more about the plight of women around the world and I realized that I was very fortunate to have the rights and opportunities that I have.

When it came time for me to have my son, I made the seemingly “backward” decision to be a stay-at-home mom–not because I had to but because I wanted to. By this time I recognized that making this decision was a privilege afforded me by the work of feminists ahead of me.

When my friend Sarah Bessey announced that she was writing Jesus Feminist and she talked about her interest in feminism being motivated by following Jesus, it resonated deeply with me. I didn’t want to be an angry, man-hating feminist, but I do care about women being treated as people! And my own personal study of scripture led me to believe that God highly values daughters and sons alike.

I think I took the long route to come to terms with my own feminist streak. But the long and the short of it is, I am a Jesus Feminist because I don’t have to be one.

This post is part of Sarah Bessey’s “In which we are Jesus feminists synchroblog.” >>>Click here to read other stories of how and why folks became Jesus feminists.<<<

I also had the opportunity to interview Sarah about the book for Life & Liberty! >>>Click here to listen to the interview.<<<

Order Jesus Feminist from my section at the Amazon store at Life & Liberty.

Disclaimer: Your purchase via this link will help support Life & Liberty, an online magazine where I am a Spirituality Editor.

The Ministry of Accepting Questions

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I was in elementary school before my family began attending church on a regular basis. Whereas Lutherans ordinarily baptize infants, I wasn’t baptized until the age of 9, the summer after my third grade year. As a school-aged kid who hadn’t been in church my whole life, I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do to learn about the faith. The attention given to me in my childhood that enabled me to learn more and grow in the Lord, I attribute to the Spirit of God at work.

My usual mode of processing the world is to ask questions, lots of questions. And I’ve been that way since I was a child. So, as I tried to catch up with my peers, I asked a lot of questions about all this God and Jesus stuff.

I am deeply grateful to the Sunday school teachers who fielded these questions. To be honest with you, I don’t remember anymore exactly what questions I asked. What stuck with me though was the sense that it was okay to ask questions.

I mean, if you think about it, there is something rather bold about some kid questioning the very existence of the God of the universe. But one Sunday school teacher after another stuck with me as I tried to get my mind around it all.

One year in particular I remember asking my usual million questions, but it seemed that my questions were beginning to annoy my fellow students. I began to feel self-conscious when I had a question to ask and wondered whether it was worth asking knowing that I was irritating the other kids.

But I asked anyway. And when the other students groaned and begged to get on with class, the teacher, Mrs. Johnson, patiently entertained yet another question from me. I saved a couple of less pressing questions for after class, after the other students had left. Mrs. Johnson gave me the extra time I needed.

When I then apologized to Mrs. Johnson for asking so many questions and for holding up the class, first she told me not to worry about holding up the class. But then she said, “Keep asking questions! That is how you learn!”

When the world might otherwise dismiss a pesky kid, when other kids would rather get on with the lesson, Sunday school teachers like Mrs. Johnson saw me and my questions as valuable. And I just know the hand of God was in that. The love and patience that my teachers showed me were evidence of God at work in their lives.

In turn, the faith that took hold in me is evidence of God at work in my life. My friend, Clint Schnekloth just posted on his blog today about a conversation he had with a mentor about different ways of being in the world. It was an interesting post, but it was something Clint said in the comments that really struck me as I prepared to write this post:

One thing another mentor told me one time: “For some people, there is a division between heart and mind. For you, your mind and heart are the same thing.”

For me, thinking through issues, asking questions and processing things in my head is inextricably linked with what stirs in my heart. So, when I asked questions in Sunday school as a kid and tried to get my mind around who exactly God is, the answers I got and the care I received sparked my life-long and heartfelt journey of living faith.

The Work of the Spirit

The Work of the SpiritSo, um…last week on the blog was a little out of control. I mean, speaking in tongues? Who talks about that in Lutheran circles? Well, apparently, a lot of somebodies were interested in hearing about it because my “Confessions of a Lutheran Charismatic” post in which I admitted to singing/praying in tongues quickly became the single most-viewed item on this blog. The post was written as a reaction to reading my friend, David Housholder’s book, “Light Your Church on Fire Without Burning it Down.”

I quickly became pretty self-conscious about what I had written. David Housholder even warned me that it was “very transparent.” And I, of course, assured him that I had anticipated whatever consequences I could. Except, the consequences I anticipated were more along the lines of being dismissed as a crazy person. I’ve gotten that before for doing things that seem more normal to me than that tongues stuff.

But to be listened to about crazy-sounding things as if they might have some merit? I was not prepared for that.

And as someone who is always trying to figure things out, I am trying to understand what exactly it means that people are listening to me about all this.

I got comments and messages from other Lutherans who have had similar experiences and thanked me for letting them know they were not alone. It was as if my writing about it had given them a similar gift to what Housholder’s book had given me.

Is there something stirring among my Lutheran tribe to which I can give voice?

If there is, then it may not be as radical as you think, for sometimes the work of the Spirit is very, very quiet. Oh, of course there are the spectacular and rather weird things–you would really think I was crazy if you saw the way I’ve been praying since my last post! But sometimes the most out-of-control thing the Holy Spirit can do is to whisper words of encouragement and calm our hearts in the midst turmoil or uncertainty.

I feel the Holy Spirit powerfully at work in my life. And I can see the movement of the Holy Spirit in my life since my childhood in everything from seemingly mundane things to the absolutely inexplicable.

And I want to say more about all of that.

I can see the Holy Spirit powerfully at work in the church. I’ve been watching the church very closely since my childhood, since I became a pastor’s wife at the age of 19, and since my education and formation as a Deaconess in my 20s.

And I want to say more about that.

I had planned to tell more of my story tonight. But there is too much to tell in one night. And it is already past time for me to post for the week.

And while I can’t say it all tonight, I am prepared to say more about what I see as the work of the Spirit.

Spiritual Growth Takes More Than “Just Add Water”

20130628-144715.jpgSummer is here and that means lots of free time for my dear son. So, the other day, he decided to try out some of his “grow animals.” Grow animals are these little encapsulated sponges that you put in water and they “magically” grow to be ten times their original size. Seeing these animals grow right before my very eyes got me thinking about our spiritual lives and how growth as a Christian doesn’t happen so easily.

What about Baptism?

As a good Lutheran, I am probably missing an opportunity to talk about the Sacrament of Baptism. We Lutherans are big on our Baptismal theology and teaching–through the waters of Baptism God adopts us as sons and daughters. Perhaps “just add water” could be a fun angle for a baptismal post.

But…

Living out our faith day in and day out, growing in Christ throughout our lives over time, is not something that just happens right before our very eyes. We can’t just add water and experience phenomenal growth in minutes. The truth is that even my son’s “grow animals” took more like days than minutes to reach their 10x growth potential.

What is involved with spiritual growth?

Spiritual growth, the ways we learn to rely more upon God and be more like Jesus in how we love our neighbors, involves:

  • God’s love and action for us first and foremost. Our growth in faith is an outgrowth of our trust in what God has first done for us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • Showing up. How do we “show up” in our spiritual lives? By going to worship–hearing God’s Word and receiving the Sacraments. We also show up through spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study. Showing up at worship and spiritual disciplines gives us opportunities to connect with God which helps us grow in our faith and trust in God.
  • Spending time with fellow Christians and learning together how to best live our lives as the Body of Christ. By being with others who are also trying to live this out and grow in faith, we can share ideas and offer support when needed.
  • Practice over time. Growing in our spiritual lives doesn’t just happen in days or weeks, it takes months and years and decades. It is something that happens over the course of our entire lives.
  • Patience & learning from messes. Sometimes, maybe more often than any of us really want to admit, we mess up. We fail in some way to live up to the name of Christ. Sometimes Christians give Christianity a bad name. It is sad, but true. Instead of wallowing in our messes, we can learn from them and let those lessons become part of our growth.
  • Saying we’re sorry. When we do make messes, it is important to acknowledge them, and to say we’re sorry–to God and to those we’ve harmed. It is difficult for anyone to move forward when messes are left messy.

God is doing it!

Yes, growing in our faith is more complicated than “just add water.” But I do not intend for this list to be a legalistic checklist of whether we’re doing our faith-living right. This is merely descriptive of the types of experiences that contribute to our spiritual growth. Our spiritual growth does not happen on our own. It is not something we have to do for ourselves to make God love us, it is something that God works in and through us. May we each experience God’s love more deeply in our lives as we seek to grow in our love for God and our neighbors.

What do you think? Is there anything you would add to the list of what is involved in spiritual growth? What has helped you grow in your faith?

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If you enjoyed this post about spiritual growth, you may also appreciate the follow up post titled Let’s Talk About Spiritual Shrinking As Well As Spiritual Growth (click the title to read the post).