On Death, Red Lipstick, And My Affection For Communion Wine, Part III

Originally, this post and the two that precede it were supposed to be one post. I forgot that I am, in fact, very long winded and thus the three parts to this post are split over three different posts. For the previous posts, you can go here and here.

Part Three: Tony Jones wrote a blog post about Evangelicals and their disapproval of alcohol. Like most things Tony writes, it made me think.

Just a side note: Tony and I go to the same church, and I still haven’t gotten up the courage to introduce myself to him. He’s just so…awesome, and one of my superheroes, and I can’t just walk up and say “Hi, I’m Denika. I think you’re awesome and you’re one of my superheroes.” So, if you ever go to Solomon’s Porch, I’ll be the one hyperventilating and freaking out because one of my superheroes is right. freaking. there.

Tony, if you’re reading this (which I sincerely doubt), I’m sorry if that’s creepy.

Anyway.

I grew up Lutheran, and my church used kosher wine for Holy Communion. My pastors often went out for drinks with one another–one of them was even a bartender. The concept of Christians drinking was not at all foreign to me. The only restriction that was given was that all things were to be enjoyed in moderation.

That seemed simple enough, and it didn’t contradict what I read in the Bible.

Now, when I went to school (at a Baptist university), I was informed that alcohol is wrong and we should never let a drop of it touch our lips. This went so far that the school covenant, which, if you wanted to go to that school, you had to sign whether you agreed with it or not, banned students–even those over 21–from consuming or even possessing alcohol during the school year. One of my friends actually got written up because she had an unopened bottle of Bailey’s in the trunk of her car, which was a gift for her 21st birthday.

And for a while, I believed this. I decided that I would never drink, not even once I was old enough, because it was somehow wrong. I didn’t have solid theological or even moral backing for this. There was no concept of “drinking in moderation” or just having the occasional drink every once in a while. You either abstained from drinking and were therefore holy, or you were a drunkard and were going to Hell.

When my now-husband and I got engaged (at my ripe old age of seventeen), my mind began to change. We were discussing our wedding and whether or not we wanted to have  alcohol at it, and we got into an argument about alcohol as a whole. I stated that I didn’t even want to have it in our home, and even less at our wedding. I still find this funny because he’s the one who grew up Baptist, and I was Lutheran. He wanted to know what was so wrong about alcohol.

I really didn’t have a good answer.

He’s so much smarter than me. Bastard.

(Love you honey (: )

So he began to change my mind. When we decided to do Communion at our wedding, things got more interesting. See, my tradition uses kosher wine and unleavened bread for Communion. This is important to me, for no other reason than it is a sacrament, and thus a ritual, which makes the elements significant, and get off my back, I like my one tradition. When we informed his parents that we would be doing communion in this way, they, being good Baptists, decided they simply wouldn’t take Communion.

Awesome.

(Don’t worry, we ended up having a chalice of white grape juice too.)

At that point, I became an all-out advocate for Christians drinking. I wanted to break down the so-called “piety” that my school held so tightly because it simply seemed nonsensical to me. I had conversations with fellow students and with professors about this, and we all agreed that it was pointless.

The thing that got me, though, is that I no longer felt comfortable partaking in communion at my school. They would do it occasionally in chapel with grape juice and white bread. I just couldn’t reconcile that with the need I felt to hold to my tradition and my ritual, to keep Communion a sacrament. I felt like an outsider because my tradition was not only seen as invalid, but sinful.

Both I and my university had decided that the other side was wrong. This isn’t how we should do things.

Fast forward to a few months ago. My husband and I started going to Solomon’s Porch. That community is great for many reasons, but perhaps the best being that they form the practices and the beliefs of the community around its members. Instead of telling you what they believe and saying that, to be a part of that community, you have to agree, they ask what you believe and work to incorporate your unique theology into the community as a whole. One way this gets fleshed out is in their Communion. They have multiple stations throughout the gathering area, some with grape juice, others with wine, even one station with a common cup. They make it possible for all believers–however they celebrate this ritual–to do it as they wish, as a community.

It’s a beautiful thing. And it’s something we all need to start doing.

If you have friends who don’t drink because of their beliefs, ask them why. Make sure they know the reasons behind their decision. If you have friends who drink, ask the same questions. Try to understand their beliefs. And make sure to understand yours, too. We don’t need to wage wars for or against alcohol use in the Church–we just need to understand each other.

Now, if I can just get the Porch to start offering matzoh and temple wine…

On Death, Red Lipstick, And My Affection For Communion Wine, Part I

Originally, this post and the two that will follow it were supposed to be one post. I forgot that I am, in fact, very long winded and thus the three parts to this post are split over three different posts. For the next two installments, check back tomorrow and Thursday, provided I remember to post them.

Strange times have been afoot in the Anderson household…er, apartment-hold?

To begin, husband’s paycheck was supposed to arrive in the mail last Friday. It did not, and we had 90 cents to our name until Monday. This wasn’t a huge change, mostly just frustrating. But it made for a very stressful setting for a couple weeks. In the midst of all of this, I’ve been reflecting on a few different things that have come up recently as I tried to make sense of our increasingly hectic lives. I’ve divided these into three parts, for your reading convenience.

Part One: Last Sunday afternoon my husband received a call from his mother saying that his paternal grandfather had had a stroke and was not doing well. This was a shock, as he was in excellent shape and, with the exception of poor hearing, didn’t have many health concerns. He passed away Thursday evening. We went up to Alexandria (where he lived) on Sunday afternoon for the visitation; the funeral was on Monday. So, this is all very recent, and unexpected, and thus my thoughts aren’t really gathered yet.

However, I’ve come away from the experience with one observation. I don’t find myself very emotional at funerals, and especially since I had only known Lloyd (my husband’s grandpa) for about two years, his death didn’t hit me as hard as it did his biological family. Instead of mourning, I observed. I watched how people dealt with death. I watched some people laugh at memories of him; I watched others cry over the loss of a beloved family member; I watched others still sit silently, unable to process what had happened (whether intentionally or otherwise). As a person who has a marked difficulty reading people and understanding emotion, it was a good learning experience for me.

However, the person I watched most was Lloyd’s wife, Vi.

She was, in my opinion, the most real person at the funeral. Which is impressive, considering that the first step in the grief process (according to Kubler-Ross, at least) is denial, and I would have expected her to hide behind a facade of “he’s in a better place”s and “I’m fine”s and fake smiles.

She didn’t.

At some times, especially when she was talking with groups of people (she’s the biggest extrovert I know), she was smiling and laughing. She loved hearing all the stories people told about him. Other times, in more secluded moments, she would complain about how tired or stressed out she was; she isn’t SuperWoman, after all. When she looked at pictures of Lloyd, or at the casket (particularly his body), however, she would break down and weep without notice.

All of this taught me an important lesson about death and grief.

First of all, Kubler-Ross wasn’t wrong–the five stages show themselves in most people who are in the grief process. But, at the same time, she was. Because we don’t really go through these five stages in order, and we don’t visit each stage only once. We go through the whole process a number of times.

Second, the people who simply say “he/she’s in a better place” or “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away” or any other cliched, pithy sayings like that do no justice to the grief process, nor do they honor God. God does not expect us to be optimistic and stoic at all times, especially while grieving. Jesus himself shows a wide range of emotion in the Gospels; who are we, as humans, to assume we have to be happy all the time?

Third, the (western) Church as a whole does a horrible job with grief. We’re happy to encourage, to bring meals, to send flowers, and even to crack a few silly jokes, but we are much more hesitant to sit with the grieving and mourn with them. We don’t know how to deal with weeping or rage. We don’t know how to sit in silence and simply be with the lonely. We don’t know how to step out of our lives for a few minutes (or hours, or days) and stop to grieve. Sending flowers or making a meal takes some time, yes, but it doesn’t take commitment. It doesn’t require us to be anything more than physical beings. And, as a group that tends to ignore (or even despise) the tangible in favor of the spiritual, we don’t know how to provide for the emotional and spiritual needs of the grieving. We’ll gladly recite a litany of Bible verses about God’s goodness, but not those that deal with anger or grief. At best, we know how to distract, but not how to really dive into the mire of grief. We don’t want to get our hands dirty. So we bake a lasagna instead.

I don’t know how, but this needs to change. We need to embrace grief as a part of life. We need to learn how to deal with all parts of it, to stop pretending like pain doesn’t happen, or that it only happens behind closed doors, and to bind ourselves to those who are grieving as they process. We are one body, and we are called to celebrate and mourn together.

It’s time for us to be real.

My Kool-Aid May Be Organic Wildflower-Taro Flavored, But It’s Still Kool-Aid

It all started with a simple glass of tea.

I swear that isn’t Kool-Aid. It is Tazo’s Passion iced tea, and it is FABULOUS.

So anyway.

I made this tea, and remarked to my husband that it looked like Kool-Aid. He then, in typical ultra-sarcastic husband fashion, proceeded to ask me if I was “drinking the Kool-Aid.”

I almost made some snarky comment regarding politics and voting Green just to piss conservative Christians off, but I stopped. I began to wonder if I was, in fact, drinking someone’s Kool-Aid.

I don’t generally buy into either major (U.S.) party’s rhetoric; truth be told, I’ve even started shutting off NPR when they do political updates. Rachel Held Evans said it best when she wrote,

My generation is tired of the culture wars…[we] are ready for peace. We are ready to lay down our arms. We are ready to stop waging war and start washing feet.

I know very, very well that I am tired of political wars. I so earnestly desire a time when all people, both in the U.S. and worldwide, can learn how to stop hating each other and start working together to actually make things better. I am far too pessimistic to believe it will ever happen, but hey, dreams.

So often, I do not find myself “drinking the Kool-Aid” of United States politics.

But I wonder if there’s a different kind of Kool-Aid that I’m drinking.

I have a long list of theological heroes. Tony Jones, Tripp and Bo, Rachel Held Evans, Greg Boyd, Doug Pagitt, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shane Claiborne…goodness, I could just keep on listing all night. I read their blogs, I listen to their sermons and podcasts, I annoy follow them on Twitter, I learn from them. I am greatly impacted by their thoughts.

So much so that I often have to step back and examine my thoughts on a specific issue to see if they’re really mine, or if they’re an amalgam of the thoughts of people who inspire me.

I try never to take anything (important) at face value. I try to research issues as much as I can before I take a stance on them. I try to listen to people on all sides of any given debate.

But I often find myself assimilating the stances of those I look up to before I can get that far.

Take, for instance, the issue of evolution. I’ve never really taken a solid stance on it. I knew I wasn’t a young-earth creationist, but I didn’t get much further than that (perhaps because I went to a conservative Baptist college where evolution was, for real, a blacklisted issue for class discussion). This past Spring, I had been listening to some Homebrewed Christianity, while writing my senior sem paper on the Emergent movement, and for the first time came into some arguments from Christ-following scholars in favor of evolution. I began to research the issue, but because it ended up not fitting well in my paper, I stopped my research early and have not picked it back up since.

However, I now find myself assuming this stance, without having any real support for it. I’ve barely researched it, and the only reason I even started doing that was because someone I look up to said they thought it was true.

Sounds an awful lot like drinking Kool-Aid, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong. I look up to these people for a reason and I generally do agree with them on most things. However, I think it is vital that we not take stances on issues we know nothing about. And especially right now, as the U.S. has divided itself in half and has commenced an all-out war of political bashing.

Before we argue, whether about politics, theology, or whether Helvetica is better than Arial or not (it is), let’s step back. Let’s research. Let’s approach the issues as neutrally as possible before we decide who we think is right. And, most of all, let’s remember that the people who disagree with us are still, in fact, people, and we should treat them as such.

I am so tired of human beings acting like zoo monkeys. Please, before you fling your excrement at someone, know why you’re doing it, and remember that the more shit you throw, the more will come flying back at you.

I Just Call Myself Denika

As you know, I’ve been writing my senior sem paper on the damages of conservative theology and the emergent response. (Side note: I’m 18 pages in, and not even close to done. This is going to be one mother of a paper). Throughout this time, I’ve been researching conservative, traditional Christian views of several issues in the Church, biblical studies, and the world today.

My whole premise was that our faith has been monopolized by a very vocal minority, and thus Christians everywhere have been associated with the U.S.’s Moral Majority/Religious Right, even though many of us fall in the liberal camp (myself included, quite obviously) and most of us (myself not included…yet) are not part of the U.S.

Therefore, to be “Christian” is not just to follow Christ, but is to also believe conservative theology X about issue Y. It is to align ourselves with Jerry Falwell, Mark Driscoll, and whoever else wants to make sweeping claims for all who follow Christ. It is to be anti-gay, pro-life, pro-capitalism, pro-Israel, anti-welfare, et cetera. And, for some people, these things are true.

The problem is, they’re not for me.

I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Calvinist. I’m not big on tradition for tradition’s sake.*

Truth be told, I’m not big on Christianity.

Because I follow Jesus and I believe the Bible and I want to spend my life doing good in the name of this God, but I don’t fit the mold of Western Christianity.

That being said…I don’t think I can call myself a Christian. Not because the word itself does not describe me (“Christian: a person who is a believer in Jesus Christ and [Jesus’] teachings.”), but because the things associated with Christianity do not describe me.

For quite some time now I’ve been referring to myself as a “Christ-follower,” because it describes me better. I follow Christ. I try (and fail miserably) to live like Jesus. It’s a much more accurate term.

I don’t want to divorce myself from Church history or from Christian community. But I am an outsider to Christianity, whether I call myself a Christian or not. My beliefs put me on the edge or, as is more often the case, well past the edge of what is considered acceptable Christian theology. If I am an outsider, I cannot call myself a Christian (not that I want to anyway).

My problem is that I don’t know how to do both. How do I engage Church history–my history–without being a Christian? How do I partake in Christian community without fitting its primary descriptor?

The truth is, I don’t really know.

I’m curious what you all (and by “you all,” I mean all 5 of my followers) think. Do you call yourself “Christian?” If yes, how do you reconcile that with your difference in belief (assuming you have some, because those who don’t probably don’t follow my blog) from the most vocal sect of Christianity? If no, how do you still manage to fit in?

In the meantime, I think I’ll just call myself “Denika.” It fits me best of all.

 

*I do, however, support traditions when they are constantly kept in check with a changing world. Also, this is more in terms of theology than practice–I love the traditional practices of some churches. It just bothers me when people believe something simply because that’s what their family/church/denomination has always believed.

Theological War Zone

I am a college student.

I am a senior Bible and Theology major in my final semester.

Thus, I am dealing with the perpetual hell that is senior seminar. Apparently I’m enough of an idiot to choose to do the GREEK senior seminar. Don’t ever do this. EVER.

Really, though, the work itself isn’t that bad. If it were just that, I’d be fine.

The problem is my classmates.

There are five of us, plus the professor. I am the only woman. I am also one of two egalitarians in the room. Three of the students attend Piper’s church. I go to Boyd’s. My professor has openly stated, as if it were fact, that women ought to submit to their husbands, that it is not possible to defend both Christ and homosexuality, and that everyone knows socialism is wrong.

Needless to say, I don’t belong there.

It’s like walking into a war zone every time I go to class.

I’ve realized, though, that this class is much like life for me on a daily basis, when it comes to theology.

I am a feminist. I support gay rights both inside and outside the Church. I believe in socialism and I think everyone deserves decent healthcare and education without spending the rest of their lives in debt. I don’t believe in violence and I think that using it in efforts of making peace is contradictory. I think what we do matters just as much as who we believe in, and sometimes I’m persuaded that works matters even more than faith. I believe that God is after every person’s heart and is open to influence and change. I think that we ought to live simply and wealth is not something to be gained, but something to be shared. I believe that it is our job to advocate for the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized, and that we have to break down ethnic, sexual, and religious discrimination. And I believe in a God who is on our, and everyone else’s, side.

I know that when I take these stances, I put myself on the outside. I know I’m going to face opposition. I’m okay with that.

The problem is when this opposition doesn’t take the form of dialogue, but instead turns into dismissal. It isn’t that someone disagrees with me, but that they refuse to even listen to me.

When I have to raise my hand in a student-led, discussion-based class every time I want to say anything, and I still end up waiting three or four minutes to speak, I don’t feel as though my opinions are valued.

When my professor and all but one of my classmates use gender-exclusive language, I feel  like I don’t belong.

When I bring in sources by Gutierrez and Bell and Boyd and nearly the whole class is spent attacking them, I spend the rest of the day wondering why my heroes, the people whose words and actions inspire me and renew my faith in Jesus, aren’t even worth consideration.

When I am mocked, picked on, and disrespected, and it is written off as playful banter, I wonder if I made the wrong decision in my choice of this class, this major, and even this school.

I don’t know how many times I’ve pulled up the websites of other schools that I know would have been a better fit because I so badly want to transfer. And, honestly, if it weren’t my final semester, I would.

There’s something wrong with that. That I feel so unwelcome that I want to switch schools less than three months before graduation. That, because I made my stances (listed above) public, I lost my leadership role in a campus ministry and I was nearly kicked out of a pre-vocational ministry program. That I start to get nauseous and wheezy and panicky before every senior sem class. There is something wrong with this school when a senior theology major who has invested years of her life and countless hours of studying, writing, discussing, reflecting, and praying about her theological beliefs can’t even voice those beliefs without being responded to with anger and disrespect.

I had a friend tell me recently that this opposition should only encourage me to fight harder. What about when that opposition and disrespect comes from my friends? What about when I point out a sexist remark in a conversation or a reading assignment and it is met with mockery? What about when that opposition is so fierce that I have to leave in the middle of class because I’m either about to throw punches or there are already tears building up in my eyes?

It is impossible to fight harder when the other side won’t even engage the battle. When you aren’t even respected as a worthwhile opponent.

I feel like David against Goliath. But I don’t have the Israelites behind me and instead of Goliath stepping out to fight me, he says, “She’s not even worth fighting,” and the army just camps out right there on the hillside.

This post won’t end with a resolution, because I have no resolution to offer. I am stuck in a war zone. Though I wish we could discuss our theologies like equals and be okay with the disagreements, I doubt I’ll ever gain that kind of respect here. Until then, the fight continues.

Mandatory Covenanting, the Death of a Community, and My Personal Manifesto.

Lately, a lot of discussion has been stirring in my kome (village, but biblical, and just altogether better) about our school’s Covenant. It is a document with seven statements that every prospective student must sign upon applying to our university, making an attempt to establish the rules upon which, apparently, our community will be centered. Few people actually follow the Covenant as it stands, and I, for one, can understand why.

First of all, the claims made in the Covenant are all doctrinal, not dogmatic, in nature. They require students to (at least nominally) agree with the beliefs of our school’s church denomination and, more immediately, with those of it’s upper-level administration. This includes a denouncement of alcohol of any kind, regardless of age, and anti-GLBTQ requirements, to name a couple. Granted, there are some statements (anti-plagarism, wise stewardship of resources, etc.) that are good statements to make, but they are doctrinal nonetheless.

Second, many of the statements made are not kept by the school’s administration as a whole. For example, there is a part of the Covenant that claims to reject materialism, yet many thousands of dollars have been invested in the school’s buildings as of late to make them more appealing to prospective students. These buildings were, albeit less attractive, still just as functionally fine before, and an adequate number of students still came to this school prior to such upgrades. One would think that, if we’re supposed to reject materialism, we wouldn’t have spent so much money on skylights, leather chairs, and intricate tile floors, and would have put that money to a better cause (perhaps, helping the enrolled students offset the $42,000 per year price tag).

Speaking of that price tag, how are we, as students, supposed to be “wise stewards of our resources” when we’re ending up with something like $80-$120 grand of debt for the average student? Either the price or the mandate has to change. The two simply don’t work together.

Third, this Covenant is written not as a goal, as something to strive towards, but as a demand of every person in the community. It does not say, “we will seek to…,” but instead, simply, “we will.” This implies that if you act contrary to the Covenant, or (heaven forbid) disagree with it, you cannot be a part of this community. These things are not aims, but requirements, and if you don’t deliver, you’re not in.

Such “mandatory covenanting” goes against the very nature of a covenant. All throughout the Bible, we see examples of covenants that are made between individuals/groups of people or people and God. All of these are different from our school’s Covenant on a few, very important, points: (1) these covenants are made between equal parties, or at least ones acting as if equals. (2) Both parties are agreeing to the terms that both had the power to set. (3) There were penalties on both sides if the covenant was broken. (4) Both parties were blessed by the covenant. (5) Both parties fully understood the reasons for entering into such a covenant. From my perspective, none of these things are present in the Covenant situation at my school.

If we claim to be a school based on the Bible, why are we not following this pattern? These covenants in the Bible were made in the name of community–to bind separate entities together. Why has ours become so superficial? Is it time, pluralism, the multitude of students? Is it simply passivity and the unwillingness to actually do anything? No matter what the reasons, it is killing the school’s community. Something originally (biblically) intended to unite is causing dishonesty and dissent, tearing our community to pieces, and frankly, pissing me off a whole hell of a lot.

So what can we do to fix this?

One of my professors, and also one of my dear friends (who I believe was building off of said professor), posited that, at the beginning of senior year, each student would write his or her own covenant that they would be responsible for keeping. They would be held accountable, but the things they would be held accountable to would be defined by them. Then, students would better understand what a covenant really means and the implications of it, instead of “just checking a box on a form at the beginning of freshman year.”

I like this idea. I like the concept of being able to decide what is important to me, and to discern what kind of lifestyle God is calling me to. I came to college believing that I would be taught how to think, not what to think. The former is good discipleship on behalf of both the instructor and the student, the latter is merely indoctrination. And, as a student who feels like I either have to compromise my beliefs or transfer schools, I know I’d feel a lot more welcome if I was held to a set of beliefs I actually, you know, believed in.

Now that I think of it, why can’t I do this anyway? I have a lot of problems with the existing covenant, and I’d change it if I could. Here goes, friends: WtD’s Senior Year Covenant, or as I prefer to call it, Manifesto.

1. I will seek to be in a loving relationship with my Creator in all arenas of my life. As a student, I will strive to hear the voice of God in my studies. As a sister, I will strive to lift up my siblings in Christ, to pray for them, to rejoice and to mourn with them, to encourage them and, when necessary, to reproach them. As a wife, I will strive to love my husband selflessly, to submit to him as Christ would and to lead him and instruct him when my gifting better suits me for it, and to grow closer to God with him. As a TA, I will strive to make my work a ministry, lifting up my younger siblings and helping them to succeed in their studies. As an image-bearer of God, I will strive to use my abilities as a musician, photographer, and writer to glorify and praise the Lord. In all things, I will seek to be who God created me to be.

2. I will work to do justice in the world around me. I will try to consume goods that are fair-trade, locally grown, and sustainably produced. I will do my best to keep my money and my time out of the hands of the corporations that are “too big to fail” and instead seek to invest it in my community. I will stand behind and work for the oppressed and the marginalized, including women, the poor, the GLBTQ community, ethnic minorities, and others as I feel God calling me. I aim to not be a hearer of the word only, but a doer. I will not simply preach Christ, but I will, whenever I can, be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world.

3. I will strive for peace. I will try earnestly to be filled with the peace that surpasses all understanding, and to not let my anger get the best of me. I will refrain from violence as much as I am able. I will seek to see the face of Jesus in every individual, regardless of if they know God or not. I will try to open my mind to beliefs wholly different from mine and to learn from my brothers and sisters of different convictions. I will try to open my arms to any who should come near.

4. I will seek to stand up for my beliefs. I will not allow myself to be silenced when I see injustice, and I will seek to dispel all fear in these situations and be filled with the courage of Christ, both in the face of my enemy and also, my community.

5. I will do my best to take care of myself. I will practice both spiritual and physical disciplines as I am able. I will eat as healthily as I can, stay active, and be aware of my body’s condition. I will try to be honest with myself and others about my mental and emotional state, and I will work to break down the facade I so often put up between me and the world. I will try to spend my time wisely, and to not waste the precious lot I have on this earth. I will strive to treat my body and mind as a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.

6. I will seek to grow in my faith always, but to also remain like a child in the eyes of Jesus. I will strive to not be foolish in my thinking. I will look for joy and beauty in all of the created world, and to see God in it. I will seek to bless this earth and let it bless me, with my eyes fixed on the heavenly realm.

All of these I commit to, with the assistance of Christ, as my manifesto to the Lord and to the world around me. May God grant me the ability to dedicate myself to, and the humility to accept my inadequacy to always do so. In the name of Jesus, so go I.