Portrait of a Real-Life Feminist.

For some reason, I’ve been meeting a lot of new people lately (cue panic). As I’ve been meeting what feels like the entire world population, I’ve had to answer the following series of questions several times.

 

So, you’re a student? What are you studying?

Feminist theology? Really? At a seminary? I didn’t even know that existed!

You’re a feminist then? Oh. You don’t look like a feminist.

*facepalm*

 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, though. I’ve been trying to figure out why it is that, despite my strong commitment to and activism for women’s rights, people are so surprised that I, of all people, am so persuaded.

And then I had a “well, duh” moment.

People are so surprised because feminists, like any other socio-political group, are better known as a caricature than as real people.

A cursory Google images or iStockPhoto search will return a shocking amount of photos of female dominance over men, overly hairy (we’re talking wookie status) women lighting bras on fire, and other similar, unrealistic photos.

And, while many of the people in my life are committed feminists, I had to wonder if this is what those who do not identify this way imagine when they think of us.

So I decided to prove them wrong.

 

This is a portrait of a real-life feminist, namely, me.

I am a feminist, and I am married. To a man. I even took his name.

I am a feminist, and I enjoy quilting.

I am a feminist, and I wear skirts. And dresses. And makeup.

I am a feminist, and I have a Pinterest account.

I am a feminist, and I struggle with accepting my body.

I am a feminist, and I shave.

I am a feminist, and I wear bras.

I am a feminist, and I feel safer when I’m with my husband.

I am a feminist, and I want kids.

I am a feminist, and I earn less than my husband.

I am a feminist, and I think men are pretty great. Usually.

I am a feminist, and I am religious.

I am a feminist, and I am in seminary.

I am a feminist, and I love it when my husband brings me flowers.

I am a feminist, and I have a hard time being confident.

I am a feminist, and I have far more male friends than female friends.

I am a feminist, and I was given away at my wedding.

I am a feminist, and I really, really love being female.

I am a feminist, and I am not a caricature.

 

I am a feminist, and I believe that, whoever you are, you deserve the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else.

Where Process and Mental Illness Meet

Hey all! Over this past J-Term, I took a course on Process Theology. As this is the parent field from which my future field–theopoetics–comes, I found it to be one of the most interesting and engaging courses I’ve ever taken, despite the 8:45 a.m. start time and the three and a half hour classes that met four times per week. As an assignment for it, I wrote a (short) sermon from a process perspective on mental illness and the church. This is that sermon.

Let us begin today with a brief exercise. I would like everyone to stand up (as you are able) and greet four people. There is no rule regarding who you need to greet; they need not be strangers or friends, people who look like you or do not, or nearby or across the room. Any four people will do.

You may have noticed some demographics of the four people you greeted. You may have considered their respective ages, genders, ethnic backgrounds, levels of physical ability, height, weight, eye color, hair color, and the list continues. We take in incredible amounts of information about a person just by seeing them, and interacting with them brings even more, such as noticing accents, levels of energy, or even signs of recent illness. We are bombarded with information in these interactions, and, for better or worse, we store that information in our brains as the characteristics of a given person.

One thing you probably did not notice, however, was if any of the people you greeted has a mental illness. There are signs, yes, but they are not often visible in such short interactions. Yet, the National Institute of Mental Health informs us that 26.2 percent of the population—roughly one in every four people—has a diagnosable mental illness.[1] That means, statistically speaking, one of the four people you greeted deals with the harsh realities of mental illness on a daily basis.

This is difficult news for most people, and rightly so. It is heart-wrenching to know that a quarter of the people we know and love struggle with their own minds, bodies, and the chemistry between them.

Why, though, should this be of particular concern to people of faith? Is there a reason that, as religious and/or spiritual people, we should care more about mental illness than a person who does not associate with religion or spirituality?

The simple answer is, yes. We do need to care more. We claim to be people of hope and thus have a responsibility to share that hope. The beautiful thing about hope, too, is that it is an unlimited resource. Like the flame of a candle that can be infinitely shared without any decrease in its original light, hope can spread without being sacrificed.

Some of you might be thinking, “Yes, I agree, but what do you mean by ‘hope?’” To you, I say, good question! Hope is a difficult concept to pin down, as, like other such concepts as love, happiness, success, and peace, it means different things to different people. Regardless, hope is an extremely powerful and meaningful word to those who struggle with mental illness.

Hope, for us, as people of faith, means this: we trust that God is active in our realm and is innately in relationship with all of creation—humanity included—without exception. We trust that the God in whom we believe does not make us suffer and desires that our lives be full of good things. We trust that this God does not stand back and let us suffer, but tries relentlessly to inject hope into our brokenness with each passing moment. We trust that this God is the Hope Divine.

Let us follow the proverbial rabbit trail for a moment and discuss the word “broken.” When we think of this word, many of us picture a shattered dish, or perhaps an electronic device that has lived out its functioning days. I would suggest that, when using this word in relationship to living beings, we think of it more as a broken bone. There is pain, suffering, and difficulty in such a situation, but there is also immense room for healing. The bone might never look quite the same again, as that past fracture has become part of its history and has left scars and memories in its wake, but it will become functional and whole again, with the proper help. In this way, people with mental illnesses can be said to be “broken”—in need of healing—but not terminally so. There is room for hope.

People with mental illnesses can often look at their lives as broken, shattered pieces that no amount of super glue will put back together. How could the hope of which we speak possibly enter in to this situation? It seems to be unfixable, and in many cases, there might be a lot of evidence pointing towards this, but it is not the case.

While a person with a mental illness is staring at the shards of his or her being scattered around him or her, the Hope Divine steps in and sees intrinsic beauty. The person sees something that was once whole, where the Hope Divine sees beautiful, intricate pieces that can make a new thing. The person wonders what happened to the lovely piece of pottery that once was, but the Hope Divine sees a mosaic waiting to happen, and while the person is consumed by the loss, the Hope Divine takes advantage of every moment as an opportunity to inject a new perspective into the story of that person’s life.

It is often difficult to pay attention to God’s aims, however. This is especially true for people whose internal narratives are so loud and overwhelming that hearing a story other than the one they know and believe to be true feels impossible. We have faith in a relentless God of reckless love and unabashed hope, and we trust that this God lives up to these expectations, but we do not claim to believe in God’s omnipotence or think that we have no role in doing God’s work. We are mediators of this hope and have the blessed opportunity and responsibility to speak this into the lives of others around us.

Remember too that people of faith are not exempt from this kind of suffering. According to the Pew Forum, roughly 54 percent of United States inhabitants attend religious gatherings regularly.[2] [3] When combined with the previously mentioned 26.2 percent of the population with diagnosable mental illnesses, basic statistics informs us that around 14 percent of people in this country are regularly attending religious services and have a diagnosable mental illness. This is not an “us and them” situation; this affects all of us without exception.

Therefore, this is not a “mission” or “evangelism.” We are not talking about something those of us in this building have and those outside it do not. This is, however, a way of living—we are called to live as people of hope. It is our responsibility to point to the intrinsic beauty in the broken pieces of our lives, whatever those pieces might be. We are to live as artists, creating mosaics with a zealous fervor that the attention of others might be drawn from the brokenness to the beauty being created from them. We point to the “something new” that hope inspires in a situation and try to show how the difficult and sometimes terrifying parts of our histories can tell a new story.

As we leave this place, let us be people of hope for those who are suffering, and speak new life into even the bleakest of situations. Amen.


[1] “NIMH: Statistics: Any Disorder Among Adults,” National Institute of Mental Health, accessed January 21, 2014, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/Statistics/1ANYDIS_ADULT.shtml.

[2] Information adapted from “Portrait and Demographics of United States Religious Affiliation,” Pew Research Religions & Public Life Project, accessed January 22, 2014, http://religions.pewforum.org/portraits.

[3] “Regularly” is here defined as attending religious gatherings at least once per month.

A Fire That Won’t Be Put Out

I recently had a classmate email me to say that the anger often present in my posts (for an online class) is inappropriate and destructive.

To which I had a number of reactions, involving some rather salty language and several cups of coffee.

(Coffee fixes everything.)

But, after I stopped imagining how satisfying it would be to scream at this classmate, it got me thinking. What is it about anger that Christians don’t like? Why is it so unwelcome in the church?

“Authentic” is one of those words that gets thrown around in Christian circles like it’s a volleyball. Frequently flying left and right, but no one is really in contact with it for long enough to actually pin down a definition and a practical application. We claim to want to be authentic, but then, when someone in our community doesn’t fit the Shiny Happy People Who Are Satisfied With Whatever Happens And Never Get Mad At God, we (at the very least) shy away from them, and often encourage them to be happier.

Jesus Wept, I don’t know how many times someone has told me to “Delight in the Lord” or “Talk to Jesus about it.” And the next person who does is getting thrown out a window.

I don’t know about you, but all this has ever done is made me angrier.

Our emotions are real. As sentient beings, we have the ability to experience a wide range of feelings. If we really want to be authentic, we would embrace and encourage these emotions, not stifle all the darker, bolder, or greyer ones.

And, frankly, yes. I am angry. About a lot of things. I am angry about terrible theology that persists despite thousands and thousands of years of theological evolution. I am angry at the way the church continues to say it cares about the whole of creation, but is not on the forefront of change. I am angry that I feel so unwelcome in most churches. I am angry that my history and most Christian theology are asynchronous. I am angry that people still use “God’s ways are not our ways” as an excuse for incoherent, illogical, or unrealistic theology. I am angry that the church is den of irresponsibility and privilege. I am angry that there are so many people who put the Bible on a higher plane than living, breathing humans.

I. Am. Angry.

And I love it.

Because, for the first time in my life, I’m free. I’m not shackled by the need to make square pegs fit in round holes. I’m free to point out the flaws in the church and the whole of creation and do something about it. I’m free to scream and shout and curse the heavens and mourn the perpetual “who gives a fuck, it’s all temporary anyway” attitude of most Christians. I am free to be genuinely, truly authentic to myself and my spirituality.

And I know I’m not the only one.

I know there are countless wearied souls cringing on Sunday mornings. They are terrified by the contents of the Bible. They are enraged by the conduct of Christian leaders. They grieve those pushed to the outside. They are furious about the way people cling to centuries- or even millennia-old beliefs that have never really worked within reality.

And they are silenced.

But, the first time we are finally bold enough to feel those emotions, to make them known, that’s when we become free.

And I, for one, would rather be angry and free than happy and in a cage.

On Misconceptions.

Hello, dear friends.

I’m in the midst of summer intensives. Which means my brain, body, and all my free time are consumed by compacted classes that are, well…intense. So this isn’t a real post. And I’m also sorry I’ve been gone for, oh, a month now? Sheesh.

But anyway. I’ve decided to address some of the common misconceptions or misunderstandings about certain aspects of my theology, or my life in general. I get asked these questions a lot, and it would be a lot easier to just point people to a post than to have to explain them over and over again.

So, when I say that I am a pluralist, what I mean is that I think no one religion has a monopoly on truth. Furthermore, I also mean that I don’t think religion or faith in a supreme being is necessary for “salvation.” (I don’t like this word, but it’s the best one for this explanation). I still do my faith and spirituality in a generally Christ-oriented environment–I go to a Lutheran seminary, I go to church, I have a degree in Bible and Theology, et cetera.

When I say that I don’t identify as Christian, what I mean is that I don’t ascribe to the “branded” or, if you want to use fancy words, systematized Christianity that currently exists. Additionally, Christianity has some core dogmas that I disagree with, and thus I do not align with that title or group in order to promote harmony. I’ve found people are less offended by what I say when they know I am not trying to say it as a member of their religious tribe.

I am not “lucky” because I got married at 18. My husband and I chose to get married young because we love each other and we saw no point in putting it off until we were older. It may not have been the wisest decision, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made. But, and please, please hear me, being married does not make your life better or easier, and it is not some box to check off on your list of life accomplishments. Our two years of marriage together have been really, really hard, but it’s been far more than worth it. We’ve both grown so much, both individually and together. So, when you find out that I’m 20 and have been married for two years, don’t say I’m “lucky” or I’m “ahead of the game.” I made a choice, which I am thankful for every day, but it didn’t flip some magical switch that suddenly fixed all my problems.

When I tell you I have Asperger’s (or what is now known as high-functioning Autism), don’t tell me that I seem so “normal.” I’ve had 20 years to learn how to cope, and a lot of what I do is not instinctual, but is learned behavior. For instance, I apologize when I say something that someone might find offensive (theologically speaking), because I’ve learned that grace and humility build harmony. Or, I look people in the eye when I speak with them because I’ve learned that conveys respect and attention. I’ve learned how my husband acts when he’s mad, or moody, or antsy, or amorous, not because I can sense it, but because I’ve studied him intensely. If I commit a social faux pas, please know that I’m not a massive jerk–I simply haven’t yet learned what to do in this particular situation. Calmly explain what offended or upset you, and I will make amends and learn from that event.

When I say that I believe in works righteousness, I am not saying that I think I can buy or work my way into Heaven, or that I am capable of saving myself. What I am saying is that I don’t believe faith has anything to do with salvation. Living a life in pursuit of letting love abound and continually choosing selflessness over selfishness with care and respect for all of creation is what “saves” a person, not whether or not they happen to believe in the “right” God. Do I succeed at this? HELL. NO. But if God is real, and God is love, and God knows our character, then God will know what I tried (and failed) to do with my life, and count that as righteousness.

When I say that I am a socialist, I do not mean that I want the government to control everyone’s paycheck and that we all should get the same amount of money regardless of how much we work. What I do mean is that I think wealth needs to be spread more equally, so that all people have the ability to meet their basic needs and work towards living a full life. This means that higher education and healthcare would be socialized, banks would be more heavily regulated, and individuals would have a right to housing. Also, and I’m sad I even have to say this, being a socialist does not make you a communist. They are two very different things.

When I say I am a feminist, I do not mean that I hate men, or that I want to reverse history and establish matriarchy. What I do mean is that I believe in equality for the sexes, which requires (at this time) measures directed towards women to bring them up to the socioeconomic level of men.

When I say that I am nonviolent, I don’t mean that I hate soldiers. Also, I would like to point out, pacifism is a specific set of beliefs, nonviolence is a practice. I eat meat, I yell at people, I know how to fight. What nonviolence actually means is that I do not believe in the use of violent force against another human being. So, to make this practical, I don’t support the military, but I am comfortable with the National Guard.

I hope this clears some things up. If there are terms you’d like me to clarify, let me know.

Fatal Distraction.

This past week, this post has been circulating around the more evangelical corners of the interwebs.

While I understand the desire to focus on holy week (trust me, liturgical seasons are big in the Anderson household), I think it’s complete BS. For those of you who didn’t read the post, it essentially says that the “paint the internet red” campaign by HRC is Satan’s way of distracting us from holy week.

Seriously? That is some of the most transparent BS I’ve seen ever since the “women’s bodies can stop unwanted pregnancy from happening” thing occurred a few months ago. I shouldn’t need to write a post on this. But yet, here I am.

Try to stop me from talking. I dare you. DENIKA NEVER STOPS TALKING.

This whole thing seems like a not-so-clever ploy for conservative Christians to not have to deal with the world that is changing around them. A massive social movement of solidarity with the GLBT community has swept the internet; marriage equality is a-comin’, and they don’t know how to deal with it. So, they either fight back (enter Pat Robertson & co.), or they try to write it off as a “distraction,” and so they don’t have to deal with it–in fact, it would be better if they ignored it completely so as to not give in to Satan’s temptations.

But let’s back up a bit. 2000 years or so. There was a man wandering around Galilee with a ragtag group of the not-so-elites, the working class, the terminally ill, the unclean, the outcasts, the sinners, the unloved. He talked about some crazy ideas like unconditional love and self-sacrifice and radical inclusiveness. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, touched the untouchable, loved the unlovable.

But the people in charge didn’t like this. They had a system that had been working for hundreds of years. They didn’t want to change, because they liked the way things were.

But they let him play around for a while. At first, he was just another crazy person in a sea of misfits. Soon, though, he started to have too much influence. A movement was rising like a tidal wave, imminently bound to crash over their perfect little world. He was too strong.

So they killed him.

But this man, the man who was love embodied, wasn’t going to let that be the end of the story. Death only held him back for a weekend–I’ve had colds that have kept me out of commission for longer. He rose again, stating once and for all that love is stronger than anything else, even death.

That, dear friends, is what we celebrate today. That is what holy week is about.

And I dare say, if Jesus were on earth today, his facebook profile picture would have looked a little something like this last week:

601058_10151539078268281_1863021593_n

This campaign was not a distraction from holy week. Actually, I think it was one of the most well-timed social campaigns I’ve ever seen.

In the week when we remember his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus would not want us to ignore what is happening in the world around us. Not once did he put on blinders to the social situations surrounding him; neither should we. I believe this has been a call for us as people who follow Christ to rethink our systems, to see where we have tried to impose an archaic and oppressive set of social standards on a world that no longer fits within them, and to be advocates for those who are still fighting for rights that most of us take for granted.

Jesus didn’t die for your sins. Jesus lived to show us how to be beacons for God’s love on this planet. That’s what holy week is about.

So today, as we celebrate the blessed life of Jesus, the one who was love embodied, let us take a good look around us and see where we perpetuate injustice. Let us stand for the people Jesus stood for. Let us pour ourselves out so that others might be filled.

For Christ’s sake, let us be love.

My Bible Tells Me To Love.

So.

A couple days ago, I watched a documentary called “For The Bible Tells Me So.” It’s on Netflix; you all should really watch it.

It was about the Church’s oppression of the GLBT community.

Mainly, it centered on telling the stories of five or so different GLBT individuals and their families, who were all deeply rooted in the (American) Church. It depicted their coming-out stories, their families’ varied acceptance, and what they’ve done to bridge the gap between the GLBT community and the Church.

It was powerful.

Silly me, I just wanted background noise. I got myself into watching one of the most heart-wrenching movies I’ve ever seen.

(Suck it, Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook was awful.)

I’m still processing. On the one hand, I was incredibly upset by the things some of the Christians in the movie were saying. This is the community I come from, and I’m supposed to be proud of that?

I’m not ashamed of Christ. However, I’m very ashamed of Christians. Not only has an unbelievable amount of hatred (and in many cases, violence) been unleashed towards a community that does not, for any reason, deserve it, but the voices of our brothers and sisters who are part of that community (as well as the voice of science) have been silenced.

On the other hand, I found the stories of reconciliation, of bridging the gap, of learning to love with or without agreeing with one another to be so inspiring. It gave me a lot of hope for the Church, that maybe we can learn to be a group that really does strive to be like Jesus–to love all people, no conditions, period. Not “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Not even just “love the sinner.” Just love, saint or sinner, gay or straight. 

Because here’s the thing: we’re not the ones who ought to judge. One of my pastors (I think he’s the primary pastor of the Porch? I’m not really sure. He leads the sermon discussion.) said of Romans 1 (verses 26-27 of which are often used to condemn GLBT individuals) and 2 that the chapter break between them is the most ill-placed in the entire Bible. There’s no sense of division between the two in the Greek text, but we’ve placed a division there for no reason. In chapter one, Paul goes on and on about how people are generally terrible, and then begins chapter two by saying (essentially) “So who are you to judge?”

Here’s Romans 1:18-32:

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

And here’s the following passage, Romans 2:1-16, separated as we usually read it in our English Bibles:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience,not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay everyone according to what they have done.”[e]To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obeythe law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges everyone’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

Now, here’s what it would be like if we read them as one text (shortened to include the most relevant portions):

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. 1You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience,not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 

It’s a much different message this way, isn’t it?

I want to leave you with one final quote from the movie. Let it inspire you to initiate conversation, to look differently at people you consider “others” or “outsiders,” and to love with the undiscriminating heart of Jesus.

“So many people who are victims of the fundamentalist christian caricature of gays become fearful and stay fearful until they meet one.”

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.

The Nature of God, or Why I Don’t Care About Conversions

First of all, sorry for the break. We’ve had an interesting summer. And by interesting, I mean…challenging. Which means this hasn’t been a priority. Anyway.

Tony Jones recently posted a challenge to “progressive theo-bloggers” (I think that includes me) to write one post about God–not politics, or Jesus, or anything else, just God. Incidentally, the husband and I have been discussing the nature of God as we try to figure out how to lovingly, gently contend with his nearly-fundamentalist brother who has made it his mission to tell us we are wrong. About everything.

Super.

I had been trying to think of what to write about next, what was on my mind enough to warrant a post, but not too chaotic and emotionally charged to make sense. I have about ten drafts waiting to be finished. I don’t know if they ever will be. Tony’s challenge, then, came at a perfect time.

My husband was a reconciliation major, which means that his niche is social justice. This passion has spilled over to me as well. His brother recently sent him a facebook message that essentially said social justice is only good if God is being exalted, which, in his terms, means that justice is only good if people are being converted directly by you.*

It was at that point in reading his message that I realized: our disagreements with him are so much deeper than whether a certain issue is right or wrong. Our disagreements are about the nature of God and of faith themselves.

When you look at what he has said, you can see that what he values most is getting people to believe in God. If this does not happen, unbelievers will be sent to hell by this God, without concern for whether they were good or bad people. Thus, if you have the option of feeding a hungry person with food or with the Bible, you should always pick the Bible, because feeding them mere food won’t “get them saved.”

Beyond the plethora of theological flaws with that way of thinking, there is a bigger issue here: isn’t there more to God than that?

I would like to think that God is at least a little more intricate than your average nightclub bouncer.

There is this fantastic quote by which I form my life: “Do good works, and there you will find God.” I don’t have any clue who said it; I thought it was Mother Teresa for a long time, but when I googled it, her name and the quote were in no correlation with each other. If anyone knows, I’d love to pin down who said it. But, yes, the point. I believe, and have found it to be truthful, that God doesn’t always show up in sermons, or in church, or when someone asks me what I believe in. But God always shows up when good works are being done.

God is exalted when a hungry person is fed. God is exalted when a lonely person finds a friend. God is exalted when a homeless person has a place to stay. God is exalted when a poor person has a way to make ends meet.

God is exalted when all people join hands to serve each other, regardless of their religion.

Because God is bigger than a nightclub bouncer with a list of names; you’re in, you’re out. God does not focus on our words, but our hearts. God understands that our religion is more often a product of our culture and our geographical and historical location than it is our choice of beliefs. God understands that we don’t always get the right representation of love. God knows that it is more important for a person to choose to do good over evil than for them to choose the Bible over any other holy book.

Because God has welcomed all of us–every last one–to the table. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, black, white, male, female, queer, straight–doesn’t matter.

I’m sure God rejoices when Christ is shared and accepted. But I think God rejoices even more when love is shared and accepted.

And if God is willing to forgive our sins time and time again, I think God is willing to look past our religion and see who we truly are.

Do we care most about getting people to believe what we believe, making them like us? Or do we care most about giving love to all people, making ourselves like them?

I think the God who became a person, and a poor, homeless, socially unacceptable rebel at that, would want us to do the latter.

Because God is not confined to religion. God is, however, love.

 

 

*He did go on to explain it this way; I’m not putting words in his mouth, er, hands?