Archive for May, 2012

The Civil Reader–8 May 2012

I took a little blogging break last week because I was extremely busy and because I wanted to spend some time thinking about why I blog.  It was a nice, somewhat clarifying week to me, and now I’m ready to jump back into the game.  I have several plans for new directions to take, and one of them is to try to orient my blog more tightly around the “Kingdom Civics” theme.  To that end, one simple change I made was renaming my “Top Three on Tuesday” column something more fitting to my theme.  “The Civil Reader” is pretty lame…but I kind of like it.  I’m a nerd when it comes to themes, and to me, this new name serves my purpose better.  The purpose of this weekly feature, after all, is to curate articles that will help us be more “civil minded,” in the Kingdom sense.  (That said, I’m definitely linking to an article on kids drinking “beer” at the bottom, simply because it cracked me up.)  Also, I’m tired of having to limit it to three articles.  Since it’s been two weeks, I have lots of articles to share, and I want more freedom in that regard. I’m also going to interact more with the articles.  Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments!

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Disease of Building Theology in the Theoretical or “A Needed Corrective to Our Polarizing Discourse”, by Jon Huckins at Red Letter Christians

Recently, I read a blog (I have no idea where, or I would give credit) questioning the absence of female voices in the theological blogosphere.  The author, a woman herself, went on to suggest several possible reasons why women shy away from discussing theological issues, either on their own blogs or the comments sections of other, more well-known blogs.  One of her hypotheses was that even when women do write about theological matters, their blogs tend more toward “memoir-style” writing than strictly theological.  For some reason, I sensed a hint of dismissiveness in this description, and it gave me pause.  I started my own blog, after all, to discuss theological matters, and not because I was trying to make a name for myself or “get ahead” in the blogging world (whatever that means), but because…well, because I am interested in theological matters.  However, I do tend more toward memoir-style writing, and that is very much on purpose, although I don’t think it is because I am a woman.  You see, over the years, I seem to have developed a spiritual allergy when it comes to matters of faith separated from concrete action.  As much as I love talking about God, too much talking makes me antsy, and I feel the overwhelming need to actually do something real about it.  It’s like a nervous tic, and sometimes it can be a bad thing.  For example, this tic led me to blow a whole essay question on the final for one of my college Bible classes.  Instead of answering the question, I calculated (and accepted) the hit to my grade and then teed off on my disillusionment with the content of the class.  As much as I loved my professor, I was so disgruntled with the idea of all these erudite biblical scholars devoting their whole lives to sitting around and talking about the Bible.  My whole “essay” was somewhat misguided and more than a touch judgmental, but like I said, my obsession with corresponding action is a quirk I can’t seem to shake.  That same year, a group of us started our current church, and I may or may not have driven everyone crazy with my insistence on sticking to our “launch” date.  I was just so worried that if we pushed it back, we wouldn’t start it at all.  I hated the idea of us just sitting around talking about it. We did end up pushing back the date a few weeks (definitely a good call), but thankfully, it did start!

Nervous tics aside, my point is that, to me, there is something so sterile about discussing matters of faith in a strictly theoretical way, apart from the actual application of actual life.  This article does a good job of articulating those ideas, and it does so by contrasting the faith of Christians in the “first world” with Christians in the “third world.”  There is also the tacit suggestion that the reason we get caught up in theological disputes is because we have too much time on our hands.  I agree.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

It’s Not Complementarianism; it’s Patriarchy, by Rachel Held Evans

The thesis of this article is neatly contained in the title, but what intrigued me the most was the opening, where Evans quotes the dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Seminary.  This dean laments his theory that many marriages that would define themselves as “complementarian” (where the male is the head of the household) are actually “egalitarian” (where both partners are treated as equals) in practice.   Reading that, I realized that my own marriage could probably be described that way.  I was raised to take the Bible fairly literally– a habit which can be quite troublesome when one reads Jesus’ words–and so I’ve always embraced the Christ-church model of marriage in Ephesians 5.  And yet, in my marriage, my husband certainly does not act as “lord.”

These thoughts led to a very interesting conversation between Greg and me that evening as we contemplated what to do for dinner.  We had gift cards to Outback, but it was Friday night, and we didn’t want to have to wait for a table.  I suggested take-out, but Greg has this real bias against take-out from nice restaurants.  He says the food gets too cold, and he doesn’t want good food to get cold before he eats it.  I laughed at him, told him he was crazy, and said how we always got take-out growing up.  I even mentioned that my mom and I have gotten take-out from Carrabba’s a couple times here, and it is always fine.  He still was not for “blowing” our gift cards on take-out, so we didn’t do it.  It was as simple as that.  It got me thinking, though, and I told him about Evans’ article.

“The thing is,” I said, “I don’t think I acquiesced to your preferences because you are the ‘man,’ but because I love you, and I would not want to spend ‘our’ resources on something you would not enjoy.  There were no gender issues at work right there.  I respect you as a person, not simply as a man.”

Greg agreed, and added a great twist:  “Exactly.  It’s just like when you are crazy and don’t want to eat at Baja Burrito, we always eat somewhere else–even though Baja Burrito is awesome.  Because even though I think you are insane, why would I insist on eating somewhere that you didn’t want to eat?  That’s stupid.” It’s true.  Baja Burrito is awesome, but I haven’t been in the mood for it for months.

We paused.  “I know some husbands who would insist on the restaurant,” I said.  Greg laughed.  “I do, too, and they would think they were exercising their God-given rights as men.”

The bottom line is that Greg agreed that, whatever we said about our marriage, it is pretty egalitarian.  The thing is, though, I still think our marriage is based on Ephesians 5.  The section starts in verse 21, where Paul tells husbands and wives to “submit to one another, out of reverence for Christ.”  And the very idea of embodying Christ in a marriage (the husband’s role) would seem to suggest radical self-sacrifice and service to one’s family.  To me, my husband embodies that really well.

I don’t know…the whole thing just made me think about that idea of a “biblical marriage” and what that is supposed to look like.  I agree with the commenter on iMonk’s open forum yesterday, who said, “Personally I feel what other people do in their marriages is their business. But I do get tired of people holding up their marriages as the “Biblical” example.”  So just to be clear, I’m not holding up Greg’s and my restaurant dealings as “the biblical example”; it just made me think about how our marriage looks different from what I’ve sometimes been told is the biblical example.  And not just in terms of restaurant choices.

Okay, I’m going to stop rambling about every article.  (Clearly, my blogging break took its toll on me.  I have a lot of words to get out!)

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

An Apology to the Democrats (and Jesus), by Marla Taviano

I’m not even a Democrat, and I’m tempted to accept this apology.

Or give it!

In light of my thoughts, actions, and experiences over the last ten years, I’m kind of in a position to do both.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Wounded Healers and Healed Healers:  Physician Heal Thyself, by Jennifer Dawn Watts at Red Letter Christians.

From a ministry standpoint, this one is really good.  Over the years, I have become more and more aware of the inherent brokenness of ministers (due to their humanity), and I’ve also seen several people whose pasts and predilections pose particular problems in ministry (I was not even trying to get that alliteration!  Sweet!).  I’ve often wondered about this conundrum of “wounded healers,” especially when some of the wounds are so…obvious.  This article gives me a lot of hope, as well as a reminder that we don’t have to be perfect to serve in the Kingdom.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Oppressors, Activists, and Spiritual Stinginess:  St. Paul’s Guide to Praying Better Prayers, by Jenny Rae Armstrong

This is a wonderful read on Philemon, full of that practical application I was talking about.  Plus, Armstrong highlights a dynamite prayer by Paul that I had never paid attention to before.  Seriously, it’s a great verse–I bet you’ve never noticed it!

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Missing, by Michelle DeRusha at Rachel Held Evans’ blog.

As one whose faith grows and shifts with each passing year, I could really relate to DeRusha’s predicament of passing on her “faith” to her children.  Like her, I have to say, “I don’t know” more than I would like to admit.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

When Sex Sells and Provides, by Tim Fall at Think Christian

Faithful blog commenter, Tim Fall, muses on the decline of our culture from his perspective as a judge.  As suggested by the title, much of his reflection centers around the way our society, as well as others, views sex.  Even though many of us don’t interact with strippers in our day job, I think we can see the truth of his words just by turning on the tv occasionally.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Waiting, by Courtney Steed at Living Peacefully Less Stressed

My dear friend, Courtney, is currently in a season of “waiting” on God.  I know how hard, yet fruitful, these seasons can be, and I love her words here.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Time the Kids and I Drank Beer at Target, by Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan

Okay, this one is just funny.  As a mom who is “a little bit Amish when it comes to soda and the kids,” I found it all the more amusing.  Thank goodness my kids don’t have a great idea of what beer is, either, or I could completely see this happening in our own lives!

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Well, those are the interesting articles I found this week.  Do you have any interesting reads?

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess (Book Review)

Unless book reports count, or the random assignment in college, I don’t think I have ever written a “book review.”  Frankly, the idea intimidates me, as I tend to have a passionate relationship with books.  I view them more as conversations, and I am constantly mentally interacting with the author.  The result is that when I’m done reading the book, I often have a hard time figuring out where the author’s thoughts end and mine begin, and I spend a lot of time wondering, “Did he/she say that, or did I just think that?”  One result of this confusion is that I can sum up a book in three sentences, or talk about it for two hours over coffee, but I have trouble finding the in-between.

My weird book issues, however, actually helped me when I was reading Jen Hatmaker’s new book, 7:  An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  I have enjoyed reading Hatmaker’s blog for a few months, so I had a good idea of where she was coming from even before I picked up her book.  I knew, for example, that Hatmaker had recently adopted two children from Ethiopia to join her three other children and her husband; I knew that she was passionate about fair trade issues and ethical consumerism; I knew that she had already written several Bible studies; and I knew that she was very funny.  Thus, I thought I was fairly prepared to read her book on the need to cut out materialistic excess from our Christian lives.

The first two things that struck me about the book were initially liabilities in my mind.  First, she structures the book around a series of fairly radical fasts.  In an order to reorient her family’s spending habits, Hatmaker fasts from seven “excesses,” one per month.  Furthermore, she generally fasts by limiting herself to seven elements from that area of excess.  For example, the first month is food, and so the author eats only seven foods for that month.  The second month is clothes, and so she only wears seven articles of clothing for the whole month.  Honestly, this initially struck me as too much of a stunt.  I came to this book wanting practical applications and logical conclusions, and these fasts did not seem either practical or logical to implement in my own life.  Thankfully, my initial misgivings proved unfounded, however, as Hatmaker gave me lots of inspiration and practical tips throughout this book.  More on that in a minute.

The second thing I noticed was how casual the writing style was.  I even coined a word for it:  “blogular.”  I had expected Hatmaker’s book to be a cleaned up version of her blogs, but instead, it reads like a series of blogs put in book form.  It is even structured as a running journal, written in “real time,” as she goes through her fasts.  Each entry is about blog-sized.  Plus, when you thumb through the book, there is an alarming variety of fonts, not to mention italics, all caps, parentheses, and bullet lists.  Again, this initially disappointed me.  Like I said, I am a big fan of Hatmaker’s blog, but I was expecting this book to be a bit more…polished.  I guess I was wanting a manifesto of sorts, something I could hand to my skeptical friends and say, “Here.  This is what I believe about materialism and excess.”  Needless to say, a book formed around bloggy journals detailing crazy fasts does not really lend itself to tight coherency. It wasn’t something I could pass along to my not-quite-on-the-bandwagon friends without some explanation and caveats.

In retrospect, though, I think I was putting unnecessary and even unattainable expectations on the book.  When I put aside my preconceptions and just read the book for what it was, I really, really enjoyed it.  For one thing, Jen Hatmaker is hilarious, and her stories will have you laughing out loud.  For another thing, despite all the craziness of the book’s structure, when the author gets going, she can really be profound.  As I read, I posted some of her zingers on Facebook.  My favorite quote was this one:

“The average human gets around twenty-five thousand days on this earth, and most of us in the United States of America will get a few more. That’s it. This life is a breath. Heaven is coming fast, and we live in that thin space where faith and obedience have relevance. We have this one life to offer; there is no second chance, no plan B for the good news. We get one shot at living to expand the kingdom, fighting for justice. We’ll stand before Jesus once, and none of our luxuries will accompany us. We’ll have one moment to say, ‘This is how I lived.'”

It’s funny–when you read that quote out of context, it sounds so serious and profound.  You wouldn’t think that it came from a book with so many silly stories, a book that includes random emails from the author’s friends and status updates on Facebook.  I think that’s one thing I really liked about the book:  it can swivel from hilarious to convicting within a paragraph or two.  The humor definitely helps the “medicine” to go down.

Another element that makes the book powerful is Hatmaker’s tendency toward self-deprecation.  It is obvious that she is passionate about her beliefs, and with beliefs that are as “radical” as hers (though, should they be radical in the church??), it is easy to put other Christians on the defensive.  Nobody likes to feel preached at, and Hatmaker does a great job of staying off her high horse.  In fact, she is quick to poke fun at herself.  For example, she writes this about a speaking engagement she had during her “food” fast, where the pastor mentioned her “weird food requests”:

I knew it.

I won’t be remembered as the funny author or the fascinating Bible teacher but as the high maintenance girl who sent a list of culinary demands like I was Beyonce.  So I babbled uncontrollably trying to explain 7 (which I haven’t done yet in under eight minutes), hoping to resurrect my reputation as low maintenance.  I came across as a bizarre hippie who was a below average communicator.

There are many such self-deprecating moments in the book, and they serve to remind the reader that no one is trying to put them on a guilt trip.  In fact, even though Hatmaker calls into question many of our most basic practices as “wealthy people,” she affirms at the end, “I don’t think God wants you at war with yourself.”  The purpose of this book is not to make people feel guilty, but to motivate them, to excite them, to open their hearts and minds to the incredible reality of God’s kingdom.

At least, that’s what it did for me.  I said earlier that I got lots of practical motivation from 7.  For one thing, I retooled my grocery and eating out budgets to include more “real food” cooked at home and less eating out.  I finally tried several new “natural” recipes that I had been putting off.  Greg and I also rethought some financial decisions that we had been planning on making.  I am more generally mindful of all my purchases, thinking about my God-given responsibility as a steward of the resources He has given me.  I have even been setting the alarm on my phone to remind me to stop and pray throughout the day, like Hatmaker does in chapter seven.  The added prayer time, especially, has given my days more focus and kept me more “on mission,” as Hatmaker puts it.

Lastly, the book reminded me of the importance of community.  Throughout her fasts, Hatmaker relied heavily on a group of friends whom she dubbed, “The Council.”  The Council helped to guide her, to encourage her, to help her make decisions on her journey.  To me, they served as a stark reminder that we need each other to live this Kingdom life the right way.  Hatmaker (really, it’s been hard not to call her Jen this whole time) needed her Council just like I need my completely amazing friends to motivate, inspire, and guide me.  And to be honest, I need Jen Hatmaker.  And Francis Chan.  And David Platt.  And Shane Claiborne.  I need them to add their thoughts to the greater church conversation, and I need people with whom to discuss their thoughts.  Reading books about God and the church always reminds me that the body of Christ is called such for a reason.  We need each other to function, to even figure out where we are supposed to be going and what we are supposed to be doing.  I have enjoyed figuring that out with my friends, both here in Nashville and back in Summerville, and I look forward to many more conversations and “Council” meetings.

In that sense, Jen Hatmaker’s book was just another (great) addition to a conversation that has been going on in the church for a few years now.  Many Christians have begun to reexamine the most important tenets of Christianity in light of Jesus’ words on the kingdom of God.  They have begun to question their Christian identity and ask themselves what it really means to call oneself a follower of Christ.  If you have been asking such questions (and even if you haven’t), I think that you will find 7 to be a wonderful encouragement and motivation.  It’s just another example of the church trying to figure out these answers together.

“Step Away From the Computer”

I’m taking a little break from blogging this week.

I plan to resume my regular schedule next week.  See you then!

%d bloggers like this: