In which I show some love for my fundie background

Warning: this post contains an inordinate amount of parenthesis, but who doesn’t love a good parenthetical remark?

We’ve had our fun. We’ve aired our grievances. We’ve made our statement.

We are not the evangelicals of our parents.

But here’s the thing: I cannot separate who I am today from how my fundamentalist parents and church formed me. Nor do I want to.

I grew up speaking Christianese. I asked Jesus into my heart. I wore T-shirts with Christian slogans. I knew all the words to “Jesus Freak.” I belted out Michael W. Smith songs on road trips (especially when someone had a momentary lapse of common sense and announced their need to “tinkle”, at which point, my family responded with, “Sittin’ in the rain/Water on your brain/Got a hole in your boat/Tryin’ to stay afloat/Has got you down” because we loved each other that much) (also, I still love Smitty, so don’t knock it). I held my Bible high with the spine facing down for sword drills, and I did choreography to the latest church musical.

We blame the fundies for trashing the environment (a particularly funny complaint to me since my mom taught me to garden, even entrusting me as a ten-year-old with my own patch, and my dad is the ultra conservationist in all things, well, in all things [we used paper plates at the occasional barbecue; we reused and shared paper napkins (when we weren't using cloth napkins); Dad had a sixth sense when we opened the fridge door and ever so gently reminded us to turn off lights when we left rooms]). We hold them responsible for talk about going to heaven (instead of when heaven comes to earth). We despise their political affiliations (unfortunately, it seems to me, not because we now affiliate ourselves more with Christ’s kingdom than political tribes but because we have different political ideals). We laugh at their ideas of purity.

I may have my differences (a.k.a. my egalitarian beliefs about women, preaching, church leadership and ordination, which, if you must know, developed precisely from the manner in which these fundies taught me to study Scripture–to look at authorial intent, original languages, the larger picture of all of Scripture–and when I did these things–and because my dad included me in all those theological debates when his seminary buddies came over–I emerged egalitarian, but you can read about that another time) (that sound you hear is my dad slapping his forehead). I may make different decisions than my parents and other church leaders did. I may evaluate art and popular culture with different criteria. I may indulge in a glass of wine (or a margarita) with dinner.

But I treasure my upbringing, and I will mimic much of it as we raise our kids (in fact, I dance around the house to the same Kids Praise and Music Machine records my parents danced around the house to with me).

Here’s the thing: my parents and church(es) taught me that Jesus loves me no matter what, and they taught me to love him. They taught me that God has a plan to redeem creation. They taught me to love Scripture because this is how God reveals himself and his sovereign, loving plan to us.

They taught me that true love waits, and they answered all our embarrassing questions about sex, and though somewhere along the line I picked up the idea that girls don’t struggle with lust, which fed a sense of shame when I did, they taught me that sex is good.

They taught me to listen to the messages of the world with a wary and discerning ear, and though this often ended up in weird categories of “religious” and “secular” music (and, yes, I remember thinking Amy Grant had sold out with “Heart in Motion,” an attitude of which I’ve since repented, and I heart Amy Grant), they taught me to understand beauty and dignity from God’s work of creation and redemption rather than from fallen perspectives.

They taught me to respect myself and others because we were created in the image of God. They taught me that I didn’t need the affirmation of the world or of a guy because I belonged to God, and that was enough.

They taught me to love and include everyone despite race, ethnicity, and background. They taught me to forgive radically because God forgives radically. I’ve seen these things lived out time and time again.

They taught me to pray because prayer matters, because it changes us and because it influences God’s actions. Because it makes us partners in his kingdom work.

They gave me a place of belonging, and they taught me about my responsibility as a Christian to share God’s love, and because of this, I had the privilege of witnessing to my best friend in high school and embracing her as she decided to follow Christ.

They taught me that the Church is universal. My youth leaders took me to Honduras to build a kitchen and love on kids at an orphanage, and we learned that Christ blesses irregardless of nationality and economics. A crazy percentage of those who went on that trip have adopted kids. They taught us that what happens in the world outside our neighborhood matters.

They taught me to love art, especially music, and though they sometimes subjugated art to utilitarian purposes (oddly, not music because I could play Bach fugues and Chopin etudes for Offertory music for the sake of beauty), they taught me that pursuing a career in music was as worthy as a career in ministry.

They taught me that Christ will return and my hope is in him.

They taught me that the thing is to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul and mind and to love my neighbor as myself.

In this way, they shaped who I am and what–and who–I care about and how I care about these things and people. These days my parents and I debate our differences and care for one another. My parents may not agree that I should preach, but my dad will loan me his commentaries and talk Greek with me and discuss the theology of my sermon, and my mom will come hear me preach when she’s in town (my dad has his own sermons to give on Sunday mornings) and kiss me and tell me, “Well done,” and they don’t agree that we should baptize our children, but they come and they take pictures because this is how the Body of Christ works. We disagree, and we’re different, but we love, and I love my fundamentalist background and my fundamentalist parents and the fundamentalist churches who raised me.

A theology of love

I love theology.

I love studying Scripture–looking at the Hebrew and Greek and poring over commentaries and reading theologians from the ages. I love fitting it all together, this great story of God’s interaction in history. I love those ah-ha moments.

I am that nerd.

The nerd who doesn’t understand this question, “Yes, but what does that have to do with my life?” The nerd who highlights and dog-ears pages in the Baker and Eerdmans and IVP catalogs. The nerd who still wears clothes from college but keeps up with the latest archaeological trends.

I love theology.

And because I love theology and figuring out things and because I think that what we believe matters (not justĀ that we believe), I disdain what I perceive to be wrong theology.

I do.

Especially when, in my eyes, this wrong theology damages relationships or the hurting or the Church or the world. When we misunderstand (or misuse) what God was and is doing, yes, I think it’s harmful.

So I condescend these misunderstanding theologians, pastors, writers. How could any good come from such leaders?

Then one day, two people whom I love dearly found themselves in the church of a pastor I spoke about with outrage and indignation and exclamation marks, a man I consider to have poor exegesis and not just bad but offensive theology, and these two people whom I love dearly grew in Christ in a way I had not witnessed in them before.

And I shut my mouth.

You may not realize the enormity of that statement. Or you may. But I, who loves debates, who has an inherent belief in right and wrong, especially when it comes to theology, who has no issue sharing my thoughts on all things theological even when it offends others, buttoned my lips and smiled because God was working through this fallen, stubborn, wrong-theologied man.

I remember that story in the gospels where the disciples come back and reported to Jesus how they stopped a man who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name because this man did not number among Jesus’ chosen, intimate Twelve. And Jesus said, “Oh, you pompous idiots. What the heck is wrong with you? What makes you so special?” (or something to that affect).

I think of Priscilla and Aquila gently and privately pulling Apollos aside to train him instead of taking him down in witty tweets and facetious tumblrs because though he was a charismatic and powerful leader, he had gotten a couple of things wrong.

I meditate on Jesus’ prayer for us just before he died for us, that we–all believers everywhere–may be one, unified, and that his love for us may be in us.

I consider the walls Jesus tore down that we build back up to protect our own reputations as Christians, to distance ourselves from those not like us whether in theology or politics or lifestyles (or any other number of reasons), to perhaps elevate ourselves (look at our correct theology and our wit!). We say spiteful, degrading things, attacking not only the theology but the person (I saw one person tweet that he was cheering for the opposite team of a certain pastor).

And I mourn.

I mourn my conceit, and I mourn the disunity of the Body of Christ, those who at different times and places share communion, the body and blood of our Savior.

And I wonder why God chooses to use any of us–fallen, stubborn, misunderstanding men and women more caught up in ourselves than in the work he is doing.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t have healthy, respectful, loving debate and discussions with each other. I still love the intricacies of theology. I still love figuring things out. I still think it honors God when we want to know him better. I still think it’s important to hold each other responsible for the things of God.

But I don’t think we honor him or know him better when we mock one another and–in public ways–seek to harm reputations.

As for me, I resolve to cheer when God uses others for his kingdom work–even those with bad theologies or the wrong credentials or worse! no credentials!–and to pray for a theology of love.

Coming to terms with failure

I sat down, depleted, after preaching on Sunday, promised myself a nap that afternoon after getting the kids down.

But it wasn’t just the exhaustion. My failure consumed me. How many points had I forgotten? Where had I glossed over something that should have been highlighted? Normally I don’t worry about these things, but this time, I felt fragmented, and some of those points and glosses meant something.

Here’s the thing: I had preached on failure. “The kingdom of God starts in unexpected, powerless places on the cusp of failure,” I had said. I talked about the hidden kingdom of God. I talked about the disciples confronted with the reality that instead of glory and power in their lifetime, Jesus asked them to go through hell on earth. I talked about a missionary, Maude Cary, who moved to Morocco in the early 1900s and faithfully served all her life despite personal and professional rejection, despite a lack of visible fruit.

I went home, and during a tickle fight, my son bit my daughter. Hard. Left teeth marks and a bruise and a mommy’s broken heart. This was a first.

Last minute, after taking the kids for ice cream for a special treat, I remembered a free piano concert with childcare at our old church, and we packed our sugar-laden kids into the car (because yes, I am that mom), rushed to the church and followed the lines of Mozart and Borodin and Bolcom, and on our way home, with Annie crying because it was late and she was tired, I wondered what would’ve happened if I’d had the guts to join the studio of the more challenging piano teacher when we moved to Texas. I wondered where my music would be. And I felt sad, toyed with ideas of regret.

Then we came home, and while getting ready for bed, Annie attacked Keegan to zerbert him, and he bit her again.

Later, my husband and I fought (so there it is–Chris and I love each other, we’re committed to each other, and we fight), and I went to bed and tried to read and cried instead because here, too, failure creeps in along the edges.

As you read this, I’m at the hospital with my mom as she’s getting her port placed and her second round of chemo, and isn’t this failure because if the time is fulfilled and the King has come, then where is this peace on earth and goodwill toward men? Why isn’t disease and death and pain eradicated?

I consider the obscurity and, yes, meaningless, of so much of my writing, this thing that I offer God again and again.

I realize that all of this sounds so small because Christians in Syria are being hunted down and killed and women in Dallas are kidnapped and sold into sex slavery and mobs lynch each other in Central African Republic, and in all these places, it appears that the kingdom of God has failed.

But I know that God is sovereign, that he delays because the world rejects Christ, and this is grace because when he comes in glory, he comes in justice, and are we ready to come to terms with that, with our own culpability?

And I know that in all these apparent failures, God is working, healing, redeeming, restoring, and he calls his people to do his kingdom work. He calls me and I offer everything, but the work is not mine. Even this sermon on Sunday is one sermon, and that is not the whole–or center piece–of the worship service. In this, I trust my sovereign God.

So I strain toward the day when God unleashes his power and heals cancer and frees the slaves and reigns in justice and peace and beauty, and meanwhile I take another step, just one, because I know that even in these small things, God’s grace is sufficient.

More Thoughts on Homemaking

I recently discovered that Southwestern Seminary has a Homemaking Concentration under their Master of Arts in Christian Education, their Bachelor of Arts in Humanities, and their Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies. While I agree that we need to think theologically about how we create and live in our homes with issues such as hospitality, marriage, singleness, and child-raising, it bothers me that Southwestern lists these degrees under their “Women’s Program.”

Apparently men do not need to think about “fulfilling God’s plan for the home and those who dwell therein.”* Southwestern wants to prepare women to “be an evangelist and apologist focused upon reaching women, children and families for Christ.” Should men not also want to reach children and families? Can a woman reach a man if only part of a family unit, and how does that work?

To facilitate this goal, in addition to worldview training, “the homemaking concentration student will be equipped to nurture and care for the family, in the area of nutrition and food preparation, by developing a skill in clothing and textile design and through practical experiences for skill development.”

I do not object to the learning of nurture and care for the family, of nutrition and food preparation, or even of clothing and textile design, although I wonder if a seminary is the best place for developing cooking and sewing skills rather than, say, a cuisine or fashion school if one seeks to pursue these subjects professionally. I object to the idea that a woman only properly cares for her family if she sews all of their clothes and makes her own bread. I object to the idea that they limit these skills to women. (Shouldn’t men be offended that Southwestern excludes them?)

More importantly, I object to the idea that issues of homemaking aren’t for both men and women.

When Chris and I married, we discussed how to build our marriage in Christ, to use our home and finances to serve Christ, and to invite others into our home and into our lives. Now as we build a family, we consider how we can keep our marriage strong in the midst of the everyday, how we should raise our children to glorify God and serve others, and how we can continue to invite others into our family life.

We make these decisions together, man and woman as one.

(I would note that single men and single women also think through these issues.)

So why does Southwestern train only women to think about these issues and decisions theologically and to carry them out?

(Can I also note that Chris is mostly a better chef than I am? Or that in many Polynesian cultures, the men cook the meals? Or can I note the incongruity between pink kitchen play-sets and a male-dominated professional cooking world?)

This sends a message that a woman’s theological influence is the home and a man’s theological influence is the workplace, or the world, even. Then we wonder why we have a problem in culture with absentee and workaholic fathers and mothers who struggle with identity and worth. This kind of thinking limits both men and women in hospitality and child-raising. (An image: the wife kisses the husband as he leaves for work. “Well, honey,” she says, one child hanging from her leg, the other from her breast, “You go out and save the world while I raise our children to glorify and serve God.”) It limits skills, gifts, and talents that men and women can use inside and outside the home for God’s kingdom. And it draws false pictures of hospitality and of the home. (What do we do, for example, with the fact that Jesus practiced hospitality though he had “no place to lay his head” [Luke 9:58]?)

I don’t want to take anything away from women–or men–who stay home with their children during the day while their spouses go to an office. Heck, I’m one of them. I want to challenge us to think through the biblical ideal for how we create homes, how we raise our families, and how we practice hospitality. I want us to think through how men and women–indeed, how the Church–together disciple and teach children and how we as uniquely gifted individuals serve God’s kingdom in the world without worrying about ideas of inside or outside the home. Indeed, the world is our home, created by God for men and women to cultivate. We practice hospitality and homemaking in the world, not just inside of Ikea-decorated walls with Pinterest meals. For we are the family of God.

*Quotes from http://www.swbts.edu/index.cfm?pageid=676

Eyeballing It

I’m a big fan of eyeballing things. If God gave me two eyeballs, what other tools could I need? A leveler? Eyeball it. It’s straight enough. (This could explain why guests get seasick walking down my hallway where photos line the wall.) A teaspoon? Eyeball it (and if it’s vanilla, add another teaspoon or so). A ruler? Eyeball it. It’s long enough. (Or centered enough.)

My motto: close enough for jazz.

Just don’t open my closets. (Also, I once had a pie come out so, well, fluid-y that we had to serve it as a topping over ice cream. A problem? I think not.)

My husband, on the other hand, is a frustrated perfectionist. Which means his closet is empty, and his clothes are everywhere else. His filing cabinet is immaculate, but the papers are piled on our kitchen counter.

I feel like I should turn this post now toward a spiritual direction, how this amusing tidbit about my life leads to some sort of epiphany, or at least a small commentary on the culture at large and its relationship to something Jesus-y.

Be assured that this is exactly what it appears to be: a small, meaningless tidbit about my life simply because I felt like saying “eyeball it” and confessing to the fact that I view recipes as more of loose guides than strict instructions. Wanna come over for dinner?

But here’s a biblical metaphor that occurred to me while buying my new car last night (after poor Annie was totaled, sacrificing herself to protect my husband and son from the villain who rear-ended them; the new car’s name is Gustav, by the way). Gustav has one of those key-less starts. (Gustav also has three free months of XM radio, which means I’m enjoying all Broadway! all the time! but that’s neither here nor there.) As long as the key, which looks nothing like a key, is in the vicinity of the car, I can unlock my doors, start the car, and drive away. (In a few months, Eddie at Hyundai tells us, I’ll be able to start my car using my cell phone by proxy through their blue tooth technology.) Pay attention to the biblical metaphor lest you miss it:

It reminded me of the centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant by proxy. You don’t even have to come to the house, he said. Just send your bluetooth(y) authority, and I know that’ll take care of things.

So is Jesus’ power like blue tooth? And does that make the Holy Spirit blue tooth technology? I’ll leave you to ponder on that philosophical genius.

In Which I Throw Chris Under the Bus and Go on a Christian Verbage Rant

A recent conversation:

Chris (to Keegan): You’re doing so good, my boy!

Me: So well.

Chris: Your mom doesn’t want me to teach you how to speak normal.

Me: Normally.

I realize I’m throwing Chris under the bus here, but it made me laugh, this and conversations like it in which I attempt to use correct grammar so that we may teach our son when to say “to whom” and when to say “who,” when to use “I” and “me,” the difference between an adverb and an adjective.

Not to use “literally” when he’s speaking metaphorically.

Lessons such as these may seem minor compared to big things like who God is and why Jesus came to earth, but I believe words matter.

For example: the phrase “make him Lord of my life.”

Right. I’m going to make the the one who has authority over life and death, the one through whom all things were created, the one who now sits at the right hand of God the Father, the one who sits on David’s throne eternally, I’m going to make this man Lord of my life.

Except that he’s already Lord of all creation. He’s already king of the eternal kingdom. My options: join his kingdom or oppose it. When I became a Christian, I became a citizen of his kingdom, which means he is Lord of my life. My life might reflect the culture of his kingdom, or at times it may reflect the culture from which I came–the culture over which Death reigns. But I do not choose through my actions whether or not Christ is Lord of my life.

How silly.

Every once in a while, I have to get these rants out of my system.

The Master's Artist: Risky Business

Today’s post at The Master’s Artist reflects on my recent completion of my rough draft and my intention and work on the revisions.

"Art is discovery. In the rough draft, I work through the characters’
emotions (as well as my own). I answer the questions: How does my
character feel about and react to all these things? How do I feel about
these ideas? In the rough draft, I discover meanings and muck through
what it means to be human. But if I stop there, my work stays in the
realm of self-expression, of emotionalism, and possibly,
horror-of-horrors, sentimentalism. I might even attempt to manipulate
or stimulate the observer so that she feels the same way I do about all
this mess."

Read the rest of Risky Business.

Grace in Cracked Pots

I had encountered the potter five months ago at an art festival in Dallas. He made everyday objects–bowls, dishwashing containers, mugs.

And monkey bread pans.

For those of you unfamiliar with monkey bread, let me enlighten you: monkey bread is similiar to cinnamon rolls with all the brown-sugary, raisiny, nutty mess. But it’s better. My family makes monkey bread on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas. At the bottom of a bundt pan ("You fixed it!"), you slop butter along with the aforementioned cinnamon, brown sugar, raisins and nuts, load the pan with rolls, then drizzle more butter, cinnamon, brown sugar, raisins and nuts, let the rolls rise overnight, bake in the morning, and voila! A gooey, yummy masterpiece.

So when I saw these crafted monkey bread pans, I had to buy one for my mom’s birthday.

Which, at the time, was five months away.

One problem–the size. The pans he made would make enough to feed one, maybe two people in our family.

"Do you have any larger ones?" I asked him.

"Ah, you have a big family?"

"We just really like our monkey bread."

The potter didn’t have any larger ones but graciously offered to make one for me to my specifications. I nearly cried.

A couple of weeks later, I picked up my new monkey bread pan and stored it for the next five months. This past weekend, my husband, along with my sister and her family, traveled to my parents’ home for a joint shower (my sister had her baby 6 weeks ago) and to celebrate my mom’s birthday. I packed the monkey bread pan.

Two hours into the drive, my back complained. Loudly. So I lowered my seat to lay down and stretch out. Shifting to find some semblance of comfortability, I heard a pop. It took a good five minutes to register the possibilities of that pop.

Sure enough, I had shattered the monkey bread pan, which had nestled behind the passenger’s side seat to keep it snug and safe from falling of the seat and breaking.

Cue the tears.

My husband pulled the car over to comfort me (c.f. previous tears and temper tantrums). I had ruined everything. Eventually, my husband resumed our journey, but I continued crying for the last hour of our drive. (Later, my brother-in-law asked if I would have cried that long had I not been pregnant. My husband silently nodded his head.)

The following day, locating an ounce or two of calm, I considered the matter. I considered it alongside my misplaced (but found!) student payment, my chocolate-chip-cookie-brownie-biscotti mess, and a dozen other mishaps. And I realized I could not show myself grace. Which means, one, I expect perfection from myself (a problem of pride), and two, without extending grace to myself, I cannot extend it to others. I have an easier time extending it to others (apparently, others don’t need to be as perfect as I am, a candidate for the next Mary Poppins opening), but it still takes me a moment. I don’t like disappointing myself; I don’t like disappointing others; and I don’t like others disappointing me.

Ugly, isn’t it?

I can only imagine it could get uglier in parenting.

Ah, the lessons of grace. Be gracious, Lord, in teaching me, please.

The Master's Artist: Feast or Fallow

What does it mean that I’m an artist? Does–and how so, then–does my art define me? And if it defines me, what framework do I use when I work in obscurity and when I work in fame?

A comment Sandra McCracken made at a recent Art House Dallas lunch got me thinking about this very thing. So, of course, I blogged about it.

"Our society, still in the haze of Romantic fallout, views artists as
"other-than," as specially inspired, bohemian, eccentric. Often, we
gladly take up this mantle. And often, aspects may fit. We may have
different schedules than, say, a lawyer. We don’t mind using the
descriptor "eccentric" as an excuse to wear or do what we want.

But in all honestly, this mantle also burdens our spirituality.
Happily defined by our art, it engulfs us so that our identity, rather
than in Christ (a common identity to all believers), becomes in art.
Our hope, our persona, our self-presentation, even our view of our
meaning in the world is caught up by the success of our art. More than
this, we put ourselves into our work. Tread lightly, that’s me on the
page."

Read the rest at The Master’s Artist: Feast or Fallow.

 

The Master's Artist: The Glimmer of the Other

I’m up at The Master’s Artist today reflecting on an artist’s work from an art festival my husband and I attended a couple of weekends ago.

A glimpse:

"The artist photographed mundane, even dead, objects–weeds, grass, dead
branches. He zoomed in until you could barely identify the original
subject. Before he printed his photographs, he prepared the canvas by
painting it with a glimmery, shining substance. When you viewed the
dead and mundane, the glimmer of the other shone through, giving the
ordinary something beautiful and extraordinary, imparting something of
the essence of life."

Read The Glimmer of the Other.