Saturday, October 9, 2010

Emmelia Rose @ 11 Weeks

Emme and me having a little chat before a shopping trip with my mom. She's quite a chatterbox.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Whip 'Em Out

During Breastfeeding Awareness Month I was learning to breastfeed Emmelia, barely sleeping, and preparing to go back to school. Needless to say, I missed it. But, I found this great PSA this week and I thought I'd share, even if it is after-the-fact. Have a giggle, enjoy, and support breastfeeding moms!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Life is Crazy

I regret that I haven't been able to post anything recently. But, as you can see from the photos below, life is crazy. William is now 16 months-old and Emmelia is eight weeks. We have our hands full, to say the least. Can you complete a doctoral program while raising two small children and being married to a minister? I guess we'll find out!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Seeking Families for our Pets

We need to find good homes for a few of our pets. Our lifestyle, which now includes two part-time jobs (with full-time workloads) and two small children, no longer provides the money, time, or energy to provide the kind of care that they need. We love these animals dearly, but we can't take care of them anymore. So, I present them to you, my readers, hoping that maybe you or someone you know will be interested in providing a good home for them.

Jonah is a four year-old small gray cat with a big personality. He's our little Napoleon, standing up for himself and putting everyone in their place (below him, of course). He's very affectionate and particularly fond of ladies. (He's been a momma's boy from day one.)

Elijah is a five year-old large orange tabby cat. He's very laid back and easy going. He's shy with strangers at first, but loving and social once he knows you're a friend. He and Jonah are buddies, but we think they will adjust if they end up going to separate homes.

Cooper is a beautiful, four year-old, faun boxer. He's truly a joyful pet, loving, eager to please, and great with kids. Like most boxers, who are known for exuberance and clowning, he needs firm, consistent direction (and responds very well to it). We are the most brokenhearted about parting with Cooper, but he really needs a family that can provide lots of attention, play time, and intentional exercise.

All of our pets have been kept up-to-date on their vaccinations (we have some of the records) and regularly groomed (until recently).

If you or someone you know are interested in providing a good, safe, loving home to one of these animals, please let me know. We live in Dayton, OH and would be happy to absorb some travel expenses to be sure they are in a good family.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Reflections on Life with Emmelia (I)

I'm not sure how often I'll be able to do this (I'm getting ready to start year two of my doctoral program), but I have had many thoughts on the first few weeks of Emmelia's new life with us and I'd like to share some of them with my readers. Most of what I write about on my blog is academic in nature--theology, biblical studies, ethics, etc. But, these are gritty, fleshly thoughts on babies, mothering, and family life. Hopefully they'll be worth reading, even if they're few and far between.

On Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is hard. Its supposed to be natural, which you would think means "easy," but it doesn't. Perhaps its because we're a society that has all but abandoned breastfeeding our children, but I find that even the second time around, its not an intuitive act for mother or child. Where to put your arms and hands, and how to get this little crying creature to cooperate. It takes learning!--long, grueling, difficult, even painful lessons at all hours of the day and night. And, learning something so challenging and all-consuming (it is your child's one source of survival, after all!) is exhausting when you've just given birth. Its like you've reached the end of a marathon and someone hands you a paddle and says, "Great job! Now, row across this lake!"

Breastfeeding is hard also because its being in a constant state of self-giving. Over and over again you give your body to nourish another. Your arms to hold her, your breasts to feed her, your time to love her, your voice to soothe her. Over and over again you forgo sleep and food and many other comforts to care for another. (Another who doesn't yet give back, I should add.) And, all this when you're on the brink of a mental and emotional breakdown from the fact that your entire life has been turned up-side-down. You don't know which side is "up" anymore, what day it is, when you last ate something, or whether you washed your hair yesterday, but you know you have to feed her. That you always know.

Don't get me wrong. Even as I say all this, I also believe that its a beautiful thing, too. I'm so convinced of it that I've kept going, even when I'm so tired I feel like cracking glass that's about to collapse into a millions pieces. The truth is, when I'm nursing Emmelia, all seems right with the world because my baby girl is being soothed and fed. I'm a week and a half away from starting school again. I'm a week and a half away from teaching my first class of 35 freshmen Introduction to Religion. I'm totally unprepared for either reality and have no earthly idea how I'm doing to get prepared. But, when I'm nursing Emme, life is good. That's quite a miracle. And there are too few miraculous things about daily life with a newborn and a toddler.

So, we persevere with the breastfeeding. Its hard and messy and exhausting and beautiful and miraculous. Kind of like life.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Welcome, Emmelia Rose McGowin!

Sunday, July 25 at 9:27 PM, the world welcomed the arrival of Emmelia Rose McGowin at the Family Beginnings Birthing Center in Dayton, OH. She weighed an amazing 9 lbs 9 oz and measured 21 inches long.

Her name is pronounced like "Amelia" and we'll probably call her "Emme" (pronounced "Emmy") or "Emme Rose" for short. Her namesakes are her mommy (smile) and St. Emmelia of Caesarea, a daughter of martyrs, wife of St. Basil the Elder and mother of St. Basil the Great, St. Macrina the Younger, and St. Gregory of Nyssa. She mothered ten children, all of whom were faithful disciples of Jesus, and founded a monastery in her old age with her daughter, Macrina.

Here are a few photos of Emmelia's first couple days. I hope to post something in the next couple weeks telling the story of her birth, which was natural and coached by her father. We are truly blessed to welcome this new life! Please keep our family in your prayers.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Preaching and Me

Although I have chosen a path in academia, which tends to be thought of as a very abstract, unpractical field, I love the art of preaching--an assuredly practical matter. I have loved preaching for some time. Even when I was "just a girl" at a conservative Southern Baptist Bible college, I willingly endured the patronizing pats on the head in my preaching classes because I loved it. (And, maybe because it was something "off limits" to me, I treasured the time I got to study it even more.)

For me, communicating Scripture to the gathered people of God is one of the most challenging and rewarding tasks to be performed within the Church. I know that for others, acts of service or mercy or leading congregational prayer provides the same fulfillment. But, for me, nothing compares to preaching.

It was a joy for me, then, when I attended Truett Theological Seminary and discovered that they took seriously the task of training all their M.Div. students to preach the Word--male and female. I was privileged to study preaching for three semesters under Dr. Joel Gregory. Through his tutelage, I realized that preaching, when done well, is a dynamic combination of several fields I love: biblical studies, theology, pastoral care, and communication.

At the end of my time at Truett, I was shocked and dismayed to be chosen for an award in preaching. And, when I say I was shocked, I'm not being falsely humble or disingenuous. I was truly shocked. Although I enjoyed preaching, I had always looked upon it as a sort of "guilty pleasure"--something I might enjoy, but certainly couldn't admit to enjoying and certainly couldn't do in public, in front of real people. Even though by this time I had left my conservative views on women in ministry, in my heart and mind, preaching was still off-limits to me because I was "just a girl."

Imagine my anxiety, therefore, when I discovered that the award came with the honor and responsibility of preaching to a special chapel service at the seminary! Dr. Gregory graciously did his best to assuage my anxiety and I prepared and delivered a message that I felt suitable for our students. (If you're interested, you can actually read a copy of the manuscript for that sermon here).

During the four years I spent at Truett, I was blessed to have a number of articles published, both in journals and book-length works. This was a tremendous privilege for someone at my stage of education and overall academic experience. Also, you just can't underestimate how important such early publishing experience is to future academic life. (And, to be completely frank, it was a great thrill to see my name in print!) Even so, now that I have almost three years of hindsight, I can honestly say that preaching the chapel service at Truett was, without a doubt, the highlight of my time in seminary. It was the "mountaintop experience" of my graduate studies and something I'll treasure always.

Still, as I reflect on that experience, I can't help but feel a bit melancholy. Preaching for Truett Seminary was the first time I preached in a public forum to a gathering of God's people and it was the last time I did so, as well. And, as far as things go for now, it seems as though it is going to remain this way for some time to come.

Recently, I've wondered to my husband whether or not I ended up choosing a life in academia, at least in part, because I couldn't find a place for myself as a woman within the Church. Actually, we've had the conversation several times. I don't know for sure if this is so, but its definitely possible. From an early age--about 15 years-old, if I remember correctly--I wanted to be a pastor/preacher. But, slowly, I let go of this aspiration and turned my attention to something else I was good at: research, writing, and teaching. And, that is my chosen path for now.

I don't believe that God has a "perfect plan" for my life. I believe I'm given a certain amount of freedom, within my calling to love Him and embody His Kingdom, to do what I want with the gifts and skills I've been given. So, I take full responsibility for the choices I've made and the direction I've chosen for my life's work.

Still, there's a constant (albeit, small) niggling sadness within me, especially on Sundays, that I'm not participating in the proclamation of God's Word on a consistent basis. Call it ingratitude. Call it wishful thinking. Call it immaturity. Call it female "rebellion." Call it whatever you want. All I know is, its there. I want to preach. I love to preach. But, for now, I wait on the Lord.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Introducing... Pampered Bed and Bath

It is a significant understatement to say that life is busy. Life is busy, complicated, hectic, worrisome, and full of unexpected challenges. As I grow older (more and more rapidly, it seems, as years go by!), I've begun to realize that the times of peace are few and far between--mere pockets of quiet in the midst of a din of noise.

I think this reality forces us to appreciate the little things in life. This is sort of a cliche, but I think it happens to be true. When life seems to be endless cycles of meals, chores, errands, appointments, deadlines, car repairs, and more, the small pleasures of life become very important for cultivating genuine joy in the midst of everything.

Small pleasures, like... A bunch of ruby red gladiolas you bought on sale... A gourmet brie enjoyed with fresh baked bread... A fresh cup of French-pressed espresso (even if you're drinking it with your Cheerios)... Or, a longer-than-usual shower with a bar of homemade organic soap... These little things may seem trivial, but I think they're important. After all, God has reconciled all of creation in Christ and that creation is good and meant to be enjoyed.

So, what's my point? Well, I think this is this little reflection is the best way to introduce a wonderful new business to you, launched recently by a friend, Sonya Duren. She is the dreamer, founder, and owner behind Pampered Bed and Bath, a small online business that provides an assortment of organic and natural products for the home. If you peruse her website, you'll find a lovely selection of linens, towels, baby items, soaps, candles, and much more.

I recommend Pampered Bed and Bath to you not only because Sonya is a friend and a good person, but also because she is offering quality products. And, who doesn't like the idea of buying from a good person who makes good stuff? I have personally been enjoying a couple bars of the PB&B Essentials Soaps and, in case you're wondering, my personal favorite is Cinnamon Honey.

So, my blogger friends, take a look when you have the time. Let Sonya help you to enjoy some of the little pleasures in life. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Addressing My Faithlessness: I am Not God

Well, friends, we have eight more weeks until the next member of the McGowin family is expected to make her appearance. In real life, this means we have anywhere from six to ten more weeks to go--because babies are finicky about when they choose to enter the world and rarely arrive "on time." This means that I'm going through my share of anxiety and trepidation about... well... everything. There's so much to worry about with a new baby, you know? Money. Time. Space. Work. Physical recovery. Sibling rivalry. Etc. Etc. Etc.

My worries are only multiplied by the fact that within a few weeks of her birth, I'm going to be back in the classroom at the University of Dayton--both as a student and a teacher. I'll be taking a doctoral seminar of my own and beginning my first year teaching the freshman level, Introduction to Religion course. In this class, I'll be teaching about 25-35 18 year-olds about Christianity and religion from the perspective of the Catholic intellectual tradition (literally, Bible to 21st Century in one semester). I'm excited about all of this, of course. I love what I do and am blessed beyond measure to get paid to do it. But, the thought of adding a new baby to the mix is more than a little daunting.

To be honest, my recent response to the anticipation has been anything but ideal. As I have attempted to imagine what the fall schedule will look like and how we'll manage to get everything done and still be a family, I have been quite fearful, actually. Fearful, anxious, and... frankly... faithless.

All of this came to head for me this past Sunday as I worshiped with our church. Despite the dark, menacing clouds of fear that I have created around me, somehow a bright ray of light managed to break through and remind me of God's faithfulness. Sitting in the pew on Sunday, I had a illuminated slideshow taking place in my mind's eye, showing me scenes from the past year (and years) where God has provided even when I doubted. Here are just a few highlights that bounced through my head from the past year:

- Ronnie left a well-paying position last February out of firm conviction, without any back-up job or other source of income. In the few months that he looked for work, we never missed a bill. Also, we managed to hold onto our house, despite the fact that we could no longer afford it, while watching a number of our neighbors go through foreclosure and/or eviction. And, the church continued to provide health insurance for us until William's birth, despite the fact that they had no obligation to do so.

- William was born May 5 into our newly uncertain life. Even though it was a rough first few months adjusting to life with a baby, Ronnie and I made it through stronger than ever (as cliche as that sounds). Now, over a year later, we still love each other, still like each other, and still play on the "same team." And, William is healthy, happy, and growing like a weed.

- In August, I started my first year as a doctoral student at the University of Dayton. Just a week prior to starting, I was still debating whether or not to go through with it. Ronnie still didn't have a stable job and the pay for my graduate assistantship was going to be one-third of what I was making in a full-time job. But, mostly at Ronnie's insistence, I took the plunge. Somehow, we had the money for books, a parking permit, and all the necessaries. William survived the adjustment and Ronnie began his new adventure as a part-time stay-at-home dad.

- In October, in the middle of the school year, when Will was six months-old, we sold our house--a feat in itself in Ohio!--and bought a house in Dayton. We downsized just about everything about our life and moved within walking distance of UD. And, in the transition, I never missed an assignment and (more importantly) William never missed a meal.

- Now, as of June 1, I have finished my first year in the doctoral program. All told, I have read approximately 2-3 books a week since August, written four research papers, taken and passed an oral and written exam in biblical studies, and managed not to go insane. Meanwhile, Ronnie has grown into a wonderful full-time father and gotten a perfectly suited part-time youth ministry position at a church nearby.

I know that in the scheme of things, these events are quite paltry. Certainly, there's nothing especially "miraculous" about anything mentioned above. And, in light of what others have come through, my little examples of God's provision are pretty unimportant. Moreover, I should point out that there are countless people for whom the money wasn't there when they needed it, the house didn't sell, the work didn't come, and the kid didn't stay healthy. I realize that, too. And God is still God even in those situations.

But, at the end of the day, I view the following excerpts from our past year as the manifestations of God's grace. It certainly can't be credited to me. For most of this journey, I have been a self-absorbed, fretful, whiner, looking for the easy way out. And yet, God has been good to us. For this I am grateful and must give thanks.

On Sunday, as I marveled over what we've come through this year and reflected on my current state of anxiety and faithlessness, I realized that to worry and fret about the coming weeks and months as though I have control over any of it is tantamount to asserting that I am responsible for what's come to pass over the past year. That is to say, if I am responsible for tomorrow, then I am responsible for yesterday, too. And that, my friends, is not the case.

So, even though the point I have to make is very basic--so much so that we "experienced" Christians should have it mastered by now, right?--it seems important to my discipleship to Jesus right now to make it anyway. I am not God. God is God. God has provided for me in the past. God will provide for me in the future. Neither is my responsibility and neither is to my credit. Soli deo gloria.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


A friend of ours who is a young evangelical worship leader sent this gem of a video along to Ronnie and me. Its good for us to laugh at ourselves. Enjoy!

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Of Panhandlers and Personal Transformation

This is a re-post of something I wrote a couple years ago. For some reason, it has come to mind a few times this week and I thought that maybe this means I should offer it up again to my readers. Or, maybe I've just been in need of the reminder. Whether its for my benefit only or for someone else too, I hope you find it worth your time.

"I used to think...that Christ might have been exaggerating when he warned about the dangers of wealth. Today I know better. I know how very hard it is to be rich and still keep the milk of human kindness. Money has a dangerous way of putting scales on one's eyes, a dangerous way of freezing people's hands, eyes, lips, and hearts." - Dom Helder Camara

I give to panhandlers. I give to anyone who asks. I have chosen to make it my personal practice.

Sometimes I give food, when and if I have brought my lunch with me, or I have just happened to purchase something, or I am near a restaurant or grocery store. Sometimes I give gift certificates, if I have them and if the restaurant from which the certificate comes is nearby. And, sometimes I give cash. Yes, cash: $3, $5, $10--whatever I happen to have on me at the time.

I know what you're thinking. Silly girl. Doesn't she know that its better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish? Yes, my friends, I do. But, I have recognized that this attitude is typically used as an excuse not to teach a man to fish, but to do nothing at all. We say, "It is better to teach a man to fish, but since I do not teach fishing, I will not give a fish either." But, I am getting ahead of myself. Allow me to explain.

For some time, I struggled with giving to those who asked for money or food or something of the sort. On the one hand, I wanted to help those in need and be a generous person. On the other hand, the specter of scam artists and professional panhandlers loomed large in my mind. The truth is, over time, the reality of a few liars and cheats crowded out my impetus to give to the many in genuine need. It dulled over time and went away.

Then, I began reading through the Gospels and I discovered that Jesus has quite a bit to say about giving and money in general. These are the ones that step all over your toes:

"Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." - Matt 5:42

"Jesus looked at him and loved him. 'One thing you lack,' he said. 'Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'" - Mark 10:21

"Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back...And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back." - Luke 6:30, 33-35

"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Luke 12:32-33

"In the same way, any of you who does not give up all of his possessions cannot be my disciple." - Luke 14:33

I do not offer these verses as proof-texts for giving to panhandlers--by no means. I offer these verses so that we can look at some of the words of Jesus about giving. I find it very unsettling that in almost eight years of being a follower of Jesus, I have yet to hear these passages of scripture preached or taught as a way of life. As one country preacher has said, "We will worship the hind legs off of Jesus, we just won't do a thing he says."

But, my point is not to prove that giving to strangers who ask for money is good and right for everyone. Here's what I want to address: Why does Jesus instruct us to give to those who ask of us? What is the purpose? Surely Jesus, the all-wise teacher and preacher, knows that job training, drug treatment, counseling, and other forms of social help are more appropriate means of help for the beggar. Surely, he doesn't really mean that we are supposed to give to anyone who asks. Surely not!

The way that we normally get out doing what Jesus says is by making the excuses that I alluded to earlier. "I don't know what she will do with my money." "I don't know if he is an alcoholic or drug addict." "I don't want to waste my money on someone who doesn't need it." These are all reasonable concerns. These are all reasonable excuses for not giving. Yet, don't you think Jesus knows about these concerns? And yet, he still says to give.

Again, the question: Why does Jesus instruct us to give to those who ask, without holding back?

Here's what I think: We think that we are supposed to give in order to help the poor person. This is why we can justify not giving in most situations, because we can reason to ourselves that our money will not really help the person in need. It might just make the matter worse. But, I do not think that we are told to give primarily to help the poor person. We give to help ourselves. The poor person is not the one in need of help--you are.

"Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort." - Luke 6:24

"I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." - Matt 19:23-24

"Jesus looked at his disciples and said, 'How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!'" - Mark 10:23

Don't look around to find someone else richer than you. We are the rich man. We are the wealthy. Jesus instructs us to give to those who ask, without holding back, because we need to cultivate a life of giving in order to escape the trappings of wealth that will choke and kill our discipleship in the kingdom of God. If it is true that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also, then we must be giving away our treasure in order not to be a slave to "Mammon" instead of God.

Do you believe Jesus when he says that it is "hard" for the rich to enter the kingdom of God? Do you believe Jesus when he implies that wealth is dangerous? If so, then we should quake in fear and trembling.

I have determined that, for me, I must give to anyone who asks, even panhandlers, in order to become the kind of person who is not attached to my things, my possessions. I must give in order to be spiritually formed as a disciple of Jesus.

And, as I do so, I am made and more aware of just how much I hoard what I have, carressing my "precious" things, like Golum with the "ring of power." This is a bondage that saps the energy out of me, makes me into a person obsessed with me, myself, and all that belongs to me. I need to be delivered from this trap. I need to be saved from materialism. And, for my liberation, I need the poor. I think Jesus understood this and taught his disciples accordingly.

Now, I know what your questions are. What if they are scamming you? What if they are using your money for drugs or alcohol or something else? What if they keep coming back because you've given them money once?

I haven't figured all this out yet, but here's what I'm thinking right now: If they are scamming me, it is not my concern. So what if I lose $5 to someone who doesn't need it? How much do I have that I don't need? My money is not really my money. If God wants to shuffle my $5 to someone else who doesn't need it, what concern is that to me? If God owns everything, then that includes my $5, whether it's in my pocket or the pocket of a scam artist.

I can't tell for sure if someone will use what I give for drugs or alcohol. They could do so. Or, they could not. The same is true of the mission agencies, or the high school graduates, or other worthy causes to which I give. Again, what the recipient of my gift does with what I give is not something over which I have control and it is not something that Jesus gives as a condition of giving. He does not say, "Give to those whom you are certain will use your money for wise and industrious ends." And, if my act of giving is less about the person and more about my spiritual formation, then this question isn't as important.

Yes, it is possible that a person I give money to will continue to come to me for money in the future. And, why is this bad again? If the poor are "blessed," because to them belongs the kingdom of God, then I should be ecstatic that they will return to me. But, that's now how we are trained, is it? The poor, the needy, the outcast, are to be avoided. We give our money to shelters and mission agencies so that we don't have to spend time with them or see them on a personal level. I am the chief of sinners in this regard.

The truth is, I am blessed if the one in need continues to come back to me. In fact, in so doing, we can cultivate a relationship and maybe, just maybe, I will be able to address the root causes of the person's poverty, not just the symptoms. That's where job training and social services and other things enter the picture. But, I can't do this without a relationship and I can't cultivate a relationship unless I have shown mercy and love to him or her.

So, there you have it. Panhandlers and the poor are a part of my personal transformation. I give to those who ask of me because I am a greedy, covetous, materialistic, rich pig of a sinner who needs to be transformed.

I share this with you not because I think all people should act as I have chosen to act, but because I believe the words of Frederick Huntington are true: "It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism, that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the gospel. It is a proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity."

God help us all.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Happy Birthday, William!

Our son, William Hunter McGowin, turns one year-old today. I hope to post something soon that reflects on the past year of our new life together. But, for now, here is a picture from his second day in the world, along with two recent pictures. The first of the recent ones is from Easter Sunday and the second is from today. We love this boy and look forward to getting to know the man God made him to be.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Feminism Today: Some Necessary Clarifications

This week, I've been finishing up a research paper for school about the so-called "Quiverfull" movement in conservative American evangelicalism. For most Quiverfull adherents, feminism is a great evil, if not the great evil of contemporary Western society. This is not without good reason. There is much about feminism, especially in its First and Second Wave forms, that is threatening or even outright antithetical to some of Christianity's most basic beliefs.

This is why it can be so hazardous for a woman (or a man, for that matter) within evangelicalism to self-identify as a "feminist"--there is simply so much baggage that comes along with the label. Although I have explained elsewhere that I do, in fact, embrace the term feminism and some of my reasons for doing so, from the beginning I have accepted it with many qualifications (one important qualification is explained here). Unfortunately, the nature of the Internet and my busy schedule is such that I cannot always express these qualifications or do so adequately.

In reading over a good portion of the Quiverfull literature, I found what I believe to be some unfortunate misunderstandings about feminism in its complex contemporary form. This realization was most acute for me when I found myself reading a Quiverfull writer and agreeing with her critique of feminism, even as I am myself a feminist! I thought to myself: "Why is it that I'm a feminist and she is firmly patriarchal and we actually agree about this issue?" The answer, I think, is that some in the Quiverfull movement--and many within evangelicalism, at large--have some misunderstandings about feminism that I would like to try a hand at clearing up.

Before I begin, though, its important to recognize that there is not one system of thought or way of life that can be labeled "feminism." Actually, it is far more accurate to speak of feminisms, because there is a vast spectrum of perspectives associated with the larger, more general feminist movement to promote the well-being of women worldwide. There are Catholic, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian feminists. There are Jewish feminists and Muslim feminists, black feminists and Latina feminists. There are Marxist feminists, atheist feminists, and, yes, even evangelical feminists. And, all of these different versions of feminism have their own unique perspective and emphases. This is not to say there aren't some unifying elements. I have detailed five major ones here. But, this variety of feminisms should make us realize the extent to which there are differences of opinion--even very strong ones--within the movement at large. (Just as there are major differences of opinion within the broad spectrum of Christian traditions.)

Now, without any further ado, here is my attempt at six clarifications about contemporary feminism. In most cases, these statements and explanations apply to feminism as it is in an explicitly Christian form, but I will indicate those places where secular and Christian feminists concur. Also, these clarifications apply mainly to American feminists, since I am too unfamiliar with other forms of feminism to speak adequately to their views on these matters.

1. Many feminists believe men and women are essentially different and think that's a very good thing. In feminist theology today, it is actually somewhat passe to hold the opinion that women and men are essentially the same except for biology, as though reproductive parts are the only things that distinguish us from each other. Instead, many feminist theologians now hold to some combination of essentialism and constructivism.

In this perspective, generally speaking, it is believed that there are aspects of men and women that are essential (read: created that way by God) to their natures as men and women (besides just biology), as well as aspects of men and women that are constructed by society and culture. So, for example, women in general may be affirmed to be naturally more inclined to be nurturing due to their biological capacity to bear and nurse children. But, they're not necessarily naturally more fond of dolls than trucks, because that is something that may very well be a socially constructed preference.

Many of the feminists who hold to this view would affirm that men and women are complementary in their natures, together bearing God's image. There are even some feminists who would go so far as to suggest that the complementary nature of men and women means that it is not necessarily a problem to see men and women as properly suited for different roles in family, church, and society (although, you are still not going to see any of these women affirm anything close to patriarchy and/or "complementarianism"). One example of a Christian feminist theologian who affirms a version of this perspective is Roman Catholic theologian, Mary Aquin O'Neill.

2. Some feminists are decidedly pro-life. I know this one is hard to believe, because for so long feminism has been closely associated with abortion rights. But, a large number of feminists in recent decades have come out against abortion for a variety of reasons, both feminist ones and reasons of faith. They even have their own organization, Feminists for Life, that I would encourage you to take a look at. I have written my own defense of the pro-life position from a Christian feminist perspective here. Other pro-life feminists include Roman Catholic moral theologian, Jana Bennett, and Methodist pastor and ethicist, Amy Laura Hall.

3. Some feminists are against the use of contraception. This is another tough one, I know, because feminism has long been associated with birth control, especially the Pill, and "sexual freedom" (whatever that really means). But, there are a growing number of feminists who are examining the moral, ethical, and social ramifications of artificial birth control and finding that they do not line up with feminist convictions. Instead, many would advocate that natural family planning (NFP) methods are more affirming of the reproductive capacity of women's bodies, more empowering for women generally, and more equalizing in the marriage relationship (since NFP requires both husband and wife to be involved). Also, feminists with these views would say that children should be welcomed as a gift, not looked upon as a "mistake" or hindrance to a woman's life. And, as an added bonus, NFP methods do not pose any potential environmental harm because it does not utilize artificial hormones, which inevitably make their way into our water supply. For more about this perspective, you can take a look at this online article.

4. Some feminists are against sexual promiscuity and even defend a traditional Christian view that sexual expression is intended for the marriage relationship. Many feminists, particularly Christian feminists, have concluded that the "sexual freedom" women gained through the Pill and the 1960s resulted in very little real freedom for women. In fact, it really resulted in more freedom for men--freedom to sex without consequences and freedom from their children--the many, many children who have been born out of wedlock since the sexual revolution.

Many feminists have surveyed the social and economic landscape over the past fifty years and realized that "sexual freedom" for women has, by and large, led to rising teen pregnancy, very high abortion rates, an exploding number of single moms, and the "feminization" of poverty (meaning, the majority of those living in poverty in America are women with their dependent children). So, many of these feminists now advocate for "sexual freedom" as freedom to wise decision-making about sexuality. And, among Christian feminists, this usually means affirming that sexual expression is best suited for the marriage relationship, not only because it is in keeping with the Christian moral tradition, but also because it is really better for women and children in the long run.

5. Some feminists are very much pro-motherhood and pro-homemaking. I know there is a strong sense among non-feminists that feminists, in general, despise family, motherhood, and homemaking (especially homemaking). Although this may have been true in the past, the truth is that there are a growing number of feminists, secular and Christian and otherwise, who are decidedly for family, mothering, and homemaking. In fact, feminists have produced some of the best scholarly literature on these topics in recent years, including histories and sociological studies of homemaking worldwide. They may re-conceive these concepts and practices in ways that differ from non-feminists. For example, they're not going to advocate that God has ordained in creation that a woman's "place" is in the home. But there is no doubt that many feminists today have embraced motherhood and family as an inherent good. See some good books on the topic of homemaking, nurturing, and "women's work" here, here, and here.

6. Some feminists are stay-at-home moms. Yes, believe it or not, some feminists have chosen to be mothers at home. They do so for a variety of reasons and in a variety of situations, but there are plenty of women who reject patriarchy and divinely ordained gender roles, but have chosen the life of a homemaker (and are blessed to be able to swing it financially). You can read blog posts by a couple of such feminist moms-at-home here and here.

And, just as a side note, it may surprise some of my readers to learn that even though I'm a self-described Christian feminist and even though I'm pursuing a Ph.D. in theology, I have not ruled out the possibility that when I'm all done and I have "Dr." in front of my name, I may just decide to remain at home with my children to be their primary caregiver (and maybe even teacher) for several years. Who knows? And, were I to do so, I would not cease to be a believer in the basic equality of the sexes before God, as well as the Spirit's gifting and calling of all types of people to all types of service, regardless of their gender.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Passion of the Loving Soul: Another Poem from Mechthild of Magdeburg

I'd like to introduce my readers to a longer poem from Mechthild of Magdeburg's mystical book The Flowing Light of the Godhead. First, though, I need to offer some theological "framing" to help us understand it.

One of the strange things about Mechthild's mysticism is that even as she uses romantic and erotic language to speak of her intimacy with God, she also embraces experiences of pain, suffering, and even estrangement from God as part and parcel of that intimacy. For Mechthild, in the mystical relationship between the Godhead and the soul, the pain and suffering that comes through bodiliness is a vital intermediary between the earthly and the divine. That is to say, Mechthild understands that fallen humanity is brought into intimate union with God through the mediating work of pain and suffering.

Some might suggest this exaltation of suffering is nothing more than veiled female masochism. But, I would say that this is seriously oversimplified. In my opinion, the reason for Mechthild's mystical perspective on pain is to be found in the centrality of the Passion of Christ for her theology, in which the crucifixion of the Son of God is the means by which the Godhead is reconciled with the world. In the framework of the Incarnation, pain is, literally, the crux of the matter--the center of God’s identification with humankind. And so, the soul in love with God eventually comes to embrace suffering and estrangement as a welcomed form of intimacy with God, for it was Christ’s own experience of both that brought about redemption.

One scholar of medieval mysticism, Barbara Newman, applies this to Mechthild’s mysticism in the following way: "Since a lover can take no joy except in her Beloved, the supreme sacrifice [to be made as an expression of love for the Beloved] must lie in the willed choice of absence over presence...God’s very absence, once bitterly lamented, now becomes a sign of union with the abandoned Christ...For Mechthild, the abjectly loving soul no longer seeks her Beloved because she is identified with him, imitating Christ’s passion so perfectly that she becomes herself a womanChrist."

Now, I know the "womanChrist" language might seem bizarre to some of my readers. But, I would like you to read the following poem and think about it a bit more. I think what you'll see is that Mechthild envisions the soul's identification with Christ in such an intimate fashion that she experiences the pains of his sufferings and, eventually, the joys of his triumphs in a tangible way. This may seem odd for us, because we're not used to speaking of women, especially women's bodies, as being identified with Christ this explicitly. But, for me, this puts Paul's conception of being crucified with Christ in a whole new light--one that is especially meaningful for women disciples of Jesus who read Mechthild of Magdeburg today. I'd love to read your thoughts, if you have any.

(Note: The poem is exceptionally long, so I have taken the liberty of abbreviating it for us. Also, notice how often she references the language of Christ's Passion week narratives from the New Testament Gospels. I think this is tremendously creative, even if a little strange for many of us.)

The Flowing Light of the Godhead
Book III, Chapter 10
The loving soul betrays her true love in sighing for God.
She is sold in holy grief for his love.
She is sought with the host of many tears for her dear Lord,
Whom she likes so well.
She is captured in the first experience
When God kisses her in sweet union.
She is assailed with many a holy thought
That she not waver when she mortifies her flesh.
She is bound by the power of the Holy Spirit,
And her bliss is indeed manifold.
She is slapped with the great powerlessness
Of not being able to enjoy without interruption eternal light.
She is brought to judgment trembling with shame
Because God so often avoids her
Because of the stains of her sins.
She responds to all things in a holy manner
And cannot bear to treat anyone shamefully.
She is beaten at her trial
When the devils try her spiritually...

She is stripped of all things
When God clothes her with the silk of fair love.
She is delightfully crowned with manifold faithfulness
When she desire that God no longer reward her for all her woes,
Except to promote in the highest God's honor.
She is ridiculed in holy simplicity
When she is completely dissolved into God
That she forgets all earthly wisdom.
One kneels before her in great shame
When in delicate humility she puts herself under the feet of all creatures...

She carries her cross on a sweet path
When she truly surrenders herself to God in all sufferings.
Her head is struck with a reed
When one compares her great holiness to a fool.
With the hammer of the chase of love she is nailed so fast to the cross
That all creatures are not able to call her back again.
She suffers terrible thirst on the cross of love as well...

Her body is killed in living love
When her spirit is raised aloft above all human senses...

She hangs on the cross of sublime love,
High in the air of the Holy Spirit,
Facing the eternal sun of the living Godhead,
So that she becomes completely dry and bare of all earthly things.
Then in a holy ending she is taken from the cross
And speaks: "Father, receive my spirit; now everything is perfect."
She is interred in a sealed grave of deep humility,
When becomes ever aware of being the most unworthy of all creatures.
She also rises joyfully on an Easter Day
After she has enjoyed a lament of love
With her Lover on the narrow bridal bed.
Then she consoles her disciples and Mary early in the morning
When she receives from God true assurance
That God has blotted out all her sins...

She also ascends into heaven
When God takes from her all earthly things in holy transformation.
She is received in a white cloud of holy protection
When she ascends in love and joyfully comes back again, free of all trouble.
Then the angels return and console the men of Galilee
When we call to mind God's chosen friends and their holy example.

This passion is suffered by every soul that in holy moderation of all her activity is truly permeated by genuine love of God.

(The above photo is of The Ecstasy of St. Teresa by Lorenzo Bernini, located in the Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

To Mommies Who Don't Work Outside the Home: A Confession

Can I confess something to you? You intimidate me. A lot. I know that sounds crazy, but its true. When we talk, I'm usually feeling insecure and uncertain about me, my life, and my mothering. Let me explain.

I am a "working mom" (I put that in quotes, fully aware that the label doesn't work because all moms work their tails off). Although I'm not in a typical "job," per se, I am enrolled full-time in a doctoral program that requires me to be away from home five days a week, for anywhere from two to eight hours a day. The great thing about being in an academic environment is that there's a lot more flexibility when it comes to my hours, but at the end of the day, I have responsibilities to fulfill (if I want to pass and pick up my stipend check, anyway).

Thankfully, my husband has a job that allows him a lot of flexibility too. He could get another part-time job to supplement our income and give us more "creature comforts," but instead, he takes care of our son when I'm at school. This means that Ronnie is William's primary caregiver most mornings and afternoons. This is a really wonderful thing! I'm grateful that they have such a close relationship, as a result of their time together. And, I'm thrilled that William's dad, rather than someone outside our family, gets to be so involved.

Yet, often, I wonder. And these "wonderings" happen about every couple of weeks. That's where the insecurity and intimidation comes in. I wonder if I'm making the right choice. I wonder if its all going to be worth it. I wonder if I'm scarring my kid (soon to be "kids") for life. I love what I do. I love reading, studying, writing, and teaching. On the days when I am the most clear-headed and at peace with God, I know this is what God made me to do. When I am teaching or writing, I can feel God's pleasure. But... And, that's the kicker. The "but"...

I look at you, my non-working mommy friends and acquaintances, and I'm jealous of you. Really, I am. I long for an even semi-clean house (I can hear you laughing at this, even now), or to experience some point in time where there's not laundry piled up, or, even more importantly, to know what its like to walk William to the park and not be thinking about my next paper, presentation, reading assignment, whatever. Often, I see you with your kiddos and I wish I were living a less complicated life. That's not to say being a full-time mom at home isn't complicated in its own right. I know it is! But, it would be much less complicated than mothering and studying at the same time.

And so, on my really down days, the days when William is whiny and needy, and I have to leave him with Ronnie because I simply must write, I cry and feel terribly sorry for myself. This is silly, I know. I'm blessed beyond measure to be able to do what I do and get paid to do it! But, on those down days, I struggle to see the point. I feel like all the books and papers and teaching isn't worth it, after all. And, I doubt.

Even as I write this, though, the insecurity is coming back. You see, my fellow moms, I'm afraid of what you're going to say in response to this confession. I fear, especially from my fellow Christian mommies, that you're going to use my struggles as fodder to try to convince me that I'm not doing the right thing by being in school. Its happened to me a lot, actually.

In fact, I don't share these feelings with stay-at-home moms anymore because so many have responded with something like this: "Well, maybe this is God's way of telling you that you're making the wrong choice." And, the really tough responses are those that sound something like this: "Well, Emily, I think your struggle is just proof that it is God's intention for women to stay home with their kids. You should stop fighting that and accept God's best for you."

I respect my fellow Christian moms who think this way. But, at the end of the day, I'm convinced that this isn't the case for all women. In fact, I think its realistically unworkable for most women the world over. (But, that's another blog for another time.) And, maybe more importantly, when I'm in my "right mind," I'm convinced that its not the case for me. At least, not right now.

Yes, I struggle to keep up with my husband, my son, and my "domestic" life (for lack of a better term), and to keep up with my academic studies, too. But, I'm truly afraid to be honest about it, because I'm afraid that you'll discourage me, without meaning to. Often, I feel like I have to pretend to be super-woman, undaunted by stress and unfazed by a tough work schedule. Because if I show weakness, if I cry, if I say I miss my kid when I'm in class, you will think that means I'm wrong and should quit. And, if I'm really honest with you, I'm afraid that if you tell me that enough times, I might just do it--and I know that's a mistake.

So, all this is to say, when it comes to mothering and studying, I'm new at this whole thing and I still feel quite fragile. Some of you may find this silly and I guess that's OK. But, I wanted to be honest. I wanted my fellow moms who don't work outside the home to know how I really feel--what's really going on inside my head and heart. Thanks for listening.

And now I have to ask, even though it kills my pride, and even though I feel silly and stupid and weak doing so: Please be gentle with me. Please don't use my struggle against me. Thanks in advance.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Poem from Mechthild of Magdeburg

The following poem was written by a medieval woman mystic, Mechthild of Magdeburg (c. 1208-c. 1282). I am in the middle of a research paper on her book, The Flowing Light of the Godhead for my historical theology seminar. I hope to post something more substantive in the future about her and her mystical theology. For now, its helpful to know that Mechthild (pronounced Meck-tild) was a German woman from a noble background who was a member of a lay community of women called beguines, who lived together to pursue the holy life outside of formal ecclesiastical structures (like convents).

Her book was in the vernacular German of her day, but translated into Latin by Dominican priests soon after her death. Apparently, despite Mechthild's status as a laywoman, The Flowing Light of the Godhead was revered as sacred theology for some time. Scholars have only recently re-discovered her text and begun to do extensive research on her life and work.

Mechthild's mystical writings are strange to most contemporary readers because she uses blatantly romantic and erotic language to describe her relationship to God (the following poem is very, very mild--I plan to share more interesting pieces later). She draws on the language of courtly love from her day to describe the soul as the bride and lover of the Godhead. Readers will recognize in her work the language of the Song of Solomon, as well, which was interpreted almost universally in Mechthild's day as an allegorical poem depicting God's love for the Church.

I would be interested to hear your reflections, if you have any, on the way this dialogue depicts the soul and God as lovers.

The Flowing Light of the Godhead
Book V, Chapters 17 & 18

Greetings to you, living God.
You are mine before all things.
I am endlessly glad
That I can speak to you without guile.
When my enemies pursue me,
I flee to your arms
Where I can complain about my suffering
While you incline yourself to me.
You well know how you can pluck
The strings of my soul.
Ah, begin at once
That you may be ever blessed.
I am a low-born bride;
And yet you are my lawful husband.
I shall ever rejoice about this.
Remember how well you can caress
The pure soul on your lap
And do it, Lord, to me now,
Even though I am not worthy of you.
Ah, Lord, draw me up to you.
Then I shall be pure and radiant.
If you abandon me to myself,
I shall remain dark and sluggish.

Thus does God answer:

I respond to your greeting with such a heavenly flood:
Were I to give myself to you in all my power,
You would not preserve your human life.
You well know I must hold back my might
And hide my splendor
To let you remain in earthly misery
Until all my sweetness rises up
To the heights of eternal glory,
And my strings shall play sweetly for you
In tune with the true value of your patient love.
Still, before I begin,
I want to tune my heavenly strings in your soul,
So that you might persevere even longer.
For well-born brides and noble knights
Must undergo a long and intensive preparation at great cost.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Michael Spencer (1956-2010)

We said goodbye yesterday to an obedient disciple of Jesus, deep Christian thinker, faithful teacher, and prolific blogger. I never knew Michael Spencer, but his writing has meant a lot to me over the years. We pray with and for his family and friends as they journey through this tragic loss.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Reflection on the American Church and the Abortion Debate

Something's been troubling me recently about the way American Christians have participated in the abortion debate. Then, I read an essay by Stanley Hauerwas on abortion (referenced below) and my troubled thoughts were confirmed. It concerns what I think is a fundamental problem with the American Church's stance on abortion, one that is not only theological problematic, but also standing in the way of the Church making any cultural inroads on the matter in the US. (Notice I said "cultural inroads"--that is, making a transformational impact in our culture. I'm not talking about laws and legal policy in this post, although that is another important matter.)

I think it is wrong for the Church to frame the debate about abortion in terms of the woman's "rights" versus the child's "rights." It is wrong from a rhetorical perspective and an ethical perspective. Let me explain.

First of all, the language of "rights" arises from Enlightenment liberalism, which does not take into consideration the Judeo-Christian view of the human person in relation to the Creator God. Christians don't believe in "inalienable rights" (Thank you, Stanley Hauerwas!). Christians believe that everything about our lives matters to God and God has told us how we can and cannot live. The same goes for our bodies. Christians have no rights over their bodies. Those baptized into Christ have given their bodies over to God's reign. In this way, debating about rights is entirely unnatural for Christians, because we don't believe we have rights over anything!

Secondly, pitting the "rights" of the woman against the "rights" of the child is also ethically problematic, because it forces us to choose between defending the one or the other, but not both. This too is entirely un-Christian. Women and children are made in God's image. They bear the mark of their Creator and have been designed by him with love and purpose. When Jesus taught his disciples that their ministry unto "the least of these" would be ministry unto him, I think he most certainly included women and children.

It should be obvious why children are among "the least of these." They possess nothing that our society finds valuable: money, power, or influence. And, yet, Jesus says the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. For this reason, children must be embraced by the Church and protected, for in their weakness, we see the face of our Lord.

It may not be quite so obvious why women are among "the least of these." Unfortunately, what secular feminism and liberalism have often failed to do is reveal just how vulnerable women still are in the US. There are two reasons for this. First, we tend to assume "women" equals white women. Compared to their brown, black, and tan skinned sisters, white women are doing pretty well. But, the plight of women of color in the States is an entirely different story, often one of poverty and struggle (which I don't have the time to document here). Second, the media's coverage of "women's stories" tends to focus on preferential hiring for women, women's rights, women advancing in higher education, etc, and its easy to get the impression that women (=white women) are doing quite well. But, in a broad view, that's just not the case. And, I'm not talking about "equal pay for equal work," either.

Let's consider one vital area where women are not prospering: violence against women. In the US, the evidence indicates that women are being abused every day, in every socioeconomic class, in every religious group, in every ethnic category, all over the country. Recent statistics tell us that every 15 seconds a woman is abused. Abuse is the single largest cause of injury to women in the US, greater than the number of injuries sustained from car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. (Read that sentence one more time.) Thirty-five percent of women who seek treatment at a hospital emergency room are there for symptoms of ongoing abuse. Thirty to forty percent of female homicide victims are killed by their male partners. Every day, ten women are murdered by their male partners. And, every five years, more women are murdered by their intimate male partners than the number of all American lives lost in the Vietnam War.

We could take this picture global, too. Research has shown that a woman, whether living in the so-called First World or the developing world, is more likely to be injured, raped, or physically threatened by a current or former intimate male partner than by a stranger or any other person. On every continent, at least one in ten women report being physically abused by an intimate male partner. One in four women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. This means that, of the approximately 4.5 billion women around the world, about 450 million have suffered physical abuse by an intimate male partner, and about 1.1 billion have been sexually assaulted. Indeed, if violence against women was swine flu, it would be considered a pandemic.

OK, so what's my point? Weren't we talking about abortion? Whether liberal media elites portray it this way or not, women are among "the least of these" in this country. They continue to possess a subordinate status in most situations, especially when it relates to their physical person and sexuality. For this reason, women and children are to be embraced by the Church as those in need of nurturing, care, and protection. I'm not trying to turn all women into helpless victims here, nor am I suggesting that all men are abusing women (of course not!). But, I think that the framing of the abortion debate in terms of women vs. child has made many Christians view women as "the problem"--and that is a problem!

It is my firm conviction that until the American Church begins to be as supportive of women's issues as they are against abortion, especially voicing continuous and loud opposition to violence against women, there will be no cultural progress made. The Church must be a champion of women. And, the Church must be champion of children. Both are welcomed into the open arms of Christ and both must know that they are wanted and loved by his Church.

Despite our preconceived (and often ill-informed) notions, a woman who gets an abortion rarely (if ever) does so because she's vehemently protecting her "right to choose." More often, she does so because she believes she has no choice. She has no reason to hope and she turns to what has been presented to her as an easy medical procedure to fix things. Typically, women are convinced that they do not have the means or capability to care for the new life they're carrying. Or, women are convinced that they will lose important relationships if they go through with the pregnancy (whether with family or men, or both). In both cases, the woman is made to believe that she is solely responsible for the life she carries--and that's simply not true.

Women facing poverty, abandonment, abuse, or other difficulties because of pregnancy should not believe they are alone. Its not enough to wave picket signs and confront women with pictures of aborted babies--to give her the choice between murder and hopelessness. The Church must become the defender of women. This can take place on a practical one-one-one level or at a structural level.

How many of us would have a young woman come live with us throughout her pregnancy and then offer her child a home, if she so desires? Are we prepared for the real inconvenience and sacrifice that would entail? How many of us would accept teenage mothers into the church, help pay their bills, and provide them with loving guidance for parenting? How many of us would adopt the Downs syndrome child that a young mother of three feels she can't provide for?

Or, getting beyond the personal, what about good, affordable healthcare for a mother and her child (even if *gasp* government funded)? What about supporting sufficient child allowances and ample federal standards for maternity leave (and I don't mean the paltry 6 weeks that most companies provide)? What about real protection for women in blue collar jobs who will, despite the legality, lose their jobs when they give birth? What shall we say about those things?

Christians must no longer pit the "rights" of the woman against the "rights" of the child. Not only does the Church not believe in "rights," because we have given up our rights to follow after Christ, also we care deeply about the lives of both women and children. And, when it comes to pregnancy and motherhood, we believe that they rise and fall together. Supporting a woman financially, emotionally, and physically during a pregnancy and after delivery means supporting the child, too. Offering a loving home to a pregnant young woman abandoned by her boyfriend means offering a home to the young woman's child. And, standing up to abusive men, male promiscuity, and deadbeat fathers means standing up for women and children, as well.

Again, I'm not talking about laws. I'm talking about the Church's ability to influence and transform cultural views of abortion. The Church of the resurrected Christ always greets new life as a joy and a miracle of God. In this world of violence, death, and destruction, it is the most absurd and the most profound thing that we continue to welcome children and believe that God's reign is salvation for them. In order to do so, however, we must change the way we speak about the abortion issue and the way we view women and children within the debate. It is imperative we turn this corner if we're ever going to approach creating a true culture life within a lost and dying world.

Abuse statistics come from a study cited in Betty Coble Lawther and Jenny Potzler, “The Church’s Role in the Healing Process of Abused Women,” Review and Expositor 98 (2001): 228-230.

Also, the above commentary was inspired by Stanley Hauerwas, "Abortion, Theologically Understood," in The Hauerwas Reader (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001). You can find the text of this essay online in a number of places. One is here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Learning to Confess and Repent

The following is the Litany of Penance from the Book of Common Prayer. I encountered it first when Chaplain Mike posted it on February 18 over at Internet Monk. Frankly, we contemporary Baptists (in general) don't do well with public confession or formal prayers. We eschew the former by tossing out platitudes about answering to Jesus alone and we dismiss the latter by supposing there's something particularly holy about spontaneous prayers. Among other things, I find Lent a challenging time for setting those prejudices aside and learning from the thoughtful worship of our "high church" sisters and brothers. And so, I encourage you to meditate upon the following prayer. It is meant for public reading, in "call and response" form. But, I think it remains deeply meaningful in private prayer, as well.

Litany of Penitence

Most holy and merciful Father:
We confess to you and to one another,
and to the whole communion of saints 
in heaven and on earth,
that we have sinned by our own fault 
in thought, word, and deed;
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us.
We have not been true to the mind of Christ.
We have grieved
 your Holy Spirit.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness:
pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways,
and our exploitation 
of other people,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration,
and our envy of those
 more fortunate than ourselves,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts,
our dishonesty in daily life and work,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship,
and our failure to
 commend the faith that is in us,
We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
for our blindness to human need and suffering,
and our 
indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments,
for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors,
and for our prejudice and contempt toward those 
who differ from us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation,
and our lack of
 concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Glenn Beck's Errors

Along with most Americans who own either a TV or a computer with internet capability, or both, I'm sure you've heard by now that Glenn Beck of Fox News fame made some rather serious claims on his show last week regarding the association of Christian "social justice" with socialism and Nazism. Here's a full quote of the most offending portion of his comments (available to read for yourself here):

"I'm begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them... are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!"

There is so much ignorance and error present in Beck's remarks that its difficult for me to know where to begin. I will focus my efforts here on the two issues most relevant to my area of interest: theology and ethics.

The first major error is ethical in nature and, in my opinion, glaringly obvious. Social justice is a fundamental Christian commitment, arising directly from the teaching and example of Jesus Christ, the theological reality of the present reign of God, and the ethical pattern set before us by the early church. Although not without some controversy in how exactly Christians believe social justice is best sought (this is where debates about government involvement come in), there is almost uniform agreement from the "far left" to the "far right" that justice and mercy are essential manifestations of the Gospel's power in our world.

All this is to say: Glenn Beck is wrong. "Social justice" is not a code word for "socialism" or "Nazism." "Social justice" is a traditional Christian word for "faithfulness to the Gospel." And, in this case, I'm not the only one who says so. He's got a 2,000 year-old, trans-denominational and trans-cultural tradition to argue with.

Beck's second major error is ecclesiological in nature. And, while I think Beck's error on the above point is egregious enough, for some reason it doesn't bother me nearly as much as this one. Perhaps it is because I think that this TV personality has unwittingly voiced a perspective on the Church that is shared by many in American Christianity, even those who should know better.

What is Beck's ecclesiological mistake? Beck presumes a character to the church that is fundamentally flawed. Even if we were to grant him the point that "social justice" could be code for a liberal political agenda, in his plea for people to leave their churches because of differences of opinion on this matter, he wrongly assumes that church is simply a matter of voluntary association--a club to be joined and abandoned depending upon one's personal whims. And, sadly, this is how many American Christians view their own church "membership."

Church is not a club, a volunteer organization, a study group, or a business. Church is not something that Christians are meant to treat as a merely personal choice, capable of being chosen and un-chosen based upon political differences or other such disagreements. Church is the body of Christ, the community of saints, the temple of God. Church is the gathering of God's people for worship, for formation in Christian character, for service to each other, and for sacrifice for the world. Church is the initiation into God's Kingdom through baptism, the Eucharist, the reading of Scripture, the confession of sins, mutual edification, and healing. Church is a supernatural sign of the rule of Jesus Christ, put on display for the whole world to see that this is what God's Kingdom is like.

Beck completely misses the mark by suggesting that the people of God should demand uniformity of belief in the church on complex matters like social justice. There is plenty of room in the body of Christ for brothers and sisters to disagree about how best to enact faithful discipleship in reference to the healing of social ills. In fact, some theologians have suggested that one of the primary characteristics of the church is that it is a "community of argument."* Certainly, we are united in conformity around basic practices of the faith and basic beliefs about God, Jesus, etc, but we are united, as well, in our diversity about matters of praxis like social justice.

It is a deep ecclesiological error to suggest that people just pick up and leave the body of Christ, to which they have pledged their lives, because they find they have a difference of opinion with the pastor, elders, or even the majority of their brothers and sisters. This is American buffet-style, consumer Christianity at its worst and I, for one, am not willing to abide it. Once again, Glenn Beck is wrong.

*Kathryn Tanner, Theories of Culture (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997).

Let us Pray for Michael Spencer and Family

I just saw this tragic news from Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk on behalf of Debbie and Michael Spencer. I am deeply saddened by the news and I ask you to pray for this brother and his family.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Meditation on the Crucified Messiah

We follow a crucified Messiah. We follow a crucified Messiah. I know we know this intellectually. I know we know and preach and teach this. Its basic Sunday School stuff, right? "Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins and rose again on the third day and if you believe in him, you'll have eternal life." But, do we really know this--is it a defining, framing, all-encompassing reality for the way we view life?

A crucified Messiah is well and good when we want our sins forgiven, but not so nice when we want our life to proceed comfortably... predictably... safely. A crucified Messiah is a wonderful thing when we want to escape eternal hellfire, but not so fabulous when our we're called to follow... take up our cross... obey... even when our present life is in shambles. Do you know what I mean?

Over the past couple years I have been gradually awakening to the fact that the crucified Messiah I trust in for salvation is the same one I follow in discipleship. That is to say, I don't simply affirm the reality of the death of Jesus as a fact of my salvation, but I embrace it as both a window into understanding God and a practical way of life--a path to follow after. Here's what I mean.

The reality of our crucified Messiah tells us that God is mysterious, unfathomable, and eternally dense. Who or what is this God who would unite with human flesh, walk the earth, suffer at the hands of sinful men, and experience a tortuous death? Who or what is this God who embraces his enemies and accepts humiliation? Surely not a God that I can understand.

And, this lack of understanding, this confusion about the workings of God, is a major aspect of the real Christian life, is it not? The truth is, things don't always happen for a reason. Not everything works out in the end. And, sometimes horrible things happen and nothing necessarily "good" comes from it. Mothers get pancreatic cancer. Children die. Jobs are lost (along with houses and families and hope). Good pastors suffer at the hands of carnivorous churches. What are we to do with the truth that the Christian life is not a life that's safe and easy and comfortable?

As I have dealt with this issue, I have often felt like Moses standing before Mount Sinai. The ground quakes beneath me as God descends and acrid smoke fills the air. Everyone on the ground below me cowers in terror. This God is fearsome, radically free, and furious with love and justice. What would it feel like to draw near to a God like this? I've also felt like the disciples traveling with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. Slowly, it dawns on me that he really believes what he says about suffering and dying and that he actually intends to go through with it. This God is frightening, unpredictable, and dangerous. What does it mean for me to follow the way of a God like this?

It is contrary to everything in my comfortable, safe, Christian American upbringing to draw near to a God who is so intimidating and hazardous. I like to think that my God, my Jesus, is "safe and fun for the whole family." But, whatever this God is that I imagine--this God who guarantees a job, a house, a complacent way of life--it is not the God of Jesus Christ. It is not the crucified God.

And so, I'm back where I started. We follow a crucified Messiah. And, he requires us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. Sometimes, the following leads us to mountaintops; often, the following leads us through valleys. In either case, my response is the same. I must follow. Through the fear, the confusion, the sadness, the struggle, the desperation, the loneliness, the uncertainty, the angst--I must follow. I have sold everything to buy the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in a field. I have nothing left to lose. There's simply no other choice.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Offering Prayers for Secular Events

Coming from Texas, the number of prayers I've witnessed offered at public, non-church related events is more than I can count. I have seen football games, ribbon cutting ceremonies, fairs, dances, graduation ceremonies, PTA meetings, fund-raising dinners, political rallies, and the like, all preceded by prayers of invocation. I must say that every time I participated in such prayers, I did so with some serious reservations. In the following blog, Prof. John Stackhouse of Regent College offers a concise explanation of why such generic invocations for secular events are ill-advised for Christians. I know this is going to be a point of contention for some of my readers, but I agree with him fully and I would encourage you to give his reasoning some serious thought.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Making Choices: A Personal Update

Most of my readers know that I am currently enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Dayton. I am studying theology, with the hopes of one day having a career in teaching and writing theology. But, honestly, I'm trusting the results of my endeavor to God. All I know for now is that Ronnie and I are convinced this is the next step in the journey for me (us). We'll see how it all plays out when the five year academic gauntlet has passed.

What my readers may not know is that Ronnie has recently taken a church position. He is the new Director of Youth Ministries at Aley Church, a United Methodist congregation in Beavercreek, OH. Aley Church is a relatively small congregation, averaging about 315 in worship attendance on Sunday morning. (Actually, this isn't really small by northern standards, but for a transplanted Texan from the land of Preston-world Baptist Church, this is quite tiny.)

Some of you may be surprised at this cross-demoninational ministry choice. But, to be honest, it was a pretty easy decision for us. Ronnie needed a job in this area, within decent driving distance. He would prefer to be employed by a church or non-profit organization of some kind, where he can be compensated for doing, in some measure, Kingdom work. And, as far as non-Baptist denominations go, Methodism isn't too far a jump. They have a commitment to personal conversion, spiritual transformation, the centrality of Scripture, and the mainly symbolic nature of the Eucharist. (Thankfully, since he's not a Methodist pastor--hence the title, "Director"--Ronnie doesn't have to worry about the question of baptism by immersion.) And, you can add to that the benefit of a history of commitment to social justice and activism.

Also, during our interview process, it became clear to us that the pastor of Aley Church is a relatively conservative Methodist pastor, coming out of the Wesleyan tradition (and it appears that most of the church is like-minded). He doesn't refrain from preaching about all the uncomfortable things that Southern Baptist laypersons probably view as litmus tests of orthodoxy: the exclusivity of Jesus for salvation, the reality of hell, the necessity of personal conversion, the priority of the Bible for faith and practice, etc. And yet, he doesn't make these things the only important issues either. Just recently, he's been instructing us on establishing right thinking and behavior in the areas of our possessions, relationships, hobbies, and other aspects of life that often go unexamined.

All this is to say, we've found Aley Church, under the pastor's leadership, to be a hospitable and charitable church home. And, I have to say, there's a palpable feeling of personal freedom at the church that I never experienced in our previous Southern Baptist churches. Women serve communion, take up the offering, lead in worship, read Scripture, and lead in prayer (*gasp*). Also, the minister's wives are not viewed as appendages to their spouses. Frankly, I'm not expected to do anything, besides love my husband and child and worship with the community. If I choose to teach Bible study or sing in the choir (which would be bad for all involved, I promise), that's my business.

Speaking of new choices, Ronnie and I have also made what you might call a "lifestyle choice" recently. For a few months, while Ronnie worked in an office environment and I acclimated to a rigorous academic environment, William was enrolled in a childcare program that operated out of a church. Despite the guilt and tortuous questioning about the decision (and believe me, there was lots of it), we found the situation to be truly nurturing for William. He was one of two infants in a home environment, cared for by a very experienced and loving lady. She was a wonderful caregiver for William and he grew to adore her (and vice versa, of course). He also benefited from the interaction with an older infant, who became his best bud.

But, with Ronnie taking this new ministry position, our financial situation has drastically changed. Beginning January 3--Ronnie's first day at Aley--both of us are now, essentially, doing full-time work for part-time pay (literally, bringing home half of what we did last year). So, we had a choice to make. At first, we thought that Ronnie would get another part-time job, working nights and weekends, in order to make up the difference in our income. This would allow us to keep William in daycare and be sure we don't lose some "creature comforts": satellite TV, date money, extra food money, etc. But, the more we thought about it, the more we realized there was something better that God was inviting us to.

Rather than view our two part-time jobs as a burden to bear, a financial difficulty to be remedied with more work, we've decided that we're to see our new situation as an opportunity. Rather than work hard for more money, which takes time away from us as a family, we've decided that we're going to be content with what we have. Ronnie and I have two relatively flexible jobs, which allow us quite a bit of freedom in making our schedules. What parent wouldn't give anything to have a more flexible work schedule so they can spend more time with their kids? Why should we not take advantage of this liberty while we can?

So, after some calculating (and, to be honest, just a little bit of wailing and gnashing of teeth) we're stripping our budget to the bare minimum and taking William out of daycare. We will be sharing the responsibility for taking care of William, with Ronnie doing most mornings (when I'm in class or the office) and me doing most afternoons (when he needs office time). Its going to be hectic, messy, and we'll be eating a lot more turkey dogs than we were before. But we'll have a simpler life together and a lot more time with our son. We've decided this choice is a good one and we're excited to see how this changes us in the long run.