Saturday, November 16, 2013

Expanding the Canon: The Chronicles of Narnia

“He'll be coming and going" he had said. "One day you'll see him and another you won't. He doesn't like being tied down--and of course he has other countries to attend to. It's quite all right. He'll often drop in. Only you mustn't press him. He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

            In my statement of faith I posted here months ago I said that I believed in Holy Scripture, both canonical and non-canonical. One of my good friends asked me what I would consider to be non-canonical Scripture. Obviously, there are a ton of books Christians use like they use Scripture (some even bring in patriotic texts into their theological formation ie. the Constitution, or just pick up a hymnal). Of course I am not putting any of the books that make my list on the same level of Scripture, merely showing my audience how these books have shaped my faith despite not being a part of the canon of Scripture. 
              Personally, a lot of CS Lewis makes my list, but I count the entire Chronicles of Narnia as one text, without all of them the text is not complete. 

To me these tales have shaped in formed my own views of God in two major ways.
      1.      God cannot be tamed
            Too often I find that theology preached in churches, sang in “Christian music” tries to either make God this broad shouldered militant bully, or an easily transported figurine to be worn like jewelry around one’s neck or put in a box. Lewis writes that Aslan (the Christ character in the story) is not a tame lion. He is good, but not tame. Aslan is always about his father’s business; his father is the Emperor Across the Sea. Aslan is essentially this unpredictable character that pops up in the books without warning or notice, but only when human beings are involved. He saves Lucy in Prince Caspian, sacrifices himself for Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and he greets the travelers outside the Kingdom of the Sea where his father lives in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Aslan does what he wants; it just so happens that what he wants is to help humanity while at the same time protecting and saving all of Narnia.

       2.      It is God’s will that none should perish (1 Peter 2:9)
              Rob Bell was heavily criticized for his book Love Wins, a book which asks the question in chapter 4 “Does God Get What God Wants?” It was a question pointed at a particular theologian that lead to him saying “Farewell” to Rob Bell on his twitter account. Yet, CS Lewis in The Last Battle answers Bell’s question in a much more nuanced fashion. In the book penned by Lewis all of Narnia is battling over its fate, whether or not Tash (the Ba’al false god idol) or The Emperor Across the Sea will have full control over the land. In the end The Emperor Across the Sea and his allies win “Heaven” comes to Narnia and joy abounds, but a servant of Tash has found his way into Narnian heaven. Confused he asks Aslan how he made it into “heaven” and Aslan replies:

Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him, for I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him . . . .

Lewis appears to be taking 1 Samuel 16:7 literally, and his allegory reflects it, to Lewis God judges not the outward appearances but the heart of the person. The servant of Tash was doing good for goodness sake – thinking he was serving Tash, but really Aslan was taking his actions into account and judged him to be righteous. To answer Bell’s question, Lewis in this allegory says a resounding yes.
          These novels have shaped my faith in a way that is very unique, I would be a different person, and would view my faith in a completely different way if these books did not exist. For me, The Chronicles of Narnia count as non-canonical scripture, through them I am “reproved, rebuked, and exhorted with great patience and instruction (2 Tim 4:2-5)”.

Any thoughts, questions, comments or concerns? 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Inclusion is not about Tolerance, it's about Repentance

The IRD recently published a blog post blasting current and former Candler theological students as being intolerant of the beliefs of Rev. Eddie Fox when it comes to LGBT inclusion and the very “practice” of homosexuality. 
One of my major problems with the author’s argument was the false assertion that those who seek to undo the centuries of harm done to the LGBT community are doing it just for the sake of being inclusive. “But isn’t it interesting?  Those who would change Christian sexual doctrine for the sake of tolerance are so openly intolerant?” I’m sorry to inform the IRD that for most progressive Christians, inclusion is not about tolerance - it is about repentance. Repenting of using the Scriptures as a weapon that leads LGBT teens to kill themselves and adults to live “in closets” and in shame; as a tool to separate God’s children from the grace, love, and mercy found within the Church; and failing to read and interpret Scripture in the Spirit through whom it was written. 
Yes, “through whom”, not “in which”; Scripture was written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), and that Spirit is dwelling in and speaking through people to this day – God has not ceased to speak to people through Scripture, reason, tradition, and personal experience. I hate to be the rain on this parade of injustice, but the Holy Spirit is busy breaking the chains of homophobia, in the PCUSA, the Episcopal Church, UCC, Disciples of Christ, ECLA, and even in the United Methodist Church. Though the Church is not a perfect reflection of Christ, through the Holy Spirit it is moving on to perfection or being made perfect in Christ (1 John 4:8).
Repenting is about turning away from wrong doing, and turning towards a life that reflects the life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. A life that is in-tune with the love of the Father as demonstrated in the sending of His beloved Son (John 3:16-17), in-tune with His justice in the saving of the oppressed slaves in Egypt (Exodus), and in-tune with His correction (Acts 10). “What God has made clean, you must not call profane (Acts 10:15b).” For too long we as the Church have been calling people profane, unclean, wicked, abominations, etc. – but in Christ all have been made clean. I’m sorry for those people in the Church who miss the old days when people wouldn’t call them out on calling people profane, when they have been made new in Christ – may God soften hearts, and correct them gently through the example of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. For too long fear of “the other” and of the unknown has been paralyzing the Church from serving those who most need the gospel, but the love of God is casting such fear out – God is calling us to stop living in fear and to start seeking the Spirit of power and love (2 Timothy 1:7). 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Statement of Faith

For my Doctrines & Themes class I had to make a statement of faith that was at the most only one page long. Since I am not very creative when it comes to writing out what I believe - I wrote it out in creedal form. 

I believe:
In the Holy Spirit the Revealer – one with the Creator and the Redeemer
The Holy Spirit is restoring the bond of love, trust, and communication betwixt the Creator and creation
The Revealer speaks through prophets/heretics, music, Scriptures, doctrines, and many other forms of communication

In Jesus the Redeemer – one with the Creator and the Restorer
Who has been revealed to all of humanity by way of the Revealer through Holy Scriptures, Reason, Personal Experiences, and Tradition
The very embodiment of the Creator’s vision for humanity

In God the Creator – the Mother/Father, the Beginning & the End
Through whom all was made and is being made new
Through whom all natural laws have been written
From whom all that is good comes
From whom all love flows

In Holy Scriptures both canonical and non-canonical
All inspired by God and used by God to serve God’s purposes in the world
In the sacredness of all of creation
In the explicit and implicit company of the saints
In the practices of Revelation, Resurrection, Recreation
In not fearing death

And in abundant life

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

LGBT Christians: Brush Off Your Feet

It is very ironic when I tell my LGBT friends to leave their non-affirming churches seeing as I am a Methodist and my denomination is not affirming of LGBT persons at all (albeit the denomination as a whole is at least in discussion about how to better engage the LGBT community & my local church is much more affirming). But I am getting sidetracked – It is my firm belief that LGBT persons should not stay in, tithe at, or participate in religious communities that are not affirming. 
       “Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgment than for that town.” – Matthew 10:11-15
In this passage Jesus is speaking to His apostles about carrying the good news into surrounding towns, and He is careful to tell them not to stay where they are not welcome. I know what you may be thinking how ironic that I’m using the Sodom & Gomorrah reference since the story of Sodom & Gomorrah is typically used against people who are LGBT; but it works really well when you consider Ezekiel 16:49: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” The needy in these church communities are the LGBT youth contemplating suicide because they don’t feel like God loves them but, at the same time the needy in these communities are also the oppressive ministers and congregants using poorly thought out theology to spiritually terrorize minority groups. 
Non-affirming churches are committing the same sins as Sodom by not welcoming, by taking tithes from LGBT Christians and using their funds to promote hatred, by focusing on adjectives like gender, sex, sexuality, class, race, etc and not focusing on the subjects – the people made in the divine image of Almighty God. 
Don’t get me wrong, Jesus at no point says not to share the good news of God’s grace with these unwelcoming cities, and likewise I would say that we should not give up hope on these non-affirming churches. If God can part the Red Sea and even make asses reprimand prophets then surely God is capable of softening hard-hearts, but I don’t believe that LGBT people should be the ones witnessing in these hostile environments, it should be heterosexuals. When God saw the children of Israel being oppressed in Egypt, he didn’t call one of the slaves to talk to Pharaoh; he called Moses, a former prince of Egypt. When God saw that the Israelite spies were in trouble in Jericho God used Rahab, a citizen of that town to save them; God is constantly calling the people in power and in comfortable positions to use their power for good rather than for evil. Justice not oppression. Love and not hate. Love does not excommunicate someone because of whom they are attracted to; love does not use seven verses to shut people out of the faith community overruling Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor as oneself; love does not sit idly by as young LGBT kids leave the pews to be laid in coffins – love speaks truth to power, love embracing all of God’s children, love looks like Jesus.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Orientation at APTS

            Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary (APTS) is a very special seminary in that its orientation lasts for three days. 7:30AM – 5PM, Wednesday to Friday. It was the most tiring educational experience I’ve been through thus far – but it was also extremely refreshing.
            We started on Wednesday with Breakfast and introductions, and let me tell you the entering class of APTS is extremely diverse and very eclectic; I am in very good company here. We moved from breakfast into Morning Worship with Dr. Jennifer Lord. She lead us around Shelton Chapel showing us every nook and cranny, explaining to us what everything was for and expanding on the symbolism of bricks, arches, and stained windows. It was a beautiful prayer service. We went out and met every member of the faculty, got to spend quick session meeting all of the people that would be our instructors for the first semester. We were informed that we would no longer be using APA or MLA writing formats but Turabian. A lot happened on Wednesday. The day was rounded out with an ice cream social catered by Amy’s Ice Cream, it was delicious. The most important part of the social was socializing with current students; it was delightful getting to hear their stories, meet their kids, and most importantly playing with their dogs.
            Thursday was “camp” day. We set out at 8:05AM after breakfast for John Know Ranch. We spent the first 30 minutes or so in prayer, and learning about the camp. Around 9:45is we started our team building exercises which lasted until 12:30. It was so much fun getting to know more about y classmates, and learning how very different we all are, while at the same time seeing the massive similarities between us. The best part was working together to find shade trees to stand under. At lunch I led the group in a rousing rendition of the Johnny Appleseed prayer. After lunch Jackie Saxon discussed with us the spiritual difficulties of attending seminary. She relayed to us the importance of being involved in local churches, and not just using our chapel services as church. We had an hour of free time, which I used to sit in the air-conditioned building while others chose to go out in the heat and hike or swim (crazies). We returned to the seminary around 5ish.
            Friday was the final day and somehow that made it feel the longest. We had breakfast & a prayer service with President Ted Wardlaw. Then we Master in Divinity students were taken to a room to be handed a massive test. The test is issued by the Association of Theological Schools and it gives examples of issues arising in ministry and we had to reply to these issues by bubbling in the answers we most likely would choose. Luckily we have a while to finish it. After that test was put away, another was issued. A writing test – we were instructed to write about an influential person in our life or about an influential book (besides the Bible). It was actually pretty fun since it was such an open topic. We had community lunch, then an orientation to the library. Dr Suzie Parks gave a brief seminar on inclusive and expansive language, which was interesting. The most interesting demonstration came from the department of Ministers Facing Money – which revealed the amount of debt from education alone that our class was carrying (around $475,000 for 43 people). There were more talks, my mind left the building and then my body did too as we all left to go pay our bill for this semester.

            I found the whole experience to be very difficult, enriching, and completely inexplicable. I was made tired physically, while spiritually I felt refreshed, it was almost like those times when I went to summer camp with youth groups. Yet at the same time I learned a lot that weighed heavy on my mind. What if I am wasting my time here? What if I never get ordained? What if God was calling me elsewhere and this is just a three-year detour? Questions that will be answered soon enough I guess. But for now I’m trying to learn the Hebrew alphabet and vowel forms.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why I am doing this.

            Next week I will be graduating from the University of North Texas which of course prompts the question: “What are you doing next?” I typically have two different answers, to my own shame response 1: “I’m going to Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary for a dual-degree in Divinity and Social Work.” Response 2 is, “I’m going to grad school in Austin.”
Response 1 typically elicits these replies:
a.      “Oh you’re going to be a pastor/priest that’s great!’
b.      “Oh…you’re going to be a pastor – what do you think about the Church’s opinion on __________?”
a.      Homosexuality (DOMA, Prop 8, marriage equality, LGBT homelessness, LGBT suicide, etc.)
b.      Women
                                                                                  i.     Ordination
                                                                                 ii.     Reproductive Rights
                                                                               iii.     Pay inequity
c.      Race Relations/Slavery
d.      Palestine/Israeli Relations
e.      War
f.       Other Religions
g.      Etc.
c.      “You’re too smart to waste your talents on the Church.”
d.      “Good luck with that…”
Response 2 typically elicits these replies:
a.      “That’s great! We need more social workers.”
b.      “You’re going to UT, my grandkid goes there too, look out for __.”
c.      “You’ll be so great at that.”
Honestly I like giving the second response more, not only because I like being encouraged, but I am also tired of defending the Church. I went to Christian school from Pre-K to 8th grade, and we were constantly being taught apologetics, or ways to defend the faith. Quite frankly, I am so tired of defending God, God is supposed to be my shield and my defense (Psalm 7:10) not the other way around. But I digress; my faith should not revolve around defending God or defending the Church. So for years now, I’ve given up defending that God and defending the Church. One of the reasons I want so much to faithfully live out my call is to help make the Church an institution that no longer needs defending because it faithfully living out the call of following Christ’s example.
            Now to the questions of why I am going to seminary and why I am seeking ordination; the answer is really simple and easy: Because I am called to. Isaiah said it best, “Here am I Lord, send me (Isaiah 6:8)” and like Isaiah I may have accepted God’s call on my life without fully knowing what I was getting into. I am going to seminary because I felt called to, this was the next step I felt the Spirit leading me to. Wherever He (or She) leads me I’ll go…

I first felt/heard the call to ministry in the Summer of 2006 – I had no idea that I would wind up in the UMC or that I would wind up staying in the South, that the Presbyterians would be successful at luring me into their seminary, or that I would wind up so socially progressive in comparison to my upbringing. I had no idea that God would lead me through Baylor, to ACC, to UNT, to APTS. I honestly had no idea that I would actually have to move somewhere in this faith journey, I thought that being called meant I had already arrived; thank God that I haven’t arrived yet. Thank God that this journey is never ending. I am thankful to God, that I have been called to walk alongside others as they walk this journey as well. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

My 1st Beyoncé Concert Experience!

"God is real, and God lives inside of me and inside of all of us and it doesn't matter where I am, I know that, and I feel it, like right now I'm hot - it's a tingling. It's love. I feel it when I look at my child, I feel it when I look at my husband. It's God." 
Beyoncé Knowles Carter from Life is but a Dream

            I love Beyoncé, for anyone that knows me knows this is the biggest understatement of all-time. Since 1998’s hit single from Destiny’s Child “No, no, no”; to 2000’s “Jumpin’ jumpin’” and “Say My Name”; to 2001’s “Survivor”, “Independent Woman Part 1”, and “Bootylicious”. I loved her in Destiny’s Child then in 2003 my favorite song, “Crazy in Love” was released I did that “uh-oh” dance almost every day. I have every one of her albums, I collect magazines with here on the cover, I even have a book about her, plus she’s Methodist, I love Beyoncé.
            Last night my deep love for Beyoncé came to a climax as I got to witness her perform live for the first time ever! Dallas, TX 8PM American Airlines Center and the place was packed. We had made the pilgrimage from across Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and a few other states to see the woman heralded as the best live performer of my generation. I was seated in section 117 row A seat 1, directly facing the 2nd stage (yes she has two stages). Someone yelled in my ear, “Is that Jay-Z?” I looked and sure as the sun rises there was his definitive nose, and his goofy grin starting at the stage waiting for her wife, and partner of 13 years. I screamed, “Hey Jay!” He turned and saw me jumping up and down frantically, laughed then waved back. I was star-struck, not because I’m that big of a Jay-Z fan, but because I love his wife more than I love ice cream or sweet tea. Loud drum noises starting coming from the stage and the whole area was filled with piercing screams and tears as we saw a canvas drop then get pulled away into the rafters. Boom. Boom. Boom. Up pops Beyoncé with flames and sparks and the crowd looses that last remains of sanity they were maintaining. She didn’t speak she just stared at us, almost like she was absorbing the applause to charge her batteries from the show she did the night before. “You ready?” she questioned as Run the World started. She just started dancing and singing as if it’s perfectly normal for a woman in heels to sing and dance and maintain perfect pitch without running out of breath or taking an intermission. From the Run the World she seamlessly transitioned into End of Time, I was trying to keep up with the moves, since I was fortunate enough to have no one sitting next to me. I and the drunken White women behind me were dancing like we were Beyoncé, singing loudly, as if people had come to see and hear us.
            “This isn’t a show for you to sit down and get comfortable in your seats! I want you to get up and dance like you’re the only person in the room.” I honestly had no patience for people last night, showing up late as if they didn’t pay a ton of money to come, saying excuse me to get past me when they saw I was dancing, Instagraming and Facebooking when they should have been dancing, screaming, laughing, and crying. I was too through, until this mother in my section noticed the empty seat next to me and sent down her daughter who had to be around 9-10ish and this little girl was getting it. When I say getting it, I mean she could have been on the stage and people would have gone nuts to see her dance and hear her sing. She and I were kindred spirits, yelling to gain the attention of Beyoncé, Jay-Z, the dancers – we danced together and high-fived after Single Ladies. I have no idea what her name is, but for two hours she was my best friend, we were like peas in a pod, enjoying the concert together.
            What’s that? Not a bird or a plane, it’s just Beyoncé flyng across the arena to get to the second stage. That guitar starts up and we all knew what song was next. “Now’s my favorite part of the show, cause y’all get to sing to me. I know y’all know the words – sing!” Our response, “To the left, to the left, everything you own in the box to the left…” It was almost like a liturgical call and response. Yet more than any church I had ever been to, this was a place of freedom, freedom to dance like no one was watching, freedom to sing loud and of key, freedom to trust a stranger with your child,  freedom to laugh and cry without judgment, we were all family last night and it was beautiful.
            Harnessing the power of your body requires responsibility seduction is much more than beauty, it is generous, it is intelligence, it is mysterious, it is exclusive.” And just like that Queen Bey gave kids a better reason to save sex for marriage than the public school system in Texas, she busts out with Naughty Girl, and as she danced flirtatiously for all to see, everyone in the arena knew that her body was her own, and that it is exclusively for one man in the room, as his was exclusively for hers. I have problems with abstinence only sexual education in schools, because it makes sex something shameful, which only means that it is talked about in hushed tones in locker rooms and bathrooms without adult guidance and wisdom, Beyoncé bypassed every parent in the room and said to every little girl in that room, love yourself, love your body, but use it responsibly. Your body is to be exclusive; your body is a temple. “When you are with the right person it brings out the best in you.” It could have been a light sermon on sexuality and the importance of marriage, but it was unassuming and vulnerable, and personal like all discussions of human sexuality should be.
            “If I should stay, I would only be in your way…” the tribute to Whitney Houston lead into her ultimate closing song Halo. She ran across the stage serenaded thousands of us, sticking the microphone in the face of this young man who took it away, hitting every note like he knew she was coming for him, he did a victory dance as she left for the other side of the stage. She held up the mic to a fearful girl, “Don’t be scared lil mama”, the girls sang softly at Beyoncé’s urging. Screams came from off to my right, Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s family were sneaking away before the show ended so of course I yelled out “Bye Jay!” we’re best friends he just doesn’t know it yet. The show ended and I was shocked it had been slightly over two hours. I just sat back, after dancing and singing my heart I felt even more energized, more gleeful, more excited, more me than I felt coming in.
             I wouldn’t be a good Christian blogger if I didn’t somehow tie this in with a moral of the story. Which quite frankly I thought I was doing throughout the whole blog, but lest you forget let me end with this: like Beyoncé, other Christians should be vocal about their faith, yet not shoving it down people’s throat; they should be humble, yet not feigning modesty – if your bad and you know it please stand up and own it; they should create safe spaces for people to be vulnerable, yet be responsible; they should love who God made them to be, “Flaws and All”. Most of all, they should be prepared to work tirelessly for the sake of the Kingdom, like Beyoncé works tirelessly for her fans (mostly me) – and  be prepared to answer the question God asks all who are listening, “You ready?” May our answer always be “Yes”.