Which Came First?

It’s Easter, and I once again find myself surrounded with eggs. Hardboiled eggs, painted eggs, Cadbury Creme Eggs… I’m eating Mini Eggs as I write.

About a week ago, CadburyUK tweeted “Which came first, the mini chicken or the Mini Egg?” A cute promotion to be sure, but I am sitting here wondering if this might be one of the most important questions I have been asked all week: “Which came first?”

Easter Sunday I found myself in church singing familiar hymns about God’s faithfulness, listening to the story of God’s promises made evident to us via an empty tomb. And I couldn’t help but question why anyone would ever believe such a ridiculous story, when it is so much more plausible that Jesus’ body was stolen than that he rose from the dead.

Does our faith truly rely on this story?
Or does this story rely on our faith?

My belief that Christ is Risen leads me to exclaim “Alleluia!” I am assured that God is faithful and just, and that God’s steadfast love endures forever. And, I also know that it is only because I have trust in God’s faithfulness that I believe the story I am told about the empty tomb.

So, which came first?

Rust & Wrinkles

When I bought my 1999 Acura 1.6 EL with a standard transmission it was a pretty big deal. And ever since I stopped stalling at every stop sign I have felt pretty proud driving it.  This past month my trusty vehicle even made it through an 8,000 km road trip. That’s 5,000 miles, my American friends!
 
But here’s the issue: I’m not proud of it anymore.
 
It started earlier this year when someone saw my car and said “That’s your car? I guess I don’t have to worry what you’d think about my ride.”
 
And it wasn’t even meant to be rude. It was like she was saying “Oh, you don’t really care about what you drive either.”
 
But I was insulted… so apparently I do.
 
It just came as a surprise.  I kept putting miles on my sweet car and suddenly, one day, I’m driving a cracked, dented, rusted out crap-box.
 
And so I make myself feel better by telling myself that one day I will get another car.  Then I will roll down the windows without fear that they won’t roll back up.  I will pop the hood without the use of pliers. I will look in the rearview mirror and…
 
Have you ever looked at yourself in your rearview mirror on a sunny day? I have, and this is what my mind did:
 
“This can’t be right. There are two, no three, no FOUR separate wrinkle lines on either side of my face when I smile –  and that’s not counting the ones by my eyes! And my skin… it looks so… transparent!”
 

It came as a surprise. I kept living my life full of dramatic facial expressions when suddenly, one day, I’m rocking a face that rivals my fingertips after a soak in the tub.

And I realize that although a new car may be in my future, a new body will not.

So I find a new way to deal.  I smile as big as I can and look hard at those lines.  I imagine how many times I must have smiled like this to create such resilient facial memory.  Next I frown. A long crooked line threatens to break my forehead in half and I say a short prayer of thanks for all the hard and painful moments I have made it through.  I raise my eyebrows and it looks like waves on the beach.  The beach is my favorite place.

This face of mine is the product of a bazillion little moments that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

And as for my car… it is daily reminder of one of my favorite quotes.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and thieves break in and steal… wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”   –  Matthew the Apostle

Uncertainty and Silence

In my work with SafeTeen, my role is to offer tools to help youth make decisions that are healthy and right for them. When it comes to sex we talk about how it is not just our bodies that need to be ready, but our hearts and minds as well. Uncertainty in any of these areas at any time is a good sign that you’re not ready.  If someone else is involved, he or she also has to be ready, and the only thing that means yes is yes.  No, I’m not sure, not now, and even silence very simply mean no.

Reading Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber gave me a whole new perspective on these important truths.

Steingraber is an ecologist, and this book is her personal investigation of cancer and the environment, motivated by her own diagnosis and eventual recovery from bladder cancer 30 years earlier. Her book is a compelling.  She looks into the causes of cancer in our everyday environments, our ‘safe places’ made toxic in order to keep our lawns green and our bathrooms clean.

So how is it still legal to produce, sell, purchase and use these products?

Steinberg explains that there are many chemical carcinogens “that remain unidentified, unmonitored, and at large.” This means that there is little known about them and therefore there is “no evidence for harm.”  This in turn is sometimes translated into “the chemical is harmless.” [1]  You can see the fatal flaw.

The thing is, there is evidence for harm.  We see it in our bodies, in the air, and on the earth.  We are uncertain whether our products and practices are safe, yet we wait for statistical proof of harm.

But “how can silence be statistically evaluated?”[2]

Is it plausible that until plant and animal life are flourishing, creation is simply stating ‘no?’

 

[1] Steingraber, Living Downstream, p. 102.

[2] Steingraber, Living Downstream, p. 86.

Buy Less, Use Less, Want Less

Task:  Try out a new care of creation practice for the course “Religious Education in Relation to Creation.”

Goal:   Address over-consumption – buy less, use less, want less.

I am an addict when it comes to consuming.

I’m not trying to be overdramatic, and I by no means want to minimize what it means to have an addiction.

I honestly believe that most people who would read this blog are in the same situation – we have succumbed to a debilitating addiction in our society and we can’t by our own power find a way out. We can’t stop consuming.

Unless I consciously take the time (every time) to remind myself otherwise, here are some things that I believe:

1)   My life would be easier if I had more money.

2)   I would be happier if I had certain things that I don’t already own.

3)   I’ve earned and deserve the things that I do already own.

Daily, these ideas are reinforced by friends, strangers, fictional television characters, 2D advertisements, myself…

But I know that for the most part, all of the statements are wrong, because:

1)   Life wasn’t easier when I was making money in a career instead of spending it in grad school

2)   New t-shirts, kitchen gadgets, or colorful markers do make me happy, but not long-term happy. Sometimes only 1 day, or 2 hours, or 5 minutes happy.

3)   I don’t deserve anything that comes with the following associated costs: human rights violations, animal cruelty, or environmental damage.

I know all of this, yet I continue to consume. Let the practice begin…

Why Read The Bible?

It’s a question I have asked at least as many times as I have been asked.

Here’s the truth:

  • The genealogies don’t really do it for me.
  • It’s not always clear if I’m reading history or fantasy, and I like things clear.
  • The promotion of violence against women is appalling.
  • Some of God’s Old Testament wrath is impossible to make sense of.
  • Some of Jesus’ teachings are equally confusing.
  • The sheer size of the book is rather daunting. (Maybe if the individual books of the Bible were released one by one like the Harry Potter series… or if there was a collector’s series that we could trade like Hockey cards…)

There are countless books by talented and faithful writers in my own time and context that speak to me of who God is; that inspire me to live out my faith in a way that makes a positive difference in the world.

So why is reading the bible important?

FEMINARIAN’S TOP 5 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD READ THE BIBLE

1. YOU WON’T BE LEFT IN THE DARK

When the world ends, all those who are holding their bibles will be plucked up by angels and brought to their glorious heavenly home, while all others will be left behind to suffer the same fate as their ignored and forgotten bibles: set motionless on shelves to be covered in dust, and boxed up in dank, dingy basements and attics.

Actually, I meant it figuratively.

You know that feeling when someone makes a Star Wars (or Seinfeld, or Simpson) reference and everyone seems to get it but you?

Well, you wanna know what’s referenced in pop culture even more than those three combined?  That’s right – the Bible.

Knowing the Bible means you won’t be left in the dark when people talk about the Jesus symbolism in the Batman series or offer the character Aslan from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a refreshing image of God.

You may be surprised how many authors, directors, songwriters, screenwriters and playwrights draw upon biblical imagery and stories in their own works, and how interesting it can be to enter the conversation.  The Bible still is a big deal out there, and it’s not too late to jump on the bandwagon.

2. IT BELONGS TO YOU

Every book has an intended audience.  There are textbooks for students, birding guides for ornithologists, and pregnancy manuals for expecting parents.

But the Bible was written for everyone across time and place.  It does not belong solely to certain religious groups.  It is fair game for everyone to read, experience and interpret.

Just as you don’t need a physics degree to talk about and experience gravity – you don’t need a theological degree to talk about and experience the Bible.

It might be difficult, even impossible at times, to believe that it was written for you. This is because your life is so different than the writers could have possibly imagined.   This doesn’t change the intent: it was written to speak to you.

3. IT WILL MAKE GRANDMA AND GRANDPA HAPPY

Isn’t it time you were married?  When I am going to be a grandparent?  Have you been reading your bible?

At least you have a greater measure of control over that last one.

Having complained about this type of interrogation before, I am often told, “They just care about you and want what’s best for you.”  And so, for just a moment – let me entertain that thought.

There are some things I have learned in life that I wish everyone knew because it would make their lives and our world better. If only they were written down and passed on from generation to generation to generation…

This must be how the biblical writers felt as they captured for us the stories that tell us about who and how God is in relationship with creation.  They wanted to make our lives and our world better.  They care about us and want what’s best for us, just like our grandparents.

I’ve gotta hand it to them – the book has stood the test of time.  Perhaps it’s worth perusing?

4. RECLAIMING ANTIQUES IS SO HIP RIGHT NOW

The bible certainly is an antique.  Now imagine it is that ‘great find’ in the rummage sale that just needs a little attention.  Sure it’s been sullied over time – but what if it was stripped down and refinished?  It might be just what you’ve been looking for.

What if you stripped away all the ways the bible has been used to justify violence in our world?

What if you stripped away the suppressive patriarchal language?

What if you came at the bible with curiosity about what exists beneath all the layers of misinterpretation and injustice?

Could you find the treasure within?

5. IT WILL KEEP YOU HONEST

Nothing can keep us honest about our tendency to create God in our own image like reading the bible.

In a time when slavery was commonplace and cattle had more rights than women, the biblical writers told of a God who spoke in ways they could understand.

We too, can only speak in ways that we understand.  So despite our best efforts, the story that we tell about God is a limited by our own ability to vision.

The bible is an in-your-face example of our limits in expressing who God is.  We must not for a second think that we are doing a better job than the biblical writers simply because we’ve fixed a few things. Still we must continue to do our best: seeking to discover how God is speaking to us through its pages.

SO LET IT ENTER THE COMPETITION 

So much of our time and energy is given to or taken by industries and corporations that have their own best interests in mind.  They too tell us stories about what will make us happy and how to make the world a better place.  And they’re usually incorrect.

What if we let the biblical story enter the competition?

What if we place the refinished chair from our great-grandmothers house next to the IKEA couch to see how it fares?

For the Love of God

At Advent Vespers this week we heard how an angel came to Mary to tell her that even though she was a virgin, she would bear a child (who turns out to be Jesus, BTW).

It’s an incredible story. (As in –  it’s entirely difficult to believe and entirely awesome at the same time!)  And my favorite part is when Mary completely embraces everything that is happening and says things like: “My soul keeps shouting out how great You are Lord!” and “You clearly love me and have blessed me  – let’s DO this!”

It’s totally absurd, and it makes me wish I could be as confident as Mary in the wackiness of my own faith.

But that’s not what this post is about.

There came a moment in tonight’s reading when those same words that bring me such joy made me want to vomit.

To Mary’s question about how she could be pregnant since she is a virgin, the angel replies:

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” Luke 1:35

As these words were spoken, my mind suddenly interrupted with another declaration.  It was jarring and was spoken in voices I had heard before.  It claimed: “The Holy Spirit raped Mary.”

I heard my atheist undergrad professor say it mockingly, and my seminary professor saying it nonchalantly.  I heard my classmate saying it matter-of-factly.  And I heard no one taking these words seriously enough.

Rape is not a word I use very often. I know it can trigger all sorts of emotions in people.  That fact alone tends to outweigh any need I felt to use the word, regardless of how correct the usage might have been.

But this isn’t just about word choice. 

In what goes down as God’s most creative plot turn in all history, God comes to the world as a baby.  How does God pull this off?  With the help of one strong, determined, faith-filled woman named Mary.

In a Bible full of stories about men, this is truly a story about a woman.  It’s the story of a woman whom God chooses as a partner in making the most incredible happen.

I hate to think that we’d have such a hard time with a powerful woman that we’d try to disempower her by raping her through our exegesis.

Let me be perfectly clear.  If this horrific hypothesis is true, we have a God who could think of no better plan than to have Mary raped in order to birth our Savior.  If this horrific hypothesis is true, the beloved Magnificat is a song of a woman graciously and exuberantly submitting to brutal violence.

Do you see why I wanted to vomit?

Here’s an idea: If you feel the need to be shocking or contrary – save it for another text.

For the love of God, take your sassy attitude where it can do some good. There are plenty of other stories in the Bible that could use a new interpretation.