Faith, Writing, and Insane Amounts of Coffee

FFWgr

Listening to Tara Isabella Burton’s presentation at #FFWgr

I have to tell you all about the incredible time I had last week. Every two years, Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan hosts the Festival of Faith + Writing — a conference where readers, writers, and language enthusiasts of all stripes gather to talk about all things faith and writing. There are keynote speakers, panel discussions, poetry readings, and an exhibit hall that will make any bibliophile beam with equal parts excitement and envy. There are just so. many. books.

I’d never been to Grand Rapids before so, naturally, I had to do some prior research on coffee shops to start my mornings. Madcap Coffee is the big name in town, but I loved Rowster and Lightfast Coffee + Art as well.

After being sufficiently caffeinated (and then some), I was so excited to learn and be amazed at the truth, grace, and creativity oozing from every corner of the Calvin College campus — a phrase that is admittedly odd for a Lutheran pastor to write, but I call it like I see it.

Highlights for me were getting to see, hear, and meet Zadie Smith and George Saunders. They are two of my favorite writers and to be able to hear them and learn from them was such a cool experience.

The other incredible highlights were the workshops — particularly my lineup on Friday. I started out with an early morning panel about writing/being prophetic with Drew Hart, Austin Channing, and Aiden Enns. I’ve been reading a lot about race, slavery, stand your ground culture, and have been wrestling with ways to use the space my privilege affords me to work for justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and my sisters and brothers in Christ. This panel brought up so much for me around truth-telling, naming the lies our culture and privilege tell us, and practices for listening to and writing about these truths and lies in ways that are life-giving for people who are marginalized. I will be forever grateful.

On the drive home on Sunday, I realized that not only am I a better pastor for having been there, but I am a better reader, writer, and person for having shared that space for those days.

A huge blessing of these conferences is all of the conversations and stream of ideas that begin and extend into my everyday life back home. I’m excited to continue these conversations and deepen this learning for the sake of wholeness and life.

Any time you want to talk about this kind of stuff — faith, writing, race, privilege, gender, forgiveness, etc.  — let me know. I’m happy to listen and share in that conversation.

Oh man! I didn’t even get in to how Jeff Chu, Kelly Brown Douglas, and Shane McRae took me to SCHOOL about the nature of forgiveness and reconciliation. That’ll be up next. Until then… Be blessed. And let’s start the countdown until the Festival of Faith + Writing in 2018!

Cheers,
Eric

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In Which I Am an Unabashed Jesus Feminist

I love writing. And I love reading. But more than anything I love reading great writing. And Sarah Bessey is a flat-out GREAT writer.

I’d been following her blog for a couple years now and have always appreciated how she manages to simultaneously speak with such passion and grace. She has a way of teaching through storytelling that makes you forget how much you’re learning and simply enjoy the lesson. [As you read her blog, you’ll notice the “In Which” in this post’s title is entirely unoriginal to me.]

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women (Howard Books, released on November 5, 2013) is her latest project and it is a wonderful contribution to the conversations surrounding faith, gender, church, and the Bible.

She starts [as the title probably implies] with Jesus. She weaves her own narrative of growing up in an incredibly faithful, yet by most standards “ordinary” family. One of the first lines to make me laugh out loud was when she described her dad. She says,

My dad is a true Canadian kid, deeply distrustful of religion, Toronto, politicians, and the Establishment.

She goes on to talk about life growing up in the church as one where women were constantly confined to certain parameters based on the fact that they were a woman, rather than where their gifts may lie. In many, though certainly not all, churches women are consistently put into boxes within the church. They’re told they can be involved in children’s ministry, hospitality ministry, the women’s Bible study ministry, the quilting and sewing ministry, the keep the coffee warm ministry, and on and on it goes. Regardless of their strengths and passions, women are confined to certain boxes, and those boxes limit their participation in the broader Church. And Bessey’s point is this: the Kingdom of God is missing out on some seriously talented and passionate people because of it!

A favorite part of mine [perhaps because of my love of lists-as-evidence] is in Chapter Six when she goes through the narrative of Scripture through the history of the church describing the incredibly significant roles women have played in the history of our faith. Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Jael, Ruth, Rahab, Esther, Hannah, Tamar were a few of the significant women of the Hebrew Bible. Moving through to the New Testament women like Priscilla, Lydia, Mary, Martha, the Samaritan woman, Mary Magdalene, Euodia, and Junia. She then considers women of modern church history like Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa, and Harriet Tubman.

When we think about the impact that women have had throughout the history of the faith, it should be overwhelming evidence against trying to strictly define what women can or cannot do in the life of the body of Christ.

But so often it isn’t. And that’s where the feminist part of this book comes in.

I have to admit that I was ready and waiting for the unabashed feminism to come in with a hyper-aggressive, demanding approach. But:

1) That’s not Sarah Bessey’s style.

And

2) As Sarah points out, that’s not the way of the Jesus Feminist.

The wonder of this book is in its subtlety. I was barely aware that I was becoming a Jesus Feminist until I closed the book and I could feel the tension in my muscles when I considered the injustice of the Church telling women what they can or cannot do because of their womanhood.

It doesn’t necessarily matter where you fall on political lines or religious affiliations, this is an important book for everyone to read. The writing is both poetic and challenging, but espouses a kind of humility that is incredibly rare.

It’s available on Amazon or at your local bookstore. Even though I was given an advanced ebook copy, I still ordered my own copy. You should too. Buy it. Read it. Buy it for your friends to read. Buy it for your pastor to read. Then talk about it. These are the conversations that are worth having.

Cheers,
Eric

I received an advance copy of Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey from NetGalley in return for my review. There was nothing that stipulated that it had to be positive, only honest. No other compensation was provided.

Jars of Clay & A New Language for Church

This past Friday night, my wife and I went to a Jars of Clay concert at a church in Mesa. We got the “VIP” package which included participating in a Q&A session beforehand with the band. I was really excited for this because I think a lot of Christian music artists focus more on the Christian and less on the music. But not Jars of Clay. They have substance. They talk about suffering and brokenness with an honesty that’s pretty unparalleled in the Christian music scene.

When we got to the Q&A session most of the people were asking questions like “What’s *insert song that’s meant to be ambiguous* about?” It was pretty frustrating. But one of the things that stuck out to me was that even though the questions were awfully shallow, some of the responses and stories had some incredible depth.

One of the things that stuck out was when Jars of Clay lead singer Dan Haseltine got the microphone and talked about how the language of our church has become so toxic. The language of our church has become one of exclusion. That’s not good. The language of our church ought to be language of recovery. That really resonated with me. So often the majority of Christians take this accusatory look toward culture — holding everyone to some sort of unspoken moral standard, just waiting to tear down. That doesn’t help anybody.

But the language of recovery comes from a place humility. It acknowledges that we are all displaced from where we ought to be. It starts with acknowledging the brokenness of all, which is where so many people come up short. It takes that attitude that ‘I’m more than happy to point out your brokenness, but don’t you dare point out mine!’ It’s so unhealthy.

There’s one song that really embodies this idea of recovery and what recovery looks like. It’s the Jars of Clay song called “Oh My God”. In an interview they described this song as all of their laments to God — all the things that make them say “Oh my God”. Check it out! (It’s about 6 minutes long, but the verses and the build at the end are WELL worth the wait.)

 

What are your impressions of the song? Is there any language of recovery in your church? What do you think that would look like?

Cheers,
Eric

An Incredible Story from Apartheid

I think in our modern time we often confuse the ideas of justice and revenge. Lately I have been reading the latest biography of Desmond Tutu. He has been such an inspiring person to me as someone who truly understands what it means to live a kind of revenge-less justice. The stories that come out of apartheid in South Africa are so often heart-breaking, but with the leadership of people like Bishop Tutu, the ending of the story of Apartheid is much better than one could ever hope. Following the fall of Apartheid, Bishop Tutu began the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that flexed the muscles of restorative justice over and against the oft-used retributive justice.

I wanted to share an incredible story I read about what happened one day at a hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Here it is.

A frail black woman stands slowly to her feet. She is about 70 years of age. Facing her from across the room are several white police officers, one of whom, Mr. van der Broek, has just been tried and found implicated in the murders of both the woman’s son and her husband some years before.

It was indeed Mr. Van der Broek, it has now been established, who had come to the woman’s home a number of years back, taken her son, shot him at point-blank range and then burned the young man’s body on a fire while he and his officers partied nearby.

Several years later, Van der Broek and his security police colleagues had returned to take away her husband as well. For many months she heard nothing of his whereabouts. Then, almost two years after her husband’s disappearance, Van der Broek came back to fetch the woman herself. How vividly she remembers that evening, going to a place beside a river where she was shown her husband, bound and beaten, but still strong in spirit, lying on a pile of wood. The last words she heard from his lips as the officers poured gasoline over his body and set him aflame were, “Father, forgive them.”

And now the woman stands in the courtroom and listens to the confessions offered by Mr. Van derBroek. A member of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission turns to her and asks, “So, what do you want? How should justice be done to this man who has so brutally destroyed your family?” “I want three things,” begins the old woman, calmly but confidently. “I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.”

She pauses, then continues. “My husband and son were my only family. I want, secondly, therefore, for Mr. Van der Broek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have remaining within me.”

“And, finally,” she says, “I want a third thing. I would like Mr. Van der Broek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. van der Broek in my arms, embrace him and let him know that he is truly forgiven.”

I think it’s an incredible story that really speaks to what can happen when we put things like forgiveness and justice ahead of revenge. How do you think we can do this? What might this mean for us in our daily interactions? How can we move past our seemingly insatiable need for revenge and into a place that acknowledges, as Tutu says, that there is no future without forgiveness?

Cheers,
Eric

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