Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Putting the Holy Back in Holy Week

My goodness, but the devil is getting loud these days.  Telling us to confuse life for death, and death for life.  Convincing us that to disagree is to hate, that to love is to license, that to kill is to free from slavery.  Ramping up tension and anxiety and anger, so that we cannot see ourselves, or our neighbor, or Christ, during this Holy Week.

Make no mistake, there are vital, critical issues at stake in the public sphere.  We may all disagree to varying degrees on the correct path forward, on what constitutes Truth and Life, on the meaning of words like love and freedom, life and death, rights and license.  Those are important conversations to be had, particularly when they can be had in a mature, adult, intelligent, respectful fashion.

But this week, these are not the most important conversations.  The colors, the pictures, the votes, the manifestos, the righteous indignation, the accounts of suffering…they all pale in comparison to the suffering endured by the one who is Truth and Love himself, Jesus Christ.

This suffering was endured for you, oh suffering one.  This suffering was endured to take away your suffering.  And when you know that, really know it, soak it up for just a few days, it does change your perspective.  It doesn’t make the hurts and wrongs and the abuses of this world go away.  Not at all, but just for a moment, it can show you the truest, real-est, most hopeful, life-filled thing – person – you will ever encounter.  

And the devil knows it.  The devil is a jealous and wily one.  He/she/it wants you to look anywhere but the cross, anywhere but the crown of thorns, anywhere but the host and chalice, anywhere, ultimately, but the empty tomb.  And so the devil ramps up his attacks.  What are normally sly little whispers in our ears (…did God really say…..?) become loud shouts, death throes, the anger and screaming of one who might very well win the round, but will always lose the match.  

So defy the devil this week, Church.  Put down your swords, and take up the Word of God.  Put down your pictures and take up an icon, or better yet, your cross.  Put down your anger and take up grief.  Put down your shouts and take up prayers.  Put down your indignation and take up love.  Put down your despair and take up hope.
Know that the gates of hell cannot, and will not, prevail – so have a blessed, reverent, and holy, Holy Week. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

On Being a Good Woman

Are you the “perfect woman”? 
                Do you have every verse of Proverbs 31
                Do you have a husband
                                That you
                                                Cook for
                                                Clean for
                                                Pray for
                                                Submit to
                                                Sometimes resent and
                                                Sometimes annoy but still
                                                Make love to every night
                                                Loves you
                                                Sacrifices for you
                                                Is the head of you and your household
                                                Even when he
                                                Says or does dumb things
Do you have six children
                                That you
                                                Nurse until they are 3 years old
                                                Teach to be perfect Christians
                                                Love you
                                                Call you “Mommy”
                                                Get fingerpaint on your walls and
                                                Spit-up on your clothes
                                                Forget field trip permission forms
                                                And ask you to decorate impossible cakes for their 

Do you know how blessed you are…to know who you are…to be a good woman?

Are you the perfect woman?
                Are you the quintessential feminist who
                                Burns your bras
                                Supports reproductive rights and
                                Women’s health care
                Do you have a career that is
                                Difficult to juggle with your 2.1 kids
                                                And so you lobby and
                                                Blog and
                                                Facebook and
                                                In support of
                                                                Equal rights and
                                                                Equal pay and
                                                                More support and
                                                                More respect
                Have you made peace with
                                Your genitals and
                                Your sexuality and
                                Your right to good sex
                Do you know that God wants you to be
                                Stunningly orgasmic
                                Fertile on your terms
Do you have academic credentials from
                                All the right schools
                                With all the right mentors
                                                Who taught you
                                                                That once you were enslaved
                                                                In bondage
                                                                Held captive
                                                By the patriarchal traditions of the world
                                                And now you know that
                                                God wants you
                                                                To be free
                                                                To be a good woman

Do you know how blessed you are…to know who you are …to be a good woman?

This is for the woman who is not a good woman…
                She has no husband and
                No children
                She likes bras because
                Her boobs hurt without them
                She has a career but
                Hates Oprah
                She has no voice in the mommy wars but is
                Tugged by both sides
                She knows that “blessed are the wombs that never bore and the 
                breasts that never nursed”
                Means her
                But she cannot support the death of children she would gladly bear 
                and nurse
                Blessed or not
                Even in defense of women
This is for the woman who is not a good woman…
She gets looks from the good women
                Looks that silently and
                Accusingly and
                Painfully ask
                What is wrong with you
                Why aren’t you a good woman
                Don’t you love God
                Don’t you love yourself

This is for the woman who is not a good woman…
                She silently
                Trods along behind her God
                She wonders if she loves Him enough
                Or if she loves herself enough
                And maybe that is why
                She is not a good woman
                Why she is alone
                Knowing hardly a one who can
                Understand or

This is for the woman who is not a good woman…
                She continues to trod
                Because God or
                Fate or
                Destiny or
                Has given her no other option
And so she tries
Although it is hard
                To trust that His promises are
                For her
                Even for her
                The woman who is not a good woman…

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lutherans and the (new) Pope

So...Lutherans have historically had a tenuous-at-best relationship with the head of the Roman Catholic Church.  Say what you will about Martin Luther (and we Lutherans ought not pretend that he was blameless), Leo X was hardly a model of Christian virtue, grace, or pastoral care.  It was the headbutting between Luther and Leo that ultimately led to the split of the Church.

Luther believed that Pope Leo (and, when you get right down to it, the whole office of the papacy) was the Anti-christ, because he/it obscured the gospel of God's grace, and laid too many legalistic burdens at the feet of the faithful.

This might well have been true, particularly of Leo X and a few other spectacular papal failures - in fact, a dear and very Catholic friend of mine has argued that what Martin Luther needed was not a kick in the pants or threats of excommunication, but rather, "a good pope."  Hmm...

So here we are, nearly 500 years later, and much has changed among Catholics and Lutherans alike.  There has been a growing consensus, in the intervening 500 years, that we are more alike than might be initially thought - if for no other reason than the sacramental understanding we have of the way in which God works.  Of course, there are other similarities - the Real Presence we believe comes in those sacraments (at least 2 of them!),the common language of Scripture, the liturgical form of worship we share, and above all, a reliance on, and a focus on, Jesus Christ as the only hope for a hurting and broken world.

And so, 3 days ago, the College of Cardinals elected a new pope - the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio, who has taken the name Francis, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.  By all accounts, Pope Francis is a humble, caring, pastoral man.  It is said than in Buenos Aires, he lived in a small apartment rather than the fancy bishop's residence, cooking his own meals, answering his own door, and taking the bus to work each day.  He apparently has visited hospitals full of AIDS victims and other seriously ill children.  He has criticized Marxism, but is also suspicious of capitalism.  From the first hours of his papacy, it became clear that he would eschew many of the traditional trappings of the office, from bejeweled clothing and accessories to servants and drivers to physical separation from and elevation above his fellow cardinals.  These signs and symbols of power Pope Francis seems not only uninterested in, but confused by. (Why wouldn't he go pay his own hotel bill the morning after his election?  Aren't we supposed to set a good example?)

Pope Francis is also deeply orthodox, which in modern parlance is code for "pro-life, pro-marriage, anti-women priests, and anti-contraception." (How come nobody ever complains that the pope is orthodox in his approach to use of the Trinitarian formula in baptism?)  His take on these issues is formed, one hopes, less by an attraction to rules for rules' sake, but by a coherent theological understanding of proper stewardship of God's gifts to humanity.  (Whether one agrees with that theology is another thing entirely, but it is hardly an arbitrary imposition of "hateful rules".)

So, back to the Lutherans.  What do we think?  Well, judging by vox populi, the initial judgement of "the average ELCA pastor" is "it's nice that he likes poor people, but he still hates women and gays, so I don't want anything to do with him".  Hmm...

Over in the Missouri Synod and "even more isolationist" corner the reigning viewpoint seems to be, "I'm certainly glad he's sexually orthodox, it's just too bad he's the anti-Christ.  Wolf in sheep's clothing, dontcha know?"

To all of which I say in response, um, really?  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you your woman-hating pope:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Worshiping at the Altar of S-E-X

So, I have this theory. 

I have this theory that 21st-century Western culture (and sadly, I include large portions of The Church) like the proverbial frog dropped in not-quite-boiling water, now finds itself worshiping at the altar of S-E-X.  

We are a culture that will give up, sacrifice, or quit nearly everything in pursuit of what we perceive to be the good.  

We have quit eating “refined sugar” and “trans-fats” because (with apologies to the author of Genesis) “if you eat of it, you will surely die.”

We have sacrificed time, money and convenience for food that is “locally grown, sustainably sourced, organic, fair-trade certified, etc…”

We sacrifice time with our family, self-contentment, and relaxation for hours at the gym or in the tanning bed, hoping to achieve “the perfect body”.  

We sacrifice health and hours of sleep for better grades or a promotion at work.

We sacrifice thousands of dollars for our kids to be in competitive sports.

We sacrifice TV and alcohol and Facebook for Lent because, somehow, we know that they just sort of…take over our lives.  

But would you ever quit, give up, or sacrifice sex?  

We have come to a place where the be-all and end-all of life is “good sex”, and barring that, “bad sex”, or at least “safe sex”.  

We know – know, for a fact – that sex causes pregnancy – even when you “are careful”.  We know – know, for a fact – that sex can transmit diseases – even deadly diseases – even when you “are careful”. 

And yet, we cannot possibly imagine why anyone – anyone at all – would choose to avoid sex.  We believe, as a culture, that giving up certain foods or patterns of behavior (couch potato-ing or smoking or drinking to excess), that sacrificing time with spouse or children or parents are all worth it because of “something” that is better in the end – health, fitness, weight loss, grades, self-control, career success, job security for local farmers, whatever… "something" is worth it.

But what would 21st century America say is “worth” abstaining from sex?  I would venture to say that most Americans, indeed, most “Christians” would have no answer for this.  Instead, sex is one of the things we give everything else up for.  We will sacrifice future relationships, our health, potential children, our dignity, our time, and our money – if the sex is good.  

Why is it that we will give up hot dogs for our health…but we will sacrifice our health for an orgasm?  Why is it that we will sacrifice time with our kids for a better job…but we’ll sacrifice our job for a fling with the boss?

Why is it that we will sacrifice money for our children’s success…but we’ll sacrifice our children’s lives for “safe sex”?

We have made sex our god – that which we fear, love, and trust the most – and it has wreaked havoc on our souls, and on the gift of sex itself.  

It has wreaked havoc on our souls because idolatry always does.  We have “given up” churches that encourage restraint of one’s sexual impulses.  In fact, our churches have actively sought to discourage restraint – so that “they” will like us more, but I suspect, also, to justify our own actions.  

Even in churches where an administrative nod is given to “sex in marriage only”, this is violated on a far more frequent basis than it is adhered to, and everyone looks the other way.  Sign on the dotted line here saying you won’t do this…but really no one gives a damn if you do.  And in doing so we have encouraged others to lie, only extending the sin further...

In our idolatrous worship of sex, we have walked away from the One who gave us sex in the first place, the One who thinks sex is lovely and beautiful and wonderful, from the One who wants us to open the gift and enjoy it, but who wants us to play with it carefully, so it doesn’t get broken, so we don't get broken.

Our idolatrous worship of sex has led pastors – preachers of the Word and administrators of the Sacraments to fancy themselves as sex therapists, “because sex is important.”  Our idolatrous worship of sex has led congregations to see the distribution of condoms in their local neighborhoods as “a mission project”.

Our idolatrous worship of sex has left no room for the Author of sex to point out that sex is not the pinnacle of human existence, it has left no room for the Author of sex to note the unfortunate consequences that result from misuse of the gift, and it has left no room for the Author of sex to offer forgiveness for our misuse of it…because we believe that there can be no misuse.

Our idolatrous worship of sex has broken the relationship between us and our Creator…as idolatry always does.  And it has broken the gift of sex itself.

Sex no longer serves any higher purpose than base physical pleasure.  Thanks to latex, synthetic hormones, and invasive copper wire (really?), we have stripped sex of its power to give life.  Thanks to one-night-stands and “booty calls” and “pity sex” we have stripped sex of its capacity to emotionally bond participants.  Thanks to STDs, we have shifted the consequences of sex away from “ripple effects of the gift” to things we must protect ourselves from. 

Idolatrous worship of sex has destroyed women.  Oh, we think we’re free.  Now that we’re out of those repressive Victorian corsets and allowed to actually enjoy sex, now this here is freedom.  Except that our greatest, most-close-to-divine power, the power to create and nurture life, must be destroyed.  Annihilated.  Neutralized.  We have freed ourselves to “enjoy sex like a man”, and in doing so, we have ensured that we will serve only as “plug and play” for our “partners”.  

Idolatrous worship of sex has destroyed our creativity, it has destroyed our pursuit of a relationship for any reason other than physical, sexual pleasure, it has all-but-guaranteed that there is nothing about us that is sacred, special, or reserved.  

I have come to believe – through my own personal experience and through the experiences of friends – that if I decline to share my deepest vulnerabilities with someone who will not first promise never to leave because of them – that I will remain forever single, forever celibate.  And that saddens me, because I long for companionship, for a fellow-laborer, for sex, even, and for children. 
But I will not worship at the altar of S-E-X.  I will not exchange the truth for a lie.  I will not allow my almost-supernatural power to give and nurture life to be suppressed for the convenience of men.  I will not be a plug-and-play device for people who do not respect me, or my body, or my soul.  I will not live as though the source and summit of my life is sex, rather than the God who formed me, and who redeemed me. 

And I will fight, with every ounce of my being, the golden calf.  I cannot bear to hear young children, teenagers, young adults, old adults be wrested by the culture into sacrificing anything and everything in pursuit of sex.  I cannot bear to hear of pastors who do not hear private confessions, but will gladly hand out condoms.  I cannot bear to be mocked for my values, or pressured to break my promises, or to risk a “series of unfortunate events” by people who claim to love me.  My dignity and my self-worth are worth more than an orgasm.  And so are yours.  

I don’t want to fight the culture war.  I don’t want to wring my hands over “today’s corrupt youth” or “the immorality of the times”, and frankly, I don't intend to.  I’d rather not fight the spiritual war either, thank you very much.  But I believe it’s been laid at my doorstep.  Christians, let us smash the idols and overturn the altars.  Let us worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Let us worship the God who died on a cross to free us from the bondage of false gods.  Let us worship the Author of Love, the Author of Sex, rather than sex itself.