Easter: What Difference Does It Make?

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Easter came and went. I celebrated the Jesus’ resurrection by attending church, listening to the Hallelujah chorus, and dying Easter eggs with family. My social media was filled with people in flowery spring outfits, taking pictures in the sun. I saw smiles, Easter bunnies, and Christian graphics.

And yet the whole time, I was haunted by this question:

What difference does it make?

I heard this question posed by the minister at my church yesterday, and initially I didn’t give it much thought. Theologically, I know the range of interpretive rhetoric regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection. I know that the resurrection is supposed to change everything. It is *the* central Christian holiday, the holiday that shows that death has been overcome and Jesus lives.

Then I woke up this morning. Still sleepy, I scroll through social media and see smiling faces and phrases like, “He is risen.” Intellectually, I believe that with my whole heart. Intellectually and theologically, I agree that the cross and resurrection change everything about this life and about the next.

I look at the rising sun and hear my dog barking, ready for her walk. The weather has been abnormally warm for this time of year in Michigan, which is a scary omen of the state of worldwide climate change.

I also woke up early with a racing heart, which is a normal phenomenon given my cluster of anxiety symptoms, which never seem to give me rest, no matter what medication I’m on. There is more talk in the news about nuclear bombs and discord in the Middle East, reminding me that 80% of evangelical Christians, all of whom likely celebrated Easter yesterday, voted for a man who spent Holy Week on Twitter rampages and completed a missile attack while eating chocolate cake in his golf club.

In this moment, if I’m really, truly, being honest, it doesn’t feel like I’m living in the world of a resurrected Christ.

In the sermons I heard over the weekend, I listened to variants of this: If the resurrection is real, we need not have any worries about things going on in our lives or even death. We are freed up to be agents of the Kingdom of God in all aspects of our lives.

While I agree with this, it also misses a lot of the nuances of what it means to be an Easter people in a world that is anything but. Yes, God is in control, and the promise of future resurrection and the redemption of all things are things to which we can cling, but the world we live in is still so, so broken. How can we enforce religious platitudes when there is so much pain that glimmers on the news, in the sirens down the street, and in broken relationships or lives?

My questions are far from unique, and to gain some perspective, I’d like to take us back to that first Easter for a moment. The story of Holy Week is often diluted through our 21st century Western Christian/ post-Christian/ post-Enlightenment lens. The first Easter was anything but pretty floral dresses, church lilies, and spiritual platitudes. It was revolutionary, dangerous, inherently political, and life-changing.

Jesus’ death and resurrection is a whirlwind story of community, servant love and leadership, betrayal, torture, death, abandonment, waiting, pain, anticipation, joy, surprise, shock, worship, terror, and confusion.

Reading the disciples’ words throughout the Gospels, you can almost hear Jesus roll his eyes through the pages, like, “Why don’t you guys understand literally ANYTHING I’m telling you?”

Prevalent in Jewish ideology at the time was the Messianic expectation that when the Messiah would come, he (or she, who knows) would establish a political rule, and the Jewish people would once again have political control. This was enticing especially in light of the oppressive Romans. Jesus’ disciples comment about Jesus establishing an earthly kingdom at different points. Cue Jesus’ exasperation.

Jesus taught ideas that far departed from the religious ideas at the time. He talked about a Kingdom that was political and subversive. It would establish shalom, the peace and restoration of all things, but not in the way anybody believed. When Jesus talked about his death and resurrection, it was not something the disciples could even comprehend at the time.

In the face of opposition and pressure, Jesus chose the right thing, even when it was hardest of all. He was not afraid to speak up against injustice and rules of his time. When accused of heresy and sentenced to death, Jesus was silent. On the cross, Jesus forgave those who killed them and extended love to criminals dying next to him. His last words involved called God, “Abba,” that can be translated as the endearing term, “Daddy.”

Jesus was not the Messiah people expected, but he was the Messiah we needed.

Thinking back to that first Easter, the quiet mourning of women, the fear and surprise when met with angels at an empty tomb, the raw emotion of the disciples… It was not cliché nor did it have anything to do with eggs or bunnies. It was beautiful and mysterious. Too often we become desensitized to its depth and power because we have heard the story so many times. Too often do we resort to simple truisms rather than address how Easter inherently shifts perspective and changes lives for those who believe in a risen God.

In the days, and weeks, and centuries that have followed Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christians are forced to live in an uncomfortable tension: Jesus’ resurrection is complete. He is sitting at the right hand of the father, advocating for us, loving us. Yet, the resurrection of all things is not here. While Christians aren’t supposed to fear death, many of us do. Many of us worry about our sins being forgiven, and then there are the questions about hell. What about our loved ones who don’t believe? What about the broken earth? We say in church there is hope for us here on earth as well as the life to come, but do we believe it? Sometimes I don’t.

There is so much tangible, visible resurrection on this earth to point to as symbols of God’s life, death, resurrection, and promises. But there is also so much pain. Easter comes every year, but even there, I feel anticipation. I see rustles of resurrection to come, and I celebrate God’s resurrection every year, but there is not yet a final Easter. Meaning, the final Easter season when all is made whole that has been broken, and the Kingdom of God rules a new heaven and new earth.

I saw this so clearly the day I got engaged. It was the happiest day of my life, the day when I agreed to marry my best friend, a man God has placed so gracefully and lovingly in my life. The very next day, I woke up to hear that a girl whose cancer journey I followed on Facebook had died. She was 26. One of her last wishes was to get married to her loyal boyfriend who stuck with her through what was first believed to be treatable cancer, which then turned into uncontrollable cancer that had reached her bone marrow when she died. The girl’s mom said that a few days before her death, this girl was semi-conscious, and her boyfriend slipped a ring on her finger. They don’t know if she was aware enough to comprehend. I looked down at my own left ring finger, and tears came. It wasn’t fair, I whispered to God. Why did you deny her this?

So back to my question: What difference does it make?

The story of Easter makes no difference at all unless these things are true: That the God who defines and embodies love lived a perfect life only to die as a criminal and was raised on the third day; That this embodiment of God with holes in his hands is seated at the right hand of the father and intercedes constantly on our behalf.

Easter shows that nothing in all the world, not the future or past, neither angels nor demons, nor heaven nor hell can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). This story shifts our perspective. It’s a game-changer. Easter shows us that God is trustworthy and he keeps his promises, even though that can be hard to hold on to in a fractured world.

Just like the disciples misses Jesus’ words even when Jesus spent 24/7 with them, I am not able to comprehend God’s mysterious ways. I cannot understand why certain things are the way they are, but I know God is good, and if he says, “It is finished,” then it is.

Part of Revelation 21:5 kept popping into my head all Easter weekend, “See, I am making all things new!”

Honestly, my first instinct is to challenge it, “What about the state of American politics? What about Syria and North Korea? Why is the American church so consumed with abortion and homosexuality at the expense of the poor and vulnerable? Why isn’t everything new already? You came 2000+ years ago!”

I imagine God smiling at me with love. No words, just love. Just like my therapist smiles at me when I say something so ridiculous that she feels no need to respond, but she’ll still give me a symbol she still cares. My therapist never says, “Okay, we’ve been over this 1000 times and you don’t get it still.” She smiles, and she stays with me, knowing that I will figure it out in time.

God always reminds me, gently, that there is indeed a new order in this realm and the next. It is not up to me to figure out every nuance, nor should I play God and dictate what is and isn’t fair; it is up to me to further God’s kingdom as much as I can with the time I have. With the rustle of the wind, the smile of my loving fiancé, and laughing with friends, I see soft glimpses of the open tomb and hands with holes. On a good day, in a good moment, I feel in my bones that the Kingdom is here already, and it beckons my attention. God keeps his promises. He always has and always will.

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On Donald Trump: Post Election Musings 

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On Wednesday morning I woke up as I normally would, snoozing my alarm past the point I should, and groggily leaned to my side to check my phone.

The memories from the night before flashed before me… the increasingly anxiety-ridden faces of the MSNBC newscasters, state after state lighting up in red with the words: ” (state)- Donald Trump: Projected Winner,” stunned texts from my friends, “What is happening?” I remembered in horror as the newscasters dissected Michigan counties, mine and the ones adjacent to me. I remembered a newscaster saying, “Michigan will decide the next president of the United States.” I thought to the many Trump signs I saw canvassing for Hillary and to my conservative family members. My immediate reaction was: Oh my God, it’s up to us, and she’s going to lose. 

I went to bed thinking that it couldn’t be real; still holding on to the faint hope that decency would prevail, that Hillary’s face would be on my Google home screen as our next president when I woke up. “Wake me up when Hillary is our president,” I texted a friend before drifting into sleep.

I was wrong.

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Becoming a Liberal Christian IV: Unforced Rhythms of Grace

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It’s taken me a while to finish up this blog series, so bear with me here. If you want to be reminded of previous blog posts, check out I, II, and III. Also, I was planning another blog post to be IV, but the writing spirit wasn’t moving me, so here is what I have to say next.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Chronicles of Narnia regarding Aslan (a Jesus-like figure):

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

I have heard it said that Jesus came to disturb the comforted and comfort the disturbed. Walking with Jesus is not a walk through lilacs, unicorns, and lollipops, nor is it walking on egg shells to appease a God with his eyes narrowed, finger outstretched, and ready to strike people down who don’t do (a politically conservative understanding) of his will.

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Becoming a Liberal Christian Part III: Seminary (Or A Strange Experience I Would Do Again)

(Confused Looks)

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Usually when I tell people I’ve been to seminary, they give me a blank stare, as if I’ve told them, “I’ve decided to move to Mars,” or, “In my previous life I sold pineapples to people on a cruise ship.” A lot of times I get, “Isn’t that just for men?” (Answer: Nope, you’re thinking of a Catholic seminary that specifically trains men for priesthood). Or, “Did you pray a lot?” (Answer: Nope, people at seminary don’t just pray or sing hymns all day. Christian seminaries are academic institutions and you do… you know…  academic things.)

People’s minds are further blown when I say I studied clinical psychology at seminary. “Wait so you studied clinical psychology?” “Yes.” “But you went to seminary?” “I studied psychology at seminary.” “I’m confused.” “You can study psychology at the seminary I attended.” “Oh….”

In addition to being Rob Bell’s alma mater, Fuller is the only evangelical seminary that celebrates women in ministry (in theological terms, egalitarian). Overall, in complete nerdy disclosure, I was over the moon about my course schedule. My program at Fuller Seminary consisted of a full clinical psychology curriculum, with the addition of theology classes. I had no idea what to expect, but I was ready.

… or so I thought. These things never turn out the way you think they will.

“Come Follow Me”: A Dangerous Call

What I expectedI thought I would learn new things about God at Fuller.

What actually happened: My mind was blown completely… which I was not anticipating. After graduating from college with a minor in biblical and religious studies, I was pretty cocky. I was no longer arguing with Sunday School teachers, but I had advanced to theological discourse with other academic and pastoral individuals. I was good at theology, and I knew it.

Fuller gave me humility.

My theology classes took me verse by verse through the Sermon on the Mount and the Book of Matthew, and the more I learned, the more stunned and amazed by the beauty of Jesus I became. I took classes from Mennonites and other pacifists who questioned whether violence is permissible in the Christian life. We talked about tough issues, the global church, diversity, and social justice. Fuller helped open my eyes to my narrow, white, privileged view of Christianity.

One of my favorite classes was Systematic Theology: Ecclesiology and Eschatology, a class that sounds boring and theoretical, but was actually amazing. My professor would wear a “Jonathan Edwards is my Homeboy” t-shirt to class. You know, Jonathan Edwards, the dude who wrote the ever famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” I thought the shirt was hilarious.

I wrote my final exegetical paper for that class on a Jonathan Edwards sermon, called, “Heaven, A World of Love,” which is in stark contrast to the hell fire and brimstone of his most famous sermon. Turns out Jonathan Edwards could be a pretty loving guy, it is unfortunate that history has remembered him primarily for his discourse on hell.

I loved it all, but most of all I learned not to love theology as a practice in and of itself. Learning about God is well and good and all, but theology should not be done for its own sake. Discourse about God should be alive and Kingdom-driven. Peering down at ancient manuscripts in ivy towers is not bad, and in fact can be helpful, but theology should be purposeful.

I learned to check my facts and assumptions before doing any theological work. Theology and the Bible do not exist in vacuums. I bring my life framework, social contexts, and assumptions into theological discourse, and that all must not be discounted.

The phrase that Jesus uses over and over again, “Come follow me,” is a dangerous one. As I learned in seminary, Jesus invites us to dig deeper, love harder, question more, commune often, disturb the comfortable, and comfort the disturbed. 

The scary thing about knowledge is that you can’t go back. Once I learned more about God and the issues the plague the church and world, I could no longer be a complacent, innocent white privileged Christian girl. I knew I wanted to go to Fuller and learn more things about God, but did I really want to follow the radical call of Jesus?

At Fuller, I fell more in love with this disturbing God who turns everything upside down and inside out. I spent countless hours writing exegetical papers, with multiple Greek concordances strewn open in the Fuller library until midnight, and the end result is this: God has given me too much now to stay silent. Not everyone gets to go to seminary, and now that I know what I know, I cannot be quiet. I cannot be the same. I must take up my cross, wash some feet, and follow the small, counter-cultural voice of Jesus even when it clashes with my evangelical upbringing. 

“You Don’t Have to Convert Everyone You Meet” and Other Life Lessons

As you can probably tell, I learned a lot of things studying at seminary, but I’ll leave you with three take home points:

  1. You can be both academic and a Christian- Christians have a reputation of being anti-intellectual, and at times, such a statement is not undeserved. My first boyfriend believed in a literal 7-day creation period and that the earth is 4,000 years old. In fact, for a date weekend he wanted to go to the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Some Christians negate science completely. To be honest, Christian anti-intellectualism makes me want to pull my hair out. Let me put my cards out on the table of the creation-evolution subject: evolution is real. There are some people, like my ex-boyfriend, who have sketchy evidence at best on the contrary, but in science, yeah, evolution is real. I was surprised at first when my Biology professor at Calvin College pretty much laid it out there the fact: Evolution is real. Evolution and Christianity can exist together. There is no debate in the scientific community about evolution. There might be like 2 scientists out there who believe Evolution is not real, and they appear on Fox News. Christians need to have faith big enough to reconcile science with the Bible. I don’t mean to pick on Creationists here; as I said before, I used to date one of them. At Fuller, some of my longstanding beliefs about the Bible were challenged. I remember the first time I heard a professor say, “Job was probably not a person and in fact a metaphor,” or, “Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch.” My evangelical background caused my stomach to do a backflip. And yet, these same professors were the kindest Christians, staunch believers in prayer, and active in their churches. You don’t have to toss academics out the door to be a Christian! It is possibly for a person to critically analyze ancient texts, form “liberal” beliefs about them, and then have that same individual serving at a local soup kitchen the next day. Academics and Christianity don’t have to be at odds. I became more open in my interpretation of Scripture? Do I believe that Job really existed? I don’t know. Was Mary a virgin for her entire life? I doubt it. I could go into the contextual reasons why these things are improbable. After 3 years, I came to the conclusion: who cares? The beauty of Jesus is that in the Body of Christ, theological bickering about matters that are not central to God and the person of Jesus don’t matter so much. We are redeemed and loved by the Creator of the universe who is Love. I believe it’s okay that I question the authorship of the Pentateuch because of my academic study of Scripture. Don’t get me wrong, doctrine is important, but my point is, I get worried when Christians 1) Fear or avoid academic study of Christianity and Scripture or b) Put God in neat little boxes where he has no room to be greater than our human understanding, aka… be God. Example: One of my professors had Bart Ehrman as a seminary student, and Bart was by far the most theologically conservative student in his class. Ironically, when Bart started studying Scripture academically, he made a 180 turn to agnosticism and atheism, and I wonder if part of that is because his rather anti-intellectual, fundamentalist view of God was too small. At Fuller, I concluded: Christians can reconcile the person of Jesus and academia without sacrificing faith in the process.
  2. You don’t have to convert every non-Christian you meet!– Per my prior evangelical training, I had one mission: convert souls to the Lord. Classes at Fuller turned that simplistic understanding upside down. One of my favorite classes in seminary was Interfaith Dialogue, the purpose of which is to discuss faith topics with non-Christians and come to some common understanding which discussed talking about faith with non-Christians. Here’s the revolutionary part: WITHOUT CONVERTING THEM. In fact, conversion was off the table entirely. I went to a retreat called Inter-Sem and spent time with other evangelical seminary students, as well as Jewish and Catholic seminary students. I met future priests, rabbis, and cantors, and we spent a whole weekend talking about God WITH NO INTENTION OF CONVERSION. It was liberating, really. I could just see the person for the beautiful, God-created individual he or she was without an ulterior motive of, “How can I weave Jesus into this conversation?” I think more of our theological discourse needs to involve more listening than explaining a reductionist diagram about how we sin, God is awesome, and how they need Jesus to be their “golden ticket” to heaven. I say, let’s love people more and listen to their perspectives, rather than being like, “Let me cut in with my perfect understanding of how you should be saved” (as I did in my militant evangelical years).
  3. You don’t have to run from tough questionsGod’s pretty strong, and so is the Bible. I made it a point in seminary to write theology papers on the most difficult passages in the Bible. I remember in one class, I was bothered that Jesus called a woman a “dog,” and I decided to do my 20-page final on that passage. At the end of it, I came out seeing God as more beautiful and holy than I could have ever imagined. As mentioned before, God is a pretty brilliant creator, whose knowledge and power spans more than the human mind could understand. Do you have an issue with evil in the world? Do you have an issue with asshole Christians? Rampant sexism and racism in the church? Evolution? Violence in the Old Testament? Theology provides a way of understanding tough questions. Maybe the “answer” isn’t a one-sentence simplistic explanation, and maybe in seeking the answer, you come up with 20 more questions, but GOD CAN HANDLE IT. He can handle doubt, cynicism, and pain. What God likes less, if I may be presumptuous here, is a boxed up, neat little answer that has no room for well… God. Let’s put God in boxes less and ask the tough theological questions, often with no obvious solutions, and let that be okay.

This post has become very novel-esque, so I’ll wrap this up. I learned a lot in seminary, and I’ll be forever changed by my experience at Fuller. But there is a component of Christianity that I have completely neglected in this post.

At seminary, I learned a LOT. But based on personal circumstances, my head and heart were disconnected. My seminary years were some of the most painful ones, so next post, I will talk about my own doubt and emotional and spiritual struggles during this time.

Becoming a Liberal Christian Part II: Beach Evangelism and Rob Bell

Humility

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My anorexia and faith had long been intertwined, but as time went on, there was no choice for me but to fall on my knees… in a more palpable way than saying the “Jesus prayer” years earlier. After nearly 5 years of suffering from anorexia, my life had crumbled before me. A vacant, hollow shell was getting good grades and applying for college, and I ended up in residential treatment for my eating disorder and OCD shortly after graduation.

My first two days at treatment were excruciating. Without my eating disorder behaviors, I felt like I was being stripped down to nothing. Who was I? Where would I turn? The existential angst that had always plagued me came at me with a vengeance. I felt like I was internally bleeding, and I needed something– a tourniquet.

In my soul searching, I stumbled across Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 

I wept. 

I imagined Jesus saying, “Are you downcast and hopeless? I will give you hope. Are you exhausted and riddled with addiction? I will give you peace.”

I craved the Jesus of Matthew 11:28-30. I imagined snuggling into God’s arms of love, grace, forgiveness, and rest. This was no longer the distant, aloof God of my childhood. This was a bruised, human God, with outstretched hands, giving me a chance at life… which I would never get with my eating disorder.

For the first time ever, it felt like my heart had found its home.

When I think back on this summer, I think of sweet attunement with the Lord and a huge amount of growth. I was hungry (pun partially intended) for any Christian book I could get my hands on– the Bible, devotionals, Christian inspirational books. An angel from a local Wisconsin church would transport me and some other patients to church weekly. At church, we would watch Nooma videos, Rob Bell’s mini-sermon videos that were so popular at the time. I met with the hospital chaplain often, and I asked her why God gave me an eating disorder. She replied that my sickness was akin to her own hypoglycemia. The rural Wisconsin church and this chaplain showed me grace and compassion that stayed with me.

I left treatment with a new mandate, not a zealous, argumentative quest, but a desire to live for God– whatever that meant. I was never going to be the same.

Paradigm Shift

At the beginning of college, my mind’s focus was no longer on the college experience of football, drinking, and joining a sorority: I wanted to honor God in every way, and that started with church. I got involved in a fairly conservative evangelical church, and by the end of my freshman year, I was on a certain conservative evangelical trajectory.

On a church level, this trajectory encompassed quiet times (i.e. extended prayer times) and beach evangelism– oh yes, I did beach evangelism. I felt dirty approaching random people on the street simultaneously trying to be friendly while attempting to convert them, but I did it. That was what my church was telling me to do. 

My first boyfriend and I even “courted” instead of dated, in the style of the once-popular I Kissed Dating Goodbye, the implications of which included saving kissing for marriage. (Note: Don’t read that book. Don’t kiss dating goodbye).

And yet… more and more, there were reverberations in my mind that something was amiss. One of the people that catapulted my paradigm shift was Rob Bell (the picture below was taken of Rob and I at one of his tours).

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First it started with watching his Nooma videos while at treatment, and then I religiously started following his church’s podcast. I read Rob’s books and even handled marketing for his Sex God tour. Rob was the “spiritual mentor” who I met all of two times but changed the way I saw God. He was also perhaps my transitional object, my bridge to an adult worldview. Rob was the first one I heard say, over and over in sermons, “God is the God of the oppressed.” He talked about Jesus’ Third Way, one that does not incorporate violence or keeping the status quo. Rob was authentic and mobilized his listeners to go out and be the hands and feet of Jesus on Earth. He preached social justice and Jesus’ subversive message. Rob talked about difficult subjects, like Leviticus and violence in the Old Testament.

The summer after my freshman year of college, I read the book The Irresistable Revolution by Shane Claiborne. A Mennonite and pacifist, Claiborne clinched my belief that God is the God of the hurting, vulnerable, and oppressed. In his book, Claiborne talks about going to Iraq to sit with Iraqi civilians following America’s Iraq invasion. Claiborne wrote,

“We must mourn the lives of the soldiers. But with the same passion and outrage, we must mourn the lives of every Iraqi who is lost. They are just as precious, no more, no less. In our rebirth, every life lost in Iraq is just as tragic as a life lost in New York or D.C. And the lives of the thirty thousand children who die of starvation each day is like six September 11ths every single day, a silent tsunami that happens every week.”

Reading this book, it was clear that I was having a faith identity crisis. I started to wonder if my version of Christianity was inclusive of the fact that EVERY life is precious, even the lives of our enemies. In the upside-down Kingdom of God, God was calling the church to something so different than beach evangelism and Bible thumping. He was calling the church to be with the sick and hurting; to provide holistic care that involved theology but also catering to physical needs; to go to the ends of the earth, not just to save souls but to turn the entire world upside down.

Did I know what that looked like? Absolutely not. On the contrary, I barely knew anyone of different socioeconomic classes, races, or sexual orientations. I didn’t know what God was calling me to do.

One thing I did know is that I was no longer at “home” with traditional conservative evangelicalism. I couldn’t live in an insulated church that didn’t have room for these ideas. At the same time, I wasn’t ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I still attended evangelical churches, and I even voted for John McCain in 2008.

As I inched nearer to college graduation, I wondered about my vocation. I switched professionals tracks from psychology, my first love, to ministry. My thought process was this: I loved theology. I loved helping people. How best serve God besides go into full-time ministry? Here’s where my “crazy liberal ideas” started: I wanted to be a minister or pastor. Not just a youth director or secretary, as most conservative evangelical churches utilize women. I wanted to be a legit, ordained minister. At my Christian college, I was on the “pre-seminary” track because my school affirmed women going into ministry (go Calvin!). I even took a summer internship at a church to “discern my calling” (i.e. think about whether or not to go to seminary).

I was learning a lot, but I was torn about grad school. At my summer internship, I had a revelation: there is much value in psychology for the church. I saw a church riddled with wounds and mental health issues, and here I was with a gift to understand and help people with these issues.

At school, I learned in psychology and theology classes that all that is good is God’s. I believe at the core of my being that psychology is good and useful. It is much needed in the church, and I love it. If God is involved in the restoration of ALL things, that means I could both be devoted to God’s work AND choose a full-time profession besides ministry. In the end, I decided to graduate school in psychology. In full disclosure, I went to Fuller Seminary partly because they have a clinical psychology program that incorporates theology classes and partly because that is Rob Bell’s alma mater.

I went to Fuller with no expectations but also searching for something . I wanted a broader knowledge of psychology and theology, but also a deeper relationship with an infinitely beautiful God whose love has no bounds.

In my nomadic way, I picked up and moved to southern California, with no idea what I was in for.

Becoming a Liberal Christian Part I: High Church and Militant Evangelicalism

The Early Years

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Prior to my birth, my mom (a staunch Episcopalian) and my dad (a lapsed Jew) met with a Rabbi to discuss my religious upbringing. His advice was, “Pick one, and don’t make the child go to two Sunday schools.” They laughed. It was a joke between them for most of my childhood that also reflected a certain religious ambivalence, as if religion was like, “Do you want chocolate or vanilla ice cream?”

Even though I’m 100% sure my mom would never have raised me Jewish anyway because she was the only one with firm religious beliefs, my parents went through the trouble of giving me a Jewish baby naming AND traditional infant baptism.

Needless to say, I grew up going to the Episcopal church where my grandparents have been members since 1950.

I was always fascinated with God. At age 3 or 4, I told my mom that when I grew up, I wanted to be a “storyteller for God.” One time I was praying so fervently in church, I lied that I saw Jesus on the huge crucifix in the sanctuary. I don’t know why I felt the need to make that up. Part of me wanted so badly to see Jesus, in flesh and blood.

I was an dedicated Sunday School student with good attendance. If the task at hand was to memorize the Lord’s Prayer or Nicene Creed, I did it. Most of my memories of Sunday school involve discussing church holidays or memorizing prayers. I sang in the church choir (shocking for those of you who know me now) and played bells. I sang and memorized things about God, but I didn’t really “get” God. God seemed distant and aloof, communicating to people using “thee” and “thou.”

My “Conversion” Moment

People in the world of evangelicalism will often tell you that there is a “moment” when you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Some celebrate “spiritual birthdays.” One of my previous churches did an Easter campaign, in which you would hold a sign up of your “date” of salvation and post it to social media.

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in God, but when I was 13, I went to an evangelical summer camp. At this time, I was knee-deep in anorexia and equally deep in denial. In my starved state, I remember people were jumping up and down to worship songs I didn’t like, and all I wanted was to sleep. One thing they did that I do remember, however, is “share the Gospel.” In evangelical Christian terms, this means a basic summary of this message: In all of his perfection, God loved us and we rebelled. All of us, no matter how moral, are sinners, and God is our enemy. However, we are in luck. Jesus paid the ultimate price for all of humanity, and all you have to do is accept Jesus’ gift, and you will be saved. 

I heard this message for the first time, and everything made sense to me. The mosaic pieces I had gotten from my Episcopal upbringing and this new wording of what Jesus did came together for me. I looked up in the stars that spanned the sky night and said, “I’m in.” And so began my “Christian journey” (again, not really sure now if it was a “new” journey or rather repackaging  of what I learned growing up).

Militant Evangelicalism

bible-thumper

With my new found life quest, preaching Jesus to the ends of the earth, I began Jesus’ work. And by Jesus’ work I mean my 13-year-old understanding of Jesus’ work, which meant theological arguments with my Jewish family members and getting them passive aggressive Christmas gifts, such as a book on apologetics… which I now understand was not Jesus’ mandate at all. Hostile conversations with my agnostic grandpa about why he should believe in Jesus RIGHT NOW are hardly effective or Christlike.

I became a nightmarish Sunday School student. I admonished our priest because he didn’t talk about “relevant” topics in the Bible such as abortion (he noted that abortion is not actually specifically mentioned in the Bible despite what my Teen Study Bible told me). I argued with my high school Bible Study leader. I would bring up my superior knowledge at every turn, such as my certainty that, “God has a reason for everything.” She disagreed with me, saying that things like disease and war are not in God’s will, although he allows them. I was pompous and arrogant. I thought I knew everything because I checked out a bunch of books on Creationism from the library and read my Teen Study Bible.

One of my camp counselors told me, “Think about the end of time, when you’re taking a staircase up to heaven, and you see people walking down the other way to hell because you didn’t tell them about Jesus. That’s why you need to spread the Good News!” I never wanted that to happen. I would cry at the very thought of half my family descending to hell on my watch. So I would argue with anyone who didn’t know the Lord, partly to alleviate my own anxiety and guilt about hell.

My method wasn’t great. I am lucky nobody slapped me, because I definitely deserved it. That’s why I call these years my “militant evangelical years.” I had good intentions, maybe, but then again, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Stay tuned! There is more to the story.

The 25th Anniversary of The Little Mermaid and The Demise of Mark Driscoll

https://charlikeslattes.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/safe_image-php.jpeg?w=300

I know, how could I possibly pair seemingly unrealistic topics of my childhood favorite Disney movie and Mark Driscoll? Continue reading. It shall all make sense in due time.

My blogging rants have previously spanned to the topics of Mark Driscoll and Disney (e.g., here, here, and here).

In the last few months, a lot has gone on in the world of Mark Driscoll (MD) and Mars Hill, Driscoll’s Seattle-base mega-church. While the purpose of this blog post is not to summarize what all has transpired, I will catch you up to speed here:

The quick summary: Shit went down. MD resigned and Mars Hill has disbanded.

The longer summary: The trouble started when MD got into some trouble regarding posts he made 14 years ago under the pseudonym of William Wallace II to attack “emerging-church-type feminists and liberals.” Why this happened to resurface after 14 years I have no idea, as Driscoll’s last year has hardly been clean, including controversies with possible plagiarism and allegations of paying off NYT best-sellers list. Somehow, the conglomeration of controversy spiraled in the last few months and resulted in the following: Acts 29, the church-planting organization Driscoll himself started, kicked out Mars Hill from its organization (major burn to MD) –> MD resigned from Mars Hill, saying he didn’t want to take away from the church mission, yada yada –> Mars Hill chose to disband.

This is HUGE in evangelicalism.

HUGE.

MD has been (with some exceptions) America’s evangelical, manly-man, neo-Reformed, social-media-savvy sweetheart. He captured the lives and hearts of thousands of Mars Hill goers. I myself, as I admitted in previous MD posts, used to listen to his podcasts. He is a captive speaker, quick with words, quick-witted, and relevant. Churches were planted. Good things happened. I do not want to negate the good things.

Do I believe that MD loves Jesus? I think that he does.

Do I think that MD bettered the city of Seattle and beyond? I think he did.

Now onto why I’m really writing about this story.

I am going to try really hard not to kick MD when he’s down. MD has long been controversial, and specifically what gets me going, are his homophobic and sexist comments that have been plentiful and sadly influential. Anyone who mocks effeminate worship leaders on Twitter is going to get a mouthful from me.

I saw the way this impacted others. Attending a Mars Hill campus in person in 2011, I was horrified to find every other woman pregnant and blonde and gorgeous. Every guy was ripped and strangely Driscoll-like in physical appearance. Everyone was white.

My own church when I lived in California preached out of MD’s book Real Marriage, a book filled with questionable antidotes such as one regarding a woman’s haircut pleasing her husband. This was the book also associated with a  plagiarism/ NYT best-sellers list scandal.

When MD resigned, Mars Hill leadership wrote the following: “Pastor Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.”

Uh…….?

How exactly are we defining immorality?

What is to be said for so many previous MD followers in therapy from attending Mars Hill and being subjected to degrading “church discipline” for being, for instance, a stay at home dad!!!! (GASP)?

What is to be said for the numerous controversial, hurtful comments that MD has said via Twitter or in personal conversations?

Those are moral because… MD believes that Jesus is God? And his doctrine is in line with certain standards?

Rachel Held Evans, in a typically eloquent post on Facebook yesterday, wrote the following:

It surprises me sometimes how people who are cruel and unkind get a pass on rude behavior from Christians because “at least their theology is sound.” But your theology is only as sound as the fruit of the Spirit it produces. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control – both Jesus and the apostle Paul taught that THESE are the things to look for when assessing whether someone is preaching the true gospel or a false one. I am so much more inclined to listen and learn from a teacher who exhibits these traits than those who may be highly credentialed whose fruit is bitter.

I think we as the church need to take a long, hard look at what fruit we are producing and the ramifications it has on others. There is this archaic idea that heresy means what you believe or cheating on your wife. I think this blog gets it. At the end of it, the writer, Kristen Howerton, says:

“It’s time we examine the negative ramifications to long-standing microaggressions, misogyny, and verbal abuse as seriously as we would embezzling or sexual misconduct from a church leader.”

Exactly.

More later but first…

NOW ONTO THE LITTLE MERMAID. 

The 25th anniversary of everyone’s favorite classic was this week. Growing up, I was obsessed with Ariel, as was every late 80s-90s girl. I had my Ariel Halloween costume and Ariel dolls and barbies and Ariel EVERYTHING.

I LOVED THE LITTLE MERMAID. Who didn’t? Cute, clever, catchy, adorable. A success for Disney, a success for mankind.

It wasn’t until I saw this Second City clip several years ago that I got to thinking:

What messages was this movie really teaching me?

Maybe not the 1st… or 100th… or 1000th… time that I saw that movie at age 4 would I think differently, but I wonder… what kinds of things did I implicitly learn?

I wonder… what we would find if we did a study on young girls before and after watching The Little Mermaid? Specifically, I wonder whether we would find that little girls are less likely to want to be a woman president or the effect a movie such as that would have on their ambitions and views of womanhood.

And as someone who has had an eating disorder for 13 years and is sensitive to weight-based discrimination, this movie is SO FRUSTRATING! Ariel is practically a mass-disseminated cartoon pro-ana figure, so much so that this PERFECT “Realistic Movie Trailer” renames the movie, The Little Waistline. And how fitting that the villain is a fat old woman. Perpetuating decades of stigma against older women and showing young girls that FAT IS BAD.

I read the host of perky articles that come out on the day that The Little Mermaid turned 25, and I tried to relive my childhood love of this movie. It didn’t work.

I know too much. I’ve been through too many years of therapy. I’ve battled too many companies selling pro-ana shirts, and we still haven’t had a woman president, and eating disorders are existing in unprecedented numbers. I have battled my entire life the voice that tells me to sell myself for society.

That started in childhood. THESE are the messages young girls get!!!!!

It’s not The Little Mermaid‘s fault, but does this movie perpetuate these messages, in my opinion? A resounding YES!

BRINGING IT TOGETHER

I told you I would bring it together. Now what could a middle-aged pastor from Seattle have to do with a movie about a mermaid?

Turns out, a lot (in my opinion).

Media, my friends, is an important thing. We are not untouched by what we fill our minds with; we are not untouched by what we watch or see or listen to or by the venues and organizations we attend.

Media is powerful, sometimes so subtle, you don’t realize how it’s slowly seeping into your consciousness, changing the way you see the world.

Both to Mark Driscoll and The Little Mermaid perpetuate some ugly stereotypes about the objectification of those who are different, whether it is those of different genders, sexual orientations, physical appearance, or anyone who you label as “the other.”

Sadly for evangelicals, Disney is stepping it up. Movies like Frozen and Brave are FAR (X 1000) better than movies like The Little Mermaid. I think Disney is learning their lesson. I am hopeful for today’s young girls, that they will be empowered to do WHATEVER it is they want to do, including achieving equal pay and other problematic society ills. I am hopeful that the movie Miss Representation and The Representation Project exist. I am hopeful because activist movie clips like THIS are going viral.

For evangelicals, I am not so sure. The oppression and discrimination of women and LGBTQ people is still prevalent is so many churches. And while The Little Mermaid turns 25 this year, MD JUST resigned. Apparently mocking stay-at-home dads and effeminate male worship leaders is still kosher in evangelicalism. So I guess the evangelical church is at least 25 years behind the rest of culture. Probably more than that.

I am not trying to be a hater, or promote a boycott of Disney/ Mark Driscoll. Like I admitted, I listened to Mark Driscoll. I loved (LOVED!!!!!!!!!) The Little Mermaid. If you like MD or old-school Disney movies, you know what, have fun. I will probably show my future daughter The Little Mermaid.

However, I think it’s well within my rights as a human to be critical of culture. I am in the field of mental health as a career, and I am an activist regarding body image, eating disorders, and gender-related concerns. And some of these things don’t sit well with me.

I am all too familiar with the scars that life leaves, and I am a fan of changing things so that people in the future can have a few less scars in life. So I’m going to leave you with the following thoughts:

For Disney lovers who show their little girls The Little Mermaid: If you must show your little girl this iconic movie, please have a discussion about it with her. She is SO much more than her body and selling and starving herself to please some hot dude (per the realistic movie trailer “white Aladdin”).

For evangelicals: Think before you preach, attend church, talk to others, and use the Bible to condemn. We need a movement based on love and acceptance, a movement that honors differences, and minimizes support groups needed for people in church. I mean GUYS how crazy is it that people should need to be in therapy or band together because of an oppressive church experience that leaves them feeling like scum. How much do you think Jesus is weeping because of that? MD’s popularity shows me how much we evangelicals are under the sea-– and many people don’t even know it.