Erin James-Brown

Posts tagged culture

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Shame and our love for others: James talks about favoritism


James 2:1-17

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

James’ epistle gives voice to Jesus’ actions throughout the gospels. Jesus clearly identifies with the poor and oppressed around him throughout his ministry and challenges religious leaders to their disassociation with those subjugated by society. In the beginning of his wisdom-sharing letter, the author warns about anger against others. Following a message of listening, James espouses commands of loving one’s neighbor as one loves one’s self. But how often do we have the courage to do this?

As you look around your congregation on Sunday morning, how many poor and oppressed people to you see? If you are like me, you see others dressed in fine clothing, women or men wearing expensive rings on their hand. And when the offering plate passes people nonchalantly toss perfectly penned checks into the plate or basket. As one proclaims the lectionary passage from a pulpit, we nod our heads knowing our contributions go towards food pantries and ESL classes hosted by the congregation; however, there are no poor people in our midst. If someone from a lower socio-economic class arrived one Sunday morning, they would feel either intimidated in the company of strangers and feel unwelcomed by the questioning glares from other church members.

For as much as we proclaim to be about giving, sharing, loving and looking out for the other, our congregations do not easily welcome the stranger from lower classes. Therefore, our objectification grows and interactions limited to handouts on street corners rather than a coming alongside to lend a hand out of oppressive situations.

By entreating to loving the other, James asks us to establish a lack of favoritism that leads to highlighting our faulty treatments and, in turn, causes deep shame. Without the courage to change our interactions with others in our social and economic society by providing dignity of association, we persist to give from afar, fearing the transformation we may experience by getting to know someone very different (and yet strangely similar) to ourselves. We fear to address the other because it will reveal the shame within us that makes us human.

But shame is something we all share, despite the size of our paycheck or lack thereof: whether it is shame of promising to care for the poor but never knowing the name or background of the one we give to or the shame of rejection from society based on poverty. By embracing the shame of fear to associate with one with another, we learn more about our true self, we learn to love our whole self (shame and all) and thus learn to truly love another. 

Filed under fear favoritism James New Testament oppression poverty Jesus spirituality culture shame

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Listening for Justice: Jesus and the Syrophoenician Woman


Mark 7:24-37 

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

I have to admit, this passage does not sit well with me. There is a tension between Jesus and the woman that makes me uncomfortable. Does it for you?

Was Jesus annoyed by the woman’s demands? Was he being pastoral by saying the hard thing she did not want to hear: "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs."

And the woman, was she being presumptuous by begging at Jesus’ feet? Was she justified by creating a voice for herself?

As difficult as it may seem given one’s theological background, the Syrophoenician woman creates a transformative experience for the son of God. Jesus provides a (seemingly) harsh criticism for the woman’s plea. Conversely, the woman retorts back with her own defense, and Jesus’ mind is changed. Instead of ignoring her plight, Jesus hears her reply and responds with healing. Much like the parallel story of deafness, his ears are opened to the woman’s requests.

In a good narrative, the main character changes, grows and experiences a sense of fullness. Therefore Jesus clearly remains the central figure of Mark’s gospel throughout this particular encounter. Jesus listens. Jesus does not dismiss the woman’s predicament as insignificant. But Jesus hears the woman, mulls over her quandary and considers her situation; thus he is transformed according to the information.

Yesterday, while listening to my daily dose of NPR I heard to the story of Michelle Dyarman. In 2010, the army overlooked Dyarman for a Purple Heart service award stating that her injuries sustained during combat were “made up.” The piece read, “Dyarman, a major in the Army reserves in 2005, had been setting up meetings around Baghdad between Army commanders and Iraqi leaders. A roadside bomb exploded right beside her Humvee. A few months later, she was in a second explosion. The Army sent her to Walter Reed to treat her paralyzing headaches, muscle spasms and post-traumatic stress disorder.” Because her injuries were psychological or difficult to document, Dyarman was rejected for an honorable award for sustained wound. Although Dyarman voiced her complaint several time, along with fellow supporters, she experienced rejection until recently. In 2012 the US Army decided to honor those traumatized in battle with a Purple Heart. During her award ceremony, Dyarman began tearing up with the overwhelming sense of acknowledgement. Her voice was heard. Someone listened.

Is it important that the unnamed woman stands up for herself, exploring her voice before Jesus? Of course. Her self-expression is not devalued simply because she is heard. However, it seems as if the woman maintains a sense of confidence she already possessed. The woman possesses agency to verbally expand on her plight. However, within the narrative, Jesus’ transformative listening experience displays the significance of listening skills for justice, for ministry and for honor. Without allowing our ears to “be opened” to the call for just actions, justice cannot be carried out.

Filed under women in ministry listening voice justice Jesus Mark 7 spirituality culture Purple Heart NPR

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Healthy Anger: Was James wrong concerning women in ministry?


James 1:17-27

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures. You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James’ letter instructs the church in matters of action based out of belief. Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers he tells his audience. Belief is not merely enough. With true belief, one must act; there is no other option. Although I appreciate James’ call to act generously, speak peacefully and live honestly, too often the instruction to slow anger, slow speech prevents those from righteous anger. “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” But this slowness, this anti-anger niceness is often abused by those in religious power to the slowing of progress, the prevention of justice for all human beings. For women in ministry, we are asked to wait. The church is not ready yet for women in leadership. Take action slowly. Do not get angry at the limited pace of church activity. However, this slowness, this meekness or shying away from anger leads to sluggishness, drawn out, and deliberate inactivity. In effect, James’ words become an excuse to limit the rights of women and others in the church.

Anger, in its deepest form, is a sense of power. It is a potent feeling that demands respect because it is a map to truly important issues. Therefore anger is meant to be acted upon. It is not to be acted out but it points a direction of transformation. James is correct in discouraging anger out of reaction. Anger out of reaction creates enemies, destroys relationships and prevents helpful progress. However, anger demands a response. Without a response, anger festers into resentment and finally apathy. Anger is a key to who we are, our passions, our priorities and even our self worth.

James’ epistle originally met much contention for inclusion in the New Testament canon. In a way the epistle, once called by Martin Luther “the epistle of straw,” resonates with the women of ministry who are frustrated by its words. Highly contested, James’ words demand a voice. Similarly, women in ministry no longer deter anger, but allow the anger of inequality to create within us doers of the word.

Filed under women in ministry New Testament James spirituality culture anger righteous anger

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Farting in elevators and others things Mark 7 doesn’t talk about but you probably shouldn’t do

Mark 7:1-8; 14-15; 21-23 

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”… Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”…

For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Just the other morning, I sat with an elderly woman as she ate her breakfast. A recent victim of a stroke, she struggled to pull a spoon of piping hot cream of wheat to her quivering lips. With each anxious attempt, she dutifully retreated her elbow to rest on the table for fear of spilling beige mush on herself. As I reflected on her wrestled arm movement, spoon and tasteless cream of wheat, I wondered how the Pharisees would respond to the woman’s poor eating habits. But in the moment, all I could think was to offer a straw with which she could sip her morning meal.

The Pharisees peek in on Jesus’ meal with friends with repugnance. They watch the group of misfits - those without social breeding or deep religious history - eat like wild animals without respect for religious tradition or cleanliness. Although the Jewish tradition of respect for God through religious cleanliness is admirable, Jesus rebukes his hard hearted witnesses for professing love and generosity without extending it.

Too often our respectability or consideration for manners manifests itself as hypocrisy. I dislike the smell of human body odor, grow awkwardly angry when someone farts in an elevator, and abhor those who cough phlegm and other bodily liquids in my presence. In fact Jesus’ command rebukes me as well. Those things we perceive as disrespect or improper behavior do not define a person. Likewise, those things we esteem as proper etiquette, like well groomed hair, proper use of fork and knife, and washing one’s hands, does not define a person either. “But the things that come out are what defile” or define.

As the woman labored with her brownish liquid of a breakfast, she spilled paste on her gown and covered her mouth with the sticky substance as it slipped from her lips. In our brief encounter it was not the manner of her eating habits that concerned me, but the heart of her struggle with life and love. Rather than retreating like the Pharisees to judge, Jesus instructs us to look past the outward appearance and into the heart of the person in order to provide deep care. Over breakfast, I learned respect and dignity come from sitting alongside the messy eaters, the poorly kept and the socially awkward in order to offer grace and receive grace from one another.

Filed under spirituality culture fart eating respect dignity

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The secret of death is in life: Of Mice and Men #summerreading


I finished reading Of Mice and Men late the other night. It was by far one of the best books I read all summer. The intensity of Steinbeck’s writing and his ability to make you sympathize with a whole host of characters emotionally draws the reader in his perfectly woven story.

The morning after finishing the book, still reeling in amazement, my husband and I discussed the book’s themes over breakfast. It is story of two men traveling together, working together and dreaming of a life, a home, and security together with deep friendship. George, the smaller but more able minded companion watches after his strong but somewhat confused pal Lennie. Although compassionate at heart, Lennie doesn’t realize his own strength, killing innocent beings and ruining the working reputation of him and his friend George. Although never successful at building a small savings for their dream home with rabbits and a nice stove, George continually soothes his friend with whimsical narrations about their future life of hope. It is in the moments of forecasting dreams, Steinbeck tells of the power of friendship and the dignity of hope.

Other characters like Candy the aging ranch hand and Crooks the African American servant, listen to the men’s tale of a future home and ask to join in their pursuit. The images of freedom and companionship entice all to enter into the collective vision. All, the aging, the mentally disabled and the abused are looking for a place to call home, to feel welcomed. Candy demonstrates his anticipation through devastation once he realizes George must kill Lennie and their home will never be a reality.

Lennie, soft spoke with brutal strength, kills an innocent puppy and then a wild-eyed young girl. All of his killings are done in a panic to protect the other; however, without the knowledge of his own power, Lennie eventually ends life for all those around him. As the other ranch hands sniff out for revenge on the oversized, mentally disabled man, George steals another man’s gun in order to “defend his friend.”

In the end, George kills Lennie out of honor. The ranch hands, angered by the death of a young woman, will kill Lennie, possibly torture him. Under their jurisdiction, Lennie would die in fear. Instead, George attempts to give his friend a sense of peace, a vision of utopia at the moment of his death. Sitting by his side along the banks of a lake, George tells the story of bunnies, horses, food to eat and a warm stove for the winter which neither man will see to actualization. But with that image of beauty, Lennie dies without fear from his best friend’s bullet. In a strange way, George provides Lennie with an honorable death.  

In my recent endeavors as a minister, I experienced the importance of honor and dignity in death. Oftentimes death is sudden and frightening. The pain is jarring and causes all-consuming grief. Even in these frightful moments the dignity of death should be honored. For others death lingers in the shadows, ever looming but seemingly out of reach. The fear of the unknown or the inevitable drives people mad. Even in those straining moments of life the peace of death should be honored. Those on whom others pass judgment, the poor, the homeless or the addicted, still deserve dignity and honor in death.  Those whom others dislike or those who cause harm (the murders, the felons, the mean, the coldhearted) deserve the honor of peace in death. Therefore, as people of God, we represent the peace of God in the hope of life and the fear of death. Just as Steinbeck eloquently and horrifically narrates, we usher others into the sacred moment of death with peace.

Filed under summerreading Of Mice and Men life death honor peace Lennie George John Steinbeck spirituality culture

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Remembering Sojourner Truth and my #summerreading

 Born into slavery in New York around 1797, Isabella Baumfree experienced a religous conversion to Christianity and a (possibly controversial) call to public ministry. Although the northern state in which she was born participated in “gradual” emancipation, Isabella knew deep down that God set her free. She “told Jesus is would be alright if he changed [her] name.” Therefore Sojourner, one who walks about spreading the message of God’s word, took a new name based on a vision she received from God. She later added the name Truth as a symbol for freedom from oppression for African Americans and women.

In mid-August every year, people celebrate the legacy of Sojourner Truth’s storytelling and audacity “ignore limitations” such as race or gender in order to proclaim God’s goodness. In honore of Sojourner Truth, I read a book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,  by another poetic voice in the black female community, Maya Angelou. Written in 1969, Angelou bravely remembers stories of rape and racism from her childhood. A young woman growing up in Stamps, Arkansas, Angelou tells of her personal experiences with family, school and eventually maturity. About 150 years later Angelou writes about the indeciencies and inequalities against black women of which Sojourner Truth preached. Yet, both women maintained a sense of dignity in their story telling, in hopes of drawing injustice out of the dark shadows and into the light of goodness and in the hope of redemption. Similar to Sojourner’s journey to freedom of expression and equality, Angelou closes her book with a comment of the trails of black females,

"The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power.

The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accapted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiatic acceptance.”

As the heat of August burns crops, oppressed the lungs and causes sweat to drip down the back of workers and mid-evening walkers, we remember the hardwork and suffering of African American women to overcome injustice. We also recognize the beauty witnessed through Sojourner Truth, Maya Angelou and others to act in solidarity with oppressed men and women and teach them to become channels of God’s love and justice in order to re-shape society and the world.

Other #summerreading

I Feel Bad About My Kneck, Nora Ephron

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest, Stieg Larsson

Filed under Maya Angelou Sojourner Truth Emancipation poetry I know why the caged bird sings women slavery justice culture spirituality

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Wisdom with Age: Lessons from Nora Ephron and Proverbs 9 #summerreading


Proverbs 9:1-6 Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. She has sent out her servant girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, “You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”

Nora Ephron, but I call her Nora because I believe if she was still alive and we both lived in New York City we would be the best of friends. Nora is primarily remembered for her screenplays about neurotic but intelligently witty women who draw men in with their quirky sense of charm – movies usually starring Meg Ryan (i.e., When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail).

Before reading Nora, I watched Nora’s movies with pure, disturbed, self-association delight. I did not know then that this quirky, intelligent woman wrote about quirky, intelligent women similar to herself with which I could identify. And after hearing of her death this summer, I took it upon myself to read more of Nora Ephron’s short stories and essays.

She wrote her most popular collection of essays, I Feel Bad About My Neck, in her sixties. With the independence of her thirties, knowledge of her forties and age of her fifties behind her, Nora shared the intimate idiosyncrasies of her life as woman aging. Her opening essay says, “I feel bad about my neck. I truly do. If you saw my neck, you might feel bad about it too.”

Tempered with humor, Nora Ephron reminds me of the woman of wisdom in Proverbs 9. She writes about her joy of entertaining guests and cooking delicious meals. But she also embraces the wisdom of age while equally reminiscing the fade of beauty into a new version of matured exquisiteness. Although she felt bad about her neck and its ability to reveal a woman’s age too easily, in the end, Nora celebrated the benefit of wisdom which comes with experience.

I can only hope I reach mature understanding and maintain my somewhat irrational yet somewhat endearing personality throughout the years.

Other #summerreading

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Filed under spirituality culture Nora Ephron I feel bad about my neck summerreading sleepless in seattle When Harry Met Sally You've Got Mail

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A New Heart, Provided by Breaking Bad: Lessons from Walter White


Psalm 51:1-12 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.  Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.  You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.  Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.  Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Guilt. It’s not just for Catholics. Guilt and shame drive people to do incredible things in order to prevent tension, anxiety, conflict or sin. Psalm 52 is traditionally remembers as the Psalm after David commits adultery with Bathsheba, impregnates her and kills her husband in order to mask his guilt. The irrational decisions and deceptions intrigue readers and cause others to wonder, “How could David get mixed up in so much trouble?”

It’s like watching our favorite TV shows. The fallen heros. The anti-heros. The regular people, making increasingly bad choices. In a way, we identify with these anti-heros. They represent the evil capable within all of us. They represent the poor choices made and the misdirected paths followed. But for some reason, we always hope our favorite characters, much like David, will make one good choice, that they will change their ways and decide to live a perfect, sinless life. Alas, this can never be. Sin is inevitable and bad choices constantly bombard us.

Although we don’t agree with the AMC Breaking Bad character Walter White’s decision to cook meth, I understand his reasoning of providing for his family, living with dignity through cancer, and the pride of self-sufficiency. And yet, the mundane honorable qualities I admire in Walt lead to disastrous events, corruption, and danger. The very thing Walter White began to protect becomes the thing he is most likely to lose – his family, his honor, his life – because of his decisions.

As we watch episode after episode, glued to our Netflix account and staying up one hour later to finish another series, our minds spin with anticipation and anxiety. We too are caught up in the drama of TV life because we too could make those same mistakes; we too make mistakes every day.

Although we don’t commit egregious sins weekly like those on AMC, Showtime, HBO and the like, everyone knows of that breaking moment when life seems too overwhelming and perpetually poor decisions end in spiritual, emotional and physical/financial destitution. In those moments, we cry out for forgiveness; we promise to change. But similar to our favorite characters, the drama continues; we don’t change.

David cries out for a transformation, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” Creation sounds like a brand new introduction to David’s life. The sin is completely wiped clean and a fresh spirit replaces it. However, the heart cannot be made new. The heart will always be covered with grime and dirt of life. God’s miracle is to scrub away the soot of sin blacking out the heart. Rolling up God’s sleeves and pulling on rubber gloves, God works diligently to purify the life of a constant sinner. It is a regular process, a daily process. The heart is not made completely new. But the heart is revitalized with the efforts of the holy to start a day afresh. Guilt and shame continue to haunt us, but the cleanliness of God’s holy presence helps us begin again.

As I close my summer series on #summerTV I what new shows I’ll find to connect to my spiritual being. Any suggestions?

Other #summerTV

Mad Men


Sons of Anarchy

Filed under Breaking Bad Walter White AMC TV SummerTV spirituality culture

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Life in Transition (aka I am a zombie)

I have to be honest. This transition stuff, this packing, moving, unpacking, starting a new job, a new church in a new city, a new life – this transition stuff – is hard. I find it difficult to sit down and write, to explain my feeling on paper because by the end of the day my brain has turned to mush – and not the mushy stench of a dead corpse rotting as it drags dead body parts along with ever increasing hunger for more flesh, but the cold dense sludge of a lifeless zombie, unable to scare even the tiniest of children.

This life of transition, as exciting as it seems, has taken a toll on me. At the end of a work day, or even a day off, my body cannot move a quickly as I expect it. My heart does not race with the excitement of adventure but pounds with dread for the never-ending exploration.

While catching up with a friend the other day I was able to name my frustration more perfectly. “I thought I would adjust quickly to all my transitions – to my new home, new city, new friends, and new job. I thought give it a week… maybe two.” After two months, my naiveté is finally wearing off. Transitions take more time and adjustment than often planned. And transitions require more grace than a perfectionist like myself often provide.

So, as I fail to update my blog as often as I hope, as I fail to run the beautiful trail next to my home as often as I hoped, because I still haven’t gone to see the botanical gardens, nor ventured out to a fun movie tavern or even tried a new restaurant, I hope you’ll forgive me. In turn, I hope I’ll learn to forgive myself. Although I am passionate creating a stimulating space for pastors to discuss issues of the pulpit and wrestle theologically with lectionary passages, I find myself tired as I await the mundane routine of life to return rather than the constant bombardment of fresh anxieties. But in the meantime I’ll keep dreaming of ways to renovate the church, preach the good news with creativity, and share the love of Christ passionately (as if I were a zombie on the move).

Ideas a brewing… more #summerTV, #summerreading and “The Faces of…” series

Filed under zombie transition spirituality culture

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Death leads to New Life: From Jesus to Dexter #summertv

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things… When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

After John’s gruesome death, Jesus retreats for rest. However, on his way to rejuvenation followers notice the man with healing power and follow, begging for miracles. Jesus must have been exhausted. His friend, the one leading the way for the Messiah was brutally murdered without just cause. Because of  a grown man’s inability to control himself and a woman’s insecurities, John the baptizer’s life was mocked with a parade of his death. Not to mention prior to John’s death, the people of his home town refused to believe in Jesus or acknowledge his abilities. In this short chapter of Mark, Jesus experience rejection of those closest to him and the threat of security from those in power over him. In order to reflect on the past events Jesus retreats with his disciples in a boat. However, he does not find rest. Hounded by followers and spiritual seekers, Jesus is forced into feeding the five thousand. No rest for the weary.  

During graduate school I spent sleepless nights watching episodes of Dexter in my cramped bedroom. The intrigue of man possessed by a dark desire to kill overcomes his inner monster by murdering other murders: the serial killer who kills serial killers. In a twisted way, justice is served and dead bodies litter the ocean floor as Dexter heaves black trash bags off his boat late a night. Until now, I could never discover my fascination with the character’s split personality of crime scene investigator by day and murderer by night with my feelings of triumph as another mass murderer dies under the protection of plastic wrap on a make shift table.

The cable network Showtime airs its complex plot to question the sense of justice within the human heart. Does killing the killers make the world a better place? However, the story of a Miami genius murder is about more than right and wrong. Dexter’s decisions to find revenge through his evilness inside reflect the human condition all people struggle with in the deep parts of the soul. Instead of suppressing his inherent need to kill by joining therapy groups (which he tries for a season) or killing himself out of protection for others, Dexter uses his destructive personality to reconstruct hope for those victimized by violence. Surrounding his victims with photos as reminders of the lives destroyed by their hands, Dexter tells the stories of innocent lives lost under unjust needs to kill.

Not unlike me, seeking escape from the reality of his world, Dexter wrestles with his role in society, his contribution to the good of humankind and his monster inside. I too understand personal self-loathing or hatred for the evil things I cannot stop doing and the destruction I inadvertently cause. I too hope to be a better person who loves others and contributes to a better life for all. Dexter’s life, as he navigates family, fatherhood and vigilante, represents the human experience of self-acceptance. By embracing his monster within and need to kill others, the title character looks for ways to use his whole self (monster included) for good. In a weird way, Dexter exemplifies what Jesus teaches.

By accepting one’s self as fully human, fully broken and fully hopeful, people are able to continue to contribute to the good news despite faults, inabilities and insecurities. In addition, Jesus, who experienced rejection and doubt, embraced the power of his ministry in order to provide continued healing for all. “And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”

Every time I witness Dexter’s blade enter into a criminal’s abdomen, I release a sigh of relief. It is not my acceptance of murder as the best form of justice. I relax knowing that Dexter embraced his monster within to promote more goodness in the world. And I relax in my hope to wake up the next morning, flawed though I might be, with confidence that I too can make a difference.

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