Abandoning Caution for Chaos…

“You have burned the bridges to naïveté, and there is no more turning back.”[1]

This quotation was shared with me and 20-some other seminarians my first night of classes at Fox in 2013. At the time, reading this quote was relieving. I had spent several years either remaining silent in church over “controversial” issues out of fear of being ostracized or picked small things to challenge because I felt safe enough to get a point across without being labeled a “heretic” or “false teacher.” The only places I found where I could truly express my thoughts were with a couple people who had similar experiences with evangelical churches. Knowing that at seminary, I’d not only be free to ask questions and explore the theological fringes, but in fact it was a necessity, was comforting.

Honestly, I think seminary provided a space where my faith could breathe.

In the month I’ve been out of seminary, though, it hasn’t quite been the same. In a lot of ways, it feels like the world I left behind when I went to seminary – a world of unhealthy boundaries where you can ask questions insofar as you don’t disrupt the structure. Theological discussions regarding male headship are allowed, only if they’re led by men and everyone comes to agreement with the previously established hierarchy. Change is a curse word in this world. Justice is something that describes God, but strangely not those who bear God’s image. It’s a world that sings “Come as you are,” but closes its doors to entire LGTBQ communities. It prays for the safety of police officers, but not for the healing of or the justice for Tamir Rice’s family. It’s a world of long sermons, but minimal action.

When I encountered my first “controversy” with the evangelical world, I encountered a particular phrase again and again. My question was something like, “Can we still be Christians without believing the Bible is perfect?” Compared to the questions I encountered in seminary, this was harmless. But it rocked the boat too much for many people, so, in the attempt to sound “engaged” (it’s one of those “relevant” buzzwords, right?), they often said, “Well, I would rather err on the side of caution.”

This is one of the key phrases used to guard communities from unbelief, from falling away from Christ – as if one is incapable of asking questions that challenge hierarchical systems and remain a devout follower of Christ; as if Christ wasn’t already doing that when he quoted Isaiah 61 and declared that he was setting the captives free.[2] This phrase is used in a world that believes as long as it operates “by what the Bible says,” it can never take part in the oppression of others. What this world would learn if it ventured across that proverbial bridge is that the church has a long and terrible history of being on the side of the oppressor. And that this little phrase is often used to justify oppression against women, blacks, Indians, gays, lesbians, queers, bisexuals, transgender people, Muslims, or basically anyone who isn’t a cishet, white, male Christian.[3]

What happens, though, when these “other” identities get labeled as “heretical” is that the humanity of those who bear the same amount of God’s image as the cishet, white, male Christians gets erased. Look at the way many white Christians have reacted to Muhammad Ali’s death. Instead of saying that he was a powerful figure for black and Muslim communities, they say he “transcended race.” We’re still waiting for this to be said regarding any white celebrity.

My point is simply that remaining on the side of caution when it comes to “controversial issues” is not good news for the marginalized. It’s deadly. Suicide, genocide, and outright murder have faced and still face many marginalized groups – precisely because it is believed that helping them wouldn’t be erring on the side of caution. It would risk something. But when I read what Jesus does, it seems apparent to me that risk is part of the deal – part of considering the cost of following him.

“Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before them all, they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’”[4]

Your Bible probably has a footnote for this passage because it actually doesn’t appear in a lot of the early Greek manuscripts that scholars have today. The footnote in the beloved ESV Study Bible even says it “should not be considered as part of Scripture,” (pg. 2039). But it certainly gets treated as Scripture when Christians want to focus on the “sinful woman.” Notice how they don’t bring the man with whom the woman was caught in adultery before Jesus. They only brought her. Notice also Jesus using his status – his privilege – to dispense her accusers. The text doesn’t say so, but it seems likely that they had stones in hand when they brought her to Jesus. By not erring on the side of caution by following Moses’s command, Jesus may very well have been risking his life.

Jesus’s gospel gets treated as the most exciting thing ever. Sure, it is good news. But in certain contexts, one has to ask, “Good news for whom?” If embracing the gospel of Jesus means rejecting one’s sexuality, gender identity, or cultural expression, then it is not good news for everyone. If it means not calling out the white supremacist undertone in governmental structures, then it is not good news for everyone. And if it means not questioning the theological justification of “discovering” America (rather than embracing the Logos – the expression of God’s presence – within the Indigenous cultures already here), then it is not good news for everyone.

Following Jesus’s teachings is risky business. And nothing is risked when one “errs on the side of caution.” Instead, oppressive systems already in place simply continue on. Martin Luther King Jr.’s biggest enemy to equality wasn’t the KKK; it was the moderate whites who wanted to err on the side of caution. Their silence meant his imprisonment. In what areas are we being cautious? In what areas are we dehumanizing marginalized groups? Following Jesus means asking these questions because it is in the answers that we discover how the gospel can truly be for everyone.

In these post-seminary days, I’m encountering the challenge of abandoning naïveté by taking a risk with God. In some ways, my life might not be at stake. But someone else’s might be.

I think Jesus would want me to make sure they don’t feel alone.

[1] David Scholer. I wrote a post close to when seminary began, which you can read here.

[2] Luke 4:16-21.

[3] “cis” is an abbreviation of “cisgender,” which merely means that one identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth; “het” is an abbreviation for heterosexual.

[4] John 8: 2-11.


It wasn’t until I was ten or eleven when I stopped daydreaming I was a white kid. I have always been aware of my tan skin, but I haven’t always understood my tan skin as evidence of my Cherokee heritage. I had always thought I was just a really tan white kid and that some day I’d revert back to that white skin and start to match the kid I daydreamed myself to be.

That day will never come.

Doing my master’s thesis on Native American Christologies brought about a ton of challenges. (Re-)Learning the history of the relationship between American Indians and the U.S., deciphering where within postcolonial studies such a project fits despite there being nothing “post” about colonialism to Indigenous contexts, etc., etc. While academic challenges stretched my mind, emotional challenges made the project seem unbearable.

With nearly every page of material I read, I could see a connection between myself and colonialism. I could see exactly how my father’s parents were ripped from their traditions when they were probably sent to boarding schools, and how this left my father devoid of direction and a sense of responsibility. I could see how he was deprived of traditional values, which led to him feeling wayward. I could see why he chose to get high and steal. And I could see how this painful history was almost completely erased my identity when I was incorrectly labeled “white.”

Talking about Indigenous studies of almost any kind (theological, anthropological – though for me there really isn’t a separation) has become incredibly personal. Not only does it re-open wounds I had thought were healed, but it brings about a direct indictment of my Christian faith. Christianity played a major role in the dehumanization of countless tribes in both the U.S. and Canada (as well as other continents wherein indigenous peoples were forcibly removed from their families and sacred land – sound familiar?). And sure, as many white Christians like to chime in, modern day Christians had nothing to do with that, so why bother bringing it up? Believe it or not, this question has come my way plenty of times. Answering it has often been frustrating and painful because a single answer does not do this topic justice. But here are a few of my reasons:

I bring it up because Christian missionaries were often the agents acting on behalf of the state to delegitimize Indigenous religious practices – leading to genocide of both life and culture.

I bring it up because Christianity’s marriage to colonialism orphaned countless Indian kids like me, forcing us to grow up without knowing one or both of our parents.

I bring it up because I am so sick and tired of being referenced to passages in the bible about forgiveness and loving one’s enemy, but not to the points where Jesus is directly addressing what we would call systemic racism.[1]

I bring it up because I have never encountered such opposition as when I started posting and sharing things online that discuss race and police brutality – and that the predominant group of people hopping into my mentions and comment sections were white, Christian men.

I bring it up because I am so painfully exhausted that so many white Christians believe the Logos has only enlightened Christians rather than everyone, as John 1:9 tells us. This means that traditional Native stories that are often written off as “myths” (which depends on a skewed definition of “myth”) are actually speaking of the Creator.

I bring this all up because past pain has present realities.

If we wish to understand why there are states of emergency being declared among the First Nations of Canada, why countless tribes like the Navajo people are having their culture appropriated and ripped from them with no share in the profits, or why countless reservations are experiencing worse water conditions than Flint, Michigan (another example of systemic racism at work, considering Flint’s demographics) – we better understand how whiteness has manipulated the brown-skinned Jesus of Nazareth to justify mass destruction.

And we better not listen to white voices to learn these realities either. That only perpetuates the problem. Many whites have counter-argued that listening to only Native voices is “biased” and we should strive for objectivity. But those who make this argument don’t understand that their perspective has been socialized just as much as any Indigenous perspective – the only difference being their white opinion in a white-dominant society is treated as the “norm.” There is no such thing as true objectivity.

The near genocide of both Native peoples and cultures has led me to where I am now: only knowing half of my heritage. Unlike my white friends and family, I have to learn about my other heritage from books[2] – which is antithetical to Indigenous world views because the written word is not trustworthy. In a manner of speaking, this process has been a rezurrection[3] of sorts; bringing back to life Keetoowah traditions and values that were once dead to me.

And like blood returning to an uncirculated limb or oxygen to a constricted lung, the process has been painful.

Christianity often portrays Jesus’s resurrection as devoid of pain and understandably so – there is no play-by-play of Jesus coming out of the grave in Scripture. But after this experience of re-engaging Native traditions and values, it makes me wonder if, perhaps, it was a painful experience for Jesus, too. It makes me wonder that in the act of returning to his Creator nature, the knowledge of the events that would take place “in his name” brought him again to his knees, pleading that this cup of suffering would pass over him. Yes, his resurrection was and is glorious, but that does not necessarily mean it did not hurt.

Seeing Jesus through these new lenses of American Indian traditions and stories has been painful because of the realities they bring. But it doesn’t mean they are devoid of hope and healing. It simply means I am free to daydream as a Cherokee descendant, as I truly am.

It means I am free to be brown-skinned and normal.

[1] See “the Good Samaritan.”

[2] My advisor, Randy Woodley, is the only Keetoowah (“Cherokee”) I have ever met who has guided me through a lot of Keetoowah history and traditions. For 26 years of my life, I had to read books to find out about my heritage.

[3] Many Indigenous folks talk about “life on the rez,” so this spelling is intentional.

A Change of Location…

Hello. It’s me.

It’s been awhile since I last sat down to punch out a blog post and quite a few things have happened in that time span. I finished writing my master’s thesis (which I defend on Thursday), I got engaged to my brilliant girlfriend fiancé of nearly two years, and, pending a criminal background check, I have been admitted to Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas. And oh yeah, I graduate from George Fox Seminary in a couple weeks.

On one hand, it is unbelievable that so much has happened within a short amount of time. It feels as though it had been a little over a year ago since I was first accepted into George Fox, but that was nearly three years ago. It feels like last summer when I flew over to Oxford, England on my first trip outside of the country, but that was two summers ago. And it feels as though Jenna and I have been dating for only a few months, but here we are approaching the two year mark and planning our wedding.

And yet on the other hand, there is this feeling of familiarity with every “new” thing that comes. When Jenna and I started dating, we had a few awkward moments. Neither of us were raised in feminist environments (quite the opposite, really), but we both hold to feminist values (which is why I wear an engagement ring, too). Oftentimes working against our upbringings, we navigated our relationship trying to be as aware as we possibly could of patriarchally-influenced practices that might cause harm to the other (more of an imperative for me than Jenna). Obviously we I have made mistakes. But at no point have I ever felt as though I could not be my normal weird self – the self that I often have to hide in other contexts.

In a similar vein, this is how seminary has felt for me: A place where I can explore tough questions that I have often tried to ignore without the fear of judgment. It’s a place where I can throw myself into a subject without having to worry about its marketable value in the job realm (although sometimes I do consider what it might look like to potential schools if I pursued certain academic fields; for example, I don’t think academia needs another cisgender, heterosexual male writing about homosexuality in the bible – if anything, we need to lift up queer voices and/or step out of the way). There are plenty of times during certain semesters with certain classes where I have to do research on particular topics that I am not really passionate about in any way, but yet again, I don’t feel out of place. Reading books and articles, taking notes, constructing essays, etc., all strangely feel like normal activities – not as burdensome as they often are for others. Even though I haven’t been pursuing an academic career for very long, I have always felt “at home” in the pursuit.

When it came to deciding on whether or not to accept Brite Divinity’s offer for this coming fall, which will likely mean taking on a little more debt in addition to amplifying regular-life stresses, it honestly came down to the fact that I have a tough time seeing what I would do outside of academic studies. Sure, working retail or in the food industry is always an option based upon my experiences in both categories. But these jobs feel like my trip to England two summers ago: temporary.

Means of survival.

What I am really after, though, is a cause – something that has no marketable value and probably no monetary payout. But it involves daily dedication to something greater than the self, something intended to improve the community. When I consider what my experiences within seminary have taught me, it is that this is bringing me closer to that cause. No, not every assignment is going to directly shape what that purpose looks like. But every piece of homework, no matter how tedious, furthers my preparation to discover not only what that cause looks like, but precisely how it will be accomplished.

This opportunity at Brite Divinity School, then, is a chance to extend that preparation.

This isn’t a blind pursuit, either. While the cause itself may not be clear, there have been glimpses. Every time someone needs help on their essay, I get a glimpse. Every time I spend hours translating a small passage of Greek or Hebrew, I get a glimpse. And every time I ask a question, suggest an approach to an answer, or listen to the ideas of my peers, I get a glimpse of what that cause is. And between my five years of undergraduate studies at the University of Oregon and my three years of graduate studies at George Fox Seminary, I can assure you that I have only seen these glimpses in the classroom.

Thus – and I may be tempting fate with this – until God slaps me around to point me in a different direction, I need to keep going. There is quite a lot riding on this move not only for myself, but for my fiancé and the life we wish to live. And it is because I’m not the only person involved that makes me even more terrified. Because to step away from this academic world is to undo much of what I’ve done thus far. Those two years in between college and seminary taught me that much. So until further notice, I’m going to continue.

And if the glimpses mentioned above mean what I think they mean, then all I’m really doing is staying “home” by moving to Texas.


I can write and talk all I want to about moving to new places, but the reality is that this costs money – more than Jenna and I can muster in a single summer. Frankly speaking, we’re broke. If you wish to help us with our moving expenses, please click here.

On Being a “Half-breed” Seminarian…

Courtyard at Trinity Episcopal Church in Portland, Oregon.

A chill went through my spine as I heard several tribal songs yesterday morning at an event at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Portland. It was a Collins Lecture on “The Gospel of Conquest” with several Native speakers: George “Tink” Tinker (Osage Nation), Robert J. Miller (Eastern Shawnee), and Kim Recalma-Clutesi (Kwagiulth/Pentlatch). Since I had to be in Newberg for a Hebrew class by 6pm, I could only stay for the first two lectures by George and Robert. But I am glad that I did. I had never imagined that I would ever hear traditional tribal songs in church.

On my way home, I started thinking of how I had never expected to be studying just as much about Indigenous spirituality as I am Christian theology. Nor did I ever expect, when I left Eugene, to even meet a Native American professor teaching at a seminary. But yet here I am on the eve of turning in a writing sample of my thesis on Native Christologies, which will be turned in to the very same Native professor, Randy Woodley (Keetoowah Cherokee).

Back in March, when I had first started to consider potential thesis topics, I had a different idea in mind than studying Native Christologies. I had more of a desire to study Native theology more broadly or maybe study the book of Joshua from the postcolonial[1] perspective of Native peoples. Whichever topic I would decide to pursue, though, I knew that it would be an extremely personal endeavor. I knew that I would be unraveling my previous way of understanding my identity as I studied more on Native traditions, history, and spirituality.

My Cherokee half is the half that I have had to study on my own throughout my entire life. Since I have never known my Cherokee father, I have had to lean on white historians and euro-centric textbooks to teach me. You can probably see why this might be problematic.

In college I got a different look at Native identity. I took a Native American literature class and we read Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo). It was the first time I learned about “half-breeds” from a non-white perspective. There was a great amount that I could finally identify with.

But the bridge between Native American literature to Christian theology was never really envisioned for me. Although my church settings had never dealt with Native teachings directly, there was always the assumption that because they were not “sound doctrine,” they were not worth looking into – certainly not worth joining any local Native community.

Yet as I have studied Native traditions and as I have considered the world these Native authors describe, I see a world more suitable for Christianity than the West will ever be able to establish. Why do I think this way? While I’m saving the longer discussions for my thesis, there are three areas in Western Christianity that are significantly different in Native spirituality.


Western culture in general is obsessed with material goods – clothes, technology, buildings, cars, etc. And Western Christianity doesn’t really shy away from this. Consider the places of worship for a minute: usually a nicely designed and decorated worship hall, maybe some professional stage lighting with a sweet stereo system, and probably either a couple of giant TV screens or projector screens to display the PowerPoint slides that go along with the sermon (and the handouts). Native places of worship involve very little – if any – human-created things. In the sweat lodges I have experienced, the only materials were the tarps that covered over the branches that connect to create the dome of the lodge with a few mats on the inside for people to sit on. Apart from those, there was nothing else. It was people, songs and prayers, and the earth.[2]

Text based.

Following along with the material focus, much of our Western world is text-based. Something that is written down has more authority in day-to-day life than something that is spoken. When we buy something, we receive a receipt to prove that we purchased that item. And yes this plays a major factor in land claims, which still happen today![3] When disputes arise, the U.S. points to the written contracts as official, mutually binding laws. But many Native traditions see written words as even more untrustworthy than spoken words. Spoken words demand relationship. Spoken words demand that the other listens – and not listen solely for the purpose of responding. When it comes to Christianity, especially Protestantism, our worship revolves around the Bible. This is precisely what “authority of Scripture” even means: that it is binding for our lives as we follow God. Native traditions involve something much more intimate, much more communal, and much more heart-driven (rather than doctrine-driven).

Celebration of diversity.

And the mention of doctrines leads to the third, but certainly not the final point: Western Christianity, being a product of Western culture, is inherently hegemonic. Western culture sees itself as inherently superior to all other cultures. In the wars that the U.S. has fought in the Middle East, part of the narrative was that we were spreading the gospel of democracy – as if our country did not experience comparable problems to those of the Middle East (they may have ISIS and Boko Haram, but we have Neo-Nazis and the KKK; there isn’t much of a difference). Western Christianity follows a similar path. There are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of denominations in Christianity and most of which were formed because someone somewhere disagreed with someone else and started their own church. But in Native traditions, diverse ways of understanding the world are actually expected. So something like creation narratives are going to differ – not unlike the two creation stories in Genesis.

Take all of this as you will, but over the last five or six years, Western Christianity has really exhausted my faith because of all these issues. Some church worship services are little different than concerts. Some discussions about the Bible only serve the purpose of proving someone else wrong. And some communities are so uniform both theologically and demographically speaking that I oftentimes do not feel welcomed simply by having brown skin and believing the Bible to be imperfect. In a way, this exploration into the other half of my heritage has saved and healed the half I grew up with.

So in a way, this seminary exploration is not at all what I had intended, but precisely what I needed.


[1] George Tinker joked about this word during his talk. He said, “When someone says ‘postcolonial,’ Natives say ‘When did it end?’”

[2] Powwows are worth mentioning here simply because they have the appearance of being material-based. But they really aren’t, at least not in the way Western culture is. Everything that Natives wear and use in Powwows is made from Natives themselves; not store bought from somewhere else. It is either that or they are handed down from generation to generation, which doesn’t really happen much in Western culture. But I have only been to one Powwow, so there are certainly other voices who could speak more accurately to how they function.

[3] Both Robert Miller and George Tinker shared with us that all U.S. laws pertaining to property rights are based upon the Doctrine of Discovery, which is the ridiculous belief that Europeans “discovered” the continents of North and South America before the Natives did (and thereby set the precedent for whoever “discovers” and then occupies a land gets to keep that land). Even right now, there are tribes that are still fighting both the U.S. government and the Canadian government for land disputes.

Rocking the Boat: Random Thoughts on Faith, Church, and the Bible…

It has been months since I last blogged and since I am still near the beginning of the semester, I figured I could spare a few words here before my life becomes almost utter chaos (between my thesis research, internship, and three part-time jobs [TA, writing consultant, student life leader], I will be hard-pressed to find any free time).

It is my last year of seminary. I’ve said that several times and it still hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I guess I’m not sure it’s really supposed to until I graduate, right? It’s like in the movie Amazing Grace where William Wilberforce asks William Pitt after they’ve raced through Wilberforce’s garden, “Why is it when you stop running you always feel the splinters?” and Pitt replies, “It’s a lesson: we must keep going.” The reality of seminary ending will not likely hit until I have stopped writing the papers and reading the books.

But more on that later.

What has come to mind lately has been where I was when I started this journey. And no, it is not when I began seminary, actually. It goes much farther back than that.

When I met with my internship supervisor (Brian Doak at the Newberg campus of George Fox) right before the first Hebrew class, we talked a bit about where things had begun for me. He had asked me who my professor had been at U of O and I said it was Daniel Falk (now at Penn State). And then I told him how I even got started into Falk’s classes: by way of frustration with my Math 112 class.

Only the Lord knows how I even passed Math 111 when I failed the final (I think I received roughly a 56%), but somehow I found myself two weeks into Math 112 drawing countless circles that weren’t doodles, but instead serious attempts at calculations. Unlike any other math class that I had taken up to that point, I had even met with the professor in her office hours twice in the first week. And by the Thursday of the second week, I was ready to call it quits.

But I needed something to replace it; financial aid would not allow me to take 8 credits at the undergraduate level since “full time” was considered 12. So, at around 3 am (so technically Friday), I started browsing the course catalogues and stumbled upon the Religious Studies section. I knew at least one of my friends was in an Intro to the Bible class, so I thought I’d check it out.

It was completely full.

Yet I knew that the end of Friday was the latest anyone could drop classes and receive a 90% refund. And since I had just eaten an entire box of those Little Debbie Oatmeal Crème Pies, which are loaded with sugar, I figured I’d be up awhile. My math homework was certainly not getting done. So I sat there hitting “Refresh” for maybe ten minutes when, lo and behold, the Red Sea parted and the Intro to the Bible class had an opening!

To this day, it was the fastest I had ever signed up for any class.


And that was when this whole journey began. I took that class, then the subsequent Jesus and the Gospels in the following fall. And during my fifth year (or as I call it, the Victory Lap year), I took two more classes from Professor Falk because why not? It was during those final classes that I realized that while my major had been English literature, my true passion was studying the Bible. And I believed that my time studying the Bible beyond the normal weekly Bible study was not done.

Why do I bring all of this up? Well, the two afternoon coffees certainly help, but mostly because within the past two days, I have been reminded twice of a church experience that is difficult to relive. Sunday night I received an email asking about this post, which is my honest thoughts about the closure of Calvary Fellowship, my home church in Eugene for 5 of the 7 years I had lived there. And just yesterday afternoon, a fellow classmate and I chatted about Calvary Chapel and why Calvary Fellowship had split off from it (he had heard about it down in California). And like any break within a church denomination, it boiled down to a difference of opinion regarding key beliefs. This time, the two key beliefs were the doctrines of pre-tribulation (rapture) and inerrancy, the latter of which was the major one that I had experienced while at Calvary Fellowship.

Without going too far into the details of what happened that led to Calvary Fellowship’s final closure (honestly, some terminology that is used around “major doctrines” like these is triggering for me), it is enough to say that Danny believed the Bible to be God’s inspired word – the divine revelation that pointed to Jesus. Furthermore, any critique of the doctrine of inerrancy that Danny had had was not for the purpose of “bringing down inerrancy,” as he once stated in a sermon (by the way, that sermon was the one and only time Danny had addressed personal attacks on him and his family that were based off of his beliefs – I mean honestly, who should have to justify why they follow Jesus to fellow Christians?). Even in the final days of the church, we had plenty of members who disagreed with him on this belief, but loved the community that we had all helped to create.

Little did I know that, when I was listening to Danny defend himself to his own church based off of countless rumors spread about him, I would have a difficult time attending any church.

A year after we had said goodbye to Danny, who moved back down to California to take up a job that would provide for his family, I started gathering with other former members of Calvary Fellowship. I think it was only because of their presence that I was even able to sit comfortably in a church (without feeling like I didn’t belong). I haven’t been able to do so since.

In my one normal class, which is all about hermeneutics (“the art of interpretation”), we’re reading this book by Michal J. Gorman who describes the interpretation process as a spiral – we begin in one spot, circle by critique and deconstruction, and ascend upwards as we construct a new way of understanding the Biblical text. As I read those words I pictured a spiral staircase that essentially gets designed as it is being built (something akin to the staircases at Hogwarts). But I didn’t that it was an apt description of how it feels to strive toward a better understanding of the text as you both deconstruct and reconstruct along the way.

As I found out with Calvary Fellowship, deconstructing to reconstruct can feel like chaos. In fact, it can feel like a shipwreck – like a church closing its doors because a pastor dared to challenge a dominant view of the Bible, but do so in a way that was conducive to a healthy faith and spirituality. Interpreting the Bible often feels like sailing on a boat; sometimes it will be smooth and easy, but others it will be terrifyingly rough and it will feel like the boat is about to capsize.

This imagery of a ship at sea is deliberate: almost two years prior to Calvary’s closure I had written a post about why I had chosen to stay with Calvary Fellowship; because my little individualistic faith had become grafted in with the other members. Or as I had put it then, my little rowboat and been broken apart and pieced back together with the much larger ship of Calvary. So when Calvary was no longer a church, I had to reinterpret what my faith even looked like, let alone where I saw myself in the church.

Where my seminary comes into play is how it has provided a place where I can ask questions and not be afraid of not finding an answer. I can mull over things without feeling the pressure to produce a nicely-packaged response (but of course, there is always the pressure one feels right before a paper is due, but that’s a little different). The interpretive methodologies that I have learned thus far have helped redeem a text so wrapped up in religiosity (a word I often heard at Calvary; not even sure if it’s a real word). I feel more comfortable in exploring a text, especially after having learned its original languages.

As you might guess, I’m pretty excited about this hermeneutics class – not only because I might learn some new methodologies for interpretation, but also because it continues the journey that I began in a night of frustration with a college math class my freshman year. Learning more about the Biblical text is all that I really wanted to do in the first place. But now I can do so without feeling inadequate simply because I have a different method of approach or don’t have the “right” method (which is all that inerrancy really is: a method).

Because it’s okay to rock the boat.

Faith, then, seems to be a byproduct of how well we trust God when we don’t feel like we can trust anything else, like the Bible or the church. God is above and beyond all of that. In fact, no amount of prepositions accurately depicts where, when, how, or why God even is (I know, such an English major thing to say, right? Ugh.). God just is. And sometimes when we come to the Bible, that’s all we have to go on.

And that’s okay.

God bless.

Because of Jesus…

Some may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging as much lately. I wish I could blame it all on the workload of being a full-time seminarian mixed with a couple of part-time jobs, but the reality is all of that busy-ness actually makes me want to blog more. Of course, it doesn’t suddenly create the time to do so, but nevertheless the desire to blog isn’t the reason I haven’t blogged.

Honestly, my lack of blogging is due more to the fact that there are heavier things to blog about. For example, this summer I took American Church History with one Professor Randy Woodley and while we would read speeches from Martin Luther King Jr., a news story would break about how another black individual (or nine individuals at a Bible study) was killed at the hands of white men (usually police officers). Or when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages must be recognized in every state, how quickly many Christians responded with messages of mourning and lament even though the founders of many of the conservative institutions fought for equality of all. In those situations, my words would not do much to improve any situation or to lessen the pain within these communities. All anyone who is not directly involved can do is draw attention to the voices who are directly involved.

And basically that’s what I have been doing: re-tweeting and sharing the voices who have been speaking against injustice in these arenas as well as others. But sometimes that doesn’t seem to be enough. Sometimes it seems as though my friends on Facebook or Twitter won’t pay any attention to what I share because they don’t believe racism exists or they believe a “biblical marriage” has a simple, straight-forward definition contrary to what the Supreme Court thinks. What does it take for these perspectives not to be changed entirely, but to be challenged a little and given the space to think or process for themselves? What is needed in order for the voices of the slain black men, women, and children at the hands of police to be heard? What is it going to take to value each other’s life equally?

I will not even begin to pretend to have the answers, but I have a few hopes. One hope is that we would de-politicize these issues so that we might have a little more room to talk. Both Republicans and Democrats can be (and often are) seen as the enemy – as the group that is trying to ruin the country. Our political atmosphere has long been removed from the realm of equal dialogue and sharing of perspectives because it has become so fused with the need to beat one’s opponent that we’re reluctant to admit where we have agreements – or even worse, where our political parties are actually wrong. Removing the politics from the discussion enables for voices to be heard.

Which leads to my second hope: that we would de-politicize these issues so that we might have room to listen. This is by far the most important aspect of removing the political labels because in either political party the people who are less likely to be heard are the underprivileged black, Latino/a, Native, LGBTQ, and female voices. So the opposite of these categories – the cisgender, heterosexual, white male – is primarily the one who desperately needs to listen. But the same challenge can extend to others who are not this category and yet retain some aspect of privilege. For example, I’m not white, but I am a cisgender, heterosexual male, so in conversations revolving around sexuality or how women are treated, I desperately need to shut my mouth and listen. It doesn’t mean I can’t ask questions, but it does mean that I better spend more time listening than asking.

And this leads to my third hope: that we would sweat it out as we listen. Randy Woodley challenged the class with this idea in an (unpublished?) article he wrote, but the idea is basically that when it comes to “sitting at the conversation table,” we must remain seated as our privileges are exposed. And yes, we may even be guilty of abusing these privileges, in which case it is even more imperative that we remain seated and sweat it out. If we are seeking to be true allies and help those who are underprivileged, then we can’t say that we’ll listen and get up from the table after five minutes because we got too uncomfortable or we found the words directed at us to be offensive. Here’s the thing: if we are privileged, then we are not in the right to be “offended” when this privilege is called out. We’re merely experiencing what happens when our privileges are removed. So if you’re white and hearing about “white privilege” for the first time, remember that it is not racism to call out the dominant race for the systems their ancestors put in place that subordinate other races. Like John Metta talks about, race is a difficult topic because it is almost always centered around white feelings. We must sweat it out when our privileges are called out.

When all of the above is implemented, then comes one more hope: that the privileged do not suddenly become the leaders/experts in the issues of the underprivileged. An example comes from male feminists or white guys in the Black Lives Matter movement: they read a book by a feminist woman or hear a sermon from a black preacher about police brutality and think they ought to take up the leadership of those causes. This is not how systemic oppression changes. It is merely the reincarnation of the same systemic oppressions with new masks of equality. So when a man points out his own feminist leanings and proceeds to take over a conversation, that man then undermines his feminist values (because feminism seeks the equality of all specifically by focusing on the inequality of women). So yes, this means that I cannot take over the discussion about women’s equality; we must empower the underprivileged to have equal footing as the privileged.

Some may not find any of this to be in accordance with Christian values, but the truth is that it has been my faith in Christ that has led me to all of these issues (and for what it’s worth, treating them only as “issues” is a privilege in and of itself). It was Jesus who led me to feminism and womanism. It was Jesus who led me to accept the marriages of the LGBTQ community as God ordained. It was the suffering and lynching of Jesus that led me to lament the suffering and lynches of the black community (yes, when a black child is shot dead for playing with a toy gun, that is a lynching). It was Jesus who taught me that every person was made in the image of God. All that I have been challenged with is really expanding my definition of what God looks like.

Even with this brief outline of why these things matter to me, I am drained. Why? Because it is quite likely that as I have written these words, someone in the U.S. has been killed because they’re black, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, Native, Mexican, Muslim, a woman, or some combination of these. Or some prominent Christian leader has said another racist thing about people he does not understand or care that much about to begin with (*cough, cough* Franklin Graham *cough, cough*). With as much as I could write about these issues, change still seems incredibly far off. But that does not mean that I can not hope in God who has poured the Spirit into us through Jesus of Nazareth.

May we all find the courage to follow where the Spirit leads and end oppression.

God bless.

Discovering Nuances in the Greek: An Evaluation of Eph. 5:21-25…

As mentioned in my last post, Greek has been reviving my interest in the Biblical text. Learning all the different features of how the grammar works provides a whole new sense of understanding the text. And again during class on Monday, another passage came into a whole new light. But this time, it has left me carefully considering the kinds of study Bibles I spend my time reading.

Ephesians 5:22-24 is a controversial passage for it appears to be giving a complementarian view of marriage (where the husband is the head of the marriage while the wife submits to the husband). But this word “submit” is actually becomes a little more interesting when one takes a look at the Greek (with my literal translation after):

αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ, ὅτι ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς ὡς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος ἀλλὰ ὡς ἡ ἐκκλησίας ὑποτάσσεται τῷ Χριστῷ, οὕτως καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί.

“the wives to their own husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of a wife and as Christ (is) head of the church, he savior of the body but as the church is being submitted to Christ, and so the wives to husbands in all.”

What’s odd about this passage? If one takes a look at the beginning of the passage, it appears that there is something missing, no? Here is how the ESV Bible has translated it:

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

Notice the difference? In my literal translation of the Greek, any form of the word “submit” only appears once, but yet, in the same amount of verses, the ESV has it listed three times. What is even more problematic is how the first usage of “submit” appears: “Wives, submit to your own husbands…” It is an imperative (a command). Yet if one looks in the Greek, one not only does not see the imperative form of “submit” (which would be ὑποτάγητε, for the second person, plural; Cf. James 4:7), but one does not see any form of “submit” anywhere, certainly not in v. 22. Where is it coming from then?

For our translation assignment last week, we were asked to translate Eph. 5:21-25 to get a full sense of what is going on here. Here is what the full passage looks like in Greek:

Ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ἐν φόβῳ Χριστοῦ, αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ, ὅτι ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς ὡς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος ἀλλὰ ὡς ἡ ἐκκλησία ὑποτάσσεται τῷ Χριστῷ, οὕτως καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί.

Οἱ ἄνδρες, ἀγαπᾶτε τὰς γυναῖκας, καθὼς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς ἠγάπησεν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ ἑαυτὸν παρέδωκεν ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς…

“Submitting to one another in reverence of Christ, the wives to their own husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of a wife and as Christ head of the church, he savior of the body, but as the church is being submitted to Christ, and thus the wives to husbands in all.

Husbands, love the wives, even as Christ loved the church and delivered of himself over on behalf of her…”

What is particularly significant about this passage is that the “submit” command that the ESV implements in v. 22 (which is nowhere in the Greek v. 22), comes from a participle and not an imperative (Ὑποτασσόμενοι). Instead of suggesting a command, Paul is reshaping (though not dramatically) what is known as the “household code.” This is proven true by the only imperative in or near this particular passage: ἀγαπᾶτε, which is a direct command to the ἄνδρες, the “husbands.” In a culture where men mostly married to produce heirs rather than for love, this is a huge statement and not quite as demeaning to women as the ESV (NIV and NASB as well) has it. What is even more deceptive on the part of these popular translations is that little subheader placed in between v. 21 and v. 22; “Wives and Husbands” for both ESV and NIV and “Marriage Like Christ and the Church” in the NASB.[1] With that direct (and theologically driven) break in the text, one would not at all see the discrepancy.

However, there are two translations I have recently picked up that actually give interesting renderings here – renderings that are much closer to the sense of the Greek. The first is the Common English Bible (CEB), which came out two years ago. Here is its rendering of the passage:

“… and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. For example, wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. A husband is the head of his wife like Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body. So wives submit to their husbands in everything like the church submits to Christ. As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” – Eph. 5:21-25.

While it still inserts “wives should submit” (again, not quite present in the Greek), they have at least placed the header “Be filled with the Spirit” all the way back right before v. 15 and keep the entire passage as one paragraph (all the way to the end of the chapter). And when the Greek is considered, this is precisely the sense conveyed (note also the “For example”; this comes closer to presenting the “wives submitting to husbands” as an example of what reverence in Christ looks like, but still avoids the participial sense by inserting “should”).

The second translation is the Inclusive Bible, which is an explicitly egalitarian Bible:

“Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ. Those of you who are in committed relationships should yield to each other as if to Christ, because you are inseparable from each other, just as Christ is inseparable from the body – the church – as well as being its Savior. As the church yields to Christ, so you should yield to your partner in everything. Love one another as Christ loved the church. He gave himself up for it…” – Eph. 5:21-25.

While they have steered slightly away from a literal translation of the Greek, it is crucial to note the language used in place of husbands being the heads of wives: “because you are inseparable from each other, just as Christ is inseparable from the body.” Does this not convey the sense of Gal. 3:28 precisely: “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (CEB, emphasis mine)? Of course, it is worth noting that Ephesians is a “partially disputed” letter of Paul (term Dr. Gupta introduced to us last night in our NT class); this means that it is possible that Paul did not actually write Ephesians. While I am on the fence about that, the Greek (at least to me, a novice) in this passage does not drift too far from Paul’s profound statement in Gal. 3:28.

As my Greek class plunges on through controversial passages of Paul’s letters, it is becoming overwhelmingly clearer and clearer that there is a massive amount of patriarchal language that must be unraveled – not necessarily patriarchal language from Paul himself, per se, but certainly from the more modern translations. The ESV and NASB footnotes pertaining this passage were terribly geared toward a patriarchal lens of the text, which, in my view, is exceedingly dangerous as it enables all sorts of manipulation and abuse of power and goes directly against Jesus’ teaching of not lording one’s power over another (cf. Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-44; Luke 22:24-27).

So, yes, studying Greek this year (although it may kill me), has proven to be one of the wisest decisions I have ever made.

God bless.

[1] I cannot give the NRSV a full pass either, but the Catholic Edition I have at least places the header “The Christian Household” above v. 21.