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.

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.

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.

Ever.

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.

Spring Break Refreshment…

Spring Break, for many graduate students, is not much of a break. Even though the weekly assignments are somewhat put on hold or reduced to a moderate amount, there are still the semester papers, projects, and countless hours of course reading to catch up on. With this in mind, I took a quick trip to Eugene yesterday with my girlfriend – both for a mini-vacation and to show her where I spent seven years of my life.

We first parked on Agate St. just outside of Hayward Field. From there we walked up 15th, past the turf fields, through the dorm halls (passing my own Morton Hall of the Earl complex along the way) toward the EMU (now being rebuilt). After taking a quick stop inside the EMU, we walked down 13th, paused a bit in front of Fenton, and then wandered over to Deady, so she could see the first building built on the University of Oregon’s campus. We continued on to McKenzie, then crossed the street to the Duck Store. She was amazed by the enormity of a school bookstore and I was amazed by the renovations they had made (I used to work for the company and it did not look like that the last time I was there). We then stopped in Café Roma for a coffee with my former pastor, Tony. After a quick photo at the Starbucks next door (where I had met Jenna’s sister, Sierra, who introduced me to Jenna), we hung out at the Knight Library.

There is a song from the U of O’s acappella group, On the Rocks, called “Call Me a Duck” (a remake off of Maino’s “All the Above”). In that song, which is all about being a student at the university without a football focus, there is a portion of a line that goes “Picture you studying Greek…” At the time I first heard the song, I did not think much of it. But when I sat down at a window seat in the top floor of the Knight Library to do a little Greek homework, it was the first thing I could think of.

Top floor, far left corner from the stairs.
Taken after finished transcribing Col. 3:9-11, a passage about renewal.

It was a poetic moment that encapsulated the journey from the University of Oregon up to George Fox Evangelical Seminary, where I am now two years into a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) degree. At a point in the semester (and even in the degree pursuit altogether) when exhaustion is beginning to hit me, it was a refreshing reminder that there was a point when I did not imagine seminary. And as I am now beginning to plan what to write for my Master’s thesis as well as studying for the GRE to move on to a PhD program in a year and a half, it is a nice motto of what I hope to study and teach after I have left George Fox.

No, it is not as if Greek is my primary area of interest, but it certainly is a part of it. It certainly is a fascinating language all its own. It certainly has opened up my understanding of the Biblical text. And I certainly would not be studying it had I not gone to the U of O. As I plan for the upcoming academic year and prepare myself for what may (hopefully) follow, remembering where I have come from and all of the transformative processes I have gone through will be what drives me forward.

Even in seminary, God can seem a little distant. When that happens, one’s future looks a little blurry and confusing. But every now and then, God – on God’s own timing – sends little reminders that God is still there, refreshing you and your passions like rain to an Oregonian.

All that God wants in those moments is for us to simply soak it in.

God bless.

Half-way Done…

During last semester, I was required to do my candidacy assessment for George Fox Seminary – where a team of professors come together, review my work, read my reflection of how life is going for me in seminary, and determine whether or not it is spiritually healthy for me to continue. I think every student goes through this assessment, so it is basically part of the routine. When I wrote the reflection essay, though, I became aware of something: I miss church.

It may be a shock for some to imagine how a seminarian could go through the majority of their classes without being “plugged in,” as the Christianese phrase goes. But that has been me; I have not been a part of a church community since I left Eugene. There are a number of reasons as to why I have not joined with any community, but a major one is that I no longer feel comfortable in the evangelical, “Reformed” settings. Why? Because in many of these environments, to extend critical thought on a particular matter – especially a theological matter that has long been tightly held (e.g. inerrancy) – would bring about shame, as if I were heretical for even asking the questions.

Seminary has changed me, but while I see all these changes as great, many in some of my former environments would not. Instead, they would likely give me the “You are walking dangerously close to that slippery slope” type of stuff and encourage me to read another book by a white, heterosexual male pastor with an “authoritative” perspective – as if I were going to simply agree with everything this person wrote because he’s a pastor and, well, a “he.” And it is not at all too farfetched to imagine these types of statements being made to me, either; after all, many have already said these things to me (especially about inerrancy).

My seminary education has given me wonderful lenses through which to view not only Scripture, but church traditions, customs, and spiritual practices as well. I have been introduced to feminism, womanism, and indigenous spiritual practices – all of which have shaped how I approach modern issues like yoga pants, Ferguson, and the “anomaly” of the gay Christian. Being taught lenses that challenge my previous understanding of how the world works in an environment that provides the space for me to think alone and formulate my own ideas has changed the way I think completely. I simply have a hard time – based upon previous experiences – imagining my own acceptance into the evangelical church setting.

And yet, I know that seminary will not last forever. The beginning of this semester marks my halfway point; this time next year will be my final semester in seminary. The reality of this is beginning, already, to settle in. My hope is to be somewhere pursuing a PhD, but who knows what kind of environment that will be like? Assuming the best, that I get into a great and fully-funded program, will it be conducive to a healthier faith? Will I be challenged in constructive ways rather than warned against the dangers of the “slippery slope”? I know for a fact that it will be a difficult task; PhDs are nothing to scoff at. But will the environment be conducive to a healthier, stronger walk with God? Will the challenges and difficulties be worth it?

Thus the need for a community outside of school.

No, I am not asking people for church recommendations. I am in no hurry right now to find a place. Instead, I want to go about this carefully so that I can find a community who loves God and their neighbors without judgment, shame, or the need to operate “as has always been done.” I need a community that seeks God, but also diversity within the congregation as well as the leadership. I need a community where we are asked to help our neighbor with what they need rather than telling our neighbors what they need to believe. No, I will not need for this community to be full of Master’s and PhD students. But I will need this community to accept me for all of me.

For those reading, what, if anything, has your community done to create an environment more conducive to the critical thinker/skeptic types? For those like me, what have you done to find and/or build a like-minded community? Has that gone well for you or are there serious setbacks that you are discovering?

Thank you for reading and God bless!

Halfway Assessment: Reflections on How Seminary Has Changed Me…

A little over a week ago I found out that I am now up for candidacy assessment, which all (or most?) at George Fox Seminary who are reaching the midway point of their programs must undergo. It essentially evaluates how well or not well I’m handling my courses, whether or not I’m growing in a healthy way spiritually, and then ultimately it decides if I’m up to the task of finishing. From all of what I have read about it thus far, it’s a simple means of determining whether or not my degree program is benefitting me and those around me. It is such a weird feeling to be nearly halfway done with a pursuit that I began a little over a year ago.

Part of the assessment asks how my theology has changed over the duration of my time at George Fox. This was a tough question to answer mostly because we’re supposed to keep our words few and our meaning specific, but also because I am not sure whether it is better defined as a theological shift – a change in what I believe – or as a coagulation of things that I believed in part – undercurrent beliefs or questions long held, but merely affirmed throughout my time in seminary.

For example, I believe that women can and ought to be on the forefront of ministerial leadership, which includes being the head pastor of a church, but is not limited to that. Even if Adam and Eve were truly the first humans, Eve – as the supposed model for all women – is the co-helper with Adam and vice versa. Women being placed beneath men is a consequence of humanity’s break with God, which was then mended in and through Christ, rendering there to be “no longer Jew or Greek, … slave or free, … male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”[1] When we treat and value women as equally capable leaders and thinkers, we are ushering in the new creation that Christ has established.

I believe that calling God “Father” is not a terrible thing to do, but that there are plenty of shortcomings in taking this label – as really with any label – further to attribute “masculine” characteristics back onto God. There are also shortcomings with calling God “Mother” as well, which only means that any label we would like to give God that depends solely on modern terminology (or even dated terminology) will only wind up leaving us with a God in our own image – or the image we would like God to be in. This is not to say we create God in our own image when we call God Father or Mother, but to say that we must always allow God to be God – transcendent beyond gender, time, and material, yet embedded deeply and relentlessly active within each. God is much larger than our simple regurgitations of our pastors’ favorite theologians.

I believe our understanding of sexuality from the lens of Scripture is exceedingly limited – particularly with homosexuality. Declaring heterosexuality the norm based on a text from a time period where loving, caring, homosexual relationships were practically non existent (at the very least, not attested for) – where in fact homosexual acts were a means of expressing dominance – is stifling the voices of the LGTBQ community before they’re even given a chance to speak. At that point, we are no longer bullying them; we’re dehumanizing them.

Lastly, and not at all of least importance, I believe that racism is still alive and manifests itself in many realms and on many levels. The people of Ferguson, Missouri and their reaction to the killing of unarmed Michael Brown is but a taste of what many marginalized races have been feeling for God knows how long. And, most importantly, this is not to harmonize all races – that because they have the same struggle, they must have the same story. This is profoundly not true. The story of the Native American people – my own heritage – is not the same as the African-American people nor the same as the African, Korean, Afghan, Palestinian or any other marginalized people’s story. Loving one’s neighbor, particularly in this context, is not standing idly by while fellow siblings are trampled on and dehumanized without being given a chance to speak for themselves. And yet at the same time, it means not taking up their cry for justice as one’s own and further muting their voice. Inasmuch as I can claim the Cherokee people as my own heritage, I cannot claim their struggle as my own; I was raised by a successful, white family (my mother is white). But I can certainly help.

One must pardon the matter-of-fact nature with which I write all these; there has been an exhausting amount of controversy revolving around each of these lately and I am simply fed up with the lack of neighborly love shown from fellow Christians (and of course, myself). In many ways, those who have been marginalized, whether Christian or not, have displayed greater Christ-likeness than many of the Christians arguing against them. Rather than responding in kind, they’ve chosen to love their neighbors as themselves (similar to what Paul describes in 2 Cor. 6:1-10). In many ways, I have been challenged to follow their example.

By and large the biggest challenge of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self is listening to one’s neighbor and allowing them to define themselves in their own terms. I have no right to tell the gay Christian that she is not really a Christian because she is gay; I am not God, therefore, I am not omniscient. Furthermore, Jesus teaches that we will know the false believers by the fruit they bear; are the predominately-white police officers in Ferguson, Missouri truly bearing Christ-like fruit when advancing on peaceful, unarmed gatherings (which is a right granted to all by the 1st Amendment) or are the protestors – who have shown a greater wherewithal to protect their own community peaceably – showing bad fruit by crying out for justice for Michael Brown and his family (and the families of many other black men and women killed and demonized within white communities)?

Seminary hasn’t changed me, really. It’s simply helped me refine things I have already been believing for some time and then challenged me with opportunities to live out those beliefs. And as I have said, these beliefs are quite simple: loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving my neighbor as myself – valuing them as equally as I value myself despite the drastic differences there may be between us. If I am only at the midpoint of my seminary experience, I have a lot of work ahead of me.

God bless.

[1] Gal. 3:28, NRSV. Paul here repeats “there is no longer” to further emphasize the break from “the way things are.” Richard B. Hays writes, “Paul is echoing the language of Gen. 1:27: ‘male and female he created them.’ To say that this created distinction is no longer in force is to declare that the new creation has come upon us, a new creation in which even gender roles no longer pertain.New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Vol. XI, p. 273, emphasis mine.

Setting Aside a Sabbath…

Books for this upcoming fall semester have arrived – well, most of them anyway; still waiting on two of them. From the looks of things, this ought to be the most challenging semester of school I’ve ever had. Instead of taking the minimum 8 credits (minimum to receive financial aid), I’m taking 12: Church History & Theology (3), Intro to the New Testament (3), Intro to New Testament Greek (3), and an independent study of Phoenician (3). Hebrew gave me frequent headaches all throughout last year, so I expect this semester to literally fry my brain (okay, I mean that in the figurative sense).

To help prepare for the expansive workload, I started scheduling out study sessions for each of my classes – shooting for close to 9 hours a week for each class outside of class time. Am I mad? Yes. But what I also sought to schedule out was something I’ve never really tried before: a Sabbath rest.

I think the biggest reason I scheduled out the day for Sabbath rest is because I had just finished a presentation on Sabbath rest for my Creation Theology class. Ultimately my conclusion was that a Sabbath rest isn’t like a day off from work; it’s the purpose for why we work. We rest not just to renew our energies for the upcoming work week, but to celebrate life as it is – without changing our altering anything.

Envisioning how a Sabbath day might work, I have a hard time shaking the way I first learned about the Sabbath – that it was a day for church, maybe a barbecue, and certainly for football, which works for both Saturdays and Sundays. However, when I think of how God, on the seventh day, let creation be as it was – simply stepping back and enjoying everything as is – I don’t find how some of these former ways of thinking actually fit. Certainly these communal acts are constructive, but they don’t have the particular focus that I have in mind.

In her article “Christian Formation in and for Sabbath Rest,” Dorothy Bass writes:

“Sabbath observers practice stepping off the treadmill of working and spending. They develop the capacity to disengage from consumer culture and to coexist in gratitude with nature and other people within the plenty of God’s creation and anticipate the future God intends for the world.”

What I envision for my fall semester is breaking off from anything that has to do with producing something and enjoying the people and world around me. Now although watching TV isn’t necessarily producing anything, it is still placing one’s focus away from the people and world around them onto a commercial activity. No, instead, I see my Sabbath rests being spent away from TVs, computers, and, yes, even cell phones so that I may have a better chance at enjoying the people and world around me.

Of course, actually committing to a schedule of any kind might be my biggest challenge for next semester, but committing to a Sabbath of rest – of true, genuine rest – will be a close second. This all may sound funny because I’m not Jewish, but the truth is, I have never read anywhere in the New Testament where the Sabbath was to be done away with. If anything, Jesus corrects how one ought to approach the Sabbath (placing the focus on life rather than simply not doing work); “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath,” (Mark 2:27, CEB). Taking a Sabbath ought to still be a prominent part of the Christian life.

My quality of work may or may not benefit from taking this Sabbath. But, as has been pointed out, that cannot be my focus. Instead, I want to go for runs or hikes; I want to have long chats with friends and family members without our cell phones (or with, depending on how far away they are); and I want to sit back and enjoy the created world as is, just as God had done.

Reality is, if I can make time for Netflix, I can make time for a Sabbath.

God bless.

“God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation,” – Genesis 2:3, CEB

“The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life… The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Sabbath. It is not an interlude, but the climax of living,” – Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 14