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.

On Being a “Half-breed” Seminarian…

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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.

Material-based.

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.

Ah-ho.

[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.

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.

A (Sort of) Review of Peter Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So…

In 2008, I had difficulty with the Bible. Okay, it wasn’t really difficulty with the Bible, per se; more so with outside pressure about the Bible. That is, I attended a church whose pastor didn’t affirm inerrancy – the belief that the Bible is perfect – and received confrontation after confrontation regarding why I chose to keep going there. “There are too many red flags,” a friend told me. “If I were you, I’d leave,” another pastor of another church advised.

Yet what no one stopped to consider – not even myself – was whether or not the doctrine of inerrancy was a healthy way of viewing Scripture. At the time, only my pastors from that church were the ones to suggest that it wasn’t. It didn’t stop the confrontational conversations, which carried the aura of my salvation being on the line, but it did help quite a bit as I waded through for myself. Ultimately I kept going because my pastors proved to be more critically engaged with the Biblical text than those who advised me to leave. Questions were explored, not shunned.

With all of that said, I now turn to Peter Enns’ latest book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It. As the title suggests, it targets the whole concept of defending the text as perfect, especially when it comes to spiritual matters. This is the kind of book I wish I had back in ’08 because it would have assured me that 1. My salvation is not at stake when it comes to reading Scripture as an imperfect text and 2. We begin to understand the authors of the text when we remove that presupposition (or an “essential belief” as that other pastor described it) of a perfect text.

Of course, removing such a prominent belief in a good majority of Christianity (at least from the Protestant side of things) might mean chaos for someone. It might mean they begin to question the existence of God altogether. Such chaos is evidenced by that pesky “slippery slope” one must walk down before unbelief or doubt. And yet, as Enns highlights, such a slope is not a problem. In fact, faith oftentimes seems like nothing but slippery slope after slippery slope, which makes one wonder whether or not the peaceful, level plateau where everything is certain and coffee is cheap is nothing but legend.

Here is a passage from Enns’ book that speaks of such chaos:

An unsettled faith is a maturing faith. Christians often get the signal from others that if they doubt or struggle in some way with the Bible, their faith is weak. They are told that their goal should be to ease the stress somehow by praying more, going to church twice on Sunday (and Wednesday if need be), or generally just stop being so rebelliously stubborn and asking so many questions.

But one thing we see in the Bible is how often people’s trust in God was shaken – and not because they were weak, but because life happens. Whether we read books like Job and Ecclesiastes (as we’ve seen) or the dozens of psalms that cry out to God for some reason or another, life does not move along smoothly.

You get the feeling from the Bible that being unsettled is almost a normal part of the process.

Not that we should go looking for it – it will find us soon enough – but struggling in some way seems like something we should expect on our own spiritual journeys. True struggling in faith is a stretching experience, and without it, you don’t mature in your faith. You either remain an infant or get cocky.

Feeling dis-ease and challenged in faith may be God pushing us out of our own safety zone, where we rest on our own ideas about God and confuse those ideas with the real thing. God may be pushing us to experience him[1] more fully, with us kicking and screaming all the way if need be.

Feeling unsettled may be God telling us lovingly, but still in his typical attention-getting manner, it’s time to grow.[2]

My walk with God has been this unsettled path – sometimes of whether or not God exists, other times of whether or not homosexuality is a sin (or other topics). But such an unsettled-ness has compelled me to listen more, trust more, and step out in an act of faith more. Sure, there were a lot more questions once I chose to go the route of my own pastors at that church, but such questions compelled me, more than ever before, to seek God. These questions forced me to uproot my own foundations to see what was there and upon doing so I realized that those foundations were full of sand and not bedrock. And, strangely enough, the more questions I asked, the fewer answers I received, but the stronger my faith became.

It is almost like asking more questions is kind of the point.

All in all, this is a great book that I wish I had had back when this issue was much more prominent in my life. I highly recommend this book to anyone considering seminary as a potential path because it is a great introduction to the way that seminary beckons one to rethink the Biblical text. And of course I recommend this book to anyone who believes in God, but isn’t sure about the Bible. One other thing I noticed about following my pastors was that my interest in the Bible increased exponentially. There was so much I was missing (and still am, in some ways).

If you’d like to read more stuff from Enns, here’s his blog: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/. Only one word of caution: he is a Yankee fan…

God bless.

[1] Enns has a footnote wherein he discusses the gendered pronouns: “I do not believe that the God of the universe is male or female, but, following the biblical convention, I will use male pronouns when speaking of God. We will be looking at a lot of passages from the Bible, and adjusting the language at each point could get distracting and become the unintended focus. I realize – and respect – that not all would agree with me in this decision, but I just want to be clear about what I am doing and why.”

[2] Enns, The Bible Tells Me So, 238-239, boldface is mine.

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.

Thoughts From Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God…

I finally got around to begin reading Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God and so far, it’s okay. Ehrman draws comparisons of Jesus to other god-man figures around the same time period of Jesus and essentially, as far as I can tell, makes the assertion (among other related assertions) that Jesus never believed himself to be God incarnate. And as ridiculous as this may sound, that actually doesn’t bother me.

Saying that Jesus didn’t believe himself to be God isn’t the same as saying he wasn’t actually God – that is, simply because Jesus may not have believed himself to be God doesn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t. Jesus’ divinity need not have relied upon his self-awareness as God. John’s gospel would stand out as a little odd if Jesus didn’t actually believe himself to be God, but even so, he still could be God without believing it.

There are quite a few passages in the New Testament that instantly become more interesting with this understanding of Jesus’ self-understanding. When Jesus references the “Son of Man” or the “Human One” (as the CEB has it), who is Jesus talking about if he isn’t talking about himself?

One passage that comes to mind is Mark 8:27-33:

Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’

They told him, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.’

He asked them, ‘And what about you? Who do you say that I am?’

Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ.’ Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: ‘The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.’ He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: ‘Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.’

As I said, there are many others, but most of them seem related to this one: predictions of the “Son of Man’s” torture, death, and resurrection. Now I know that Peter calls Jesus “the Christ” and then Jesus goes into a mini-lecture about the “Human One” or “Son of Man,” but to my understanding these were hardly indistinguishable terms. To reference one is to reference the other. If this is the case and Jesus did not believe himself to be the “Human One,” then perhaps we are seeing a bit of Jesus’ humanity – much more than we anticipated or even wanted.

If you hadn’t guessed it by now, Ehrman’s book is one about Christology (the study of Christ). Under such a study is the question of the divinity of Jesus: Whether he was God incarnate or an ordinary man who was later deified (as is Ehrman’s contention in How Jesus Became God). And after reading the hundred-some pages of Ehrman’s book, I am beginning to wonder if it isn’t a mixture of the two; that perhaps Jesus believed himself to be an ordinary man, yet was God incarnate, dwelling “among us.”

In passages like the one above, we find what we thought was a confident God-man testing his disciples about their faith. Yet if Jesus is the ordinary God-man, then might this be a scene of Jesus discovering who he actually is? When he’s asking what others think of him and then what the disciples think of him, perhaps he’s seriously wondering if he might be the Christ? And with his teaching about what the Son of God/Human One must suffer immediately following his discussion with the disciples, might this be Jesus fully realizing his fate? “He said this plainly,” half terrified and yet half mesmerized as to what was unfolding.

Although mostly to keep up with what’s popular, I am eager to read the rest of Ehrman’s book as well as the response, How God Became Jesus, from Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon J. Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, and Chris Tilling – an endeavor I wanted to take up months ago. But for now, I would love to hear what others think about the idea of Jesus not knowing he was God: Do you think it’s plausible or ridiculous? What does it mean for our faith in Christ if this were true – what changes and what stays the same?

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