Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ordaining Women and Marrying Homosexuals - NOT the Same Thing!

Please, please, please, is there any way we could stop talking about women in ministry and homosexuality as if they were the same thing?!?!?

I know i'm not the only one who thinks this way, but i must be in a severe minority. This is particularly important to me because i'm a woman in ministry (hopefully soon to be ordained) and I believe homosexuality is neither normal nor acceptable. However, it seems the majority of the US (and even of its churches) go all or nothing on this one. You either have your churches who will endorse neither, or who will endorse both. Both the secular media and many Christian sources treat them as closely related issues, and it drives me nuts every time i run into it.

I can see how to many people it would seem that there is a strong connection between these. As many people claim, the Bible condemns both. Either we take the Bible literally and condemn both, or we allow for new interpretations and allow both. And if that were really the case, i would have to agree. But it is not the case.

There's probably very few of you who are interested in hearing me going into a long explanation of this, but for those of you who are i could never improve on what has been explained by Dr. Keith Schenk and Dr. Lee Haines, and i highly reccomend their articles. As for my short explanation, it is this: we have several examples in the Bible of women who were called and empowered by God to lead His people in various ways and at various times. It seems we find examples of women serving in leadership, with God's blessing, in both the Old and New testaments. We have women prophets, apostles, disciples, deacons, and teachers (even teachers of male pastors). The few (and there are only 2 of them) times we are told women cannot be leaders in the church can only have been a localized and temporary prohibition. What we do not have are any examples of homosexuals as model Jews or Christians, or as leaders of God's people in either testament. The prohibition against homosexual acts seems to have no exceptions. Sex should not determine our roles in the church, but sex is not irrelevant to sexuality.

My intention here is not to argue, but to explain my position. What i am saying is that, as a woman in ministry, I do not want to be associated with that which i cannot condone. I don't want my decision to seek ordination to be used as support for the homosexual lifestyle. Please, out of respect for those of us who will uphold the one but not the other, stop talking about homosexuality and women clergy as if they were two aspects of the same issue, or two outgrowths of the same belief.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

My Official Resignation as a Redneck

This one isn't going to make as much sense without reading this post, but essentially i've decided i have to stop referring to myself as a redneck. Basically, i've realized its not worth the risk of offending anyone.

This was brought to my attention a few days ago when i went lazer tagging with my youth group. Actually it was a few members of my youth group and a ton of their friends. One of the guys was Asian, which was really cool because we don't usually get non-whites coming to our youth stuff. Then, during the first game, i had managed to shoot someone on the opposing team and was feeling really good about myself, and hollered out "you don't mess with us rednecks!" I have no idea who i shot and so i don't know who i yelled at. However, one of the guys on my team was standing there, another one of the ones i hadn't met before, and he was like "you know that could really offend some people," to which i replied "even if i'm referring to myself?" His response was something to the effect of "well, i guess it's not so bad then." Then i tried to explain briefly my alternative definition of redneck by saying that in the south, where i'm from, it means someone who drives a tractor. At least for that guy, i think he kind of understood me.

But the next morning i was praying for the kids i'd met, and i remembered that the Asian guy had left after the first game. Suddenly i was terrified at the thought that, potentially, he might have been the guy i shot and hollered at, and he might have thought i was making some kind of racial slur and been hurt and that was why he left. I've asked around and no one seems to know why this guy left. I don't even know his last name so i can't really contact him. There's a good chance that he didn't even hear my comment and that he had to leave for some other reason. But the fact that the possibility exists that i drove this guy away with my thoughtless ranting brought me to my knees. I can't let that happen again.

When i talk about being a redneck to my white friends at church, and they get confused, that's one thing. That's even tolerable. But i never realized until this happened that saying it in public could really be misunderstood. How do i ever hope to have non-whites involved in my youth group and feel welcome there as long as i'm fostering this image of myself as a redneck, which up here means uncivilized racist?

I'm not sure how i'll be able to explain the unique mix of cultures that makes up mine and my husband's lifestyle. I wish there was a way to describe the tractor owning, carhart-wearing, mud- and country-loving aspects of our personality. But the thing i know now is that i can't use "redneck" anymore.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Baptism - Cleansing or Death to sin?

Ok, i'll admit that in some ways this blog post is a substitute for good Bible exegesis. But what i'm curious about is whether the symbolism of baptism has more to do with cleansing from sin, or death to the old life? If i had the time, the right thing to do would be to start looking up the Bible passages to see which it deals with most. Maybe i'll get around to it sometime. But in the mean time i thought i'd put the question out there.

The reason this is important is because it will affect how we implement the baptism ritual. Rituals are continually being modified and re-interpreted, and baptism has taken on several different forms. But whenever we change something, we need to figure out what's most important about that thing or we might change the wrong part of it.

If we think that baptism is mostly a symbolism of cleansing, then we will probably always insist on water immersion. White robes are a nice touch, too. But honestly, here in the US, being dunked underwater has more resemblance to water sports than to death and ressurection. So, if we think death to the old life is the main point, we might try something different. I read about one group of believers in Africa who were short on water and also put their focus on death and resurrection. Their solution was for the believers to dig graves and lay down in them before getting back up. If the purpose of baptism is to symbolize death and ressurrection, i'd say the African service does a better job than the traditional American immersion. But if it's really about cleansing, well, the Americans could still get a little more creative with it but at least the water is still present.

So anyway, maybe one day i'll do some actual study and get this one figured out.

Monday, January 16, 2006

White as in blank

Have you ever noticed that white is the only non-ethnicity? Here in America we're always talking about ethnicity and ethnic groups, and what we mean are non-whites. Now, properly, we would consider white an ethnic group, but in common usage, ethnicity refers to having some racial uniqueness that sets you apart from white. We talk about "having an ethnicity" when we mean "being non-white."

Being white isn't celebrated like other ethnicities are. Granted, the rationale for this is that whiteness is so ingrained in our national consciousness, that the blacks and the hispanics and everyone else needs to take specific effort to celebrate their heritage. But every once in a while, i get the feeling that by being white i must have missed out on something.

White is default. White is plain. White means you're not everything else. Granted, we know it means we came from Europe. But i feel no identification with Europe, as it seems blacks might with Africa, or latinos might with Latin america. White means there's nothing unique about you. White means you have no rich cultural heritage to contribute to the mix.

I know to a non-white american, it may seem like all of american history is celebrating a white heritage, since all of our founding fathers were white (that i know of), and many of the people who shaped our nation over the years were white. But as a white person, i don't see the celebration of these events and people as having anything to do with whiteness. I don't look to George Washington as one of my white forefathers, i look at him as an american leader. I don't even think about the fact that we're both white.

So if you allow that american history is not a celebration of whiteness, we have to acknowledge that there is no such celebration (other than maybe Oktoberfest or St. Patrick's day, neither of which celebrate all of white ethnicity and neither of which seem to be very influential). Maybe it's because there are so many of us that "whiteness" isn't strong enough to unite us. We define ourselves by our generations, our religions and denominations, our sub-cultures, our music or recreation preferences, our political views.

Honestly, being white isn't that important to me. I grew up hearing about what it meant to be a Christian, or whate it meant to be an American, or what it meant to be a member of my particular denomination. I never heard about what it meant to be white, or how i should honor my white heritage or anything. But sometimes i wish that somehow being white would be just as special as being Chinese. We rightly celebrate the way non-whites diversify and add richness to our American culture. But don't we as whites add something too? Surely we are more than just the water base for the stew, the blank canvas that all the other ethnicities add character to.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Evangelism and the idea of "knowing God"

I've been thinking some recently about the idea of "knowing God." If you've been around churches or Christians much you've probably heard someone say that there's a huge difference between "knowing about God" and "knowing God." If you'd ever had the guts to ask how to know God, they would have probably said something along the lines of getting saved, asking for forgiveness, praying, and/or reading the Bible.

I've heard this line of reasoning in lots of sermons. But i'm starting to wonder if it holds up. The problem is that I "got saved" years ago, asked for forgiveness, and have been praying and reading the Bible ever since. And I still wonder if i really "know God."

I'm not denying that knowing God is important. But i'm afraid that we in the church may have, probably accidentally, done some false advertising. Again, I'll ask you not to use my personal issues to say that Christianity or my particular denomination is fake. But it seems like in the church we've gotten this idea that "knowing God" equals "getting saved," and from my perspective it seems like it ought to be a lot more than that. You ought to actually know Him, not just have prayed to Him and obeyed His rules and read His book. If knowing God is important, it must be something more.

So anyway i'm praying for it. I would imagine it takes some time. I would imagine it takes a miracle. And i'm not sure what it'll look like when i get there. But my point is that if we're going to talk about knowing God in our sermons, we should stop giving this simplistic advertisement that once you "get saved" and develop Christian habits, you'll get it. Unless its just me that's defective :)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Finding comfort in confirmation hearings

The other day as i was reading a news peice about Alito's confirmation hearings, i was struck with an unexpected emotion - relief.

Those of you who know me might be aware that i'm a candidate for ordination in my denomination this coming summer. The interviews will happen this spring if everything goes well. I've been rather apprehensive about this, because the process is pretty intimidating. A group of people (who in my particular case don't know me very well yet) will ask me a bunch of questions about my ministry, my walk with Christ, what i believe, and how i feel about my denomination's rules and structures. Then they decide if i should be ordained or not.

The process is completely legitimate, and i'm glad my denomination has these structures in place. But in some ways, i really am going to be judged: Am I really a good enough Christian to be trusted with this kind of responsibility? I haven't been through this process before, so i don't know what it will really be like, but my fear is that it could turn into some kind of inquisition.

But while i was reading that news report, it hit me that i'm not alone. Alito is getting grilled within an inch of his life. If they confirm him, they're giving him a permanent role that they can't take back, so they're doing everything they can to make sure they don't make a mistake. (In my denomination, ordination is also permanent.) This isn't just some hard-nosed thing churches do, it's just the nature of people who are preparing to give permanent authority to someone else.

I highly doubt my ordination board will be as hard on me as the Democrats are being on Alito. So i guess now he's become my inspiration. If he can survive the process, surely I can too.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Music as Anitdepressant?

If music really is a drug, then i must be addicted.

Recently i've been getting stressed out a lot. I could write paragraphs about why but i'll spare you. But yesterday i was praying again and realizing again that this just wasn't how i thought the Christian life was supposed to feel. If we were stressed, wasn't it supposed to be replaced by joy and encouragement? Wasn't I supposed to be happier? Well, no revelations during my prayer time, but later when i went to work i grabbed some of my old tapes to play in the car on the way. (I don't really like any of the radio stations around here.) And somewhere between home and work i think is when i realized that this was what i had been missing.

I was a pretty happy kid, but i think most of my memories of feeling happy was when i was singing. As a teen, the radio or tape player was always on in the car, always Christian music. My mom liked a lot of the same stuff my sisters and I liked, so we really enjoyed listening to Stephen Curtis Chapman and Ray Boltz together. Every camp or convention or event i ever went to was saturated with music, and i had so much fun singing. I was even on several singing ministry summer trips with other teens in my district.

But somewhere in college i think is when it stopped. I didn't drive many places and I spent a lot of time studying in silence. Then around when i graduated i drove a car that was so noisy that the stereo was pointless. And, somewhere in all this i heard at least one sermon talking about the need for silence in our lives, and suggesting that leaving the radio off was one way to turn down the noise. So as a result of my circumstances, my pursuit of academics, and my well-meaning pursuit of silence, the radio has been left off a lot.

Generally, when Christians say they need more silence in their lives, they mean that we need to get quiet so we can hear God. But even if the radio is off in the car, my attention to my driving makes it a pretty bad time to be listening to God anyway. But what i think i'm noticing is that sometimes, i hear God better with the music on than when i'm sitting quiet. If you read my other post about music you know that i've noticed that music reminds us of things, or communicates things to us, that we would have missed otherwise.

All of this is to say that i think that good (usually Christian) music is what reminds me of God's goodness and helps me regain my perspective. It encourages me and helps me find the joy that i need. It helps me step back from all the things i have to get done in a day. It gives me something to worship about and distracts me from the things I would complain about.

So i'm writing this partly to publicly thank God for what I think is the answer to my prayers, and partly to reccommend to any of you other Christians out there who wonder why you don't have much joy anymore that some do-re-mi could possibly be just what you need.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Define "Redneck."

Ok, i guess this is more etymological than philosophical, but what does it really mean to be a "redneck"?

My husband and I have a small problem in that we have a tendency to refer to ourselves (and him in particular) as rednecks. We're from the south, and we've recently moved to the northern midwest. When people hear me call him a redneck, some of them initially think i'm insulting him. They're then surprised to hear him agree with me.

The problem is that when we call each other rednecks, we're referring to the fact that we like tractors and even own one, even though we've never been farmers (nor have our parents). Right now it's just in storage, and we live in a suburb. Normal people don't own tractors unless they have a reason why they need them. But i guess we're just rednecks.

We're also referring to the fact that we do all our own automotive work. Our cars are older and occasionally something breaks and needs to be fixed. But instead of taking it to the shop my husband fixes it himself and sometimes i'll help. Rplacing certain parts on one of the cars is becoming routine maintenance. Normal people buy nice cars, take them to the shop for repairs and maintenance, and when they get older they sell them. But i guess we're just rednecks.

We also don't drive normal cars. we own two jeeps and a pickup. We keep mud or all-terrain tires on the jeeps and we even lifted one of them. We keep wanting to do some real off roading but mostly we just enjoy being able to drive in the snow without much trouble. Normal people drive nice cars and keep them clean and put normal tires on them. But i guess we're just rednecks.

We wear Carharrt coats instead of pretty ones (although that may change one of these days - i'm starting to wish i had something that wasn't so stiff). we'd rather live in a yurt in a field than in a normal house in a normal neighborhood. We'd rather go camping than stay in a nice resort. We go hunting (ok that's not too weird but you can see how it fits in with everything else).

The only problem is that when you say "redneck" around here, most people think we're talking about being uneducated, uncouth, and prejudiced, in addition to driving tractors and going off-roading.

So the question is - what does it really mean? Are we using the term incorrectly, is it just a regional thing, or are the northerners confused about us southerners? I just wish there was a good way to describe me and my husband without implying all sorts of negative things that are not true about us.