Saturday, November 27, 2010

Leave It

Today I went out to rake some leaves. The lawn actually has looked pretty good, because on some windy day, all the leaves came down but ended up blowing to the edges of the yard, so I didn't think this was going to take too long.

But then I started thinking about it. Apparently some place in the north of England got somewhere around 10 inches of snow this week, so if they're getting that much already, it's probably likely we'll have some by the time my parents get here just before Christmas. And if we do, then all the leaves nestling in snow-like drifts among the flowerbeds would just disappear. On the other hand, and in the meantime, I realised it would look a whole lot better if I raked the beds out, too.

The short version of the story (because I know you don't want to read about every pile of leaves I picked up by hand and chucked in the wheelbarrow and wheeled across the lawn to the driveway to dump into the woods on the other side) is that it took me two hours to rake a quarter of the lawn. And then, just as I was wrapping up that quarter of lawn and muttering under my breath about how that was all I was doing today and I needed some lunch!, the wind changed directions. This meant that the leaves in the adjacent quarter of lawn that I had not touched yet, began to blow into the quarter I had. I valiantly resisted to the urge to swear, and I still went inside and had lunch, but do I ever hate raking! Especially by myself.

After I went in, Smug-Neighbour came out with his leaf-blower and tidied up his already pretty immaculate lawn. Former-Roommate-Sarah and I used to note with some disgust how he always came out with his fancy lawn equipment whenever either of us was doing lawn-work over here. Today I was telling myself we must have made that up, but . . . I really don't think we did.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Musing on Reform

You do know, don't you, that by and large anything I post in this blog is my thought-process and not my conclusion? I will rarely post conclusions because . . . well, maybe because I rarely get to any, honestly. "Jesus loves me, this I know" (to the extent of dying a horrific death and coming back to glorious life), and He loves you that much, too, and I'm certain of it. I'm also certain I want you, whomever you are, to know Him in a life-giving way. Other than that? I just think a lot. Usually in circles. Here are some more thought-processes to share:

This church history class I'm now taking is "From the Reformation," and I have a mid-term in it tomorrow, so there's a lot about the Reformers going through my head. It's a Protestant seminary through which I am taking this class, so little has been said about the Counter-Reformation and the Catholic Reformation, but even though I knew at least a little something about the four initial branches of the Protestant Reformation, I'm finding it interesting to poke around in their history in a little more depth. I'm finding out (or remembering) things like:

  • Apart from the reputed anti-Semitism, and that unfortunate link to the Peasant's Revolt, I think Martin Luther was the man. No--not the Man. But just . . . really cool. By and large, I like his theology and his tenacity and his kind of earthiness.
  • As I thought when we went to visit Grossmunster in Zurich when I was 14, I still think Zwingli was a bit of a twit. I daresay he had a true conversion experience (even though he claimed an earlier date for it than it probably really happened, so he could make it look like it happened for him before it did for Luther), but some of us take a little more "converting" than others, and . . . well, he's just a little harder to like.
  • As he may have done to others who actually met him face to face, Calvin makes me uncomfortable. Too smart for me, I think. But I don't dislike him.
  • I rather like the Anglican church . . . but how it got there is kind of obnoxious.
  • I've got some Swiss Anabaptist in my background, and although I'm not one, I agree with their view on (ta da!) baptism. And, as we all know, although I can't seem to completely identify myself as a pacifist, I kind of lean that way. Here's something that interested me (although I guess if I think about it, it doesn't surprise me): The Anabaptists' emphasis on the radical separation of church and state was "new." This approach was the first time Christianity had been separated from the government since Constantine.
Good grief.

I've already mused a tiny bit about the effects of Constantine on the Church. I guess I think that the Anabaptists were right to keep it separate. I mean, I don't know that it's possible anymore to truly separate religion from government. It seems like either Christians (or religious people--there can be a difference!) try to infiltrate the government, for example, or the government tries to legislate against them. I liked it when I volunteered at a primary school in London and could tell the Easter story freely because religious education (about all religions) was included in standard school curricula. I don't, on the other hand, like the idea, real or threatened, that symbols of my faith should be removed from public places or that I can't say Merry Christmas if I want to.

God calls people to different vocations and maybe He calls some to be politicians. I mean, I guess He does: I don't think there can be any question, for example, that He put Wilberforce in place for a specific time and purpose. I do believe that God can work through political leaders and that if a Christian is in power, I would hope that their relationship with Christ would have an effect on their policies. However, I don't believe we will ever have a theocracy this side of Heaven, and I think most of even our Christian politicians end up with too much of themselves mixed in. (I think most of us--me, for example--have that problem, but when someone's in the public eye, it affects more people.)

I am starting to think the Anabaptist idea that the Church would always be a persecuted minority in the world, and that it and government could never mesh without unhealthy compromise, is probably true. I struggle with words of separatism at all, as highlighted in my last post, but at the same time, I know the Bible talks about it, sometimes in ways I can't understand, and I know there still is sometimes, somehow, a place for it. I guess I'm still just trying to figure out how and where and when it works.

How do you become and remain incarnational, yet without compromise?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Unequally Yoked

Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:

“I will live in them
and walk among them.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
Therefore, come out from among unbelievers,
and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.
Don’t touch their filthy things,
and I will welcome you.
And I will be your Father,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

(2 Corinthians 6.14-18, NLT)

Lots and lots and lots of Christians like to use the above passage to prove that Christians should not marry people who aren't. This interpretation isn't totally unreasonable, but I have said before and will say again that even if this passage applies to marriage, it isn't about marriage. And neither is this post.

Once upon a long time ago, during the Roman Empire before Constantine, the emperors were persecuting the Christians and even though there were a lot of really noteworthy and amazing Christian martyrs, there were also a bunch of regular people and they ended up recanting their Christian faith until things got a little easier. Then later, when they wanted to go back to church, some of the churches wouldn't let them because they saw them (understandably, I think) as being duplicitous, or weak. They said they wanted a "pure" church. Thing is, they weren't really offering a whole lot of grace.

Then Augustine came along and, citing Jesus' parable about the wheat and the weeds, said that no one should be kept from church fellowship if they had repented and wanted to be reinstated. And from there (going through a number of permutations, naturally), the concept/practice of a "parish church" type of set-up was born. The idea is that anyone can be a part of the faith community, whether they're an actual believer or not, as long as they play by some basic rules. So when a baby was born in a community, he or she would be baptised right away because the family was a part of that parish . . . everyone "belonged" to a church. You didn't have a conversion experience because you were "in."

Once the Protestant reformation hit the scene, ages later, this concept began to be switched up a little bit. The Lutherans and the Calvinists, who believed (in different ways) that church and state should work side by side, maintained the sort of parish/wheat-and-weeds setup. They hung onto infant baptism and But the Anabaptists, who believed that the church would always be a persecuted entity until Christ's return and so must therefore be totally separate from the state, wanted to see a "pure" church, where the only members were people who had a genuine faith in Christ and been baptised as adult believers. Their idea was total separateness.

So here I am, this mix of a Germanic Anabaptist and Swedish Lutheran heritage, who grew up in a Baptist church with Reformed leanings, working at an interdenominational church which baptises any little baby whose parents walk them through the door. And I'm taking another big ol' church history class (could you tell?), so I'm thinking about this "what is the church" thing a lot lately.

I will always be a Baptist on the issue of . . . baptism. But I kind of go back and forth as to whether Augustine was right or whether the Anabaptists were, as far as the whole "separateness" thing goes. The passage above seems to indicate fairly unequivocally that a Christian separation from the world is required. Keeping apart from "the world" makes it a lot easier not to "touch their filthy things." I myself have seen and heard of churches and other organisations who have "teamed up with unbelievers" toward a good common cause, and then the Christ-centered aspect of the cause for the believers gets watered down and washed out, and sometimes the entire enterprise tanks. Compromise is maybe inevitable, and, if these verses are anything to go by, it is unacceptable.

On the other hand, I have a really hard time seeing that Jesus did this. I do believe that all Scripture is inspired by God, and so therefore the above verses are something God wanted said, and so therefore Jesus must somehow have abided by them, but however He did it, it didn't look anything like the way I've ever seen those verses interpreted. He is, after all, the guy who got accused all the time of associating with "tax collectors and sinners." If He was exclusionary of anyone, it was the religious folk, the ones who would probably cite verses like the above, if they had been written yet. And I keep thinking about when I was in Gospel Choir in college, and how our drummer who toured with us wasn't a Christian, but how after touring with us for a while and seeing God answer some prayers, he became one. And I think . . . I'm still confused. What is this 2 Corinthians passage really telling us to do. Because how do we make sure the church keeps its necessary distinctives? But how else are people who don't know Jesus going to meet Him unless they're in our lives?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Yesterday I voted. It has already been well-established in this blog that I am one of the most uninformed voters out there, but at least according to the letter, if not the spirit, of the thing, I did my citizenly duty. Going into the voting booth for me is kind of like going in to take a standardised test that I didn't study for . . . only less stressful. I guess I'm still kind of cynical that my vote matters. It's just that I kind of feel like my non-vote matters. It would be so much easier if I were a member of a particular political party but that, my friends, goes against the grain.

You knew that.

Anyway, yesterday I was in line waiting to go into the booth and this woman I knew was two people behind me and this woman she knew was between us and saying wouldn't it be so much better if you could just go to a voting center in any city, and they could scan the barcode on the back of your driver's license, and you could vote wherever was closest to where you worked.

"Yes!" I agreed emphatically, although I had never met this woman before in my life. "Also," I added, "it would be really great if you could vote for the district and precinct where you worked instead of where you lived." I mean, look. I might actually get more into local and state-level politics if I could do this. I sleep (and watch Netflix) in my Hometown. I work and do just about everything else in the City. The children and teens with whom I work--my own "constituents"--live in the City. I have no idea what's going on in the district in which my Hometown participates, and therefore my vote is even less informed than it would be otherwise, because frankly, until we adopt a dictatorship (which could happen, I guess), whoever I vote for there is not going to affect my sleeping and watching Netflix.

On the other hand, I actually personally knew some of the candidates for office in the City's district, and their presence or absence in office might actually impinge on the people I'm working with and for, or even on my work itself. I get paying property taxes and such to the town where one lays one's head. I also get that for the sake of simplification of bureaucracy, allowing people to vote where they worked would probably not . . . work. (On the other hand, when else has simplification of bureaucracy been a real consideration for the way politics happen?) But I still think it would ultimately be more relevant and effective. That's my vote.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


Oscar and I spent most of Friday and Saturday hanging out with Folk-Musician Gale. Usually she comes and stays with us on her way to and from gigs, but this weekend was happily agendaless--for me anyway--so our visit was much more relaxed. We talked a lot over food. Well, Gale and I did. Oscar's still pretty quiet.

Gale told me about a talk she had been to recently, where some historian/professor guy had spoken about the Connecticut witch trials--which had started much earlier and lasted longer than the more famous ones in Salem. I guess he cited the witch trials that had been going on in Europe (in particular, Germany) as the environment for such a similar environment to grow up over here. (Interestingly, I just listened to a lecture on that for my second church history class, and Dr. Rosell said that the witch trials were the result of the failure of the Puritan dream--a sort of backlash in reaction to the fact that what they had attempted hadn't worked. But I digress). This historian pointed out that most of the people accused of being witches were single women over forty who were about to become self-sufficient. Perhaps they were widowed, or had never married, and had somehow come into an inheritance. Whatever the case, they didn't "need" a man "in charge" of them anymore, and in that patriarchal society which was, as Dr. Rosell's comments point out, trying to build itself literally off of Old Testament laws and such, surely having independent women running around was seen as threatening.

Gale and I mused on this for a while, citing instances where it has been clear to us that, despite the feminist movement and other cultural shifts, people are still not comfortable with the idea of single, independent women. We don't have the word "spinster" anymore (thank goodness), so what do you make of us? Nowadays it's assumed we're all lesbians, but that is often not the case either. (Neither Gale nor I would fall into that category. It's still okay for us to hang out, right?)

Later in the day, the topic of "uncomfortable women" came up again. Gale mentioned how she absolutely can't stand it when people are talking about women in abusive relationships as women who have "made bad choices." As if it's the women are the only ones who need to be held accountable, and not the men who are perpetrating the abuse, whether it's emotional or physical. It would be just great if more women had enough self-esteem to notice when they're being abused and say, "Enough is enough!" and get out. But what about the women who are married to these guys and don't believe in divorce? Or what about the women who really love the men who are hurting them and are trying to do the right thing? Can you fault them for loving? Maybe it's a misplaced love, but God does it.

I do believe that men are misrepresented in society, too. It's pretty standard and pretty cliche to say that men are stupid and insensitive and all around jerks. That might be a subject for another post, because I actually feel pretty strongly about that. But right now I'm feeling strongly about marginalised women, who, in spite of the just-mentioned trend and the so-called advances in feminism, are still being marginalised. When women are verbally or emotionally or physically attacked, why are they the ones blamed for it? That happened all the way back in the Victorian era. Surely we're beyond that now? Isn't there some way to help people learn to trust each other . . . and to deserve each other's trust? Isn't there some way to hold people accountable when they jeopardise another's faith in them?