Monday, June 25, 2007

the table

The table: locus of our lives together. "No matter what, we must eat to live" says Joy Harjo in her poem "Perhaps the World Ends Here":

perhaps the world ends here

By Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of the earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At the table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sign with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

I adore this poem, and this weekend as I was drafting this blog entry I kept coming back to the poem. I find myself sitting at a multiplicity of tables in my life.

There is the lunch table with my work colleagues where we sit in the cafeteria of the Bay department store downtown and discuss everything from movies to politics to meditation.

There are the lunch tables at school where our busy student lives collide for hours/minutes/moments to eat and share in our common chaos.

There is the familiar dinner table I grew up at that is still in my parents home, where I know I can always go, knowing I'll leave full.

There are the tables at church, old and new, small and large, where I sit crowded in with all sorts of people I love.

There are the dinner tables of friends: varied sizes and types, with their vinyl benches, wooden chairs, office chairs, couches and laps, formal and informal.

And there is the table in my own home, where I set down dishes that hopefully read "love" and bring out food that contains part of myself and my com/passion.

I like to believe that tables are always holy places, be they adorned with decorations at the front of a church or weathered and sitting in the middle of a park. Sitting down together to eat is a sacred act, or else we would not have had a history of so many cultures where who one ate with, what one ate, and where one ate meant so much. Is your table a holy place? How can we endeavor to make all of our tables holy places?


"The Law" and Christians

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian [pedagagos] until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Paul wrote this letter to the Galatian followers of Jesus (the word "Christians" hadn't come into vogue yet) around the year 50 or so. They were having some trouble accepting diversity of opinion on some issues. The problem was, there were non-Jews becoming disciples, and some of the Jewish disciples felt that in order to become disciple of Jesus (who was, after all, a Jew himself) one had first to become a Jew (and follow all the necessary rituals and regulations... including, not insignificantly, circumcision... yikes!). And at the same time, some of the non-Jew thought all that Jewish stuff was rubbish, silly, and an affront to civilized sensibilities.

So Paul writes to them and says they're both being stupid. (Ok, he doesn't use the word "stupid," but he does use the word "foolish," which in church is probably a lot worse than @$$-hole on the street.) The "law" is still valuable and honored, but it is not to be worshiped. Paul describes the law as a pedagagos, which in Greek was a slave whose job it was to supervise and guide the children of the house. The slave was ultimately a servant of the children (owned by their family and working in the children's best interests), but while growing up the children were to obey the pedagagos. (There is an obvious linguistic connection between the Greek word and our modern English word: pedagogy - to teach.) But when the children grow up, they are no longer bound by the rule of the slave, but can still value in principle the instruction and guidance provided by their former disciplinarian. We were bound by the slave until Jesus came and gave us the new, more mature law: Love. (Isn't this a fantastic analogy? I wonder what Paul would say today, with illegal immigrant nannies as rough contemporary equivalents to pedagagoi.)

The point is, disciples of Jesus are not bound by the specific laws of the Hebrew Bible, because - as valuable as they were for guidance before - now we are guided by the supreme law: Love. We are not held to the strictures of the Hebrew law - and we cannot bind others by those strictures either. As a community of disciples of Jesus, we are all bound by one law: Love, as revealed in the life and person of Jesus. Paul is chastising the Galatian Judaizers (people who believed one must become a Jew in order to become a Christian) for lifting up a legalistic code above the revelation of Love in Christ. Paul is also laying the smack down on those belligerent Gentiles who refuse to value and honor the revelation (however antiquated) that was given earlier. We must continue to respect the slave who tutored us, while remembering that we are no longer bound to its unforgiving, black-and-white proscriptions.

This is REALLY important for Christians to remember - especially those who consider the Bible to be the Word of God, and use it to beat up on people who disagree with them. As Christians, we can not go to the "Old Testament" laws and demand obedience to them as a test of fellowship or faith or communion in Christ. We are not bound by those laws any longer. We must respect the principles revealed in those laws, but be ultimately subject to the law revealed in Christ: Love.

As Christians, we cannot point to Levitical verses and condemn homosexuality wholesale. We cannot cite scriptures and exclude the ministry of individuals who are co-habitating in committed relationship. We cannot look at the prophetic writings and sneer at someone just because they vote Republican (and in so doing seem to negate every prophetic impulse in the scriptures). We cannot look to the narratives of herem (holy war) and justify wars of aggression and occupation. We can look to those texts and seek insight, but must in the end examine the issue under the rubric of love.


We Christians are bound to others in love, even with our enemies, but also with those who are merely different than us. We can evaluate actions and beliefs, positions and practices; but we cannot look to the Bible at face-value and still remain faithful to Christ. Being a disciple means we read everything through Christ, through goggles of love.

More importantly, just as for the Galatian churches, we cannot exclude someone from communion based on any rubric other than love. Is what they are doing being done out of love? Will their actions deepen and broaden their love, and the love of those they come into contact? Are they demonstrating the radically inclusive and subversive love that Jesus himself demonstrated? (And I wonder if we applied that rubric to ourselves, how many of us would still qualify for full communion in the church.)

People who read the Bible at face-value are not reading it as disciples of Christ. People who use the Bible to beat up on others, to divide or separate people, are not using it as disciples of Christ. As Christians, we are bound by the messy, difficult, confusing, complicated law of Love. It would be easier to be bound by the slave - letting someone else take responsibility for answering yea or nay. But we can never go back. Once we've been awakened by the revelation of Christ, the world will never seem as black and white.

Thank God for that.

(Excerpted and adapted from this Sunday's sermon.)

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Progressive Christian Radio?

Living Faith Radio

is a weekly radio show from a progressive Christian perspective. Broadcast from Ballard (a Seattle neighborhood), it covers some really pressing and controversial issues. Some of the shows in the last month have been:
"Can we use our money for good? Investing as a Way to Change the World."
"Can the Church Be Gay? Homosexuality As Christian Sacrament."
"Does Lady Liberty still welcome the poor, tired, huddled, and homeless masses? The New Sanctuary Movement."
"Who would Jesus Bomb? Militarism & Christian Faith."
"What Happened on 9/11? The Church Under Empire."
"George Bush and the Spirit of Anti-Christ"

...and that's just the beginning. You should see his guest list alone. This guy isn't avoiding any conversation, and bringing in people who are in the streets and in the know. Today's topic: "None Dare Call It Treason: The Bush Administration and 9/11". Holy Moly! Leave it to community radio to ask the questions we all want answered. Listen to the broadcast today (Friday) at 2PM on KKNW 1150AM, or streaming online at

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Mapping Tool for Faith-Justice Organizing

America's faith community has a broader values agenda than the small number of hot-button issues promoted by the Religious Right, and the nation is less divided between blue and red states than the media suggest, according to a new online database that maps 3,000 religious organizations working for social justice across the country.

Unveiled Thursday by Faith in Public Life, the Mapping Faith database is intended as "tech-savvy advocacy" for organizing the faith community around social concerns like justice, compassion and working for the common good, David Buckley, the principle author of a report accompanying the database, told reporters in a telephone press conference.

The report challenges conventional wisdom that evangelicals care only about issues of personal morality like abortion and gay marriage. Buckley said there is a "tremendously diverse values agenda" that is driving faithful Americans to advocate causes like poverty, peace, human rights, discrimination, civil rights, healthcare, AIDS and the environment.

Read the whole article online.

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Volunteer Pastors Stretched Thin


For many of the millions of Americans who depend on their pastors, ministers and spiritual leaders, a full-time minister is becoming an out-of-reach luxury. To keep small churches open — and to provide individual care at big churches — religious groups are increasingly relying on part-time, or bivocational pastors.

Read the whole article online.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

the rub of theology

Sorry that this is late - I hope it was worth the wait.

When some of my friends and I talk theology we often find ourselves at some point rubbing our own skin or touching each other to try and show what we're trying to get at. "It's about this" one of us will say, stroking another's hand or arm, skin on skin, the intimacy of touch and the basic-ness of body as demonstration of the type of truth we are trying to articulate.

Why is it that this sensual act is where "the rub" is with theology for me and for much of my community? There is something very important to me in the act of touch, in the act of closeness. I think it is in part due to one of the most basic elements of my theology: this life and these people in this place at this time deserve my love and compassion. My metaphysical world is not void of non-material substance that is of value, but I try to remember the value of the material world as well, which I think is also central to Christian theology.

Our flesh is so precious: our contemporary cosmologists, our physicists, tell us that matter is extraordinarily rare in our universe. This body that sits typing is made up of more empty space than matter, and the universe has even more empty space. How precious and wonderful and rare we all are with our tiny amounts of matter in relation to the vastness of space. Christian doctrine backs up this preciousness of the flesh as God takes to flesh and becomes incarnate, in-spiring and enlivening our skin and bones, not only in the body of Jesus but in the dry bones in the desert, in ha-adamah the first earth creature, in the water, in the wind, in the bread, in the wine, in our tongues.

And yet these spirit-imbued fleshy bodies are fragile and vulnerable. We need each other for protection, for touch, for creating new life. And we need food to eat and shelter and warmth and clean water, for we are easily hurt; we simply cannot survive alone and exposed. Perhaps it is this very vulnerability that causes us to doubt so much our own preciousness, to doubt that divinity would dare to move in this weak flesh, these frail bones.

Ludwig Feuerbach told us in the mid-1800's that our idea of God is merely a projection of ourselves - or more specifically for Feuerbach, Man. More recently, feminist philosopher of religion, Grace Jantzen, took up this notion of projection and dared to suggest, with help from Luce Irigaray, that projection does not necessarily have to imply atheism. If our projections are ethical, ideal and life-giving, then they ought to draw us toward being more, toward becoming divine ourselves. Becoming divine, says Jantzen, ought to be the goal of all religion.

Could the frailty of our flesh be part of what has precluded some philosophers and theologians from allowing this possibility of allowing ourselves divine projections and moving toward those projections? How could something divine come from this frail flesh, they might ask. To which I would respond - how can divinity come from anywhere else but right here? *Shannon caresses her own arm*

As a friend spoke the other night of the frailty of human bodies, I was struck with a sense of awe for life, and compassion for all life. I am surrounded by fellow beings who are living with pain: watching my grandma in the hospital, watching friends and family members recover from surgeries and accidents and traumas, experiencing the unreliability of my own body - the brokenness of it all can be overwhelming. Yet we are here and we are alive and we are together and divinity breathes anew each moment, even right here where my wrist hurts, and right there where stitches close your wound, and right there where the pain is so deep we cannot touch it, and right there where new life defiantly begins. Right here, in this flesh is where we find "the rub" of theology, is where our religious lives take shape, is where all life becomes divine.

Ludwig Feuerbach. The Essence of Christianity.
Grace Jantzen. Becoming Divine: Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion.
Luce Irigaray. This Sex which is not One. and Sexes and Genealogies.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Churches Face Dilemma Over Sheltering Migrants

by Angie Chuang and Nancy Haught
Religion News Service

It's a question that vexes many in the often-silent middle of the immigration debate: What is legal -- and what is right?

That dilemma permeates discussions in churches here after 167 suspected illegal workers were detained in a June 12 raid at the Fresh Del Monte Produce plant. In community-room meetings and in pulpits, church leaders are asking whether they should provide sanctuary for illegal immigrants.

Some local church representatives have started an e-mail list of churches with entries like "open to those needing shelter" or "can provide food, money."

Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland has officially signed on with the New Sanctuary Movement, a national effort to shelter people facing deportation. Others are contemplating that move.

Read the whole article at Religion News Service.

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By Guest-Contributor Mary Dell Williams

Juneteenth celebrations date back to 1865 when on June 19, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and the slaves were free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation became official on January 1, 1863.

The celebration of June 19 was soon coined "Juneteenth" and grew with participation from slaves' descendants. Indeed, Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston. Initially, Juneteenth was not celebrated outside African American communities. Most of the festivities were in rural areas around rivers and creeks that could provide for additional activities such as fishing, horseback riding and barbecues. Often church grounds were used for Juneteenth celebrations.

Juneteenth began to gain prominence during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In 1968, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy celebrated Juneteenth at the Poor Peoples March to Washington D.C. Many of those attending returned home and initiated Juneteenth celebrations in areas previously absent of such activity. The Juneteenth celebrations in Milwaukee and Minneapolis, which are two of the largest celebrations, were founded after the Poor Peoples March of 1968.

On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas. It is considered a "partial staffing holiday" meaning that state offices do not close but some employees use a floating holiday to take the day off. Thirteen other states list it as an official holiday, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Alaska, and California. However, some of these states, such as Connecticut, do not consider it a legal holiday and do not close government offices in observance of the occasion. Its informal observance has spread to other states, including Alabama, with a few celebrations taking place in other countries.

House Bill Report - 1 - HB 1870
June 19 is declared as a day of remembrance for the day the slaves learned of their freedom and will be recognized as Juneteenth.
<>Votes on Final Passage:
House 94 0
Senate 48 0

Effective: July 22, 2007

Here in Seattle, Juneteenth is celebrated at Pratt Park led by Central Area Chamber of Commerce Founder DeCharlene Williams. Ms. Williams has been heading up the festival for many, many years (like 20??)

Official Sites:

Letter from President Bush:

Washington State Juneteenth Recognition:

Other Sites:

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Monday, June 18, 2007

One thing in working for the church I didn't expect

More and more I am coming to discern my denomination/tradition's emphasis on community - that for us, God's nature and will is revealed in the act(s) of community. That is, in all the struggles and challenges to be in genuine, mutually-nurturing relationship with people you might not otherwise be in contact with; or in the joy of consensus-building over a long time; or in the awe of witnessing profound personal and communal transformation - or experiencing oneself profoundly transformed - that in all this complicated, messy, worthwhile struggle, we learn what it means to be Christian, what it means to be disciples of Jesus, and catch passing glimpses of God.

Community can take place on rather large scales, sometimes, but for the most part, the really hard and rewarding work takes place in congregations. At the congregational level is where rubber meets the road for a lot of people, where divergent theologies and practices and styles converge and are on display. Like families, there are unhealthy relationships and behaviors in long-standing congregations - we're human, after all. The congregation is where we see our money going, where we bring our children for Sunday School, where we invite friends to join us (if we ever do). This is the locus of the real work of God and discipleship.

But here's the rub. In working for the church - for the community - to some degree, I am taken out of that work. Instead of just my home congregation in West Seattle, my time and energy and attention is claimed by four other congregations too (all deserving, all responsive, all communities themselves)! Because I believe in the mission of the church so much, and am willing to give my full-time life to the mission of discipleship-in-the-world, I am in a sense removed from the hands-on, weekly, intimate, long-term work that such discipleship and mission are.

The analogy is this: We struggle to be good gardeners - to work a small plot intensively to get a high yield. But the church sometimes calls us to be a rancher - working a large area, unable to focus on really small scale issues.

This is the struggle I'm in now. I am more and more pulled away from the very mission that drew me to this work in the first place. Do I give up my community in order to nurture and foster community among others? Is this being called to minister to the sick and not the healthy, or is it the struggle to live one's beliefs in a world not organized around Christ-like values?

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Earth Stewardship - Seattle at the Epicenter

A covenant to take care of the Creator's handiwork

Fifteen years after the pioneering Earth Ministry was founded in Seattle to link religion and the environment, the nation's attention will be drawn back to the city toward another, potentially broader spiritual awakening.

Next April, the national Episcopal Church will team with Episcopalians in Western Washington to host a conference to launch a multifaith campaign on climate change.

At the event, the Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will invite national organizations of Christians, Jews and Muslims to commit to reducing the carbon footprint of their churches, temples and mosques by a minimum of 50 percent by 2015.

Read the whole story at the Seattle Times.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Richard Rorty Passes On

Richard Rorty, one of the most influential philosophers in my life, died last Friday. Peace be with him.

I would recommend to anyone his collections of essays: Objectivity, Relativism and Truth; Truth and Progress; and Philosophy and Social Hope.

He has been eulogized by Habermas.

(Thanks to blogger Jon.)

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Watch Out

It started with a good pair of working shoes. I just couldn't keep wearing my hiking boots to an office job. I tried buying cheapie nice-looking shoes, but I'd wear through them in a month or two. So I actually had to fork over the money for a good pair of Doc Martens. (I still have my hiking boots, but now their relegated to neighborhood walks and working in the garden.) I was 25.

Then it was my wedding ring. I've never worn rings or jewelery - I'm a little paranoid about metal dangley things attached to my limbs. It took three rings to find one that fit well (not loose enough that it flies off my finger in cold weather, not tight enough that I can't easily get it off to fiddle with or dry underneath). It took three years before wearing it was comfortable. Even now, sometimes.... It also took some getting used to - people seeing something significant about me by what I wear. They could see something in my shoes before, sure, but this is more specific. I was 28.

Yesterday, I was given a nice, big, adultish wristwatch. It is nice enough that I have to wear it, and big enough that it isn't just a watch - it says something about me. (I had a small, sturdy watch during Peace Corps, but the battery died within a month of my return to the States, and I never got it replaced.) This watch is one more nail in the coffin of my youth - it is one more signal that I am an adult. I am 32.

It is awkward and gangly - I'd say it is too big for my wrist (as a preemptory excuse for taking it off), but honestly my forearms look adult to me now, and the watch looks appropriate. I wear it on the same hand as my wedding ring, and the two silver objects compliment each other - at once more disturbing and oddly (inevitably?) right.

Gone are the days of my daily flannel attire, dirty shoes and watchless wrists. I have responsibilities now (and so my rebellions are that much more profound, and that much more subtle). I am (at 32) feeling like I am an adult.

Perhaps it is less my watch and more my good job, successful marriage, and double-mortgage. Maybe I'm just being struck by another little outward sign that I'm no longer my sixteen-year-old self - for better and for worse. Still, it's a lot to reconcile.

I wonder how long I could have gone without buying a watch of my own. I wonder if Christie's aunt (who gave us each watches) has any clue of the existential quandry her generosity has put me in. I wonder how long I'll wear this watch, after all. And I wonder how silly I sound working myself up over the most natural and inevitable thing in the world.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

transformed by God

I spent the summer between my third and fourth years in University doing church camps and reunions at the Community of Christ campground at Lewis River in southwest Washington. That summer I had a transformative experience that changed the way I approached my whole life.

It was a very intense and busy summer. Included in that busy intensity were a lot of joys and wonderful experiences, but there were also a lot of struggles and challenges that went along with the fun of being at camp. One week towards the middle of the summer, I found myself in a very difficult camp where there were many stressful issues to deal with including challenging campers and staff. One morning towards the end of the week I was feeling particularly overwhelmed and asked the directors if I could have a bit of a break for about an hour. I walked beside the creek that is on the campground until I arrived at a lovely waterfall that I had heard was up the hill. There I sat down on a rock to rest a bit and collect my thoughts. I cried a little and thought a lot. I contemplated what had happened, how I was feeling, and how I would deal with the rest of the week ahead of me. As I sat there contemplatively problem-solving by listening and relaxing, I had a sudden rush of insight or revelation. Insight that, although simple, felt profound. The insight was that I did not want to simply give up on what I was doing. This was profound because I compared it to how I had felt in the preceding years when I came up against difficulties and challenges in my life. In most stark contrast was my experience in my computer classes: when I was computer programming and hit a problem that seemed un-solvable, I would feel like I wanted to give up. But this camp experience was different. Although the problems seemed just as unsolvable as a difficult computer program, I did not want to give up.

This realization had a profound effect on me because it made me look at my life choices in an entirely different light. Why should I keep doing something that I don’t want to stick with in tough times, when I’d found something else that I wanted to stick with even when it seemed to be an impossible challenge? That summer I began to seriously contemplate and discern what a career in ministry might look like for me. That fall I decided I had a lot to learn about ministry, so I decided to attend theology school. And then the following spring I was accepted at Vancouver School of Theology. Theology school has been challenging too, but there has always been an underlying commitment to the work I’m doing, which has kept and continues to keep me from giving up entirely.

If I dig even deeper into why it is that I refuse to give up, I would probably have to say that it has to do with a desire to serve God and neighbour with my whole being. And if I were to dig deeper into where that desire to serve God and neighbour comes from, I arrive at a simple but complex and profound answer: love. When I think more about my summer in Lewis River I realise that at that point in my life I was still holding very close to my heart an experience of the love of God that had transformed me. I had gone through a very dark spiritual place where I doubted God, doubted love, and doubted myself.

One night at a retreat, I walked a twisting labyrinth path that had various stations, and a cd to accompany the journey. At each station within the labyrinth the walkers were to listen to a different track on the cd that each was listening to on a personal cd player with headphones. The station I remember most clearly and vividly was one that had cushions sitting in front of a mirror, so that one could sit down on the cushions and then look at oneself in the mirror. As I sat down, the cd played soft music, and then a voice track began: “Look at yourself in the mirror” it said. “Look at the beautiful child of God that you are. You were made in God’s image and you are loved by God.” With those simple words came a rush of tears – a sign that I have learned for me often means I am experiencing a deep truth. And I realised that in my pain and searching I had lost track of that simple yet profound truth: that I am made in God’s image and loved unconditionally by God. It is this profound truth that my desire to love God and neighbour flows from.

I want to let God’s complete love for me and the whole world take over my whole self: body, mind and spirit. I want that overwhelming compassion and unconditional love of God for all life to take over and determine each and every step I take. I want to travel along paths that challenge me, that force me to be the very best version of myself, and to use all of my skills and gifts. My life has been transformed by God, mainly by God’s love, and I want everything I do to reflect that transformation.

(excerpted from my sermon this morning)


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Happy Nauvoo Expositor Day!

Our Church's Real Birthday!

In an act requiring the 19th-century equivalent of steel cahones, dissident Mormons published an expose of the secret and dramatically non-Christian rituals and teachings of Joseph Smith in Nauvoo - in Joseph's hometown.

On June 7th, 1844, William Law and William Marks printed a newspaper documenting and publicizing the eccentricities of theology and practice that Joseph Smith was publicly denying (while privately teaching), first among them: "spiritual wifery," aka, polygamy. They were loyal, believing Mormons who felt convicted that what was being taught in Nauvoo did not reflect the gospel of Jesus Christ, and said so.

Joseph responded, as prophet and mayor and commander of the local Mormon militia (the largest armed force in the country at the time), and ordered the printing press destroyed and the office ransacked. It was this violation of the First Amendment that eventually led to Smith's arrest and incarceration, which would facilitate his death at the hands of a mob of Missouri citizens. Marks and Law, and their families, were "escorted" out of town.

Although the publication of the Nauvoo Expositor led the way to a series of tragic events, the motivation behind the act is important to lift up. Since this auspicious beginning, those scattered and diverse believers in a restored gospel and church have felt a reverence for the revelation of God at work in the lives of the early church leaders, but their fundamental loyalty was to the gospel of Jesus. No matter how highly they held their leaders - even the Prophet Joseph Smith - they did not surrender their principle conviction: Jesus is the fullest revelation of God, and what nurtures discipleship to Jesus is good, what draws us away from the Lordship of Christ is bad. And there is a duty of dissenters within community to faithfully object, and state their reasons. And, there is no room for secret rituals or teachings in a community of Christ followers.

These are the underlying principles that were present at the publication of the Nauvoo Expositor. These are the seeds of our denomination, planted in the rich (and weird) history of Mormonism and the Second Great Awakening.

So, Happy Birthday, church. Happy Nauvoo Expositor Day!

(Note: "Nauvoo Expositor Day" is not a "holiday" officially recognized, endorsed or promoted by the Community of Christ. It is the creation of weird Mormon-history buffs, and eccentric Seminary students. This tongue-in-cheek post is not intended to offend or slight our Utah (LDS) cousins, who by and large view the publication of the Expositor and the ensuing events quite differently, and would not approve of making light of it this way.)

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Can there be an ecclesiology not dependent on theological uniformity?

One of the distinctives of the Community of Christ specifically, Christian primitivism in general, and today's postmodern, pluralist culture everywhere, is an aversion to "creeds." We don't like tests of faith or fellowship, especially ones centered on words and "confessions." Words are so slippery, and yet so meaningful - to force agreement on something seems to mitigate its meaning in significant ways.

But what that does mean is that there is a tremendous amount of diversity of opinion and theology. There is some strengths in diversity - I'm thinking hybrid-vigor here. But there is also a danger: how big does the umbrella get before it becomes untenable, or worse, meaningless? That's not the question I'm asking here, exactly, though.

Ecclesiology is "what the church is." It is thinking about what the church is in relation to other theological concepts or doctrines, and also asking the metaphysical question - if "the church" isn't the brick-and-mortar building on the corner, then what is it? But it is also thinking about how the church organizes itself (as an expression of God's revelation and incarnation in the world), and how it goes about being and doing.

Ecclesiology is easier - after a fashion - in homogenous groups: cultural, political, geographic, financial, and theological. (This is not a value judgment.) People work with the same underlying assumptions, have the same expectations, are willing to dedicate the same resources, share a sense of solidarity and unity, and so on.

But what does an "ecclesiology" of diversity look like? What does it mean to be "the church" when there are so many different people in it - and not just differences like race and dress, but deep, critical, theological differences like Christology and revelation, scripture and salvation, sin and grace and the kingdom of God?

The Community of Christ isn't unique in its embrace of a great deal of diversity - it is part of the Christian endeavor to recognize the worth of all persons. And we might not be unique in being a denomination actively struggling to create a unified ecclesiology not dependent on theological uniformity. It seems the struggle of honest Christianity in an honestly postmodern world. The question remains: what does that look like?

And a related question: will anyone be happy with what it does look like?

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Monday, June 04, 2007

what it means to be alive

"This is life, this is what living is all about."

I found myself saying this phrase or something close to it on multiple occasions this week. This past week has held some crazy times for me. First of all, I'm not living at my place right now, for about the past 10 days I've been staying at the house of some friends' while new flooring is put into the place where I live. I feel like a bit of a refugee. Second of all, in the midst of this disruption to life, on Monday night my grandmother (my Mom's Mom) had a bad fall and hurt herself very badly. Her skull and several vertebrae fractured. For several days we were not sure if she would make it. About seven and a half years ago my grandfather on the same side fell too, had a terrible head injury, and never recovered. You can imagine how spooky it was for the family to have this similar event with grandma. She is recovering now, but it will be a long recovery, and there is no way to know for sure what a "full recovery" will look like for her.

It has been a huge thing for me to be able to go see her in the hospital in Chilliwack (1.5 hour drive away), to hold her hand, to listen to her snore, to stroke her back as she sleeps. She is a beautiful and incredibly strong person, so it is also difficult to see her in such a weak state.

My Mom is the eldest of seven siblings, and we are a very close family, but it has been a struggle to get through this very intense and stressful time together, another thing added on top of the multiplicity of stresses and strains that seven people plus their spouses and children are already under in regular day-to-day life.

And in the midst of all of this I have realized that this sort of thing is exactly what life is about. Life isn't about picture-perfect family gatherings and smooth sailing all the way. Life is messy, life is painful, life is maddening, life weighs heavily, life is tenuous. And then life is also beautiful: the sound of my grandmother's snoring, the touch of her soft hand, the big bear hug from an uncle, the beautiful honesty and truthfulness that comes in a plea for help. This is what it means to be alive, beautifully, joyously, painfully alive.