Thoughts on the New Zealand massacre from a counselor

Obviously you know the news by now from New Zealand: 50 people killed. Muslim worshippers at two different mosques. Suspected gunman with white supremacist, anti-Muslim beliefs with 5 legally purchased weapons, two of which were semi-automatic assault rifles. Hopefully, regardless of your own religious affiliation, your heart is broken and you are outraged.

I remember how shaken I felt after the Las Vegas massacre in 2017. The death count of this new massacre is nearly as high, but this time it is on the opposite side of the world and against people of a religion most of us do not identify with. What impact does this have on our concern? Our compassion? Or the ever-timely question of what we can do to make change?

I recall to mind exchanges I used to have with a counseling client, a boy nearing adolescence who was quite small for his age but quite big for his britches. Now, typically my approach is very client-centered and client-led, and I create a lot of space for the person’s beliefs and working out issues at their own pace, not the pace I wish they would go at. I was very challenged by this with this client.

One day my client came in complaining about, and even mocking, some of the new neighbors on his street and the kids in his class. He hated their accents. He hated how they weren’t up to speed on the American things he found important. My client (who was, by the way, a quarter black and I wondered about the internalized racism he must experience) lived in a very white suburb and to the best of my knowledge, it seemed this suburb was suddenly and uncomfortably diversifying particularly with a population of immigrants who also happened to be Muslim. My client’s family did not like this.

Sounds like New Zealand. Sounds like America.

My client would sometimes tell me about the things he was learning from his stepgrandma and how he was learning to distrust all the things he was learning in his public school. She told him the textbooks he studied were wrong. She told him that Democrats were actually the party of racists. She told him that the Qu’ran was filled with commandments to kill the infidel and about jihad and that Muslims were dangerous, bad people.

I remember the first time I met a Muslim and actually got to know her. I was raised on the same rhetoric that my client was hearing, and I learned a very one-sided view of Islam. I also came of age around the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which shaped my understanding of who Muslims were. In college, I was befriended by a sweet Muslim girl, because she happened to be the dorm neighbor of my best friend. She wore a head scarf almost all the time but would sometimes take it off in the safety of the all-female dorm hall. She had a smile to melt your heart, a warm and kind spirit, and a disarming tendency that drew you in. At the age of 18, my encounters with her were my first step toward a radical change in my exclusivistic Christian views and toward interfaith thinking.

Meanwhile, these recent encounters with my client became blood pressure-raising, cheeks-flushing 45 minute sessions. As I said, I typically interfere little with belief systems of clients, but I could not stay silent while he spouted off the rhetoric – propaganda – that he was picking up from a parental figure who was probably getting her own news from extraordinarily biased sources. I tried to challenge him on his notions of Islam, explaining what else Islam stood for: peace, respecting others, loving God. I even reminded him that his own Bible held some pretty ugly passages, but we generally choose to not focus on them. I questioned him on the blatant prejudice of categorizing “all” people of a certain group because he had a negative interaction with one of them.

I couldn’t not speak. I questioned whether it was okay to insert myself in such ways, but I also recalled the values I have promised to live by as a counselor to be culturally sensitive and stand up for the oppressed.

I don’t know if what I said in our conversations made any impact on him. I don’t know if the color of his own skin or his remarkable intelligence might one day have him think twice about people he perceives as outsiders or different, or if he will adopt defense mechanisms of paranoia and projection and view the “other” as evil and dangerous. But I knew then as well as I know now that the line of thinking he was following was not just discriminatory, not just hateful, but has the potential to be incredibly dangerous.

So how will we respond to this latest tragedy? Can our country self-examine and quit deceiving ourselves that policies like an attempted “Muslim ban” and broadly referring to neighbors across the southern border as “bad hombres,” gang members, rapists, and murderers might actually be part and parcel of the very same fabric from which this mass murderer arose? Might we admit that “nationalism,” as we understand it today, is perhaps not all it’s cracked up to be? Can we understand that when a significant portion of our country thinks the Qu’ran is only filled with hate for the infidel and assumes that to be Muslim is equivalent to being a terrorist, that we are all in danger and the worse off for it? Both because of people like this recent shooter and because actual terrorist organizations thrive off of angry, skewed views of Muslims?

Can our churches respond and say “We stand with Muslims”? Can we boldly proclaim that we are all God’s children and the heart of God and our own heart breaks with the loss of life and the proliferation of hate?

We are not left with our hands tied, regardless of how many time zones away this tragedy is this time. The problem is in our own backyards as well. What are we willing to risk to send the message that love – love of the neighbor, love of the stranger, love of the immigrant, love of the Muslim – is stronger than the hate that constantly threatens to divide and even kill us?

a beautiful thing happened

imagine from iStockphotos; RyanJLane

It was one of those mornings when I was thinking about my own “whys” of why I go to church. Besides the obvious that my husband is the pastor and I feel duty-bound to show up at least at some point in the morning, what draws me to a church community?

We all have different reasons. Many people, out of habit. Or a guilty conscience if they don’t go. Or because this is the place they see friends and loved ones predictably every Sunday morning. Or to hear a Word from God, maybe in a sermon, prayer, or hymn. Or to sing in the choir. Or because, for some inexplicable reason, they were drawn even though they can’t explain why.

One of my own whys today was because, even though I can be quite content with my spiritual practice of sitting alone with a book, my thoughts, and being quietly with God, I also know that I need to practice the spiritual discipline of being in community. I know that my personality tends toward isolation, and that I need to find contact with – and eventually connection with – other people to help make me whole.

I also have been enjoying the songs of the choir lately, so I decided to go to the later service at church.

In service, I had been thinking too much during the sermon. Seeing things from an outsider perspective. Wondering we need to be doing / saying / bringing that might speak to the needs of the community.

What I didn’t have eyes to see yet was that it is already here.

After the sermon, the choir began the communion anthem sitting in their seats in the pews. It seemed like a mistake at first, as one member rose alone, but one by one, the others intentionally rose too. They made their way to the front, walking slowly. Later I learned this was no one person’s idea, but something that evolved with everyone’s input, shifting and changing and needing everyone’s involvement to be how it was.

And then, I don’t even know what happened, but what I believe is we all knew the power this held at the same time.

The eight or so choir members gathered behind the table that holds the Lord’s Supper, singing, lines moving back and forth, voices trading verses, melody flowing sweetly. I didn’t hear the words: I felt the song. All I knew was it was spell-binding. Tears welled up in my eyes. My breath was held. And when I went forward for communion, the same sense of being gathered together remained; that this community of people was being held by something powerful and gracious and loving. When I glanced in the eyes of others, I think they felt it too.

If we were Quaker, I would call it being “gathered” or having a “gathered meeting.” If we were UCC, we might give the pause of a comma and sigh, “God is still speaking.” If we were Pentecostal, the Holy Spirit would probably be speaking through tongues. Some people easily describe it as the presence of God, or Jesus, being in the room with us. I might call it a “mystical moment.” An experience that cannot be adequately described in words, that defies explanation, and is a reality so real that it cannot be proven, but only felt and experienced.

It doesn’t truly matter what words we try and put to the experience, or if we put words at all. We are all getting a taste of this powerful Divine Reality, a reality so powerful it speaks to us however we need to hear it. An experience that sometimes only happens because we are all gathered together in community.

It was only when I got home and re-read the words of the song that I realized what they said: He is Here in the Breaking of the Bread.

Amen.

“Road to Edmond” review

I recently started listening to the Homebrewed Christianity podcast with Tripp Fuller. I have a lot of time on my hands when painting all the rooms in our house, and I like to engage my brain as well as my arm. For an INSFTPJ (that’s Myers-Briggs for being uncertain about many aspects of my personality but definitely being an introvert, and one who likes to think about matters that matter) like myself, it’s a really interesting podcast. He (like me, maybe you) is a post-evangelical/fundamentalist and does a lot of neat interviews with progressive Christians. And he really likes beer. So with those things in common, I find it’s a podcast worth listening to.

I just watched the movie he produced and acted in called “The Road to Edmond,” which I eagerly jumped on when I had the chance through Speakeasy (the group where I get to receive and read books for free as long as I write reviews about them).

Plot summary: Cleo the committed evangelical youth pastor supports a girl in his youth group who comes out to him, instead of telling her she’s a sinner and has to change her ways. He gets in trouble by the church he works at and has to take a 2-week leave. Cleo immediately packs a very small backpack that somehow contains enough clothes and supplies to last him through the two weeks portrayed in the movie and hits the road on his bike. Larry (acted by Tripp) runs over his bike early on in Cleo’s journey, and ends up taking him on a wild cross country trip where Cleo’s beliefs are challenged and deconstructed, and Larry processes things after the death of his dad.

It’s funny and goofy, unbelievable at times (Tripp is actually a pretty good actor, but Cleo’s character could use some work), and also touching. You will laugh, you will roll your eyes, and you might even well up with tears. My husband (never an evangelical but a mainline Christian pastor) and I really enjoyed it. There’s even some excellent plot twists and surprises that make it worth it to get to the end.

If you can find the movie playing anywhere near you, it’s worth seeing. If you can’t find the movie, just listen to some episodes of Homebrewed Christianity. It’s like The Liturgists but a little bit less angsty, and a little more heady (in some episodes). Podcasts have definitely been my friend lately.

If anyone else has seen this movie, leave me a comment. Or just tell me: what are some of your favorite podcasts?

and Jesus was moved by her faith

There’s no way around it. I am a pastor’s wife. (I suppose I might also say that I have a pastor husband, but either way, my life is becoming deeply intertwined with the church). We have moved from the big city to a small town, to be an integral part of the life of the church. I’ve never lived in a small town. I’ve never been a pastor’s wife in this way. I am finding myself drawn more deeply toward spirituality in general, and Christianity in particular, in this new life phase. (If this seems obvious of a pastor’s wife, read early blog posts and note that I’ve had a long period of deconstruction of faith and have been to many a locale on the theological map). Christianity is calling me, perhaps necessarily (what can one do in a small town besides attend and participate in the life of your husband’s church?); perhaps because it is, itself, compelling.

***

The story of the Syrophoenician, or Canannite, woman is calling to me in particular. Coincidentally, Kevin preached on this very passage (Mark 7:24-30) the same morning I encountered it in the memoir I am reading. My mind continues to mull over it days later. In the story, the woman begs Jesus on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter to heal the child. Jesus is not from the same social group as this woman. His people conquered her people (the Canaanites) long, long ago, and they still look down on the Syrophoenicians with disgust. Jesus – son of God, right? – goes so far as to call this begging woman a “dog.” You filthy, disgusting, scavenging creature. Try to allow yourself to ponder that, Christians. It’s right there in the Bible. The woman is undeterred, however. “Even the dogs eat the children’s crumbs,” she retorts. Andrea Lingle points out, “The Canaanite woman claimed her place at the table or under it.” And Jesus is moved by this. The woman’s child is healed by her faith.

Jesus is moved by the woman’s faith. Jesus actually moves his position, his beliefs, because of this woman who refused to back down and be seen as undeserving of the graces and healing he had to offer. Christians who need to see Jesus as always, only fully divine, never saying or doing anything questionable, will see this differently. They likely see Jesus as purposely testing the woman to get her to demonstrate her faith. They might downplay the fact that Jesus actually gave this woman a terrible insult. To me, this seems to be a case of making the story fit the pre-existing theology.

But let’s not sugarcoat things. Let the text speak. If we read the story and interpret it based on the context and what it actually seems to be saying – not interpreting it to try and squeeze a particular meaning out of it – Jesus seems to be prejudiced against this woman initially, but is moved by her insistence that she, too, belongs in the realm of grace. It seems that Jesus, a Jewish teacher, believed initially that he was here to minister to the Jews. He is here for the children of Israel. And then the beliefs he thought were certain shift. This woman will settle for crumbs, but she will not settle for less than that. And then Jesus’ eyes are opened and he sees that she too belongs. She receives full healing for her daughter because of her faithful insistence that healing is for her, for them, for everyone.

It is a significant divide we walk here. I am well aware of that. I acknowledge there are multiple ways to interpret this story. You may disagree with how I read it. It is an interpretation that is compelling to me. 

If Jesus is only, fully divine, then he’s either “just testing” her, or he’s not really insulting her, or God thinks it’s okay to insult people like that. A solely divine Jesus would not need to be moved by this woman to give justice to all, would he?

A Jesus who is, who needs to be, moved by others is a Jesus who is also fully human. Catch your theological breath and just play with ideas here. As my pastor husband quoted in his sermon, Karl Barth says we need not try to reconcile two beliefs seemingly at odds to try and make one cohesive belief system. We can just hold them both up together and let the rest be a mystery. Jesus Christ, divine. Jesus Christ, fully human. Jesus, God’s agent, divine, full of mercy and grace. Jesus, human, forgetting sometimes that all meant all. Jesus discovering through an encounter with the “other” that he is here not just for some – for his own people – but to heal and reconcile the whole world together.

I find this to be deeply moving. I generally do not feel full of grace, though I believe grace profoundly belongs to all. I go to the sheriff’s office to get fingerprinted so I can minister and be a counselor to those who are hurting. A man walks in and willingly cuts in front of me and another woman who have been waiting for a ridiculously long time in an empty waiting area so he can get fingerprinted for his concealed carry permit. He reinforces stereotypes I have of people like him. He feels entitled to get what he wants despite the needs or rights of others, and he does not even know it. And I confess: I have some hate for him in my heart.

But I know Jesus’s gospel isn’t just for people like me, the kind do-gooders of the world (who still have secret hate in their hearts). His gospel is for gun-toting Make America Great Again hats, for bleeding heart liberals, for desperate immigrants crossing borders and crossing deserts under cover of night, for families with loved ones killed by illegal immigrant gang members. His gospel of reconciliation and grace is for Jews, Canaanites, and even Romans. His gospel is for Israel, Native Americans, and even the United States. And in this story of the Canaanite / Syrophoenician woman, I see Jesus making the profound discovery of this as well. Perhaps there is hope for all of us.

 

Featured image credit goes to the Junia Project: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwifiZmYtMXdAhUvUt8KHcF-CdcQjRx6BAgBEAU&url=https%3A%2F%2Fjuniaproject.com%2Fcaring-marginalized-jesus-canaanite-woman%2F&psig=AOvVaw22ej_O-oyaCQ6iAu80yQKJ&ust=1537389314168444 

“Credulous” is worth the read

Andrea Lingle – mother, writer, lay theologian – has written the book I hoped to write. (Also that I still hope to write). It is a memoir of faith, filled  with personal stories as well as her own theological ponderings that meander through quantum physics as easily as they do the Bible. She believes in expansive, abundant grace. She has managed to hang on to Christianity in a deep way even through her grief, challenges with the church, and faith deconstruction. My favorite parts of the book were her honest and raw descriptions of being human and a mom, particularly around the tensions between our dreams and ambitions versus how our lives end up looking — but how grace and peace are found even in that. I also enjoyed her creative renditions of gospel stories with Jesus interacting with his disciples. Those well-known stories suddenly leapt off the page for me as she imaginatively described the very human interactions among Jesus, Peter, the people begging him for healing. I was so inspired, actually, that I wrote a separate post about it here.
The book is organized along the lines of a church bulletin, as she dives into a different life or theology area with each section of a church bulletin (anthem, children’s moment, sermon, etc). Even though I sometimes found myself annoyed at the theological meanderings and the occasional far-fetched attempts to tie her thoughts in to the chapter she was supposed to be writing about (perhaps that tendency hits too close to home!), I also couldn’t stop reading the book. It was relatable because it was not perfect. Because of that, I also secretly want to be friends with her and “do life” together. I recommend checking it out yourself – you won’t be disappointed you did!

Find it on Amazon here
Learn about Andrea on her website

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

how we worship

This small congregation of 12, the ones K. tears up for when preaching about them in sermons, the ones who have to close their doors in too few days, too few to allow K. to be ordained in the church building he was raised up in. Where is the line between thriving and surviving? What happens to a church that once split because it was growing so much and now, can seat everyone comfortably around a long foldout table?
Sitting with them, I film a movie in my head, a beautiful tragedy of a once-bustling church. A scene of this very conversation, zooming in on the confirming question: we still want to keep meeting, right? – yes. Camera pans out to a wide shot of the whole table discussing how much money to sell the building for, face shots of people giving out numbers in earnest, putting numeric values on a place that has housed the growing up of children, the building of community, the maturation of their own souls. I watch the fierce commitment of people who have spent years and years together, without a question in their minds of whether or not they will continue to be church with each other, only wondering where.
I imagine a future scene in my head, the keys being handed over to the new owners, the wooden doors closing one last time, the last truck loaded with folding chairs and a chalice, driving out of the parking lot. A tear streaking slowly down the cheek of the churchgoer, maybe the movie watcher. A beautiful tragic drama, or as K. reminds me, There is joy; it’s an opportunity for a new beginning.

 

*****

Early morning pre-dawn, best time for running. We’re getting so much in before most people are even thinking about rolling out of bed. The moon is just showing off with an incredible set like this, playing hide-and-seek between the clouds, sinking large and low on the horizon. K. and I tread cautiously on frozen snow, paths lit by the shine of the moon and the occasional car beam, until we reach the stillness of the canal path. I breathe deeper there and relax – my home. There is something about the joy of the cold air, the bare tree branches, the night sky, and running beside my love that alchemies into a mixture of joyous exuberance. Words burst from my mouth, story after story after random detail, but I am safe and know I am loved, and K. finds it all charming. At this easy pace, I could run forever, and almost wish to. Just keep going til you run out of path, out of time, out of darkness. Run until dawn, until the secret of night ends. That is what I love about night runs, I tell K. — it is as though the canal and I hold a secret that nobody else knows about, that there is beauty so strange and glorious and wonderful and I revel to share in it. Oh you beautiful world, you. Light feet, light body, light heart.

Moonset CTS night sky

Enneagram crash course, Quakers, and type 9’s

Lately I have been wondering about the kinds of people who fit best into the Christian church, but also pondering the chicken-and-egg scenario: do those who fit best do that because they were naturally that way, or does the church change people-modify people- so that their personality fits better within the church? Since I’m me, I’ve been thinking about this within the context of the Enneagram.

Crash course on the Enneagram (look it up if you’re interested for more info at www.enneagraminstitute.com), though I intend to write more posts later on the types: The Enneagram is a personality typing system with spiritual roots and a whole lot of complexity. There are 9 basic types that are mapped out in a circle with complex lines between them. Each type has a core “sin”/ “passion”/ “issue that it gets stuck on” (if we’re avoiding religious language). This issue can be its greatest weakness, but it also its greatest source of strength once it is worked out. I put the passions in bold so that they stand out. If you recognize your type easily, the passion can definitely have an “ouch” feel to it… but you may also feel very confused about why that passion would result from that type. Don’t worry, I intend to have later posts getting more into that!! (Also, to cite my sources: I use Wisdom of the Enneagram by Riso & Hudson, Personality Types by Riso & Hudson, and reference an Enneagram workshop I went to a couple of years ago that was super informative- if you start to get into the Enneagram, I recommend going to a workshop if you can!) The 9 types are divided into three different instinct centers:

  • The Gut / Body / Instinctive Center (Types 8, 9, and 1): underlying feeling is anger
  • The Heart / Feeling Center (Types 2, 3, and 4): underlying feeling is shame
  • The Mind / Head Center (Types 5, 6, and 7): underlying feeling is fear

Here is a picture so you can see how the types connect. (yes, the lines mean something, but that’s for another day!).

Enneagram-TypesName

Type 1: The “Reformer.” Need to be perfect, right, morally upstanding, self-controlled; can be moralizing and want to impose their superego’s standards on others. Resentment

Type 2: The “Helper.” Need to be needed, to be loving, giving, generous, try to earn love by giving love. Have a hard time letting others take care of them. Pride

Type 3: The “Achiever.” Image-oriented, want to be successful, doers, driven, ladder-climbers. Need to look good / achieve (in any given field, including homemaking!). Vanity

Type 4: The “Individualist.” Introspective, self-absorbed, moody, trying to self-actualize and be true to themselves; amplifies feelings and bases identity on feeling states. Envy

Type 5: The “Investigator.” Need to know (they try to gain security through the knowledge they gain), inquisitive, intellectual, withdrawn, limited energy for others. Avarice (similar to hoarding, greediness)

Type 6: The “Loyalist.” Seek belonging, being part of something bigger than themselves, very committed, anxious/worry about the future, can be either phobic/contra-phobic (acting recklessly to prove to themselves they’re not afraid). Anxiety

Type 7: The “Enthusiast.” Seek to fully experience life through lots of experiences/ keeping busy, avoiding pain, always looking toward what’s next, fun-loving but have trouble settling into the moment. Gluttony

Type 8: The “Challenger.” Need to be in control/ not be controlled, independent / reluctant to rely on others, forceful personality, confident. Lust (not sexual, but lust for control or power)

Type 9: The “Peacemaker.” Need to not make waves, easy-going, self-effacing, doesn’t want to bother others, find peace within through having peace outside, can ignore uncomfortable truths. Sloth  (not the same as laziness… see below)

To not exclude myself from this exploration of religion and personality types, I will start with my own type 9, the “Peacemaker.” 9’s “passion” is slothfulness- not to be confused with laziness like we think of it, though that can be part of it, but more a reluctance to take your life by the horns and realize that only YOU are the person who can fully live your life. 9’s, I’ve noticed, tend to be interested in peacemaking endeavors and politics. At their best, they stand up strongly for what they believe in, bringing people together, doing reconciling and mediating work. They are often interested in spirituality, but as the Wisdom of the Enneagram (an EXCELLENT book!) put it, they are too eager to go towards the “white light” and try to skip past all the difficult, yucky parts involved in really deep spirituality.

Sometimes, to be honest, I question if that’s what I’m doing. The white light thing. I like my spiritual practices of journaling with my mug of coffee, of meditating. Of getting out into nature, of noticing the ducks and the muskrats, of thanking God for sunsets and sunrises. My spiritual practices that can be so intellectual, seminarian-style reading books about the Bible or Jesus or Buddhism or centering prayer, finding ways in my mind to tie these things together. Am I just being slothful? Am I doing what comes easy, what is comfortable? What are the ways in which I stretch myself? And the big questions: is this wrong? Is this right? Is this just who I was created to be? What is the balance between stretching and contracting that will allow me to be my fullest self?

The first time I went to a Quaker church, where the service was spent in silence punctuated by comments and stories from people who had clearly thought deeply about what they were about to say, but were completely content with the stillness and quiet, I said to my partner: “I think I found a church with my personality type!!” It was such a lovely, exciting feeling; this sense of belongingness (even with strangers). “Others think like I do? I thought I was the only one!” I’ve only spent half a year with the Quakers so far, but I hope to spend more time there. I want to see Quakers at their 9-ish best, working for peace, reconciling, mediating. Deeply centered in themselves, with a strong identity that calms and guides others.

Quakers are famous for being against slavery when it wasn’t cool, for being anti-war when it seemed all others were for the war. But that aside, in what ways do Quakers, if we are still comparing them with 9s, settle into slothfulness? Of not fully taking on their calling in this world? Of slipping into a comfortable silence every week and going home, content enough with the way they contacted God and happy to keep that inside? I don’t know enough yet about Quakers to say much about what the average Quaker does… but I hope to learn, to observe myself and them, with clear, unflinching, nonjudgmental eyes.

I want to be aware of the ways that they, or any spiritual group or denomination, are blinded by the hums and rhythms of their natural personality.The way that we can start to assume, when we are surrounded by people who think and act just like us, that this is the right way to be, or sometimes even the only way to be.

So that is some of what this series on the Enneagram and denominations is going to be about. Maybe you’ll see yourself in a type. Maybe you’ll see your church in a type (or multiple types). Are those the same type (that is, do you “fit in”)? Different types? What are the ways that your church or your spiritual practice enclose you in a safe way, and what are the ways that are limiting or blinding? I’d love to hear your continuing thoughts!