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 

Good Friday Longings

 

(written early 2015)

On Good Friday of 2014, my mom and I are vacationing during my spring break in a tourist town of northern Michigan, a town where spring doesn’t arrive until May or June, thus planting us in the middle of winter during our April visit. We spend Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, in a place that isn’t my home, with churches and people I will never see again. But even though I’m losing my religion, something in me is still drawn to celebrating Easter time. So I Google search “Holy Week Anglican” and “Holy Week Episcopal,” trying to find a church that worships in a style with enough “smells and bells” to bring a touch of holy and sacred back to this holiday that is so rapidly losing its meaning for me.

So it is on Good Friday, sitting in a tiny one-room schoolhouse style church, on a hard white pew, listening to half a dozen laypeople stand up and read passages from their Holy Bibles, that I have this stark thought: “I’m not a Christian anymore…”

The words I hear that day from the other worshippers in the one-room church are dry, lifeless, containing no meaning for me. I know I should feel sad and mournful on this sacred holiday. Instead, I am devoid of emotion, thinking about how I wish I could be feeling something. Is it because this is a story I’ve heard too many times and it no longer has any impact on me? In a religion that barely touches me anymore, my hope is maybe this somber Good Friday service will put a spark in me and enliven my dry bones. But it doesn’t. Maybe the room is too light, the stubborn northern Michigan sun refusing to set on this April day to create the mood of darkness I long to feel. Maybe the selected hymns are too unfamiliar, too thin when sung by only 14 people, too shallow when accompanied by an electric piano instead of a resonant organ. Maybe my soul no longer knows how to take this seriously.

I know the real reason I am giving up my Friday evening on vacation with my mom and sitting anonymously in a church with 13 strangers who I will never see again. It is that I long for a magical moment I had almost exactly three years ago. I was living in Boston at the time, traipsing around flower-child style with my Chaco sandals and art supplies, exploring the distinguished city by foot and by the train system known as the T. Back then I knew little about Holy Week, since evangelicals in my tradition don’t celebrate such high holidays that remind us of the Catholicism we broke apart from in the 1600s. But the dignified Trinity Episcopal Church was on the route I regularly walked, and I saw a sign outside it advertising a week’s worth of “Holy Week” services around Easter. I shyly crept in at the beginning of the week, and after that first day, decided to organize the rest of my week around the other services. The church was expansive – such a contrast to this one-room schoolhouse – with dark wooden pews and tall stained glass windows. It had an organ that pounded out songs, making the body hum. It afforded a pleasant sense of anonymity, as the church welcomed tourists every day, and one could enter, pray, or sit in silence without being bothered by anyone else.

Trinity offered three hours of prayer service on Good Friday, and while I didn’t really want to commit to all 3 hours in a row, I greedily sought an emotional experience. I entered a little late and sat somewhere near the back of the room: easy in, easy out. The format of the service repeated a cycle – a Scripture reading, a short homily, a hymn, and silence – seven times. I remember very little about the service except a gradually darkening room, and approximately one line of a poem that still strikes me straight through my heart. My heart drops into my stomach; I ache at the very sight of the words.

And on the cross, he held me, and I was in the nothingness, and he held me…

The other remnants of the poem only exist because I scribbled them in my journal that afternoon, trying to savor them, their meaning, knowing how profound they were and how quickly they were slipping away from me.

Oh Jesus, don’t let your hands be bound

Your body hung taut like an arrow on the cross / your heart pierced / your body entombed

I have to, my beloved

To fling you taut like an arrow into heaven / to bleed so you may drink / to resurrect all those from the dead

I have tried to Google the rest of the poem, but to no avail. The poem is gone forever, lost in the space of time, or the imagination of the listener that day.

All I am left with now is the feeling of that afternoon, the profound images those words create. The poem asks Jesus why these things had to happen, and Jesus responds with the most beautiful yet soul-crushing answers I ever heard. Why did you have to go down into the pit, Jesus? Why did your hands have to be pierced by nails? Your side stabbed so water and blood poured forth? And in the moment I heard those words, I was touched by the answers in a way I never had been in 22 years of hearing the Easter story, over and over again.

Good Friday of 2011. The story that had always remained in my head somehow sunk down into my heart. It seemed I suddenly felt a small measure of his pain; that I could, for one brief moment, understand just how shatteringly painful the crucifixion was, not just physically but spiritually. What if… Jesus died so God could understand what it is like to be separated from God. And through it all, the line of the poem echoed:

And on the cross, he held me, and I was in the nothingness, and he held me…

I am in the nothingness, and he holds me.

I am still in the nothingness, and I know not whether I am held. I am in the nothingness every Good Friday since then, my soul dried up once more, the story that permeated my heart for one flash of a moment again escaped to my head. I seek that religious experience on occasion, hoping to feel stirred once more, wondering what it will take to get me there. But I don’t know if I will get there, and I am slowly coming to terms with that. I have mostly accepted that I can simply reminisce of a time gone by, a time when I believed in my very soul, when Jesus was so real, when the stars aligned and I could feel. That moment is gone now, and I am back in nothingness, holding on to something – nothing – or maybe, somehow, being held.

Jihad of Jesus book review

 

Dave Andrews’ The Jihad of Jesus hooks the reader with a seeming paradox, as he suggests you cannot have neither Jesus without jihad, or jihad without Jesus. If you are open enough to not write him off immediately, you can quickly discover that after Andrews finishes walking us through a very sobering journey of all the terrible violence that Christians and Muslims have done to each other in the name of their religion, he is mostly playing with words and ideas to make this title feasible.

Jihad and Jesus, you say? Many Judeo-Christian Westerners are under the impression that it is inherently violent, a holy war, terrorism, killings in the name of Allah. However, Andrews re-examines the meaning of jihad and gives us another – truer – definition: jihad means “struggle” in Arabic, and has two components, the inner and outer struggle. The inner struggle is the greater jihad, and is the struggle to fulfill one’s religious duties. The outer struggle is the lesser jihad, which is a physical struggle against opponents. Some, but not all, Muslims would interpret this as “holy war,” but Andrews takes care to emphasize that there are nonviolent ways to interpret both the lesser and greater jihads.

Ah. Well, with this new definition of jihad, you can probably guess how the rest of the book goes, and if you are willing to go with this definition (as I and probably a good number of you readers are), Andrews is preaching to the interfaith choir.

I am tempted to sum up the rest of the premise of this book with two quick sentences. First, he asks if the construction of these religions is not just an excuse for the terrible violence, but the actual cause of it, a question he daringly answers with yes. Gasp! How can you say that? Well, like his reconstruction of jihad, he defines two “constructions” of religion, the word around which that first sentence pivots. My second summary sentence: One must distinguish between “closed-set” religion, which is boundaried, black-white, insiders-outsiders, right-wrong, and “open-set” religion, which is (as you could guess) open to all, seeking the heart of God and encouraging others to do so as well, instead of defining itself by rules, beliefs, and dogma.

With this wordplay, with new definitions for ideas we had preconceived notions of, jihad and Jesus can fit together much better. Jesus, through his words and actions, took on the struggle (jihad) to fulfill his religious duties, and likewise we need to, or at least can, embody the spirit of Jesus in order to fulfill our own religious duties and quest for nonviolence.

There are other interesting tidbits in this book, including some really fascinating studies about violence and the human capabilities for evil, but the main points of the book are above. I found that Andrews seemed repetitive, which grated on me by the end of the book, but his message is especially important for those not in the interfaith choir… if they are willing to pick up this book and give it some real consideration before throwing it out of their closed-set circle.

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.

Enneagram Type 1 and Atonement Theory

Welcome back to my stalled series on the Enneagram and religious denominations! I wrote a post some 10 months ago about Type 9 and Quakers, which you can take a look at here. That link also offers a “crash course” on all the Enneagram types, if you are not familiar with them. Today, however, we’re going to look at Type One and the great gifts and burdens they carry with them in the religious world. Because Christianity is the context out of which I come, I will look at Ones and Christianity in particular.

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. However, these needs drive them to be reformers, striving for justice and what is right, with a sense of mission to improve the world.

In Ennea-speak, their root passion is Anger, and their ego-fixation is Resentment. What does that mean in, you know, normal people language? Essentially, Ones have a deep sense that once upon a time, things were perfect. You can think of the Garden of Eden, for instance. But things are messed up now, and everything is not perfect. Because of their deeply ingrained awareness that this is not how it should be, along with their belief that they DO know how things should be, they end up getting angry. However: to actually BE angry is rather intolerable to Ones, as they are known for their self-control. So the anger is repressed and instead bubbles under the surface, and it’s not hard for that bubbling anger to turn into resentment.

Now, for my caveat: I am going to describe a certain set of beliefs within Christianity that to me, seem fitting to the beliefs and needs of the One. I am certainly not trying to say that all Ones believe this, nor that all who believe this are Ones. And in truth, we all have a little bit of every Enneagram number in us. So take what you find helpful, and argue with me about the rest! 🙂

The Christian tradition that I was raised in was big on atonement theory. (There are many sub-theories of this, but I will use the following as my working definition). Essentially, I learned about original sin, the idea that we are all inherently corrupt and sinful (at least since Adam and Eve ate that fruit). Now, we still can’t get away from it, and the only solution is to have God come down and pay the penalty for our sins through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. Atonement simply refers to Jesus’s substitutionary death on the cross, offering his perfect life in exchange for the lives of all of us sinners, thereby satisfying God’s need for justice.

(If you want to get a bit nerdy, here’s a chart on various atonement theories… in this example, I am thinking of the emphasis in the Crucifixion illustrated below)

varieties.of_.atonement

It’s a belief system that seems to be created for these Ones… or was it the Ones who really molded this particular tradition?? In a One worldview, justice, righteousness, and fairness are key words. The need for perfection is important. God is perfect. God is righteous. God is just. In many people’s eyes, God cannot just forgive a sinner with no exchange being made. I think the One strives so hard for perfection because they are deeply aware that they are never quite perfect enough. They, more than the rest of us, bear in mind that there is always more to be done, always more perfection to be had. Hence: the need for a perfect moral sacrifice to come and rescue us all — especially Ones and their abiding need to be perfect — from the ever-present threat of being not perfect enough. 

Not all Ones are legalistic, of course, but Ones can make really great legalistic Christians. They have a knack for self-discipline and control, and they thrive on the sense of mission and self-sacrifice for the sake of a higher calling. Which leads me to the other side of the One, the activist / moral duty side. I love this quote from the Enneagram Institute website:

Ones often persuade themselves that they are “head” types, rationalists who proceed only on logic and objective truth. But, the real picture is somewhat different: Ones are actually activists who are searching for an acceptable rationale for what they feel they must do.

Religion can provide a useful rationale for doing what they feel they must do, whether you are conservative or liberal, Christian or not. You can be a One and advocate passionately for either side: pro-life, pro-choice; gay rights, “traditional” family; anti-war, protecting people in other countries through military intervention. The One is driven by a feeling that they must do something, that they must help bring the world back to a place of righteousness. As we know, religious people of all stripes can find religious rationales for what they do.

Imagine with me for a moment the church-as-a-collective (or a part of it) as a One, striving for perfection, afraid of their imperfections, angry and resentful that things are not perfect. There is a deep thirst for a Redeemer to come and make things perfect. For this branch of Christianity, it would naturally be an essential part of the narrative to have a story that involves a central role of sin and grace. Ones know deep in their being that they are sinful, and they need more than anything to be told that they are okay. 

 

 Meet Mr. Martin Luther!

martin luther

I have heard (from Richard Rohr, in The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective) that Martin Luther is a classic example of a One. Martin Luther was a monk who wrestled over and over with this need to be perfect and righteous, never feeling worthy to stand before God. He knew what he had to do to keep the law of God, yet he always failed. One night, on his conversion experience, he realized that righteousness was a free gift given by God. Martin Luther was only released from his curse of perfectionism and quest for his own righteousness by the realization that there was nothing he could do to truly be perfect. Likewise with our Ones. They can only be released from burden of never feeling okay, never feeling good enough, by realizing that it is okay, that they don’t have to strive anymore, that their imperfections are enough for God’s love.

Paul and Jesus Paul and Jesus, having a heart-to-heart…

Paul, the writer of a good chunk of the New Testament, could also be characterized as a One (see here for a fun chart). Paul is a you-love-him-or-you-hate-him kind of guy, aggravating many with what sounds like arrogant speech to our modern ears, yet inspiring many with his poetic and passionate speech about grace and freedom. Pre-conversion, he was a Pharisee, a stickler for the law, and seemingly quite obsessed with perfection and legalistic details. Then, according to his story, he had a transforming moment with the Risen Christ that turned his whole life around. This Reformer, perfection-seeking One suddenly understood grace, that there was nothing he could possibly do to earn the love of God. The reforming One was redeemed.

To understand grace, freedom, and perfection in not being perfect releases Ones from anger and from resentment. When they can come to a place of peace and acceptance about things being the way they are, they find Holy Perfection.

 

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Areas of disagreement? I’d love to hear it!