I was recently reading an article about stand-up comedians who were processing jokes they told early in their career that they now regretted.
Jokes have been a powerful tool for perpetuating harmful thoughts and ideas about people in our world. A joke allows you to share offensive stereotypes without taking any accountability. The person who is offended is the one who needs to "lighten up" and "take a joke". The typical response is to laugh or shake your head disapprovingly with a smirk.
I find articles like these interesting because even though there aren't a lot of pure apologies (a lot of justifying and caveating instead) there is an awareness that we change over time. I actually think Christianity should be leading the charge in these kinds of conversations. We're a community with a specific word and theology for changing ideas and behavior.
Repentance is one of my favorite phrases. It literally means to turn around and go the other way. It's already assumed that there will be times when we gain new insights and awarenesses and our reaction is supposed to be change. The idea of "doubling down" on ignorance or bad information is foreign to the language of the Bible.
This Sunday my friend Cara Meredith is going to be sharing about a shift in her life that was led by a relationship and how honoring the personhood of others is key to Christianity. I encourage you to come hear Cara's journey of change with new information and the freedom that comes from repentance. May we be the kind of people that model growth and utilize repentance in that journey.
In the midst of this message series I decided to explore a new prayer practice (which is also the subject of our new Sunday morning class). I've been using a drawing workbook (found here) as the centering activity for my prayer time.
Praying through drawing and art isn't something that I would have assumed I would ever do. In our culture of excellence and specialization we rarely pursue activities we don't demonstrate skill in. Drawing only has value if you can utilize it for financial gain, and I have never demonstrated even the tiniest skill in drawing.
But what if the value is found in letting new activities bring to surface beliefs about God, self and the world around you that you couldn't have accessed otherwise? I have been finding such freedom in activities that aren't centered on productivity. It breaks the spell of viewing myself only as a commodity that needs to perform tasks to have value.
I'm the same person who turned my nose up at the adult coloring books trend as a colossal waste of time. That judgement was all rooted in a worldview that values the most direct line to productivity.
While drawing has proven to be a helpful tool for prayer for me, maybe your activity is physical activity, baking/cooking, reading, quiet meditation, or praying through a Psalm. Whatever activity you end up praying through isn't as significant as what the prayer time is doing in and through you. One of the goals of prayer is to connect God and the spiritual realities of the world around us. Because God and spirituality are all around us, we can enjoy the freedom of exploration because there isn't just one way to get there.
So, what is your new prayer practice in the next few weeks or months? New insights or breakthroughs rarely come through old patterns, so what could be waiting for you on the other side of the risk of learning a new path to talk to God?
Prayer is weird.
I've heard enough stories about voices, visions, physical sensations and trances to know that prayer creates some real oddities. Even though I like to think of myself as a person who can accept the testimony of others while reserving judgement, I rarely do a good job of it. I think I know why.
There was a time in my life where people sharing spiritual experiences was an exercise in asserting spiritual dominance.
Had a crazy vision of swans swimming in the ocean and delivering fish to babies? You were a present day Joseph! You might as well get outfitted for that technicolor dream coat.
The voice of God told you personally to go tell that stranger that you've seen them surrounded by an orange light? You're probably the next great prophet, in the lineage of Elijah and Elisha.
These stories were shared at times with me to highlight a spiritual superiority that they had. It caused me to doubt my own relationship with God and deeply desire some kind spirituality oddity to call my own. I was stuck in a cycle of doubting and desiring weird spiritual moments.
While I've let go of a desire for unexplained spiritual experiences in prayer, I haven't let go of my doubt. I still hold onto a resistance to hearing and believing in the oddness of spiritual experience, even when the person sharing it doesn't do so from a place of power over my experiences.
It's strange to have so much resistance in the way that prayer has worked in someone else's life. We project our doubt onto other people's experiences and can even cause them to doubt or hide their experiences. I wonder if experimenting in prayer can help us all be more generous in our acceptance of the oddness of faith, without prioritizing it over the experiences of others. Let each person share what they've heard, seen, not heard and not seen in a way that is excited for the diversity of our paths to Christ.
Often when people talk about prayer they say that it "just isn't working anymore." We want to take a look at what "working" means and ways that we can confuse the form and function of prayer. This is a discussion about the ways that prayer can be a space for dreams, despair, remembrance and surrender.
Prayer used to be easy.
I can remember how quickly and easy conversations with God used to come. As a child I would talk to God every night as I fell asleep. I would climb up into my treehouse and talk to God. I would talk to God while I played with my G.I. Joe action figures or while I rode my bike around the driveway.
I would talk to God about my day at school. I would talk to God about what I hoped being a grown-up would look like. I would pray for my dogs or I would ask God to help me find a toy that I had lost. As the youngest child in my family by 8 years, God was like my invisible friend. God was my constant companion who would always offer an open ear for whatever felt significant to me.
Over the years everything has become a lot more challenging. I've prayed fervently for people in dire situations to be healed on mission trips that never happened. I've prayed for friends and family members who never recovered. I've prayed for signs and clear directions that have never come.
The simplicity of prayer has been replaced by the complexity of life.
Prayer used to feel like stepping into a warm bath and now it feels like stepping out onto a high wire.
It's enough to make me want to avoid it altogether. I'd prefer to read about God, talk about God and think about God instead of engaging with God. What used to feel so safe now feels really uncertain.
Over the years I've learned that my story isn't unique. Maybe some of you have had a similar journey with prayer. I truly hope it is a powerful and ongoing part of your life, but if it's not, have we got a new message series for you!
We want to acknowledge all the complexity and potential difficulties with prayer while learning more about the varied contemplative practices of people around the world and throughout time. I hope you'll join us with an open mind and an open heart for what prayer and contemplation could be. I know I'm preparing to be stretched and challenged for the 6 weeks we travel through this series.
When I was 18 years old my favorite activity was to go buy clothes at thrift stores.
Some of my favorites included;
A shirt for "Ben Toilet Rentals" that had a bear and an outhouse on it (since it wasn't "Ben's" I liked to imagine there was a man somewhere named Ben Toilet)
A shirt that had iron-on felt letters that read "I'm Going to be a Daddy" (I wore this shirt for my eldest son's birth)
A shirt with several quilt pieces that read "The One Who Dies With the Most Fabric Wins"
I also found a shirt that read "Straight Pride" and had the classic male and female silhouettes from restroom signs holding hands. I wore it several times until an older friend told me to stop. I couldn't see what the problem was. The LGBTQ+ community could be proud of their sexual orientation, so why couldn't I be proud of mine?
He told me that being in the majority meant that you don't go around flaunting it.
This was new information for me and it started down a very slow path of wrestling with the explicit teaching from my youth that anyone in the LGBTQ+ community was living outside of God's best. After engaging in homophobic joking throughout high school and college I transitioned to indifference and avoidance.
For years I would have told you that I just didn't know what I thought about the Bible and the LGBTQ+ community. It wasn't until seminary that I started to see the privilege in this position. I didn't seriously wrestle with the conversation because I didn't need to. My close friends were heterosexual, so there was nothing urgent driving me forward.
With an understanding that Jesus pushes us past the conversations that impact us, I looked more closely at the the 6 (or 7) verses in the Old and New Testament that were said to deal with LGBTQ+ people. What I discovered in the process was that we should do as much study of how our culture of origin influences how we read the Bible as our study of the Bible itself. I found a path of love and acceptance that takes the Bible incredibly seriously. I found equality and justice.
In this message we look at 3 of New Testament passages (all written by Paul) that have been used to condemn the LGBTQ+ community. We study some Greek words, look at context and take Paul seriously. We also talk with some friends who have been seriously harmed by the church and these verses. Their stories help us hold together theology and humanity in the way that Jesus invited us to integrate.
Last week I sent out this newsletter with a "your" where a "you're" should be.
This is embarrassing, specifically because I put some real effort into these newsletters. I come up with the ideas, type it out, re-read and edit. There are times when I start with a premise that really captures what I'm trying to communicate and there are times I really stink up the joint.
Now, imagine you have something that you've written, you care about and it starts to take on a life of it's own. Imagine people take a work memo or letter you wrote and break it down into chapters and verses. Imagine they start quoting it and start putting sections of what you wrote on coffee mugs, t-shirts and inspirational posters. That may feel amazing, but it may also fill you with a deep sense of dread.
That level of scrutiny could take some of your thoughts completely out of context. Even within this email so far you could quote me as saying;
"I really stink up the joint" - 1 Kurt 3:6
Ultimately this doesn't mean that we don't read, study and enjoy things that are written, but that we always hold them in tension with where they were written and the larger themes that frame them.
Paul's writings were used to justify and prop up slavery for hundreds of years. Even though it isn't a debate we're waging today, knowing that Paul was part of that conversation can really cut the legs out of wanting to read and study his writings. In this message we want to put Paul's conversation back together and see how the trajectory of his writings inform the specifics.
This Sunday is the Super Bowl and I can really enjoy a game where I don't care about the two teams playing. I'm just here for the commercials, halftime show and the food!
If your watching the game with a lifetime of fandom for one of the teams playing it will likely be much different. You'll likely view every penalty against your team as a gross violation of justice. Fans of two opposing teams can watch the same play and have vehemently different interpretations of what happened, usually through the lens of their fandom.
The energy and anxiety levels of a person just watching the game for the love of the sport is hopefully more balanced and fair. They don't have the same lenses impacting their version of events and can really just celebrate the quality of the game and the impressive feats of any player. There's no reason to feel defeated by a great play by the opposition, because there is no opposition.
I wish I could say that this kind of anxious or defensive participation was just limited to sports. Sadly when it comes to any number of "teams" there is a lens that we carry that can impact our version of events, Whether these are the "teams" of country, ethnicity, gender or political affiliation.
One of the great hopes we carry in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the elimination of a "team" mentality. We can instead experience the whole of humanity as God sees them and hear stories from other perspectives as necessary insights into the story of us.