Monday, July 23, 2012
Today we are talking about houses. I’ll begin with a disclaimer – by “house” I mean any living structure. The word “house” in Greek and Hebrew had a more expansive meaning, and could cover anything from a family unit to a cottage to a palace or even a temple. So we’re talking about living spaces, our places of shelter.
I’d like to start with a show of hands. How many of us have ever moved?
How many of us have ever remodeled a house?
Has anyone ever lost a home – to fire or flood or another accident?
And how many of us have ever been without a home – even if it’s temporary?
They say that these are some of the greatest stressors a person or a family can face. Remodeling a home seems like a luxury problem, but it is right up there with stressors like losing a job or even marital infidelity in terms of putting pressure on a marriage.
Raise your hand if you have ever experienced extreme stress – over your home.
But even as young as I was, I remember the stress of the transition too. I remember eating casseroles that the new neighbors brought, and not particularly enjoying them. I remember the strangeness of these new neighbors and wondering if I could make friends with them. And I remember how scared my little sister was. She had never had a room of her own, and she was used to having her sisters within arm’s reach if she had a nightmare. Now she’d need to call for our parents or even get up and walk down the hall to their room. She was the youngest and so the whole experience was harder on her.
All in all, my family didn’t have it bad. Despite the stress, it was a pretty joyous process to move from a tiny place into a bigger place. But we have all heard horror stories of the remodel gone wrong, and we know that a lot of people don’t always move onward and upward, as it were. Many moves go from a bigger place to a smaller, especially these days, pressed by the economy, when folks have to let go of their dream home or even move in with their parents. And the ultimate insecurity, homelessness, is on the rise as well, as it always is during tough times. No, there are many situations in which the stress of moving would be the least of your worries.
But moves and remodels DO have an inherent insecurity to them, no matter whether you’re upgrading or downgrading. Home is ideally the place where we feel safe, where we have some measure of control, and where we can – to the best of our ability – make sure that things are as they ought to be. A house protects us from the outside world. If we are lucky enough to be able to decorate as we like, we might even have a home that nurtures and inspires us, and reminds us of the people and things we love. Homes hold our memories and make space for our future. And so, losing, changing, or remodeling your home involves far more than a moving truck and some paint. It is a process that affects our whole lives. My grandparents built their own house from the ground up, and my grandmother stayed there for sixty years. Moving out, to a retirement home, was a hard transition for her and the whole family. It was not just a house that they had built, but a family and a life.
Both Bible lessons today spoke about building a house for God. To a modern mind this may seem primitive and simple. God doesn’t need a bedroom, of course, or a kitchen, or a closet. We believe that God is found in all places and all things, and as the globe turns through night and day God is always active. God doesn’t need to sit down and rest, or to seek shelter from the rain. And yet we build houses for God, or at least, for our thoughts about God. We build churches to hold our finest art and our pipe organs; we build enormous arching roofs, under which a hundred people can gather, out of the rain, and talk about God. We contribute to the upkeep of church buildings that are over a century old, because they hold our memories and our hopes for continuity in the future. At home we build little shrines, maybe a creche scene on the mantel, maybe a mezuzah at the door, maybe a corner that’s designated for prayer, maybe a prayer mat or shawl. We use material things to remind us of the ultimately intangible presence of God, to firmly anchor our memories in case they wander and forget. We leave stones stacked on one another in the wilderness, a reminder that something sacred was once here. What would we do without them? When life gets tough it is so easy to forget the God who has brought us this far. We need to build houses – inadequate though they may be. They may not tie God down to a particular place and time, but they can root us and ground us, lest we forget.
Both bible lessons (I Samuel and Ephesians today spoke of building a house for God. They also spoke of not building houses for God, and behind the text there is a lot of remodeling and unbuilding, and rebuilding, and even destroying our houses for God. Between the two we can cover the whole range of options. The texts frame two very important moments in our sacred history. The first passage, from Samuel, takes place before the first Jerusalem temple was built. And the second passage takes place one or two generations after the second temple was destroyed by the Romans. So the span between these two texts covers the time when Israel worshipped in a tabernacle, then the building of the temple by Solomon, which was destroyed eventually, and then rebuilt, and then destroyed again.
All of these events are probably about a hundred times more significant than any of our experiences with moving or remodeling our houses. But I believe we can really relate, because it carries a lot of the same emotional resonance. The temple – which is God’s house – symbolizes security and safety. It is the one place where everything is right in the world. It is the place where you ought to be able to know that God is in control. When that gets torn down an entire nation is left wondering where they could be safe, and whether God has abandoned the controls. It doesn’t hurt to realize that the destruction of the temple was associated with widespread destruction in the surrounding lands as well, and with a political takeover by foreign powers. The temple-less nation became a homeless nation, a nation in exile. And the book of Ezra tells us that when the exiles returned, their first priority was to rebuild the temple. Having a temple was more important to them, than having a king or a palace.
But our first text goes back before the temple was even built. Let’s review just a bit. It’s a funny story because it has some divine word-play. King David comes up with the idea to build a house for God. The tent is just not majestic enough, and David would like to honor God by building a proper house. Of course this would also give David some honor, too… it would be right next door to the palace royal, visually emphasizing that God is on David’s side. A temple would increase Israel’s political reputation in the area and would centralize its religion. All of these would be politically smart things for David to do.
BUT God replies kind of snappily, I don’t want a house; did I ask you for a house? It sounds like a familiar situation, where someone might give you an excessively generous gift that you didn’t actually want and then you’d be socially indebted to them... No, God is not about to be indebted to David. No, no, no, God is going to give DAVID a gift. God says “I will build *YOU* a house.” And that’s the wordplay, right there. God won’t build David a house of stones and wood, but a household - more specifically, an ancestral line, and a throne guaranteed forever. Looking back on this several centuries later it was a very important promise. David’s son Solomon DID build a temple, but then it was destroyed. And prophets reminded the people of Israel that even if the house of stone and wood was destroyed, the house God built – that is the houseHOLD - was not destroyed as long as there was an heir to the throne of David.
Our Ephesians passage comes from a radically different context but it has some similar themes. First, the writer of the epistle says that God has broken down the dividing wall between Gentiles & Jews -- abolishing the law. This is not something that could have been said in Jesus’ time. It must speak from a later generation, in the wake of the destruction of the temple itself, and Christians beginning to distance themselves from Jews. But as much as they would like to cut themselves off from the Jewish temple, they can’t quite conceive of a totally homeless God. So where one structure has been torn down, another is being built... with Jesus the cornerstone. I’ll repeat those verses: “you are members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
We are called not to build but to BE God’s house. This is a wonderful blessing. For one, it’d be hard to destroy us. We spread out, people join us, we are everywhere. This is important because everything material is fragile. We may not have a foreign army invading and taking a wrecking ball to our church building, but we have fires and floods and things crumbling with age. Take our church buildings away, and, although that would certainly stress us and strain our community, it could never put an end to us.
And we move and change over time… We do not have to remain as we started. If the Gothic-style church building that seats 400 people in long rows of pews doesn’t suit us anymore, we can form a small community that worships in a basement. We are not tied to our buildings – we are only tied to one another.
But it’s a challenge, not necessarily to be God’s house in the abstract, but to be God’s house for one another. Not just to be a temple in which God resides alone, but a temple that other people visit in order to learn about God, to be reminded of God, and to glorify God in praise. The challenge is twofold. One: Can we treat other people as temples in which God resides… can we approach them with humility and respect… can we be open to whatever revelation from God may come through them? We need to really honor one another if we are to meet God there.
And Two: can we remember that other people come to us in the same way? No matter how trivial our encounter, it may be the only way they encounter God today. In our good deeds, we are to express God’s wonderful love, and in our less than good deeds, we are to embody God’s gracious forgiveness. This is a tall order but also a great privilege. We are the walls that shelter and protect one another. We sculpted and painted in beautiful and different ways, to reflect God’s glory. And we hold so many memories… the stories of God and God’s people, the stories of our own experiences.
We need to be God’s house for one another. We have been reminded especially strongly this week of our need for safety and shelter. Homes across the country are being devastated by fire and flood. Neither our houses nor our church buildings are safe from these dangers. Neither are they safe from violence. Our schools are safe, our airports are not safe, and even our movie theaters are not safe.
We need to build up the walls of God’s house. They are not stone and wood, but you can still touch them. A hand held, a shoulder to lean on, a casserole delivered in a time of crisis. We are the walls of God’s house. And this is what we do. We shelter one another. We protect one another from the storm outside. We give our best art, and music, and any offering we can give, to encourage one another and to tell of the glory of God. We are building up the walls of God’s house. May it be so.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
But while they may not be related, GA and temping are compatible... BECAUSE, for most of the 8 hour day I'm generally waiting for phones to ring or for someone to ask me to do an errand. Thus, the livestream addiction was born. General Assembly broadcasted all the plenaries live, and with the addition of pc-biz.org, twitter, and the various news sources I managed to keep a pretty close connection all week long.
What did I think of it? I had to pinch myself and remind myself that good things happen at GA regardless of votes, because most of the big votes moved in the opposite direction from my hopes and dreams. Divestment was struck down, gay marriage was denied, and many things were denied because of funds... that is to say, the assembly tended to be both socially and fiscally conservative. I also had to pinch myself when anti-choice issues were raised by conservatives yet AGAIN, notwithstanding decades of Presbyterian history supporting women's reproductive rights. But if I were in the opposite kind of boat I probably would do the same for gay rights... and that is what we will do, raising the issue year after year as a faithful practice of engagement. I do hope it is not many more years before gay marriages are allowed. The hard thing is to believe that the arc is still slowly swinging toward justice, even though it was stopped in its tracks.
Divestment: This issue really rankles me. The Presbyterian Foundation and Board of Pensions and all those people that take care of large sums of money have tried to engage Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett Packard regarding their business in Israel and Palestine, specifically regarding the use of their products to further the occupation of Palestinian territories. By agreeing to do business in Israel, Caterpillar indirectly demolishes the homes of innocent Palestinians, and in the rubble, Motorola and HP indirectly construct the technological walls which block freedom of movement even in local neighborhoods. Yes, it's indirect -- BUT THEY PROFIT FROM THIS USE OF THEIR EQUIPMENT. Our Presbyterian money-people tried to engage them on these issues and were ignored. We have sent stern letters, etc. The only remaining option, if we want to impress on them the gravity of our concern for the Palestinian people and our disapproval of their profitmaking on non-peaceful measures, the ONLY remaining option is to divest.
PC(USA) failed to do so by only 2 votes out of 660. Not surprising considering how heavily they had been lobbied (commissioners were offered free trips to Israel in an attempt to sway them) and how they had been threatened, as if the respect of the entire Jewish community rested on the results of this vote. Believe it or not, "Jews" are about as united as "Presbyterians," generally speaking, which is to say, they disagree sometimes too. Make some friends with the Jewish Voice for Peace folks and you'll learn they are as vehemently opposed to the Palestinian occupation as anyone could be.
So, church, we haven't divested. We did agree to boycott products MADE in the occupied territories (Ahava cosmetics and King Solomon dates... man, boycotting rare items is pretty darn easy). And we decided to INVEST in peaceful pursuits in the area.
Pause for ironic silence.
Have fun investing, people. Maybe by the next general assembly we'll understand why investing doesn't work. Invest in an olive oil company, and watch the olive orchard get seized because of "improper permitting." Invest in a hand-craft company, and watch your precious investment get buried under rubble pushed down to build homes for Israeli settlers. 94% of building proposals submitted by Palestinians are rejected, while Israelis have no such problem. Invest in a company that can't build a shop, and send them materials that will be blockaded and never arrive. Have fun trying.
If, like me, you despair of that task, jump on over and join the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction). If boycotting Ahava cosmetics doesn't hit close enough to home, boycott all products made in Israel. Those of us who do not regularly buy Caterpillar equipment can turn away from Motorola and HP. I have an HP printer and am going to commit to buying those ghetto non-HP ink cartridges until the day I replace the printer. Make it real. Israeli cous-cous in Trader Joe's is the other item I will avoid, but SODASTREAM is on the list in case you were looking at a big purchase, and you could spend all day reading more information here:
And to put a positive spin on things... the Church refused to add funding to an HIV/AIDS competency program at Johnson C Smith Theological Seminary. It would have been pennies per person, but it would have added up. So if you disagree with the church's refusal to fund, go over here and donate your pennies (or dollars, if you want to pay someone else's fair share too). Designate it!
Thus ends my General Assembly roundup at least for now. But next GA I am going to remember how much I love these crazy contentious assemblies, and I am going to do my darndest to be there. Also, I'm going to make BINGO cards.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
The differences: in ancient texts, doctors were more concerned with the pregnant mother's life than the embryo's, which isn't the case in America anymore, now that doctors are trying to withhold information about life-threatening illnesses during pregnancy if treatment would necessitate abortion.
The issue back then was not the holy Sanctity of Life but the father's property: a potentially boy-producing woman was worth more than a baby of unknown gender who might or might not survive. The Hippocratics didn't bother to treat babies often. Then again, all the abortion methods they knew were as dangerous as a coathanger, so the prohibition against abortion was really also a case of not killing the mother.
Also, here's a fun difference. In ancient medical texts, women who did not have babies frequently enough (i.e. were not subject to husbands) were subject to all kinds of illnesses, hysteria for one, but also virilization i.e. TURNING INTO MEN which was potentially fatal. I don't think we believe that nowadays, but things are changing so fast I'm not sure.
Consider the following Hippocratic text:
In Abdera, Phaëthusa the wife of Pytheas, who kept at home, having born children in the preceding time, when her husband was exiled stopped menstruating for a long time. Afterwards pains and reddening in the joints. When that happened her body was masculinized and grew hairy all over, she grew a beard, her voice became harsh, and though we did everything we could to bring forth menses they did not come, but she died after surviving a short time. The same thing happened to Nanno, Gorgippus’ wife, in Thasos. All the physicians I met thought that there was one hope of feminizing her, if normal menstruation occurred. But in her case, too, it was not possible, though we did everything, but she died quickly. (epidemics 6.8.30).
SO, gentle readers, what is going on in the early church is that there were all these "widows who were not really widows" i.e. they were celibate, single women, seeking to live like the widows did, with privileges of going out of the house and even (gasp) teaching. The risk that they would turn into men was running high. For one, they were acting like men, even if they didn't go so far as Thecla (see 2:40) to actually dress like men. GENDERBENDERS! SCANDAL! So the author of 1 Timothy wants to shut them up and turn them back into obedient wives, so he prescribes salvation by childbearing.
I'm really happy that I live in the modern world and not in the ancient, because with irregular menstruation throughout my teenage years, I certainly would have been "cured" of this "malady" by an early marriage and swift entry into motherhood. I would probably have five kids already, the oldest ready to be married herself. And that's not my choice, I'd rather read and write and preach and all kinds of other intellectual pursuits formerly reserved for men. I'm happy to live in the modern world... I just can't wait until the rest of my country catches up to the times.
Monday, April 2, 2012
My topic is (of course) every woman's favorite Bible verse, "She shall be saved by childbearing" from the wonderful 1st epistle to Timothy. I'm looking at childbirth through ancient medical texts, which means I get to read about a lot of menstrual blood and bile and phlegm and primitive means of contraception (jump up and down seven times after intercourse, then sneeze). Fun stuff, I tell you. MOTIVATION IS KEY. So here are the top ten motivating methods, tested and tried, they work.
1) Give yourself all day (duh)
2) Don't give yourself all day!! Within the constraints of actually giving yourself all day, you have to convince yourself you don't have all day. Set deadlines. As much as I hate 2-hour parking limits, they work wonderfully because you simply must WORK FASTER before you have to leave, and it's not some makebelieve deadline, you're actually threatened by Lovely Rita Meter Maid who is going to fine you an arm and a leg, and it would be hard to write your thesis without your arm.
3) Along the lines of the above. Make a pie and put it in the oven and you have to get an hour's worth of work done before you're allowed to get up and get the pie, and if you work too slowly the pie will burn.
4) Uninstall Angry Birds.
5) Make a list of all the pieces you can work on without using the internet, and leave your laptop at home.
6) Leave facebook and blogs and pinterest at home without leaving the laptop at home - use the library of a school you don't attend, because they sure as heck won't let you on the internet there. Or write in a cafe where they charge for internet. Who charges for internet these days??!? Gaylord's on Piedmont, that's who.
7) Hit prime writing velocity by allowing yourself to include phrases such as "the shit hits the fan here" and "THIS IS A (*#&@)*ing STUPID IDEA but they believed it" and promise to edit them out later.
8) Don't try to write for more than four hours at a time. Take a nice long break, and a nap. Then write from midnight to 2 AM and sleep in the next morning, you can do that because Thesis is your only master, and Thesis knows no curfew.
9) By now you probably need to uninstall Angry Birds again.
10) Create motivational boards on Pinterest such as: when i finish my thesis i shall reward myself by cooking and eating absolutely everything that looks good on pinterest and tell yourself stories about how wonderful life will be when Thesis is finished, filed, published, on the NYT bestseller list, going on book tours, etc, maybe Jon Stewart will want to interview me.... SNAP! GET BACK TO WORK!
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Instructions for this spiritual practice:
1) Eat chocolate every day. And you have to like it. This means no semi-chocolate like Reeses or KitKat, but pure yummy chocolate. You can't eat it on the run, or while doing other things. Sit down for a whole thirty seconds and let a piece of chocolate melt on your tongue. (This practice would also apply to good strawberries, or ice cream, or anything else that physiologically cues your body "all is well" and gets you out of fight-or-flight mode).
2) Moisturizer every day. YES it takes a darn long time to take care of one's body. No excuses. Love your scratchy old elbows. Appreciate them. Long baths and washing your hair and taking time to actually cut your toenails also fit in this category.
3) Makeup every day. It feels like penitential ashes as I smudge it on. I hate it, it takes SO long, and besides who cares? Even if I'm not going out that day, though, I have to make myself look good. By skipping the saggy sweatshirts and the self-deprecatingly ripped jeans, I'm doing something against that sinful habit of self-neglect.
4) In true Lenten fasting tradition, you get to skip all these rules on Sunday and do whatever the heck you want to do, even if that means wearing PJs to church. Or not going to church, if that's what your soul really needs.
Friday, January 13, 2012
I'm sure the universe has somehow aligned in our favor. Everything feels like a miracle. We haven't lost a single person, passport, or piece of luggage. Another similar Ugandan organization (Watoto) was traveling on the same plane to London, and their kids were puking left and right while our group sailed sweetly through with only a little dehydration and some sore muscles. Yesterday we made an E.R. trip for stitches on a cut (from playing basketball) and they got us in and out in half an hour. If that isn't miraculous, I don't know what is.
One of our Ugandan songs proclaims "I'll sing to the Lord, because God is watching over me." My theological training tells me to be wary of statements like "things are going well so God must be on our side" but at the same time, my gut tells me to trust it. Even though this tour is brought to you with a lot of help from our friends, by the seat of our pants and the skin of our teeth, even though we aren't sure where we'll stay next week, I am finally fully willing to trust and just to keep putting one dancing foot in front of the other.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Ukiah? What's in Ukiah? (my first thoughts…)
What is in Ukiah, as it turns out, is an amazing Buddhist center (City of Ten Thousand Buddhas) including a K-12 day and boarding school, some university students, monks, nuns, organic farm, meditation center and restaurant. One of their high school students has been raising money for Children of Uganda, through Rotary club and other sources. So we decided to make a trip up to see them… one of the best decisions ever made!
We were enthusiastically greeted by a gaggle of uniformed high school girls, and soon introduced to a Ugandan Buddhist Monk who took the COU children on a lecture-tour of the center. He brought them into the Buddha hall and oriented them to the meanings of various statues and paintings, drawing comparisons to Christ very frequently, and with a casualness that surprised our children. They were also surprised to find out that some people were Christian Buddhists. One girl remarked - "in Uganda I could never go into a place like this, it would be seen as totally wrong. But here I can visit and learn about it with no problem." The children participated in meditation as well. We hope all of them have learned something about religious tolerance and even about respectful interfaith dialogue!
After lunch we set up for the performance, but soon we were invited to sit down in front row seats while THEY performed for US. We saw several different dances including the Lion dance and Dragon dance, and Taiwanese drumming as well. The audience of about 500 packed into the room, stood by the walls, sat on the floor, and made a lot of very appreciative noise. At some points it sounded more like a basketball game than a dance performance from the way they whooped and whistled. Children of Uganda performed after the intermission and I couldn't imagine a more supportive audience. At the end the COU kids were each given gift baskets, hand-written cards from kindergarteners (with greetings in Luganda!), and roses. By the time we loaded our things back onto the bus they'd laden us down with boxes of snacks, blankets, jackets, sweaters, and I don't even know what else. Their students came onto our bus for a final goodbye and I do believe I saw some tears as they exchanged hugs.
We're headed home now to our homestay families, most of whom have lamented how little time they get to spend with their guests. We've reconfigured the schedule to allow them another meal together on Thursday and a free day with no commitments but recreation on Saturday. This morning we left at 7 AM, no one's favorite time, but my host family's twin 10-year-olds stumbled sleepy-headed out to the breakfast table so they could get some extra time with their guests.
On Children of Uganda's 2006 tour we went to big professional theaters and stayed in hotels. I will admit that a theater *might* make us twice as much money as a school, and that when you stay in hotels you are subject to no one's lateness but your own. But in my personal opinion, that money couldn't possibly be worth as much as the bedheaded good-mornings and tearful good-byes.
Pictures and video to come soon!