Monday, June 27, 2011

A People's History of Chrisitianity

A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the StoryA People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story by Diana Butler Bass

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a friend who says that a book earns 5 stars for her if it is better the second time she reads it. I think that's a wonderful system to use. My system for rating a book 5 stars is if it makes me cry. I found myself sobbing through the last 30 pages of A People's History of Christianity.

I picked up this book because it was recommended by a friend. When I found out that Bass counts Phyllis Tickle, Marcus Borg, Brian McLaren, Barbara Brown Taylor, Jim Wallis and Lauren Winner in her circle of friends, I figured she must be alright. Turns out, she's more than just alright.

Bass writes a beautiful narrative of the history of Christianity by focusing on those who are often not included in the history books. She calls them quiet souls and she makes it her mission to give them voice and show us how they have shaped our tradition. One of the things I love most about this book is that it is steeped in feminist ideology, and yet it isn't blatantly so. Those who are weary of feminism will not be turned off by Bass' writing. Here are a few of the women who are included in this book:

Julian of Norwich, the first woman to write a book published in English

Heloise, Abelard's wife who helped Abelard develop his theology of sexuality and intimacy (saucy!)

Hildgard of Bingen, a prophet and a visionary from the 12th century

The Beguin nuns who started charity communities

Katharina Schütz, who encouraged women to speak up during the Reformation period

Anne Askew, a woman arrested for her Protestant beliefs

Elizabeth Hooton, the first female, Quaker preacher

Maria Stewart, a woman who spoke up against slavery in the 19th century

I was unfamiliar with the stories of these women, but I now count each of these women as treasured gifts to the church. Thanks to Bass, their stories as well as many others have been brought to life. She has managed to write a history book that doesn't highlight the violent, corrupt nature of Christianity. Instead she has shown that it truly can be a religion that is driven by social justice and a life of spirituality.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Coexistence Pt. 1

I've been thinking a lot about love and coexistence lately. Seminary is mostly to blame for this, but my current relationship has contributed as well. I'll address the seminary issue in this post and the relationship issue in the next post.

It all started with Karl Barth. To be honest, I had never heard of this guy before coming to seminary and I'm pretty sure the first time I read his stuff I pronounced his name "barth" not knowing it is actually pronounced "Bart." I think someone else made that mistake before I did, saving me the humiliation of revealing my lack of Barth knowledge. I'm not sure how I managed to grow up in church without being familiar with one of the most important theologians of the 20th century.

We were exposed to a lot of Barth in Systematic Theology I/II our first year, and I got even more of him in year two with Feminist Theologies and Reformed Confessions. He and I got quite acquainted when I used his theology on the Word of God for my final paper in Reformed Confessions. Maybe I didn't do his work justice, but I managed to write on this doctrine in 12 pages while it took him 13 volumes in his uncompleted Church Dogmatics. Not that I'm bragging or anything, but conciseness is good sometimes.

Barth is big on the notion that we are created to be in relationship with one another, not as solitary beings. He states that for us to exist we must coexist with one another, especially in intimate relationships. He was very focused on relationships with men and women, which is great, but I have to disagree with him on two things. First is his assertion that there is order between the genders and that men are ranked higher than women. I respect Barth, but I gotta disagree with him on this sexist notion. Since we're created in the image of God, we're created without rank, because we know in the Trinity there is no rank. If we put a rank on genders, we deny the non-hierarchical nature of God.

My second disagreement with Barth is when he solely focuses on relationships between men and women. I would argue that coexistence and deep love can be found in many types of relationships. I would include homosexual/queer relationships, but I would also say that this deep love can be found in many more forms. I think of the film How to Make and American Quilt which is a beautiful story about the various love relationships we can have: husband/wife, mother/child, sister/sister, and even one story about a woman and stranger she only met for a few hours. I think this understanding can be reassuring to unmarried folks, because it lets them know they are not in some way deficient because they haven't married.

I'm going to give Barth some grace by understanding that he was a product of his time, thus his narrow minded, heteronormative way of thinking. Despite these points of contention, I have to give Barth props for emphasizing this very important matter. I think it's so easy for us to convince ourselves that we're just fine on our own, but that old saying is true. No one is an island. We are relational beings and even the most introverted (myself included) thrive on being in relation with others. I'm grateful for being exposed to his theology which has taught me a great deal about humanity, and myself in particular.


I've been trying to learn a bit of Spanish in preparation for my time in Colombia. Thankfully my co-accompanier speaks fluently, but I'd like to be able to communicate at least a little bit. I've been doing Rosetta Stone, which is great, but I've had to supplement with other resources to find words and phrases that might be relevant to my time there. Here are a few I'm working on (still haven't figured out how to type accents):

poverty: pobreza

war: guerra

displaced people: las personas desplazadas

corruption: corrupcion

God is good: Dios es bueno

I'll be praying for you: Voy a estar orando por ti.

introvert time: tiempo introvertido

I'm from Texas: Yo soy de Texas.

Yes, Texas is big and somewhat ridiculous: Si, Texas es muey grande y un poco ridiculo.

Friday, June 24, 2011

That Troublesome Plastic

I'm glad my parents taught me how to be financially responsible.

The other day I went to my credit union to apply for a credit card. I already have a credit card, which I use for emergencies and rare times when I buy a plane ticket or two, but I would like to get rid of that card so I can be fully invested in my wonderful, non-profit credit union. I've decided I'm done with those corporate banks.

So I walked in and asked how I could go about applying for a credit card. A very friendly employee said she could help me out and we started the process. She asked me where I'm currently employed. I told her Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She asked me what my job title is. I told her "bookstore cashier." She asked me what my monthly income is. I told her "about $250." Then her jaw dropped a bit. She asked me how much my monthly rent is. I told her "$425." She didn't seem pleased at this point, but I explained that I'm a grad student on scholarship. This didn't seem to impress her.

She ran my credit check and as we waited for the results she told me I could only qualify for a $500 limit. Then my jaw dropped a little bit. $500? That's it? She got my credit score back and was pleasantly surprised by what she saw. She said she could raise my limit up to $1000. I would have preferred a bit more wiggle room, but settled for the $1000 limit. I realize that this credit union is not in the business of giving out credit cards to irresponsible folks. I appreciate that a lot, actually.

When I got home I checked the mail and found two pieces for me. One was from Discover, offering me a $25,000 card and the other from Chase offering me a $10,000 card. I tore them up and shook my head.

I'm glad my parents taught me how to be financially responsible.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Go South, Young Woman

This past semester I took an exegesis class on 1 Peter. This brief letter is addressed to churches who suffer for doing good and following Christ. I became baffled by this notion of a church continuing its ministry in the midst of tremendous suffering and I tried to think of an example of such a church in our modern day context. The church in Colombia came to my mind. You may have heard about the situation in Colombia: 60 years of a corrupt government and civil unrest has devastated this nation. There continues to be a power struggle between the paramilitary groups and guerrilla forces, which has led to violence against civilians. Colombia has recently surpassed Darfur for having the most internally displaced people within its borders. The situation in Colombia has been complicated further by the Free Trade Agreement which is currently being considered by our nation’s leadership.

Amidst all of this violence and suffering, the churches in Colombia continue to serve and work toward peace. The PC(USA) has a partnership with the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia (IPC) which has built a bridge of support for our brothers and sisters in Colombia. The Accompanier program was started in 2004 and since then there has been a constant PC(USA) presence in Colombia. I learned about this program during my first semester of seminary and had an overwhelming urge to dropout of school and go to Colombia. I resisted that temptation, but the desire to participate in this program has been overwhelmingly strong. I finally have an opportunity to go, even though it will mean delaying my anticipated graduation date. In August I will serve in the rural region of Urabá, Colombia. I'll be there with another young woman, Kelsey, who I met at the training in March. Our purpose for being there is threefold: to be a ministry of presence and support to the IPC, to keep an eye on what is happening in Colombia, and to offer our presence as a means of safety for the church workers who face potential violence. In the seven years this program has been going, there has never been an instance where an accompanier has been harmed and with God’s blessing, that record will continue!

I've started making preparations for the trip and as the departure date approaches, this dream is starting to feel more like reality.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What is Meaningful?

I wish I had some funny stories from my standardized test grading job. There have been some funny moments, but you had to be there for most of them.

Tonight we had to fill out a survey about our time working with this company. One of the questions was "Do you feel like your work is meaningful?" The only options were "yes" or "no" with no ability to explain my answer. I selected "no." I'm a big fan of education, but I'm not a big fan of standardized testing. My two weeks of grading these tests has only made me detest them more. One reason is that the grading is very inconsistent from state to state. Say there are three parts to a question and the second two parts depend on the first. If a child answers the first part incorrectly and then proceeds to answer the second two using that incorrect answer, most states would not give the child any credit for it. But some states do give credit for that. For instance, there's a state, let's call it...Shmassachusetts that tries to give the child as much credit for their work as possible. So a child can give an answer that ranks as a "3" in Shmassachusetts, but in another state a child with that same answer could get a "1" or even a "0." Fair? I think not.

So no, this work I've been doing is not meaningful, especially when I compare it with other jobs I've been fortunate to have. Rebuilding lives after hurricane Katrina? Yes. Working with Dreamers to help them succeed? Yes. Working at a drugstore on the Eastside? Yes. Grading standardized tests that don't really measure intelligence or ability? Nope.

Tomorrow is my last night. I am glad.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Colombia FTA

We need to understand that the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia will be a lose-lose situation!

Here's a good video that helps explain the situation:

Profits for Them, Destruction for Us

Friday, June 17, 2011

I'm on Fi-ya!

Sunday morning I woke up and put on an orange shirt. It could probably be classified in the "burnt orange" category, which meant I was the recipient of much heckling from the Buffs fans at church. An oversight on my part. I fully deserved the heckling.

Why did I wear (burnt) orange? Not to show my loyalty to the UT Longhorns, though I admit they rank higher in my list than the CU Buffs. No, this outfit choice had nothing to do with sports. It had everything to do with Pentecost, one of the most under appreciated days in our liturgical calendar.

It's true, Pentecost Sunday is overshadowed by Christmas and Easter. It's as though Pentecost is the red-headed stepchild of the liturgical days. Which is funny because our tradition encourages wearing red on this day :) But most people couldn't even tell you the approximate time of year for this special Sunday. I find this very unfortunate because this day has so much potential!

Most churches experience a lull in attendance and activity in the summer. Not very helpful for boosting Pentecost's cause. And so I propose a change to the liturgical calendar. How about we push Pentecost up to September? I realize the Bible says the Holy Spirit came to the followers of Christ 50 days after the resurrection. The word itself even means "50th day." But we Christians are known for fudging dates in history. After all, Jesus was not really born on December 25th and his death probably didn't happen in Spring. We just love to tweak our special days to compete with those pagans.

So why not celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in September, when there is much hubbub around going back to school and getting back into the swing of things? I think this would create a space for proper celebration of the Holy Spirit. As our pastor said on Sunday, the church is still the greatest hope for the broken world. If we truly want to live into that calling, we should move Pentecost from the lazy days of summer to the high energy days of Autumn. Or would that be too much for us "frozen chosen" Presbyterians?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Most Boring Job Ever

This summer I chose to take some time off from classes in order to regroup and relax. I may have shot myself in the foot for that because now I can't graduate on time, but whatevs. Unlike undergrad when I raced through to save money, I'm looking at seminary as a blessing which needn't be rushed. I also realize I need to stop and rest before reaching burnout. So, I'm currently enjoying some time in Colorado, playing in the mountains and hanging out with my folks. Oh, and I picked up a part time job because Weavers are apparently incapable of relaxing completely.

I've had some weird jobs in my life, but my current place of employment has got to top them all. From 5:30-10:30pm, Monday through Friday, I sit at a computer and grade standardized tests. Jealous yet? Let me give you a taste of what this job entails and maybe you'll grow green with envy. Probably not, but let's find out.

At 5:20, I pull into the parking lot and look for the perfect spot which will enable an easy getaway at the end of the night. When 300 people leave a building at the same time, things can get sticky so it's important to be strategic. Then, I slip that green badge over my neck and head inside. I enter the room with 300 IBM ThinkCentres at 25 stations, a sight that is a bit overwhelming. I greet the coworkers at my station, 12 other enthused test graders. I know a few of their names and some minor details about them. That's about all. Pretty sure this is the most impersonal job I've experienced. I didn't even know who my supervisor was until the end of the first shift.

I log onto the computer and take a qualifier test - we must properly grade 3 out of 5 tests in order to stay. If we don't pass that test we go home and can come back the next night. Then the grading begins. We're currently working on 5th grade math, grading one problem at a time. We've been at it for three nights so far and haven't yet finished the 72,000 tests. Daunting, no? The test provides a graph and the students had to answer three questions about Jessica and her water tank. They are scored on a 4 point scale, as laid out in a grading rubric. The tests have all been scanned into the computer, so all we have to do is read them, determine the grade and click "score." Over and over and over.

Occasionally we'll get an exam with a bit of humor. Last night I graded one that had a short story about how Jessica could never drink all 300 gallons of water in one day. Then I got one about how many fish could fit into the tank. My coworkers and I usually share these with each other because we've found that laughing about them helps the time pass. I've noticed other stations aren't as chatty and we've been shushed a few times. We don't care, we're the fun table.

I can't guarantee I'll have any funny stories to share about this job, since it is the most boring job I've ever had. But if one comes up, I'll be sure to post it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hell's Angel

I cut this guy off in the parking lot. I didn't mean to, honest. It was one of those moments where my brain just wasn't working. After all, every other time I've pulled into that parking lot it has been deserted. But today he was there, hoping to pull in to the spot I nabbed. I felt like an idiot and I was ready for him to come over and yell at me. I made it inside the store before he got out of his car and I hoped to make a quick getaway, avoiding him and his anger. I got in line at the cash register and wouldn't you know it, he got in line right behind me. My heart started to race as I braced myself for the lecture that was to come. But he didn't lecture me. I was taken aback when he inquired about my ink, a stained glass tattoo on my left wrist inspired by a window in my church's sanctuary. He told me it was lovely and then asked me about my church.

We chatted about my church and about tattoos. He said he went to a shop in town for his latest ink. I asked him what he got and he hesitated, finally admitting that he's in the Hell's Angels gang. Perhaps he expected me to start witnessing to him, encouraging him to repent and turn to Jesus. I didn't do that. Instead I told him I've heard a lot of things about Hell's Angels and I've always thought they were judged too harshly in our society. His face lit up and he said his wife used to go church and she always kept him in line. He said he's only been to church a few times and when he did go, the people in the pews ignored him and only interacted with their friends. I winced at this statement. So painful and so true. The church, which is supposed to be welcoming to all, is often guilty of making people feel unwelcome. I told him he'd be welcome at my church anytime and that he could sit next to me if he liked. I told him his wife would be welcome too, but he then told me that she died five years ago. He said they had been married 40 years and she was the love of his life.

I imagine this man lives a lonely life now that his wife is gone. I also imagine he's received a lot of judgement from those who follow Christ. I don't know if I'll see this man on Sunday morning. I hope I do. I'd like to be friends and I'd like to know what his name is.