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In 2019, it was all about sex, racism, liberation, holding on to your faith, and Kanye and Taylor and Trump.
Thanks for reading friends. I love writing this blog and I mainly do it to meet new people, influence the ones I know, and to stimulate dialogue. 2019 was a great year. Here are the ten most read posts.
Our adaptable, simple, and common church, as I mentioned above, does lack some of the priestly and liturgical drama of some mainline or high churches. And I know some folks miss that. So we, at Circle of Hope, use the church calendar to guide us through Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. We observe communion every Sunday during Lent, and quarterly at the Love Feast. Our expressions of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are symbolic, but that doesn’t mean we revere them less.
However, the “sacrament” is still with us. It is in the body. It is in the community. We literally think the Body of Christ is the church. That we are the ones through whom Christ’s grace and love is administered. Jesus is known through our community and our life together. More than anything, I know you’ll get to know Jesus best, because you participated and joined a community. That’s where the heart of the church is. Not trapped in a building, or in an office, or a position, or a power structure. The church is people: that’s Anabaptism. I’m glad seminary kept me one, and made be a better one at that.
I feel committed to keep demonstrating this kind of Christianity, one that I think is more inline with the flexibility of the Bible. But I am sympathetic to the people who have lost their faith and couldn’t recover it from the rigid structure they think faith is. A reason that people can’t find other expressions of Christianity is because the fundamentalism that broke their faith told them those people weren’t real Christians. When I was younger, I was ready to call it quits when fundies told me I wasn’t a real Christian. Circle of Hope saved me.
We need a lot of trust and communication to have sex, and marriage is a good container for those skills. The covenant of marriage is an appropriately epic container to hold the power and meaning of sex. Everyone agrees sex needs some “container” (that’s why we do it in private). My argument is that sex needs a container like a covenant within a community. Marriage doesn’t protect you from bad or unhealthy sex. And marriage isn’t a sure-thing either. Plenty of marriages lack the trust and communication that make good, healthy sex possible.
So my advice is to keep sex in community, keep talking about, keep measuring it too. It has consequences often expressed in community and in our interior life. Involve community in your decision-making before, during, and perhaps after your relationship. We want to create a safe place to relate about of the most intimate and powerful expressions in creation.
We need to be able to say it plainly. Jesus makes it plain all over the Gospels, and it is manifestly clear in the Bible. The central piece of policy and rhetoric that Trump won the election on revolves around anti-immigrant rhetoric. And the fruit of it isn’t just more hate crimes, but more deaths by the hands of his administration. He’s Ahab to Elijah, he’s Theodosius to Ambrose, he’s the Third Reich to Bonhoeffer.
If Trump came to my church, I don’t know what I would have done in the moment. There’s a reason we debrief everything after it happens. But I know what I would have liked to have done: to assertively name the evil done in his name and by him. And to ask him to repent and change.
So pray for me today. Pray for all the brown Christians who are faced with the impossible task of loving and forgiving the people that want to kill us. We can’t do it without God, and all things are possible with God.
But also pray for repentance and redemption for those people celebrating the deaths of 50 Muslims in New Zealand (or the ones who are indifferent to it or find some other way to excuse it or lessen its gravity). Pray that peace and love prosper, that liberation and reconciliation move hand-in-hand. Pray that we can build an anti-racist world. Pray that we stop killing people because of what they look like or what they believe in. Pray for a new humanity united by God in love and truth.
I admit I’m conflicted when I listen to Kanye West’s music. But I am interested whenever someone is talking about faith and not only what that means for them but for our movement. Is Kanye’s record seeding the territory with faith? Is it tilling the soil? Or it is hardening it and making it harder for people to connect? I imagine a mix of those things. But he’s not responsible for them, nor is he leading.
But I don’t just need the Bible. I need my faith. I need Christian community. Without it, I might think the church is full of Metaxases, O’Fallons, and Falwells. That’s why I need Circle of Hope. That’s why I need my cell. That’s why I need the Sunday meeting. That’s why I need community. I must be reminded that God is in the world. I need stories of hope. I need evidence of God in the world. And I see it in you. I see it in worship. I see it in our community. I see it in our acts of compassion. I need to keep seeing it. If you do too, there is space for you.
It isn’t enough to just think the right things, though. We have to do the right things and act in the right ways. That means we need to listen to women and center women in our leadership. We need to use inclusive language in our sermons. We have to rewrite songs that have sexist language, even if it disturbs the tradition, which anti-sexism definitely will, since our tradition is steeped in sexism. We cannot refer to God in masculine terms with impunity. We have to tell the stories of Junia, an outstanding apostle in her own right, or Mary Magdalene, the Apostle sent to the Apostles, as the Gospel of John portrays her, or Lydia, the church planter of the church in Philippi.
She prays to Jesus for her mother, “soon you’ll get better.” And her move isn’t merely the result of the cultural Christian residue that rubbed on her in her Tennessee home. I think it’s real. She turned thirty this year, and when she was telling Elle magazine thirty things she learned before she was thirty, she said:
“I’ve had to learn how to handle serious illness in my family. Both of my parents have had cancer, and my mom is now fighting her battle with it again. It’s taught me that there are real problems and then there’s everything else. My mom’s cancer is a real problem. I used to be so anxious about daily ups and downs. I give all of my worry, stress, and prayers to real problems now.”
Her faith broke open my heart. It gave me hope too. Her desperation leads to faith.
“I think we need to decolonize the text, but also ourselves. If you want to be an ally to the oppressed, share a version of Christianity that frees people. Don’t spend your time sulking about your guilt. That’s not the work.”