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Ladies: I found Henry Cavill first.  I realize you’ve all jumped on the bandwagon now, but if you haven’t watched all 4 seasons of The Tudors, well, we have nothing to talk about…

ANYWAY…

If you go here, you can download sermon notes based on the recent Man of Steel Superman movie.

No joke.

Although it’a little late now, there are even notes for Father’s Day.  Isn’t that great?

I’m not going to get into the content of the notes, because I really don’t care and you can download them yourself.  What I care about is why Warner Bros. went to this much trouble to market its movie.

Seems that Hollywood knows a cash cow when it sees one.  In 2007, the Christian entertainment industry was estimated to gross over $3 billion per year, and bookstores over $1 billion.

There’s money to be made, folks!

The problem?  Well…

It’s creating it’s own mainstream Christian culture, where entertainers, writers, etc. are beholden to a certain formula to make money.  If you offend the mainstream, they’re not going to buy the product.  And it’s alllllllll about the money.

Pastors are becoming shills for corporations rather than the Gospel. Glory be!

It’s starting to cost a hell of a lot to ‘be’ a ‘Christian:’ private schools/university, retreats, seminars, books, etc.

But all it really means is that Christians are suckers for capitalism just like everyone else.

For more, check out Jonathan Merritt’s take, which is anti-Hollywood, and Craig Detweiler’s, which is the opposite.

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A couple of weeks ago, we were studying the book of Amos.  I’d never read the book in its entirety before; it’s pretty stark and depressing.  But one of the major themes of the book is justice.

I have to admit: I have a law degree and I can’t even begin to define what justice is.

The first word that comes to mind is fairness.  But fairness is relative, of course.  Another word is equality.  Justice must be available to all, and the rule of law must apply to everyone.  Other words I think of include rehabilitation, deterrence, punishment and restitution.

One of the biggest sins that Amos speaks out against is the exploitation of the poor:

Because of the three great sins of Israel
    —make that four—I’m not putting up with them any longer.
They buy and sell upstanding people.
    People for them are only things—ways of making money.
They’d sell a poor man for a pair of shoes.
    They’d sell their own grandmother!
They grind the penniless into the dirt,
    shove the luckless into the ditch.
Everyone and his brother sleeps with the ‘sacred whore’—
    a sacrilege against my Holy Name.
Stuff they’ve extorted from the poor
    is piled up at the shrine of their god,
While they sit around drinking wine
    they’ve conned from their victims.

Amos 2:6-8 (The Message)

Right now, these verses bring to mind the factory collapse in Bangladesh where over 1100 people needlessly died.  All for what – cheaply made clothes?  Injustice screams from the rubble of that building.

Later on, Amos writes:

I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.

Amos 5: 21-24 (The Message)

These verses hit me between the eyes.  How often have I ignored injustice yet felt like a ‘good Christian’ because I’ve towed the party line or fit the mold?  How often have I looked around the church on a Saturday morning and felt somewhat smug about my presence there?

I often think that as Christians, and therefore our churches, have forgotten that we are called to do justice.  Sitting in the pew on Saturday or Sunday morning does not make you a true follower of Christ.  While I think fellowship with other believers is important, doing justice is more important.  Look again at Amos 5: all God wants is justice.  That’s it.

Doing justice is hard.  It requires you to give up your pride, your comfort and your need for instant gratification.  But you don’t need to go to the other side of the world to do justice.  You can do justice everyday.  Ed Cyzewski hosted a series awhile back about the everyday ins and outs of doing justice.  It’s worth a read.

We all want justice in our own lives, yet we’re so loath to practice its principles and fight against the persistent injustices we see all around us.  I think the first step is to realize how unjust our world is and then take small steps to correct what we can in our immediate area, including in our own homes.

Justice is the theme of the Bible.  From the punishment of Adam and Eve in Genesis through to the ushering in of a new, just kingdom in Revelation, the Bible demonstrates God’s justice.  Our concept of justice obviously differs from God’s; the God of the Old Testament greatly differs from that of the New Testament.  But it’s the promise of the New Testament justice that keeps me going on the days where the world’s injustice knocks off of my feet; it’s the hope that someday the meek will truly inherit the earth.

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So this month I’ve been leading a series at church on women and the Bible.  Notice it’s women *and* the Bible.

For centuries now, people have used the Bible to basically tell women that they’re inferior to men.

“Biblical language, biblical stories, and biblical ideas underlie high and low culture, political rhetoric, conceptions of self and community, of duty and justice, of denial and aspiration.  The Bible’s gender mythology provides ample raw material for popular culture.  Indeed it does.  For example: did you know that Apple’s corporate logo recalls Eve’s bite of the forbidden fruit (fruit from the tree of knowledge)?”

No, I did not.  But I do know that the interpretation of the Bible and the Bible itself has had a profound influence on gender inequality.

The first week, we looked at the story of Adam and Eve and how what was initially an equal partnership between a man and a woman was reinterpreted over the years to become a story of man’s dominion over women.  I demonstrated this through a look at the writings of various influential Christian theologians and philosophers, and what I found was enough to make me want to find their graves and spit on them (Martin Luther’s especially).  Luckily, there are a lot of feminist biblical scholars and researchers (both male and female) who’ve done a lot of work in this area over the last couple of decades who’ve pretty much dismantled all of the arguments the dominionists (my name for them) use.  Unfortunately, we still live with the consequences of these centuries of misinterpretation.

During the second week, we looked at those lovely passages in the New Testament that basically tell women to sit down and shut up.  I’d never sat down and actually studied the passages before; I simply ignored them, believing they were relics of a previous era.  Well, once again I learned the importance of context.  Those verses do not mean what they say.  In the context of the passages where they come from, they are specific instructions written to specific churches about specific problems within those specific churches, which means they aren’t universal instructions.  Those instructions did not mean that women couldn’t and shouldn’t participate in church and should instead submit to their husbands whenever and however.  Besides, if everything in the Bible was meant to be an instruction that we’re supposed to follow forever and ever, we’d all better stop wearing cotton blends and start stoning adulterers (Tiger Woods goes first).

Last week we looked at the issue of violence in the Bible.  Unfortunately some men use those lovely verses about submitting to your husband as a means of justifying abuse.  And there’s no doubt that a lot of the imagery about God’s relationship to the people of Israel is pretty misogynistic: Israel was portrayed as a whore on many occasions.  Then we looked at Judges 19, that horrific passage where a woman is pushed out into the street by her master and is gang-raped all night by a group of men, only to have her master possibly kill her and then dismember her and send parts of her body out to the 12 tribes of Israel, who then seek revenge for her death and end up slaughtering thousands of men and kidnapping hundreds of women.  The master conveniently leaves out his part in the woman’s death.  I came across some writing by Greg Boyd that gave me some hope in that others are struggling with synthesizing the violent images of God found in the Old Testament with the merciful and benevolent God found in the New Testament.  How can you reconcile divine love and divine wrath?  I don’t have a clue, but it’s an issue I want to continue exploring.

And that leads me to this week’s session, which is on leadership and valour.  Here’s a primer on female pastors in the Adventist church.

I LOVE this video.  And yeah, they’re ordaining women as pastors in CHINA of all places.

Some people think there’s a biblical basis for not ordaining women, based on those passages about women being silent and the supposed idea that there aren’t any female apostles in the Bible (Dear Catholic Church and other churches that won’t allow women to be pastors: let me introduce you to Junia).  I’m not convinced there’s anything in the Bible that outlaws women becoming pastors.

But Adventists are a little weird in this respect.  We allow female pastors, we just won’t ordain them.  And that means that they can’t officially represent the church nor aspire to church leadership.  I remember when I first realized this.  I was 7 or 8, I think, and I was PISSED.  The church and I just about broke up that day.

Needless to say, I was a little surprised to find this recent article: “WANTED! More Female Pastors.”

It’s about damn time.

If you look at the Bible, you see amazing examples of female leadership.  The first person who comes to mind for me is Deborah.  Deborah was a bad ass.  She was the only female judge found in the book of Judges, and Barak wouldn’t go into battle without her.  She was fierce and brave.

What about Esther?  She stood up to the King and risked her life for her people.

Ruth did not wait for a guy to ask her out; she went after what she wanted.

Huldah lived at the time of the mighty prophet Jeremiah (who has an entire book named after him in the Bible), yet she was the one that King Josiah trusted.

Mary of Nazareth carried a so-called illegitimate child and had a faith that we’ve admired throughout the ages.

Then there’s Phoebe, Priscilla, Miriam, Hannah, Abigail, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Tabitha.

Don’t tell me that women aren’t capable of leading because aren’t any examples of women in leadership positions in the Bible.  There are TONS, and besides, leadership doesn’t always mean standing at the front of a group of people.  Leadership doesn’t mean yelling your own point of view at the top of your lungs.  True leadership involves understanding people, inspiring people, challenging people and pushing forward.

All of these women were leaders in their own right.  They challenged their circumstances and followed their hearts, all while inspiring those around them.  Churches need more women like them.  Churches need leading ladies.

Here’s something I’ve been mulling over today…

David Bryant writes:

Faith is not the progressive unearthing of God’s nature but a recognition that he/she is fundamentally unknowable. The signpost points not to growing certainty but towards increasing non-knowing. This is not as outrageous as it seems. An apophatic thread, a belief that the only way to conceive of God is through conceding that he is ineffable, runs throughout Christian history. Jan Van Ruysbroeck, the 14th century Augustinian and man of prayer, maintained that ‘God is immeasurable and incomprehensible, unattainable and unfathomable’. St John of the Cross, one of the pillars of western mysticism, put it even more succinctly: ‘If a man wishes to be sure of the road he travels on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.”

Hmmm.

Growing up Adventist, Lent was a foreign concept to me.  I don’t know if I ever actually heard the word until high school, which was Mennonite.  Then I lived in a dorm at a Lutheran college, sang in an Anglican choir, played piano at a United church and learned a lot about Lent.

Adventists don’t observe Lent.  Adventists don’t follow the traditional church calendar.  One Easter weekend we had a Thanksgiving-themed sermon.

The lack of liturgical rituals in Adventism is largely because Adventists view such rituals “as unnecessary as it puts undue emphasis on ritualized personal sacrifice, which devalues the sacrificial work of Christ.”  Lent is not a biblical principle.

That makes sense.  Intertwined with that is also a concern that a ritual becomes routine and loses its significance once it becomes rote.

Nevertheless, there are some Adventist churches that follow the traditional church calendar.  And there are those that hold Ash Wednesday services.

I’ve come to realize that I like rituals.  I like liturgy.  And I like following the traditional church calendar.  I like these things because they’re tangible expressions and they add some structure, discipline and focus to my spiritual life.  Furthermore, I like the idea of being connected to other believers who are observing the same days as I am, albeit in different ways.  For me, rituals, liturgies and church calendars are simply other means to an end, not ends in themselves; they have no inherent value to me in and of themselves, which is why I feel comfortable observing them.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I would like to accomplish during Lent, which is a problem because Lent is not about accomplishing anything.  Lent is about reflecting on Jesus’ journey to the cross.

The American Evangelical Lutheran Church calls Lent “a season of simplicity.”  My original Lenten goals were also anything but simple.  It was a list of things I would and wouldn’t do, which completely misses the point.

Or does it?

I’m of two minds about this, because the Lenten discipline of sacrifice is important, because every time I think about doing that thing I said I wouldn’t do, I remember why I’m not doing it.  It’s really a way of focusing my attention on what matters.  As for the things I would do, again, it’s about focusing on those things that are important.

However, I’ve replaced my initial Lenten plan with something a lot simpler: rest.

I’m going to rest my mind by practicing intentional silence and giving up a lot of my online time.

I’m going to rest my body by nourishing it properly and giving it adequate exercise and rest.

And I’m going to rest my soul by spending time in prayer and meditation,  and by practicing self-compassion.

Kelley Nikondeha expresses the Lenten thoughts I didn’t know I had perfectly:

It’s a season for holding ambiguity and contradictions; less to be more, emptiness to contemplate fullness, even death to welcome life.

I’ve always found it to be a time of owning my fragile and fractured ways. Laying them out, saying, ‘here they are, my struggles in this life, in this body, in the place.’ Something about moving out of the shadows of denial begins a gradual healing. No argument, no defense or trying to justify why I limp this way or that. Just an honest statement in God’s company about my own feeble attempts at following His way.

Coming into Lent with a raw awareness of where I stand, I walk the days strangely at peace. I’ve never felt it morose. There’s goodness in being known in your weakness and accepted nonetheless. And that’s much of what I sense in the lenten weeks – acceptance.I somehow embody the truth that in my humanness I am both broken and beloved.God’s so near even as I confess my cracks and chips. I journey through lent overwhelmed by this wide and welcoming Love that does not ride on my righteousness at all. In my human frame, I’m known and embraced.

But the fasting does work on me, kneading me so I can rise. The days spent without unlock new doors and disarm intimate vices, empowering me to celebrate Easter as one risen from dire circumstances and hurtful habits. I participate in the resurrection truth, a foretaste of what is to come.

My soul craves Lent. I hunger for the quiet and the closeness, the broken and belovedness of it all.

Here are a few books I’m going to peruse during this time:

                 

     

Lenten Prayer (Teresa of Avila)

  Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

So tonight I will go to the Lutheran church a couple of blocks away     and put ashes on my forehead.  Then my Lenten season will begin.

What does God look like to you?  Have you ever really thought about it?

When I was little, for some reason I pictured God looking a little like my Uncle Wes.  It was a headshot, actually.  He had a comb over, some grey at him temples, and was dressed in a nice suit.  Kind of like this:

Except in colour and with a smile.  He was up there in the sky, with only a head.  I have no idea how that image got in my head.

Jesus always looked like this:

That image is pretty much stamped in my head.

I have no idea what God looks like.  These days I think of God more in terms of a presence rather than a physical person.  Jesus, yes, I think of Him as above, but with darker skin.  It’s amazing how we’ve literally ‘whitewashed’ Christianity here in North America.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what God looks like lately.  Before Christmas, I started praying (as little as I do) to God as a girl instead of a guy.  God is ALWAYS referred to as a male in church, and in most Christian churches.  This has recently struck me as rather sexist and arbitrary (and no, I haven’t looked in the Bible to see what gender it refers to God as, although it’s probably male).  So, one night I started praying to my Mother in heaven, rather than my Father in heaven.  At this point it’s more of an experiment, but so far I like it.  God as a woman is easier for me to relate to in a lot of ways.  But honestly, I think God is a conglomeration of female and male characteristics that defies categorization.  For now, though, I’m going to keep praying to and thinking of God in female form and seeing where it goes.

What do you think God looks like?  Does God have male and female characteristics?  Could you believe in a female God?

After railing on the Adventist church for a couple of weeks, it figure it was time to focus on one of the most beautiful things it has taught me: the need to take a Sabbath.

Either a lot more is being written on this subject or I’m just getting better at looking for it, but I think it’s the former.  Last week I found an article with the intriguing title, “Would Jesus Christ Mind if You Flew to Paradise on a Sunday?”  On the island of Aitutaki, one of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific, you find this sign:

Since 2008, there are Sunday flights, and it’s the island’s biggest controversy.

While not explicitly calling it ‘Sabbath,’ Dr. Matthew Sleeth endorses a ‘stop day’:

CNN: Why do you think taking one day off a week is so important?

Sleeth: We go 24/7 now, and I think it’s having health consequences. I think more and more, there’s a consensus that it leads to depression and anxiety.

It’s interesting, when a doctor sits down and does a primary intake with a new patient, they ask about smoking, exercise and diet, but they don’t ask how much you’re working. They don’t get any sense of if you’re working seven days a week, or if you have time set aside — like people have always had — for rest.

I think the lack of rest is reflected in our saying, “We don’t have enough time.” I think it’s pretty much generally felt that we don’t have enough time to really get to the things we want to do in life.

CNN: You write about incorporating a “stop day” into your weekly schedule. How do you think that can extend and enrich your life?

Sleeth: A “stop day” is a day you really cease from your labors. This really comes in Western cultures from the Ten Commandments. The fourth commandment tells us to remember the Sabbath. The word “Sabbath” simply means “to cease” — to cease from your labors.

Now, the definition of labor has changed over the centuries and the millennia. For some people, resting from their labors might mean resting from their sedentary job that they have, putting on tennis shoes and going for a run. For those who work physically, that would mean coming to rest.

In the book “24/6,” I don’t try to define what rest is for a person, but I ask you to figure out what work is for you, and don’t do it one day out of the week.

CNN: You go as far as to say that going full-throttle 24/7 is an illness. How do you recognize the signs?

Sleeth: I find that there’s a growing epidemic, really, of depression. We’re the most depressed country in the world.

The World Health Organization says somewhere between one in nine and one in 10 Americans are being treated for depression. We tend to work more hours than any other country in the world; Japan is second closest.

Can positive thinking make you well?

When we’re constantly going, we pour out chemicals to try to meet those stresses. We have short-term stress hormones like adrenaline, and longer-term hormones like the steroids that we pour out. Those chemicals constantly being “on” are bad for us, and they lead to anxiety and depression and to, I think, diabetes and being obese.

It’s interesting that if I took somebody in the emergency department and gave them a big slug of adrenaline, you’ll find that an hour later they’re just wiped out, and that’ll really persist throughout the day. I think that’s what we’re doing to ourselves. We’re constantly bringing stress into our life, and the idea of having one day a week that I can count on to stop is very reassuring.

Even if on Monday I’m very, very busy — and that proceeds throughout the week — if you know you have a habit of a weekly day of rest, of stopping, then you always know that’s out in front of you. A lot of people “go” and never know when it is that they’re going to come to rest.

CNN: You also say this mantra has made a big difference in your own life — for you as well as your family. How so?

Sleeth: My family and I adopted this about a decade ago. My children were in high school, and they went through high school, college — and my son even through medical school — keeping one day of rest, where they didn’t study.

They got their work done in advance. I think it actually helps you to order your life, because in preparing for that day of rest, you… actually get more things done on the six days that you are working.

So for our family, we took it very seriously. My kids really became the guardians of it when they lived at home, and they really wanted to see it happen. I think it actually helped us as a family.

I have many people that I’ve talked to now that have said that keeping one day of rest a week has been the single best thing they’ve done for their marriage, their family and their spiritual relationship.

The modern world is a funny thing: it seeks efficiency whilst creating more work and less time to do it in.

Sabbath was not my favourite day of the week when I was little.  To me if was the ‘Day of No Fun.’  I had to go to church where I had to sit quietly and listen to boring sermons, and then I had to have some quiet time, which usually meant a nap.  If I was at my grandparents’ house, there was (and still is) no TV.  It was so boring!

But now?  I crave Sabbath.  That downtime on Sabbath afternoon is the best part of my week, as is that time on Friday evening when I can let the stress from the week dissipate and enjoy a quiet evening.

Yet sometimes it’s hard to rest on Sabbath.  When you lead out, as I often do, it’s stressful because you end up spending Friday night trying to prepare and then you’re so busy at church that you don’t have a lot of time to enjoy the spirit of the place.  Then afterwards there are other activities so by the time you get home, the sun is almost set and you haven’t rested at all.  It doesn’t help that I enjoy being busy; sitting still is hard for me.

I’ve slowly been making my way through     Judith Shulevitz’s The Sabbath World, which is a history of Sabbath observance combined with a personal account of how one might observe the day in the modern world.  It’s a beautifully dense book, hence why it’s taking me a long time to get through it.

One concept she speaks of is the “social morality of time,” the fact that we think of time as a “mathematically netural” entity rather than a moral one (xx).  After thinking about it, she’s right: how I spend my spend says a lot about my morals, doesn’t it?  It says what I value and what I don’t.

Based on how I spend my time right now, there are a few things I value: family, learning, reading and writing, working, and money.  I don’t spend a lot of time simply relaxing, exercising.  But what about Sabbath?  I don’t always rest then.  And what does taking a Sabbath rest mean anyway?  It’s something to think about and consider.

For me, Sabbath is a day when I don’t touch homework, when I give myself permission to disengage from the internet and my cell phone, when I try to find time to spend quietly by myself to recharge and when I spend time with family and soothe my spirit.  Sure the Sabbath is a memorial to God’s creation and keeping it is a symbol of faith, but as Jesus says in Mark 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

I don’t always appreciate the way Adventists talk about Sabbath (legalism, anyone?) but I’m grateful I grew up in a faith that values a day of rest because we need it; as I get older, I appreciate it more and more.  And sometimes I think the world would be much better off if we all  took a day off once a week to simply rest.

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