The Divine Dance

My six-year-old daughter is all in when it comes to Christianity, except for one little thing that she can’t quite come to terms with: The Trinity. The absence of a logical explanation for the three-in-one has left her grasping at words and ideas not unlike those used and argued over in the fourth century, when the definition of the Trinity we still hold today was born. I’ve given her demonstrations with rubber bands, shamrocks, unskilled drawings, Challah bread, and interlocking rings, but she remains dubious and confused. She cycles quickly from one heresy to another, the six-year-old embodiment of all that is confounding about this particular piece of orthodoxy.

She’s far from the only one, of course. That’s where Franciscan priest and contemplative Richard Rohr comes in.

Rohr has a way of putting into words what most people can only feel, but never articulate. His new book The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, is no exception. In it he, along with Mike Morrell, invites readers to take a closer look at the mystery better known as the Holy Trinity.

The invitation is not to understand the Trinity – Rohr makes no true attempt to explain it in logical terms – but rather to experience Trinitarian “flow” firsthand, and thus know, innately, what it means to be “three-in-one.” For too long we’ve been content to carry this confounding dogma in our doxologies, our prayers, our hymns, without stopping to contemplate or fully appreciate the enormity of what is offered to us in this revolutionary and triune relationship of beings that describes the very heart and nature of God. Thus, Rohr writes, the time to further investigate the mystery is now.

You can read the rest of this review and more about Rohr’s exploration of the Trinity here. 🙂

‘Embrace’ in a Time of Division

Headlines this week have again been filled with the names of black men shot and killed by police officers, and — in at least one instance — protests have erupted in response. This has sadly become a known routine.

It is apparent that we are failing as a nation to see the image of God in those around us. This failure has become a deadly one.

In his new book, Embrace: God’s Radical Shalom for a Divided World, Leroy Barber tackles this failure head on, writing that we must learn to embrace, rather than disconnect from, “the other” if we are to achieve shalom.

He begins the journey to shalom in Babylon. Babylon, he writes, is a synonym for ungodly depravity and corruption. Yet the people of Israel were called to be there, living in discomfort among those different from themselves.

And that’s OK. God did not call them, and does not call us, to comfort. Instead, God calls us to hard work and hard places. Our deliverance does not come when God releases us from those places of division, but when we lean into them, fully accepting why we are there — not to share God with a godless people, but to learn and act on the essential lesson that we are all God’s people.

You can read more about Embrace in a time of division at Sojourners.

 

Slow Kingdom Coming

I’ve always thought of myself as a justice-oriented, do-gooder-type person, but over the years, I’ve become a bit fuzzy about what exactly that means. For example, most people would say it’s good to donate to charities and worthy causes, but how many times have charities and worthy causes misspent, misappropriated, or misjudged? What about donating goods after natural disasters? International adoptions? Microloans? Many things that sound good on the surface—and that are almost always well-intended—aren’t necessarily doing the good work we think they are. It also seems that far too often when someone says “justice,” what they really mean is good intentions and a quick fix.

In his new book, Slow Kingdom Coming, Kent Annan makes clear that good intentions can only take us so far, and that the work of building God’s kingdom is anything but quick. He writes, “we don’t want to think … that our good intentions are enough, as though God wouldn’t expect us to love our neighbors in the best possible way.” And the best possible way, he continues, is by creating deep and lasting change that, almost by definition, comes slowly.

You can read the rest of my review of Slow Kingdom Coming at Red Letter Christians.

Slow-Kingdom-Coming-720x380

Book Review: Women, Leadership, and the Bible. By Dr. Natalie Eastman

Dr. Natalie Eastman is one of the smartest women I know. If you’re looking for proof of that, check out her book, Women, Leadership, and the Bible. It’s a smart read, but not so much so that it’ll bog you down. In fact, I was enthralled from page one. If you’re the theologically- and academically-inclined type with a passion for women’s issues, I know you’ll feel the same.

Women, Leadership, and the Bible: How Do I Know What to Believe? A Practical Guide to Biblical Interpretation.

By Dr. Natalie Wilson Eastman. Cascade Books, 280 pp., $31.50.

In her book, Women, Leadership, and the Bible, Dr. Natalie Wilson Eastman does not, as one might imagine based on the title, try to convince readers of her position on the role of women in the church. In fact, she argues that women have for too long relied on the theological positions of others rather then undertake their own study, a practice that has only worked toward women’s detriment. Twelve long years in the making, the intent of Women, Leadership, and the Bible is to right that wrong.

Eastman received her Doctor of Ministry from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Realizing that the majority of women will not receive the same extensive seminary training that she did, her hope is to teach formal Biblical interpretation skills to the lay reader so that they can decide for themselves what God intends the role of women in the church to be.

Eastman writes specifically to a female audience, explaining that women are less likely to go to seminary, less likely to have time for theological study, and less likely to have the confidence necessary to take on as tough and divisive a topic as women in the church. While all that may be, Eastman is unequivocal that women are responsible both to themselves and to God to “think through these questions Biblically and theologically.”

That’s where Eastman’s “practical guide” comes in, as she takes on the heavy task of equipping women with the skills necessary to equalize a field traditionally dominated by men. Steering clear of four-syllable and hard-to-pronounce words, Eastman assumes her readers are unfamiliar with even basic interpretation skills. She defines “scary” words such as hermeneutic and exegesis, and includes a table of Scripture abbreviations, acronyms referring to different versions of the Bible, and detailed appendices for easy reference to outside sources of study. Despite her clear effort to write to a lay audience, by virtue of the subject matter the language used and study methods taught are best suited for those who have had at least some experience with higher education, as well as possess a great capacity for self-direction.

Staying true to Christian fundamentals, Eastman first and foremost points to the Bible as one’s primary study source. Outside resources are important, but the Bible is the ultimate authority on what the role of women in the church should be—it is in its interpretation that things get sticky. The primacy of the Bible firmly established, Eastman then provides a five-step strategy for methodically obtaining and sorting data and thinking logically about it: prepare (to engage in a concentrated study); identify (existing views and interpretations); study (the Bible as well as outside sources); filter (analyze what studying has uncovered); and choose (one’s position on the role of women in the church).

The third step—study—makes up the heart of the book, and is where the bulk of the burgeoning theologian’s work is done. Those interested in simply being told what to think or believe will not find any easy answers; instead, as Eastman openly tells readers, the study and discernment processes for even this one issue could take years, and even then may never reach full resolution.

Eastman takes seriously the individual responsibility to self and God to think through questions Biblically and theologically, keeping her own position hidden, choosing instead to draw out each step of her study plan by quoting women from varied backgrounds and positions. These women—a large number of whom are scholars—explain what they believe, why they believe it, and how they reached their conclusion. Readers hear from complimentarians and egalitarians equally, but all those quoted are women. This leaves Eastman vulnerable to criticism for excluding male voices in an otherwise balanced book. The study process taught, however, is gender-neutral, and men interested in learning more about Biblical interpretation can certainly benefit from Women, Leadership, and the Bible.

But it’s really no surprise that Eastman writes exclusively to women: the mere act of studying and learning is confidence building and empowering, traits women desperately need in the male-dominated field of theology. In fact, this is one way Eastman fails to keep her opinion on the “woman’s issue” to herself: clearly she finds women capable of the type of theological exploration they have long been kept from as unqualified. One can only assume she doesn’t think that after months or years of study that women should then keep silent about their findings.

It is, of course, true that women can attend seminary, hold ministerial positions, and teach in certain situations and in limited ways. But women have yet to reach full actualization as leaders through positions of higher authority in which they lead, teach, and minister to all church members, not just women and children.

Some think this is what God intended. Others do not. Regardless of opinion, it’s certainly worth asking how that opinion was formed. If the answer is that “someone told me so,” it is worth undertaking months or even years of study to determine if that someone was correct or not. For those without formal training but with an above-average skill set for self-teaching, Women, Leadership, and the Bible is a great place to start learning how to do just that.

You can find out more about Dr. Eastman and her book here.

Book-cover-3D-image-paperback-standing-front-cover-WLB-transparent-bkgrnd

Give it a Rest, Already.

What started as sniffles turned into a full-blown, wear-your-bathrobe-all-day cold. Nonetheless, I knew I would have no break from childcare, housework, or client demands. My husband pitched in more than usual, and I allowed the kids extra TV time. Otherwise, I plowed on, my “sick days” looking barely different than any other day—save for doses and doses of meds and piles of tissues.

According to Jessica Turner, author of the new book The Fringe Hours, and Brigid Schulte, author of New York Times bestseller Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, my response is the norm for women today. Both write how women have become so caught up in today’s quest to have and do it all that their bodies, minds, and souls have forgotten how to engage in of “me time,” self-care, and leisure, even when they need it most.

We desperately need to be refreshed. Or even just a nap.

Overwhelmed begins with a disbelieving scene: sociologist and time expert John Robinson exams a time journal Schulte has meticulously kept for a year and half. Schulte sees an over-busy and burdened schedule without even a minute to spare on herself; Robinson sees hours upon hours of what he deems leisure time. “Women have… at least 30 hours of leisure time each week,” he states, the implication being that they simply don’t know how to find or use it. He points to two hours Schulte spent waiting on a tow truck when her car broke down and calls it leisure time. The same for the 20 minutes she spent listening to the radio one morning while struggling to get out of bed. As infuriating as this may seem, when your life is inevitably bound to be busy and overscheduled, those periods matter.

It’s exactly those spots of not-quite-downtime that Turner, a working, blogging mother of three, embraces in her book The Fringe Hours. There are “little pockets of time throughout the day that often go underused or are wasted altogether,” she said. “If not intentionally redeemed, [these] fringe hours slip thorough one’s fingers like sand.”

You can read the rest of today’s post at Her.meneutics, Christianity Today’s blog for women.

A Non-Book Review for Ordinary Radicals

For better or worse, I grew up in a variety of faith traditions.

My childhood was spent in Southern Baptist and Methodist churches—the Southern Baptist part came from my dad, but I still don’t know how or why I ended up attending a Methodist church to which we had no apparent ties. As a teenager, I faithfully attended every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday service/youth group at a First Baptist church in Arkansas. After a move west, I found myself attending Charismatic services, then after yet another move, a church of the Nazarene. Both came about because of friend- and family ties. As an adult, Collin and I church hopped from place to place, trying to find a home. We ended up attending a Lutheran church for quite a while, then finally settled into the Presbyterian tradition, which is where I now make my denominational home.

One of the many benefits of experiencing a variety of traditions with vastly different ways of being is that I’ve come to disregard many doctrinal differences as irrelevant. You’ll seldom find me caught up in debate over finer points, and though I struggle to reconcile some conflicts in teaching, I mostly follow the creed of “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

Having begun my faith journey primarily in denominations that eschew ritual, I’ve long viewed liturgy as something that just isn’t for me. But at the start of this year, I began following Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. What is today…. January 9th? Yes, it is. And in these 9 days, I have felt the benefit of this to such an extreme that I want to shout it from the mountaintop.

In addition to the daily prayers and readings, there are other benefits. After the shooting in France, instead of our normal, brief dinner blessing, we prayed the Common Prayer for a killing in the neighborhood (isn’t the whole world our neighborhood?). At night when my daughter has said she “doesn’t know what to pray,” we’ve prayed the evening prayer together and sung songs from the back of the book, which, like me, come from a variety of tradition. So while we may start off with the Doxology and the Magnificat, we also make our way through Nothin’ but the Blood and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

Of course, much of its benefit likely comes from this being a liturgy for ordinary radicals, of which I hope to be one. Keeping with the teachings of my yellow-dog Democrat dad, and living the life I devoted myself to somewhere around age 17, I am reminded daily of my commitment to the finer things in life: Justice. Mercy. Love. Peace. I never “forget” these things, but often I find myself too busy to do anything but remember them in my mind, never letting their truth reach my heart and hands. But in these last 9 days, I have found myself living more joyfully, more honestly, and with growing rededication to my long-ago chosen path.

Lest you think I am replacing scripture or individual prayer with ritual, let me assure you I am not. In fact, quite the opposite: I have found it much easier to fit both these things into my day, something I’ve been struggling with for years given the too-busy life we often lead. But that, too, is changing.

So why am I writing this non-book review? I don’t know. I’m not so presumptuous as to say others would definitely share a similar experience–I know we’re all different. I suppose it’s like when you eat at a really good restaurant: you want to go out and tell all your friends how great it was, how much you enjoyed it, and that maybe they should check it out on their next date night.

It’s only been 9 days. So either this resurgence will bottom out or it will grow stronger. I am so dearly hoping for the latter.

51LcJmIS7zL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

 

Book Review: A Minor, by Margaret Philbrick

Margaret Philbrick’s recently-released book, A Minor, provides an intimate view into the life of a prodigious classical musician in love with an older, married woman (his piano teacher) who is suffering from early-onset dementia. Margaret’s knowledge of music and her ability to authentically voice the emotions of an angst-ridden teenaged boy are impressive, as is the way she has knit the viewpoint of a variety of players into her novel. Her character-types are wide ranging, and she handles each masterfully.

The protagonist of A Minor is the young Clive Serkin, a soon-to-be world renown pianist of the highest magnitude. Clive, however, is not just a musician: he is a teenaged boy in love with his piano teacher, Clare Cardiff, who just so happens to be old enough to be his mother, married, and falling victim to dementia. If that weren’t complicated enough, there are also issues such as faith, coming of age, familial relationships, an abusive marriage, and mental health to contend with. The complexities are many, and the reader may find herself wondering just how Margaret will manage to tie it all together at the end.

I won’t spoil the ending for anyone, but I will say that I was pleased that Margaret did not fall into the trap of a tidy ending. The reader will be satisfied by A Minor’s conclusion, that’s true, but she will also be left contemplating the questions Margaret raises throughout the book.

Some of these questions will pertain to faith as Margaret weaves both Judaism and Christianity into what I expected to be a “Christian only” novel. Each religion is handled with love, respect, and understanding, and adds depth to each character and causes the reader to reflect on how our faith is, should be, or could be applied to our daily lives and decision-making processes.

Also adding depth is the way Margaret has used a work of fiction to bring such an important topic to light: music therapy.

I am a proponent of medication where medication is needed, but also an advocate for exploring complimentary or alternative modes of therapeutic intervention. I have seldom seen this subject be so integral to a book’s plot (treating dementia), and the through line of music’s importance to our emotional well-being is, I think, unique.

That said, one does not need to be a classical musician, or even a lover of music, to appreciate this book; a reader can find other means by which to buy into the young protagonist. But, if you are a lover of classical music, then you’re in luck—the novel comes with a soundtrack! It’s well worth a listen, and will help you appreciate Margaret’s fine work all the more.

ImageBoo