Saturday, September 20, 2014

Things, They Are a-Changing at Church, or, Moving from Problems to Possibilities

I don't think that I've mentioned this on my blog before, but this month marks the beginning of my formation to become a deacon in the Episcopal Church!

What that means is that my time in discernment is over (so all those posts I made about grappling with the process and feeling impatient don't need to be continued) and now I have a two-year track ahead of me in the School for Formation that is organized by the Episcopal Church in Minnesota.

The Episcopal Church in Minnesota's Academy for Discipleship and Mission

I know that the School for Formation will be taking up a lot of my time, but I do not want that to keep me from posting here on my blog. But that, of course, poses a problem when I usually sink a decent chunk of time into my blog. I can't continue to do that if I want to also have the time to write lesson plans for my job as well as be successful in my learning and formation.

So the conclusion that I've come to is that you, dear readers, will benefit from some of the work and reflection that I will be doing in formation.

There are weekly reflections due in my formation classes and I have decided that, if I can maintain respect for my classmates' work and still prudently share the work I have done, I will post it here on my blog. I think the reflection from this week is just one such assignment. So please read it at your leisure and tell me what you think! I'd love to have a discussion start on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below!

Here is my assignment for this week:
  1. Read the story of the Resurrection in any translation you choose. What elements of this story could be seen as problems? What elements could be seen as possibilities? How has Christianity reframed this story?
  2. Identify one narrative or story that your faith community tells itself about a problem that exists currently. How could this story be reframed in a resurrection mindset?
And this is what I wrote:
I chose the Resurrection story as it appears in Luke 24:1-12. I read from the Common English Bible.

  • Savior/Teacher is dead and gone
  • Costly spices need to be bought and given/sacrificed to anoint the dead
  • Body of Jesus is missing
  • Two unknown men, wearing clothing that hurt the women’s eyes, no less
  • The apostles did not believe the women
  • Peter had no explanation for the missing body, either
  • Mourning cannot happen without the presence of a body; the established order is too far upset for the grieving process to happen
  • When the grave is disturbed, it may have been defiled
  • From the apostles’ point of view, the women are making a nuisance of themselves by bothering them with their womanly worries
  • When Peter sees that the women were right (I hope) he feels foolish for not believing them

  • Now that the Teacher is gone, the Roman oppressors cannot harm him or torture him anymore
  • The ritual anointing of the body of Jesus will aid in the grieving process (hopefully… I’ve never had to anoint a dead body before)
  • When two men in gleaming white clothes appear, the could not have been the ones to open the tomb and taken Jesus’ body; they would have been dirty in that case
  • The two men say that Jesus is among the living, not the dead
  • The two men say that Jesus has been raised… assuming there is any truth to that statement, it would be an incredible miracle
  • The two men quote the prophecies that were made, indicating that they have been fulfilled
  • If Jesus’ predictions about his own death were true, that could mean that all the things he said were true, too
  • This good news is filled with joy and the women’s first reaction is to share it
  • The women who found the empty tomb may have been among the worst sinners that Jesus had hung out with, but they were the first to witness the miracle (further indicating that what Jesus said would be true; the first shall be last and the last shall be first)
  • Peter, believing he women, was overwhelmed by the need to see the sight for himself
  • When Peter saw that what the women said was true, he felt wondered and bewildered by the astonishing miracle and all the repercussions that it had

Christian Reframe-ation
Christ’s crucifixion, death and resurrection has long been described as the sacrifice needed to atone for the inherently sinful nature of the world. While I agree with that statement to a certain extent, I also know that that notion of Christ being the sacrificial lamb has led people to conclude that we need to feel guilty and grovel before Christ because he saved us from ourselves. I’ve heard this referred to as the “worm theory” in regard to atonement. I struggle with it because it makes me feel guilty, insignificant; it makes me feel like a bother toward our deity and that, in comparison to the divine magnificence, I should really just get out of the way and let others, more appropriately gifted, to get closer to God.

That’s not the direction that I want to go.

So in reframing this story of resurrection, I have heard Christians go back to the idea that God so loved the world that the Word became flesh and lived among us. In this understanding, God’s love of humanity was so complete that God’s Incarnation shared in every single aspect of human life, including death. And that meant that the resurrection was that much more miraculous, since we would be able to share in that life with Christ, just like Christ shared in our life. I feel that this is much more compelling, since this line of thinking allows me to ask myself how I can join in Christ’s life in every way. And in efforts to answer that question, I am led to the same sort of compassion and solidarity with others that Christ has for me. I guess this feels more like a way of life for me.

Story from My Faith Community
As I am still in my twenties and I show up to church on a regular basis, I have often heard something like this said in my faith community: “Oh, it’s so good to have young people like you here! It gives me hope that the Church isn’t really dying! You know, there are so few young people in the Church” That’s great. I’m glad that I can give people hope that the Church is not dying. But it still feels like a guilt trip for me, because that statement is usually followed up very quickly with an inquiry about whether or not I want to join them for X or Y ministry that has been going on for Z number of years. In these kinds of statements, the problem is “there are so precious few young people in the church,” and the solution is “you’re a young person. You can save us.” And that’s just not fair to do to a person.

The only way that I can figure to react to this problem mindset is to refer back to the story of the Resurrection. Lutheran Pr. Nadia Bolz-Weber talks about “spiritual physics,” that the way Christ always works is through a process of death and resurrection to new life. So using that as my understanding of a resurrection mindset leads me to want to say this to people who think there are no young people: “You’re right. There are no young people in the Church if the only way you can see young people is at the same worship service that you attend. However, if you are willing to begin to count all the young people who are drawn to Saturday or Sunday evening worship, there are plenty. In fact, if we were to start a Sunday evening worship service right here at our church, and if we were to totally allow the young people interested to determine the shape of that liturgy (rather than you deciding for young people what kind of worship service they want), I think that we would attract all kinds of young people, both who are currently in as well as those who are not currently in the Church.”

Please mind you, this whole conversation in my head has still not mentioned anything about allowing young people to determine how we want to live out our baptismal covenant in service outside the Church, rather than trying to convince us that we need to serve in (read: save) the programs that have been running for longer than we have been alive.

This discussion of involvement in Church is one that I get really charged up about, because I hear that problem mindset so often. But the people who have the problem mindset also tend to have the power in the Church, and they don’t want to give up that power for fear of someone else having it. Meanwhile, here I am, interested more in service than I am in power and I want to join in Christ’s service with anyone who is interested in sharing this yoke. I see plenty of young people who are thirsting for the living water that only Christ can provide, but they can’t get it at church because they want to share in worship and service, rather than sit passively by and watch someone else do it.

Death and Resurrection are really hard and it is a very painful process to go through. But I think it is the process that Christ calls us to submit to because that is precisely the example he set for us.