Follow the Tears: Forging a New Way of Vulnerable Leadership

Sunday, November 29, 2020

"The Christian leader of the future is called [...] to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self."

- Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus

I am an emotional person.

That was hard to admit.

For most of my life I've been led to believe a false narrative that emotions are weak. They're too messy, they're too fickle, they're too... much. When the paradigm for leadership in the American church has been male, and the paradigm for male leadership in our culture has been emotionless logic and reason, the paradigm has affected how I, as a woman, am expected to also lead.

My examples of leadership have implicitly trained me to lead from "strength," which was a thinly-veiled way of saying to lead from logic, defensiveness, disconnection, and ready answers. In my pastoral ministry I was repeatedly told to not let others see my weaknesses, my raw emotions, the spots in my life that were not yet perfectly resolved. I shouldn't share until I had all the answers figured out or the entire process worked through. In my field in biblical studies, I was told that emotions have no place in interpretation, writing, or teaching. Proper study of Scripture is accomplished with detachment, an "objective," factual examination of the text. Vulnerability was a weakness.

As a person who is, deep-down, in tune with the emotions of both myself and others, I've never really felt like I belonged. I've hidden my emotions, locking them away for private appraisal later in secret. The times when I "slipped" and let the tears flow in the pulpit and staff meetings were met with shame or discomfort.

I've only just begun viewing my emotions as a strength this year in my new vocation as a college professor, where I've let my tears become visible and invited my students to process along with me.

A few months ago, as I expressed my feelings of loneliness and inadequacy to a dear friend who is also an Old Testament professor, she quietly listened and then told me, "Follow your tears."

Her permission for me to feel in that moment has given me courage to forge my own way of leading with vulnerability.

This past semester, I followed the tears and told my students before one class session that I was struggling too, that the limitations COVID had created that week had taken its toll on me. 

I followed the tears in my Poetic and Wisdom Lit class when I cried through a lament we read together because it gave me the words I didn't even know I needed in that moment.

I followed the tears in my gen ed class when I cried through Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones because it deeply stirred a longing within me for the reckoning and restoration of the American church.

I followed the tears when I admitted to my students that I didn't know how to reconcile a text with the rest of Scripture, that its violent claims made me uncomfortable, that I was still trying to figure out what it meant.

The response to each of these instances was profound with my students.

Because I was willing to bravely connect with my own inner self, I was able to connect with my students.

By showing up with vulnerability this semester, I've started to become comfortable with who I am as a leader. Teaching has challenged me to become part of the process - I'm no longer trying to impart a finalized "product" or "performance," but I'm inviting my students to discover and learn alongside me. I've been amazed at the significant interconnection between emotional and spiritual health, and I've realized that I need to model emotional depth and maturity in order to disciple my students spiritually. In fact, I would argue that the key to successfully discipling my students has way more to do with my emotional/spiritual development than it has to do with my scholastic expertise or experience. 

It's time for us as leaders to recall it's blessed to be poor in spirit.

To mourn.

To humble ourselves.

To hunger for righteousness.

To show mercy.

To make shalom.

Perhaps it is in these forms of beautiful vulnerability where we discover the kingdom of heaven together.

This is What Healing Looks Like

Sunday, August 30, 2020

When I first started my PhD program, I knew it would wreck me.

I just didn't know that it would wreck me spiritually.

This past year, I've been analyzing several different passages from the book of Amos as part of my research. I expected to learn quite a few things related to my research, but I didn't really expect for this passage at the end of Amos to speak to me as deeply as it did. In fact, a particular phrase in Amos 9:14  had me crying as I wrote an exegetical analysis about it:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the one who ploughs will catch up with the one who reaps and the one who treads grapes with the one sowing seeds. The mountains will drip with sweet wine and all the heights will flow. I will turn the turning of my people Israel."
Amos 9:13-14 (my translation)

You see, in my research I realized that most translations do a pretty poor job at translating this passage. Most, such as the NIV, translate it so that it refers to the Israelites' return from exile ("I will bring my people Israel back from exile.") The Hebrew, however, literally says, "I will turn the turning."

It sounds awkward translated into English, but this phrase indicates much more than a return from a foreign land. In fact, it doesn't just refer to an end of exile; it refers to a complete reversal of exile. While it can indicate a return to the land, it refers more broadly to a return to a previous state of well-being. 

This ‘turning’ refers to all of the restorative processes mentioned in Amos 9:11-15, including rebuilding the cities, the flourishing of the land, and the return of the exiles. All of the destruction, all of the pain that the Israelites suffered, would ultimately be reversed. 

And this "turning," this reversal, would not simply be a return to the way things were before exile. No, this "turning" would undo all of their pain and usher God's people into an even better state of flourishing than they had ever previously experienced.

I imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites to receive this message while in exile. These words would have been so contrary to what they were presently experiencing. The exile was their major turning point. They had two reference points: before-exile and in-exile. To them, it looked like there was no hope - they had reached the point of no return. Imagine the tension of these words. Imagine the two realities the Israelites were challenged to straddle:

They knew Yahweh was faithful, but they felt abandoned by him.

They knew Yahweh was good, but he allowed bad things to happen to them.

They knew Yahweh was sovereign, but the wicked were now in charge.

And yet, I can deeply resonate with this tension. It's the same kind of tension I currently live in.

A few years ago, I served in ministry at a church that spiritually and emotionally abused its staff members. It was traumatic. But the most traumatizing day was actually the day I resigned. I told my colleagues that I was choosing to go because "my values were incompatible with the values that are placed on the staff," and immediately afterward I was brought into a meeting that began with a pastor yelling at me to "get out" because I was no longer welcome at the church. The four pastors proceeded to interrogate me for names of other staff members who also disagreed with the values. They blamed me for things that were not true. They accused me of being toxic, of being the problem that needed to be eliminated. They gaslighted my experiences. They told me that I was unfit for ministry, that God hadn’t truly called me there, that there was no place for someone like me in the Church.

As much as I would like to say that I've healed and moved on, that one meeting has stuck with me. The words that were said to me have remained an anxious undercurrent that sometimes resurfaces. In fact, sometimes I think of my life as being divided into "before-meeting" and "after-meeting" categories. My life "turned" that day, and further ministry experiences after leaving that position have only seemed to confirm that my voice is not welcome in the Church.

And just like the Israelites, I read these words in Amos and straddle two realities:

I know God has given me a voice to speak truth, yet I feel scared and inadequate.

I know God calls me his own, yet the Church has repeatedly told me I don't belong.

I know God redeems, yet I still have so much brokenness and hurt inside.

Each of these statements holds two truths; it's not that one's true and the other is false. They seem contradictory, but they are both true at the same time. They highlight this tension between already and not-quite-yet realities.

But maybe this is what healing looks like: believing one truth is truer, and choosing to place my trust in only the truest of truths.

And that is why I believe that even though I have been deeply hurt and feel like a shell of the Christina that I used to be, I believe Jesus can "turn the turning." I believe Jesus can undo all the wrongs that have been done against me. I believe Jesus can bring shalom back into my life. I believe Jesus can bring me to a place where I flourish in new ways previously unavailable to my "before-meeting" days.

And Jesus can do the same with your hurts, too. God knows the depth of your pain and willingly enters into it with you. God is, to borrow from a theologian-friend, a "wounded liberator" who is even now - yes, right now - redeeming the wrongs that others have committed against you.

God can usher in a new reality of flourishing that extends beyond Eden to a recreated cosmos.

The days are coming.

Developing a Rule of Life for a Year of Uncertainty

Wednesday, August 12, 2020


At the beginning of each fall, I intentionally set time aside to craft a rule of life for the upcoming school year. You can read more about what a rule of life is and how to create one here.

Having a rule of life has been a complete game-changer for me in my spiritual growth. A few years ago I realized that I was going through my days just expecting spiritual transformation to happen without too much effort on my part. But friends, there are way too many things vying for our attention for growth to occur incidentally. In fact, we're being formed every day by our thoughts, environments, and choices. 

If we're really serious about growing as disciples, we need to have very intentional counter-formational practices in place.

Because of the crazy, unpredictable moment we're in, I knew that I would need a very different rule of life going into this upcoming school year. Not only are we still reeling from COVID, fighting for racial justice, and navigating a divisive election year, but I'm personally starting my first year as an Old Testament professor at a university while also completing my PhD work. Did that last sentence give you as much anxiety as it gave me?

As I reflected on my last rule of life, it became impressed upon me that I really needed to take a different approach this year. I am worried about being stretched beyond my limits and living a life marked by high stress and anxiety.

Instead, my vision this year is to live a life marked by joy and abundance.

During a very probable resurgence of COVID? Yup.

While figuring out how to be my authentic self in a new profession? You bet.

In the midst of balancing surviving my PhD work? God have mercy on my soul.

The truth is, I need to be more gracious and kind to myself this year. I recognize that I only have one limited perspective on the world we're in right now, but I suspect that many people could use some gentleness this upcoming year. 

In the past, I have set very specific parameters for my rule of life, such as limiting social media and setting specific days/times to exercise. But this year I'm going to be more generous and less rigid. Some of my "rule" looks like this:

  • Regularly delighting in God's presence
  • Learning how to speak to myself the way that Jesus speaks to me
  • Listening to my body's cues for movement/rest
  • Simplifying expectations to become a hospitable home
  • Not expecting perfection or performance in my work
Claiming these rules for my life gave me a deep sense of satisfaction. As I reflected on who I've been and who I am now, I realized that

I like the person I am becoming. 

And I think that this is what having a rule of life is actually all about: developing a plan to become the person that God created us to be.

So in the words of Soren Kierkegaard, "with God's help I shall become myself."

5 Things I've Learned From My Racial Reconciliation Group

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Hi, I'm Christina. I'm white. I've learned I'm still learning how to recognize and repent of my own racial prejudices and privileges. It all started when Trayvon Martin was murdered in 2012, and in many ways, I feel as though I'm still just getting started.

I've been quiet (at least on this blog) these past few months because I haven't wanted to distract from the beautiful, prophetic voices that are in the front-lines leading this movement. In my quietness I have lamented and mourned and seethed with righteous anger.

But now I'm ready to speak up again.

This post is indebted to the grace I've received from the beloved, diverse women in my racial reconciliation group: Tami, Tomeka, Angela H., Connie, Angela C., and Sonia.

Ever since the beginning of 2020, we've been regularly meeting together to imagine, critique, question, listen, confess, repent, and reconcile. We've built bridges between racial and social barriers using the Be the Bridge curriculum. We've discussed things like white fragility, lament, the difference between prejudice and racism, national racism, local racism in our own community, shame/guilt, equality vs. equity, and reparations. It has been one of the most rewarding groups I've ever been a part of.

I can't speak for the other women in the group and the things that they've discovered, but I wanted to share 5 big ideas I've learned over the last few months. This is mostly a record for myself, a reminder of what I've learned and am convicted to continually fight for, but if it helps other white people, then thanks be to God.

1. Race is easier to talk about than you probably realize.
Race isn't something that I talk about on a daily basis with my white friends. If I'm honest, it's not something that I even feel a need to think about every day, because unfortunately being white is the default in our American culture. Throw together Black, white, and biracial women who barely know each other into a group, and you'd think that it would awkward as all get out.

To our collective surprise, it wasn't awkward. It was a relief. It was empowerment.

Finally, we could talk about important ideas and emotions that had been weighing on our hearts and on our minds for days, months, years. Finally, we could ask each other hard questions and say things that we wouldn't normally say to those of our own race. Finally, we could lament and critique and flat-out expose our rage in a safe space.

You see, it wasn't talking about race that was hard. Everyone and their landlord have plenty of things to say about race, both solicited and unsolicited. It's all anyone's talking about these days, even those who deny that racism exists. 

The hard part isn't talking about race; the hard part is talking with humility.

In my group, I had to learn how to humble myself when others called me out, and when I found myself disagreeing with others in the group. 

If you want to talk about race with others, or any difficult issue for that matter, the only way it can be accomplished is by having the same mindset as Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5-11).

2. We can't rush the reconciliation process.
Listening and learning takes time. It's easy for us (me) to convince ourselves that we can read a few articles and we've "arrived." Racism is such a pervasive undercurrent in our culture, so much that it takes a very long time to understand our context historically, sociologically, and spiritually, let alone personally. 

I thought I understood my context by reading a few books.
I thought I understood my context after attending a Black church for a year.
I thought I understood my context after being a part of a Black small group.
I thought I understood my context after having conversations with Black and brown friends.

Now, because of this group, I know that I still have so much to learn and so much to understand.

The temptation will be to listen to a few voices, jump onto the bandwagon, speak a few general words against racism, and then move on. 

It's what many faith leaders are doing. But true reconciliation in our country is going to take much longer than that. We need to continue to do some deep listening and learning, otherwise we will either do more harm than good, or eject from the process well before it's complete.

We need to commit and see this through until the end.

3. It's not enough to decry the racist behavior in others; we must be willing to recognize it in ourselves.
It's easy to distance ourselves from "those racist white people," as if systemic prejudice is only evident in a select group of people instead of prevalent throughout the very fabric of our American society. Even though I love Jesus and believe in his dream for the Church to be a reconciling community, I still have to recognize and repent of my own racial prejudices and privileges.

Racism is not a "Black problem" with which to empathize. Racism is a white problem to dismantle in ourselves.

White friends - we need to be willing to see ourselves in the villains. We need to be willing to confront the ugliness that exists within every single one of us. My Black sisters and brothers see themselves, their family members, and their friends in George Floyd; why don't we similarly see ourselves in his murderers? In the woman in Central Park? In the men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery?

Our knees are on their backs and they can't breathe.

4. None of us really know how to eradicate systemic racism, and that's okay.
In my group, we all had very different ideas on what reparations should look like. We disagreed on what the government should or should not do, and how we as citizens of the Kingdom and of the United States should have a role in this renewal.

And that's ok. Eradicating systemic racism is hard - if it were easy, it would have been accomplished in the last 60+ years. 

We ended our time together as a group unsure of what our next steps should be, or how we should individually exercise our civic duties in ways that are faithful to the calling that God has placed on our lives. But the important thing is that we are in it together. We are willing to keep discussing and working on solutions, trying and failing and maybe even sometimes succeeding.

Because, contrary to how this movement feels right now, this race isn't a sprint, it's a marathon.

And if we really want to eradicate racism, we must be willing to innovate and persevere together.

5. Reconciliation is costly.
Making things right always requires sacrifice. I think that many of my white friends who are now speaking up for the first time are seeing just how difficult racial reconciliation is.

We are told that we are being divisive, when we should be focusing on unity.
We are told that we should mention good cops and not make everything about race.
We are told that we are being too political when we should be only proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ (as if the gospel and justice are mutually exclusive).
We are told to rethink our position with prepositions like "but" thrown into every sentence.
We are told we are wrong with the naming of outliers.
We are told to shut up with questions that aren't actually questions.

But these cheap shots are not the costs reconciliation demands of us. Push-back on social media is not the extent of the sacrifices we will have to make. Renaming signs and dismantling statues are not the real stakes - they are only symbolic gestures. No, reconciliation is more costly still.

Reconciliation will require a willingness to relinquish some of our power.
Reconciliation will require tough conversations with family members, co-workers, and friends, some of which may challenge and/or strain relationships.
Reconciliation will require making the table longer and setting out more seats so that people of color don't have to keep bringing their own chairs.
Reconciliation will require passing the microphone, deferring important decisions, and sharing spaces of authority.
Reconciliation will require confession and owning up to the ways that we have all fallen short of the glory of God.
Reconciliation will require continuing to speak the truth, even when it hurts.

Reconciliation doesn't happen by all of us just "getting along." There needs to be a reckoning that happens both in our hearts and in our institutions.

So keep listening.
Keep showing up.
Keep speaking truth.

It's even more costly to back down now.

Preach Anyway (and Any Way)

Thursday, May 7, 2020

This is a word of encouragement for any woman who has been silenced, sidelined, or scolded. This is a message of hope for every teenage, college-aged, middle-aged, or advance-aged woman who has been told that her voice doesn't matter, that there is no place for her to use her calling, gifts, and training in God's church. This is a prophetic word for any woman who has felt like she will never belong, that she will never be able to live into the call that God has placed on her life.

This is a rallying cry for women like you, and women like me.

Just like many women, I've been through periods of ministry where I was sidelined and silenced. Once, during a particular painful period at a church, a pastor I worked with came into my office, sat down, and spoke these prophetic words: "Christina, God has gifted you to teach and preach. If anyone tells you 'no,' you preach anyway."

Women of God, hear me say the same thing to you: preach anyway and preach any way.

Preach boldly and confidently, because the One who called you has more authority than someone who claims to be the arbiter of God's giftedness. Know your value, dear ones, because you don't need to prove it to anyone else.

Preach Anyway.

When someone doubts you, keep going. When someone makes a sexist generalization, keep going. When someone criticizes or draws attention to your body instead of your message, keep going. When someone throws around words like "strong-willed" and "assertive" as though they are defects, keep going and don't apologize. Because the truth is, you do not answer to men. Your calling is to the Most High God, and it is to him and him alone that you answer.

Preach because the message that God has given you is burning inside of you. Preach because to remain silent would be to deny the life-giving word God has for his people. Preach because you stand in fear of the Lord, the one who gave you this calling in the first place.

Preach Any Way.

When a door is shut in your face, find another way forward. If you are shut out from the pulpit, preach in the streets. If your words are silenced, preach with your actions. If you are only permitted to preach to children or youth, then preach to their small group leaders and mentors as well. Stand in the sidelines, take up space in the margins, and make your voice heard, dear one.

Make your entire life a sermon.

And mark my words: God will hold accountable those who have silenced you and squelched the gift God has given you. Justice is not something with which you need to concern yourself. Keep going. Stay strong. God is even now fighting for you.

Weak men are the problem, not your strong will. 

Me in Motion

Monday, April 13, 2020

The other day I fell off my bike.

I was stopped.

At a crosswalk.

That said "Do not walk."

A woman driving by felt sorry for me and rolled down her window to check to make sure I was okay (Ohio people sure are friendly).

In my defense, it was a particularly windy day and I had difficulty maneuvering my bike in a straight line. But of course, while I had managed to remain upright for the past 4 miles, it wasn't until I had reached a complete stop that I toppled over.

"Toppled over" might just be the best description for how I feel right now. My state, our country, our world has come to a complete halt. My study plans for the month of June got cancelled. To top it all off, I quit my job and just had my last day yesterday. My bike has come to a complete stop, and it is only now at a standstill that I've realized just how utterly exhausted I am.

I'm tired of striving, of having to prove my worth, of having to constantly stay in motion so as to not fall behind in my studies. And I'm surprised to find that that I like the me-in-motion better than the me-in-standstill. I'm not sure I really recognize the latter me: she's much less impressive in her lack of productivity. She's much more fragile in the silence.

Why is it that when we're caught up in a fast-paced lifestyle it's easier to ignore the indications of burn out? Why is it easier to keep going, to keep pushing through, than to pull over to the side of the road to rest for a while, to do some healing work, to do the things that give us life?

While I'm saddened by the number of people who have gotten sick or even died, I'm at the same time grateful for this great big pause. Because this pause has reminded me that I'm not okay and you're not okay. And we've been given this wonderful, beautiful opportunity to hop off our bikes and find wholeness again.

A Third Way: Creating A Political Rule of Life

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The 2020 political season is already upon us and most of us are already over it. But unless we want to move out into the desert like the Essenes and pray for God to rain down fire to destroy us all, we have to stay engaged. We have to learn how to pledge allegiance to the Lamb while participating in the politics of this world.

In fact, I propose that during this 2020 election, we as Christians don't just learn how to "survive" or "make it through." I propose that we use this season as a God-given opportunity to become more like Jesus.

Last month, after the double-whammy of the impeachment trial and the State of the Union address, I realized that I needed to take a long, hard look at the ways that I was permitting my political climate to shape me. I spent the week checking my NPR app over and over, griping about the political developments with my co-workers, and scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through social media. It was life-draining. I felt irritable all the time. And the worst part was that I was mentally making those who disagreed with me my enemies.

I realized it was time to call it quits and find a different way forward. Not a left or a right way, but a completely different way. A third way.

Every fall, I create a rule of life to help guide my spiritual formation throughout the rest of the school year. But when I reviewed it, I realized that there was nothing in it that addressed politics. This inspired me to create a political rule of life.

If we want to retain our Christian witness this political season, we must re-arrange our lives for spiritual transformation. 

What is a "rule of life"?
A rule of life is an ancient Christian practice that examines and the arranges our patterns and habits so that we can become more like Christ. A "rule" sounds legalistic or stifling, but your rule of life should be anything but these things -- it should draw you into a lifestyle of God's freedom and abundance. A rule of life is the identification of specific practices that will draw you further into God's presence. Because each person is unique, each rule of life is tailored specifically to a disciple's personality and season of life. The sins that I am working on conquering may not have any bearing in your life. Conversely, the things that will develop your love for God and for his people may not affect me in the same way. For a more detailed explanation on how to craft a rule of life, check out this post.

Why should I create a rule of life?
Spiritual formation doesn't happen by accident. We are being formed every single day, both by our conscious decisions and by our unconscious decisions. If we aren't intentionally choosing to be formed into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, we will unintentionally be formed into the image and likeness of Fox News or CNN. It's not a matter of whether we are being formed, but how we are being formed.

Why a political rule of life?
Every moment of every day is an opportunity for spiritual growth. St. Igantius said that these opportunities can guide us toward two possible outcomes: either we move toward "desolation" or we move toward "consolation." Sometimes our decisions steer us away from the life-giving presence of God, and we move toward desolation. When this occurs, we become more inward-focused, cut ourselves off from community, and forfeit the things of Christ for the things of this world. On the other hand, when we have practices in place that move us toward consolation, we become more aware of God's presence in our lives, generously give of ourselves and our resources in community, and prioritize God's kingdom over our own desires.
Participating (or choosing not to participate!) in politics is an opportunity for us to move toward consolation or desolation. Politics affect how we view people as God's image-bearers or even where we choose to place our trust. If we can be formed by our relationships, the media we consume, and the way we spend our time and money, then we can most definitely be formed by our volatile political climate.

What practices should I include?
Every person's rule of life will be different. I can only speak from my own experiences and the ways that the Spirit has convicted me. Here are a few practices I have committed to this season (once again, these are only examples):
  • Limit checking NPR to only once/day.
    I chose NPR because it tends to report facts from a neutral perspective (but, as is the case with all news sources, not always). Here is a helpful chart that maps out how news sources tend to be biased.
  • Partner with someone who votes differently than me in prayer, deep listening, and discernment.
    When I first mentioned this practice to those who vote the same way I do, they dismissed it as being too idealistic. "There's no way that someone on the opposite side will be willing to actually listen," they said. Maybe I am too idealistic, but I have to believe that there are people on the "other side" who are seeking God, too. And in my pursuit of this truth, I found a lovely woman who votes differently than me, and we had a wonderful conversation about why our consciences allow us to vote in different ways. We prayed for each other afterward. It was awesome. There must be a third way.
  • Incorporate political thoughts and reactions into weekly examen to see whether they are consistent with the mind of Christ.
    Every Thursday I pray through the "prayer of examen" to assess how I've been adhering (or not adhering) to my rule of life. I also use it to identify sin in my life.
  • Monitor my comments.
    Are they truthful? Unifying? Helpful? Gracious? Prophetic? Easier said than done! How hard it is to be truthful and gracious at the same time!
  • Sabbath.
    On Fridays, my day off, I do not check the news, listen to the radio, or get on Facebook.
This year, may we be the kind of people who choose the third way. May we be the people who maintain our loyalty to God's kingdom while we participate, critique, and disengage from the kingdom of this world.

Resources for Lent 2020

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Some people get excited about Advent and Christmas, but Easter is my most favorite holiday of them all. But a few years ago, I noticed that by the time I arrived at Easter I felt completely unprepared. Christmas had lots of intentional prepwork, both spiritually (Advent Sundays) and commercially (decorating and shopping), but Easter felt like it came out of nowhere. Sitting in church on Easter Sunday morning, I felt as though something was... missing.

The feeling seemed incredibly ironic to me, because Easter is all about how the missing has been found: Jesus' missing body is found, our lost souls are found, our missing eternity with God is found. Despite all of this "finding," it seemed as though something was still missing.

That's when I realized that the "finding" doesn't mean very much unless we've had a period of the "missing."

The other day I lost my keys in the church where I work and didn't notice they were missing until I found them sitting atop the church's dryer. It was a surprise, but not really a great relief or joy. But imagine if I had lost them, realized they were lost, and spent time wandering around the church trying to find them. Their discovery would have been one of celebration and relief.

Lent is the time of the year when we realize that something is missing. 

Lent is a reminder that, without Christ, we would be wandering around trying to find all the missing pieces in our lives. It's a reminder that, without Christ, both our souls and our bodies would be lost to the bondage of sin and its devastating consequences. To make the most of the joy of Easter Sunday, we must spend time mourning what has been lost. This 40-day period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday is a time for us to acknowledge the brevity of our lives and to recognize a need for God's grace and mercy.

Maybe it's because I have lots of sins to confess, maybe it's because I'm an Enneagram 1, or maybe it's because I'm just a masochist, but year after year Lent has become a significant time of spiritual growth for me. Lent is the time of the year when I slow down, do some deep listening, and especially enjoy my time in God's presence. Taking the time to pause, mourn, and "miss" prepares me for the joy and promise of Christ's resurrection.

 Here are a few resources I would recommend to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter Sunday, where everything that is lost is finally found:

The Repentance Project from An American Lent - I've done this project for the last two years and can't recommend it enough. This project puts repentance into the context of America's racism and invites us to repent of our deep-seated prejudices.

The Unvarnished Jesus: A Lenten Journey by Brian Zahnd - This is the Lent reader I will be using this year. If you haven't read anything by Zahnd, I highly recommend you at the very least follow him on Twitter or Facebook. His prophetic insight and bold assessment of our cultural moment has been both and a challenge and encouragement to me.

Lent for Everyone: Matthew - N.T. Wright has a Lent study for each year of the Lectionary, and this year's (Year A) is Matthew. I'll read anything this New Testament scholar writes.

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter - I like this reader because it is a combination of historical (Augustine, Tillich, Kierkegaard), classic (C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Day, Bonhoeffer) and contemporary writers (Merton, L'Engle, Nouwen).

Wendell Berry and the Sabbath Poetry of Lent - I love Wendell Berry. I love Sabbath. I love Lent. (I love lamp!*). This devotional combines all three of these loves. It is meant to be read alongside Berry's collection of Sabbath poems.

Breathe Lent Reader - To date, this is my favorite thing I've ever written. I poured my heart and soul into writing this Lent reader a few years ago. This devotional connects themes from the Old Testament with the promises of Jesus, inviting us as a Church to live into the new life we have in his life, death, and resurrection.

Coloring Book for Lent + Eastertide - Sacred Ordinary Days is an incredible resource, and this year they have a coloring book available for the holy days of Lent and Eastertide.

Lent Playlist - This is a list of all of my favorite Lent-related songs that I use to center my thoughts and soothe my soul.

*If you got this movie reference, you deserve all the accolades. Let's be friends, ok?

Postmodernity 101 - Modernism vs. Postmodernism

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

(This post is part 2 of a 5 part series on postmodernity. You can read the other posts in the series here.)

"A good journey begins with knowing where we are and being willing to go somewhere else."
- Richard Rohr

Postmodernity is a phenomenon that has been discussed by philosophers, theologians, and cultural researchers for decades now. The French have been examining it since the late 1970s. Even though some scholars have claimed that postmodernity has existed since post-WW2, this intellectual and cultural phenomena has been slowly and subtly creeping its way into American life and thought. It is often the blame for all of our cultural woes and has been viewed with a large amount of skepticism by the American church.

A large part of our skepticism toward postmodernity is because we often reduce its tenets to bumper stickers without context. We hyperbolize postmodernity as a rejection of "absolute truth" and paint it as a general rejection of tradition. Neither of these are fair representations. We'll get to that.

But like it or hate it, postmodernism is here... and it's still coming.

Since culture doesn't abruptly change overnight, the shift in thought has been gradual. Those who are of the millennial and Gen Z generation probably didn't even realize that they were a crucial part of this shift until the "Ok, Boomer" and "Ok, Millennial" jabs started.

So where are we right now and where might we be headed? In order to fully understand our current and prospective landscape, we must first understand where we came from. Since postmodernity is in many ways of critique of modernity (hence the name), we must examine our cultural heritage.

Modernity is a land founded on science, reason, and universal morality. Something is true only insofar as it is objective (known by all people at all times). If it can be proven in a lab or agreed upon by a majority of people (or at least those in power), it's true. Reason is universal, intuition and religious experiences are invalid, and hierarchy is largely established as the key to social and moral order.

There are certainly "pros" to the modern way of thinking. If truth is universal, then there is a starting point for our conversations and interactions. Truth can be argued and proven with logic and reason. There is a certain level of trust when it comes to authority figures and systems.

But there are also some major pitfalls. If left unchecked, modernity can easily lead to imperialism and colonialism. After all, if reason is objective and universal, isn't it part of our moral responsibility to enforce our worldview and values upon others? Modernity also idolizes reason as the only true way of discovering truth. What about the things that cannot be explained by science? Can we even trust those who are in power to transmit their findings accurately and without bias? What about the role of faith and spirituality?

Postmodernity is a critique of these ways of "knowing."

If modernity is a well-ordered country with a central system of power and truth, then postmodernity, in comparison, is anarchy. Some scholars have even posed that postmodernity is actually a revitalization of premodernity. Postmodernity argues that reason is not the only way to "know" things. We can discover truth through experience, through spiritual and mystical practices. Everyone has different experiences, and it's unfair and even immoral to generalize a one-size-fits-all truth.

Protagoras, a contemporary of Plato and Socrates (remember what I said about premodernity?), argued that societal "truth" was determined by whatever the majority decided. For example, one person may feel like their office is too warm. Another might argue that their office is too cold. Which perception is correct? The side with the majority opinion gets to change the thermostat (and the majority side was men in the 1960s).

Like modernity, there are pros to postmodernity. All viewpoints are equal and given consideration. Spirituality has a place in determining truth and meaning. A careful stance of relativism can be healthy, because it recognizes that we may not know everything there is to know on a subject yet. It propels us to deeper discovery and exploration.

However, the drawbacks of postmodernity can be destructive. Relativism, if left unchecked, can morph into a form of hyper-relativism where we can't know anything with some confidence. Experience becomes an idol. There is a constant thirst and search for some kind of meaning with no destination in sight.

Despite the pitfalls of postmodernity and modernity alike, we must be careful of rejecting either one in their entirety. Yes, there are some hazards we need to approach with caution. Yes, we must carefully traverse between the poles of absolutism and relativism.

But at the same time, there is nothing neutral in all of creation. God declared the things that he had made "good," and this includes humanity and their ability to bring forth culture.

In other words, there are many things about postmodernity, and the changes we are now seeing, that can be great news for the American church. Instead of fearing that this cultural change will remove us from the "good old days" of modernity, we must actively search for and engage those things that are are good.

Embracing the positive tenets of postmodernity may involve a loss of our control and familiarity, but God's people seem to be at their best in times of "exile." God's people are not at their best when they are secure and in power. When God's people are marginalized, they tend to allow God's Spirit to empower them to live faithfully

Augustine famously said that God's people can "make out with Babylonian loot." In other words, there is no culture that cannot be redeemed and reclaimed for God's kingdom.

How can the American church utilize postmodern "loot"? We'll spend the next few posts in this series exploring some ways we can use postmodern thought to bring renewal to our faith.

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