Bloggers Choice

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My site was nominated for Best Religion Blog!

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Grid::Blog::Via Crucis 2007 - Yes, With the Help of the Lord


Presider: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
Assembly: I believe in Jesus Christ, his only son our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary…

See, already I’m having trouble.

Two years ago I started only sometimes believing Jesus was actually God. I don’t know if my rational post-enlightenment self can really hang on to the literal interpretation that Jesus was God, a deity. (Oh my poor in-laws are having such heart attacks right now. Try not to panic my loves. It comes and goes — sort of like mono.)

It all started when one of the pre-school moms’ discovered that I was an ordained minister and working at a church. This often causes consternation because whoever has just learned that I’m a woman-of-the-cloth immediately does this fast-paced internal inventory to find out how often they have cussed in front of me, scanning their memory too see if they have ever drunk one too many margaritas in my presence. This time though, the preschool mom, Kristin, was deeply intrigued and enthusiastic. She told me how she grew up Jehovah Witness but left it long ago because of it’s inflexibility around exactly what one believed. “I mean,” she said, “you don’t believe Jesus was actually God and stuff, right?” I replied immediately and a bit to brightly, “Yep. I do. The whole hook line and sinker.”

At this point the topic was rapidly changed.

When I answered Kristin, I realized immediately that I spoke too eagerly and with false bravado. My chipper Girl Scout-style response caused something like a warning to ring inside me. Not a brazen warning like a fire alarm, more like one of those trilling little bike bells people ring when they need to pass you on the municipal bike path. I knew intuitively that my belief wasn’t actually as a solid as I’d like to have Kristin believe. I loved Jesus. I was fully committed to following him as the guiding figure in my life. But did that mean I believed he was literally divine? Furthermore, did it matter?

Well, given that I was officially still pastoring and already attracting a lot of flack from my blog readers for various and sundry topics, I certainly wasn’t emotionally ready to take on the question. So I did the most logical thing. I stuffed it.

Not too long after that I was at the Emergent Convention in San Diego. During one of the general sessions we were singing praise songs with the drum circle from Tribe and with the truly artful Harp 46. Our very own monkity monk, Lindell, was VJing film of whirling dervishes, which was beautiful, inclusive, and holy—and for the first time in a long time I was able to worship with a group of Christians without feeling vaguely phony. Then the godfather himself, Brian Mclaren began to lead us in the Apostles creed. I knew this by heart and had recited it every Sunday since I could read. The creed was bedrock for me, what I could count on when other things about my religion went sideways. And here I was, at a conference where I would be teaching people for crying out loud, when suddenly I could no longer make this pledge with full conviction. I leaned over to Jen and whispered, “I can only wholeheartedly ascribe to about a third of this.” She laughed and said, “I know! But just say it to be nice to Brian.”

We treated that moment with levity, but the Apostle’s creed is pretty basic Christian stuff. For years now, whenever I’m in doubt or lost in hardship I remember the words of my teacher, Eugene Peterson, who told us “say the creed.” What do you do when you can’t say it with conviction? Where does the bedrock belief about Jesus go?

I ignored those questions for awhile, trying on various ways of believing like you try out a new pair of running shoes—trying to find the fit and function of what I believe. Then this year when Lent came and Jesus loomed large and lovely and radical and doomed and victorious (all in 40 heady days!), I started thinking about Kristin, and the bike bell, and where my belief life has traveled these past few years. And here’s where I’m at:

Most days, I’m not sure that Jesus was really God – at least not in the literal way my evangelical upbringing has required me to believe. God as in “everyone is made in the image of God and carries God’s self within and maybe Jesus tapped into that more fully that anyone else”—sure, that I can hang with. Sometimes my ablity to believe transcends my reason and I, like doubting Thomas, sink my fingers into his scars. But mostly, I wander around blithely being apostate.

So if that’s all I can attest to, that sometimes I believe Jesus is God, why hang in there? What’s the point of being a Jesus-y Christian-like person at all?

Well, I like being part of a very ancient story. The mere oldness of it has merit and meaning to me. It suits my romantic heart to practice a religion, and this one with its gore and glory has captured me since I was a child. It would be foreign to me to live without this story. As foreign as if I sudden stopped believing that I had a dog named Andy as a child, or that we camped every vacation growing up, or that reading saved my life in Jr. High. I know these things to be true. I know these things to shape and guide me. I cannot imagine a life without them.

I’ve experienced things that cause me to believe that God is real, that Jesus is loving, that there is a power and a being beyond my rational experience. Inexplicable healings. Intense emotional happenings that can only be described as “a religious experience.” The knowing of things I should not be able to know. Images of Jesus’ presence and compassion to me that were so specific to my own life situation they could not be ignored. These things are as real to me as the chair I’m now sitting on and the table I’m working at. I cannot deny their reality—and they are embedded in this story of Jesus, and God, and Jesus being God—so at some level I have to believe. The poet in me wants Christianity, needs Christianity to be true. And my poet-self is a real and as valued as my rational self. Reason doesn’t hold the market on truth. Mystics see real things too.

Also, I think the story of Jesus as God is true—maybe not factual per se, but true in its core and in its being. It’s true and beautiful enough for me, an intelligent thinking person to build my life around it. Jesus has merit. His life as a radical and a lover, an activist and a healer, is bedrock to who and whose I am. It works for me as a meta-narrative. It inspires me.

This Holy Week, I will go to the cross, cover it with rose petals and rosemary, holy water and tears. I will delighted at my children as they clap and jump up and down at the Easter processional. I will feel warmth and joy as my youngest daughter clasps her hands over her heart, closes her eyes, and turns up her face to receive the flung water droplets that remind us of our baptisms. I will gleefully, and from memory, say the creed. For I am embedded in a story as ancient as days, held by generations and ancestors, and happy in the knowledge that whoever or whatever Jesus is and was and is–in the very midst of his be-ing–I am loved.

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Lent and Beyond

It’s Holy Week, the final days of the Lenten season and the turn to Eastertide. My own Lenten practice this year was to create more silence in my life, especially in the car where I’m only just now beginning to feel the “what’s going on in the world” affect of not listening to NPR for several weeks. Silence is such and important, but difficult, discipline for me. I need it to clear my head of negative migraine energy, to make space for new things to grow, and to nuture reflection on this Jesus-y season.

During Lent I’ve been tooling about with some bead work. A few Lenten seasons ago I took up the habit of praying the Anglican version of a rosary. Although it’s not something I do every day, it’s still a centering practice I turn to, especially during times of strain or confusion. In that vein, I’m now offering a variety of prayer beads here. Each one comes with a traditional series of Christian prayers, and a set of alternative meditations. I especially like Vintage Faith, which has a beautiful vintage locket at the end. These aren’t inexpensive, but the beading is high quality and these rosetta stones will last you the better part of a life time. There are a VERY limited number of each strand, so order early if you have your heart set on one.

locket-prayer-chain.jpg delicate-cross-prayer-chain.jpgfeminine-face-of-god-prayer-chain.jpg

Click to Buy Now

Much Shalom!

-The Urban Abbess

Church-y Things

I’ve been avoiding obviously church-y things for awhile. The whole of organized protestantism has been bugging me, and I cannot trust myself to be nice in those situations. Like Rich said to Rose when she came back from Africa full of social justice vengence — “I think you need to process what you’ve experienced more before you talk to ANYONE.”

But last weekend I dipped my toe into the church-y waters, and really, it was okay. I attended Off the Map’s “Inside the Missional Matrix” mini-conference and coached some folks on how to live in a Monkfish Abbeyish kind of way. All the people who were there were practitioners (not theoriticians), and all of them were truly interested on living a more Jesus-like life as an organization, as a church.

The keynote speakers were Rose Swetman, Todd Hunter, and Scott McKnight.

Scott — in addition to be an engaging teacher, and advoacte for Biblical equality, and a personable scholar– is an advid blogger, posting three times a day! You can read about his Missional Matrix expereince here.

The thing that stuck with me the most was something Todd said, which I can remember asking him about a couple of years ago when we (us post-modern types) were just beginning to struggle with the dichotomy between leading-vs-traveling together, inspiring-vs-manipulating. Todd said, “What does it mean to be leading people who are supposed to be following something else?” It was one of those questions that had to be answered in 3 minutes or less (Off The Map events move at a very rapid pace) and Todd wasn’t able to flesh it out very well for us. But I do rememeber him saying the the defining characteristic of manipulation is “giving the appearance of having a choice in the matter, when really there is none.” I wonder how often I still do that in my attempt to travel with the monks down the yellow brick road? Todd did say he’d written more on the topic in an article entitled “The Tension Over Intension.” I did a couple of quick google searches and couldn’t find it on line. If anyone lands on it, please post the link in the comments. I’d certainly appreciate it!

St Patrick’s Day

Tonight we will celebrate St. Patrick — patron saint of my homeland and beloved reason for people everywhere to drink Guinness. Before dinner I’ll sing this as I light the three-wick candle. Then someone will read this this prayer:

Like the goodness of the five loaves and two fishes,
Which God divided among the five thousand men,
May the blessing of the King who so divided
Be upon our share of this common meal.

Followed by someone reading this blessing:

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand

Then we’ll be eating Comforting Potato Soup and warm Irish Soda Bread. During the meal there will be much imbibing of beer and many toasts like these:

As you slide down the banister of life, may the splinters never point in the wrong direction.

May your troubles be as few and far between
As my grandmother’s teeth.

After dinner we’ll read Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland and Patrick: Saint of Ireland, two of my favorite picture books about Patrick. Then we’ll make St. Patrick icons to hang on our rearview mirrors (or elsewhere for our environmental heroes who don’t own a car). These will have a pic of Pat on the front and either a self-written prayer on the back or a lovely classic Irish blessing. The best part is we get to put them through the laminator (what fun!) and string sparkly beads on them. What could be better? Oh, yeah, now I remember– Guinness Stout floats with vanilla bean ice cream and a green frosted cupcake on the side, or vanilla ice cream drizzled with Irish cream.

Here’s to a long life and a merry one.
A quick death and an easy one.
A clever mate and an honest one.
A cold beer—and another one!

Add to Your Library (You Know you Want To)

Today I guest-lectured at Baake Graduate University for my friend Neil Tibbot, professor and missional community specialist. These are the books I recommended: (in no particular order)

The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again

Flirting With Monasticism: Finding God on Ancient Paths (Haven’t actually read but got an advance copy and it looks interesting. A female writer!)

A Heretic\’s Guide to Eternity (one of my favorite postmodern church type books…but then you know how I feel about heretics.)

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (a must for anyone trying to get a movment going)

The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary RadicalShane and the tribe.)

School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism Will for giving me this one.)

The New Friars: The Emerging Movement Serving the World’s Poor

For Soulful Kids

I’ve finally finished three chapters of my book project currently subtitled “12 Spiritual Practices for Soulful Kids.” This, plus the (finished) introduction and some (unfinished) collateral materials will begin their hopeful rounds of publishing houses in the next two weeks. If you have any contacts you would lovingly like to share with me, now is the time. (publishing contacts? agents?)

For now, you can sample the chapter on the Anger Altar at my other site here. I’ll be keeping it up for two days and then selfishly taking back down again to hoard it for a book offer. :-)

Thanks for reading along faithfully with me until it was time for something good to get born!

-Your Urban Abbess

Other People Play Too

Someone emailed me recently asking me about visiting MFA (this happens a couple of times a month.) This time the guy was flying in from out of town, so I gave him a list of people-I-like who he might want to check out while he was here. (I’m all for getting the biggest bang out of your flying buck.) After I typed it up, I realized other cyberfolks might want the info too. If nothing else, the wide variety of how these folks live as Jesus-y people should inspire you. This is by no means a comprehensive list of the pomo hotbed that is Seattle, but it’s a nice pupu platter. Feel free to add your own reccomended communities in the comments below.



Church of the Apostles (a.k.a. COTA) This is our “sister abbey” a few blocks from us. Same heart for the same neighborhood, different techniques. Headed up by Karen Ward and her extordinarily committed bunch of twenty somethings. May favorite part? They use their building as a neighborhood arts center, The Abbey.

Quest - A Christ Commons. Dwight and Lynette are some of our favorite friends and have been hosting this home-based community for nigh onto ten years. He’s also a professor at Mars Hill Graduate school, which is a great post-modern seminary in Seattle

On the House / Church of the Undignified This is probably my favorite missional community in Seattle. Benji and Abby just hung out on Cap Hill for a better part of a year, learning and listening and hearing what the neighborhood wanted. When the answer came back “free space to do and show art,” they opened a coffeehouse-style gallery. “Church” meets on the weekends but otherwise it’s a community living room. A little more evangelical than the MFA folks, and with a healing vibe a la Vineyard. I really respect these folks and how they live — serving thier parish with refeshing honesty and heart.

CityChurch (I may have the name wrong.) Even though Justin thinks I’m a crazy person, I salute this group for surviving and thriving. They’ve made it past the two year mark, which usually signals a group’s demise, and they sent MFA one of our gentlest souls (and fabu photographer), Daniel as a new monkpal. This is the pastor’s website…not sure if they have a separate site for the church or not. It’s an semievangelical house church with a culturally current vibe, all 20 somethings (as far as I know.)

There’s Just Something About that Name

It’s Lent, the time when our family spends 40 days traveling with Jesus. Reading stories about him. Remembering the stories he told.

It’s also the time I start asking “what if” questions.

What if Jesus was not God, but a man, closely connected to God but not in and of himself divine? Would I honor his words any less?

What if Jesus had been in love, had married, maybe even have had children? Would I love him less or more?

What if Jesus had a message about how to live that the church spent decades misinterpreting? Could the most basic meaning be re-discovered?

What if Jesus’ death on the cross was a tragedy, but not atonement? What if it was more important that he followed the path that was his, than that he be some sort of substitute lamb? Could I mourn in way that was more meaningful to me?

What if I really believed the good news, that the kingdom of God is here? What would that mean about how I live and what I do with this one beautiful life?

Here’s to embracing the questions.

Inspired by St. Lucia and St. Valentine…

a blessing for all the single people from my heart to yours on Valentine’s Day.

I bless you in the midst of your Singleness;
In the ebb and the flow of it,
In the hot and the cold of it.

May you enjoy the gift of independence.
May you travel far and make brave choices.
May you find love within yourself,
In the arms of God,
And in the hearts of others.

I bless you in the name of Lucy,
Single and Whole,
Who refused to marry at the demands
of convenience and culture,
Proclaiming instead satisfaction with her singleness,
And in doing so lighting the way for others.

I bless you in the name of Valentine,
Brave and Kind,
Who brought marriage to those who desired it,,
Healing to those who needed it,
And hope to those
who forged the uncommon path.

I bless you in the name of God,
unwed but never alone.
I bless you in the name of Jesus,
friend to single women
and a bachelor in his story.
I bless you in the name of Holy Spirit,
she who bears the name Wisdom,
She who is our guide.