Not the Mama! Solomon and the Baby Cutting Incident.

“Although you have ten thousand teachers you have not many fathers or mothers.”[1] A guy named Paul wrote this. He was urging the readers to realize who it was that really cared about them.  Parents… that’s who care and that is how we prove we are really parents.  Mother’s and Father’s endure for the long run. Teachers are for a season. As an educator myself, I would like to think of teaching as a short parental assignment. Short is the operative word here. Paul emphasized that we need fathers (and mothers) to become spiritually mature. So true! So what does it mean to be a parent?

There was another guy who dealt with parents, mothers to be more specific. Two women were fighting over a baby. They both gave birth around the same time and one baby died. The women came before the king with their dispute. Each claimed that the vital baby belonged to her. The king ordered the baby to be cut in two, one half for each woman. Of course the genuine Mama acquiesced allowing the Not the Mama to have her son. Self sacrifice and love spoke.  Thus the king knew who the real Mama was. Two trajectories exist in this story. One is that King Solomon proved his wisdom to lead his country. The other is stronger, I think, and often overlooked. The real mother proved her maternity by her willingness to let the baby go, relinquish her control and her rightness. Ultimately she preserved her son’s life.

I geek out on theology. Really, I love this stuff. But sometimes I wonder what we are doing when we debate theological concepts ad nauseum. At times we act as if theology is in itself inspired, even more so the stuff that is inherited from the patristic fathers. By it’s very definition, though, theology cannot be inspired. Theology is literally man’s effort to learn about God. Once man is in the formula, it is a flawed effort and subject to change. So why such intense ownership?

The problem is that we get so entrenched in our theological fortresses of certainty that we grind people up without another thought that flesh and blood are at the other end of these arguments, people whose lives we know nothing about…. dear ones who need mothers and fathers to protect them. We go round and round with arguments: hell, no hell… homosexual, heterosexual… women, no women…  and the list goes on. We alienate people, sending them away… we cut the baby in two with our theologizing and the baby dies.

Where are the Mama’s who will acquiesce? Where are the mothers and fathers who will ensure the survival of even the weakest and the least tenable? Where are those who will spread the carpet of warmth and welcoming that is needed for growth and development? Where are the theologically and spiritually hospitable? Where are those who will give up their rights of possession and their right to be right so that the baby can thrive?

The real Mama (and Daddy) does whatever it takes to keep the baby alive.

So I ask you to think about this. Are you the Not the Mama or the Mama? How are you showing hospitality?[2]

Thanks for reading! Next time

Please leave a comment.

Deborah

 


[1] I added the gender equality to this quote. Originally is said only fathers.

[2] I recommend reading  Hospitality and The Other by Amos Yong. New York: Orbis Books, 2008.

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Liberal…Really??

I am a typical Portland girl. I do not like to be labeled. My son tells me that I must create a brand for myself. I have struggled with this sage bit of self promoting advice. Branding requires consistency on some level. I have a very hard time with consistency. I like what I like and I don’t like what I don’t like. For instance, I drive a bright red BMW and I have dreadlocks… yeah inconsistent. I have been caught vacuuming in high heels, a party dress and pearls just for fun (the June Cleaver experience), although I mostly wear jeans, something funky on top and boots.

My random impulses have kept me from any cohesive presentation of self. It’s a branding nightmare. This tendency bleeds through to all areas of my life.  I was passed over when the consistency gene was meted out and at this stage of the game change seems, well, inconsistent… :-).

Last week I spent 16 hours on campus teaching students from one of my online classes. Students talk amongst themselves. “Should I take that class? Is so and so a good teacher?” etc. I was privy to some feedback about my class and this is what  I heard, “She’s liberal, but she teaches a great class.” Hmmm… this stirred many thoughts and emotions.

First reaction: Pisted off… I hate labels
Second reaction: That’s not fair… you don’t know me
Third reaction: Liberal, hmmm… Maybe I need to think about this

Great class: this refers to teaching ability. I like that.
Liberal: this refers to theology and it is problematic. To most evangelicals and reformed theologians it is pejorative and divisive. If you are Liberal your salvation is in question because, as we all know, we must be cognitively aligned to a certain theology to be true Christians. One’s theological  fortress of certainty must be well established and cohesive.  This is where I go off the rails… or do I?

I am accused of being inconsistent theologically. I believe in the basic tenets of the faith like the Trinity, the characteristics of God such as omniscient, omnipresent, etc, Lordship of Jesus, and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. My statement of faith would please the Baptists. When it comes to other less prominent issues that are given fewer words in the scriptures, it is a different story. I either admit to not knowing, that is I do not see the scripture as expressing a conclusive view, or I lean towards grace. This is what has garnered me the Liberal label.

Then I began to think again about this word Liberal. I asked myself, “how might my beliefs be Liberal?”
Here is my best guess:

I believe that it is within God’s nature to say yes more than to say no (Matthew 7:7-8). I believe that God made the earth and said, “It is good,”  all of it, without reserve, even though God knew what serpent would do (Genesis1-3).
I believe that Jesus exhibited unconditional acceptance throughout his life.  He sat at dinner with those on the edges of society without requiring their mental ascent to his theology. He even loved the Pharisees.  Why would he would spend so much time addressing them if he did not?
I notice that the Holy Spirit blessed and energized the Antioch church for nearly 20 years before they were instructed to stop drinking blood, eating things strangled, and practicing sexual immorality (Acts 15). These things were all forbidden by Jewish law and yet the Holy Spirit of God was present in the midst of these practices and grew the church. The Holy Spirit was focused on the best rather than the worst.

I came to the conclusion that if
believing the best about creation,
saying yes more than I say no,
practicing unconditional acceptance, and
focusing on the best rather than the worst in a person or community,
if this is Liberal, then that is what I am….   I am a Liberal.

If it means that I openly embrace all who are running towards God (the prodigal father), I am a Liberal.
If it means spreading my arms wide (Jesus on the cross) and loving people without reserve,
then call me Liberal… it’s is not such a bad label  after all.

Am I inconsistent theologically? Most likely.

But I strive to be consistent in love because God is.

Kissing the Clover

A few weeks ago I went out for my morning walk. I am walking now since I hurt my knee and have not been able to run. My son gifted me with one of those Jawbone devices that count steps. My goal is 10,000 steps per day, which I rarely accomplish but I often come close. Anyway the afor mentioned day was an exciting time to be out and about in the neighborhood. The rain was pelting at a 90-degree angle. 30 mph winds wrapped their arms around my umbrella in an attempt to seduce it from my grip. I don’t know why I insisted on the umbrella anyway. I was soaked to the bone. But I held on tight and laughed at the drama that Mother Nature was displaying. She can be histrionic!

The birds were getting their baths and the trees were soaking in a much-needed drink after a long dry summer. As I walked along I could see that the flowers were bending under the weight of the sudden and bountiful downpour. A patch of sunflowers planted near the sidewalk bowed down to the ground blocking my passage. These sunflowers stood at least 6 feet tall before the rains came. With their majestic heads turned towards heaven they filled up with raindrops, which dragged them to their proverbial knees. I wondered how they felt about this. Was it painful physically? Were they humiliated, heads once held high towards the sun, now to be kissing the clover on the earth?

Water was good, right? Except when there is too much water… we call that flooding. The sunflowers were almost but not quite flooded. They were bowed low with life giving water, but not destroyed. I began to wonder, who gets to say what is enough and what is too much? If they could speak, what would those sunflowers say?

Often we define our experiences in life according to how much pain or humiliation they bring to us. We say something is evil if it causes us pain or good if it adds to our resources or self esteem. We frame our lives empirically. Another person looking on might observe differently. How often do we discount a near flooding that was meant to enrich and enlarge the soul and bring us closer to God just because it hurts?

This thought challenges my soul.

The last year and a half has been wrought with deep loss for my family. Not a few dear ones have died, resources have left us, divorces, job loss, etc. There have been many tears. When will it stop? It feels like a flood. But what does God say? Could it be a near flood meant to cause me to bow down? My sage friends tell me that aging means more loss, loss of self, loss of family and that the richness is in seeing it all differently. I wish someone would’ve told me this sooner. I guess I am a late bloomer.

Since there is no controlling loss or the rate at which is happens, it behooves me to adjust. I no longer want to define these experiences as bad because they hurt. I want to mine the gold from every bit of life that remains, hopefully my inner life will be enlarged. I commit to seeing with different eyes. My ears will be alert to new rhythms. I will take time to process my experiences so that I might think differently about them.

And my prayer is this,

                “God, help me to become comfortable kissing the clover.”

 

 

When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll

This last year has been a season of deep grief for our family. Our good friend Tony Tuck abruptly left this earth for heaven a year ago February 4th. My youngest brother, Jason Koehn,  died unexpectedly the day after Thanksgiving at the age of 49. And though he is with God, I will never stop missing him. And our dear friend Richard Twiss went to be with the creator quite unexpectedly last Saturday.  My heart is so heavy…

So much grief and I have such little practice. My family does not die, well at least not without a fight and most of them are still holding on, including my nearly 102 year old grandmother. (Yay Grandma!!) So I am not very experienced with loss. I have had a lot to learn.

Added to minimal preparation by my family, our culture does not prepare us well for mourning either even though death is inevitable for each and every one of us. The entire process is sanitized, from the way that the body is whisked away by “professionals” as soon as possible, to the way that we talk about death. A loved one “passes on,” or “goes to a better place.” We avoid the finality of the word dead. This is certainly understandable. Death is shocking and visceral. The denial in each of us runs for a softer place to land. But in all reality there is no soft place to land when someone you love is dead.

Tears…

In this season of my life I have learned to cry. It’s a big change for me. This is what I have learned.
Tears make us uncomfortable, especially tears of mourning. Crying is seen as a loss of self control or a histrionic expression that a person should keep to themselves. Crying is ugly,  makeup streaks the cheeks, the nose runs, and sometimes it is loud and wailing. Best that it be done in private or at least discreetly. But God gave us tears. No other creature in creation has them. That seems significant to me.

We are vulnerable when we cry. It feels out of control. It sometimes seems as though the fountain of teardrops will never dry up. And maybe they shouldn’t, at least not until they have played their role. When we weep we acknowledge that the person who has died has had profound meaning in our lives, that he or she holds a place in our hearts that will be for ever empty because no one will ever be able to fill it. Our tears honor our dead and remind us that they are yet and forever present with us in our memories.

Tears signal our grief to our community in a healthy way. They bind us together in shared vulnerability of loss, grief and pain. We show our soft underbelly, our humanity when we cry. We give others the opportunity to respond in comfort as they sit with us and resonate with our pain. Our tears give permission to others to grieve also.

Tears are cleansing to the body and the heart. They wash our souls, preventing us from getting stuck in our grief. They allow us to be in the moment and feel the loss. They root us to our reality.

When will the tears stop? Who knows. Grief claims real estate in your heart with boundaries that seem to shift like the sands on the beach, real estate that was not voluntarily surrendered. I’ve never been much of a cryer but I now wear tear proof makeup and never leave home without a kleenex because I never know when the tears will flow.  I no longer choke them back because I know that each tear is a prayer precious to God who holds all of our sorrows and all of our tears.

Tears.. don’t be afraid of them… yours or others. Think of them as a holy offering because that is what they are.  If someone cries in your presence they are honoring you. Tears are a precious gift to human beings for self and for others… from the Creator God, the one who made us and knows us better than we know ourselves.