Thursday, April 22, 2010

pidgin Christianity

today was my last class (save the final exam) in a yearlong course on the Old Testament. i cried a little. no, seriously.

it was one of those rousing moments of intellectual glory when Prof. Strawn's last power point flashed across the screen and he gave a modest nod of his head--we all jumped to our feet and applauded, hearts warm and minds willing to put the thought of that final final aside for a few seconds at least.

that was not when i teared up. that was a moment of basking in the glow of the celebrity that is the notorious BAS, who has drawn me even deeper into the mystery and wondrous beauty of the OT. no, i got emotional over linguistics.

in his points of closure on the year, Strawn returned to an analogy that he made long ago, but it really hit its mark this time. if you've ever studied linguistics, you'll have heard of pidgins, creoles, and language death. a pidgin is a simplified form of a language, a creole is that pidgin adopted by a new generation as their functional language, and language death is when an original language literally falls out of use because it has morphed into something else entirely. a language can die over the span of only one generation. that's twenty years.

the canon of Scripture is our original, full language--the high dialect of Christianity. but the ill-use, misuse, and under-use of the Old Testament has changed that fullness into a pidgin form. we are speaking high, holy, sacred Scripture as a pidgin, a modified/commercialized/reductionist version of God's word when we neglect it in preaching and teaching, when we simplify complex biblical figures to superheroes, when we assume that we already know everything it has to tell us.

but what if it's not just a pidgin? this is certainly not a problem that has emerged just now in our generation. so what if the full language of Scripture, of the OT specifically, is dead?

this is when i cried. i mourned that loss. my eyes blurred for the way that we, as humans, time and again, take something beautiful that God has given us and twist it and manipulate it and neglect it until it is unrecognizable. and isn't that what the world sees? the atheists and agnostics, those abused or alienated by the church--they're only seeing and hearing a pidgin Christianity. they can't see it in its fullness because we've let our holy language die.

my every prayer is that i can be a minister of the Gospel who is faithful to the voice of the Old Testament. this class has given me this fire in my belly to preach--to preach these beautiful texts and witnesses because they aren't being preached. mediocre books that we written in the last 5 years are being preached, vaguely-relevant video clips are being shown, overused Bible verses are being passed out like fortune cookies, stupid jokes and gimmicks are being dreamt up while the Bible lies dormant. it lies dormant when the stories and wisdom and truths held inside could knock the pants off a thousand goofy/poignant sermon illustrations.

"O Book! infinite sweetness! let my heart/suck ev'ry letter...
Thou art all health...thou art a mass/of strange delights, where we may wish and take...
thou art heav'n's ledger here...heav'n lies flat in thee/
Subject to ev'ry mounter's bended knee"
-George Herbert

i know a lot of classmates have been looking forward to New Testament and Jesus. those red letters are coming! and having class with Luke Timothy Johnson won't be too shabby, i suspect. but it's surprisingly painful to leave this world of the Old Testament behind. i am determined, however, that i will only be leaving the OT behind in the sense of this classroom. i am determined to play my role in the attempt to revive this abandoned book of treasure and to bring the language of Scripture back into its high and holy dialect.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

hey soul sistah

i've been doing a lot of thinking about femininity this semester. one thing we've discussed repeatedly in class is the importance of women's lived experience, particularly in the shaping of one's relationship with the divine, but also in relationship with one another. deep calls to deep. yesterday, i had three soul sisters speak to my deep from theirs in a glorious intermingling of experience and humanity and solidarity. one is famous, one is fictional, and one is the next closest thing i've got to a sister after my own blood. anne lamott, carrie bradshaw, and the wise mrs. betsey teater.

my friend susannah called me yesterday to invite me to hear anne lamott speak. i jumped at the chance, though i have not yet read any of her work. several friends have raved about her, though, and told me i would love her stuff, so she was already on my reading list for the summer. i arrived at the big baptist church in decatur about 20 minutes before she was scheduled to speak, and i walk into the foyer and there she sat herself, pen in hand and no real line of people before her. i made my way over to the book table, bought traveling mercies as an investment for the summer, and walked right up and had it signed! no waiting. i mumbled something stupid about how we had read excerpts from her essay "shitty first drafts" and that i really enjoyed it. then i think i said the word "revolutionize"--as in, "your essay revolutionized my writing." she smiled and nodded, vaguely appreciative, largely uninterested. dumb. i realized immediately that she hears that stuff all day long, every day. even as unfamiliar with her work as i am, it was an odd, writer-girl-crush moment where i aimed to impress with a statement that wasn't even true. her essay was fabulous, but it didn't revolutionize anything for me. i have been writing shitty first drafts for years--i resonated with it. i just had this image, though, of standing in line backstage at a hanson concert (insert your favorite teenage celebrity crush here-this merely was mine, and [un]fortunately the following sequence of events never actually took place) and finally approaching the table where these 3 musicians sat, wearing a crazed smile on my face and blurting out something about how their music changed my life. they nod, sign, take a picture, and move on. i've always been weird around celebrity--seeing newscasters and weather people in public makes me slightly giddy. i thought i was being so smooth with anne lamott. i guess we never grow out of some things.

anyway, my blundered one-on-one moment with anne lamott is not why i call her my soul sister. a lot of things she had to say were about raising children. obviously, that does not speak to my own experience, but it broke my heart and made me think about the youth i do know. for example, she talked about the incredible transition in little girls, who at twelve or so seem to have this flip switched and suddenly they care about boys and boobs and measuring themselves up by the popular girls. i think i ached because i remembered how true it was for me. when i was home for Easter, i gave a quick hug to one of the youth of our church, jessica. she had served communion during the service, and i marveled at how much she had grown up. she was in my class of 2nd and 3rd graders when i first started helping out with sunday school. and now she is 14 and gorgeous. and she has a good strong head on her shoulders, i can tell. but that's what lamott kept saying--even those good kids can find their way into the bad stuff. so i pray for
jessica, and all other 2nd and 3rd graders of the world who are growing into teendom and wrestling with this stuff.

susannah also said lamott's shared experiences made her nervous for parenthood. well said.

there was just one phrase, though, that really stuck with me from the talk. lamott kept describing herself as a "reading girl." at one point she said, "i am an embarrassingly devout christian, and it is books that 'saved' me." she chastised the kindle users of the world and flipped the crisp pages of her new book into the microphone. i am such a reading girl, too. i kept flashing back to my childhood and the books that were my world. i tore through them, and even that wasn't enough. my friends and i played boxcar children (using the hatch of my parents' boat as our boxcar) and american girls and little women. and then i came to know hester prynne and jane eyre, juliet and elizabeth bennett. beyond that, even, was harry potter and the midnight movie premiers with stef, complete with a lightning bolt scar drawn in eyeliner on my forehead. i read narnia as a college student, and loved it more than i think i would have as a child. and now i get to be a reading girl as my pseudo-profession for these 3 years. as much as we complain about our weekly page count, it's not a bad deal.

after the reading, i had to bail on susannah and the rest of our evening--a wine party at her boyfriend's place. i went for a long run yesterday afternoon and the inordinate amount of pollen i must have sucked down was starting to catch up with me. so i did what i haven't done in a long time: put on my pjs, climbed into bed, and had an early evening together with the ladies of sex and the city. (the lazy evening theme persisted--i also slept for a solid 11 hours last night, which has been a long time coming.) the episode i watched was from season six when carrie dates "the russian," and in this particular vignette, she had decided to take him as her "love-uh." charlotte kept calling the russian her boyfriend, but carrie insisted that she was in it for the casual trysts. he was an international man, after all, someone she would only see occasionally for romantic evenings and that would be that. of course, after she sleeps with him, she decides having a "love-uh" is not her thing after all. she sits at her computer and relays some scientific discovery about women's bodies releasing a chemical after an intimate encounter with a man that causes them to desire emotional attachment, commitment. her computer screen question for the episode was, "when it comes to men, even when we try to keep it light, why do we wind up in the dark?"

good question, carrie. though my experience is hardly so over-sexed, i am currently struggling with the anomaly that is casual dating. i think whatever pheromones that carrie was referring to may have been released in me over hand-holding and kissing. isn't casual intimacy an oxymoron??

fortunately, i have my final and most genuine soul sister, the nearly two years-married betsey teater. we were g-chatting yesterday morning and giving each other some brief life updates. when i brought up my struggle with definition in this relationship, and most specifically my own frustrations with my over-analysis of everything, she said that she and her husband, luke, actually had a conversation over that very issue. obviously, they've got a pretty well-defined relationship ;) (and one that i think the rest of us would be lucky to emulate half of what they've got), but still struggle with his under-analysis and her over-analysis of different actions and words said or unsaid. i told her that i hated to find solace in her hardship, but it is somewhat comforting to know that even a wise, solid married couple still struggles with these things.

thank goodness we have each other, or we'd never get this life thing figured out.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

small joys

today was one of those beautiful days when you can't help but feel thankful to be alive. warm sun, blue skies, promise of spring.

and i've really been doing some of that living this week! 2 big checks off my bucket list: i ran my first 5K last saturday! it was amazing. i made my goal of under 30 minutes and felt great throughout the whole thing. it's definitely addicting--i'm ready for another race and should probably sign up for one soon to keep myself accountable.

secondly...i had my first ride of the back of a motorcycle! very exhilarating. ready to do that again, too.

now, the task that lies ahead of me is to write the first exegesis paper of my seminary career. due on tuesday, which will make what is already, for many people, a jam-packed holy weekend even busier. plus, our campus library is closed for the holiday. problematic. i, however, will be in charlotte for a quick visit. hope to get some writing done before i leave and then again after i get back. i am a little worried that we have a ten page maximum because i could probably write at least that much on just the first two verses of Isaiah 55. but once we get this paper turned in, it's a few quiet weeks, then finals. when did that happen??

i have some more things to say, about footwashing and comparing holy days to sporting events, and rubber bands(...) . but i should either devote my writing energies to exegesis, or sleep. since i was up til 2 am folding laundry at the homeless shelter last night (...), i choose sleep.

sorry for being cryptic (...), more to come soon. happy easter.