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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sexy Boots on Clergy Women

If you click on the title of this post, it will take you to a very interesting reflection by Michael and Anthony Emerson on U2s "Sexy Boots" (also printed below). I love the encouraging word coming from a blend of Bono's understanding of what the church can be, and Anthony and Michael's "exegesis" of this song. I have a concern though, and I think it's a very significant one. It's not a criticism of the writing of Emersons so much as it is a whopping big Aha that arises out of their thoughtfulness here.... Why, when they get to the phrase "Women of the future hold the big revelations" do they diverge from their explicit dealing with the text of the song, and start talking about "Resident Aliens" which has nothing to do with that line? Are we generally uncomfortable with that line in the church? I think we are. I think that we are not willing to imagine that Bono may be right, and that the women of the church do hold the message of how beautiful the church can be in their minds, hearts, experiences and spirits. I am concerned that we are afraid to discuss this possibility in the church. I fear, that instead of welcoming women's insights and thoughts, indeed wisdom, we are in fact eager to shut that conversation down if it ever rises up. Women have been the majority figures in the church almost since its inception, and yet we have still, in the year 2011, not been welcomed to share our vision of the church's future in very many liturgical or theological spaces. We are the silent/silenced majority. Women DO know how beautiful the church can be, and have something very important to add to the conversation. Is Bono the only one who recognizes this fact and will include us in the dialogue? Here's what the Emerson's have to say. See what you think.

U2's “No Line on the Horizon” has been one of their more misunderstood albums. The most misunderstood song of the album is “Get On Your Boots.” Here is a snippet.

The future needs a big kiss
Winds blow with a twist
Never seen a moon like this
Can you see it too?
Night is falling everywhere
Rockets at the fun fair
Satan loves a bomb scare
But he won't scare you

“Get On Your Boots” is is bombastic and urgent, sleek and fast-paced. But more than anything it’s a powerful message of hope to the church. Take, for example, the first line, “the future needs a big kiss.” What entity would be able to impact the future with a kiss (curious choice of words, right)? How about the bride of Christ, the church? The future needs the church because of the next six lines: the winds are blowing, the moon (a motif of confusion and evil) is up, night has fallen, and Satan is trying to frighten us. Why would Bono have the boldness to tell us that Satan shouldn’t scare us? Remember Matthew 16:18: “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Therefore, get on your boots. In other words, get up and do some work in this dark world because God has empowered you to do so.

You free me from the dark dream
Candy floss ice cream
All our kids are screaming
But the ghosts aren't real
Here's where we gotta be
Love and community
Laughter is eternity
If joy is real

“You free me from the dark dream” suggests the church is saving the lost. Then we see giddy happiness in the second line with paradoxical, light-hearted objects (happiness doesn't make sense). The third and fourth lines convey the same idea as the last two lines of the first stanza. Things become clearer when the necessity of community is brought in. Laughter is a godly and reasonable thing if there really is a happy ending awaiting us. We can fight the evils of this world with light hearts because we are fighting within a vibrant community of Spirit-filled people.

You don't know how beautiful you are

You, the church, don't understand how made-in-the image-of-God awesome you can be. You can have perfect joy and community! So get on your boots and be boldly beautiful!

Women of the future hold the big revelations
I've got a submarine
You got gasoline
I don't want to talk about wars between nations

It is striking how near the message of this song is to Hauerwas' and Willimon's “Resident Aliens.” Since we no longer live in a Christian culture, the church is free to live as a distinct people once again. We are to impact the world through our colony, not as we have been doing since Constantine: through the government. The holy community that we are supposed to be can astound the world by how beautiful we are and how much love we show the world. The problems and conflicts of this world will not be solved by mere mortals. Only through the church can the world be truly redeemed. Get on your boots!

Let me in the sound!

Where did this come from? Acts 2. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven . . .”. The birth of the church. If you want more proof, look at John 3:5-8, where Jesus compares being born of the Spirit to the sound of the wind – we can’t tell where it's going. It's probably not a coincidence that both the sound and birth are themes throughout “No Line on the Horizon.” The sound is representative of the Spirit, the Lord of the church.

There are people in the world who want in! Get on your boots, and let the church get to stepp’in!

Michael O. Emerson is the Cline Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Center on Race, Religion, and Urban Life at Rice University in Houston, Texas. His son, Anthony Emerson, is a sophomore at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Clergy Resume, Day 7087:

Can comfort the sick; preach the Bible; teach and capture the imagination of any age on virtually any topic of faith and life; sit with the elderly; hold new babies when they cry; attend potlucks and compliment all the cooks; organize anything that needs organizing except for our desk; hold people together in crisis; help them figure out responses to their daily problems; read 8 books simultaneously and apply them all in one 20 minute sermon; conjure money out of thin air to meet the budget; know how to read music; play hand bells without practicing the part when someone gets sick; do light comedy; interpret ancient texts and John Wesley; be cool enough for teens to like you; hold conversations on the phone and with three other people in your office simultaneously; never get 8 hours of sleep or 2 days off in a row; write articles without grammatical errors; stay physically fit and attractively dressed at all times, day or night; conduct meetings; drive your car in fog/sleet/snow in the middle of the night to unmarked roads and back; arrive at meetings across state at 8:00 am and attend meetings at the church until 10:00 pm the same day; maintain your home, family, cars, health and pets on 10 hours a week at most; and always be at the office when the phone rings or at the shut-in's home when they think of you... we're unemployable in any other field except the church!!! :)

Did I forgot to mention: dealing with dueling musicians; a Trustees vs. United Methodist Women's scheduling conflict; a new leak in the sanctuary roof; overflowing toilets; the wrong color paraments on the altar; testy staff because the Sunday bulletin isn't complete and it's Wednesday; and then walk into the funeral service on time, perfectly dressed and hair in place, with a perfect meditation on the life of the deceased an hour before you have to undergo a dental surgery... then be back, rested, pressed and well enough to function the next day because you have Charge Conference that night after a wedding rehearsal! Oh, and don't forget what the 39 different people whispered to you about their Aunt/cousin/best friend in Florida on the way out of service on Sunday because you are going to be tested on that! But don't go looking for a job in the secular world, we are unemployable. (Boy was this therapeutic!)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What is Happening to Mommy?

My 11-year-old went to WalMart tonight with me, and she asked to see the toys. I've now been introduced to the latest craze in 5th grade... Monster High Dolls (mostly very skinny girl monsters, but a few boy monsters too.) She did NOT ask, but she has been hanging onto birthday money for awhile, so I let her pick one out... I actually asked her if she wanted to. We looked them all over carefully and found one sufficiently clothed. It's a mummy Cleopatra.

Now I'm wondering what came over me? This is not like me at all to suggest my children buy something they are a little bit wistful about. I help and encourage book buying from time to time, but not toys, especially not emaciated, over-tall, sassy looking, vaguely sexy, monster dolls! (Then again I never thought I'd do lots of things as a mother and have.) We certainly never had a Bratz doll in this house! But this situation has sort of really surprised me.

I'm wonder if I'm starting to grieve my children's growing up? (Surely not me! I'm the stalwart, no-tears-mom type, who expects a lot from my kids and gets it most of the time. I'm not a mushy, push-over mom.) But, my oldest is about to become an adult in 22 days. (That's a reality shock if I ever had one before.) I have two in high school now. (How did that happen?) And hardly anyone asks to go to the toy department any more.

Maybe I got caught in her sweet conversations somewhere, (NOT asking for one herself, mind you) of her friends playing with their Monster High Dolls at recess at school. Maybe I feel guilty because we say no to SO much the children would enjoy and even benefit from; like a Labor Day idea of swimming rained out because of the weather; two parents, three jobs, not enough money and tired all the time; seldom time to cook a family supper and sit down together; events we can't squeeze in because of work demands; weekends we can't do what other families do because we "have to work"; not home most evenings to put them to bed; having moved with the ministry so often that one child has actually attended 7 different schools in 9 years; etc., etc., etc...and they are all growing up SO fast!

I don't know what it boils down to, but twiggy little "Cleo" with sparkly hair, pouty mouth and 10-inch-heel equivalent bedtime slippers represents a whole lot more than the $9.97 that was paid for her. She made my youngest very, very happy, and I guess maybe I'm just not wanting to lose that magic yet... the simple magic of a small gift lighting up my child's eyes with such happiness. It will all be gone so soon.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Women by Adrienne Rich

My three sisters are sitting
on rocks of obsidian.
For the first time, in this light, I can see who they are.

My first sister is sewing her costume for the procession.
She is going as the Transparent Lady
and all her nerves will be visible.

My second sister is also sewing,
at the seam over her heart which has never healed entirely.
At last, she hopes, this tightness in her chest will ease.

My third sister is gazing
at a dark-red crust spreading westward far out on the sea.
Her stockings are torn but she is beautiful.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sweater Shavers, Fuzziness, and Thoughts on Getting Moving in the Right Direction Again

I pulled on my favorite red sweater with one hand and reached for the sweater shaver with this other. You know a sweater shaver? You get them in odd places like fabric and craft stores, they look like small men's electric razors and use one AA battery to power them which is induced into a chamber much too large for its purpose. As a result, the sweater shaver actually shaves for only a few minutes at a time before you accidentally jar the battery out of position, have to open the sliding back to adjust the battery, and try again. I bought this sweater shaver about the time I acquired my husband, late 80s or early 90s, and it still holds its place of honor in my life. It is an honorable job, is it not, to restore fuzzed-out sweaters to their rightful de-fuzzed state?

I had erroneously failed to "turn inside out" my favorite red sweater at it's last washing, and now it was covered with towel lint and other unidentifiable fuzziness. The sweater shaver was the only way forward. So I shaved away, all over myself. I prefer the methodology of putting the sweater on first to trying to shave the sweater on a table, because the tendency is for the sweater to stay put on your body and not so much on a table.

Sweater shaved, I was off to my best caped crusader impression of the day.

About half-way through the day, it suddenly dawned on me that I had neglected to shave the fuzziness off the back of my sweater. Now that was probably obvious to you when you started reading this, but it wasn't so obvious to me from within my red sweater. I mean, if you look into a mirror, facing forward, I looked pretty good. But if you were following me around through my day, I was probably a little natty-looking from behind. Nothing to be done about it at that point, so I continued forward, and tried to forget my fuzzy rear-view.

As the day wound down, and I finally removed my sweater for the day, I could see that in fact there was a quantity of fuzz on the back of the sweater as I had suspected all day. Not one person had said a thing about my two-sided sweater dilemma, either.
I suspect that is because I am a whole lot fuzzier all the time than I like to admit, and my sweater was saying nothing others didn't know about me already.

I have for the past 20 plus years taken a certain amount of pleasure in being able to articulate my direction and purpose in life. I have been on a journey of faith that has been more or less clear to me, as I have both squished through the muddy places on the road and shimmered along the smoother paths. This rear-fuzzed sweater has pointed out to me that my life is less obvious and fuzzier than I had previously thought. I had just been looking at the "front" part of my life and not realized what was happening "behind"...looking through the dim glass and not realizing it.

Now having noticed how fuzzy my sweater-back has become, I find I have to choose. Do I remove my favorite red sweater, turn it around and pop it back on backwards so I can defuzz the back which is now the front? How disturbing that will be to those around me during the process. Am I moving forward with my back to the future or backward with my front facing where I've been? That seems unmercifully challenging, not to mention confusing, just so I can remove some fuzziness in my life.

Or do I remove my sweater completely. Stand there partly naked and lay the sweater, face-down on the table to get at the fuzz, accepting that I will have to chase the sweater across the table in a number of directions to get the job done? Is the nakedness and slipperiness of this solution any better way forward at all?

In order to keep your sweater free from fuzz, you must always remember to turn it inside out before you wash it, and preferably wash it by hand. I have failed, in several ways, the better angels of my pre-Vatican II upbringing that tried to teach me this.

Failure to meet some of the basic expectations of my sex because of the exciting new thinking of the 1970s led me to believe that I was a child of a new generation that could skip the tediousness and time-consuming efforts of the times gone by, and go on with something new. We were sure we could, both men and women, be interchangeable and wear unisex, machine-knit, polyester garments that would no longer require the attention to laundry techniques of earlier times. It was all to be easier, better, more successful. We would not fail.

I adapted myself to this new philosphy. Nothing short of total transformation was required from the way I had been raised. Learning new languages was mandatory. Putting off the generosities, kindnesses, sensitivities, carefulness, and taking on the golden and steel-edged ways of a new course in the world that was harsher and more careless about all things, especially precious things. But by radical change and transformation, a journey forward full of great success was guaranteed; unisex, un-frilled, slightly wrinkled but NOT fuzzy and surely much more highly successful than ever before.

Except for one thing. I never lost my fuzziness. I wasn't unisexual at all. My new golden-steel exterior, so blessed by grace and superiority to that which my former self had been, was fuzzy still. Very, very fuzzy. I forgot you can't put any sweater in the laundry, no matter if it is wool, cashmere, wood or steel, and expect it to come out fuzz-free if it's not first turned inside out. Fuzz on what is supposed to be strong and unbending is hilarious. It is even a punishable offense.

So here I am. Strong in all the wrong places and fuzzy beyond ability I have to remove the fuzz for myself without nakedness. I couldn't change the essential me by changing my philosophy, my personality, my commitments or by becoming unisex.

There is always a sort of restlessness that accompanies the cross-crossed lives of Jesus' followers. We carry the cross in a way that is uncomfortable and even painful to bear, and leaves us stumbling with the limitations we've accepted for our lives. We yearn to be off the cross and free to walk upright in complete acceptance and love by all we meet, instead of bent by the burden. Others see our cross-crossedness though, and crossing themselves, step to the other side of the road, clear that this burden is not one they want to help carry. We grow weary, tired of our discomforts and challenged by the unwillingness that our fellows feel toward helping us with our burden. They close their doors as we stumble by.

That is when it suddenly is clear how very fuzzy this all is. How, with our eyes front, we've missed how fuzzy this journey has become behind our backs. Where we had once seen through a glass clearly, we now need to see that no amount of AA batteries in our sweater shaver will ever really remove the fuzziness at all.

I'm thinking now about what it will take to get the fuzz off me, or if it ever will come off. Maybe I was meant to be fuzzy. Maybe you were meant to be fuzzy with me. Maybe we are all supposed to be fuzzy, and it's denuded that wrong.

Maybe we've been looking at the cross the wrong way. Maybe we have been clinging to it like it was life itself, when in fact it was the instrument of tens of thousands of torturous deaths. Maybe we have embraced and carried an instrument of torture when what we should have been embracing and carrying was fuzzy sweaters to warm a chilly world. Maybe the fuzz is of God, and that is what Jesus came to show us. Jesus seemed to really love fuzziness, our fuzziness, our confusion, our feebleness, our weakness, our failings. They all seemed pretty acceptable to Jesus and he seemed a lot less comfortable with the clean-shaven and perfect world.

What if I do start to wear my sweaters backwards? Maybe I should pull open my battery-operated de-fuzzer and start sticking fuzziness back on. What if I do start to value the fuzziness in me the way I have long valued the fuzziness I see in others?

What was that? I just said it... I have long valued the fuzziness in others.
I have long valued the fuzziness in others!
I have long valued the confusion, the feebleness, the weakness, the vulnerability in others as a sign of their best selves, and yet I did not value it in myself. I have been loving the wrong side of myself! I have been looking for only the clean-shaven strength in me...

when the fuzzy, weak, sensitive, wholesome, tedious,
kind and sexualness of me have been actually better all along.