It feels like I have been “going” non-stop since October 2014, and if I’m completely honest, it’s exhausting. I’ve been reading articles about gluten intolerance and insulin resistance wondering if that’s what is wrong with me. Maybe what I’m eating is making me tired? I’ve been trying to figure out how to get more protein in fruit smoothies as a safer way of staying awake throughout the day, rather than living on caffeine. Though I have also had days of drinking two pots of coffee all by myself and wondering why I’m not sleeping well. Certainly it can’t be the way I’m living my life– because I am so happy and excited and have had so many joyous and wonderful celebrations in the last several months!
My husband and I got engaged in October 2014, and I’ve been trying to catch my breath ever since. It’s mostly good things that keep us on the go and without much down-time; but I realize it has left me exhausted and feeling empty in many other ways. We got engaged, started planning a wedding, and started joining our lives together. That involved selling a house, buying a house, and moving three times to finally get settled. Plus, my senior pastor went on a 3-month sabbatical, and there have been 28 funerals for members of my congregation.
The next six months were a whirlwind of wedding, honey-moon, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and graduation parties. Then I hopped a plane to Atlanta, and here I am at the Festival of Homiletics.
I’m here. I'm in a place where I can find respite and Sabbath. Others have planned worship for us. We, who are used to creating every experience. I am drinking in the thoughtful lectures and musical offerings like a toddler drinking Kool-Aid on a hot summer day… so thirsty they forget to breathe until someone forces the sippy cup away from their mouth.
Anna Carter Florence, Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary, preached at our first worship service, and followed with a lecture on Tuesday entitled Five Things Poetry Can Do For Prophetic Preaching. I’d be lying if I said I loved poetry, but I’ve wanted to love it for a long time. My brain often operates too literally to grasp some of the imagery, and more often than not my brain is attempting to “tie the poem to a chair with a rope/ and torture a confession out of it. / They begin beating it with a hose / to find out what it really means.” (Billy Collins, Introduction to Poetry)
I voraciously took notes– that may or may not make sense in the future– as I continued to struggle with poetry that I know can be life-giving. Those notes might make sense and be fulfilling in days ahead, but toward the end of the lecture is when I received the best gift that a busy, empty-feeling, pastor can receive. She reminded me that no matter how much I am struggling or pushing against the beauty of poetry, poetry recognizes my emptiness. My emptiness that is somehow also filled with such wonderful experiences is not without its merit, and nothing of which to be ashamed.
The poet, and the poem, recognize our emptiness. “When we no longer know which way to go is when we start our real journey,” Dr. Florence says.
Emptiness is the signal that you have come to the real work. Emptiness is normal and necessary; it is the door that leads to the next thing. Its purpose is to launch us into the next mystery.
Emptiness for a pastor feels like failure. How can an empty-feeling pastor lead the flock toward fulfillment in God’s presence? Furthermore, how can a struggling Church lead others toward fulfillment in God’s presence? How can the Body of Christ that Pew Research continually reminds us is dying and has empty pews, share the light of Christ with the world? How can a Church that is constantly being told it is empty, feel inspired to live into the fullness of life God intended?
My world won’t change dramatically when I return from the Festival of Homiletics, and the Church is not going to change dramatically when these 1200 preachers find new inspiration for our sermons in the coming weeks. Perhaps, though, we will sit more comfortably with our occasional emptiness because we know it is not the enemy. Anna Carter Florence reminded us that inspiration is born of genuine emptiness; and the mind that is not baffled into blankness, is not employed. So perhaps we are not a shrinking Church. Rather, we are a Church cleaning out the clutter that prevents us from seeing that we’re ready for new life.
Poetry reminds pastors and people of faith: keep trying, and keep embracing the occasional emptiness. Because the empty tomb is what always has and will continue to lead to life-giving beauty.
It's been a while... too long... since writing. I'll blame the usual suspects of life and work, laundry and the dog. There is plenty to write about, but how often am I simply adding my voice to the millions that have already said the same thing? And by the time I've finished the laundry and gotten home from work, 52 others have already said what I wanted to say. That may be the case even this time, but this seems too important to keep to myself.
Robin Williams. Mental illness. Matt Walsh. Oy.
Mental illness in all of its manifestations needs SO, SO, SO much more attention in this country than we can possibly imagine. If tragedy comes, but we can bring a small piece of light into the world because of a tragedy, then I give thanks for that opportunity. By no means am I giving thanks for that tragedy, rather I give thanks that we can let a small piece of light shine into darkness, the way God calls forth light from intense darkness, time and time again. So, listen to all these news stations that are using this as an opportunity to remind those suffering through depression, that there is help, and you are welcome and encouraged to use it.
However, there are still some people that are bringing darkness upon darkness. Namely Matt Walsh and Rush Limbaugh, neither of whom deserve any of the attention that they will receive because of my response here. While I'm confident those listening to Rush are either die-hards and have already stopped reading, or listen for the parody alone, I have hope for those currently reading Matt Walsh. Because I can implore you, to just stop reading Matt Walsh. Please. He's written other blogs that I disagree with, but after his comments about Robin Williams, just stop reading.
Matt Walsh's Facebook page says "Matt Walsh is a blogger, writer, and professional sayer of truths." I've googled, and looked on his blog and his Facebook and can't seem to find much else on what qualifies him as a "sayer of truths." So I'm going to go out on a limb, a quite strong limb built by the many others who agree with me, and say that he is quite often, WRONG. Not always, I've read a COUPLE of his hundreds or thousands of posts (no way of knowing, you also can't search old posts?) that are OK, just okay. But a lot of the time his theology is crap (if I could think of a more eloquent or sophisticated word to describe it, I would, but his theology is neither eloquent nor sophisticated, it is crap), his advice is awful, his "professionalism" is suspect, and it seems as if he is just in this to stir the pot and make money from blog clicks.
Most recently he wrote a blog about Robin Williams entitled, "Robin Williams didn't die from a disease, he died from his choice." (You are welcome to search for it, I've decided against linking to it.) I've read it and re-read it, several times, to see if I'm missing something, or mis-understanding. But I don't think I am. And while I value Matt's attempt at helping to comfort those who are left behind when this "choice" happens, and I also value what Matt is trying to do in encouraging others that may be contemplating the same, he is SIMPLY WRONG.
"It’s a tragic choice, truly, but it is a choice, and we have to remember that. Your suicide doesn't happen to you; it doesn't attack you like cancer or descend upon you like a tornado. It is a decision made by an individual. A bad decision. Always a bad decision."
True in a small sense, Matt. Suicide doesn't happen to you the way a car might hit your car unexpectedly, or the way a bullet enters your body at the hand of another holding a gun. However, depression is a scary animal, that eats you up from the inside out, starting at some unknown point and time in a very small way. But after years and years of loved ones or "professionals" telling you to "choose joy," and after taking over your whole body, including the part of your brain that makes choices, unfortunately depression sometimes leaves individuals with absolutely no other choice. It is a bad, horrible decision, but for those trapped inside the terror of depression, it can often be the only choice one feels is possible. A choiceless choice, because of a disease (that deserves far more attention and support than it is given), called depression.
When he talks about depression leading to suicide and that it is "a choice," I think of a blog that I wrote after my visit to Poland to study the Holocaust called Choiceless Choices. I learned about Jewish Councils of the ghettos in Poland and Germany that were told by the Nazis that either "you" can choose the 20,000 who get into the cattle cars to be sent to their death while you stay here waiting for who knows what else, or we will. What? Is that even a choice? If you don't choose, then you've doomed possibly everyone to the Nazi's choosing, but if you do choose, then YOU have to choose 20,000 people that you know are going to die. In another situation, we visited a concentration camp, and could see a town, now a city, in such close proximity to this death camp. Our tour guides, and Holocaust survivors, talked to us about how the Gestapo would come to your house and tell you that either YOU go and work in the concentration camps as someone who either burns corpses or starts the gas chambers, or YOUR FAMILY would be headed there. Sure that's a "choice," but is it really a choice?
Depression that leads to suicide is not a choice in which someone simply chose death over joy. It is TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE theology; it is a horrific and wrong way to think of God, if you think that simply "choosing joy" will help you get through the throngs of depression that lead to such a decision. A blogger named Megan Tietz says it so beautifully, here when she says that "the dark night is no measure of your soul." Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary (one of my favorite bloggers) also talks about Jesus and Zoloft. While some days you can get by with one or the other, there are a lot of days it is PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE and celebrated that you get by with both, because we may very possibly, and likely, need BOTH. Depression, in some forms, is probably spiritual. Sometimes. However, it may also be spiritual and chemical/physical. Sometimes it is also just chemical or physical. Regardless, not all depression is spiritual, and not all depression can simply be "fixed" by "choosing" to not let it overtake your life.
"Joy is light, depression is darkness. When we are depressed, we have trouble seeing joy, or feeling it, or feeling worthy of it. I know that in my worst times, at my lowest points, it’s not that I don’t see the joy in creation, it’s just that I think myself too awful and sinful a man to share in it.
So this, for me, is always the most essential moral at the end of these kinds of sad, terrible stories: we are all meant for joy. We are all meant for love. We are all meant for life. And as long as we can still draw breath, there is joy and love to be found here. I believe that. If I didn’t, I would have left a long time ago."
While Matt talks about living with depression, and I'm sure at times he has, there are levels of depression about which many have absolutely no fathomable clue. I might have a chest cold, while my mother has asthma, while a friend of mine just battled (and won!) against lung cancer. Sure, all are "lung conditions," but while battling a cold, I would never tell my mother to take some deep breaths, or my friend with lung cancer to just suck on a cough drop.
So, sure Matt, we can call it a choice. But it is the most unfathomable, choiceless of choices to live inside of a darkness that has consumed your soul to the point that "choosing" death is the only choiceless choice you have. Depression is not a "situation" you can control by simply choosing joy. I too believe that we are all meant for life, and that there is plenty of joy and love to be found here on earth. But I also know there is a brokenness about our bodies that sometimes means we have diseases with which we struggle. Depression is a disease that requires help and support, both from professionals and loved ones, and we need to stop treating it like someone who stubbed their toe.
If you have the slightest inkling of that darkness inside of you, or are wondering about a way out. Know that there are Christians who do not believe like Matt, many of us. We support all means necessary to work against this disease that is plaguing you from the inside out and we are here to celebrate when there is joy, to celebrate when you can see the joy, and to sit with you to remind you that you are loved, and welcome to ask for help when the darkness is beyond something about choice.
Last night, like many, I watched a debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. (Before we go any further, isn't it fun that “Bill Nye the Science Guy” from our childhood Saturday mornings remains a part of our adult lives? J ) You probably know Bill Nye; Ken Ham is the founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum that sits in Petersburg, Kentucky. (If you want to watch the debate yourself, you can visit www.debatelive.org where they will be re-streaming it for the next few days, and where you can also purchase a downloadable copy or a DVD.)
I originally had a list of point by point arguments I have with Ken Ham and his way of looking at science and creation, specifically since I am also a Christian, and a fellow Christian leader. However I’m not so sure that is the most helpful response at this point. This conversation and disagreement continues to fester because we are getting too caught up in the minutia of each argument. Instead we need to start looking at the beginning of this “argument” in a new way, we need to start looking at our hermeneutic.
I had a unique perspective of watching this debate. One, I have a theological degree, which is more than Ken Ham can say, and two; I have also actually been to the Creation Museum. I know there are many others who have also visited this museum, but I also know there are many who have not. I also know there are many who have visited the Creation Museum with a different set of eyes, a different hermeneutic.
The Creation Museum is a shrine to Answers in Genesis and Ken Ham’s way of teaching, a theory that supposes the Bible (the Christian, American English, 20th-ish Century version of Genesis) to be a scientific text explaining the scientific creation of the earth. I was intrigued by the debate, but in the end, just disappointed by it. Ken Ham should have debated a Biblical scholar, or a theologian rather than a scientist, because he is NOT arguing science (bear with me), he is arguing hermeneutic, albeit an uninformed one.
Ken Ham is a scientist; he has a couple different scientific degrees. He has two HONORARY theological degrees, but he did not do any of the theological work to achieve those degrees, which is where his way of thinking is failing dramatically.
One Biblical scholar, Rev. Dr. Lisa W. Davison, wrote that “hermeneutics is a word often used within the walls of a seminary but rarely discussed outside of academia." Apparently, Ken Ham has also never heard of this word, as THIS is what he is actually arguing, and why it is simply inappropriate for him to debate a scientist.
“Simply put, hermeneutics is about interpretation. Whether we are reading the newspaper or watching a movie or listening to a conversation, we must always interpret what we read, see, or hear. In biblical studies, hermeneutics is about the interpretation of the Bible. More specifically, it is an interpretive framework through which biblical texts are understood.”
When I read a book for my book club, I generally know from the get-go that it is a piece of fiction, or it is non-fiction, or it is based on a true story. When I watch the news I have to discern some more because sometimes it is simply reporting the facts that are known and observable, but more often than not we are also seeing a lot of opinion and interpretation thrown in with reporting. Speculation as a way of getting to the “bottom of the story,” contributes opinion, and sometimes it gets confusing.
When I read a piece of poetry, or the lyrics to a song, I also know that it is not necessarily fact, but rather a piece of art. That piece of art can still speak some truth, but it is not trying to report fact or science.
“Some say love, it is a river, that drowns the tender reed. Some say love, it is a razor, that leaves your soul to bleed. Some say love, it is a hunger, an endless aching need. I say love, it is a flower, and you its only seed.” There may be truth to this lyrical verse, but I don’t read this lyric, this metaphor, as if it were science. I approach it with a certain hermeneutic, a certain understanding, knowing that is meant to speak in a certain (musical) way to a greater truth that cannot be understood only through measurable facts.
All that being said, Ken Ham’s hermeneutic, his way of approaching the Bible, is suspect. He is approaching the Bible as if it was science, but it simply WAS NOT meant to be read as science. (He might understand this more if he had a theological background rather than or in addition to a scientific one.) “The bible is a collection, a library, of different writings that span a variety of cultures and historical periods. It is not a 'history' book as we would define such writing today, nor is it a 'science' book, concerned with biology, earth sciences etc. Trying to read the bible as either science or history would be like navigating a ship based on a map created when humans believed the earth was flat. It will not get us very far and will keep us afraid of seeing what lies just beyond the horizon.”
The Bible is not a science book, but it is a theology book, and it speaks of truths that science cannot. It does not speak to science or scientific study, nor should it, but it can still speak to great truths about life.
It speaks to great truths, like we are not alone in our journey, but not in the sense of a scientific study of species and race that tells us how similar we are to one another and to our ancestors.
It speaks to great truths, like love is the most profound gift we will ever experience, but not in a way that has measurable scientific results gathered into data and charts comparing love to other gifts. (Has anyone actually ever figured out a way to measure love?)
The Bible speaks to great truths, like human beings have the tendency to be awful toward one another, but it does not identify physiological reasons our brains act the way they do based on certain triggers.
The Bible speaks to great truths, like the radical inclusivity of a God who invites us all to commune with, and to be in community with, the Divine, but not by identifying any actual number of invitations.
I appreciate Ken Ham’s point that children, kids, teens (and adults) need to be taught to think more critically. But that does not mean we have to pit science and faith against one another in a battle of intelligence. We all need to think more critically, and on that point I think Ken and Bill would agree. We need to think more critically, ask questions, celebrate doubt and inquiry and rejoice in the constant drive to wonder about more. Why we are here? How we are here? Scientific study should be celebrated in that it can help us understand “how” we got here, and we should continue with that determination that drives us to figure out and seek more. But we should leave it to the theological writings to help us with the “why,” and celebrate what they can bring to the conversation. But they are not bringing science to the conversation.
Ken Ham is arguing for a way of interpreting the Bible in a way that it was never meant to be interpreted. That is the crack (that leads to a gaping hole) in his argument. Bill Nye never said that you cannot believe in something(s) supernatural, he was simply saying that we cannot use the Bible as science. He missed out by failing to say that it’s because the Bible was never meant to be interpreted that way.
They both failed because they were set up to fail. Both of these men are scientists and neither of them are theologians, yet in this debate they were asked to wrestle with theological questions.
The “whys” of the world and the hard questions that science cannot answer are not to be ignored, but they are also not to be taught in a public school science classroom. If you are so insistent (which I am) that your children (or any children) be able to struggle with these questions, then send them to church, a synagogue, a mosque, a temple, or some other faith community that will wrestle with these questions with them, and lead them through their questions and inquiry. Many faith communities will wrestle with these questions, together with one another, well into adult-hood, as it should be.
I’m thankful to have received an education that taught me to think critically, and a faith community that helps me wrestle with tough questions that don’t have scientific answers. We would do well to respect the benefits of both a scientific education and a theological education (formal or informal), but to leave them as mostly separate disciplines as they were meant to be.
A blonde, all-american, mid-western raised, ordained reverend with some Southern Belle flair, strives to change the world in a timely, organized manner, while wearing fabulous shoes and still maintaining a social life...