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Sarah Lindsay

The Grace of Creativity

knitting
My current projects: dishcloth and amigurumi octopus.

As the trees around me begin to turn to brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow, I find myself wondering about creativity. I imagine that we’ve all heard the idea that human creativity reflects our Creator God; we’re made in the image of the one who imagined and brought into being the splendor of an autumn sky. And I think there’s truth in this idea that the drive to create is hardwired into human beings (into our very biology, if you consider the drive to procreate).

But being creative also means exerting control. Ordering one tiny corner of the world to reflect your ideas, your personality. Bringing beauty out of chaos. (This is why organizing is, for me, an act of creativity!)

Maybe it’s not so surprising, then, that in the last few months I’ve picked up a crocheting project I had set aside, started teaching myself to knit, and discovered the amazing and adorable world of amigurumi.

Last fall, I heard Emily P. Freeman, in her lovely podcast The Next Right Thing, recommend taking up the practice of making things. I started an afghan because I do enjoy making something tangible, but then — life happened. I got bored. I didn’t love the pattern, but I thought I’d invested too much time to start over.

And then, of course, life really happened: schools closed, my church stopped meeting in person, gatherings with friends were cancelled, and in a matter of days it felt like life ground to a halt and then fell apart. And I fell apart, a little bit, too. For most of the spring and then into the summer, life was about maintaining, about not descending into complete chaos. I used all my energy making sure that my family took baths, ate some veggies, and remembered that we all loved each other.

But now, I’m ready (most days) to bring some order out of chaos, instead of just treading water in the storm. I’m doing some writing. I have a new position at work that gives me the freedom to plan and implement projects that help shape my congregation into Christlikeness.

And I’m turning yarn into something useful. Nothing fancy: a blanket, some dishcloths, the world’s most adorable baby octopus. An infinity scarf for my oldest, using up some yarn I’ve been carrying around with me since college. I’m tackling a winter hat next, and then socks.

Am I mirroring part of God’s nature? Probably.

Am I using the tools that I have to bring some order, some beauty, some tangible good into a world that with problems that seem entirely beyond my influence, let alone control? Absolutely.

Maybe, then, creativity isn’t just a reflection of God. Maybe it’s a grace that God has granted us, a gift that helps us focus on what we can do to bring good and beauty into the world.

If you, like me, are feeling overwhelmed by the state of our nation right now, maybe it’s time to take Emily Freeman’s advice and create something. Grow a basil plant on your kitchen counter, write a note to a friend, learn a new skill (or dust off an old one).

And I wonder if we will find that this creativity, something that can feel pointless or escapist, is the very thing that can anchor us in what is good and true and beautiful, that can remind us that even in the midst of chaos and unrest God is always already here, doing the slow, creative, life-giving work of reconciling all creation to God.

Gospel Reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

vineyard
Image via Pixabay.

Don’t you love to hate on the Pharisees?

Now, I’ve read enough Tom Wright at this point to have a little more sympathy for them. After all, the Pharisees truly cared about being God’s people. They did their best to live as God’s people, and to guide all of Israel to live as God’s people even as they were conquered, colonized, oppressed, and dispersed.

But it’s so easy, in many of the gospel stories, to feel a slightly smug sense of superiority to the Pharisees. They couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand who Jesus was, even when it seems so clear to us in hindsight. We aren’t blind like them; we understand and believe the truth that they rejected.

The gospel reading for this week, Matthew 21:33-46, offers us one of those chances to feel superior to the Pharisees. Jesus tells a parable in which he is God’s son and the Pharisees are wicked people who kill him due to greed and malice.

This is the parable: there was man who planted a vineyard, then leased it to tenants. But when the landowner sent his servants to collect the produce of the vineyard, the tenants kill the servants. Then the landowner sends his son — and the tenants plot to kill him, too, and take his inheritance (the vineyard) for themselves.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is telling this parable after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his cleansing of the temple. The priests, elders and Pharisees question the source of Jesus' authority, and in response he tells them two parables; this is the second. At its conclusion, Jesus asks his audience: what will the landowner do to these tenants? The crowd gives the obvious answer: he will “bring those wretches to a wretched end” (Matt. 21:41, NIV).

Jesus affirms this answer, and the religious leaders are fully aware that Jesus is putting them in the role of the tenants: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them” (Matt. 21:45, NIV).

Unlike other passages that might touch a nerve or make me consider my own life in Christ, my first reaction to this parable is relief, quickly followed by self-righteousness. I’m not killing prophets or plotting to arrest Jesus; this story proclaims judgement for those people.

But I wonder. When do I claim something as mine that belongs to God?

After all, the tenants were doing all the work of maintaining and harvesting. The landowner was far away, removed from the daily labor of the vineyard. Is it really that surprising that the tenants resented the demand that they turn over the fruits of their efforts to someone else — even if that person did plant the vineyard?

I don’t like asking how I’m like the Pharisees, how I’m missing God in ways that might be painfully obvious in hindsight. How my community might be claiming something as ours and refusing to acknowledge that it actually belongs to God. How we might be rejecting, even violently rejecting, those who point us back to the one who made the vineyard in the first place.

As difficult as these questions may be, I encourage us to ask them. Not because we don’t want to be like the bad Pharisees; that’s an unhelpfully reductive view. But because we don’t want to forget the one we serve.

What is the Point of Into Resurrection?

celtic cross
Image via Pixabay.

Recently, someone asked me what the point of my blog is, a question that made me pause for a bit and take stock. I started writing here after I left academia as a way to both pursue an interest and explore possible paths forward beyond the academic world. I didn’t have a clear goal or mission, and I’m not huge on building a personal brand, so if you look back at my first year of posts they’re pretty scattered: I write about feminism, faith, the middle ages, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, individualism … you get the picture.

As I’ve begun discerning a call to ordination over the last two years, and also began to really deal with my depression and anxiety, I’ve written less — and part of that has to do with time and emotional energy, but part of it also connects to the questions: what is the point of this blog? Is it just a creative outlet? A 5-years-too-late attempt to build a platform? A spot for my musings on theology?

I also just finished Kate Bowler’s wonderful, if infuriating, book The Preacher’s Wife. One of her points is that women in evangelical and charismatic churches tend to gain influence through their market-savvy: they know how to build a brand. Currently, that tends to mean emphasizing how ordinary they are, how relatable, then building influence and authority on the foundation of (curated) self-disclosure and (apparent) vulnerability.

Bowler also points out that women with more academic credentials tend to be wary of this marketplace approach, preferring to root their authority in their degrees. But this is neither appealing in the marketplace (with a few exceptions) nor a certain path to institutional authority, as it often is for men.

(I find it interesting to note that Kate Bowler herself combines these approaches: she’s a professor at Duke, giving her impressive academic credentials … but also a cancer survivor whose memoir, Everything Happens, leads us through her faith journey when she was unexpectedly diagnosed very young with stage 4 cancer.)

The Preacher’s Wife has helped me realize part of my uneasy relationship with blogging: for me as a Christian woman, the medium itself seems to demand an openness and vulnerability, the construction of a persona, a personal brand, that attracts readers. No one has told me this explicitly — but I have definitely internalized this path.

And yet, as someone with an academic background, I would prefer my authority to be rooted in my expertise, not my constructed persona. The problem? This seems less likely, to me, to attract readers. Also, my academic authority is in literature, not theology — but I mainly want to write about theology. So where is my authority? In my credentials? In my experiences?

(I am reminded of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, who asserts the validity of her female experience against the primacy of male authority. As is typical of Chaucer, this debate has no resolution.)

Reeling all of these ideas back in, I choose the name “Into Resurrection” for my blog because I wanted to explore here what it looks like to live into our life as resurrection people, as people living in the already-but-not-yet Kingdom of God. But I don’t want this to be simply my own self-reflective musings; I’m a teacher at heart, so I want to write things that engage and provoke and that push people to think and learn.

So, what is that purpose of this blog? I raise questions and offer thoughts that are meant to help Christians — myself included — think and live as the people of God, shaped by the Holy Spirit into the image of Jesus Christ.

But this is incredibly broad. I’m particularly interested in thinking about how we, as Christians, relate to power. How do we understand the power structures of racism and sexism? How do we live faithfully within a capitalist society implicated in suffering and oppression? How do we understand our own personal power — in our homes, workplaces, communities — and steward it wisely?

I can’t promise answers to any of these questions. But I can invite you to walk alongside me as we learn to live out the truth of our faith. None of us take this journey alone, so I hope that my voice can be one of the many that call us as Christians to embody the love, hope, peace, joy, justice, and mercy of our God.

Tagged: theology | personal

James Theodore Holly

Portrait of James Theodore Holly
Bishop James Theodore Holly. Image from the Episcopal Church.

I’m a member — and not only a member, a staff person — at an Anglican church. My denomination (the ACNA) emerged from the Episcopal Church (TEC), which is one of the whitest denominations in the U.S. despite its commitment to progressive causes — and the ACNA has certainly not improved upon TEC in this regard, despite our reliance on bishops in Africa and Asia as we formed.

We need to seriously examine ourselves, and our enmeshment in white culture, if we want to welcome our brothers and sisters of color and better reflect the kingdom of God. And one way to do this is to acknowledge the often forgotten people of color who were leaders and theologians, whose insights are still relevant to our churches today.

One such person is James Theodore Holly, the first African-American bishop in the Episcopal Church. He believed that Black Americans had much to contribute to the life of the church as a whole, although he came to the conclusion that African-Americans must form their own churches, even their own nations, because they would never be fully accepted by predominantly white churches (or governments).

Holly was born in 1829 in Washington, D.C. to free parents and was raised as a Roman Catholic. In the mid-1840s, Holly moved with his family to Brooklyn where he learned the shoemaking trade from his father, a trade he would continue to practice throughout most of his life in order to earn money. In his late teens, Holly became involved with the abolitionist movement in New York; this involvement led him to move to Ontario, Canada for a few years to help with The Voice of the Fugitive, a weekly abolitionist newspaper. In 1854, he and his wife, Charlotte, returned to New York where, frustrated with the unwillingness of the regional leadership of Roman Catholic church to ordain black priests, he left that church and became an Episcopalian.

In 1855, Holly was ordained as a deacon; he became a priest in 1856, and relocated to New Haven, CT where he was the rector of St. Luke’s Church. During this time, Holly helped to found the Protestant Episcopal Society for Promoting the Extension of the Church Among Colored People, an abolitionist organization within the Episcopal Church. Also during these years, Holly became very interested in Haiti, and interest that led him to argue that Black solidarity, in the form of a nation and a church led by Black men, was necessary in order to bring righteousness, justice and peace to the world.

In 1861, Holly led a group of 110 people to Haiti to settle and establish an Episcopal Church in that nation. Despite the difficulties of disease and social unrest, Holly spent the rest of his life in Haiti. He was consecrated as the first African-American bishop in the Episcopal Church in 1874 by The American Church Missionary Society, an evangelical group within the Episcopal church.

Holly never had the full support of the Episcopal church for his work in Haiti and seldom received the financial support offered to white missionaries. Nevertheless, Holly persevered, serving in Haiti until his death in 1911. At his death, the Episcopal church in Haiti had over 2,000 members.

Holly had two overriding convictions that the church — particularly TEC and ACNA — would do well to internalize. The first is his conviction of the catholicity of the church; the second, his belief that black Christians had special insight into issues of justice, righteousness and peace that could benefit the whole church.

The idea that the church is catholic — encompassing the world, and everyone in it — is something we affirm in our creeds each week, but often something we fail to embody in our churches. But despite the difficulties that led Holly to believe that black people could never be fully accepted members of the Episcopal Church in America, he still believed that the Anglican Church was indeed for everyone. Holly’s idea that a community of Anglican Churches could unite and strengthen Christians in many nations and of many races and ethnicities remains a compelling vision that should undergird our vision of our churches and our communal spiritual life.

The second point in Holly’s convictions, his belief that the black church would be a source of righteousness and justice to the world, deserves our attention. Holly anticipates the key idea in liberation theology that God is particularly present among those who are oppressed and those who suffer, and that those who have suffered are uniquely positioned to bring justice to others.

It remains true in the white American church broadly that we have not listened well to those who are marginalized and oppressed; we tend to wear our privilege unconsciously rather than doing the hard work of understanding what justice means to our sisters and brothers of color in particular. When the white majorities in TEC and the ACNA center their own experiences and views (consciously or not), they undermine the catholicity of the church and also miss out on rich and vibrant theologies of justice. This weakens the whole church.

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9)

Noon rest from work
Vincent Van Gogh, Noon - Rest from Work, 1890-91. Via Wikimedia Commons.

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

“‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, NIV

Most of us are familiar with the last bit of this passage, Jesus' invitation to the weary and burden to come to him and find rest. But as I read this passage, I am struck by the context: as Matthew 11 opens, John the Baptist is wondering from his prison cell if Jesus really is the messiah. Then Jesus berates those who disbelieved John, finding excuses to dismiss him — and then using the opposite excuses to dismiss Jesus himself.

I’m not sure that I’ve paid attention to this context before, instead reading Jesus' words to the weary as a free-floating invitation. In this context, however, it seems to me that Jesus is undercutting the constant attempts by those in power to police who is in and who is out.

As anyone who has had any proximity to middle school knows, the criteria for “in” and “out” can shift swiftly and without much reason beyond preserving the power and status of the already powerful. And this doesn’t just happen amongst tweens and teens; we adults do it all the time, even if we attempt to be more subtle.

Policing boundaries can make us feel powerful, secure, important. Being policed is less pleasant, although even that can provide a measure of certainty and stability: if we just follow the rules, and stay alert to any changes in what those rules are, we’ll be safe. Probably.

We tend to ignore that the price of these feelings of power and security is constant anxiety. We have to maintain the line between in and out, and we have to constantly check that we remain on the “in” side of the line. We exhaust ourselves, growing weary under the burden of our self-imposed tasks.

But Jesus says: don’t burden yourself with this anxiety. Jesus knows the Father; Jesus reveals the Father to us not because we’re “in,” not because we’re good or powerful or wise or important, but simply because he loves us. We can’t put ourselves outside of God’s love.

Jesus invites us to lay down the burden of keeping ourselves in line and instead enter into relationship with him. Jesus invites us to stop exhausting ourselves to maintain our power and instead come to him. Wisdom, knowledge, acceptance, love — all these come from God through Christ and the Spirit, not from the endless power games of closed sets.

I do think that Jesus' invitation to the weary and burdened is broad; this verse has resonated with many, many people in many situations over the years. But as the divisions and polarizations in American society continue to increase, it’s worth paying special attention to the context of this invitation.

Let us set down the heavy burden and irksome yoke of deciding which group we ought to join or how we ought to preserve the line between “in” and “out” in that group. Instead, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, through whom — in the power of the Spirit — we see God. And let us also encourage those around us to find their rest in God, because only in God can we find true peace and security.


(On a note related to this post, I just finished reading And Then They Stopped Talking to Me, by Judith Warner, a fantastic book about parenting kids through middle school. I highly recommend it to parents or to anyone, really, who interacts regularly with tweens!)

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