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Blog: When Souls Shine

Jenn_Tafel

By Rev. Jenn Tafel

This blog is adapted from a sermon preached, February 7, 2016, at St. John’s UCC in Owosso, Michigan. It was in honor of their Women’s Sunday celebration. It was also when the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus appeared in the reading cycle for this congregation.

Women's bathroom

Identifying as female is dangerous. It disrupts the narrative to which our country has grown accustomed. I mean the headlines are full of examples of this disruption—especially regarding the women who are running for president. What could be more disruptive to the established narrative than a woman in the White House, right?! Don’t worry—I’m not going to get super political.  My point is that womanhood is dangerous—in all the best possible ways. It’s powerful. It’s disruptive.

Female Symbol

For so long we’ve been referred to as the “fairer sex.” Maybe this is just a propaganda effort by those who feel threatened: the patriarchy. A statement implying that women are soft just doesn’t make sense because deep down we know the opposite is true. The system wants to dismantle who we are in hopes of maintaining power. Yes, there is a system at play—or a narrative and it’s important to realize how we’ve been socialized to accept the status quo (well, some of us have). That isn’t to say we should be let off the hook because of said systemization, but rather it’s important to understand the bigger picture of how belief systems are perpetuated beyond our individuality and as a collective. And maybe, just maybe this isn’t news and hopefully I’m preaching to the choir.

It was just as dangerous to identify as one of Jesus’ followers. The system in those times (Roman Empire) was set up against many and yet people still chose to follow Jesus. In droves. The movement was revolutionary. It was counter cultural then and it’s counter cultural now. And here we are over 2000 years later discussing this ancient movement across the globe. There is something attractive about it.

By the time we get to the story of the transfiguration in the Gospel of Luke, the ministry of Jesus was in full swing. He taught in the temple, read the Torah in synagogues, drove out demons, healed the sick, gave the sermon on the mount, fed the masses, taught parables, was rejected on the home front, and called his disciples and then sent them out to heal and teach. In this Gospel, Jesus is a powerful figure. Who wouldn’t want to be on board with this agent of change?

In this Gospel, the story just before the transfiguration is the confession of Peter—his acknowledgement of who Jesus is. We also hear the words, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it”… and, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

transfiguration

This sets the stage for what comes next. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain to reveal his true nature (in nothing short of a cosmic show). Why these three? Why not all twelve of his followers? Why not the five thousand he fed or all those he taught?

A commentary from my tradition reads:

…Why is it that this glory is revealed only to these three of the disciples? Did not the rest require this assurance and confirmation of their faith in Jesus? Did they not deserve it? The cause is spiritual. These three disciples represent the three cardinal graces, which, in a manner, include all the others, or to which they all belong. Peter, James, and John represent faith, charity, and good works. It was for this reason that these three were selected by the Lord to accompany him on particular occasions, and as one, and the most important, of these, on the occasion of the Lord’s transfiguration. This teaches us that those who are principled in faith, charity, and works are those who, after their trial in the vale of humiliation, are raised by the Lord into the mountain of his love and holiness, and there enabled to see the Lord in the splendor of his glory, in the divinity of his humanity[1].

This is an example of how an ancient story can apply to our lives in the 21st century. Let’s take a moment to reflect when we allow our souls to shine. What happens when we celebrate our relationship with the divine by giving of ourselves and helping others? Isn’t that transformative? It is for me. When I can get past the illusion of this world and tap into the feelings of the spiritual world—good things happen. It is a holy moment.

For me, the stories in Gospel that resonate the most are the ones when Jesus is healing and feeding. The ones where he nurtures others and helps them reclaim a sense of wholeness. Now, the Gospel of Luke is the one that reassures the followers of Jesus that they can exist in two kingdoms: that of Caesar’s and that of God’s. It was a real dilemma for many to make the choice to follow Jesus. In the Roman Empire, the people who followed Jesus would only be seen as a tax base, a slave—someone to do manual labor. A citizen of the empire meant you were seen for your earthly body and use for building up the Roman Empire. In God’s realm, a person is seen as a soul and a way to build up other souls—that is how the heavenly realm is built: helping one another. When my soul shines—I will help yours shine.

Tribe of Women

This is what it’s like when women help each other. As I said before, we are all part of a larger system at play. We, those of us identifying as women, know what it’s like to be shut out of the system, abused, neglected, harassed, and told that we aren’t as valuable as our male counterparts (still earning seventy-nine cents to their dollar). So why must we fight each other? It’s what the patriarchy would have us do—get distracted and participate in in-fighting instead of what our nature calls us to do: lift up each other and reclaim our wholeness and our power. That is the message from Christ today that is still relevant. My mentor said it’s like a swing dance of sorts—when I help you and swing you forward you pull me with you—it’s a form of spiritual evolution—we keep each other swinging forward. And here’s another spoiler alert—we all have this capacity within us whether we express as male, female, or trans. Our Christ-center is what calls us to nurture each other and ourselves. It’s not necessarily revolutionary so much as evolutionary. Let us go forward and help each other shine.

Amen.

[1] Bruce, William. COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW, 1866

 

Blog: Review of Facing the Music by Jennifer Knapp

By Mary Sinnamon

By Mary Sinnamon

In the book, Facing the Music, Jennifer Knapp tells her own story beginning with the birth of her and her twin sister all the way to the nearly ending career as a musician.  During her childhood, she tells of her experiences and feelings growing up in a broken home where she only sees her loving birth mother on occasion, her father is emotionally absent, and her step-mother is jealous and persistently berates her and how her passion for music and writing was the only thing that kept her sane.  While in college, she tells of how she fell into a cycle of alcoholism and meaningless sex out of self-harm, but then how she met a Christian dorm-mate and became a Christian herself in college.  God became an integral part of her life when it came to healing and finding meaning in it all as well as starting her career as a musician.  Along the way, she met many Christian people and learned a lot about her faith good and bad.  Because she surrounded herself predominately with Christians, her life became stricken with fear and anxiety when she fell head-over-heals in love, realized she is lesbian, and needed to eventually come out of the closet in order to live life to the full.

She describes in her book that coming out was like losing everything, but gaining everything.  Being in Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), she lost many of her fans as well as some close friends.  Jennifer tells of her struggles and how she remained a Christian but also true to herself and the way God made her throughout it all. “My entire adult life had been all about pleasing other people, all about jumping onto the next lily pad that God seemed to put in front of me. It seemed like a thousand years since I had a dream of my own. Now, there was nothing and everything all at the same time.” (p. 197).

After reading this book, I contemplated the main argument of the book which I believe is to be who you are, love yourself for who you are, and do what you love regardless of anyone else’s opinion. And, don’t let anyone else tell you what God’s plan is for your life. Only you can know what that is. If Jennifer wanted me to get one idea from this book, it would be that love and hope are the only things that matter. She discusses how the best of Christianity taught her that love is of utmost importance, and that if the stories of Jesus taught her one thing, it was how best to love.  At one point in her book, she talks about how it isn’t who you love, but how you love that matters. “I believed that no matter who we are, who we love, it is how we love that matters.” (p. 185). She also discusses how the struggle isn’t against being gay, but rather it is against how one is treated for being gay. Also, it wasn’t until she allowed herself to come out and love the woman God brought into her life that she discovered how great love is and how sacred. “Good, God-fearing Christians are supposed to struggle against homosexuality and feel the turmoil of the Holy Spirit. As a woman, I was supposed to want to pray it away, change, be straight, submit to a man, and have babies. I was afraid because, the truth of it was, I didn’t want any of that. I didn’t struggle to accept my sexual orientation, I struggled against the embarrassment that my nature was not what others insisted it should have been. In fact, it wasn’t until I met my proper soul mate that sacred love even began to make sense…Love is sacred. Love is love.” (p. 248).

My favorite part of the book is where she writes this segment (pp 104-105):

“On any given Sunday, I’d find myself immersed in a church culture obsessed with how imperfect or lacking we are as human spirits. The conversations always seemed to center around how broken humanity is, how distant from the imperfection of Christ we all are, and how laborious and frightening it can be to continue to aspire to the seemingly unattainable sinlessness required of the Christian disciple. At times it left me wandering why I even bothered imagining that I could renew my life if all I could ever be was one misstep away from spiritual disaster…None of us are immune from precariously trying to balance our primal and cognitive needs. We have sex drives and hunger, greed and compassion. Strangely, along the way we usually manage to mix our own experiences with shame and insecurity that threaten to overpower our sense of emotional well-being. If we’re lucky, we will discover what it is within us that helps us press on…Between the rational and the spiritual, I felt like I was finding my peaceable footing with my own peculiarities. In my own life, I was eager to move beyond the Christian idea of flawed humanity and get on with living life to the full. If we are what we are–that is, inescapably human–then part of my responsibility is to learn how to honor myself and others along the way. From a Christian perspective, if Christ’s sacrifice was to represent how my sinful nature (read: human nature) is reconciled with God’s perfect holiness, then why should I be afraid to acknowledge my true self? I was free to be loved for who I was and wanted to live that way. I didn’t want to live under a cloud of shame for being, as it turns out, only human. The best of what Christianity would ever teach me was that even on my darkest days, no matter what condition I was in, I was a person made to be loved.”

I think this is a great read for gay Christians who have been spiritually abused by their church and peers.  Jennifer’s life story provides encouragement and strength and lets us know that we are not alone and lets us know that life is better when you are true to yourself regardless of the spiritual attacks we may endure. Some Christians have strict guidelines and impose what they believe a Christian ought to be on others.  Christians attack other Christians on many different grounds whether it be taking the Creation story literally or not and other silly things.  Stay true to yourself and grow in your own walk with God. Love as God loves us, and that is all that really matters.

Blog: Gearing Up For the New Year

By Rev. Jenn Tafel

By Rev. Jenn Tafel

There is a buzz in the air: a mixture of excitement, anxiety, curiosity, and more. A new school year awaits and the MSU campus is beginning to come to life once again. Spartans from all corners of the world will descend on East Lansing in the next couple weeks. Studies and sporting events will begin, parties around campus will spring up (yes, they do happen!), and all kinds of extra-curricular activities will vie for students’ attention.

There are many aspects to college life including time for personal exploration. It is a time to investigate personal goals and values. It is a time for one to figure out one’s identity, passion, discipline, and life path. A question to ask may be, “What will I find at the core of my being?” People in many disciplines of study have been asking this for centuries. Included in one’s identity is gender expression and sexuality. Also included is an understanding of a force greater than ourselves—whether a person chooses to believe it exists and if so, if one will choose to engage it through religious practices.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

“The Thinker” sculpture by Auguste Rodin Photo Credit: Public Domain

This is where Q-CROSS@MSU fits into the equation. We are a student organization at MSU that celebrates the intersection of queer-identified and Christian* students. We come together for weekly events including Bible study, fellowship activities (movie and game nights), discussions on current events in the queer and trans* community, and worship that includes the Holy Supper (denied to many in the queer and trans* community). Our gatherings celebrate the wholeness and holiness of each other. It is a place for those who are questioning various aspects of their identity. It is a place to share stories and reclaim missing pieces of self-hood.

Photo Credit: U.S. Library of Congress

Gutenberg Bible Photo Credit: U.S. Library of Congress

The concepts of sin and abomination have dominated the conversation about the queer and trans* population in Christianity for decades. However, current scholarship on the intersection of queer and Christian invites one to take a different look at how these terms are used in Scripture and how we can find affirming language in the Bible. When the concepts that used to color perspective and understanding are off the table a new life emerges from ancient texts. New life also emerges within a person when they are affirmed on every level.

Photo Credit: Project Happiness (Facebook)

Photo Credit: Project Happiness (Facebook)

We are looking forward to a year of educational opportunities, fellowship, worship, and collaboration with other student organizations. This is another year where anything is possible. We look forward to meeting you. You are invited to our Open House on September 2 from 7-9 pm (location is TBD). Our regular weekly meetings begin on September 16 in the Union building. Connect with us on our Facebook page so you stay up to date on our events. Connect with Religious Life at MSU here for other opportunities on campus. Blessings on your academic life here at Michigan State. Go Green!