Archive for October, 2008

How Am I Not Myself?

October 18, 2008

This is the sermon I have prepared for Sunday.  It’s my first one!  And I really had a lot of fun creating it.  Now if I can only get over my nervousness!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. (Matt. 22:37-38a)

For those of you who have been around the church for a while, you have all probably heard this verse dozens of times.  These words are some of the most famous uttered by Jesus.  The Pharisees got together and one of them who was an expert in the law (a lawyer [NRSV]) asks Jesus,

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matt. 22:36)

It’s a trap.  They asked him this question, to test him.  And I found it interesting to learn that only the devil and the Pharisees are the subject of this verb in Matthew’s writings.  As one commentator stated it, “In Matthew’s understanding, this is more than a religious debate; once again, the two kingdoms confront each other.”[1]  More than likely when the Pharisee said, “in the law” he was not just referring to the 10 Commandments.  More than likely he was referring to the over 600 commands that included “moral law” and “ceremonial law.”  It is probable that they were trying to get Jesus to say something that could then be used against him in a court of law.  Maybe the Pharisee had a slight smirk on his face as he asked his question.  I am sure if he did smirk, it fell once Jesus answered. 

“Hear O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.”(Deut 6:4-5)

This, my friends, is the Shema.  It is quite significant to the children of Israel.  And they would be VERY familiar with it.  In the verses that follow, God tells them,

“Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deut 6:6-9)

(Show picture of Jewish man with phylacteries)

(Show picture of the mezuzah)

All this to say, that these words, which are said a lot in modern Christianity, were taken very serious by the Jews.  It is true that the text in Deuteronomy is slightly different than ours in Matthew, but this is probably due to the fact that Matthew wrote down Jesus’ word to correspond with the Septuagint, or the Greek version of the Jewish bible, what we would call the Old Testament, in order to help his readers understand.

The next part of the great command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:39) also has old testament roots.  These same words can be found in Leviticus 19:18.  So while many Christians think Jesus was doing something new, in reality he was only restoring that which was intended from the beginning.  Remember when Jesus said,

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17)

So when Jesus says at the end of the great command “On these two commandments hang the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:40) It’s quite a big deal.  He didn’t just make this up on the spot.  He pulled from the very beginning of the covenantal Israel.

Recently a friend of mine read this verse out loud at a Bible Study and I heard it differently.  While the emphasis is usually on the extent to which you should love God (i.e., with your entire being) something new jumped out at me.  Have you ever noticed how many times the word “your” appears in this short segment of scripture?  It’s (count ‘em) FOUR times!  In the Gospel of Mark, he adds “and with all your strength” for a grand total of FIVE.  Repetition in the Bible is of utmost importance.  In Greek and Hebrew they did not have punctuation to draw attention to things (i.e., the exclamation point!) so they would repeat things.

So let’s think about how this might apply this important passage to our past as well as our present everyday life:

Imagine yourself in Sunday School as a young child.  And for those of you who maybe didn’t go to church as a child try to think of what that might have been like.  Imagine yourself in a classroom decorated with primary colors and there’s a chalk board or a flannel board. Maybe you’re sitting in a circle on the floor.  The unmistakable notes of “Jesus loves me” reverberate through your head.  And the Sunday School teacher is talking about Paul and how he traveled the known world bringing the gospel to Jews and gentiles alike. And you find yourself thinking, “I wanna be like Paul!  I want to make a difference in the Kingdom of God like he did!” 

Or maybe you read the scriptures one morning at home and you read in Luke about how Mary responded to the angel of God when she was told she would give birth to the Son of God.

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38)

And you think, “Wow…if only I could be like Mary and respond as she did to God’s design for my life.”

How about when you read the newspaper.  Maybe you remember learning of Mother Teresa’s death in 1997 and thought, “Mother Teresa is someone I want to imitate.  Her love for humanity is inspiring!”

All of these responses are legitimate and wonderful.  Indeed, Paul himself said “be imitators of me.” (1 Co 4:16-17) when he wrote to the Corinthians.

But now we must go back to the word “your.” 

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. (Matt. 22:37-38a)

Isn’t this a bit too much emphasis on humanity?  Isn’t humanity depraved and fallen?  It might be helpful to understand that although this passage speaks of an individual in three different parts, what it is really saying is that we should love God with our entire being.  All of our self.  So if we are divided against our own self in that we don’t understand who God made us to be, how can we love God with our whole self?  It is impossible.

So where do we draw the line of being like others and yet, being ourselves?

In a book titled Wide Awake by Erwin McManus, he writes:

     “the world desperately needs you to live up to your greatness.”

Whoa.  Wait a minute.  Did he just say the world needs me to live up to my greatness?  MY greatness?  And I say to myself, “Self, this is craziness.  I am not great.”  But then something inside me starts to move.

Maybe Akeelah and the Bee can help us a little here… (Play Clip)

The quote Akeelah reads in this clip was written by Marianne Williamson.  You may have heard it before as Nelson Mandela quoted it in his inaugural address and it has recently been in the media again in the movie Coach Carter.

I love her response to it.  Did you hear what she said?   “Then I’m not supposed to be afraid?  Afraid of me?”

Does some of the storm that rages within settle down a bit because of the hope embedded in this quote?

Do you find yourself asking, “Could it be true?”  And to that I say,


So what does that look like? 

To answer that let’s look at the dark side of “wanting to be like (St. Augustine, Peter, Paul, Mary, fill in the blank here).”

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Ex 20:17)

Usually when this verse is quoted, it is within the context of coveting material possessions.  Their “stuff.”  And that is indeed the overall context of the verse.  But it is not an over extension of this idea to say coveting a person’s God given personality or strengths is also not something that is beneficial to the body of Christ.  After all, in remembering that as believers we are the body of Christ, if we all desire to be mouths, would there be a face to put it on and a head to carry it around?

It is one thing to be challenged by our sister’s ability to pray for 3 hours straight.  If this motivates us to be in prayer more frequently and be more purposeful about making petitions to God and spending time connecting with God, it is a positive thing.  But if I find myself saying, “I wish I was more like her.” or “If I could be more like her I would be a better Christian.” It is possible the line has been crossed.

As I am learning in life, most things are not quite as black and white as we would sometimes like them to be.  If we have a set of rules to follow that means we don’t have to think.  It means no discernment is required.  It means we don’t have to rely on the Holy Spirit.

It is true that praying more would enrich a person’s relationship with Christ.  It is not true that “being more like _______” will somehow magically transform us into a great person who can now somehow lift heavy objects and transform water into wine.

Maybe this story will help us capture this gray area…

Why Weren’t You Zusya?

Once, the great Hassidic leader, Zusya, came to his followers. His eyes were red with tears, and his face was pale with fear.

“Zusya, what’s the matter? You look frightened!”

“The other day, I had a vision. In it, I learned the question that the angels will one day ask me about my life.”

The followers were puzzled. “Zusya, you are pious. You are scholarly and humble. You have helped so many of us. What question about your life could be so terrifying that you would be frightened to answer it?”

Zusya turned his gaze to heaven. “I have learned that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Moses, leading your people out of slavery?’”

His followers persisted. “So, what will they ask you?”

“And I have learned,” Zusya sighed, “that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Joshua, leading your people into the promised land?’”

One of his followers approached Zusya and placed his hands on Zusya’s shoulders. Looking him in the eyes, the follower demanded, “But what will they ask you?”

“They will say to me, ‘Zusya, there was only one thing that no power of heaven or earth could have prevented you from becoming.’ They will say, ‘Zusya, why weren’t you Zusya?’”

If you are like me at all, you might be starting to realize that over the years you have listened to the well intended voices of Sunday School teachers and parents and relatives and friends who have been trying to help you figure out who you are but instead of making things clearer, they may have made things more confusing.  For over a decade I tried to cram myself in a box I didn’t belong.  A natural born leader, in the faith tradition which I came to accept Christ I was told my leadership had no place in the church.  So the message in this sermon is in fact something God has been teaching me over the past year or so.  It is a work-in-progress, and so am I.  And what I have learned thus far is why I am standing in front of you today.  J  

Each and every one of us bears the image of God in a unique and wonderful way.  Marianne Williamson said it so well when she said, “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.  When you allow yourself to be what God intended you to be, the person sitting next to you is more able to be what God intended them to be.  God did not intend for you to be anyone else.  God intended for you to be you.  In doing so, you allow God to refine the gifts given to you instead of trying to grow new ones never intended to come from your branches.  Won’t you let the world see your beauty as you?  Won’t you let the body of Christ have you as you were meant to be?  Won’t you seek to find out who God made you to be so you can quit pretending to be someone you aren’t?  The world is waiting in great anticipation for what you were meant to be.

[1] The New Interpreter’s Bible, 1995, Abingdon Press, vol 8, p. 424





The Elusive Female Generic Pronoun

October 14, 2008

So my friend Heather is taking a Language and Gender class right now.  She wrote an essay for this class that she has posted on her blog.  It is great.  You have to read it in the voice of a British Nature Show Host.  : )

*Click here –> The Elusive Female Generic Pronoun <– Click here*

The search continues…

Photo by: MikeBaird


October 13, 2008

I am noticing a strange phenomenon.  There are quite a few folks visiting this small part of cyber-space but not many folks are leaving comments.  I coul be left to think many things but it is probably none of those things or all of those things.  All that to mean there isn’t “one reason” people aren’t commenting.  So I just wanted to be open and honest about how I feel about comments:

I love them.

They are encouraging.  They are challenging.  They are insightful.  They are helpful in broadening my sometimes narrow perspective. 

Instead of rehashing this, I will instead paste some of an e-mail discussion with a friend of mine who communicated some reticence at leaving comments (she didn’t think she was smart enough!!  to which I say, “What-ever!!). 

You are beautiful. And your thoughts and feelings are completely worth hearing. I am not any better than you. I just see the world differently. I am thankful for the way God has made me and I am looking forward to seeing how he is going to use me but sometimes I feel like I am going crazy. So many thoughts inside my head. Sometimes I can’t stop thinking. And other times I second guess myself and wonder if people aren’t commenting on things I write or say because I am completely off my rocker. I doubt and question myself. Being analytical means I can see things about a situation that others don’t but it also means I analyze myself to death sometimes. So sometimes I need people who see the world from a different view point to bring me back down to earth. Sometimes my thoughts spark ideas that are inspiring to me because they are a new way of seeing things. So don’t be afraid to write. Don’t be afraid or ashamed of who you are. God made you just the way you are! And I love you just that way. I shudder to think what the world would be like if everyone were like me. It would be boring and unbalanced and insane! Your free spirit is nurturing to me. It’s life giving. It’s just what I need sometimes. It’s just what many people need sometimes. Just be you and try to be okay with that. You’re beautiful just the way you are. Don’t deny the world your beauty. You have things to offer us. Don’t let the enemy convince you otherwise. It’s true. Would this face lie to you!??! ; )

For some this may seem melodramatic.  Maybe.  But it’s how I feel.  And the more I learn about life and people, the more I learn that we are riddled with fears and insecurities about who we are and how God made us.  I am starting to be free from that.

Anyway, I would love to hear yor comments.  Whether they are comments of agreement or comments of disgust at what I have said, I welcome them.  Just please be respectful.  I do have feelings.  And don’t feel as though you have to list your real or full name in the comment.  Feel free to make up a nick name for yourself.  Anyway, there’s no pressure really…I just wanted to let my feelings be know.

Grace and Peace,
Pinkhammer  <><


October 12, 2008

Right now I feel confused on two fronts:

1) My body.  I get tired so easily.  Did the surgery really take that much out of me?  Is my body really using that much energy to heal itself?

2) Relationships.  They are so unbelieveably complex.  It’s very overwhelming.  I feel as though I am navigating a mine field when I interact with people.  *sigh*  I am tired of living life alone.  Everything is so fragmented and autonomous. 

I am blogging about this because I am sitting at home on my couch and wanting to be anywhere but sitting at home on my couch.  Anywhere that is with people who help me become a part of their life.  See, that doesn’t come easily for me.  I need help.  It’s not that I don’t want to take people up on their offers to enter their lives, but I don’t do well with generic “come over any time” invitations.  I’m a “J” people.  I like definition, structure, specifics.  I like to help people with things.  Like painting a room for instance.

I am tempted to give up.  Should I take a nap or go back to church for round two?  Round two of trying to be available for people and trying to become a part of something bigger than myself.  Round two of leaving the way I came: alone.  Round two of overwhelming sadness.

A Book Review: The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler

October 11, 2008

I remember hearing about The Vagnia Monologues when I was in college.  Since I was quite a bit of a fundie, I didn’t give it the time of day.  Truthfully, the whole thing made me very uncomfortable.  Things have changed and so have I.  My past does not haunt me as it once did and I have broken free from the bonds of fundamentalism.  I was at my friend’s house yesterday and I was sitting at her table eyeing all the books around me (books are our friends!) when I saw it.  It was sitting there on the shelf.  I asked for it.  She handed it to me.  I started reading.  Sometimes I don’t read the foreword or intro but I’m glad I did.  It was interesting.  I think I actually got more out of it than the monologues themselves.  My eyes got pretty big on a few occasions and my jaw dropped a few others.  My two friends, who were talking about something pretty serious, couldn’t help but stop to ask me what I had just read (they had already finished the book).  So here are my thoughts on the book:

This book is about “down there.”  Yes, that’s right, your friendly neighborhood vagina.  Or more accurately, your vulva (i.e., the whole package deal).  My friend was mortified when I told her the term that I have used since my youth.  In an effort to keep this post rated “E” for “Everyone,” I will say it’s listed on page 6 as what folks from New Jersey call it which make sense since I was born and raised there (until I was 14 anyway).  Anywho, if there is one thing this book is not, that would be subtle.  But after all, that’s the point.  For too long us women have been taught it’s not okay to talk about our vagina.  For instance, there are many phallic symbols that people see without trying and joke about without much consternation.  And yet, would any one ever say that’s a…wait…is there even a word like phallicfor the vagina?  Sheesh.  Okay, so we call our vagina by various vague or insulting terms and somehow this has always been okay.  Encouraged even.  Well as far as Eve Ensler is concerned, it’s gotta stop!  And I for one have to agree with her.  Our vaginas are not some thing that should be shunned and neglected and spurned.  Our vaginas are an extension of ourselves.  They are wonderful.  They are powerful.  

Despite what some believe about The Vagina Monologues, is not a book about sex.  It’s reverent in it’s irreverence.  It is engaging.  And it is a bridge to a much bigger issue: the neglect and abuse of women around the world.  V-day is something they started in 1998 to continue to get the word out.

I read this book in one day.  It is not a hard read and the format helps out quite a bit.  There are lists of answers to questions like: If your vagina got dressed what would it wear? and If your vagina could talk, what would it say in two words?  Strange?  A bit.  BUT! how wonderful a way to help women see that their vagina is not just a ‘thing between their legs.’  So again, this book is not about sex.  It’s not erotica.  I must say there is one part that is erotic, but other than that, it’s more exploratory.  It’s about having a healthy relationship with your vagina.  It’s about taking care of yourself.  It’s about being a woman.

So if you are a woman I would recommend reading it.  Even if parts are offensive to you, keep reading.  You never have to agree with every word slapped between the covers of a book.  It is well worth your time!  If you you are a young woman, read it with a woman you trust.  But just remember…she might need to read it just as much (if not more than!) you do so be gentle with her.  And if you have little girls too young to read it (I would say maybe younger than 13?) read it yourself and teach them what you learn.  It’s really important.  I wish my mom would have taught me.  But now maybe I’ll get to teach her…she still might not know that her vagina is not something to be ashamed of.