Wells in the Wilderness

For about the last year, I have been worshiping with the community of St. Luke’s Lutheran of Logan Square — on the Sundays I haven’t been preaching elsewhere, of course.  I chose St. Luke’s because they are a vibrant and visionary community that had the courage to sell their building and open up shop in a storefront, and because of their deep commitment to social justice — and also, largely, to “low-key stalk” my dear friend Erin while she completed her internship year there.

hagar-ishmael-augo4Anyhoo, one of the neat things St. Luke’s does is to engage the congregation in a regular practice of testimony, often inviting laypeople to prepare testimonies from their own lives around a certain theme to read in worship.  This past Sunday was my last Sunday at St. Luke’s before I move to New Mexico for internship (by the way, I’m moving to New Mexico for internship — forgot to make that announcement!).  It seemed incredibly fitting that I should answer a question about experiencing God in the desert before embarking on a literal journey to a literal desert.

My testimony was related to the Hebrew Testament reading — Genesis 21:8-21 — in which Hagar and her son Ishmael are kicked out into the desert by Abraham’s wife Sarah.  I was asked to respond to the question, “When was a time when you experienced God/good news in a place of isolation, abandonment, death?”  This is what I wrote:

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Waging Holy War with the DSM-5

CW: fatphobia, eating disorders, IWL/diet talk

Introduction

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”; this was the oft-repeated mantra of the doctor who once helped me lose over 30 pounds (after having already lost 40) in a little under three months by dramatically restricting my diet. Her words are symptomatic of a larger trend that is deeply entrenched in the medical industry, namely, an underexplored and oversimplified conflation of health and wellbeing with weight. The automatic attribution of poor health to body size has led to an emphasis on reducing body mass, often to the detriment of health. By identifying fatness as a problem in and of itself, the medical industry has made itself a complicit player in the size-ism and weightism that run rampant in U.S. and other developed societies, lending professional credibility to the “fatphobic” attacks of the diet, fitness, and fashion industries on fat individuals. Eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are a logical consequence of this rampant weightism and size-ism, a natural response to the medically reinforced notion that thin = good and that fat must be avoided at all costs.

The church has resources that can help heal our society’s disordered and unhealthy relationship to both food and body. These resources date back to the early centuries of Christianity; in particular, this paper will explore the relevance of the writings of Evagrius Ponticus, a fourth century Egyptian desert monk, and Gregory the Great, a sixth century Roman pope. Both of these Christian figures wrote extensively about the ancient church’s understanding of gluttony, and about how the relationship between self, neighbor, creation, and God is properly to be understood. Two other key tools in the ecclesial toolkit are a theological affirmation of the inherent goodness of creation, and a robust theology of incarnation. Together, these resources present a countercultural and life-giving alternative to our eating disordered society that is deeply rooted in God’s love and promises. Continue reading

Recovering Ancient Understandings of Gluttony

Book Review/Reflection for Class:
The God of Thinness: Gluttony and Other Weighty Matters by Mary Louise Bringle

       Mary Louise Bringle lays out her book, The God of Thinness: Gluttony and Other Weighty Matters, after the fashion of a meal, titling her chapters “Apértif,” “First Course,” “Second Course,” and so on. I found it fitting, because this book was, indeed, a rich feast of reflection on the issue of gluttony and its relationship to the culture surrounding weight, food, and dieting in our society. I also appreciated that this book was suffused with Bringle’s own struggles with disordered eating and self-image; she conveys a gravity and emotional complexity around this issue which I also deeply feel. Bringle opens up the riches of Christian tradition, history, and theology to respond to this still current question of gluttony. She explores patristic and monastic writings for wisdom on how gluttony is rightly to be understood; I particularly found her discussion of Gregory the Great’s five kinds of gluttony to be clarifying and helpful. And she ultimately shows that gluttony is a matter of disordered priorities that idolize the goodness of creation above its Creator, resulting in damaged relationship to God, to neighbor, and to self. This book was published 25 years ago, but it continues to be extremely relevant.

Evagrius P Continue reading

Making Space for Mystics and Madness

Here’s another bit of writing from one of my classes this semester, this one from the Pastoral Care and Mental Illness course I’ve been taking.  This particular course has had some interesting overlap with another of my classes: Desert Discipleship, which explores the legacy of the desert fathers and mothers of the early centuries of Christianity.  In this assignment, which I conceived as an article for a church newsletter, I propose a connection between schizophrenia and the legacy of St. Anthony.  Enjoy!

st-anthony-the-great-3St. Antony, also known as Anthony the Great, was a Christian monk who lived in Egypt in the third and fourth centuries. He renounced the wealth left to him by his parents and chose to live an ascetic life in the desert, fasting and meditating on Christ. Antony became a wise and famous figure of Egyptian monasticism, but more than anything, he was known for his battles with demons.

St. Athanasius, the fourth century bishop of Alexandria, described these battles in The Life of Antony, which quickly became one of the most popular books in Christian history. Many modern readers will find these accounts more than a little odd, but there was something about Antony’s life and his battles with the demons that earlier generations undeniably found compelling. Athanasius describes how Antony withdraws further and further into the desert, at one point enclosing himself in a deserted barracks and receiving stores of food only twice a year. Athanasius writes:

Those friends who came to see him, since he would not allow them to come inside, often remained outside day and night. They heard what sounded like mobs of people creating a ruckus and crashing around inside, letting loose their pitiful voices and crying out, “Get away from what belongs to us! What are you doing in the desert? You will not be able to endure our connivings!” Those outside at first thought some people… had gotten inside by means of ladders… but when they knelt down to look through a hole in the wall, they did not see anyone. (Athanasius, 2003, p. 89)

1an33__24635_1405404609_900_900Antony instructs his followers to be wary of these demonic voices, telling them that they fill one’s head with “filthy thoughts” and cause “apparitions,” that “they pretend to frighten us by changing their shapes and taking on the appearance of women, wild beasts, reptiles…” (Athanasius, 2003, p. 113)

Hundreds of people flocked to the desert to be taught by Antony, to the point that Athanasius writes that they “forcibly tore down his door and forced him to come out.” (Athanasius, 2003, p. 91) Reading this in the 21st century, I have a hard time imagining this happening in our day. Even though the Christian church has centuries of history and tradition of mysticism and mystery, I can’t imagine people rushing out to sit at the feet of anyone who heard voices and saw apparitions and warned others about demons putting thoughts into their heads today. Can you? If St. Antony lived today, many folks would probably be pretty quick to label him a schizophrenic. They would probably say that he was crazy. Continue reading

Sermon: Eyes of Faith

Thursday, April 27, 2017
James Kenneth Echols Prize for Excellence in Preaching Event
Augustana Chapel, Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago

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My friend Anna and I were finalists for the winners of our seminary’s annual preaching prize, and we both had the privilege of preaching our sermons, based on the road to Emmaus story, in chapel last Thursday.  Here is mine, and here is Anna’s.

Manuscript follows below.

s463025724710779803_p176_i66_w600Luke 24:13-35 (The Walk to Emmaus)
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,  but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.  Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

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Cancer, Evolution, and a Creation Stumbling Forward

636108839739494027-1837980528_Pink-Breast-Cancer-Awareness-Wallpapers.jpgI have been taking a particularly fascinating (and challenging!) course this semester called “The Epic of Creation: Scientific, Biblical, and Theological Perspectives on Our Origins.”  While many of our class sessions have been (to my mind) thickly scientific and technical and rather over my head, last Monday, we had a deeply engaging conversation about theological and pastoral perspectives on cancer as an evolutionary phenomenon.  Given my family history of cancer — most notably, my mother’s death from breast cancer in 1994 — this is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart.  I rushed home after class to write my reflections about all that we had discussed, and after re-reading what I wrote, I decided to share some of it here.  I hope it’s meaningful for others as it is for me. Continue reading

Sermón: Palmas y perspectivas

Domingo de ramas / Palm Sunday
9 abril, 2017 / April 9, 2017
Mateo 21:1-11 / Matthew 21:1-11
First Lutheran Church of Lutheran Square

(I also submitted this sermon as an assignment for my preaching class, so I experimented with a different approach to writing a sermon.  I hope you enjoy it!  It also preceded an action with the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance, supporting reforms of Chicago’s Welcoming Cities Ordinance.)


(sermon starts around 2:04)
(manuscript is below)

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Sermon: Truth from the Margins

Third Sunday of Lent / Tercer domingo de cuaresma
March 19, 2017 / 19 marzo, 2017
John 4:5-42 / Juan 4:5-42
First Lutheran Church of Lutheran Square

0e6ef653fa10cdcb6a77686873a70189La única cosa que le interesaba a Kenny era Bionicle – un mundo de ciencia ficción y fantasía creado por Lego, con ciborgues, robotes, y monstruos. Le conocí a Kenny durante el verano de 2006 cuando trabajaba como consejera en un campamento luterano de jóvenes. A mi me tocaba cuidar a un grupito de siete campistas: 3 niñas, 3 niños, y Kenny. Kenny era un niño muy amable. Le gustaba mucho dibujar y contar historias – mayormente sobre Bionicle – pero le costaba enfocarse en las actividades del grupo. Dentro de pocos días sus peculiaridades empezaron a molestar un poco a los demás niños, y Kenny se convirtió en un marginado.

Este cuento de la mujer samaritana, me recuerde un poco de Kenny. Como Kenny, la mujer samaritana parecía ser una marginada de su pueblo. Vino sola al pozo a sacar agua durante las horas más calientes del día. En su conversación con Cristo, revela que ha tenido cinco maridos y que ya vive con uno que no es su marido. Posiblemente era adúltera, pero no lo sabemos por seguro. Puede que fuera viuda o hasta divorciada cinco veces. Quizás le obligaron a casarse con varios hermanos de la misma familia por una práctica que se llamaba el matrimonio “levirato,” y ya se quedó sola. Sea lo que sea su historia, el hecho de que estaba sola en el pozo, conversando sobre agua viva con un hombre ajeno, probablemente indica que era un poco diferente a los demás de su pueblo.

Por lo tanto, imagino que cuando ella vino corriendo del pozo, llena de emoción, la última cosa que esperaba su pueblo era que les traía la palabra de vida de Dios. Y yo lo imagino así, porque cuando Kenny vino corriendo a nuestro grupito, lleno de emoción, yo tampoco lo esperaba. Continue reading

My Own Independence Day

CW: diet talk, weight loss, profanity, disordered eating

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Me rocking a new winter coat that actually fits well and looks nice

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I quietly celebrated an important anniversary yesterday.  It’s been exactly one year since I gave up dieting and stopped trying to lose weight.  I had been resistant and afraid to do it, terrified that I would lose all control over my eating and constantly gorge myself on all the fatty, fried, and sweet foods I so desperately craved.  I felt like a crazy person around food and even thought that perhaps I was a food addict.  I used to hide my eating from those closest to me who I knew would disapprove: hiding candy in unlikely places (like my closet or behind books on a shelf), hiding myself in the bathroom to sneak my little treats.  I felt guilty and hungry and ashamed all. the. time.

A year ago, I was lying face down on my bed, sobbing uncontrollably, feeling like the most miserable life form in the universe.  I don’t even remember what set me off, if indeed, there even was anything.  I was so sick of dieting, so sick of constantly denying myself the pleasure of eating.  And most of all, I was just unbearably sad.  The ideal of the thin (or even the thinner) me seemed impossibly far out of reach, and getting further by the minute.  I had legitimately given it my best.  I have lost as much as 70lbs in a single go in my life, but without fail, it always comes back, and when it does, it brings along reinforcements. Continue reading