Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Is There a Place for John Piper Near a Microphone?

The answer: No!

Now to offer explanation. John Piper recently wrote a piece, "Is There a Place for Female Professors at Seminary?" where he answered a laboriously argued, painfully toxic, "No."

His basic argument: He believes in complementarianism. Church and home life from this supposedly biblical perspective is gendered. Women lead the home. Men lead the church. And church leadership should be made up of a team of "spiritual, humble, and biblical men."

He then argues that it simply isn't fitting for women to train men for a role that is primarily for men. Basically, this is the exemplar argument... that we need to see exemplified in the person training us that which we are being trained for.

So only football coaches can train future football coaches. Only dads can teach their sons how to be men. Only near-sighted people can teach near-sighted people how to wear glasses.


This is, admittedly, a widespread argument in the church. It's why Roman Catholics only have male priests, because they believe the priest stands in persona Christi in the parish as an example of Christ. And since Christ was male, so priests should be male.

There are many problems with this argument. For one, it's not readily apparent why you couldn't apply some other category as a requirement for pastoral or priestly ministry. Like, that since Jesus was a human being, only human beings can be pastors. No cats.

And in a society and time where we have discovered the great benefits of egalitarianism, and also exposed the problems of patriarchy, arguments like John Piper's (made, of course, by a man) come across not only as retrograde, but also as harmful and toxic.

Such statements from a widely read and revered theologian will undermine the call of faithful women throughout our culture. It disrespects the amazing teaching of female scholars in seminaries across the country, and disregards the reality that many of our greatest models of faithfulness as pastors are women.

The post is embarrassing because it so clearly elevates a dogmatic construct, complementarianism, and places enforcement of that dubious construct as the highest value. Instead of honoring the call of his many female colleagues, he feels it necessary to defend his toxic thesis. Then calls that biblical.

I call it a failure of love.

By contrast, a more faithful approach to women in the church is hosted by many denominations, including our own. I highly commend to all readers the draft social statement of the ELCA on Women and Justice. Patriarchy and sexism prevent abundant life for all. Complementarianism participates in such sexism, inasmuch as it enforces, for one, just two gender categories, without any recognition of fluidity both in gender identity and gender roles, and also because it denies the freedom offered in Christ to the whole church, the whole people of God.

This will be silly, but no more silly than complementarianism. If we take Jesus as our example, and if we think the exemplar path is the path to follow... then remember Jesus never talked on a microphone. Humble, spiritual, biblical men like John Piper should follow Jesus' example, and step away from the microphone. They might take some time to listen to the many faithful women leaders in the wider church, and discover how powerfully those women inspire all people, women, men, and more, to take up the mission of working for God's coming kin-dom. Even leading it.

Is there a place for John Piper near a microphone?

Absolutely not. Step away, John, step away.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Being a Christian on Social Media

I don't know about you, but lately I've been in an analog state of mind. As much as I love experimentation in digital and social media, I've also simply wanted to do more tactile and face-to-face things. I'd rather have coffee with you than browse Facebook (and often I'd rather read a book than read Facebook). I am trying to be present in the moment with family and friends and not distracted by devices. It's hard, and I often fail. But I want to do better.

Partially this is because I know much of new media is designed to keep us facing our screens. I don't want to be manipulated, but I know the psychological strategies of some of the larger media companies far outpace my own resistance.

Partially it's because I think I'm simply maxed out on media. I just can't keep up, there's only so much to which we can all attend, and at the end of the day, I wonder, do I want this day, this month, this year, to have been filled with scrolling through posts, or doing something else.  

A few years ago I wrote a book on faith formation in new media. Since then, I've continued to ponder how new media is forming our minds, our hearts, and our communities. I continue to believe, as I wrote there, that we are still very much learning the effects of new media on our brains, on our faith communities, on our hearts. Right now we are still observing the effects of the transition to a life where much of our shared life is mediated through digital media.

Given that reality, it is important for us to always keep in mind that what we are doing here in social media--on Facebook, or Instagram, or Snapchat, or even this e-mail--isn't about Christian ministry, as if we lived our faith in real life, and this were just commentary on faith. 

No, all our e-mails, all our posts, all our tweets, they are how we communicate faith, they are how we share human life with each other. They mediate the faith between us.

So, for example, although the Fayetteville Women's March that will take place tomorrow is a powerful analog moment of hundreds of humans present and marching together, the pages and posts from the leaders of the march (one of whom is GSLC's own Autumn Tolbert) are also part of that march. They aren't just about the march. They participate in the march and mediate it. They help us understand and celebrate it better.

Church can be mediated in such fashion also. You and I can post prayers and pray with others, by e-mail and in social media. We can use social media to share and encourage kindnesses. When we join groups, participate in chats, we engage spaces where we actively practice both articulating our faith, and find inspiring others who model faith for us.

You can read the bible, and even prepare for the Scripture lessons that we read each Sunday in worship. And unless you read books in theology and social ethics, you probably pick up a lot of your theological insights here.

As I've been preparing to preach Sunday, I came across a quote from a commentary on the gospel of Mark. I noticed it because a friend and colleague who pastors in California posted it on Facebook. This is how new media works, we influence each other (as we always have) but at greater distances and in new ways. 

Here's the quote:

"To become 'fishers of men,' despite the grand old tradition of missionary interpretation, does not refer to the 'saving of souls,' as if Jesus were conferring upon these men instant evangelist status. Rather, the image is carefully chosen from Jeremiah 16:16, where it is used as a symbol of Yahweh's censure of Israel. Elsewhere the 'hooking of fish' is a euphemism for judgment upon the rich (Amos 4:2) and powerful (Ezekiel 29:4). Taking this mandate for his own, Jesus is inviting common folk to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege." - Ched Myers, "Binding the Strong Man"
I think being a Christian on social media likely means this also, joining Jesus in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege. Social media can do a lot of different things, and amplify such a voice for such a mission is one of them. 

Blessings in Christ to each of you this weekend, and I hope to see you in that most analog of spaces this Sunday. The sanctuary.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Naming Donald Trump's and Steve Womack's Racism

ELCA Presiding Bishop responds to reported racist comments

I am very disappointed and disturbed by the remarks that President Donald Trump is reported to have said yesterday – and confirmed by others who were present – in the context of a discussion about immigration.

Regardless of the context, references of that kind have no place in our civil discourse and, if true, reflect racist attitudes unbecoming any of us, but especially a president of the United States.

Instead, we should be fostering a world where each of us sees every person – regardless of race, origin, ethnicity, gender or economic status – in the image of God and, therefore, worthy of dignity and respect. Our church has relationships and partnerships with Christians and others on six continents. These are our sisters and brothers. We strive to accompany them and they us, across boundaries and cognizant of our diversity, yet all seeking the common good. In working for a healed, reconciled and just world, we all should faithfully strive to participate in God's reconciling work, which prioritizes disenfranchised, vulnerable and displaced people in our communities and the world, bearing witness – each of us – to the love of God in Jesus Christ.

"We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization" —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

God's peace,

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton 

At the local level, here was Representative Steve Womack's response, equally racist in its perspective:
What I think the president is saying is that if you're only appealing to people from countries that are behind the times, depraved countries, if that's the element that you're appealing to, and of course a lot of those folks are wanting to come to America and pursue the American dream, then he feels like that we should make the same or a better appeal to people from other European countries et cetera that can come in here and actually fit into the society as we know it and do the kinds of things that will make America a prosperous nation. (
Together with my presiding bishop and many world leaders, I condemn and reject these racist, nativist comments from Trump and Womack. If our elected leaders would like guidance on how to speak of our neighbors around the world, they might consider the widely respected priest James Martin.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Climate Change | Refugee Connection

One of the salient features of climate change is how it affects all of life. Here are some connections between climate change and the global refugee crisis, which our congregation has committed to ameliorate through its partnership with Canopy NWA.

In the video series, Years of Living Dangerously, the segments by Thomas Friedman make this connection in the starkest manner. For example, a short segment from Season 1 is particularly on-point for how climate change affects the war in Syria and the refugee crisis that resulted.

Syria was a very advanced country and very rich before the worst drought in more than a millennium changed everything.

Here is a brief segment that Thomas Friedman did on Yemen and a city that is running out of water, which causes a conflict that contributes to the war there. 

Here is Thomas Friedman reporting in a longer (28-minute) segment on Sub-Saharan Africa’s climate crisis and the connections to refugees fleeing the region and heading to Europe.

Now, add to these stories the experience that we observe in Springdale among the Marshallese community. The Marshall Islands are being flooded by sea level rise. My Friend, Chris Balos, is dealing with his Grandmother, who makes him promise to bury her in the Marshall Islands, land of her birth (see below the excerpt from a recent graphic novel published by the Weather Channel on the topic of climate change and the Marshallese community in Springdale, Arkansas).

The problem is that his other Grandmother and Grandfather were buried in the Marshall Islands in a historic cemetery. Since their burial a few years ago, their bodies have been washed away by high tides.

Excerpt from the United States of Climate Change
So, when I write that climate change exacerbates the current global refugee crisis, I am not exaggerating. These are strong motivations behind the urgency I feel regarding the need to clean up our sources of electricity, including installing solar PV arrays. The Church must be the leader in making these connections between our actions and the suffering of people all over the world.

The church can lead in a manner that demonstrates our faith values and the connections between refugee ministries and problems caused by climate change in exacerbating droughts that drive wars in Syria and Yemen and refugee flight from Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Guest post: Terry Tremwel, ph.D. chairman of the board Picasolar and adjunct instructor of sustainability at the University of Arkansas; Terry coordinates our adult forums Sunday mornings at 10:15 a.m. at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

Thursday, January 04, 2018


I have a friend who organizes the month of 100 things each January. Her practice is to identify 100 things she owns she can give away or sell. It’s a small counter-measure against the onslaught of accumulation that seems a part of our daily lives, and especially strong over the Christmas holiday.

I’m not one of those who believes things are themselves bad. Although most of us wax and wane, first committing to lives of simplicity, then giving in and purchasing that book we’ve wanted to read. Our connection to things is neither perfectly pure nor particularly bad in and of itself. We are conflicted consumers, sometimes paralyzed by options, but we are also human and appreciators of beauty, and many of the most beautiful things are, well, things.

It might even be true that in an era when the stuff of life has become ever more ephemeral, residing in the cloud, digitally mediated, untouchable yet present, that the aura of things takes on even greater poignancy. My cashier at the grocery store today told me they only have a record player and LPs in their house—no CD player. Tactile board games have seen a resurgence the past few years, even outpacing video games on a fund-raising platform like Kickstarter.

Many of us in the new year have committed to more tactile practices of daily life. Face to face with friends more, online with Facebook less. Such changes can themselves be idealized, inasmuch as there are many goods that have come along with a shared life in social media, but the impulse to connect physically, to touch each other and physical objects, speaks to a real spirituality of material things.

All of this has left me thinking about the spiritual movement of our times, what we can call immanentism. Immanence is the sense that the divine encompasses or is especially, maybe even exclusively, present in the world itself. When we experience some material objects, other human beings, natural settings, we have this sense of immanence. We see the moon, the face of a friend, a landscape, or even an especially beautifully rendered video game or hear a powerful music composition, and we think, God. Divine. Wow.

In fact we need such a sense of immanence. With the lack of it, you have brinksmanship like that between North Korea and the United States, with two leaders threatening button-pushing on Twitter with little recognition that the material results of such nuclear action would be the murder of millions and the destruction of large swaths of our planet.

This then sends me back to the accumulation of things. We feel the weight of things themselves, their aura, in their immanence, their awe-ness. We also feel their weight in another way as an over-whelming pressure, too much stuff, stuff to get rid of, stuff we felt compelled to buy and then lost the love of almost immediately.

Newspapers exist somewhere here in the mix. They arrive new each day on the driveway, delivered and ready to read. They are then something to be recycled by the Monday following. There is something divine about a coffee and the newspaper at morning breakfast. Bagging them up to recycle is a burden.

The spirituality of every day life resides in this precise dialectic. Transcendence in materiality. The weight of too many things wasted, and periodically transfigured. The art of our life is in maintaining this balance, always with an eye to the beauty of all the immanent things freighted with freeing weight of transcendence.