Archives for category: Community

A theological reflection on saving a Christian college campus.

I am home now. As in, abandoned prairie dreams to come back to the Pacific Northwest with its layers of mountains and hills, moody shifts in grey hues, waterlogged air, and the smell of low tide. It is fortunate that I can complete my research away from school at this point, and even tailor it to this region. The thought of learning Chicago watersheds for my studies in baptism felt daunting.

Coming home has its share of mixed feelings, particularly when my memory is taxed with recalling what ‘used to be’ on that corner instead of the shiny tall thing that looms overhead. So, when I saw the article in the local news about an old Bible school coming due for demolition, I started reading closely. Sure enough, I remembered the place–vaguely, but well enough.

I can’t remember if it was a vacation Bible school, or simply a weekend retreat that took me to the Lutheran Bible Institute in Issaquah, but I remember her. Her name was similar to mine, Kirstin, she had straight, blonde hair, and she sang in the a cappella music group at the Bible school. I remember feeling so enamored with her, like she could be my big sister. We may have even exchanged a few letters as pen pals. I remember, too, the buildings that felt a little old, but in that vertical NW, mod quirky kind of way. At that time, about the only difference I knew existed between the Lutherans and Presbyterians (such as I was), had to do with the color robes their clergy wore on Sundays. Yet I would have signed up to go to LBI in a heartbeat; especially if it meant singing alongside my new friend such lyric hits as, “It’s about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. / Faith without works…”

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the local megachurches owns the property now, and that they have an interest in selling it. But in a region with few religious landmarks, the thought of losing a 1960s chapel and school with a unique history (the Lutherans bought it from the Catholics) is dispiriting. Surely another religious organization would think so, too? Or is a generic evangelical church focused on being young and relevant simply deaf to any cries of history or tradition? I wonder, then, if this isn’t a case of good old North American pragmatism. The church is not a building, it is wherever two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus Christ–so goes the logic.

Shouldn’t a place where the broken, risen body of Christ has been shared, given and communed across time and denominations mean something?

For nearly ten years I worshiped in a space that was built by the Methodists, then occupied by a brewery, a disco, the Baptists, and some other commercial interests during its 100+ year history (not to mention squirrels and other critters in the attic). Houses of worship that have been around for a while feel different. There is a kind of spatial patina that can rub off on unsuspecting visitors, enriching the music, the prayers, the communion of saints. At times in church, I could sense the hopes and desires of past parishioners. My great-grandparents never worshiped there, but someone’s did.

The Providence Heights space is unique as a theological school, first for nuns, then for Lutheran women and men. Let me repeat that: the school was built to educate women first. It may be tempting to be dismissive of a training school for Catholic nuns, but considering how difficult it still is–globally speaking–for women to receive any kind of dedicated theological education, let’s just say this is significant. While the chapel was not a community church per se, it served as a basin for the missio Dei, and a nest from which hopeful young Christians followed the call of the Spirit to the world.

Surely, a fellow religious organization such as City Church, with its focus on developing relevant leaders for the world, would understand such a history?

At a time when property values are soaring out of reach, churches are shrinking, and decisions for survival must be made on a purely economic basis, does City Church (or any church) have a responsibility to history or tradition? What does it look like to honor the people who have gone before in particular places; who have celebrated the Lord’s supper, and proclaimed his death and resurrection in these walls? This week of Pentecost, I pray for a creative solution for the people of Issaquah, for City Church, and the Providence Heights campus. Come, Holy Spirit, and breathe new life.

I know some amazing, compassionate, articulate and wise people; and this morning, my facebook feedback loop is filled with messages encouraging all to support one another, to mourn, and to participate in God’s work and love here on the earth. Our democracy has failed us. The nationalist religion of politics declared one candidate the winner while the other candidate is accruing more individual votes. How many of those votes were ‘simply’ because people could not vote for a woman?

This morning I am stunned, yet not surprised. One thing I see is that the anger and fear of change–social changes, economic disenfranchisement, cultural and technological upheaval–is out in the open. We have squirreled ourselves away long enough in our own little corners. It’s time to face our fears. God only knows what that will look like, but I think we have an idea from the gospel accounts.

American Christianity must change. In fact, it cannot be “American” any longer. To all persons of faith, it’s time to encounter the living God, to let the Spirit cleanse us from our idols of comfort, and to pray continually,

Abba, let your name be made holy
Let your Kingdom come, your will be done
Here on the earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.
Amen

When I was a child, I could not imagine what it would be like to get married but I knew I wanted to adopt a little girl. That was my vision for a future family: me, my little girl, and our cat. Decades later, after finally meeting that someone I liked enough to want a mini version, I have wrestled with the idea of adoption to the point of not wanting to consider it at all. Yet, aside from the expense and bizarre economics that intersect with racialized bodies, I couldn’t quite articulate what–exactly–was so disconcerting. Until now.

I recently ran into two pieces on adoption, both from the perspective of adoptees (both happen to be young women adopted from Asian countries). The first was a riveting slam poem that explored the challenge of not quite ‘fitting’ one’s name. The second article laid it out like this: “Adoption can be a very good thing for an individual child, but it is not charity. It is not a religious crusade. It is never a ‘miracle,’ the hand of God at work, when a child ends up living without their original parents.” Just like that, the writer articulated the very thing that makes me so uneasy about the adoption industry: the presumption that I–by virtue of being a middle class, educated, white woman–would provide for someone else’s child better. But, as the writer questions, better than what? better than whom? So often the process of adoption skips over entire households of relations to place a child with perfect strangers.

The desire to raise a family for so many women is a visceral longing–so intense it feels like a calling. Our churches support the vision of loving families that provide and care for not only their own flesh and blood but others who are no less deserving of a stable home. Yet, here’s the problem with much of the language we hear: it is one sided. A newborn cannot ask to stay with her biological mother, whose scent and voice are the only things she knows.

I once overheard a young woman in church sharing about the infant foster child she had just received in her home. She was so excited for this child, and was (understandably) nervous about the tenuous nature of fostering. Then she commented that the mother was in rehab–one of the requirements to be considered “fit” to get her baby back–but she still hoped to be able to keep the child. I am not suggesting that she wished the mother ill, but for her and her husband to ‘keep’ this child would mean for the mother to fail at getting treatment and turning her life around. What struck me in this moment was how we have constructed a child welfare system that breaks down far more than it builds up.

And we, as Christians, help perpetuate this system. We even have scriptural justification. In Romans 8 Paul uses language describing the Spirit of adoption God has extended to us. Somehow we equate bringing a child into our home with God’s saving grace that unites us in Christ with God’s household. Adoption then becomes a means of saving children, but at the expense of a meaningful connection with relatives, geography, culture (except for those families who are very intentional about maintaining some kind of connection).

Yes, I have outlined a rather sullen perspective on adoption. I certainly do not mean to say the system needs to be done away with altogether. But I want to stretch the canvas bigger. Rather than zooming in on the portrait of a “needy” child, what if we acknowledged the other people in that child’s life, starting with their biological parents? This quickly gets complicated, but the most significant issue I see with adoption is that it requires commodifying children as individual units with virtually no relations. (Again, there are exceptions.) A child’s story began long before they were born–how could we possibly know that without developing some sort of relationship with their family of origin?

Reflecting on the gospel narratives of Jesus, many of the stories remixed household dynamics. Paul went even further to turn oppressive household codes on their head in Colossians. How then might we consider what that looks like for us today? Another way to think of it: are we looking to create family friendly churches or familial churches? Family friendly churches tend to support the individual units composed of parents and children who live in the same house. Contrast that with a church community that sees itself as an extended family to any and all who gather together. I know I have benefitted from the latter, and hope to continue nurturing familial relations wherever I end up.