About saholst

I am on a spectacular, curving journey to combine art, farming and priesthood into a community calling for the healing of our planet.

The Last Time God Died: Anxiety, Consolation, and the Limitations of Spiritual Language

This is a three-part post by Jay Aquinas Thompson: a poet, activist, parent, and an adult convert to Catholicism. He lives in Seattle with his family, where he attends St. Mary’s Church and teaches creative writing to women incarcerated at King County Jail. He keeps a blog at downdeepdowndeep.wordpress.com.

  1. Theology and “the assumption that man needs God”

 

christian_wiman_abyssThe risk, of course, is that we might believe the hype about our own intellectual era. Attached as I am to Simone Weil, Christian Wiman, and other intensely atheistic Christian writers, I imagined I’d have fun reading the Death of God theologians—the school of ecumenical 60’s Protestant theology that claimed that God was no longer accessible in human life, was absent. But I found that what this absence means, and how it is to be understood, is very different for different Death-of-Godders. I spent this last winter reading Thomas J.J. Alitzer and William Hamilton’s 1966 essay collection, Radical Theology and the Death of God, expecting to be braced, spooked, and shaken up; instead I learned to relate to my own time differently in how watching how Alitzer and Hamilton related to theirs.

As different as hot and cold, prophet and community man, Alitzer and Hamilton nonetheless share touchstones: Bonhoeffer’s prison letters; Kierkegaard’s assault on the placid, reasonable, bourgeois social construction of Western European Christendom.

william_hamiltonFor Hamilton, the “death of God” means the exhaustion of old ideas of transcendence—the eclipse of their explanatory necessity or intellectual plausibility—and the subsequent withering of the old forms of church. Hamilton defines religion not as its rites, nor as a site and source of symbolic vocabulary for spiritual experience; religion, instead, is “any system of thought or action in which God or the gods serve as fulfiller of needs or solver of problems” or “the assumption that man needs God.” But, Hamilton writes, in a dawning world of scientific knowledge, political comity, and material plenty, we Christians no longer need God-the-transcendent-problem-solver. Therefore, we no longer need religion as he has defined it. Instead, he celebrates that our society has (citing his interpretation of Bonhoeffer’s letters) “come of age.” In our era, “it is to the world and not God,” he writes, “that we repair for our needs and problems.” With the transcendent being no longer housed in the forms of Christian worship, we Christians are called instead to find Christ in the world: to build a pluralist and religionless Christianity, centered in Jesus’s love ethic. And now that we no longer need God, he adds, we can perhaps now “delight in him.”

thomas_altizerFor Alitzer, the death of God is more immediate and painfully felt. He agrees with Hamilton that God is no longer necessary in our culture of human thriving and technological progress. He draws on Hegel’s theory of dialectics to suggest that Spirit had to empty some of itself to make any appearance in the Flesh, in tangible forms such as revelation. The final, ultimate negation of Spirit was Christ’s Incarnation and the Cross. In becoming Flesh, Spirit is no longer accessible to us. And—though this idea anguishes him—he writes that a Christian God who can’t be found in every moment is dead, since Christians enjoy no eternal covenant but the presence of the Spirit, which it’s no longer possible to feel. Further, the explanatory power of science, which cheers Hamilton, breaks Alitzer’s heart. The discovery of the autonomy of nature and the infinity of space have destroyed the intellectual confines of Christendom, because “the world is [now] no longer meaningful by means of anything which might lie beyond it.” Alitzer yearns for a new inbreaking of the Spirit into the world, a future Hegelian “synthesis.” But, until then, we must enter a spiritual “dark night” and accept the “radically profane” nature of our current world. Until then, Alitzer believes that “the Word that is silent in our time is a Word that has been negated by the Word itself.”

More in the next post on how believers often see their own era, for better and for worse.

On Bearing Witness at the Minnesota Governor’s Mansion

This is a post by Emilie Bouvier: a community organizer and artist living in St. Paul, MN. Emilie serves the Minneapolis area ELCA synod as Congregational Organizer for Environmental Justice. Her art website is www.emiliebouvier.com. These are a few words that Emilie shared with us in a spirit of ecumenism about her experiences last week/weekend holding vigil for Philando Castile at the Minnesota Governor’s residence.

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For the first few days I felt kind of numb. Gathering for prayer, for worship, for lament was what I needed, but I could hardly even start speaking about things. It all felt like a jumbled pit in my stomach… disgust at the state of racial injustice in our nation, heartbroken that yet another black body was broken in the street, 1.8 miles from my apartment, overwhelmed by the horror of the particular glimpse we got into the last few moments of Philando’s life, bitterly angry at the constant resistance on behalf of white folks to the radical re-orienting of our selves and the structures of a society built on oppression.

Spending some long hours at the Governor’s Mansion yesterday afternoon and evening didn’t change those things, but it was such a powerful place of community, story, compassion, and truth-telling that I suddenly could feel my feet on the ground again — re-grounded and recommitted by the love and voices of those who showed up in that space to process the events, tell their own stories, give hugs, and even just dance.

I watched a beautiful healing dance performed by two Native American teenagers who made powerful statements about standing in solidarity with the black community – dancing as a way to show support, offer healing, and inviting all of us who were gathered around to join in.

I heard a young African American man start a story with “you know, when it’s hot out and you just really want an icy?” and end with describing how an officer demanded he confess what he was hiding, sure that the empty icy cup was a drug stash. It was nothing other than a soggy paper cup. (Can I just say, never in my life has anyone interrogated me about and then actually gone into the trash can to examine something that I’ve thrown away.)

I listened and teared up as an eleven year old African American girl stand up and speak through tears about how adults say that if you’re in trouble you should call the police, but now she’s sacred to. Even in her nervousness and occasional pauses to wipe tears, she had the most courageous strength and composure of anyone I heard come to the mic. And she kept talking. She talked about how things need to change. She talked about how she wasn’t going to stop speaking. Someone in the crowd asked for her name again, then shouted “Ellen for President!” We all started cheering her name and she smiled and cried as the leaders at the mic came around her and held her in a group hug. I hope she now knows that her community sees her as a leader and that she will in fact run for office. I vow to work on her campaign.

I heard a mom talk about how her daughter is 18, got straight As in school, was involved in her community, and went on to serve in the military. She’s proud her daughter is serving. But then her daughter calls her up and says “Mom, I feel “conflicted,” I feel like I’m serving a country that hates me.”

I also listened to people processing the events of Saturday night’s protest. Some talked about their own experiences being held in handcuffs that weren’t cuffs but ties that were drawn so tight they still had wounds on their wrists. Others talked about how moved they were by the white allies who helped act as a buffer in the midst of the 94 shutdown. Another talked about how someone in the neighborhood offered her a warm shower and lent her clothes. She said “I’m still angry, but I understand love now. I understand humanity now.” And many talked about how they saw and participated in peaceful demonstration – how violence was not present and not what we’re about here. How those white anarchists who were throwing bricks were not with us, and how infuriating it is that the media and those we’ve elected as officials don’t see the difference. There is a huge difference. The movement of people standing up for racial justice, taking the streets, disrupting business as usual, is not violent. We need our cities’ leaders to be held accountable, not let a few unaffiliated protesters be political grounds to write off the movement.

If you’re like me, you might be feeling overwhelmed and frustrated and like you’re just floating, or in a slog, or paralyzed, especially when reading about this stuff online or trying to process by yourself or even just trying to process with people who look like you. Go out to the Governor’s mansion (or join the Black Lives Matter folks near you). This community space to gather and hear stories is not going away. Is a place of love and story and openness. Go and sit for awhile. For a few hours, actually. Just listen. Just do it.

 

10 Reasons I believe in the Sacrament of Marriage

Radical Discipleship

weddingBy Lydia Wylie-Kellermann,
(first published on Converge’s website a couple years ago)

Lately, I have found myself in conversations with friends about relationships and commitment. I’ve been hearing them say, “We will be together as long as it works and if it stops working, then it will end.” There seems to be a distrust and even suspicion of the act of marriage. These are friends who have relationships I admire and who are clearly in it for the long haul. I trust their decision making and discernment, but it has made me pause to reflect on why we choose marriage.

1. Community

A marriage is rooted within a community. We prayed that our relationship would be a gift to the larger community and asking for the help of accountability and support when things are difficult.

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Miriam

This post is by Tevyn East, creator of the Carnival de Resistance (which will be in Minneapolis September 13-27) and was originally posted on radicaldiscipleship.net.  Miriam is part of an ongoing series on badass women of the bible. If you are interested in contributing a poem, reflection, sermon, art, etc on women in the bible for radicaldiscipleship.net email lydiaiwk@gmail.com.

Screen shot 2016-05-02 at 11.47.30 AM“So Miriam was shut out of the camp for seven days; and the people did not set out on the march until Miriam had been brought in again.”      Numbers 12: 15

In May of 2012, I entered into an artistic collaboration with Jay Beck, my now husband and partner in producing the Carnival de Resistance. We had established that I would come up to Philadelphia and together we would create works of theater that re-contextualize stories from scripture, based around each of the four elements: Water, Air, Earth, and Fire. Immediately upon landing, we discerned that we would first focus on the voice of water and that I would delve into the story of Miriam, Moses’ sister. Little did I know that this choice would throw me straight into the deep end!

Although not often realized, Moses’ destiny and the destiny of the Hebrew people is birthed in the Nile river in an unlikely alliance between women, both privileged and oppressed, who are ready to defy the cruel mandates of an imperial system. Focusing on Miriam’s experience, within this conspiracy and the unfolding Exodus story, was rich fodder for our water piece. I felt wonder at her euphoric dance and song toward liberation as the Israelites crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 15:20-27). This account is immediately followed by a story of healing and promise and bitter water being turned sweet (a curious twist on her name’s meaning, “Bitterness”). However, it shocked my system as I began working through the later part of Miriam’s grievous story. Miriam is struck with leprosy and punitively expelled from the Israelite’s camp for hers and Aarons attempt to question their brother, Moses’, absolute authority (Numbers 12: 1-15). After Aaron and the entire camp advocate for her restored relationship within the community, we hear nothing more from Miriam until the report of her death. And the sequence is simple – She died, was buried. there was no water. the people were thirsty and gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron (Numbers 20:1,2).

 

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Honored Guests

 This is a post by Jay Aquinas Thompson: a poet, activist, parent, and an adult convert to Catholicism. He lives in Seattle with his family, where he attends St. Mary’s Church and teaches creative writing to women incarcerated at King County Jail. He keeps a blog at downdeepdowndeep.wordpress.com.

  

pharisee and tax collectorSimplicity, simplicity. I subtract the wisteria breeze and Miles Davis and the smell of hot carpet and my saints and the cold lentil soup I just ate from this moment, and see if simplicity remains. I decide: this is as good a moment as any to be simple.

 

What if what I needed to be happy and well and full of meaning lay entirely inside me? Maybe this is what Emerson meant when he offered that “every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put. He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth.” The challenge of this, of course, is that you can really wait for something only if what you’re waiting for has already begun.

 

What if what you needed to be happy and well and full of meaning lay somewhere in between the Federal Housing Authority, the people whose job it is to arrest you for missing a probation hearing, the Department of Social and Health Services, the state appointees who take your kids away to the house of your aunt who won’t return your calls, and your own being, with its will to declare and defend itself? T. with the chipped tooth who spent high school living out of her locker and first shot black tar into her veins at twenty-five; M. who lost a grown son to a gang killing, began studies to become a minister on the inside, and then lost a second grown son the same way; K. who in a drunken punch-up stabbed her husband, accidentally fatally; E. who never had an educational experience that wasn’t trauma. What size is my students’ I when life is a series of things done to them? What hieroglyphic is visible in their life, the answer to the questions they would put? Continue reading

Mary and Elizabeth

This is a post by Lydia Wylie-Kellermann: a mother, writer, and activist in Detroit, MI. This post was originally published on www.radicaldiscipleship.net.

 

 

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Luke 1: 39-56

I wonder about the beginning of this reading. “Mary went with haste….” It seems like there are three possibilities for this. First is that she was so excited and filled with anticipation that she fled to a friend she loved. I think this is our most common interpretation. But I think it more likely the second or third possibility. Either she was sent away out of shame and embarrassment for three months. Or as I did more reading, it seems likely that being pregnant and not married with her status was actually cause for being stoned to death. She may have been fleeing for her life.

So, it is perhaps in that place or urgency and fear that this reading begins, but, after that it is nothing but delight. The reading is beautiful.

As I was sitting with this story, I realized how much I WISH that this was the Christmas story. That this was the birthing scene that we read together Christmas Eve. It is filled with the intimacy of friendship, the wisdom of women, longing, rejoicing, honoring one another, singing, and just a good long chunk of time to be with one another.

I love how it ends with “Mary stayed for 3 months before she went home.” Though that is cut from the lectionary. You can just imagine how they spent that time. Both pregnant. Two women- one old and one young. Resting, imagining, praying, cooking for another, massaging their bodies, and in the midst of it all talking about God and a radical new social order. Speaking dangerous politics. With those two women for mothers, no wonder Jesus and John turned out to be badasses.

It is just a beautiful scene. As I reflect at thirty-six weeks pregnancy today, this is what I hope for- circles of women, children leaping for joy, feeling that birth can be a shift in the status quo, and feeling honored and blessed by love and by God.

But that is not the scene we get this Christmas. While in so many ways, we have romanticized the Nativity story, it really is not a great birth story. It begins with them being ordered to leave their homes. Deported. To be counted. I imagine the relationships Mary had to leave behind. She would have known the midwives that would be at her birth. Perhaps she would have given birth the same place her mother did. Perhaps her mother and sisters would have been there. But instead, she is forced to leave, alone.

Then they have a long journey…on a donkey! This year, we have a strict NO Christmas travel policy in our family. Travel is hard work on these pregnant weary bodies. I remember how painful it was to be in labor traveling in a car on bumpy pavement. The idea of traveling by donkey on dirt roads while close or starting labor, sounds pretty horrible.

Then, she feels the contractions and is ready to have this kid and they have to try to find a bed! There is no room in the inn. I think I have always felt like “I cant believe they wouldn’t let her in! All would have been fine.” But an inn is no place to have a baby either. Alone. With no midwife. And instead she ends up in a barn. On the cold ground. With the smell of animals. Did she catch the baby by herself? Did Joseph catch the baby? I imagine that would have been culturally unusual. Was it a scary labor?

Then, after all that, according to the stories we hear, she is surrounded by NO ONE but MEN! Joseph, an Inn Keeper, shepherds, kings. Maybe there are some women angels? But even those that are named are men! I ache for Mary. I think of the reading of Mary and Elizabeth and the time they shared together. How different that feeling is. Intimate, sacred space for women is so important. In a time when women were not given space or honored, birth would have been one of those few places women had space together. It was systemically taken away from her.

Things don’t get much better after that either. An order is given to kill all boys under two. She births a son right into a world that wants to swallow up her son. It is similar to the other birthing stories we know in the bible. Moses who escapes death multiple times after Egypt demands all Hebrew baby boys killed. And the women in Revelation who birth right in the face of a dragon who plans to eat her son. Birth is not beautiful in the bible. It does not feel like Advent pregnant hope, but rather pregnancies filled with fear and the slim hopes for the chance of survival for their children.

So, knowing all that is to come, I delight in today’s reading. I give thanks that those friendships and spaces find their ways into Mary’s life despite all the barriers. I give thanks that it was powerful enough that amidst all the other stuff left out about women in the Gospels, this makes it in. It is certainly a story that models discipleship for me. That calls in us to be human, to rest, to sing, to hope, to speak justice, to find intimacy, and to leap for joy in the face of all that is happening and all that is to come.

The other thing that strikes me in Luke and Hebrews is the reality of bodies. So often in our faith we separate mind and bodies. We intellectualize the readings and our spiritualties. But here, God is choosing to be incarnate in a body. “You have prepared a body for me.” We feel Jesus and John jumping in the womb. Pregnancy and birth are real physical, bodily things. It isn’t pretty or neat. It is painful and bloody and earthly. In fact, I’ve never felt so much like an animal than when I was giving birth. It wasn’t my mind or my heart that birthed that child, it was the instincts in my body.

I remember a friend saying to me, “It wasn’t until I gave birth and I was breast feeding, that I really understood, “This is my body, broken, and given for you.”

I remember so clearly the moments before I started pushing Isaac out, when he is coming down between my hips, and it literally feels like my body is being split in two. And in a lot of ways it is. My hips come apart. And something that is flesh of my flesh is given into this world.

As we take communion today, my mind and heart will be preparing to break again. As we count down the days til he arrives, I offer my body again as gift- giving life to another human being.

Indeed, “this is my body, broken and given for you.”

Let’s pray.

I invite you to close your eyes
To be still.
To breathe.

Oh God,
We give thanks for the stories
That encourage our hearts

May we too be like Mary and Elizabeth
Who in the midst of darkness
Delight in their friendship
Feel the movements in their bodies
Speak of a radical hope for the future
Sing, rejoice
And rest.

May we carve out those spaces
Of sacred, intimacy
Despite the powers that be
Trying to swallow them up

Oh God, you call us into our bodies
Honoring the earthly, ordinary, and miraculous beings that we are
To feel their heaviness on the ground
And to let the earth carry us
We pray that our lives embody the Gospels
Giving them to the work of creation, love, and resistance.

For all of this and so much more on our hearts,
We lift it to you
Who holds us like a mother’s womb,
who became embodied in Mary’s womb,
and was birthed from the womb into this world.
Amen.

And God Came Down on Christmas Night…

This is a post by Sarah Nolan and was originally posted on the The Abundant Table Blog.  The Abundant Table and YAC Blog editor Sarah Holst are working jointly to create resources that support an Earth-to-Altar movement to Localize the Liturgy. Sarah Nolan is the Director of Programs and Community Partnerships at the Abundant Table Farm Project.

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On the Solstice I joined Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries and friends for an evening of pause and reflection upon the turning of the seasons and the welcoming of winter. Ched Myers reminded us of the importance of developing an attunement with the natural seasons (as opposed to consumer or cultural timelines). The Equinoxes and Solstices are gifts that invite us to take the time to connect with the created cosmos, and to connect with our own journeys and the different seasons we experience personally.

The same kind of alternative rhythm is found in the Christian Liturgical Calendar. Walking closely with the natural seasons, the Liturgical calendar also challenges us to go deeper into the cycles of life, and creates space for pause and attention. I am neither an expert in the church calendar, nor a purist in its practice, but am still significantly formed and guided by its seasons that call us communally and individually to both reflection and action.

For the past week, I have been pondering the relation between Advent and Christmas. I prefer Advent and Lent to Christmas and Easter, for example. I wonder whether this might have something to do with the fact that we humans live a majority of our lives in expectation (Advent) and suffering (Lent). We are constantly anticipating (and craving) the coming of the Divine to break into our hurting world. We spend more time talking about the coming of the Risen Christ or the Beloved Community rather than experiencing it. I think this may be why the Christmas and Easter seasons are so short. They serve as reminders that God’s radical love does break into our lives and communities… but often in momentary and unexpected ways.

God comes to us as the infant of a family suffering from displacement and forced migration. The great message of hope and deliverance is given to the nomadic (and likely dirty and exhausted) shepherds. It is a young girl with a complicated story who carries the salvation of the world in her womb.

 

A few years ago, a dear friend shared with me the chorus to Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem”:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

We live in a broken world, which is why we need Advent and Lent. However, it is in these cracks in the system, the places of both the creative and the mundane resistance, in which Christmas resides.

This Christmas season (liturgical, consumer), I am challenged to spend time recognizing and celebrating these “cracks” in order to see the light that is breaking in. We may never know what impact our daily work holds, the power of perseverance in the midst of adversity, or the moment when we will recognize God’s love in action. But when we do catch a glimpse, let us remember to let the light in and savor it.