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Tag: christianity (page 1 of 10)

The Nativity Set We Won’t Be Using

I bought the nativity set on a whim.

For the past couple of years I’ve had my eye out for the perfect crèche .  I wanted one was aesthetically pleasing, but it also needed to be sturdy so that Hadden could play with it.  I couldn’t imagine adding that special scene to our house and then telling our three-year-old that he couldn’t touch it.  It didn’t seem like it should be difficult to find a good nativity set, but, strangely, it was.

When I started the search again last month, Caleb mentioned one he’d seen online.  It was a nativity set combined with advent activities.  The pieces were wooden and simple, but beautifully painted.  Since we wanted to incorporate Advent into our family, this seemed like a good fit.

“Sure!  Let’s give this a try!”

A week later when it arrived, Hadden helped me open the box.  We pulled each piece out of the packaging and I told him a little about each character.  “Here’s Baby Jesus. See, he’s sleeping in the animals’ food bin.  It’s called a manger.  And this is Mary, the baby’s mama.”  Soon we had the whole set out.

Hadden played with the pieces.  I watch absentmindedly.

As I watched, a realization hit me.  I scanned the pieces to confirm what I already feared.

In my rush to buy a nativity set, I hadn’t noticed that the characters in this set were all, well, white.

They were white-white.  Far whiter than my olive-tinted Italian skin.

Hadden continued to play while I started to stew.  Why hadn’t I noticed this before I purchased it?  Why had I been in such a hurry that I didn’t take the time to actually look at the pieces?  Why did the company make all the characters white to begin with?

These are formative years in my son’s life and in his faith. The first image Hadden sees of Jesus is important.  So if this is the nativity scene we use, my son will grow up thinking that Jesus, his earthly parents, and all those around the manger were white.  In reality, Jesus’ family less like the Anglo-Saxons depicted in this nativity set and more like the refugees we’ve been seeing in the news.

I want my child to grow up with an accurate picture of Christ and with a global picture of the church, neither which are represented in this manger scene.

When Hadden was finished playing with the nativity set that day, I slowly packaged it back up.  I put it on a shelf in the closet.  And that’s where I plan to keep it.

The Nativity Set We Won't Be Using

 

 

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I used to think… (a reflection on Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey)

I used to think the best faith was unwavering and unquestioning.  That in 20 years I’d still hold to the exact same beliefs and values.

But that was before.

Before life happened.  Before sh*t happened.  Before I grew up and realized that world can’t be clearly divided into black and white.

I spent time shoving down my questions and doubts.  When I couldn’t reconcile what I saw and experienced in the world with my rigid beliefs, I faltered.  It seemed easier to deny that I had any questions than to open the floodgates of doubt.

It’s a few years down the road now and those feelings have flip-flopped.  I’ve come to believe that my faith can’t be very strong if it can’t withhold any scrutiny.  Instead of being skeptical of doubt, I’m skeptical of those who haven’t doubted.  Instead of having answers and certainty, I am now certain that I will always have questions.   And while it is absolutely contrary to everything that I was taught growing up, I’ve discovered that there is beauty and freedom in not having all the answers.

I used to be certain.  Now I am not.

What happened in between these two places?  Well, I fell out of sorts.

*****

Few of us follow a straight line in our spiritual story: we squiggle and wiggle, stop and start, progress and regress, rest and recoup, charge ahead recklessly and take sharp turns or stumble into ditches that turn out to be portals.  This isn’t a bad thing.  On the contrary, I think it’s the thing that makes your story special and beautiful.  -sarah bessey (out of sorts)

*****

Sarah Bessey’s newest book is for people like me, people who are “making peace with an evolving faith.”

Out of Sorts feels a bit like an older sibling guiding you through adolescence.  If you’re at a point when your faith feels awkward and you’re despairing because you’re sure that nothing will ever be the same again, Sarah’s words comfort like an arm wrapped round your shoulder.  Sarah assures you that while things won’t go back to the way they were, they can actually get better from here.

As always, Sarah’s writing is gentle and gracious, but still marked with fervor.  She brings her own questions about religion to the book to assure you that your experience of questioning isn’t isolated.  But she also shares her story of going back to Church, to the Bible and to Jesus.  Her words are hopeful without being sanctimonious.

With so many people I know feeling disillusioned by the church or by the simple answers they were given growing up, this feels like an especially timely book.  However it’s one that I wouldn’t give to just anyone.  I’d wait until you were ready for it.  Until you needed it.  As much as I loved this book, it’s one that I think could be misunderstood by someone who hasn’t struggled with their faith, just as I have been misunderstood by those same people.  Rather than reading this book prematurely and risk misunderstanding Sarah’s message and misunderstanding where others are struggling, I suggest that you wait.  Wait until you’re a bit out of sorts.

**I was privileged to be part of the launch team for Sarah‘s book which meant that I was given a copy of the book to review.  All opinions are my own and I’ve since purchased a second copy of the book because I loved it so much.  Buy your own copy here!

A reflection on Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey

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Should Following Christ Look The Same Regardless of Gender?

**If this blog post feels long and a bit formal to you, there’s an explanation!  This was a freelance piece I wrote for a magazine this spring, but it never made it to publication.  Instead of letting it continue to collect dust in my hard drive, I thought I’d share it here.  As always, thank you for reading!

I have concerns about raising my son in the church.

I fret over the Bible lessons he hears. Are they watered down? Or, conversely, will they be too intense for a preschooler? I wonder if familiarity with Christianity will end up being a hindrance to his faith, instead of bolstering it. I question how to raise him with an ecumenical faith, but still teach the positions that matter dearly to my husband and me.

But mostly, I worry about what he’ll learn about gender roles.

When we talk about gender roles in the church, the conversation often begins and ends with what women can do in churches. Denominations have split and churches have divided over whether women can be pastors or elders or deacons or whether they should have any leadership roles at all.

While that’s an important issue, and one that I’m glad is being discussed more broadly, I see a greater failure regarding gender in our churches. Namely, I see a gender divide that is based, not on Scripture, but on traditional cultural norms. There are books, retreats, and conferences all reinforcing the idea that men and women are radically different and, thus, that we follow Christ differently. The result has been to divvy up the list of Christian virtues as either masculine or feminine, allowing little overlap.

Here’s one example of that division. Gentleness has been relegated as a feminine virtue throughout history and, unfortunately, within modern churches. But the Scriptures have a different message about gentleness: it’s for all Christians, regardless of gender. We see gentleness commanded throughout the New Testament. It is in Paul’s instructions to both Titus and Timothy – male leaders in the early church. It’s one of the virtues that make up the fruit of the Spirit. And in Matthew 11:28, Jesus calls himself gentle. These passages clearly show that Christians, regardless of their sex, are called to be gentle. Yet when was the last time Christian men were instructed to be gentler?

This bifurcation of the sexes has an unfortunate byproduct: When we narrow the view of what it means to be a biblical man or woman, we unintentionally shame and exclude individuals who don’t fit our criteria. Rather than praising the Christ-likeness of men who are humble and kind, many churches say that they should “man up” and “be a leader.” Similarly, women who are bold leaders often have a hard time finding a place within churches that expect Christian women to have a “gentle and quiet spirit.” I fear that too many Christians, those who don’t fit squarely into the box prescribed for their gender, are either squelching their natural gifts or leaving to find a place where they will be accepted.

Instead of dissecting what it means to follow Christ as a woman or as a man, we must acknowledge that most of the time following Christ looks the same regardless of sex. While there are passages like Ephesians 5:22-33 and Titus 2:2-8 that address men and women separately, these verses are simply emphasizing commands that were given elsewhere to both genders.

When we view Scripture as a whole, we see the gender divide falling away.

Men and women are both called to humility (Eph 4:2, Phil 2:3, Col 3:12) and to submission (Eph 5:21, James 4:7, Heb 13:17, Rom 13:1, Titus 3:1). Both genders are called to exhort and edify each other (I Thess 5:11, I Cor 14:3). Teaching and prophesying are also mentioned for men and for women (I Cor 11:5, Rom 12:6-7, James 3:1-2). All Christians are told to admonish others (Col 3:16) and to pray unceasingly (I Thess 5:17). Passages we consider to be core teachings of our faith, like the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5) were given to both genders as well. But the clearest sign is that the crux of our faith, Jesus Christ and his resurrection, is the same for both men and for women.

When my fears about raising my son in a highly gendered Christian culture start to surface again, I find comfort by looking to Christ. He was the God-man, perfectly embodying both grace and truth. He preached to the crowds, but also knelt down to talk to the little children. He subverted his culture’s standards for men by initiating interaction with the woman at the well (John 4) and praised Mary for doing the same when she sat at his feet, instead of helping her sister (Luke 10:38-42). Jesus crossed the gender boundaries of his time to give us the perfect model of godliness and he is calling us to do the same.

That’s the message I hope my son hears at church this week.

Following Christ and Gender Roles

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