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Cutting-Edge Orthodoxy

MOST MEDIA ACCOUNTS of Nadia Bolz-Weber focus on her tattoos. She has the liturgical year tattooed on one arm, from creation to Pentecost; another features Lazarus still wrapped, but very much alive. She got that one while struggling to write a sermon on Jesus’ raised friend.

The tattoos on a 6’1” woman with a taste for punk, a bad-girl past, and a gay-inclusive church—House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver—make for easy picking for secular media. You may have caught Bolz-Weber’s book Pastrix on the New York Times bestseller list. Wise, self-aware, hipster Christian celebrities have a market for books, and she’s tapped it.

In contrast to much of the superficial media coverage, what’s most interesting about Bolz-Weber is her deep traditionalism. “Secular media doesn’t understand the difference between orthodox and conservative,” she tells me through a toothy smile, blue-green eyes blazing over thick-rimmed ’50s-era glasses.

“House,” as the community calls itself, is almost medieval in its liturgy. There are no instruments, just a cappella chant and pillows for kneelers at a prayer station. The Eucharist is served weekly. Eastern Orthodox iconography drapes the church’s interior, stoles, website, and literature. Latin hymns fill the communion liturgy on the Sunday evening I attend. Bolz-Weber is proud to be using Franz Schubert’s setting for the Mass.

This is not high church fussiness; it is liturgical and churchly orthodoxy for scruffy hipsters. Bolz-Weber explains that many of her fellow social progressives want to jettison the Bible and Jesus in order to be more inclusive. “But why should we jettison the only things we have going for us?” she asks.

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What I Learned by Marrying a Priest

JOY CARROLL and I were married in 1997. A year later, we had our first son, Luke. We met at a delightful British festival of faith, the arts, and justice called Greenbelt. Joy—a Brit—was on the Greenbelt board and also one of the speakers, as was I. We were on a panel together in a tent with a couple thousand young people, and that’s where our relationship began. I had coffee with Joy afterward, and she told me about the long journey women had made toward ordination in the Church of England.

Joy had been trained as a priest at Durham, just the same as the men, but at that time wasn’t able to be ordained to the priesthood. Her first parish was in a housing estate (what we would call a housing project) in the middle of an impoverished neighborhood with lots of drugs and violence—a place where male priests were afraid to take their families. As a deacon, Joy moved in to live and work in the housing estate, doing everything a priest would do except celebrate the Eucharist, which was still reserved for males only. At age 29, she was elected to the church’s General Synod—its youngest member—and in November 1992 she cast a vote for women’s ordination. Joy went on to become one of the first women ordained as a priest in the Church of England.

When Luke was 4 years old, we found ourselves back at Greenbelt, again as speakers. Sunday morning is always a high point at the Greenbelt festival, with creative and powerful worship that draws most of the 20,000 in attendance. Joy was on the main stage as the chief celebrant of the Eucharist, while Luke cuddled on my lap, carefully watching his mother at the altar. He looked up at me and asked, “Dad, can men do that too?”

Having a woman celebrating the Eucharist that day was a moving, freeing, and emotional experience for many who were there—women and men. But it just seemed normal to a little boy watching his mom and wondering if he might be able to do that someday himself.

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Why Women are the Key to the Church’s Future

Photo: Woman praying, © John Wollwerth  / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Woman praying, © John Wollwerth / Shutterstock.com

I’ll preface this piece my saying I know I am making some broad generalizations based on gender, and that there are always exceptions to every trend. But despite that, I do think there are some cultural trends that can offer us some useful insight.

Anyone who has been paying attention has noticed that, of those left within the walls of most churches, the majority still hanging in there are women. Some, like the advocates of so-called Masculine Christianity, see this as a crisis. The Christian faith and its symbols are becoming softened, feminized, compromised into being something other than what they were meant to be.

Granted, when you take a faith whose principal authors historically have been men and then place that same faith in the hands of women, some things will inevitably change. Personally, I welcome the exploration of other, feminine expressions of the divine and values such as embodied spirituality that many female Christian leaders value. But aside from these assets, I think that women bring something far more critical to institutional religion.

Without them, it may cease to exist.

He Said — Egalitarianism: Who Needs Repentance Anyway?

Bride and groom on beach, szefei / Shutterstock.com

Bride and groom on beach, szefei / Shutterstock.com

Editor's note: This is a He Said, She Said on the issue. To read this author's wife's take, go HERE.

My wife and I have been embroiled in a deep debate lately. It involves gender roles, complementarianism, egalitarianism, and often threats of a kick landing somewhere on my body. It’s not that we haven’t worked this sort of thing out within our marriage — I take out the trash, she does the laundry — but somehow despite both being raised in Christian households we do not see theologically quite eye to eye on this issue.

I happen to fall on the side of complementarianism. For me this does not threaten the basic equality or God-given image and sense of worth that belongs to all humankind. But I do happen to think men and women were designed differently biologically and otherwise. Yesterday morning in yoga, I did my downward dog alongside 15 women and one other guy. I work in the same building as a special needs school with 22 female teachers and only one dude. I am happy to say that there are some areas women seem to be drawn toward, and in my opinion, excel in.

My wife on the other hand would like to argue (and does) that to pointing out any differences whatsoever leads necessarily to thinking in terms of an inequality. She believes that many of the Biblical mandates on gender roles have more to do with timing and culture than God-given norms.

The Importance of Sharing Our Stuff

"And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children." --Matthew 14:13-21

Immediately before the story of the feeding of the 5,000 is a description of a very different sort of meal: John the Baptizer's head on a platter. And just as women and children are included among the multitude fed on the beach (a detail unique to Matthew's version of the story), the female sex is also represented in the account of John's demise: Herodias, sister-in-law of Herod, asks for the head of the Baptist; her nameless daughter, with no detectable squeamishness, delivers the request to the king and serves up the plated head to her mother. (That women in all of their moral complexity are present throughout Matthew's gospel - recall also the women who appear in the genealogy of Jesus in chapter one -- is an observation worthy of closer scrutiny. See, for instance, Jane Kopas's 1990 essay in Theology Today).

Why I Love Fire, Pentecost, and the Beloved Community

This past weekend, Christians around the world celebrated one of our holiest holi-days: Pentecost. Pentecost, which means "50 days," is celebrated seven weeks after Easter (hence the 50), and marks the birthday of the Church, when the Holy Spirit is said to have fallen on the early Christian community like fire from the heavens. (For this reason, lots of Christians wear red and decorate in pyro-colors. This day is also where the fiery Pentecostal movement draws its name).

But what does Pentecost Sunday have to do with just another manic Monday?

What does a religious event a couple of thousand years old have to offer the contemporary, pluralistic, post-Christian world we live in? I'd say a whole lot. Here's why:

Let me start by confessing my bias. Not only am I a Christian, but I am a Christian who likes fire. I went to circus school and became a fire-swallowing, fire-breathing, torch-juggling-pyro-maniac as you'll see here. So naturally, I like Pentecost.

Friday Links Round Up: Ice Cream. Capitalism. The End of the World.

Here's a little round up of links from around the Web you may have missed this week:

  • One in four children in the United States are in poverty.
  • Ben&Jerry's Ben Cohen talks to Sojourners about ice cream, oreos, and military spending.
  • Female college graduates are getting paid less than their male peers.
  • Is Capitalism's popularity waning?
  • If your house was burning, what would you take with you? (My house almost burned down once. I had time to grab my computer, family photos, and a signed copy of Deadeye Dick.)
  • Have you ever been to Paris?

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