What’s with the pigs?

Mark 5 tells the story of Jesus sending a demon out of an unclean man into a herd of pigs. Then the pigs (2000 of them) rush down a steep bank and drown. Simply asking the question, “what’s with the pigs?” gets at some of the complexity of the text:

  • Pigs are unclean. Jews don’t eat pigs, so it’d be unusual for them to be raising pigs. Mark suggests the place is close to Jewish territory, but Matthew and Luke suggest that its further away. So the man and the swine herders were probably Gentiles. That then changes the story and the interpretation.
  • Why did the demon, named Legion, ask to go into the pigs? There is no mention of demons going anywhere in other stories of Jesus casting out demons.
  • Pigs can swim, so why did they drown? Furthermore, if they were also quite a distance from the coast, where was the “lake” in which they drowned? Incidentally, as veterinary students pointed out during the study, pigs tend to carry a lot of diseases so that water would have become contaminated.

All of these questions point to the text having a more complicated understanding to it than we first imagine. Add to this the political implications of the text: Legion refers to a 5000 man unit of the Roman armies, so there’s something very subversive in “legion” drowning.

Finally, there’s one more odd thing in the text: why did Jesus not allow the man to follow him, especially when Jesus was calling followers? How did the man know enough for him to be a true witness? Considering that I come out of a tradition that values high understanding, this is a bit confrontational. What does this then say about the high value that the university puts upon knowledge? What about rational explanations for things?

These are the sorts of questions and textual analysis that we ponder at our studies. If these sorts of questions intrigue you, join us!

The Spirit uses my being uncomfortable?

As we were reading 1 Peter 2 and 3 this past week at study, a student noted that the text made her uncomfortable. As the text was talking about slavery, women, and submission, it was easy for me to understand why she felt uncomfortable. As we noted in our study on Colossians a number of years ago, too often those of us who’ve grown up in the church have seen how submission has been used to validate abuse, or, at the least, make women second-class citizens.

It would be easy thus to dismiss this text as no longer being culturally relevant to today. Yet, to do so would be to lose an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work to challenge what assumptions we might bring to the text, whether that be errors in our own perception or unhealthy assumptions that we have learned from church/Christian culture and/or society at large.

For instance, the dominant voices of our society invite and encourage us to put me first and not let anyone hold us back from unleashing our inner potential. Might our discomfort with the word submission be because such a narrative of me first leaves little space or validation for submission of any sort? What picture of God’s love might we show when we actively choose to let go of some of our own personal wants and desires for the good of others?

Yet, might our discomfort with the word submission be a misunderstanding of the word submission? Might our submission be less of a diminishing of self and more of a living more fully into who God has called us to be, including through challenging systems of oppression, as Walsh and Keesmaat propose in their book, Colossians Remixed?

While dismissing the text might be the easiest way to get rid of the discomfort brought by the text, it is worthwhile to sit awhile with the text and acknowledge that discomfort. Through consulting wise teachers and allowing the Spirit to work (sometimes also through our peers), God can use our discomfort to help us grow in wisdom about the biblical text and ourselves.

New Study: Julian of Norwich

We’re holding a study on Julian of Norwich and would love to have you join us, even if you’re not currently a graduate student or otherwise involved in academia.

Julian of Norwich was a 14th century writer who lived in seclusion in Norwich, England during the Black Death. She is most known for the saying “all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” In her book Revelations of Divine Love, the earliest surviving (Middle) English text written by a woman, Julian struggles to accept the fullness of God’s love for “well-making.” How do we realize and embrace the power of God’s love to create wellness in our lives?

Together we will read excerpts from The Drawing of This Divine Love by Robert Fruehwirth, who spent decades living as a monk in the Order of Julian of Norwich. His devotional (yet academic) book provides reflections and commentary on Julian’s writings and theology. Join us as we wonder together about how wisdom from this medieval mystic interacts with the current pandemic.

This will be a 3-5 session study starting with our first session on Tuesday, May 26 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. Each session will have a recommended (but optional) reading sent via email. Anyone is welcome to participate in any or all of the sessions. If you are interested in this study, please contact us, so that we can determine a time for the next sessions that will work for all those who’d like to join.

Prayer from Psalm 5

“The Psalms are not religious in the sense that they are courteous or polite or deferential. They are religious only in the sense that they are willing to speak this chaos to the very face of the Holy One.” (Walter Brueggemann, “Praying the Psalms,” 19)

In the spirit of the Psalmist who brings vulnerable feelings of to the Holy One, today I offer these prayers, using words from Psalm 5:

  • “Listen to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you I pray.” (v. 2)
  • Gratitude for all medical workers, grocery store workers, scientists and others on the frontlines of the pandemic. Thanks for their persistence and their sacrifice. “Spread your protection over them.” (v. 11)
  • Anger at the murder of another unarmed black man, Ahmaud Arbery. Anger at the denial of systemic injustice. “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you.” (v. 4)
  • Frustration at lies and misinformation, which hurt the most vulnerable. “For there is no truth in their mouths; their hearts are destruction; their throats are open graves; they flatter with their tongues.” (v. 9)
  • Sadness that communal singing may not return soon. “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.” (v. 3)
  • Encouragement for the homeless, the jobless and all those suffering economic hardship. “Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing.” (v. 1)
  • Gratitude for moments of grace and joy. “But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house.” (v. 7)

– Mitchell Eithun, Campus Edge intern

Deconstructing and Reorientation

In our study of the Psalms, we are using Walter Brueggemann’s framework of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. Brueggemann explains

that our life of faith consists in moving with God in terms of (a) being securely oriented, (b) being painfully disoriented and (c) being surprisingly reoriented. This general way of speaking can apply to our self-acceptance, our relations to significant others, and our participation in public issues. It can permit us to speak of passages, the life cycle, stages of growth, and identity crisis. Most of all it may provide us a way to think about the Psalms in relation to our common human experience, for each of God’s children is in transit along the flow of orientation, disorientation and reorientation.”

Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms, 14.

As Brueggemann notes, these concepts of disorientation and reorientation are helpful not only for looking at the Psalms but also for talking about life and faith. Life is full of moments and seasons of disorientation, such as this pandemic, transitioning into or from grad school, new jobs, new relationships, losses, and more. These seasons of disorientation lead to new patterns and rhythms but also to new questions. Sometimes these questions involve a deconstruction (or unravelling) of one’s faith.

When one’s faith starts to unravel, it can be comforting to hear others’ “stories of deconstruction,” as Ian Harber notes. In doing so, Harber “found people who understood what it was like to deconstruct your faith and rebuild it from scratch.” However, he also notes the challenges of reconstructing or reorienting: he “didn’t have the tools to rebuild.” Thus, as much as he appreciated those who had helped him in his time of disorientation, he also argues that “Helping people deconstruct their faith without also helping put it back together again is lazy, irresponsible, dangerous, and isolating. The goal of deconstruction should be greater faithfulness to Jesus, not mere self-discovery or signaling one’s virtue.”

While I find Harber’s critique of progressive Christianity to be lacking nuance and grace, he raises a very good question about what happens when deconstruction appears to be the goal instead of part of the journey of faith. The question is especially relevant for those of us whose lives are shaped by academia, where deconstruction is strongly encouraged. Harber argues that “Doubt and questions need not catalyze a pendulum swing from belief to unbelief. If worked out in healthy, thoughtful Christian community—and with an abiding connection to Christ, our true vine (John 15)—they can actually deepen faith and strengthen roots, producing a life where we bear fruit and withstand the fierce winds of a secular age.” The only challenge, though, is that for most people, faith shifting, along with reconstruction and growth in faith is hardly simple. There’s no clear and obvious set of guidelines to follow.

Brueggemann’s language of disorientation and reorientation thus provides a hopeful perspective for describing the challenges when life and faith does not happen the way we expect. There’s also hope for the journey of faith. As Brueggemann notes,

“The other movement of human life is the surprising move from disorientation to a new orientation that is quite unlike the old status quo. This is not an automatic movement that can be presumed or predicted. Nor is it a return to the old form, a return to normalcy as though nothing had happened. It is rather ‘all things new’. When it happens it is always a surprise, always a gift of graciousness, and always an experience that evokes gratitude … Such experiences include all those gifts of friendship and caring, all those gesture of reconciliation and forgiveness, all those risky signs of hope in public life, all experiences that may touch us deeply and announce that God has not left the world to chaos (c.f. Isa 45:18-19).”

Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms, 19-20

Delight and the Song of Songs

To celebrate Easter, we’ve been looking at the Song of Songs in our studies on Monday evenings. It’s a book that celebrates delight and human bodies, which is especially helpful in this time of a pandemic when life feels a little less delightful and moving our lives on to zoom has made us feel a little less embodied.

Song of Songs is a bit of a confusing book, at least partially because it’s an unusual genre in the Bible (e.g., a love poem) and Christianity has not always been very good at talking about sexuality. The following two reflections have helped us appreciate the text more fully.

Laura de Jong, who is a pastor, speaks passionately about how this Song awakens delight and longing in all of us, irrelevant of our marital status:

“Because this greatest of songs is about many things, but not just about human sexuality. And its not just an allegory of God’s relationship with his people. It’s also about longing, and excitement, and living deeply, and sucking the marrow out of life, and whimsy, and delight, and beauty, and language, and community. And it’s about God. What he has done, what he is doing, what he will do. The Song of Songs is an invitation to life.”

Laura de Jong, “The Greatest of Songs.”

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury wrote a theologically profound article about sexuality and desire:

“Grace, for the Christian believer, is a transformation that depends in large part on knowing yourself to be seen in a certain way: as significant, as wanted. The whole story of creation, incarnation and our incorporation into the fellowship of Christ’s body tells us that God desires us, as if we were God, as if we were that unconditional response to God’s giving that God’s self makes in the life of the trinity. We are created so that we may be caught up in this; so that we may grow into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God.”

Rowan Williams, “The Body’s Grace.”

As the article is quite theologically dense, if you’d like some help understanding it, Debra Rienstra, a writer and professor, has summarized his work: Rowan William for dummies on sexuality.

Hope this Easter

It has felt odd celebrating Easter this year, as it’s hard to celebrate when we do not get to be physically with many of those we care about. Besides the challenges of social distancing, more and more of us here in the United States are experiencing COVID-19 close up, either knowing someone who has become sick or becoming sick ourselves. There is tension between the sadness and uncertainty of this time and the hope and joy of Easter. 

Tish Harrison Warren has written an encouraging article in Christianity Today that proclaims the hope of Easter in the middle of the challenges of this time:

“The truth of the Resurrection is wild and free. It possesses us more than we could ever possess it and rolls on happily with no need of us, never bending to our opinions of it. If the claims of Christianity are true, they are true with or without me. . . . .

Believers and skeptics alike often approach the Christian story as if its chief value is personal, subjective, and self-expressive. We come to faith primarily for how it comforts us or helps us cope or lends a sense of belonging. However subtly, we reduce the Resurrection to a symbol or a metaphor. Easter is merely an inspirational tradition, a celebration of rebirth and new life that calls us to the best version of ourselves and helps give meaning to our lives. But the actualities that we now face in a global pandemic—the overwhelmed hospitals and morgues, the collapsing global economy, and the terrifying fragility of our lives—ought to put an end to any sentimentality about the Resurrection. . . .

I am a Christian today not because it answers all my questions about the world or about our current suffering. It does not. And not because I think it is a nice, coherent moral order by which to live my life. And not because I grew up this way or have fond feelings about felt boards and hymn sings. And not because it motivates justice or helps me to know how to vote. I am a Christian because I believe in the Resurrection. . . . If Jesus is risen in actual history, with all the palpability of flesh, fingers, bone, and blood, there is hope that our mourning will be comforted and that death will not have the final word.”

In honor of Easter, we’re going forward with a new study on Song of Songs. We start tonight. Join us! We’ll keep looking at Lamentations on Saturday, though, holding the tension of the sadness of this time.

How lonely is the city

“How lonely is the city that once was full of people!” is how the Old Testament book of Lamentations begins. These words suggest that the life of the city is dependent on people and the relationships between people. When these are absent the city itself feels lonely and “the roads to Zion mourn” (Lam 1:4). 

The other week we began studying Lamentations in response to everything happening in the world because of COVID-19. The grief-filled words remind us that lament is an important part of a life of faith. We lament to express frustration and even our anger for the way things are. The book of Lamentations helps with that, as “Lamentations is a searing book of taut, charged poetry on the subject of unspeakable suffering. The poems emerge from a deep wound, a whirlpool of pain, toward which the images, metaphors, and voices of the poetry can only point.” Kathleen O’Connor, “Lamentations” in NIBC, 879

Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, in his book Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks, talks about how lament gives voice to the grief and sadness that result from the task of “reality,” or honestly identifying the state of things. This can be especially challenging when others do not share our concern. We hear this also in Lamentations: “Is it nothing to you, all who pass by?” (Lam. 1:12). O’Connor echoes Brueggemann:

“The book of Lamentations practices truth-telling. It refuses denial and reverses amnesia by inviting readers into pain and affliction in all their rawness. It urges us to face suffering, to speak of it, to be dangerous proclaimers of the truth that society wants to repress. … Advice like ‘Get over it,’ Get on with it,’ ‘Look on the bright side,’ reinforces the dehumanization of the sufferers by refusing to accept their stammering efforts toward truth” and healing. (O’Connor, 892). 

Wherever you find yourself in this journey, may we be supportive of each other, being people that “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). In our communities may we share words of comfort and hope in the midst of struggle. Like with the book of Lamentations, may our “stinging cries for help, [our] voices begging God to see, [our] protests to God who hides behind a cloud – all create a space where communal and personal pain can be reexperienced, seen, and perhaps healed.” (O’Connor, 879).

– Mitchell Eithun and Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink

God of tomorrow, some day, and forever

In the season of Advent, a lot of people look to the book of Isaiah and find hope in how the texts point to the coming of Christ (especially Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; 11:1-9). Ironically, though, I find the texts less hopeful when the focus is primarily on how they’ve been fulfilled by Jesus’ birth. I believe that the point of these Isaiah texts is not simply to provide hope to the Israelites that God would some day do something miraculous connected to salvation. Instead, the texts provide hope of how God would be working in the near future for their salvation. God is, after all, God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, or, in the case of this text, a God who works for salvation tomorrow, some day, and forever.

There is hope in recognizing that God did not act only in history one time: during Jesus’ time on earth. Instead, God is active in all time. God cared enough about the Israelites to provide salvation to them in their time. God gave a sign to Ahaz (and the people of Israel) showing that the siege would end in the very near future. By the time a child not yet conceived was old enough to know right from wrong, the kings attacking them would have fallen and they would have recovered from the current siege to the extent that the child would be eating honey and curds (Isaiah 7:14-16). Isaiah 9 and 11 speak to deliverance through the coming of a king who would bring justice, a king who would do what “was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done.” A king would come of whom it would be said: “there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him.” This king was Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, as described in 2 Kings 18:3-6.

Yet, just as the text gives hope for the immediate future of the people, it also provides hope for our future. Because as much as the text was immediately fulfilled in Isaiah’s time and was more fully fulfilled with Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1:22-23), it has not yet been fully fulfilled. The justice and righteousness spoken about in Isaiah 9:7 and Isaiah 11:2-5 were not fully established with Jesus’ coming. Nor is the peaceful kingdom presented in Isaiah 11:6-9 a current reality. Recognizing the many layers of fulfillment in the text allows me to be honest about how they have not fully been fulfilled. And so we can read these texts with longing and hope. We can honestly lament that, even though Jesus came at Christmas, the world is still so much not the way it ought to be. The injustices that Isaiah speaks about, such as prioritizing profit over the well-being of others (especially the marginalized) have re-surfaced in new ways today, such as the Flint water crisis, sweatshops, and extreme weather because of climate change.

These texts give me space to lament the suffering and injustices of the world. Yet, they also allow me to rejoice in the significance and wonder of Jesus’ birth while longing for Christ to come again and fully bring about the justice that first was established in Hezekiah and more fully in Jesus. And these texts reassure me that my hope in Christ coming back to bring justice is not in vain. Because certainly a God who has been faithful in assuring that the words of these texts came true in the near future and the some day, this God can and will fulfill the words in a future that is still before us.

December report from the Pastor

This past semester, my prayer has been that God would lead to Campus Edge those for whom it would be a blessing and who would be a blessing to Campus Edge. As a ministry that serves a transient population, numbers tend to be a concern for us. This has been especially true this last year as several people were active in Campus Edge for a shorter time period or left earlier than expected. Yet, God has been gracious, and we’ve been blessed by new people who strongly desire to understand faith better. Join us in giving thanks for these new people and pray with me that they might experience Campus Edge as a welcoming community and might know God’s grace. Please also pray for those who are nearing the end of their programs: that they might continue to stay motivated and that they might be hopeful during the challenging experience of job searching.

We’ve spent significant time in our studies looking at biblical texts that encourage and challenge us in our living faithfully for God: the book of Isaiah and the texts for the chapel services witness to God’s concern for the natural world and justice. The books of Daniel and Acts encourage us as we engage with the culture around us and remind us of how the Spirit works in and through people like us. To hear more about our studies and other events Campus Edge, I encourage you to read the rest of this blog.

– Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink, Campus Pastor