Category Archives: church

Were You There When They Crucified My Girl

A spin on an old spiritual. Often in holy week we focus on the history of the story. I wanted to contextualize and feminize the modern idea of crucifixion. Also to bring to light the fact that the female experience and the Divine Feminine are still excluded from mainstream Christian worship. Maybe the modern crucified Christ is the feminine form of God that is devalued and raped every day. Maybe it is time for Her to rise from the shadows of our unconsciousness.
#RiseWithHer

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if my body is church

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if my body is church,

then my arms are doors

swung wide

and waiting

to pull you close to my heart.

come, sit here and wait

for the music to start

for the quiet to come

so you can hear what i have to say to you.

watch the cynical parade

recess from the sanctuary

and hold tight to my promise of bliss

until the veil is torn in two

and my taste is on your tongue.

for once the water drops into the wine,

there is no separating

you from God.

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On the Incarnation of Joy

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The birth of Christ is a miracle that happens everyday.  Likely, you have experienced it too.  After some stretch of darkness.  In the winter of the heart.  In the daunting face of a reality that we can finally open our eyes and behold.  Maybe with someone holding our hand.  Usually in some cold manger night, in some strange place, in a challenge that seems insurmountable.  Beholding begets humility.  It moves us from a place of denial, from a place of anger into the tenuous realm of acceptance.  Here looms the ominous threat of annihilation.   Can we survive the void?  The deep caverns of the unknown?  Are we strong enough to make the journey into new life?  

I stepped into that chasm about six months ago, when I resigned from my full time job as a youth minister in the Episcopal Church where I had worked for the past ten years and moved to Moorhead, Minnesota as my husband accepted a new teaching position here.  When I telephoned the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota (which includes the Fargo-Moorhead area) they sighed when I inquired about continuing my youth ministry work in the area.  I learned that this area (which is Lutheran country) is sort of an Episcopalian mission field.  Of the few Episcopal churches in the area (that makes three) most are made up of part time clergy and lay ministers who volunteer their time and talents.  And though I have talents and time to share (and will) I also need to help pay the bills.  And so my new career search began.

I had this dream, for years I have had this dream, of creating alternative liturgies to help heal the body.  Naturally I was drawn to the church.  I have considered ordination.  (I may still be considering it.)  But first, I needed to do something else.  I needed to work on my own healing if I wanted to help others heal.  So I wrote a memoir to work through the issues in my past.  And I began practicing yoga to work on healing my body.  When we moved to the great white north, I serendipitously began yoga teacher training.

The practice of yoga is more than postures (or asana).  Yoga means to “yoke” or “unite.”  Yoga is about wholeness.  It is not a religion in itself.  Practicing yoga is simply adding to your spiritual toolbox.  In asana, we practice uniting the breath (prana) with the movements of the body.  The Hebrew word for breath is ruach, and in the story of Genesis 1, it is the breath of God that creates the universe.  To be alive–to be filled with spirit–is to be filled with the breath.   When we are breathing deeply and fully we are bringing life healing energy into our bodies.  We are incarnating the Spirit as we open ourselves to receive the nourishment of our breath.  Just this very simple attention and practice of breathing and mindfulness can dramatically change our lives and our health.

I applied for jobs as a baby photographer, as a web designer, I even went looking for bar tending jobs.  I started to panic.  I began to reassess my dreams and goals.  I wasn’t interested in making money just to pay the bills.  I wanted to move on the dream in my heart.  And so I stepped out it faith.  And things started to happen.

Monday night I will begin teaching my first yoga class at The Spirit Room in downtown Fargo.  I am developing a class called Healing Yoga.  We will fill our bodies with restorative and energizing breath.  We will bring the breath into our fears and aches.  We will listen to our dreams, sing, chant, and move our bodies like liturgical movements that build to that most holy union of spirit and flesh.

I will also begin teaching at the Fargo YMCA (schedule to follow) which comes with the perks of free child care while I work.  I feel like I am beginning another journey into the unknown, carrying these seeds of hope.  I also feel carried by invisible hands and so supported by friends and family.  I am so grateful to be doing what I love and to witness the universe tending to our basic needs as I pursue the incarnation of my joy in the world.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!   I am praying that all of your joy may manifest in the world too.

 

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Now receiving submitions for my advent blog!

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Calling all bloggers to submit a reflection on the incarnation for my blog this advent. Specifically share how you have experienced God in your body or conversely tell of your experience of the absence of God in your flesh. I love the theology of advent, particularly this idea that we are all created to be God-bearers. But I am curious about how one makes their body a sacred dwelling place in a culture that often devalues and objectifies the body. How do you handle this tension?  I also love the feminine implications of this reflection: let us all imagine ourselves pregnant with holiness. Write about how you carry and nourish what is sacred within.

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Are Men’s Bible Studies Killing the Church?

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The church’s cancer is insidious.  But we know it’s here, growing, consuming all that is sacred and if we don’t do something to stop it now, the fabric of our society and our world will be torn beyond repair and we will lose everything that is holy to us.  But let’s thank the Lord that we have the tools we need to direct the radiation and begin the treatment.

We know the feminists really messed up the God ordained structures of our society.  Our men were emasculated and our children were abandoned.  Suddenly men thought we really needed one another.  We thought that talking to others like ourselves would help us understand our unexpressed thoughts and feelings.  We needed the reassurance of our faith.  We needed to build up our trust in an all powerful God.  We needed more hugs and we began to call one another brother.  We needed family ministries because our families were falling apart.  The church doubled down and courageously survived the waves of feminism.  Thank the Lord, no one started praying to Sophia on Sunday or radically changed our time worn liturgies and languages to reflect that anything but the ancient belief that only the male sex can hold divine qualities.  Yes, some of us allowed girls to become pastors and priests–but only if these girls were able to support the powerful God-ordained patriarchal top down order of the church.  Sustaining this order is certainly the key to the church’s survival.  But here we are, having won the battle of the sexes and still: our churches are dying.  And it is with this understanding that I have come to realize how men’s bible studies have become the cancer that is infecting us all.  And because we can take it:  you can begin directing the radiation here.

Kate Murphey recently claimed that Youth Ministry is killing the church.  But let’s man up a little bit.  Children are an easy target.   Do we really want to send our kids to the front lines of this cancerous battle?  Maybe.  I’ll be the first to say it:  If we are going to cut youth ministry, then it’s time to surrender our men’s bible studies too.  We too have become our own sort of mickey-mouse eared church.  We are like a clique that lives to serve it’s own selfish purpose.   We have deep conversations that are meaningful together that no one else would understand.  Damn, we have even cried together.  But it’s time to grow up now and be a role model for our youth.  It’s time to get thicker skin.  I know that this will be difficult for us to do, and that’s when it hit me:  a radically reinvention of church is necessary.

I mean, we really can’t afford to hire a youth minister anyway, so let’s just be honest about why we think it’s youth ministry that is killing the church.  That certainly alleviates a lot of pressure.  After all it’s nearly impossible to find someone who is willing to work at such a low wage with no insurance, who actually has a theological education, who has been trained in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd or Godly Play and understands the spirituality of the child anyways.  Besides, even if we found someone willing to do this work, it would require the parish to embrace this spirituality of the child and we may have to radically change church in ways we can’t control.  Honestly, and let’s admit what we only post on other blogs anonymously: youth ministers are really just immature people who don’t really deserve our respect.  I mean, they work with children after all, children who are not even fully human and put very little into our offering plates on Sunday mornings anyways.

Whatever Jesus said about becoming like a little child to understand the heart of Christian spirituality is forgetting how much fun it is to practice a religion filled with masochistic guilt.  Our graying congregations have already figured out the secret to building a vibrant community and it’s not by self-serving anyone but our inner curmudgeon.  What little children need to understand is how to worship like grown ups.  They need to put down their iPhones and come rake my leaves.

It’s time to put a stop to all the tender feel good ministries of the church and get everyone back in their uncomfortable pews on Sunday morning.  It’s time to stop asking questions, stop having meaningful conversations with our peers.  We all should be forced into a community with people and that’s why no one is going to be allowed to pick their own seat anymore.  We’ll assign pews so everyone must sit by strangers because the most important thing about church isn’t being comfortable or welcoming, but perfecting the liturgy and keeping our bills paid.  (In fact, lets all invite our rich friends because the poor have become such a drain on us in this economy).  Let’s cut all the fluff ministries. No more kids programs.  No more men’s bible studies or women’s groups.  No more home visitations (what have they done for us lately?)  And yes, no more youth ministry.

But let’s be honest about why we’re doing this.  It’s because our overworked priest really gives us all that we need for one hour on Sunday.  The rest of us already know that we are not worthy and could never live up to our priest’s spiritual standards and that’s why we’d rather not get involved anyway.  And frankly, we’re quite happy to carry the burden of guilt because we enjoy suffering silently.  And besides, being passive aggressive is actually kind of an exciting way to live one’s life when you’ve got nothing better to live for.

It’s time to cut the crap and get our churches back on track.  And I’m willing to give up the ministries that feed my soul in order to do that.

–J. Creech  was an immature Youth Minister in the Episcopal Church for ten years,  who unwittingly helped kill the church by creating sacred spaces for children of all ages to respond to God at age appropriate levels.  

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I love the Episcopal Church because it’s kinda like Starbucks.

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Maybe it’s because a cold front came through the Fargo area last week and I went into our front hall closet and started ripping open the boxes labeled: Winter Clothes. I completely panicked. It was a bad time for the next thought to enter my mind: And the closest Trader Joe’s is over 100 miles away! I wanted to cry but I had already put on my mascara (which I later found half way down the stairs and decorated all over the walls by my almost 4 year old). I’ve been shopping at places called Cash Wise and Sydney’s. And I actually had to try a Dairy Queen ice cream cone to understand why people around here stand in line and wait to get one IN THE WINTER. (I think I get it. I may have to eat some more to satisfy that curiosity.) “Oh for fun!” I don’t know if it was the fact that I never found my favorite hat or the sudden ache in my heart for my friends and my life in Chicago that made me grab my cell phone and call a local church.

After getting lost in a whole new area of Fargo (and finding a toll bridge and a nice man who let me drive on it without paying since I had just spent all my change at Dairy Queen) I found the beautiful red Episcopal church.

st. stephens

An elderly man rushed to put a bulletin in my hand and I began to say the words I knew so well. Something shifted in the room. Maybe it was the white gentle light of the setting sun pouring in from all the windows. Or the incense that filled the air and hung on my clothes. The liturgy suddenly became poetry. Like an old rhyme I knew as a child. (I’m not a cradle, but I guess after 10 years this stuff seeps in.) I didn’t know how much I missed it. I knew when to sit. I knew when to stand. My body was moving to the rhythm of a worshipful dance (we call it pew aerobics). It was an Alleluia! moment, like finding a Starbucks in some foreign land like China–or Fargo. I knew the customs, the menu, the song in the background. I knew that feeling of being in a place so welcoming that a lost part of yourself returns home.

labyrinth Father Jamie actually invites the congregation out for dinner following the Wednesday service. I joined them for Thai food and lively conversation. Everyone was so warm. So Minnesota Nice. A part of me was ready to dive in and get to work. Another part was discerning. I stood in front of the stone labyrinth in the church yard and thought of the yoga concept of non-attachment. I remembered that I can let go of my attachments to the outcomes in my life. It is enough to be fully present in this moment of the journey I am on. I can let it unfold. I can take the next step without assuming all that may or may not follow. I can be open to the Spirit.

I am grateful for this journey, and this taste of familiar grace.

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Contemporary Gnostic Churches Leave Incarnational Theology to Yoga & Meditation

meditating woman

I stared at the cobwebs in the corner of the church nursery this morning and wondered how many years of dust bunnies and bugs were burrowed inside of them.  The nursery was in the basement of the church, three levels down, closer to the underworld than the sun.  Many church nurseries are located in such distant places, far away from the adult activities which are usually located in much more lavish spaces.  This is a dead give away of how the church really feels about children, regardless of what they say.  This Lutheran church had two services happening in two lavish spaces at the same time!  And here we were, the visitors, stuck in the nursery with cobwebs and three kids–two who would much prefer to run rather than sit in church.  My husband flopped his dressed up self  into  a rocking chair and said, “It was HARD to get here.  And now I get to sit in the nursery and watch my own kids?  I could do that at home, in my underwear!”  I picked up a board book titled, Anger, Understanding Your Feelings and offered to read to him.

We watched a part of the service on the small screen TV hung in the corner with glitchy sound.  A handful of kids came up for the children’s message which involved the pastor making exaggerated movements with his hands, talking louder than usual, and making the parents laugh.

I wondered why so often children are used as adult props.  Tucked away.  Seen and not heard.  Or not seen at all.  Why children’s spirituality is still relegated to chucking marshmallows at Goliath or making some corn-syrupy snack that will send them home ready to bounce off the walls all afternoon.  

Despairing, we left.  And my husband got to watch the kids in his PJ’s at home (while I took a nap!  YES!)

Tonight I went to a different sort of holy gathering.  I went to a yoga studio and practiced my first guided meditation.  There were no bulletins handed out.  Just blankets and pillows. The studio was on the third floor of an old building with windows that looked out over the city of Fargo.  The sun was just beginning to set and the sheer white curtains softened the light.  We sat for the first five minutes and just breathed.  I listened to my heart beat slow down.  I let go of tension in my eyebrows and shoulders.  Then the teacher said, “Meditating may make your family, friends and coworkers upset with you.  Here you will learn to listen with your heart.  The heart doesn’t always go with the flow.  It doesn’t promote someone else’s agenda or business or family value.  Meditation is hard.  So many have used spirituality to escape their lives.  But we are going back into our lives and into our bodies.  Meditation is going into the places of pain so that our life can be released back into the world.”  I wanted to shout, “Amen!”

I listened to our teacher talk about the wisdom of the body.  “The body knows,” he said.  “And sometimes it’s easier not to know the things that the body knows.” I thought of my children.  I thought of the freedom they have in their bodies.  How the little ones love to run around naked with wide smiles on their faces.  How they have not yet learned shame or much pain in their bodies yet.  My eldest is on the cusp of puberty and growing more clumsy, like I did.  I didn’t know how to live in a grown up body.  Some days I still don’t.  I thought of how us adults have learned to wear masks.  Sometimes we forget that we are even wearing them.  Sometimes we become the mask.  Sometimes we have no idea what we really feel.  Sometimes we rather be told what to do so we don’t have to deal with the unknown.  And then I realized that this is why children’s spirituality (and my own) isn’t thriving in the church.  My hunch is that the church is generally afraid of the body’s wisdom (we go for the traditional).  It is afraid of sexuality (many are still arguing over whether or not to welcome LGBTQ, an easy target for our shadows).  We keep the embodied children far away (where moth and dust does destroy.)

In meditation I practiced scanning my body and allowing my breath to enter all the nooks and crannies.  I found pain in my stomach and lots of guilt for beginning to paving my own spiritual path outside of the church institution and my family’s values.  I sat with it  for longer than I am usually allowed to confess my sins in the liturgy.  I prayed.  I breathed.  I became aware of it, acknowledged it and it dissipated.  It was an in the flesh transformation.

After meditation no one stayed for coffee.  (They probably all went home and juiced kale.)  The whole experience was very private.  And wonderful.  And missing the community and relationships and children that are vital for spirituality too.  What I really want is this:  I want it all.  I want a spiritual community that values the body, children, women, LGBTQ, men, the old and the young and everything in between.  I had a seminary professor who used to say that the church today is Gnostic.  I never got it until recently.  Gnostics thought the body was bad.  They were more interested in the ideas and their secret wisdom.  And even after all the anathematizing and killing and Nicene Creeding, we still forget how important the body is.  People are going to yoga on Sunday mornings (or staying home to sleep or watch their kids in their underwear) because something essential is missing from church.  Something embodied.  It’s going to be hard to guilt us back into church.  Our lives are filled with guilt, anxiety and stress.  What we really need is a sip of living water, a taste of eternal (and gluten free) bread.  

So how do we live in an embodied spiritual community that truly values being transformed by love, where our spirits are nurtured and our flesh is healed in sacred spaces cleared of cobwebs?  This is a question I will continue to pursue both in and outside of the church.  I hope you will explore it with me too.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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