Bathrooms & Baptism

The other day, someone asked me if I’d be uncomfortable sharing a public restroom with a trans person.

This was asked sincerely, by a man, who simply has not had the experience of being a woman, especially a woman in a public and vulnerable space, so they genuinely wanted to know. I gave the simple, off-the-cuff response of, “no, of course not.”

But I spoke too soon, so let me revise:

Would I be uncomfortable sharing a public restroom with a trans person? Maybe a little. Continue reading →

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Midway Along the Journey (on Growing Up with Dante)

It’s always fun to revisit an old copy of a great book – the snarky notes and shaky underlines function sort of like a photo album or journal, providing interesting insight on a younger self’s heart and mind. It’s also interesting to ask, “how has this changed me?” As with friends and experiences, I have been changed by certain books.  

Most recently, the great book that’s been on my mind is Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. I recently had the pleasure of hearing Rod Dreher, one of my favorite contemporary writers, speak at my alma mater on the topic of his latest book, How Dante Can Save Your Life. Naturally, this got me in the mood to crack open my copy of the Divine Comedy, which I originally read as a freshman in college. I’ve been reading a couple of cantos before going to bed each night for the past week or so, and obviously I’m reading it through a much different lens than I did when I was in college. Eventually, there could be a blog post about that, but for now, I’d like to think about all of the ways that Dante has changed me, and the things in this text that have stuck these past five-ish years.  Continue reading →

Life & Worship: Leisure

I haven’t had very much time to write lately, because I’ve been spending a lot of my down time attending and/or throwing parties. It’s just one of those seasons, where there is much to celebrate with shared meals and late nights.

As someone who thrives on productivity, I find myself struggling not to feel too guilty about using my time in this way. I try to justify it as a much-needed or much deserved break from work (and maybe it is). I tell myself that I need things like parties to help me relax, so that on Monday I can return to the office refreshed and ultimately more productive (and maybe I will). But these excuses represent a common misunderstanding of leisure and what it’s for.

In the gospels, we see Jesus spending a lot of time around dinner tables or at parties. I suspect that his motives for doing such things had little to do with his need to relax so that he could calm seas more effectively the next day. Instead, God in Jesus seems to be showing us that leisure is actually really important in itself, and that he is at work through time wasted well.

Leisure is a form of worship, because as God’s image bearers, we have an ontological need for community. God’s very essence is communal – three persons, one substance, existing in perfect will and harmony. We aren’t God, so the communities that we create to fulfill this human need are often broken and chaotic, but our desire for them is good. And when we gather with family, friends, or strangers for happy hour, or in a coffee shop, or over dinner, the brief moments of peace that we might enjoy together point back to our triune creator and enable us to engage with one another as whole persons.

Likewise, when God created man in his image, he determined that man alone was “not good” (the first and only “not good” thing that he made). Man, by himself, had exclusive access to the entirety of creation, and his creator – basically everything – but it wasn’t enough. So God created woman, and together they were good. All of this to say, we need each other. Nothing, not even an exclusive relationship with God, satiates our need for other people. This is why we take care of our young longer than any other creature, and why, eventually, our young take care of us. This is why we might feel lonely even while staring at Facebook while situated in a crowded city. This is why we desire robust relationships with friends, siblings, parents, and spouses. And this is why going to parties is sometimes more important than sitting at home and writing.

And, as much as I love parties and robust community, there is even more to leisure than that. During my senior year of college, I read Josef Pieper’s little book, Leisure – The Basis of Culture. Here, Pieper makes a case for leisure, defining it, distinguishing it from work, explaining that it’s an end in itself, and ultimately arguing that it is the basis of lasting culture. In addition to feasts and celebrations, leisure is also the time that we allow for contemplation – that is, the time that we allow ourselves to ask unanswerable questions, think about first principals, and invest in that which might not grant us much return. But this contemplation time, or leisure, is what eventually produces great art, books, and ideas.

Earlier I wrote about how part of worship is creativity and productivity, and I think that we can do that not just through work, but also through leisure. Whenever we create, whether it be communities or culture, we are living up to our title of God’s image bearers, thus worshiping the one who made us.

Life & Worship: Work

This is the first in a short series of posts for the Easter season, which I introduced last week.

During a good week, the average Christian spends about an hour or two at church – singing, praying, and generally acknowledging God – and maybe a few more hours here and there praying, reading Scripture, chatting it up with other Christians, etc. And the rest of that week is spent at work. That’s four or five hours directly focused on God, and 40+ hours focused on charts, diagrams, budgets, or whatever else working people are up to these days.

This would be a huge problem for Christians if work itself wasn’t a form of worship. But it is.

In my last post, I talked about how the activities of worship include anything that is necessitated by us being God’s image-bearers. That’s pretty vague. To get a better idea of what this might mean, let’s start from the beginning:

Step 1: From nothing, God makes everything seen and unseen.
Step 2: God makes the first human (“in our image”), and calls him “good.” This human has a body.
Step 3: God gives that first human dominion, including naming rights, over everything that He just made. He also tells him to cultivate that garden in the East.
Step 4: God stops making stuff.

At this point, we don’t know very much about God or about people. One of the things we do know is that God is infinitely creative and productive, and that He seems to want people to be as well. Before the fall, God ordains work.

Between then and now, God has revealed Himself to us many times in many ways, including and especially by becoming one of us – the perfect human. This perfect human did a lot of really incredible things, turning water to wine, making a feast out of a few loaves and fish, restoring bodies and lives. And this was over the course of just a few years. For the first 30 or so years of his life, Jesus studied, and made stuff.

Scripture isn’t super clear about how we’re supposed to conduct ourselves in the details of our everyday lives, but I think it’s pretty clear about this. We are supposed to work.

Now we’re kind of treading some tricky territory. Our society has a…complicated…understanding of work, what it is, what it’s for, how much we ought to commit to it, etc. For the sake of clarity, I’d like to define work as productive human activity that sustains and grows us, our families, our societies, and our world. This is a very broad definition; incidentally, there are literally millions of things that qualify as work (and we’re thinking up new ones all the time!) – each of them good, necessary, and potentially worshipful.

One of the mistakes that our society makes in its thinking about work is that it is exclusively related to one’s job. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps it’s because we’re kind of obsessed with our careers or we really like money or something. But the legitimacy of work is not determined by how difficult it is or how much money it earns.

Lately I’ve been reading and encouraged by Margaret Peterson’s book Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life. In this treatise on housework, she points out that “in a society dominated by its monetary economy, it is easy to assume that any unpaid activity is either a form of consumption or an oppressive waste of time. But housework, although unpaid, is essentially productive; it is among the ways which humans can and do participate in God’s own work of creation” (Peterson 38). In the office, we might not be particularly creative, and that’s okay. But we should fulfill this part of our human end at home, first and foremost by establishing a hospitable and flourishing household.

Sometimes we also forget that work is a means to an end, not an end it itself. Work is only good and worthwhile insofar as it achieves whatever it aims to do. To be sure, the general aims of work are of cosmic significance.

And this is why work – all of it – ought to be done well. The quality of one’s work is essential to the Christian. Somewhere along the line, the Church (particularly the Evangelical tradition) lost its way and began to devalue tangible worldly things, including work, which was rendered a mere distraction from God that doesn’t ultimately matter.

In her book Creed and Chaos – which is about the things that ought to matter the most to Christians – Anglican writer Dorothy Sayers includes a chapter about work. She reminds us that “the only Christian work is good work well done” (Sayers 108). She also argues that churches should be very interested in how people conduct themselves after the benediction, saying that “The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables” (Sayers 106).

Peterson also makes the interesting and compelling argument that “work is sacramental…In a traditional Christian understanding, sacraments are points at which material and spiritual things come together and God is present and active in particular ways… (work), while not a sacrament properly speaking, may in a similar way allow physical objects and actions to link believers to Christian memory, hope, and present faithfulness” (Peterson 40).

I find all of this deeply relieving. It means that God cares about how I use my time, and not just because He’s jealous that I’m not using it all to pray or something. It means that every day matters, not just Sundays. And it means that it’s not idolatrous to care about the emails I send in the office or the food I cook in the kitchen.

Life & Worship: An Introduction

Every week, I attend a “worship” service. I sing songs that are led by a “worship team,” and refer to my handy “worship folder” for lyrics, prayers, etc. The term “worship” has a bit of a buzzword-quality to it. At the very least, it’s a word that is loaded with meaning that we sometimes casually use as a prefix with other words, especially on Sundays.

There’s nothing wrong with affixing the word “worship” onto the names of the various aspects surrounding a church service – it’s helpful and pretty harmless. However, sometimes I wonder if it conveys the idea that worship only happens on Sundays. While Sundays are definitely sacred, worship can and should happen all the time, in everyday life.

This is what worship looks like. Except not really.

This is what worship looks like. Except not really.

Throughout Easter, I’ll be sharing a series of posts about life and worship, focusing on four topics: work, leisure, rest, and seasons. For now, I’m going to lay a little groundwork, in an effort to ensure that we’re all on the same page.

Full disclosure: these posts could stray into apologetics-territory. Part of why I’m interested in this topic is my desire to defend why I think it’s okay to go to happy hour instead of prayer meetings, why, in addition to the Bible, it’s okay to read anything from Socrates to Stephen King, and why Christians can be legitimately called into things other than ministry (and not just so that they can evangelize to the other doctors, teachers, baristas, etc.). Sorry if I get defensive – this is something that I care deeply about, and I think it’s one of the great things about following a Lord who is Risen.

This Risen Lord is worth our devotion, i.e., our worship. What I’m interested in here what worship looks like – what are the actions associated with it? The sacred activities that transpire in churches on Sundays is a start (and I’d argue that it’s non-negotiable for Christians). But it doesn’t end with the benediction.

Worship starts with recognizing who God is and who we are in relation to Him. This can mean a lot of things, but most basically, it means that 1) He is God, 2) we are human, and 3) we were made in His image.

It’s no simple task, being God’s image-bearer. Because He made us like Himself, God has certain expectations for us. We should be reasonable. We should be  creative and productive. We should exist in community. Amongst other things. Meeting these expectations is the very beginning of worship. Being human is the very beginning of worship, and I think worship is deeply connected to our personhood.

Worship is participating in human activities in a way that glorifies God. When we act like people, especially good people, we are worshipping. What happens in churches is deeply humanizing, but so is what happens in kitchens, classrooms, and coffee shops. I’m excited to further explore this notion in the coming weeks.