In the Spirit of Mary Magdalene

Today is a momentous day. Tuesday? Sure. July 22? Try again. Today is the Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene.

 

Read a main passage of her story here in John 20. If you have ever seen an icon or sacred painting of Mary Magdalene, she was probably wearing red and/or holding a red egg. Read stories behind that tradition here. Bishop Hipolytus [2-3rd century] called Mary Magdalene an “apostle to the apostles” because she was a disciple sent out with a message & mission. An apostle is a disciple in action. She had a message to share, & she did so faith-full-y. 

 

Whether you support women in formal religious leadership or women as Christian ministers/pastors, there is wisdom to receive from these particularly faith-full women who live in the spirit of Mary Magdalene. These women write, speak, preach, & lead in various ways so that the hope of Jesus Christ’s life & messages reaches deeper & wider. In no particular order I present 10 diverse women in Christian ministry we need to listen to:

 

1) Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastor, House For All Sinners & Saints, Denver, CO

2) Amy K. Butler, Pastor, Riverside Church, NYC

3) Dorisanne Cooper, Pastor, Watts Street Baptist Church, Durham, NC

4) Angela Yarber, Artist, Preacher, Author, Winston-Salem, NC

5) Helen Prejean, Catholic nun & Activist, New Orleans, LA

6) Kyndall Rothaus, Pastor, Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio, TX

7) Allyson Robinson, Activist & Transitions Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church, Washington DC

8) Vashti McKenzie, Bishop, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Nashville, TN

9) Erica Evans Whitaker, Pastoral Resident, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas, TX

10) Rachel Held Evans, Author, Speaker, Dayton, TN

 

“Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” [John 20:18]

 

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Transitions & Thresholds: The Sacred Plate

Edited from a sermon delivered at the Academy of Preachers Texas Festival in March 2014:

 

It’s that time of year again… the seasons are changing from winter’s ice to spring’s life. Christians have transitioned from Ordinary Time to Lent to Eastertide. It’s that time of year again… teachers anticipating summer, graduates asking what’s next? It’s that time of year again when couples prepare for summer weddings, and life will change for many people in many ways. I wonder what kind of transition the Hebrews anticipated as they painted their doorposts with blood. Life was changing pretty quickly for them. Even so, God’s care for God’s people is sometimes most clear during times of uncertainty & change.

 

If you have ever experienced a Passover Seder or even seen a Passover platter, you know there is a particular order and liturgy to remembering the story of Passover. The platter has sections for remembering the story- there are spots for the bitter herbs remembering the bitterness of slavery, a shank bone for the lamb, the charoset. If you just sit down to the meal, you will get something out of it. But, if you go through the longer process of preparation, then you will get even more out of the process. A few years ago I did a presentation on Passover for a class. I brought in a few traditional dishes, including charoset. The charoset represents the bricks that the Hebrews made and hauled under slavery. Preparing this dish of dates, apples, and nuts requires a lot of labor. Peeling, chopping finely the apples, chopping sticky dates. I already knew the meaning of charoset, but it wasn’t until I went through the process of making it- feeling the stickiness and the density of the mixture, that I understood more deeply the meaning. Sometimes we want to blow through times of transition, because we are so focused on what’s next when being fully here, going through the difficult process, could be the most important part.

 

Sometimes change is sticky and labor intensive. Change doesn’t happen as neatly as Seder platters are organized. They get messy. As a kid, I remember seeing Bible pictures of the Hebrews putting blood on their door post & it looked like kind of scratchy crayon. As an often times practical and detailed person, I thought was strange that it looked so neat in the picture. I remember wondering even then if the blood dripped and made a mess. Sometimes when we look at other people’s changes and transitions, we think wow! They really have life together neatly. That really may not be the truest reality, though. Anne Lamott says that when someone has their Christian act together, they have just that- an act. No one really has it all together. Change is messy, there will be discomfort, there will be uncertainty. There will be faith involved. This is part of the joy of change. How vulnerable are we when our routine is out of place and the future is unknown? What an opportunity to renew our sense of connection and trust with God.

 

I wonder if this is part of why the Hebrews were commanded in verses 26-27 to tell their children what happened, so that the Passover generation’s faithfulness would inspire and encourage generations after them, as they told of their obedience and God’s faithfulness. Maybe the commandment is also to avoid communal amnesia. Have you ever walked into a room, crossed a threshold, & wondered now what did I come in here for? Wait for it… no, it’s gone. J There is a phenomenon in cognitive psychology that when people have a thought, then move from one room to another, as their context changes, their thoughts change. When moving between rooms with different purposes, such as the bedroom to the kitchen, our minds sometimes move on without taking past thoughts with us.

 

Even when the Hebrews’ scenery changed, their context changed, the people who made up who the Hebrews were changed, God’s faithfulness and this story must still be remembered.  Why? Because we need to know and remember God’s faithfulness, all of the time especially during stressful transition times. I don’t think we can be reminded too many times about God’s faithfulness. We can’t be reminded too many times about God’s liberating work. We can’t be reminded too many times that God will provide. At least I can’t be reminded too many times.

 

I wonder if this is part of the purpose of mezuzahs. A mezuzah is a tiny scroll with verses from Deuteronomy written on it, that goes inside a plaque looking box or case that is affixed often at an angle at doorways. The text written inside is the Shema- “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One” and the great commandment to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and strength.” The Lord your God is one- during joy, during challenge, during changes, during stability. Love the Lord your God- when you feel like it, when you don’t feel like it, in and out of season. We need reminders of these truths, especially when opening doors and moving through thresholds.

   

If Exodus 12 and the Exodus story says anything, it is that change, big or small, is communal. As we change, our situations change, for better or for worse, that impacts our families, our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues. Earlier in this chapter, when God gives instructions for how to prepare the lamb, God says that each household should have its own lamb, but the lamb should be shared with a neighboring household if is too small to have its own.

 

Contemporary celebrations of Passover are very communal. I can’t imagine trying to go through the Seder liturgy by myself because it is not intended to be done alone. The proper word for this Passover liturgy is Haggadah, which means “telling”. I guess you could tell yourself, but that would be odd & misses the point. Passover could not have been done alone. Managing the stress of changes and crossing thresholds cannot be done alone. God makes a way with community.

 

Verse 11 says, “This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly.” I have to tell you, I don’t hurry very well. I hurry a lot, but I don’t hurry very well. Here’s the thing with change- we don’t always get to pick the timing or the speed. Sometimes change happens and we just have to do our best, with a staff in hand, sandals on, scarfing down the lamb chops, in order to be ready for the morning. Sometimes we don’t have time to let the bread rise, to get everything in order, every detail worked out, before change knocks on the door. Of course the Passover was a crisis moment and not all of our changes are crisis moments of this caliber, but I don’t think God, Moses, & Aaron had a little pow-wow. Hhhhmmm, does next Tuesday work for you? No, Miriam’s got a tambourine recital. What about Wednesday? No, the time came, and God moved the people to a new place, to a new situation. Ready or not, here it comes. That’s how change is sometimes. Instead of ready or not, let’s go with ready.

 

There’s an old saying that luck favors the prepared. I wonder if faith favors the prepared. We cannot be prepared for everything, but here’s what I mean- if we are spiritually prepared, in the ways that we can be, through slow and steady connection and prayer with God, with healthy connections to church community, then when doubts or challenges or changes come, we will be better equipped, with stronger faith to manage it, to trust God through it. Paul compares sin to leavening in 1 Corinthians 5, and like preparing for Passover traditionally requires getting rid of foods with leavening, I wonder if letting go of sin, letting go of what holds us back from full faith and trust in God, will lighten the load we have to pack on our back when it’s time to move.—–

 

It’s that time of year again. Time to ask what’s next. Time to discern where to invest time and energy. Time for changes. Whatever changes or challenges you are facing or will face, remember God’s past faithfulness in order to increase faith in God’s future faithfulness, live into the experience of transitioning, call on community for help, and do what you can to prepare yourself. Most importantly remember God is with you, even through the end of the ages. Amen.

 

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On Baptism & Peace

Published through Associated Baptist Press: http://www.abpnews.com/blog/theology/on-baptism-and-peace-2014-05-07/#.U2wkqIFdUxE 

 

 

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Jordan River, Israel

Disorienting Wonder

Working my way down

The long, long dark corridor

Hoping, praying, dreaming

 

Knocking on tall doors

Short doors

Antique, modern doors

Mirrored doors

Moated doors

 

Gentle knocks?

Forceful knockers

Running starts

Failed picked locks

 

Down, down

The corridor

When finally

A squat door of Mary’s cerulean

Opens with persuasion

Darkness deeper than the corridor

But the door opened

 

The only way in

Kneeling

Sliding on knees

Sliding, sliding

Falling, falling

 

Like Alice into fearful wonder

Slightly unhinged

Thud landing

Disoriented wonder

 

Standing up for once

On steady cobblestone

A new, long, colorful corridor

Single door at the end

Cracked open

Shining, glowing, calling

 

I open the door

Mezuzah intact

Entering into Twilight Space

Crossing over

Through the threshold

A whole new world

 

From black and white

To blinding Technicolor

From Pleasantville

To a truer reality

 

There you are

Queen of my Heart

Welcoming me to The Table,

Inviting  me to taste and see

 

Calling me

Closer, closer

Breast of milk

Breath of honey

 

“Welcome, beloved

Come

Stay

Sit

A while”

 

Releasing coat and baggage

Into your care

Wearing new hats

 

We sit

 

We exhale

 

Together

 

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Grief Unspeakable: Mary Did You Know?

Grief Unspeakable: Mary Did You Know?

 

Mary, were you angry

At the crowd of healed people

Who shouted with severe amnesia?

 

Mary, were you silent

As Jesus cried out

Or did you cry out too?

 

Mary, did you think

That you lost your son

Like that fateful youth Temple day?

 

Mary, did you know

That Jesus was always found

And in God’s care even during death?

 

Mary, did you know

That grief and silence could be holy

Even then, even now?

 

Mary, did you know

That your little Lamb

Would become a Savior-Man?

 

Mary, did you keep

Sabbath that silent Saturday

Or did you busy your hands nervously?

 

Mary, were you proud of your son

Or were you shamed

As He died a criminal’s death?

 

Mary, were you alone

With people all around

Yet no one who understood?

 

Mary, do you remember

Jesus’ limp arms and legs

Pale skin and dried blood brow?

 

Mary, do you remember

When and how they laid Jesus’ body

In the dark, isolated tomb?

 

Mary, did you sleep

From traumatic exhaustion

Or did you pace the floor praying for sunrise?

 

Mary, were you confused

When you arrived at the tomb

Stone rolled away,

Something new to say,

Starting a new day?

 

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Are We There Yet? Are We There Yet?: A Sermon for Holy Week

I served as a summer missionary to a rural & highly segregated area of South Carolina when I was in high school. I was part of a 6-member team of high school girls. 5 of us were Anglo & 1 of us was Korean. Each afternoon we loaded down the van with Vacation Bible School curriculum, candy, & enthusiasm. Then, we crossed over the train tracks [literally] to the African-American side of the town & led a kid’s club at a low income apartment complex. Though we came at the same time each day like clockwork, a few of the kids felt the need to announce our presence to the entire apartment complex by running up & down the breezeways yelling, “the white people are here! The white people are here!”. There came a point when our team was kind of uncomfortable with this announcement. One of my teammates suggested to the… let’s call them town criers… that they find a different way to show their enthusiasm for our presence. So, the next day as our van pulled in, we heard the kids running up & down the breezeways again, except they were yelling, “the church people are here! The church people are here!” Ok, we’ll take it. Not all announcements of arrival are equally triumphant.

 

On this festive Palm Sunday, we naturally turn our attention to Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem. I have to be honest. It was not until this week that I realized that Jesus had both a donkey and a colt with Him for the journey into Jerusalem. This caught my eye. Matthew is the only Gospel to specifically mention both a donkey and a colt. This may be to set up Matthew’s no so subtle hint that Jesus fulfills prophecy from Isaiah & Zechariah that speak of the humility of the coming King & how he will ride on a donkey. It’s kind of like coming to town with the options of a Cadillac Escalade or a Ford station wagon. Jesus chose the more humble option. Yet again, when given the choice, Jesus chooses humility and limits Himself. Jesus chooses sacrifice. Even though this is a small act of humility, it signals an overall attitude that Jesus does not choose the easiest or most comfortable option, though He is able to. Jesus chooses to be a humble king who is different from the powers of this world. Matthew makes connections between the events of Jesus’ entrance with other passages like the prophets to connect the stories of the prophets with the Gospel. Sometimes the story, the journey of the story, is the point.

 

Why was Jesus going to Jerusalem? There is more than 1 answer to that question. One of which is to celebrate Passover. Ancient & contemporary celebrations of the Passover Seder can significantly differ, but if you have ever experienced or maybe heard about a Passover Seder, then you know that the meal & festivities center around a story. The Seder retells the story of the Exodus, the Hebrews’ liberation from Egypt. Perhaps the timing of Jesus’ arrival to Jerusalem during the time of Passover is a hint that Jesus will be our liberator. Sometimes the story, the journey of the story, is the point.

 

Preparing for Passover is a time of cleaning out. This is more than just spring cleaning, a little dusting and vacuuming. Preparing for Passover is a time of searching out chametz. Chametz is yeast or leavening and represents sin. Paul uses this metaphor between yeast & sin 1 Corinthians 5. It is not enough to find the chametz, but Jewish tradition is to get rid of it completely. Often times there is a ceremonial burning of chametz just before Passover begins as a way of showing complete separation from it and as a reminder that the time they are entering into is different from other times. It is holy. Just as Christians go through Lent as a time of finding and getting rid of sin, may this Holy Week be a time of renewal. This week is different from other weeks. It is holy.

 

There are many questions asked in the stories of this Holy Week. There is a big story made from many smaller stories during this week. I’m concerned that many of us maybe out of a sense of over familiarity, or because we lack spiritual focus, or because we are allergic to anything unhappy, we will go from- Yay! Jesus arrives in Jerusalem!, then skip to Yay! The tomb is empty! Sometimes the story, the journey of the story, is the point.

 

Truthfully, I enjoy a good sandwich. J In order for it to be a sandwich, it has to have bread or the ends and the middle. Think of how much more satisfying a sandwich is compared to 2 pieces of bread. Jumping from Palm Sunday to Easter is like this: “Once upon a time there was Papa Bear, Mama Bear, & Baby Bear who lived in a house in the forest. Then Goldilocks jumped out of bed and ran out of the house into the forest and was never seen again!” Can you imagine reading that to a kid? J They would look at you & say… I think you missed a few pages there. This Holy Week, don’t miss a page. It’s Holy Week! [not just Holy Sundays, Batman!] Sometimes the story, the journey of the story, is the point.

 

I invite you this week & I think God invites us, to think about, live into, feel the story, the Gospel. Stick with the story long enough to gradually hear the crowd disperse. Settle in with the story long enough to hear the crowd’s cheers become the crowd’s jeers. Sit with the story long enough to appreciate what Jesus does and who Jesus is. Read the Gospel passage that corresponds with each day. Get your feet wet & feast with the Disciples on Thursday. Confess with the Centurion that Jesus is Lord & hear the Temple curtain rip on Friday. Grieve with Mary on Saturday. Sometimes the story, the journey of the story, is the point. Don’t miss out. May the Lord return you all to this place next week having lived into the story of the Passion, which is the best way to fully welcome Jesus, and to prepare for the celebration of Easter. Amen.

 

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Sophia & Pax

I rise before the sun rises

under a full moon

the verdant forest

with layers of green & brown

rain like grace

so that the forest sighs in relief

 

Two owls in the near distance

distinct hooooo patterns

calling to me and the messy forest

insistently getting louder

a love-love tennis match

calling to one another

 

Sophia says be strong

protect yourself, be strong

 

Pax says be strong

protect yourself, be strong

 

Sophia says you’re so close

you’ve come this far, be careful

 

Pax says you’re so close

you’ve come this far, be careful

 

Sophia says wait! listen!

it gets better, be patient

 

Pax says wait! listen!

make it better, be patient

 

Sophia says watch your step

the end is near, be quiet

 

Pax says watch your step

the end is near, be honest

 

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