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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Advent: On Earth Peace

There are many names for God in the Bible and Judeo-Christian Traditions including- Yahweh, Father, Counselor, Jehovah, Deliverer, Provider. One of my favorite names for God is Yahweh Shalom, “The LORD is Peace”, as Gideon calls God in Judges 6:24 when he dedicates an altar to God. God has also been called Oseh Shalom, “Maker of Peace”. Another favorite name for God is Emmanuel- God with us- from Joseph’s vision in Matthew 1:23, quoting Isaiah 7:14. One way God is peace and makes peace on Earth is by being with us.

 

The world hardly seems peaceful when I read headlines and newsfeeds full of bombs and hate. I don’t always feel God with me in rush hour traffic or during periods of personal darkness. Emmanuel- God with us. Always.

 

Knowing that God is always with us, with me, is not always a peaceful thought. God is present during moments of sin and piety, crisis and joy, pain and delight. Ecclesiastes 3 says that there is a time and season for everything. Life happens. When we find a season that we like, we try to exist in a Narnia-like world, where there is one season all of the time. In The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, it is always winter, but never Christmas. No season is forever- whether enjoyable or painful. One way to have peace is to consider God’s presence in every season. Emmanuel- God with us. Always.

 

There is mystery in God’s presence- then, today, and in the future. The mystery of the birth, the mystery of God, the mystery of peace. With so much mystery, God reminds us of the truest reality that what we see and experience now is real, but the continuing and one day final redemption is also real. This is peace- there is more than what I know. Emmanuel- God with us. Always.

 

God is peace, making peace, and always with us.

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State of the Union

There have been 2 viral or semi-viral articles posted by friends of mine this week that can be found here and here. Please read these articles before continuing with this blog. I’ll wait. [insert Jeopardy theme song here]

 

One reason for why both the Moore and Venker articles have taken off is shock. Those of us who exist in egalitarian, even feminist, worlds feel a social and political whiplash when we are reminded that a sizeable number of people have a different perspective. I am concerned about balancing charitable and indignant responses. Don’t forget- Jesus calls all people neighbors.

 

While these are different articles with different points and perspectives, both raise concerning questions about role and social understandings of women. Though I could write volumes in response, allow me to focus in & offer both broad and detailed responses:

 

Both the Moore and Venker articles point toward social brokenness. It is too easy to consider gender role issues as a battle of the sexes. In reality, gender issues are more about ideological differences than anything else.

 

Inequality and unhealthy competition exist because of a fallen world. The often quoted verse from Galatians 3:28 says, “there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul desires and describes perfect Christian unity in the passage. Temporary [on a cosmic timeline] distinctions unfortunately and often times lead to limitations for political kingdoms as mistrust and discrimination reign, but temporary distinctions such as social standing or gender do not determine one’s standing in God’s Kingdom. Passages There is radical, unimaginable, gracious, inclusion and equality for all in God’s Kingdom! This is Good News. I challenge Russell Moore to describe God’s Kingdom without a vision of equality and inclusion.

 

An article I was interviewed for was published in a local newspaper this week. The article was fine, but the finished product was a different angle and a different emphasis than I intended. My most charitable self wonders if a similar process happened with Moore, as the article is based on a “wide-ranging interview”. Overall, many quotes point to Moore’s “us” and “them” mindset [on gender, SBC, conservatives, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission vs. the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty., etc.] that is ultimately antithetical to Christian community.

 

Moore and most other complementarians that I am familiar with depend heavily on natural theology. Natural theology was also relied upon for Nazism and for beautiful ways of connecting with Creator God through nature. Natural theology is a powerful tool to be used very carefully. Moore says, “God designed us in such a way where we learn about him through family relationships… We learn about the nature of reality in family relationships, and in terms of what it means to image God, by being faithful fathers and husbands and mothers and wives.” Moore inadvertently opens the door to understanding God in feminine terms. If God is understood in family relationships, then God could be understood as both feminine and masculine. Mothers and fathers, males and females, both “image God”.

 

This brings me to Venker article. From what I can tell, Suzanne Venker is a social commentator- not a theologian or a sociologist. Also, her article is not inherently religious, though many who read her article on Fox News are conservative Christians and conservatives of other faiths who will interpret her comments with a particular religious lens.

 

Even though she broadly quotes a Pew study, this article should not be interpreted as a serious sociological piece. She writes, “over the past several decades”. Translation- lacking detailed, particular, concrete study of changes between this year and that year. Venker also depends on loaded and emotional words and phrases such as “profound change”, “independent”, “most women”, and “research shows” without enough mention of statistically significant findings or operational definitions. Ambiguity benefits her argument.

 

I would also appreciate more discussion about why women began working outside of the home. Firstly, blue collar women have a long history of working outside the home out of necessity [I’m thinking of my grandmother], but many American middle class women joined the workforce during WWII. Blue collar or working class families and women probably think [and thought] of the “opportunity” to work outside the home as survival rather than liberation. Venker’s lack of mention of class differences in her discussion about women’s work in and outside the home signals ignorance of her own presumed financial privilege. Work outside of the home is not always a choice.

 

Feminists must be careful not to be misguided in their enthusiasm. Some women [and men!] enjoy working in the home and find fulfillment there. This should be supported. I recall reading an academic article on a study in a Women’s Studies course that concluded that women do not report higher life satisfaction working inside the home or outside of the home. Women report highest life satisfaction when they have a choice.

 

If anyone can secure Venker’s mailing address, I will cheerfully mail her a copy of the 50th anniversary edition of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique which discusses growing dissatisfaction of many women who worked inside the home during the 1950s and 60s.

 

From a Christian perspective, yes, I agree with Venker that overemphasis on independence can be problematic, but this is also antithetical to Christian living. Leaning on one’s husband, partner, relatives, church, friends, is an entirely appropriate and acceptable approach to managing the many demands of life- whatever one’s main work happens to be.

 

Venker spends a bit of ink on women living “balanced lives”. Balance is incredibly subjective and cannot be prescribed with blanket statements. More important than balance are sustainability and stability. What in my life is sustainable? What in my life needs change in order to be sustainable?

 

Moore and Venker both point to broken society. Maybe working mothers “are more concerned with having a flexible work schedule”, “women prefer part-time work”, and “men see it as their duty to support their families” as a result of social conditioning rather than inherently created order. The current state of American society cannot simply be blamed on women or a few factors. A complex and intricate series of events and factors contribute to how contemporary American society functions, and the state of the union. Growing education and recognition of the complexities of gender, theology, sociology, and psychology would do Moore, Venker, and all social commentators [including me] a lot of good!

 

“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” -2 Corinthians 13:11

 

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Grace, Hope, Peace: Lessons From the End of Daylight Savings

Grace- Sunday morning included an extra hour.

Think of all the moments, even hours, you wish you could take back or redo. Grace is not allowing a do-over, but looking directly at a mistake, accepting it, letting it go, and giving thanks. Grace covers a multitude of sins. What do the words ¡Gracias!, Grazie!, and grace have in common?- the same Latin word, gratia. For ancient Romans, gratia had three distinct meanings: (1) a pleasing quality, (2) favor or goodwill, and (3) gratitude or thanks. [dictionary.com]

 

Hope- Winter includes more darkness than other times of the year.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that is linked with seasons, particularly changes in sunlight. The physical darkness of winter can lead to an interior darkness. Though the sun may go down earlier, and the sun rises earlier, the sun still rises. Though nights are long, day still comes.

 

“Nowhere are we more prone to encroaching darkness than when we are stepping into the light.” [Nadia Bolz-Weber]

 

“The darkness of the whole world cannot swallow the glowing of a candle.” [Robert Altinger]

 

Peace- No season is permanent.

If you have lived more than a year, you know that seasons come and go. This present darkness may be long, but it is not forever. Spring will come with its increasingly long sunny days, and blooming flowers. Enjoy the darkness and simplicity of winter, warm drinks, the ability to see further through bare branches. Spring will come. Winter is here. Breathe deeply. Be present.

         

“For everything there is a season,

a time for every activity under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die.

A time to plant and a time to harvest.

A time to kill and a time to heal.

A time to tear down and a time to build up.

A time to cry and a time to laugh.

A time to grieve and a time to dance…

I have seen the burden God has placed on us all.

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”

[Ecclesiastes 3:1-4,10-11]

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Sex in the City; Sex in the Church I.

How do you spell love? How do you spell sex? G-I-V-E? T-A-K-E? L-U-S-T? G-I-F-T? W-H-O-L-E-N-E-S-S? What does it mean to be a whole person, wholly given to God, & wholly given to another person?

 

Sometimes The Church deliberately or inadvertently requires a false front that everything in life is ok. How then can The Church be a place of spiritual healing? Churches & polite church ladies often try to sweep differences under the rug to avoid conflict, presenting a false cohesion to the community rather than accepting diversity of opinions & experiences, as if differences where inherently a problem. Avoidance benefits no one in the long term. The topic of sexuality, & particularly welcoming GLBT people, cannot be avoided or ignored. The Church should mirror God’s love & welcome, but is instead quite broken.

 

Sexuality is relational. One’s sexuality relates to how one relates to friends & family. Think of all the scenarios that could include a spouse- parties, social media pictures, legal benefits, family events, weddings, funerals, church, traveling, shopping… When a spouse is a partner, they are a life partner, & included in every part of life- not just the bedroom or home life.

 

The terms homosexual & heterosexual, when referring to a person, [such as he/she is a homosexual] oversimplify & debase complex human experiences of love, sexuality, & attraction. Sexuality is more than particular intimate behavior. Sexuality is relational & not entirely private. Particular expressions of sexuality are private, but sexuality in a broad sense is very much public. This is a pain of one’s sexuality being silenced- a disconnection from public social life, especially the church where one should be most free to be authentic.

 

When discussing “GLBT issues”, as it is sometimes called, there are often statements like “love the sinner & hate the sin”, or “feelings may be there just don’t act on them”. Of course not every feeling will be acted on! Many, may be most, GLBT people in The Church have a high level of self-control because they have needed to be discrete before coming out anyway. There are sexuality ethics & standards – whether heterosexual or homosexual. One’s sexuality is part of one’s identity, so “love the sinner & hate the sin” is often heard as “I don’t understand how important your sexuality is to you, but I think it is wrong. Therefore, your sense of self is wrong”. This separation of selves is antithetical to Christian faith- a call to be wholly God’s.

 

Attempting to separate a person’s mind, body, spirit, & sexuality is unethical & a justice issue. As if churches are saying, you’re welcome here, but check part of yourself at the door. How does that attitude facilitate authentic faith & community? If God’s relationship to The Church is one of total connection & gift, then shouldn’t people’s relationship in The Church ideally also be one of total connection & gift?

 

Separating faith & action is dangerous. What some people call “same sex attraction” [SSA] others call “same gender loving” [SGL]. The emphasis of love is important. Love is an action. Separating feelings & behavior essentially separates attraction & love. Ideally love & attraction are inseparable for romantic love, even if the specifics of attraction [hello gray hair & wrinkles!] such as in a long-term marriage change over a lifetime.

 

Sometimes there are well-intended attempts to reject sexuality as an identity marker because sexuality is only a part of what it means to be human. However, checking motivations here is key. Minimizing sexuality becomes misguided when used as a way to avoid uncomfortable realities and/or conversations, or quiet others with different opinions & experience than one’s own. Sexuality is truly no small part of identity- definitely a part, but not an isolated part.

 

Sexuality is a stewardship issue. The Greatest Commandment is to love the Lord your God with all of you of your heart mind, soul, & strength. [Mark 12:30] This commandment is meant to be all inclusive- all of one’s self. Sexuality is part of one’s self; a gift to be carefully given & received. Even a celibate person can give & receive sexuality by appreciating the beauty of another & by genuinely loving. Not all love is sexual, but everything sexual should be about love.

 

“Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;

And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name.”

-Adolphe Adam

 

 

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