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Part 1 of this series can be found here.

 

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Wanted- a church that says it is welcoming

And actually is

 

Wanted- a church not color blind

But kaleidoscope embracing

 

Wanted- a church that is humbly proud of itself

And has reason to be

 

Wanted- a church not elitist

But makes space for every income & education

 

Wanted- a church that takes in the community as brothers and sisters

And not a colony to be conquered

 

Wanted- a church more interested in being kind than right

 

Wanted- a church with love to show

Not something to prove

 

Wanted-a church not worshipping patriarchal idols

But welcoming all as equals

 

Wanted- a church affirming

Not just tolerating

 

Wanted- a church that absorbs confusion

Offering gentle guidance and ready ear

 

Wanted- a church not exclusive

But radically inclusive

 

Needed- a church as welcoming as Jesus was, and is, and ever will be

Amen.

 

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Mary Magdalene: A Woman for All Seasons

This post is part 2 in a series, Misunderstood Women of the Bible. Read part 1 here.

 

In honor of the Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles!

 

First, some identity corrections, then some identity comments. Mary Magdalene was most likely NOT A PROSTITUTE, as many people, including Christians, erroneously identify her as. The teaching of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute comes from Pope Gregory I’s sermon series in the 6th century and possibly Ephraim the Syrian in the 4th century. Many commentators including the Oxford Bible Commentary argue that there is no reason to assume and there is not enough evidence to argue that the “sinful” woman who anoints Jesus’ feet in Luke 7 and Mary Magdalene are the same woman. Centuries of art depict Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. She is even technically a patron saint for “reformed prostitutes”. The current position of the Catholic Church on Mary Magdalene is that she was not a prostitute. Pope Paul VI in 1969 rejected Mary Magdalene’s identity as a prostitute. [This is apparently still hot off the press with the word still getting out!]

 

One reason that Mary Magdalene has been identified as a prostitute may come from fear of identifying her as a disciple. If Mary Magdalene was a close disciple of Jesus, then her example may give authority to women called to Christian leadership- a role for women originally accepted, then eventually rejected by the Church, but then later revived among Protestants. Bible interpretation must be based on more than art, overzealous attempts to put together a biography, or personal agendas.

 

Another possible reason why Mary Magdalene has been identified as a prostitute may be because of weak belief in Jesus’ healing power. If Mary Magdalene is a former prostitute, then there seems to be an assumption or underlying belief that her character is permanently flawed as if Jesus did not fully heal her. If her character is significantly flawed, then she can more easily be written off as not a true disciple. A follower of Jesus, but not really… Luke 8 says that she was healed of 7 demons. This could means 1 illness [mental, physical, or otherwise] recurring 7 times, or 7 different ailments, or 7 actual evil spirits or demons. Whatever was, no longer is- just like anyone else who has been healed.

 

Another possible reason why Mary Magdalene has been identified as a prostitute may be because she was probably unmarried, yet had some amount of wealth. Magdala, her home, was a wealthy fishing village near the Sea of Galilee on a trade route to Tiberias. After she was healed, Mary Magdalene followed Jesus. In order to have the freedom to do so, she was most likely single- widowed or otherwise. Unmarried women of adult age were an anomaly at this time.

 

The theorized prostitute background can be a distraction from more certain realities. Mary Magdalene is an example of holiness for many reasons including that she was a close disciple & was a part of the group of women who were the first apostles to the apostles, as Augustine called them. [see Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, & John 20]

 

Mary Magdalene is mentioned specifically by name in the Gospels [14 times!] more than most of the 12 Disciples. Rarely does Jesus address people directly by name, but in the garden in John 20:16, the resurrected Jesus calls Mary Magdalene by name, seeing her, acknowledging all of her identity by calling her directly, then chooses her to carry His message, “Go find my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God”.

 

Jesus could have just as easily appeared to another disciple and given the message to someone else, such as Peter who went to the tomb in John 20:3, but He chose Mary Magdalene. I like to think He chose her for the privilege of the first Resurrection appearance because she was His favorite disciple. She was not 1 of the 12, but she was certainly in the in-group beloved by Jesus. She is specifically mentioned at key moments such as at the Crucifixion, Jesus’ body being put in the tomb, and finding the empty tomb. When times were especially risky to be associated with Jesus, she was there. There is no question that her loyalty ran deep.

 

As Augustine called her an apostle, I call Mary Magdalene a model pastor. This could be anyone’s story of calling- Jesus saved me, and I am called to tend to His business. We can’t know all of the psychology of Mary Magdalene, but she lived her life with a certain amount of gratitude in action. She knew she was blessed. 8 of the 14 times she is specifically named, her name is first in the list. This pride of place suggests a level of leadership. In the garden, Jesus gives her a message to proclaim. “No woman ever ran to deliver a more triumphant message.” [All the Women of the Bible by Edith Deen, p.204] Mary Magdalene gave of herself and resources to tend to others who were called, The Disciples, as well as connecting with Jesus directly. Very pastoral.

 

Just as Mary Magdalene has had to overcome many occasions of being misunderstood, was in need of healing, lived graciously, was faithful without hesitation to do what Jesus asked of her, rolled up her sleeves ready to work, and gave what she had, let us all respond faithfully and lovingly to Jesus’ healing work and calls to action in our own lives.

Mary Magdalene*note in this & other icons the red egg symbolizing resurrection*

Martha & Mary- Ora Et Labora

This post is part 1 in a series, Misunderstood Women of the Bible.

 

The great dinner party of Luke 10 is about expectations. Martha expected Mary to help her in the hosting responsibilities. Jesus expected [and expects] all people with ears to hear to listen to Him.

 

This familiar passage, Luke 10:38-42, is often taught as something like this:

Mary & Martha are hosting a dinner party. Jesus is at the dinner party. Martha is running around the house/kitchen as a stressed hostess while Mary sits and listens to Jesus. When Martha asks Jesus to make Mary help her, Jesus reprimands her and says that Mary is doing a more important task by listening to Him, so leave her alone. Conclusion- Martha is a foolish woman for worrying her pretty little head over unnecessary details of housekeeping while Jesus is visiting. The end.

 

This typical interpretation leaves me unsatisfied, & a few points, a few details, seem to be missing.

 

I’m not sure that Martha is entirely to blame for her situation. Sure, she allowed herself to boil over with frustration, but maybe she had a right to that frustration. In those days & today, women were expected to tend to the home. Women often then and even today found their identity and dignity in how well they tended to the home- cooking, cleaning, rearing children. These homemaking skills are on particularly public display when hosting guests.

 

You can see the scene- pots boiling over, seeing across the room that last table not yet dusted, running out of flour at the last minute, answering the door- saying with a painted smile, “oh, you brought 5 friends with you, the more the merrier!” It seems reasonable that Martha would be frustrated that her sister, her hostess with the mostess partner, is not contributing to preparations and serving.

 

When Martha speaks up to Jesus and asks him to correct Mary, this seems a little passive aggressive, as if Mary wasn’t in earshot. “Jesus, would you please tell your disciple, Mary, to get off her keister and give me a hand?” Martha’s request was no doubt in front of other guests. She seems to be bothered or frustrated enough with the situation to approach her guest, not just a guest but a man, Jesus. Most unusual. Martha’s complaint is that Mary isn’t being a team player, but Jesus’ response is my team is most important.

 

Dismissing Martha as a silly anxious woman dismisses her hospitable offering to Jesus. This dismissal is the same attitude that Martha is corrected for- her dismissal of Mary’s offering. In the same chapter, Luke 10, just a few verses before this story is the story of the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan is exalted as a hero for the way he cares for and tends to the detailed needs of the injured man. Why then is Martha condemned for the way she cares for and tends to the detailed needs of Jesus and other guests at the dinner party?

 

One theory- women’s work is misunderstood and undervalued. On average, women earn about 77 cents to every dollar a man earns in the U.S. This rate is a little lower for women of color. Money communicates value. Many of the lower paid jobs are pink-collar jobs, traditionally performed by women. For example, teachers, housekeepers, secretaries. When reading the story of Martha, imbedded sexism overflows. As if of course Martha is being ridiculous with her concerns because those household tasks aren’t valued. Jesus’ correction is not about the value of Martha’s work, but a problem with Martha’s attitude.

 

What Martha and often times what we don’t see, is Mary and Martha are truly on the same team. Both women desire to honor Jesus and give Him their best- Martha with the best of her hands and home, Mary with the best of her ears and her mind. Both women know Jesus is Lord- Martha calls Jesus “Lord”, and Mary “sits at His feet”, an idiom for committed listening & learning, a proper response to being in the presence of her Lord.

Martha’s mistake is assuming that her offering was more important than Mary’s. More than praising Mary, Jesus’ words correct Martha’s attitude of assuming Mary’s actions are inferior. May you and I never be guilty of seeing ourselves, what we have to offer, as more important than anyone else.

 

I’m reminded of a Benedictine motto- ora et labora. Ora meaning prayer, and labora meaning work. The ordering of this phrase is no coincidence. Prayer and work. There is a recognition of prayer’s priority here. Like a weed eater or other 2 stroke motors- the moving parts need a gasoline & oil mixture to operate properly. Good luck getting it to start and continuing to work without 1 or the other. Both gasoline & oil are needed to maintain the engine. As followers of Jesus Christ, we need both prayer and work.

 

Work is good. Details are important. I imagine there would have been some hungry people that night if Martha did not tend to the meal! Work cannot be the only thing, though. Prayer cannot be the only thing, either. Ora et labora- prayer and work- fuel a spiritual life. Rather than complete abandonment of her tasks, perhaps Jesus is calling Martha to simplicity that would give her more freedom to sit and have conversation with Him. Jesus’ correction to Martha communicates His support & encouragement of Mary’s priority of pray and learning.

 

Some scholars interpret this passage to be an invitation to learning. Jesus says in v. 42 that Mary is doing important work. Women were not forbidden at this time from studying Torah, but it was unheard of for a rabbi, a religious teacher, to invite a woman or other marginalized groups to be a disciple, a devotee. This is precisely what Jesus did, though. Jesus made disciples among tax collectors, disabled people, and women. Jesus’ departure from the customs of his day that made religious education and spiritual connection exclusive and limiting puts actions to His words that Christianity is for any who are open and willing. Jesus’ encouragement of Mary is an invitation to anyone who is willing and open to learning and living what Jesus’ life, and words, and actions, have to teach. Jesus firmly corrects Martha’s condemnation of Mary as a way to affirm the value of Mary’s desire to learn.

 

May we all give and receive grace trusting other people and God. May we find joy in work, peace in prayer, and not see work and prayer at odds with each other. May we have open ears, open eyes, and open hearts, to learn from Jesus. Amen.

 

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Grin & Bear It?

I have found 4 uses of the phrase, “take up your cross”. All 4 in the Gospels and spoken by Jesus in red letters. In one use, Matthew 10:38 says, “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine”.

 

In context, Jesus is giving a pep speech/charge to the 12 Disciples as He sends them out to preach. He gives them instructions in chapter 10 to focus on preaching to the Israelites, freely give healing, receive hospitality graciously, anticipate resistance, trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and do not fear. Verses 30-31: “And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” Jesus guarantees 2 things in this chapter- God is with the Disciples and suffering as a result of faith will happen.

 

When Jesus speaks of the Disciples taking up their crosses, perhaps He means taking on the identity of a metaphorical martyr. Martyr means witness. Not all martyrs die- white martyrdom is a metaphorical death as one dies to oneself and self-focus, while red martyrdom is giving one’s life to a cause through literal physical death.

 

It is tempting as 21st century people who know the spoiler to jump ahead with what Jesus could mean in this passage. Remember, Jesus had not yet taken up His own literal and physical cross. Also, Jesus does not call followers to excessive “self-forgetfulness”, as it is sometimes called, so that neglecting one’s self leads to self-inflicted suffering. This behavior and attitude could be a psychological issue- unmitigated communion. Jesus does not call us to grin and bear it, whatever the ‘it’ might be. Jesus calls you and me to deeper wholeness and spiritual connection.

 

Taking up your cross in a metaphorical sense means taking up your identity as a follower of Jesus. The cross would later be turned into cheap jewelry, tacky tattoos, and gaudy bedazzled handbags associated with Christianity. The cross at this point was a very public and painful form of execution.

 

On the issue of suffering and the cross, followers of Jesus are not called to create suffering for themselves or unnecessarily accept suffering. See Mary VandenBerg’s illuminating article on suffering here. Suffering may happen, but redemptive suffering is Christ’s alone.

 

Instead, believers and followers of Jesus Christ are called, commanded, implored, to take up their cross- take up wholehearted, all chips in, Christ-following primary identity. Christ-following primary identity includes offering humanity & dignity to the least of society [Matt. 10:42], knowing true spiritual poverty, meekness, righteousness, mercy, purity, & peacemaking [Matt. 5:3-9], loving enemies [Luke 6:35], obedience to Jesus’ commands & teachings [John 14:15], receiving and giving service [John 13:5-14], and faithfulness to the Church [Hebrews 10:24-25].

 

Jesus’ other uses of this phrase, “take up your cross”, appear in Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23, “Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me”.

 

Taking up your cross has more to do with lived Christian identity, letting go of oneself, and less to do with further self-obsession or misguided self-suffering.

 

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” [John 14:27]

 

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What Color Do I Wear Today?

What color do I wear today?

I wear the color of every woman who has been forced into the corner of a difficult decision.

I wear the color of every woman who has inadequate resources for any of her needs.

I wear the color of every woman who has unknowingly looked danger in the eye.

I wear the color of every woman whose education has failed her, not knowing her rights or options.

I wear the color of every woman who has been shamed, blamed, & marginalized.

I wear the color of every woman whose pregnancy is treated as illness needing cure.

I wear the color of every woman who has had enough of patriarchal governance.

I wear the color of every woman who is treated as a valuable vote rather than a valuable person.

 

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Spiritual Formation: More Than A Buzz Phrase

Special thanks to the Associated Baptist Press for running this piece today that I wrote: http://www.abpnews.com/blog/faithful-living/spiritual-formation-more-than-a-buzz-phrase-2013-07-12/#.UeBLF0HVDK0