People of the Books: Parson Place by Joan Walters Mathison

md986014574I think an associate pastor gave this to me when I was in sixth grade or something like that because he knew I wrote poetry:  it’s a collection of poems by a Methodist pastor’s wife published in 1980 with some pencil illustrations by John Crawford (whoever he is).  It got enough press that there’s a one-page forward by UMC Bishop Carl Sanders in the front (yet it doesn’t seem to have an ISBN—fail, Pioneer Press).  And it is cute in a folksy, homesy sort of way; very much about day-to-day life raising a family and keeping house and being a pastor’s wife.

But DAMN is it painful to a 21st century feminist.  Nearly every poem is about the ways Mathison curtails herself to the raising of a family and the caretaking of her husband the absent-minded pastor son of eight billion generations of pastors.  This…this is kind of what’s wrong with the Church,  which I know is super harsh, but man.  There’s a poem called “Somebody’s Knocking” about a late-night call that wakes her and her husband when a woman calls him to a domestic violence dispute:

“She begged my husband to come and help–
(Neighbor’s [sic] think a preacher makes a grand referee!).”

So the wife waits up in worry for her husband, but then MAKES A JOKE ABOUT IT when he asks why she’s still up:

“I said, ‘Just waiting–
I THOUGHT you’d bring me a souvenir!'”

No.  Domestic violence isn’t funny, and it isn’t cute, and I don’t really care what fluffy note she was trying to hit with that or how common it was when that was written; it falls flat.

I do appreciate her understanding of her role:

“Being a preacher’s wife isn’t something you are born as, it’s what you become when you marry that neat guy in a volkswagen [sic] who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.  You are like everybody else until you say ‘yes’ at the alter [sic], and then people start looking at you like you’re something different.  You take on a new image, and if you don’t watch out, you just might start thinking that you’re different too.  When you go to a shower with your old running buddies you catch them introducing you as a preacher’s wife.  People immediately think that they had better watch what they say around you, and the next thing you know you’re feeling different.  The way to lick that feeling is to be yourself and let them know that you’re still a fun person despite your label.  To do so, you may catch yourself talking a lot which is really okay, but talking about something you’re not suppose [sic] to talk about is something else.”

That kid-glove treatment of pastors and their spouses is most definitely still a thing and I’m glad to see her taking apart the effect it has on her.  But then she goes off the rails:

“It usually takes the preacher to get his wife’s mouth under control.  If he doesn’t do it in those early years there’s trouble ahead.  He surely doesn’t want his image changed.”  (31)

ARG.

All poems are ABAB CDCD etc stanzas, but the rhythm is all over the place.  Sometimes there are four feet, sometimes six, sometimes it shifts within a single stanza—while I appreciate her ability to find that many rhymes, her poetry is sloppy in scansion.  And, as you can see, the editing is…subpar.

As someone who has literally never wanted to be a housewife, I can see that perhaps I’m not the best one to give a compassionate reading to this.  And as someone a few decades removed from this, I can see that we’re going to differ.  But just everything about this makes me sad for the generations of women we’ve told had to be shadows of their husbands in the Church and how we’re still doing that in so many ways, even within the denominations that speak of full involvement of women.  And the ways that the husband is expected to be so many things here, both super pious and always a leader and definitely connected to God—yeesh, no wonder the guy was absent-minded.  May my eventual spouse never expect such constant strength and direction from me; I’m human as all get-out.

And the fact that a pastor felt like he needed to give this to me as an elementary-schooler as an example of how Christian women write poetry

One and a half stars.  Good for her to write and publish a thing, but ugh.  My United Methodist self, my feminist self, my English major self, and my poet self are all quite sad we carried this around for so long.

 

 

1-5-stars

 

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People of the Books: Bible Stories for Little Folks by The John C. Winston Company

Right, so the fact that this is by a company rather than a person should tip you off to the fact that it’s a little sketch to me.  This is a book that I think I got out of a retiring pastor’s collection; I’m pretty much always down for kid-friendly Bibles and Bible story collections because I’m still trying to find one that doesn’t suck.  (Actually, Interpreter and a friend of his were putting one together years ago and I’m pretty sure that got abandoned.  Frustrations.)  Because Biblical stuff aimed at kids usually does suck; there’s this idea that the Bible is way too much for kids as its own text, which, you know, is kinda true but that’s why you don’t hand it to them to read by themselves in a corner like it’s Nancy Drew or something.  We shouldn’t even do that to ourselves as adults, really.  The Bible is huge and complex:  it’s ta biblia, literally “the library” as in a collection of books rather than one book alone.  Libraries need guides to help you figure out what’s what and how they’re related.  So I agree that we shouldn’t just hand the Bible to kids and say go.

But I disagree with the way that we pare it down, not least because of what usually gets chosen for “children’s Bibles.”  We try to make the Bible cute and fluffy, which completely misses the point of the power of these Abrahamic traditions but also distorts the hell out of the actual Scripture and leaves kids unprepared for when they grow up and figure out that the Bible is dark.  Woohoo Noah’s Ark, how lovely with the two-by-two animals and the family on the boat and it’s so great, yay!  Except that Noah’s Ark was a thing because the world was awful and God said it was a great idea to kill everyone and everything else and then when Noah got off after a horrific storm that tore the world apart he got super drunk because, well, yeah, and totally embarrassed his family and God.  That’s not cuddly.  That’s not cute.  But it’s important, and profound, and human.

And I don’t go on this rant to say that the Bible is awful and we should stow it away or that we should smack kids with the book of Judges.  I go on this rant to say that we are doing such a terrible disservice to kids when we shield them so much that they don’t know how to take on the harder questions of faith—and we continue that disservice when they get to that age and then we hand them the full Bible and basically say welp, get to it.  No wonder so much of my generation is wary of the Church; we were taught that white Jesus would hug us like sheep and then we find out He flipped tables and was brown and was never actually a shepherd.

Deep breath.

511wlvy-ahl-_sx363_bo1204203200_As you can see, I have some opinions on this.  (I have a blog.  I have opinions on everything.)  And I realize Scripture is way, way more complicated than that analysis.  And I realize the Church doesn’t monolithically operate like that—I’m still here, aren’t I?  I must believe in the Church at least a little to want to be employed by it forever.  But this book is just so flat, partly because of its time:  it was printed in 1918 by a company with sketched illustrations likely yanked from some Bible encyclopedia or other (actually, the illustrations inside are one of the few redeeming factors; I really appreciated things like a drawing of Dagon and what ancient weapons looked like.  I’m not down with the white Egyptian princess and the brown Gollum handmaid on the cover, though).

The whole of this structure just rubs me raw.  First, it’s set up as “stories,” which, fine, but that breaks apart the fact that the Bible influences itself.  Yes, it’s a library, but the books are connected.  Disparate stories prevent kids from seeing the connections.  And the “stories” are weird hodgepodge things cobbled together by some mad scientist; Story Eighteen, “The Stranger at the Well,” is Matthew 14:3-5, Mark 7:17-20, Luke 3:19-20, and John 3:22-4:42.  What?  How?  What do those have to do with each other?

And “stories” allows the author(s) to insert these weird little moralistic additions without having to announce that the author is doing so, so the kids might not know that what they’re reading really isn’t the Scriptural content—or intent, for that matter.  Like this in the story of the woman at the well in John 4:  “Jesus meant that as this woman, bad though she may have been before, was now ready to hear his words” (97).

I’m sorry, what?  No.  The actual Biblical text has no aside on the woman’s morality like that.  But now the kid reading it automatically assumes Samaritan woman at well = bad.  Great.  Because the actual Bible isn’t misogynistic enough, we’re adding value judgments on female characters.

To top it all off, the Crucifixion is the last “story” and the Resurrection gets a paragraph.  Seriously.  A single paragraph about Jesus being risen—not any of the appearances, mind you, just the fact that the Marys found an empty tomb.  WHAT THE SAM HILL KIND OF CHRISTIANITY ARE YOU SELLING IF THE RESURRECTION ONLY GETS A PARAGRAPH?  It’s sort of the point of the thing, yo.  Jesus not being dead when everybody said He was dead makes the faith go ’round.

So.  As you can see, I’m not a fan.  This gets 1.5 stars because some of the illustrations are neat.  The text, however, is crap.  Better to puzzle your way through the actual Bible—but for Pete’s sake, please don’t make your kid suffer through the New King James Version.  That language is beautiful and majestic and wonderful and really, really hard for kids.  There are much easier translations out there.  Please don’t teach them from the get-go that the Bible is boring or unreachable, a text only for fancy days.  It’s a hard and complex and phenomenal collection of texts trying to connect humans and the divine, meant to be read and puzzled over and fought with.  Let’s teach kids that.

 

 

Rating:  1.5/5 stars  Image result for 1.5 5 stars

The Wallpaper of Metaphorical Significance

I have my own bathroom at the house where I’m staying.  It’s a fine place with a shower and a mirror and even a skylight.  The door doesn’t like to stay open and there’s carpet in weird places, but as bathrooms go, it’s pretty swell.

One of its many interesting features is wallpaper.  When last Interpreter and family remodeled, I guess, wallpaper was an in thing, especially two different kinds of wallpaper in the same color scheme separated by wooden chair rail molding.  Wallpaper is less an in thing these days, so Interpreter’s wife (I do hate calling her that as though that relationship is what defines her, but Interpreter in Pilgrim’s Progress doesn’t have a wife and there isn’t a ready character in that list onto whom she really maps for me.  So we’ll stick with it for now and my poor feminist heart will just cringe) has decided that the wallpaper needs to go.

As with most household chores connected to redecoration, though, wallpaper doesn’t go without a fight.  It takes time to peel it off, especially if it’s not a priority and especially if you can’t be bothered to get the specific tool for removing it.  So part of the “rent” of this bathroom is taking down the wallpaper when I think of it, when I have time for it, when I feel like picking at loose edges.  It’s an exercise that’s good because it has concrete and measurable outcomes when my day job has neither, but it’s also rife with possibility for someone like me who likes to see metaphors in pretty much everything.

photo-13-e1342148421962See, the thing about wallpaper is that it doesn’t come off like a lid.  There’s no magic corner that you pull and the whole sheet of it peels with a satisfying shrrrrrrip!  At least not this wallpaper; no, this wallpaper has some large chunks that come off neatly and many other that are tiny strips, little scraps that leave other corners to pull.  And wallpaper has the decorative layer and also a second layer, and the two layers don’t always like to come together, so sometimes you peel the same area twice—and the second layer really, really likes to stay on the wall.  It’s a very interesting look in that bathroom right now, that’s what I’ll say about that.

But this is my life right now, Reader—not pulling off wallpaper but the wallpaper itself.  Like that bathroom, I will not end this summer looking the same as when I started.  There are some events—weddings, patients who die, friendship shifts—where huge chunks of the paper come off in sheets of change.  There are other events when only the top layer obliges removal, the bottom layer of who I think I should be stubbornly clinging to the ways things are.  And there are other events where nothing comes off, nothing changes, where change has to come in tiny little strips that gradually change the shape of the wall piece by piece.  Some places are hard to get to, and some you have to remove huge things like the towel rack to really get at; there are pieces of me that are getting wholesale shifted around right now, and that’s not always pleasant and is rarely easy.

Perhaps it doesn’t make sense to you, this idea of God randomly pulling off my wallpaper self with patient fingers rather than a wholesale chisel to show me what’s underneath, what He wants me to look like, to get me ready for whatever new coat of paint He has in mind that will make me even better.  But when I stand in this bathroom on the weirdly-present carpet under the long skylight and peel wallpaper, I feel like I’m scratching away at my own ready-made metaphor.

Here’s to hoping neither God nor Interpreter’s wife is really gunning for pastels next.

 

 

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.  (Isaiah 43:19, NIV)

People of the Books: 10 Lies the Church Tells Women by J. Lee Grady

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I posted last, but then again I can totally believe it—I’ve gotten settled in my chaplaincy job, I have a new car, I’m navigating the complications of living with my best friend, I’ve been to my denomination’s conference.  It’s been a lot.  Thank you for sticking with me while I slammed into that.

I have a backlog of book reviews for you, so I’m going to try and get some of those out.  I have no idea what my posting schedule will look like, unfortunately; I work a 24-hour shift every other weekend and a movable 12-hour shift during the week, so my schedule is all over the place.  But I’m not gone, not yet.

366184So, this book.  It’s a bit of a tangle to review because on the one hand, it’s super fabulous that this is written by a white evangelical for white evangelicals to prove that women are *gasp* real people really called by God to really lead in the real Church. Grady also tears apart the idea that women are in some way incomplete without a man and how that is so short-sighted for God’s power among God’s people—an argument that the whole of the Church often misses as it shuffles unmarried women around because it doesn’t know what to do with them. (“No verse in the Bible says that God’s ultimate purpose for a woman is to find a mate and then reproduce. On the contrary, the Scriptures say that our lives can be made complete by only one thing: a constant, abiding relationship with Christ.” 151)

On the other hand, it’s written by a white evangelical who goes way right sometimes, actually describing modern feminism as man-hating infanticide at one point.  In no universe can I get behind something so completely out-of-touch, especially as a modern feminist who doesn’t hate men and really isn’t all that interested in infanticide.

But oh, how I can cheer for the fact that this guy figured out that God calls women on purpose and is telling other guys on their own level. That’s one of the things that is missing from a lot of liberal theological discourse: Scriptural explanation for ideological premises.  In my experience, a lot of left-leaning arguments leave the Bible behind, which means a conservative and a liberal are never really speaking the same language to talk about hugely important issues.  But Grady takes the main verses used to silence women in church and totally dismantles them within Scriptural boundaries—six million cheers for that.

Grady also dismantles the idiocy of the Proverbs 31 woman, which makes me happy.  While I appreciate the strength many women draw from that description, it’s an impossible level of perfection and energy.  It often ends up harming women in the Church because they can’t measure up and therefore must be sinful in some way.  “First of all, we need to understand that the Proverbs 31 woman was never meant to be interpreted as normative for every Christian woman…The ‘woman’ described here is actually a composite—the passage was never meant to describe one woman.  (If it were, she would indeed be an Old Testament superwoman, since she never seems to sleep or stop working!)” (160)  Grady also notes that the aspect of this women being an independent businesswoman as well as caretaker of the family is often hidden away, which is twisting the Scripture to support a bias.

The thing about this book is that it’s for a very specific audience and it is in no way a scholastic enterprise—there are maybe three main sources that he’s just repackaging.  But again, I want to stress the importance of having a voice within the evangelical community use Bible-based reasoning to advocate for women in leadership.  We listen to the people like us, and this guy’s voice will carry a hell of a lot farther than, say, mine.  Let me give you a rundown of what “lies” he’s debunking so you can see what that looks like:

  • “God created women as inferior beings, destined to serve their husbands”
  • “Women are not equipped to assume leadership roles in the church”
  • “Women must not teach or preach to men in a church setting”
  • “A woman should view her husband as the ‘priest of the home'”
  • “A man needs to ‘cover’ a woman in her ministry activities”
  • “Women who exhibit strong leadership qualities pose a serious danger to the Church”
  • “Women are more easily deceived than men”  (Grady has a great rebuttal to this on p. 137 in which he points out that pretty much every “false religion” ever has been invented by a man, so the idea that they’re less easily led astray is crap)
  • “Women can’t be fulfilled or spiritually effective without a husband and children”  (If you’re curious as to why I’m cheering for this one being included as a lie, see my post on being single in the Church)
  • “Women shouldn’t work outside the home”
  • “Women must obediently submit to their husbands in all situations”

If you’re thinking, Reader, that these sound super outdated and surely no one outside of the very thin slice of crazy evangelicals is still arguing any of this, let me tell you a story about my church conference last week.  A couple of resolutions regarding gender came up and I kid you not, I heard at least four of these brought to the floor as reasons why the Church should not commit itself to standing against gender-based violence and prejudice.  And I’m in a mainline denomination that ordains women and has for decades.

A thing I really appreciate about this book is that Grady doesn’t just debunk the lies, he offers what he calls “fixes,” or action points:

  • “We must repent and apologize for gender prejudice”
  • “Christian men must vocally defend the right of women to preach the gospel and lead the Church”
  • “The church must stop misusing the Scriptures to limit the ministry of women”
  • “Bible-believing churches must dismiss the notion that women’s ordination is a ‘liberal’ position”
  • “The Church must stop ignoring the ugly sin of domestic abuse”
  • “Christian women must respond to injustice with forgiveness—not revenge”
    (This is where he got into his feminism-bashing, fyi, but his core point isn’t far wrong)
  • “The church must reject human control—from male and female—and settle for nothing less than the Holy Spirit’s direction”
  • “We must take reconciliation and healing to women who have been offended by the Church”
  • “We need to encourage millions of women to go to the mission field in the twenty-first century”
  • “Christian women must take an active stance in this crucial hour”

I don’t agree with all of these, but I do agree with many of them and am cheering for this dude for laying them out like that.  So three stars for effort and saying what needs to be said to those who need to hear it; ideologically we’re still not on the same page, but I support his support of my ability to do ministry every day of the week.

 

Rating:  3/5 stars  3-stars

 

Loving My Unlikable Neighbors

So one of my housemates is an asshat.

I say this, dear horrified Reader, knowing full well that name-calling on the internet is something we all need less of right now.  And I say this knowing that it is certainly unkind to tear someone apart in a forum s/he can’t see (and isn’t even aware of).  But I also say this from objective (read:  many others besides me) narratives and from subjective (read:  my own experience) narratives.  I say this from having several encounters with this particular individual that were, to put it lightly, unpleasant.  And I say this from exactly that place of hope for cleaner conversations in which we likely all sit right now in the wake of recent political injustices.  Why this particular person is an asshat doesn’t really matter to you since your experience with him/her should not be shaped by my interactions.  But s/he makes it really, really hard to do the Christian love thing.

WHICH IS PRECISELY WHY JESUS TELLS US TO DO IT.

7e2d5d2d9120ee69ea0c1c24bf0fe3eeThere is no shortage of people at which we can direct all manner of negative emotion right now.  It could be on a personal level, like my idiot housemate; it could be on a political level, like misogynistic senators; it could be on a celebrity level, or a random-stranger level, or whatever.  Don’t even try to tell me there aren’t people you seriously don’t love right now, Reader.  But the hell of it is, every single one of them is also a creation of God.

I was struck by this when I got back to the house after yet another ungodly long day of classes and meetings and all of the crazy that this semester is throwing at me.  The house where I live isn’t really a house; it’s kind of an apartment building with some shared open spaces on the first floor.  In that open space is a baby grand piano and this particular person was sitting (facing away from me) at the piano and pouring his/her heart out onto the keys.  S/he’s a pretty decent player and I just stood there and listened for a few minutes.  I love music and wish I were comfortable playing the piano (I have the most basic knowledge but haven’t made space to practice enough to gain any proficiency) and I just loved watching this person be so in that moment with the act of making art.  S/he was a person, a fully three-dimension person in that moment who loves and aches and laughs and plays the piano.

And is also an asshat.  Because the thing about loving other people, Reader, is that love does not mean everything becomes okay.  Let me unpack that:  if I love you, I love all of you, even the parts that drive me up the wall.  But when I love you, I do not allow you to be cruel or unjust; my love is not a permission slip to harm other people.  My loving you does not make you perfect.  Likewise, God love us all.  (YES, YOU.  GOD LOVES YOU.  DEAL WITH IT.)  But God’s love in and of itself does not make every action we do perfect.  We are still more than able to sin (trust me on this one, I know).  We are still more than able to be misogynist, or racist, or demeaning, or dismissive, or general asshats.  We are loved, but that love is exactly what calls us to be better versions of ourselves, to be more like the Jesus Who called us to such an impossibly difficult task as loving those who persecute us or even just really honk us off on a regular basis.

So what does this mean for my neighbor?  For starters, it means that this whole post is making me miss Mr. Rogers like whoa.  For seconds, it means that his/her actions are not excused because Jesus calls me to love him/her.  When s/he says things that are intentionally condescending to me or when s/he does things that negatively impact my ability to continue my day unharmed, that’s wrong.  Love doesn’t make that right.  It’s still wrong.  (For a lovely and well-written version of this in a more historical view, check out Magister’s examination of How to Read History Responsibly.)

But it also means that I don’t get to hate the very existence of this person.  I don’t get to talk about him/her with my friends and laugh about how annoying s/he is; I don’t get to ignore him/her when I see him/her in the kitchen like s/he’s not even real; I don’t get to tell you, Reader, all of the things that s/he does and have you agree with me about his/her asshattery.  I am called to love the personhood of this other, to respect that s/he also has ungodly long days.  When I call him/her out on the jerk things s/he does or says, I am called to do so from a position of knowing that Jesus died for him/her, too.  I don’t get to tear him/her down to bite size because I’m pissed off.  I don’t get to undermine his/her humanity.

Even though I really, really want to sometimes.

Because Jesus asks hard stuff.  And He knew it would be hard; this is that “pick up your cross“-level work.  This is “the rest of the world will think you’re stupid.”  This is “I am flipping the whole system over.”  Love is powerful.  It changes things, if it’s real.

Even me.  And, hopefully, even my neighbor.  Provided I don’t punch him/her in the face first.

 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same?”  (Matthew 5:43-46, WEB)

Christianity in the New Reality

Oh, Reader, I could use a whole lot of Jesus right now.

It’s been a hell of a week for Americans—for the world at large, really, since America has had nearly 100 years to wrap its long fingers around the limbs of every other country.  I have been disappointed by my country quite a few times, but this is perhaps the first time I’ve been frightened by and for it.  The reckless foolishness, the open childishness, and the marginalizing endangerment of the new administration—in only one week!—are exhausting.  My spirit hurts, my heart hurts, my body aches from marching around Washington, D.C. to remind the world and myself that I matter because I am a woman, not in spite of it.

And I won’t lie, being in seminary is not making it easier.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I attend a pretty liberal divinity school—far more liberal than I am, in some areas.  The anger and the pain of the students here feed mine such that we all starve from them, our very souls gnawing at empty insides because we see only that which is cruel, that which is unmerciful.

I do not know how to recharge from that.

dscn2067Because I do not believe that I, as a Christian or as a faith leader, can walk away from this.  A family member called me out earlier this week in accusation that I wasn’t preaching love, kindness, and forgiveness because I went to the D.C. march and am unapologetic about my reasoning.  But what is love that does not pull the loved one away from evil?  How kind is it to avoid confrontation such that others are harmed because of my unwillingness to speak?  At the end of days, how do I ask God to forgive me if He has to say, “I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me“?

I’ve no intention of turning this blog into an activist space in terms of recruiting you to do anything, Reader; I have other spaces for that, and I hope you do as well.  Nor do I particularly want this to become a conversational space about which politician we dislike this week, not least because I am tired of having those conversations without the benefit of looking people in the eye and saying their real names.  For me, this blog needs to remain a place in which I catalog and describe the God-shaped space in my life and how that shifts and shines.  Heaven knows I need to be more aware than ever before of God’s constant Presence.

But I challenge you and I challenge myself to bring faith into all of our conversations in this new era.  Who is starving, physically and spiritually?  Are we contributing to their inability to be filled?  Are we ourselves, we God-made vessels of the imago Dei, trying to survive on not enough?  Who is parched, and how can we offer both water and Living Water that does not drown and does not cause further thirst?  Who is strange to us, and how do we welcome them?  How do we welcome the parts of ourselves that we cannot yet face because we have bifurcated our own souls, our families, our friends who are too “other”?  Who has been stripped naked, who stands in the harsh light of this day without rights, without safety, without hope, without love, without kindness?  Who is sick, who is trapped in prisons of their own making or of ours?  Have we gone to them and called them by name as children of God?

In the least of these is God.  In the greatest of these is God.  In the average of these is God.  In us is God, for in Him we live and move and have our being.  How shall we act as though this is true?  How shall we move forward as those who have claimed and been claimed by Jesus the Christ?

From wells of worship that never run dry, though we may feel as though there is only dusty earth at the bottom.  May God stand with you in the days ahead, Reader.  May we both recognize Him as He does so.

Help me understand your orders. Then I will think about your miracles.  I am sad and tired. Make me strong again as you have promised.  Don’t let me be dishonest; have mercy on me by helping me obey your teachings.  (Psalm 119:27-29, NCV)

Christmas Day: Women and Religion

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.

    On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.
You have made the nation great;
    you have increased its joy.
They rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest,
    as those who divide plunder rejoice.
As on the day of Midian, you’ve shattered the yoke that burdened them,
    the staff on their shoulders,
    and the rod of their oppressor.
Because every boot of the thundering warriors,
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned, fuel for the fire.
A child is born to us, a son is given to us,
    and authority will be on his shoulders.
    He will be named
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be vast authority and endless peace
    for David’s throne and for his kingdom,
    establishing and sustaining it
    with justice and righteousness
    now and forever.

The zeal of the Lord of heavenly forces will do this. (Isaiah 9:2-7, CEB)

Merry Christmas, Reader!  It has been quite the journey this particular Advent; now we come to the “payoff,” so to speak.  Christ is born—alleluia!  The Church year has restarted and soon the calendar one will as well—but what shall happen to the women when Advent ends and the Church follows the very much male Jesus through His life?

Today’s particular passage from Isaiah, besides being a pair of great pieces from the Messiah oratorio by Handel, is applicable not least because there are so many ways in which we walk in darkness.  From the context of this female-affirming Advent series, we walk in the darkness of those who continue to overlook the gifts and presence of women within and outside of the Church.  We walk in the darkness of humorous nativities that still don’t challenge the lack of women in our faith stories (you can have an iPhone but not a female angel, really?).  We walk in the darkness of those who are still arguing God intended women to be utterly submissive to men.  We walk in the darkness of clouded glass ceilings.  We walk in the darkness of having to choose and defend pronouns for God as though God actually has a gender and inclusivity of both “He” and “She” somehow challenges God’s ability to be God.  We walk in the darkness of inequity and injustice.

And oh, how good to see a great light.

In this passage Isaiah hails one who made the nation great—long before red hats ever proclaimed the campaign slogan, Cyrus of Persia sent Israelites back home to rebuild their temple after having been in exile for hundreds of years.  Christians of the early Church took the passage and remade it to recognize the risen Christ who would make all nations great in shattering the binding yokes and oppressors’ rods.  In this new place with this new ruler will be justice and righteousness flowing like the rivers Amos invoked in his prophecies.

feminism_fair_enidePart of that justice, part of that righteousness, is the Church’s commitment to honor its people through the year.  Mary and Elizabeth fade back into the Christian tapestry now that Jesus is born, but their voices are not silenced.  Mary continues to appear in Jesus’ life as an important figure, and other Marys and a Martha and many nameless women walk across that world-changing stage.  Women do not drop out of the narrative, then or now; their voices continue to be important, their gifts continue to deserve development, and their place in the work of bringing God’s reign into human life continues to matter.

So how can the Church work into this justice?  Listen to women’s stories; hear their voices without trying to correct them or reshape them.  If you are a woman and you feel comfortable doing so, tell your story; speak of what religion and faith mean to you and the places within your tradition where you find acceptance.  Actively seek to place women in leadership roles—and women, do not settle for not having them.  Learn about the damaging history the Church has with women and pay attention to the ways that those words and actions continue in the present day.  Challenge fellow Christians not to let passive sexism slide.  Challenge yourself to call out those who make crass comments or jokes to you.  Pray for guidance in relationships with those identifying as female.  Read through Scripture, paying attention to the places women are and aren’t.  Love the women around you, whether as a woman yourself or as an ally and supporter.  Recognize that Jesus, Wonderful Counselor, did not turn away from women, and neither can we.

Merry Christmas.  May the love, the joy, the hope, and the peace of the season go with you to your places of celebration.  May the coming year truly bring us closer to the increased joy of a land on which light has dawned and women and men are both understood to be gifted and called into the priesthood of all believers equipped to go and bring that light to a dark world waiting for good news.