For King and Country

With the American holiday of Independence Day smack in the middle of this week, I’m all kinds of discombobulated, so sorry for the even-later-than-usual post.  Happy belated 4th, if you’re in the states or an ex-pat—I mean, happy as a relative term.

Patriotic holidays have always been…squelchy for me, even before I was a person of faith.  I’m a historian and a writer, and both of those lenses make it hard for me to pledge allegiance to stuff—much funnier in light of my also being an Enneagram Six, which means that my personality desperately wants to pledge allegiance to stuff and be loyal forever but can’t because we’re super skeptical about how that’s going to go.  But certainly this year I was not feeling all that proud of the red, white, and blue.

Before we get into a discussion, Internet, about the respect for the soldiers and the need to recognize sacrifice and all that, let me tell you a couple of things.  I sit in the middle, as with nearly everything:  my maternal grandfather served in the Navy in WWII and stood with pride at every possible parade or service he could up to his death; my paternal grandfather was a Conscientious Objector, a pacifist who had to write the American president to get permission to be a CO because his mayor and governor both dismissed his claim as unpatriotic.  My stepbrother served in Afghanistan and watched his best friend’s head get blown off by a sniper.  I have watched classmates and family go to war and I have watched classmates and family stay here.  I have friends who have served and friends who have not.  I myself nearly signed up for the Army before I realized that I am temperamentally unsuited for it in every way, shape, and form.

But for this particular holiday, none of that matters.  One of the unfortunate things about American patriotism (nationalism) is that we bleed our holidays together.  Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day become a hazily similar mix of troop support and fireworks, flags snapping smartly along street lanes in small towns and everyone settling into the heat for a good American barbeque.  And I have nothing against fireworks and barbeque, but the Fourth of July is a historical thing.  We are celebrating, as a nation, the time when our ancestors told an empire that enough was enough, that freedom was a right.

indexFunny how the right of freedom was terribly limited even as the words were written, which we’re getting better at acknowledging.  But Independence Day is, as I said, squelchy to me because I ascribe to a faith system that believes in freedom up to and including from global systems and human-made power structures.  I am free in Jesus Christ, not because I’m American.  I’m also free as an American, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

Several years ago I was doing pulpit supply (basically substitute preaching) for a small church near the Land of Pilgrims and it was Independence Day weekend—it may actually have been July 4 that Sunday, actually.  At the children’s moment, an older gentlemen stood up  and told the kids it was the holiday weekend and had them recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag that he brought out of the corner so they could see it.

I was so floored I couldn’t have said anything even if it were my place to do so, which it decidedly was not.  In this “nation under God” (a phrase that is very modern and not original to the Founders, who very much understood there to be a separation of Church and State; God is in the Declaration of Independence as the Supreme God, Providence, and a Judge because the Founders were appealing to the divine right of revolution, not because God was the overseer of this new nation) we get really mixed up about who’s in charge.  Here’s the thing:  our earthly citizenship is fine and dandy, but it is not and cannot be our ultimate allegiance.  “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” says Psalm 24; when we take our American pride into God’s house or when we elevate it to a civic religion of our identity as Americans being a cornerstone of who we are, that’s a problem.

That’s idolatry.

So I hope everyone had a good Independence Day, I really do.  I had sloppy Joe’s and watched part of a cornhole tournament (yes, there really is such a thing) and saw some fireworks from the back porch; I get the delight of celebration.  But when we cheer on the fact that we as a country separated from another country because they were trampling on what we perceived to be our rights, we should cheer only after taking a really hard look at whether we’ve become what this nation fought against in the first place.  And whether we’re celebrating a national identity that idolizes the eagle, the flag, or the soldier.

We can be Christians and Americans.  But our being Christian had better shape how we’re being Americans, or there are some things we need to figure out.

 

 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.  This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.”  (Daniel 2:44-45, NIV)

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Advent Week Three: O Tannenbaum

This is definitely one of those songs I don’t think about much at Christmas because I hated singing it when I was growing up.  But it popped up in a service at church recently with decidedly Christian lyrics.  Usually it’s a song about the lovely evergreen that teaches us to keep going, life is ever-renewing, that sort of thing, but this new spin talked about the evergreen as God’s creation and celebrated “how richly God has decked thee.”  The tree, because it’s always around, served as witness to Jesus’ birth and reminds us of the miracle of that renewal as well as showing us how to stand fast in our trust of what God can do.  Okay, I can work with that.

snowy pine trees 1This is originally a German tune from the 16th century—at least, the music is.  The lyrics seem to be as scattered as the needles of such a tree at the end of the Christmas season (don’t tell me you haven’t found them hiding behind the living room hutch in March).  But they all agree on this being a loving serenade of the Christmas tree, the tannenbaum (which is German for “fir tree,” a name we retain even though most modern Christmas trees are spruce).  The concept of the tree as we know it has been around for a while but was cemented into the celebration of the holiday in 19th century England, mostly by the atmosphere that birthed and then celebrated Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Fortunately we no longer put live candles on the tree as the lighting instruments—lot of fires in flammable houses from that practice.

(It’s a little weird to have a song that celebrates the power of living via a tree that we cut down [kill] in order to put in our houses, but no one asked me.)

While I do still dislike the song itself, I really like this new concept of its call to faithfulness for us.  The last stanza (in some versions) has the couplet “Thou bidst us true and faithful be / And trust in God unchangingly.”  Kind of a lot to put on a poor tree, but then the Old English poets wrote a whole thing about the tree that got made into a cross and its thoughts on the matter, so I guess just acting as example is fine.  (It’s called The Dream of the Rood, by the way, and is one of my favorite OE poems.)

Christmas, in the Christian faith, is so much about what God is doing—that’s part of why I like Advent because it’s about what we are doing.  We are waiting, preparing, hoping and dreaming and sighing and living into this ever-renewing promise of life and life abundantly.  Since I’m a person who puts her tree up as soon as possible (but not until after Thanksgiving, of course; mixing the holidays is a cardinal sin), I can definitely count this as an Advent piece.  Like the tree that stays patiently green while the snow and the rain rest on its needles, I wait as my living self in this Advent space for the Christ to be born—although I’m usually a lot less patient than the tree.  After all, I don’t live nearly as long.  (Just so you know, Reader, I’m sparing you from the tangent on Ents that’s going on in my head right now, so be glad of that.)  But I, too, am called to be “true and faithful” as well as green—vibrant, engaged, alive—in the winter.  (That’s a little easier for me than some considering winter is my favorite season, but I think we can both make the metaphorical leap to the wintry times when it’s a little harder to be green.)  I make zero promises as to the trusting “unchangingly” bit, but to return to the God Who has also decked me out pretty richly with the faith that this birth changes everything may be something I can do.

Especially when sitting in the lovely glow of lights on the Christmas tree.

 

Therefore, let’s draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.  Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable.  (Hebrews 10:22-23, CEB)

Resurrected, Not Restored

My last official day of classes for my first year of seminary is Monday.

Thank God.

It’s been a rough year—an even rougher second semester—and I’m ready to switch into the next thing.  (Of course, the next thing is itself an exhausting concept:  I’m going to be basically a hospital chaplain over the summer, so I don’t know how much you’ll be hearing from me since I have to do 24-hour shifts every other weekend.)  I will be heading home more scarred than I came here to The Wicket Gate, metaphorically and literally.  I have grown older and in some ways sadder.

But I have also grown (hopefully) wiser.  I have met some amazing people and had some crazy adventures.  I have stepped into a new part of who I am.  You know how this goes, Reader; you know how change always comes at a price—or, as a great blogger (BeautyBeyondBones) put it:
BeautyBeyondBones change begets change

We are now in the season of Easter—yep, it’s not just one day.  Easter is 50 days long in the liturgical calendar because, well, it kind of took a while to catch on.  Jesus had to keep coming back and telling people yep, the rumors are true, I am no longer dead because let’s face it, Thomas wasn’t the only one who thought such a thing was unbelievable.  We have all of these stories about Jesus appearing to various people and them being surprised each time; I’m actually preaching on the road to Emmaus next week (prayers for such are welcome) because the Resurrection didn’t just settle into being an accepted reality on that first Easter Sunday.

The thing about these appearances of Jesus, though, is that He didn’t come back perfect and shiny and new.  He comes back with scars—“look at My hands,” He tells Thomas.  “Put your finger in my side.”  The Resurrection didn’t—and doesn’t—make the Crucifixion un-happen.

Which kind of blows my mind as a person of faith, actually.  We as Christians have built ourselves around the Good News (and boy howdy is it good news) that Christ is risen, that Death is defeated, that hallelujah the tomb is empty.  Every Sunday is a little Easter.  But our God is not a God of completely erasing that which is broken and painful and ugly; our God is not a God of sweeping things under the rug.  Jesus could well have come back in a body as smooth as the day He was born, hands no longer bearing the small cuts and splinter marks of life as a carpenter, eyes no longer crinkling with the first signs of age.  He could have come back with a perfect body.

But instead He came back with the marks of having lived, and died.  He came back with the white lines of scar tissue on His palms, with the thick and shining flesh across the holes in His wrists, with the gouged-out hole in His side.  He came back with a body that bore witness on every inch of the brown skin of brokenness, of pain, of horrifying violence, of sorrow and abandonment and misery.

He came back with a body that looked an awful lot like our world feels, honestly.

The difference, however, is that His scars were scars, not open wounds.  No blood poured into Thomas’ hands; no bones showed through the criss-crossed cuts on Jesus’ back.  One of the many miraculous and hopeful things about the Resurrection is not that Jesus fought death to be restored to pre-Crucifixion health but that Jesus won over death to ensure the reality of healing.  We who are Easter people follow a God Who knows exactly what it’s like to be broken into pieces and get put back together with the brokenness as part of who we are.

It’s not about it making us stronger—I’ll confess, I actually loathe the motto “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” because I think it’s untrue and harmful.  (There are some things that happen that don’t kill you but you wish they had; there are some things that don’t kill you but maim you; there are some things that don’t kill you but weaken you from the sheer amount of emotional or physical blood loss they cause.)  Christ didn’t die so He could come back stronger, and I don’t think God is calling us to die to ourselves so we can be spiritually stronger like we’re in a weird Christian Gatorade ad.  The Resurrection, I think, is about showing us that we can be healed from even the worst of things—made not stronger, but whole.

kintsugi-225255b325255dThere’s an illustration that I’m pretty sure every pastor has to use at least once in his/her career about this broken/whole thing, namely kintsugi or the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold-brushed lacquer.  It’s a beautiful metaphor, it really is, and it has everything to do with this resurrection that isn’t truly restoration.  What was broken is not remade such that it looks like no harm was done.  It is healed such that the harm is no longer the defining aspect, such that a broken Body can bring an entire world hope.

Happy Easter, Reader, for every one of the fifty days, and every one of the revelations, and every one of the moments Jesus tells us again, yep, still true; I am alive.  Peace; do not be afraid.

 

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.  After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.  After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.  Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.  (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NKJV)

Good Friday: The Quick and the Dead

In the old-school version (i.e. the one based off of William Tyndale’s English Bible) of the Nicene Creed (and the Apostles’ Creed), it says that we believe Jesus is in Heaven and will return to “judge the quick and the dead.”  “Quick” in this sense is an archaic word for “living, alive”, like quicksand and cutting to the quick.  It was only later that it became a word for speed.  I like this use, this quickness of the heart that still beats, the blood that still flows, the lungs that still pull in even the smallest amount of air.

Today is a day in which I want to gather to myself the slowness; today is the day the heart stops, the blood halts, the lungs cease their rhythmic movement.  Today is the day of Christ’s death.

It’s weird to be observing Good Friday with such a different pattern than I’ve had the last five or so years; I went to work this morning and then to one of my other jobs (I’ll actually go to all three today, come to think of it).  I went to a party for student appreciation—a party on Good Friday, which felt so jarring and yet not jarring at all because I still can’t wrap my head around it being Good Friday.  I didn’t see it coming, didn’t really do anything for Lent this year.  I’m not ready for this death.

The thing of it is, though, that you can never be ready for death.  My family has been on a kind of low-level deathwatch for my one remaining grandparent for a couple of months now—it is definitely her time and her body is shutting down bit by bit.  But I know that even when she dies, we won’t actually be ready for it.  We can’t be.  Death, in all its slowness, comes quick; death steals into even the most-watched spaces.  Death, even the expected kind, is always a surprise.  I can’t even imagine how intense the shock must have been for the disciples.

Think of it—Jesus had been trying for weeks to get the disciples to understand, to prepare themselves even to some small degree, to set up their own kind of deathwatch.  They didn’t take it seriously.  Who could?  Jesus was at the top of His game, in the prime of His life.  A crowd had just laid their own clothing on the dusty ground for Him.  Radical things were happening; there was change in the dry, desert air.

But then there is the inexplicable jumpiness of Judas, and the incomprehensible things Jesus says at the table about bodies and blood, and then there is the garden and the need to stay awake when they don’t know why, don’t know why they couldn’t just sleep; it had been such a long week, after all.  Jesus’ voice is so quick in its frustration, straining against something they don’t understand, a pain they don’t feel—and then there is the crashing of the soldiers, so loud in that quiet space, so bright in the darkness.  Peter lashes out; he always thinks with his body first, speaks the first thought, never reflects.  Peter is quick.  The soldier is too slow and the shriek of pain slices through the murmurs of the crowd, the blood pouring red on red cloth under grey armor and Jesus is quick, too, stooping down to pick up the ear, holding His hand to the man’s head while the blood pours over His fingers and slows, slows, stops.

The trials are not quick.  The walks between the political poles are endless as Jesus’ heart still beats and the disciples cower, quick to refuse any connection others ascribe, anxious not to end up in that same slow circle of accusation and torment where no one takes responsibility.  The crowd is quick to choose Barabbas, opening like a hungry maw to receive him into itself from the platform where Jesus sways slowly, exhausted from holding the world together.  The soldiers hurry Him away and the women who love Him, who stand in the crowd shouting His name against the louder voices of the priests’ plants, do not know they will never again see Him whole like this.

PICEDITOR-SMHThe crucifixion does not feel quick.  Jesus’ last breaths come slowly, His words making sure community remains even as the sweat slides into the blood dripping down His naked skin, the cuts on His back pressing into wooden splinters as He pushes against the nails that hold Him there, splayed for the world and God to see what it looks like to slow, and slow, and die.

It is finished,” He says, and there is no more quickness in Him.

Lighting flashes, a quick bolt shattering the sky suddenly darker than night as the sun and stars hide their faces in grief and the earth shudders at the violence she must bear on her sacred soil.  A curtain tears and God is as naked as Himself, His body and His secret dwelling place both on display in this unthinkable space where Death claims what he believes to be his.

No one was ready.  No one is ever ready for this.

 

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”  (Matthew 27:54, ESV)

Lent, Week Six: Sacred and Profane

I have a cold.

It’s sort of the salt in the wound, because I have a cold and my father has upcoming surgery, my sort-of-stepmom is in the hospital, I now officially don’t have a car, one of my cousins is in the hospital, another cousin’s new baby is slightly ill, my housing situation is a mess, I have two papers I can’t focus on enough to write, a friend’s wife has cancer, my chair broke, and I’m to the point where I’m fairly sure if I had a dog to go with my loaner truck they’d both die.  Yee-haw, y’all, I’m living a damned country song.  And now I have a cold, right before Holy Week which is essentially the Superbowl for pastors in terms of hours and focus and time.

Also, we as a country just inexplicably bombed Syria as though they don’t have enough violence to go around and a Supreme Court justice was just appointed who frightens me even more than Clarence Thomas in terms of my rights for my body as a woman, which is saying something considering Clarence Thomas (like the president) has a penchant for sexual harassment.  So perhaps my cold is a little thing.

But all of this seems so incredibly unholy, so terribly profane because it’s freaking Lent and I feel like we’ve been in the Passion for a month.  This much pain and fear and worry and brokenness can’t possibly be holy, can’t possibly be anything related to God.  Where the hell is God, anyway?  I’m starting to feel like I’m trapped in the birthday song my dad used to sing to me because my family is macabre and strange:   “Happy birthday, happy birthday.  People dying everywhere, people crying everywhere!  Happy birthday, happy birthday.”

I make a lot more sense when you see what shaped me, which is true of everybody.

But here’s the thing—in its own weird way, all of that is holy because all of that has God.  Perhaps not God at the helm in the sense that I don’t think God orchestrates pain and war and colds (that would make God rather an asshat, and I’m not down with worshiping asshats).  But God is in the mix because God is everywhere but also because God didn’t become human as a lark.  It wasn’t a weekend vacation; it was a commitment to us and to all of the mess that comes with us, to the cancers and wars and stress levels and even the colds.  God came for all of that.  And stayed.

lent-157185911-589ff1843df78c4758fd6641Which is why it’s so intense that we’re now entering Holy Week (where it’s right in the name, in case we were still confused).  Palm Sunday (also called Passion Sunday) was definitely a profane (in the sense of secular) affair as Jesus rode into town on a donkey mocking everything about Roman processions of victory.  And yet it was made holy by the participation of the less-thans, of the forgotten, by the carpet of branches they laid down.  Those same people completely forgot Jesus a day later and did not stand with Him in the Passion proper, and yet still it was holy.  Still it is holy, as we also wave our palm branches and sing hosannas and delight in this one party day after a long time in the wilderness.  We know what’s coming.  And we know that after the pain and the darkness and the profane, there is Easter.

By which time I will hopefully no longer have a cold.

 

 

On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”  (John 12:12-18, NASB)

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.

Advent, Week Four: Love

When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary.  When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!”  She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you.  Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father.  He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?”

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son.  Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant.Nothing is impossible for God.”

Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.  (Luke 1:26-38, CEB)

What a loaded word “love” is for women.  “Love” often means affection, or lust, or attraction, or attachment; for “love” to mean something deep, lasting, empowering, and healthy is, unfortunately, somewhat rare in modern culture all over the world.  This last Sunday of Advent takes all of the waiting of the season, all of the stress and anxiety and wonder and weariness, and hands back love.

historyboys8_queensjoyThe language of love is part and parcel of the Christian Church—for love Christ died, for love Christ rose; Christians are commanded to love God, one another, and self.  But love—true love, and not in the Disney sense of “true” love—is hard.  It takes work.  It takes vulnerability.  It takes hope, and peace, and joy, and frustration, and communication, and dedication, and change.  Love may be something into which people fall, but it must be something in which they actively try to remain.  Christian love asks huge things, demands huge things in the name of incredibly huge love from God Herself.

What does the Church demand?  One of the many things that prompted me to do this series addressing women in the Church from the position of a woman in the Church was the shameful and horrifying things said in the last year toward women and the silent allowance of much of the Church in response.  Christianity’s track record with women is not exactly lovely, whether it be the early Church father Tertullian calling women the “gate to hell” in his treatise On the Apparel of Womenor the description of women as “defective and misbegotten” by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.  Such destruction is not limited to the long-forgotten ages:  Pat Robertson, a Southern Baptist evangelist, claimed in 1992 that the feminist agenda was not about equality but “it is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”  And just this past election cycle in America, many churches and church leaders stayed silent when the man who is now the president-elect called women bimbos, accused them of being at fault for their husbands’ infidelities, rated women’s value as people on their weight and physical appearance, and actively bragged about sexual assault.  (The Telegraph has pulled together a long timeline of his misogyny and predatorial nature, in case you’re curious about how far it goes.)

There is no love whatsoever in any Church leader or layperson not standing against this systemic dehumanization of women.  There is no excuse for such language or actions to ever be condoned by those who call themselves Christians.  This Advent, the Church must be a bearer of such incredible and deep love for women simply because they are God’s creations that there should be no doubt as to women’s worth.  Many, however, refuse to take on this direct an action, insisting there are other ways the Church shows love and support.

Love must be said.  It is most often shown in works, true, but to voice love for another has a power all its own.  To make the claim of love in front of “God and everybody,” as the saying goes, is to be vulnerable—and the Church is currently not being vulnerable.  Instead, women are told to bear their own vulnerability by the elusiveness of Christians who will not stand up and declare the awareness that women are purposefully and beautifully created, meant from the beginning to be part of humanity’s story in all its twists and turns.

Today’s passage, known in liturgy as the Annunciation, is one of the more famous stories of Christianity.  Much of the focus is on the virgin birth and its impossibility made possible—yet verse 38 is perhaps the most powerful.  It was only after Mary agreed to this child that Gabriel left.  He waited for her consent.  In arguably the most pivotal moment of God’s interaction with humans, the free will of a woman was more important than God’s plans.  The faith and acceptance of Mary made Christianity as it is possible.

Was there a plan B had she said no?  Likely.  But the Church needs to take away from this story this Advent—and women, also, need to hear—that God Herself valued the voice of this woman enough to wait for her answer.  That is love, that recognition that force or absence of choice would have ruined the whole of the religion as far as hope or joy or peace or a feeling of safety or belonging for half of the human population goes.  That listening is something that we of the Church must do, now more than ever, whether it be recognizing as Alice Churnock writes that Christians are also sinners and there are stories of abuse we must be willing to hear because faith must be a place of healing; or whether it be refusing to talk over women who speak of pain within the Church as though their experience is unreal simply because not everyone shares it.

Know that you are loved, Reader.  Know that who you are, no matter your gender, is celebrated by God because you live as Her creation.  For you God made God’s self vulnerable enough to risk rejection; for love God was born; for love God lives.  Hold fast to that, in this and every season.