People of the Books: Lilith by George MacDonald

My, but it’s been a minute since I did a book review.  That’s not to say I haven’t been reading (my goodness, have I been reading) but I just haven’t really transferred that here.  I’m behind on my Goodreads reviews, too, if that makes anyone feel any better.

Nope.  Makes me feel worse.  *sigh*

859561But anyway, a friend of mine loaned me his copy of George MacDonald’s Lilith and said he really wanted to know what I thought of it.  This friend—actually, I don’t think I’ve mentioned him before.  I’ve only known him about a year, but he’s become super important in my life as a friend and brother in faith.  We’ll call him Mr. Honest, since I already have an Evangelist in my friend group.  Anyway, Mr. Honest is a huge MacDonald fan and recommended this to me.

I will say this first:  ain’t no imagination like Victorian imagination.  The basic plot of this book is that the main character, Mr. Vane, inherits this dusty old English mansion (like you do) and is rattling around inside it until one day he follows a crow that may also be a human into another world through a mirror.  In the other world, Mr. Vane encounters monsters and a house of dead people and a band of children and mean giants and a city where the queen is trying to kill any kid who is born and it’s just trippy as all get-out in an apocalyptic fantasy sort of way.  Here’s a way to categorize this:  Lilith was the thing that shaped C.S. Lewis’s molding of the world(s) of Narnia, including how you get in and out.  Knowing that made this book much better for me because it was kind of like meeting your best friend’s parents and exclaiming, “Ohhhhhhthat’s where you get that from!”

It’s also beautiful because MacDonald knew what he was doing with language.  Yes, he gets lost in his own tangents and phrases sometimes; he was a stuffy Victorian academic sort, after all, and I say that as a stuffy academic myself.  (His job was actually being a Presbyterian minister, but they were pretty similar at that time.)  Put on your Philosopher’s Hat when reading this, because it for sure is demanding that you think.  For instance:

“You have, I fear, got into this region too soon, but none the less you must get to be at home in it; for home, as you may or may not know, is the only place where you can go out and into. There are places you can go into, and places you can go out of, but the one place, if you do but find it, where you may go out and in both, is home.”  (15)

Or also this:

“At the same time you are constantly experiencing things which you not only do not, but cannot understand. You think you understand them, but your understanding of them is only your being used to them, and therefore not surprised at them. You accept them, not because you understand them, but because you must accept them: they are there, and have unavoidable relations with you!” (152)

Being that MacDonald was a pastor, this is absolutely drenched in Christianity.  It’s in the title.  Lilith is, by the old tales, Adam’s first wife—yep, Adam as in the First Dude.  MacDonald takes on the idea that she was also the first fallen because she refused to go along with the divine plan of populating the world and so she becomes the villain under the power of the Shadow and Eve is introduced as the bestest woman evar.

And here’s a huge part of where I depart from this book:  it is SO OUTRAGEOUSLY SEXIST.  I mean, I get the idea of judging people by their own time periods; I’m a historian, after all.  But even by Victorian standards this is fierce.  There are a ton of female characters, which is super awesome because usually there aren’t really any at all.  There’s Lilith, and Lona, and Mara, and Eve, and some side characters, and actually there are more female characters than male.  Bully for MacDonald, truly, but every single one of them is judged by their maternal ability.

I’ve mentioned a few times before that I don’t have kids and have no plans to have any, so the idea that my worth as a woman is defined by my ability to give myself over to young humans is really, really hard for me to stomach.  Lilith’s sin is pride, pride in the fact that she decided she wanted to be in charge of everything, that she wanted to be God.  But it gets put into language of her sin being a denial of motherhood, and that is not at all a sin.  At.  All.

Also, there’s some wonky Lolita-esque shit that goes on with Mr. Vane and Lona, who is basically a motherly teen that watches the band of Lost Boys Little Ones who care for Mr. Vane when he gets captured by the mean giants.  Mr. Vane develops a crazy crush on her and talks about how beautiful she is, especially toward the end of the book, and not only is it iffy because she’s probably 15 tops but more because his description of her beauty is always couched in language of how maternal she is.  And that’s bullshit, because women who are crap at working with children can still be beautiful for a million other reasons.

So the final summary is this:  this is fascinating as an adventure into fantasy land, and it’s really neat to read if you’re a fan of Narnia.  I would love to see it rewritten by a modern writer because it has good bones, as a friend of mine says.  But it is just too jarringly male for me to really like on its own.  Glad to have read it, but dang did I take this a whole different direction than Mr. Honest expected—different viewpoints matter, and I’m pretty sure MacDonald never once thought about a woman’s when writing this adventure of “saving” Lilith from her poor choices.

 

Rating:  2.5/5 stars  2000px-2-5_stars-svg_

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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)

Paul: Apostle of Christ

Greetings of the Easter season to you, Reader!  Today is a fairly overcast and chilly day here at the Wicket Gate, but it is Friday and the Spirit of the resurrection remains while I settle in to make something coherent of my sermon for Sunday.

I hope that these first few months of 2018 have gone well for you.  Thank you for your holding this space (to whatever degree you did; forgetting it existed is totally valid) while I took some time to figure out where my soul went.  It came across the river to the church where I work, it turns out, and we meet from time to time when I remember to tune into the presence of the God Who called me in the first place.  School is still awful, and in point of fact is more awful with each week because I wanted it so badly to be what it is not.  But there are only a few weeks left in the semester, I’m going home to the Land of Pilgrims for the summer, and then I only have one more year.  This, too, shall pass.

In the meantime, I wanted to do a short film review.  On Holy Saturday I went to see Paul, Apostle of Christ because I never stop being fascinated by the marriage of Scripture and Hollywood and y’know, I kinda liked it.

image3One of the first things I had to recognize was that I have learned (whether I have been deliberately taught this doesn’t matter) to be overly critical of anything having to do with Scripture and theology, so the first 15 or so minutes of the film were me trying to remember how to be charitable in watching.  The film is set in Nero’s Rome, where we learn Paul is imprisoned and facing execution.  Luke (who is here a real person who really wrote the Gospel) travels to Rome to get the last of Paul’s stories—what becomes the Acts of the Apostles.  The story swings between the conversations of Luke and Paul, the frustrations of the Roman prison guard, and the small and fearful community of Christians trying to deal with Nero’s war on them and their faith.

I know that a lot of people are not fans of Paul at all, but I have a soft spot for him.  I’m definitely not a fan of some of the things his letters have been used to do—I am a female cleric, after all.  But in this film I give all the snaps for the guy who played Paul; he did it with gravitas and dignity and curmudgeonliness and a bit of humor, which is how I imagine the actual Paul to have been toward the end of his ministry.  And the way they work the language of Paul’s letters into his lines is fantastic; exploring what it must have been like to look back over his life and hold fast to the belief that grace is sufficient, that nothing separates us from the love of Christ, that even Nero can’t stop the Kingdom gave new weight to the words.

The way in which the film complicated the Romans was marvelous (although I hate hate hated the flatness of the prison guard’s wife).  Not all Romans were on board with Nero’s crazy and many understood he was nuts but didn’t know what to do about it.  And not all Romans were cynical about their worship—many were truly devout to their gods.  And definitely not all Jewish leaders were terrible people, so props to this film underscoring and bolding the fact that it was Rome that killed Jesus, it was Rome that persecuted the early Christians, and it was Rome that outlawed the faith.  Not Jews.

Also, holla holla for no conversion moment.  The Roman guard is primed for it, but one of the things that drives me batty about Christian films is that there’s always this weirdly coerced conversion moment to somehow prove the efficacy of the message and y’all, it’s not necessary.  God’s word won’t return void, so you don’t need to include an uncomfortable template for your film audience to understand that we should give this Jesus Guy a go.

There were definitely some things I think weren’t grand about the film:  they really overdid the slo-mo emotional moments and the heavy-handed music, which I get but always irks me.  The story has pathos abounding, you don’t need to help it in post-production.  Women are still only mothers and wives rather than leaders in their own right, but at least they have decent speaking roles now.  The fact that the Jews weren’t being blamed for the plight of Christians was great, but there seemed to be no Jews around to do much of anything.  Where did they go?  We know they were part of the early communities.  And lastly the whole film was dedicated to “those persecuted for their faith,” but I doubt that that extends to all people persecuted for all faiths and I always get a bit squelchy when Christians, mostly American Christians, talk about persecution.  There has never been a time when American Christians were persecuted.  Never.  Not in the whole history of this country.  But sure, the early Christians were, and we need to remember that.  It is good to question how one holds both of those truths.

All in all it was a good movie that made me want to go back to Acts and the letters and read them, which is exactly what one would hope for out of a movie like this.  There was even a great one-liner about the repetitiveness of Acts, which I appreciate.  And Paul has a line to the Roman guard that “you will be fully known and fully loved—I pray for that for you.”

I pray that for both of us, Reader.  And I delight in the example of Paul to do so.  Go see the film if you’ve a free evening—or just read Acts with some inspiring classical music on in the background, if you’re all booked up.  I’ll be back in two weeks with something new, or something old, depending on how you view the ever-appearing examples of this faith thing.

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)

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

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.

A Come to Jesus Moment

I’ve been quite purposefully staying away from this blog for a minute, Reader, while I calmed down about the recent American elections.  I realized it wouldn’t do anyone any good for me to get on here and swear a blue streak, although I must admit that’s what I wanted to do.  I’m mad at conservatives who decided supposed economic security was worth selling the safety of various groups; I’m mad at liberals who can’t seem to hear their own narrow-mindedness while yelling at others for theirs; I’m super, super mad at the fools who didn’t vote at all.  And on top of that I’m utterly heartbroken and ashamed that my country is so broken that a misogynistic asshat is going to be the president.

Right, so as you can see I didn’t get all of my angry out.  And I don’t actually plan to; I think I need angry right now, not in the sense of the “rah burn shit down” kind of rage but in the “power music to change the world” kind of focus.  Righteous anger—that’s right, righteous, with all the forceful overtones that carries—is something that we need to redefine and reclaim.  I agree with the idea that this is the best thing to happen for the Church because it is so easy to align ourselves with the ideals of this world and that ain’t it.  The Kingdom of God is brought with a sword, not in the Crusader sense of hacking people apart but in the sense of refusing to stand by and allow injustice simply so we don’t have to inconvenience ourselves.

We Christians are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus.  By Jesus.  And that verse has been used so often and we have gotten so used to the cross that we think of it—that I think of it—as oh, man, I have to be nice to people at Thanksgiving.

No.  Christianity is not about nice.  Crosses are not about nice.  When Jesus was crucified, it was the most shameful and exposed form of death the Roman Empire could find for those it deemed counter-cultural and dangerous.  It was a slow death in which people’s own body weight killed them as they bled out, naked in front of whoever decided to come watch.  It was a statement that robbed the dying of anything even resembling dignity and made sure they had plenty of time to mull over the fact that the Empire had won.

Let me be clear—I am not advocating that people overthrow the Trump government any more than Jesus suggested His people overthrow Rome.  (His refusal to do so, in point of fact, was part of what endangered Him.)  Nor am I saying that people should just shoulder whatever comes as their own cross, their own burden.  I’m saying that we are called for just such a time as this every bit as much as Esther to risk ourselves for the safety and well-being of others.  If literally all that you can do is wear a safety pin and be prepared for whatever comes with that, that is your cross; bear it.  But do not build the cross of wearing the pin and then walk away when people call you on it, refusing to carry the burden of its realities.

Beyond that, get involved.  Research the things your friends say, whether you agree with them or not; do not blindly agree because something fuels your anger or hurt or fear.  Keep an eye on what is going on in your state legislature, your town councils, the federal congress.  Call offices, take surveys, send emails.  Make your voice heard by the people who can effect change on the topics that most concern you.  I don’t mean that you should make of yourself a 24-hour governmental watchdog (exhausted people are unhelpful to themselves and their movements, so know your own limits), but I do mean that your reaction—and mine—to the new administration must run deeper than Facebook comments and blog posts.

Remind yourself that there is an outside world.  Yes, there is much to be said about the election fallout, but Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have drinkable water.  East Tennessee is currently on fire.  Syria is still being torn to shreds by war, part of which is the fault of us, of America.  Brazil is still grappling with economic insecurity as its government shifts unsteadily.  Great Britain is still figuring out how to deal with the fallout of Brexit.  Boco Haram is still wreaking havoc in Nigeria.  America is not the only nation with problems, nor is the election America’s only problem.  Remember that we, as Christ’s hands and feet, are needed in more than just Washington, D.C.

And start praying right now, Reader, as to what is important to you about what America is.  A lot of promises were made on the campaign trail that shake down the dignity of the very citizens the American government is supposed to protect.  So fight for what you believe, speak out for that which is important to you, but know yourself:  are we willing to stand for those who cannot?  Are we willing to speak for the voiceless?  Are we willing to bear the crosses of seeking justice and extending mercy?  I have to pray my own prayers of reflection.  Am I willing to carry the cross of feeding the hungry, loving the leper, eating with tax collectors, healing the sick?  Am I willing to challenge legislation and to speak against communication that endangers or dismisses those who are female, who are LGBT, who are of color, who are refugees, who are immigrants, who are poor, who are survivors of sexual assault, who are human?  I don’t have to agree or support; I have to protect.  My safety cannot be more important than another’s.

You alone can’t fix the world, so please don’t try to engage every injustice and burn yourself out totally.  But do see the places around you where Christ beckons, come, pick up your cross.

May His yoke be easy.

Because this won’t be.

 

 

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Israel,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they sell the righteous for silver,
    and the needy for a pair of shoes—
they that trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
    and turn aside the way of the afflicted[.]”  (Amos 2:6-7b, RSV)