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Fear Itself

I’m not a fan of gender essentialism.  (Shock!) Whether it’s the toy aisle at Target or pronouncing salad to be ‘lady food’ (which, by the way, is still evidently an oft-told folktale in the Diocese of Southern Virginia.)   People are complex and different, and quite frankly, I have never found gender to be a very good predictor of much.

However, this doesn’t imply that denying women a voice in discussions doesn’t lead to certain myopias.  It’s not that letting one woman speak will give you a perspective on all women, everywhere.  (No, Mel Gibson–that’s not a thing.)  But it enlarges the discussion in important ways, due to the systemic ways women are treated in society.

All this is to say–the theological argument that pride is the original sin seems skewed to me.  That’s the argument of someone who has always been encouraged, either explicitly or implicitly, by the world to think well of themselves–and for groups who are told by the world that they are worthless, to argue against pride in any form becomes dangerous.

Here is where I politely remind you that theology always has real-world consequences, and we need to be conscious of them–lest the Good News of freedom we preach turn to oppression.

To that end….

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday, Year C

Luke 23: 1-49

 

Theologians like to argue over weird stuff.  I have friends on Facebook who are full-time theologians, and they get into knock-down, drag out fights over atonement theories, about which old-time theologian was the best, about whether predestination is a thing.  
And they argue over what original sin is.  

Because they’re professional theologians, they are not content with just arguing whether original sin exists, or how it continues on–no, they must try to figure out which sin it is!  Now, most of Western Christianity has maintained that original sin is pride.  Augustine on forward thought that it was the pride of humans that caused the first Fall, back in the garden of Eden.  When Eve wanted to be like God, knowing Good and Evil, and she ate the apple–that was the problem.  Pride, and overzealous ambition.  And so pride trips us up ever since.

 

I am unconvinced.  While I think pride is a bad thing, and surely responsible for a lot of the problems in the world, I don’t think overzealous pride is a universal failing.  (And, honestly, this is one of those issues that crop up when only men are allowed to be theologians for so long.)

 

If you look around the world today, the cancer that seems to be infecting the world isn’t pride, as much as it is fear.  

 

It’s everywhere–Fear of immigrants, fear of refugees, fear of Muslims, fear of crime, fear of those people stealing our jobs, fear of not having enough, fear of those kids not pulling their weight, fear of…you name it–we’ve found a way to be afraid of it.  It’s fear.

 

This creeping insecurity surrounds us–and deludes us into turning our back on our relationship with God, and with each other.  This sort of paranoia convinces us that nothing can be trusted, that everything could be a danger, and that safety has to be our highest goal–instead of God.  

 

The story of the Passion is a series of fearful people, one after another.  

 

The Temple priests and leaders are scared–Jesus has been teaching and riling up the people for a while now.  The Temple hierarchy gets a certain (small) amount of power under Rome, so long as they keep their people in line.  Now, it looks like another charismatic preacher from Galilee is on the horizon, and about to trigger another revolution–one which will have a high body count among their people, and lead to their loss of power. So they move to stop Jesus, before any of that happens.  (FWIW–it doesn’t work.  A revolt, started by yet another charismatic Galilean figure starts 30 years later, and Jerusalem still burns.)

 

The Temple leaders hand him over to Pilate, arguing that Jesus is a threat to Rome, Jerusalem, and all of them!  They’re so afraid, they want Pilate to join them in their fear.    

 

And Pilate, he was afraid.  The Roman regime was threatened.  Every Passover pilgrims rushed the city to recall the LAST time God saved them from foreign oppressors.  The city was already on edge.  

 

And Pilate’s claim to fame was being ruthless with opposition.  His job was to keep the peace in Dodge however brutal he had to be.  And he so badly doesn’t want to make a decision, he passes the baton off to Herod.

 

And Herod–keeps power through pacifying Rome.  So he, too, doesn’t want to do anything–either to annoy Rome or his Jewish subjects.

 

Back to Pilate.  Who tries to get out of a decision, but to no avail.   Finally lets fear of crowd, of failure, of larger empire trump what he knows, and gives in.  (He’s not a hero here.)

 

And that’s not all–the disciples run away too.  

 

So a series of fearful people lead us to Golgatha under the blazing noonday sun on a hill outside the city, with crosses lining the horizon.

 

Fear is what separates us from the love of God.  Fear tells us we don’t have enough, we cannot share.  Fear tells us the Other is a threat.  That they are to be hated.  Fear tells us that to keep what we have we have to hoard and fight and scrimp and hide. That we aren’t enough, that all we have is ourselves.

Fear lies.  

 

Scripture tells us perfect love casts out fear.  And in this week, we see Love itself enter into the worst of our fears, and assure us that we aren’t alone.  We aren’t abandoned.  That there is nothing we fear that Christ cannot bear with us.  That in the love of Christ, none of our fears can truly separate us from the love of God.  

 

That in the end, God–Love itself, is stronger than Fear, stronger than Death, and on Easter morning, destroys the last of what there is to fear.  All we have to do is hold on til then.

 

Amen.

 

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What we talk about when we talk about Mary

On Friday, some parishioners asked if we could hold a vigil for the Dormition–a service in honor of the Virgin Mary.  “Sure,” I said.

We have a lot of former Roman Catholics who have migrated on over to Canterbury with us, and for them, honoring the Mother of Christ is a big deal.  I like Mary, though most of the traditional forms of mariology make me want to throw something, so I thought the service could be fun.

At the group’s request, I found a reading from a female theologian on Mary–because any excuse to buy a Dr. Elizabeth Johnson book is a good one.  And I came up with a reflection.

20111213-175554.jpg

 

Here’s what I said.

Two days ago, Janelle Monae, from Kansas City!, put out a new single—pretty much a protest chant.  She released it with the other artists on her record label at a #blacklivesmatter march in Philly.

It’s not really a song—there’s a repeated chorus, and then the shouted name of one of the many people killed by police over the past few years:  Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Jonathan Ferrell, Eric Garner, and on and on and on—a litany of names.  In between, the crowd shouts—say his name, say her name.

It’s the protest form of the litany of saints:  that roll call that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches do as you run down the list of saints, asking them to intercede for you.  Like an attendance call in heaven, of sorts—running down the list of the worthy, the holy, the good.

In pretty much every religious tradition, naming has been important—more than important—naming has been holy.  God brings things into being through naming them, as the first act of creation.  To name something is to speak its essence, to control it—and to give it life.  Adam and Eve name the animals.  Jesus names when he heals.  It’s also why there’s that big aura around the name of God.

And so, because naming has this power, this effect—it is vital that we pay attention to who is named in our tradition and who gets to name them.  Who gets to say his name.  Who gets to say her name.

And when we do that, we discover that there’s a bit of an inconsistency.  Men are named—men get lots of names.  Fathers, sons, uncles, family names.  Lots of names.  Women get …fewer.

Because we not only meet Mary Magdalene with Jesus, we also meet Joanna and Salome, floating out in space, untethered by named relationship, and for Gentile women, it’s worse– the Syro-Phonecian woman (no name) and the woman at the well (no name, again.)

But that’s not so bad!  At least women are there, right?! So many women in the gospels!  So many! And yet, names themselves are less important than who says them.

In the book I just read from, Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ points out that for most of Christian history, only one group was really doing the naming.  Only one group decided what names got named. And so that affected the stories that got told.

The story of Mary. Mother of God, told this way, becomes a story about submission to authority, about purity, about self-denial, and at times, almost borderline erasure.  In many ways, the traditional telling of Mariology—all blue and white and hyperdulia, erased everything that made her unique.  Everything that made her human, so that she could be an even better story.  So that she could be a name that all women aspired to, and a name that reminded all women just how sinful we were.

But—(that never fully worked.) Did you notice?  Because all around the edges of this official, spiffed up story that the Church was telling, were these other stories.  Stories from different people, and not the people in charge.

Stories of Our Lady appearing as an Aztec princess to a Mexican man during the Spanish conquest, appearing as a grieving mother during the Plagues in Europe.  Mary being depicted as every tribe and race under the sun, even in priest’s vestments.   Mary never really seemed to get the memo on her ‘official story’.  Everywhere you look, Mary shows up in various not-exactly sanctioned guises.  One of my favorite iconographers, who’s work I borrowed for this service is Robert Lenz, who depicted Mary as a Latin American woman who lost a child to the death squads in the civil wars.  And as a woman in a Holocaust concentration camp.  And as a homeless woman.  And as a struggling woman in America’s inner cities.  Despite her official story, Mary has managed to reach out to women and the oppressed who find in her a a real person–a kindred spirit through the centuries.

And I don’t think that’s because the official naming of Mary by the church is so compelling.  (In fact, you can argue that the official “be good and quiet and God might love you” does a great deal of harm, but that’s another sermon.)

I think that’s because Mary does something no other woman in the Bible does.  Mary names herself.

When she greets Elizabeth, she sings the Magnificat—my soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior—from this day on, all generations shall call me blessed.  She defines herself.  THAT’s who she is.  A poor, pregnant, unwed teenage girl, in an occupied village, whom the whole world would say was anything but—She defines herself.

That’s her power, I think.  That’s her lesson.  For those of us whom the world would name as unworthy, as less than, as failed and as disposable, Mary reminds us in her witness and in her person, that in the reign of God we are all counted as beloved, all counted as worthy.  She gives us an example of naming ourselves blessed, of telling our own stories, for ourselves, in our own voices, as this is what God prizes, she assures us.  Because this is what the reign of God requires, what it is built on—this reign where the lowly are lifted up, the rich are sent away empty, and the hungry are finally fed.  In order for that to happen, all of our stories need to be told, all of us need to be named in this world.

For this naming is the work of the gospel, this naming is good news for all of us.

Amen

So long, and thanks for all the fish

Many of you already know this, but my time as Day School chaplain has come to an end.  The administration felt that a chaplain was no longer something the school required.  I’m sad, but life in  ministry is nothing if not changeable.

Needless to say, this context added an interesting flavor to the end of the school year.  I’ve been running around, trying to clean up everything at the school, so that whatever form the chapel program takes, it won’t have to be rebuilt from scratch.  And I’ve been thinking about what I want to leave the kids with.  I’ve worked with most of these kids every day for two years, and I really do like them.  (Most of them.  Most of the time.)  For some of them, I’m the sole representative of organized religion in their lives, so I thought a lot about what I wanted them to remember from this experience.

This is what I came up with–my sermon at the 8th grade graduation Baccalaureate.

Baccelaureate sermon

May 21, 2015

You know there are stories that didn’t make the bible, right?

 

In some of those stories, they talk about Jesus as a child–those mystery years of Jesus between ages 2-12, then ages 12-30.  What was he like?  What did he get up to?

 

The people who wrote the stories had some theories.  One story has Jesus bringing toy birds to life by the river, and scaring his playmates nearly to death.  One story has Jesus getting mad at the neighborhood bully, before turning him into a goat.  Then, Mary comes out, yells at Jesus, tells him that WE DO NOT TURN OUR FRIENDS INTO GOATS, and Jesus turns him back.

Another story has Jesus helpfully aiding Joseph in the woodshop.  Joseph would make a mistake, and cut the wood too short, and Jesus would stretch it back out again through MAGIC.  Eventually, Joseph got so unnerved by this that he sent Jesus to his room.

 

There’s a good reason these stories didn’t make the New Testament–they’re more than a little ridiculous, and they sound more like superhero stories than they do stories from the Bible.  But they do sort of underline something that comes through again in the Actual Gospel reading for this service–

Jesus must have been an obnoxious kid.

 

I mean it–he must have been a real pain to be around.  He must have sounded like one of those toddlers that you all were, not too long ago—asking why all the time, and rarely being satisfied.  He was into everything.  He didn’t take direction well.  And while it’s crystal clear that he had an enormous heart and was incredibly loving, I’m sure there were times (like in this story) that Mary and Joseph wondered why he couldn’t be just a little less high maintenance.    There must have been times when the two of them went to bed at night and thought about how they loved him a lot, and he was a really great kid, but man, he was tiring.

Because, all he did was ask questions.  That’s all he does when he goes to the temple with his parents in Jerusalem.  He runs away from them, hides for days on end, so he can stay in the temple asking question upon question upon question, and talking with the scribes and the priests.  So, you’ve got to figure that Jesus was one of those kids who wanted to know ‘why’ all the time and constantly.

(Do you remember being like that? Do you remember a time when all you wanted to do was figure stuff out, figure out the world around you?)

It’d wear anyone out.  Probably wore out the priests in the Temple, too, after 3 days.

But you know what?  All those questions turned out to be important.  All those questions were how Jesus learned.  They were how he figured out what parts of the world needed to be changed, and what parts were fine as they were.  They were how he came to love the people around him, by learning their stories and their weaknesses.  Asking questions, trying to learn, being curious—that was how grew in wisdom and faith.

That process, that asking questions process—that’s what we call an education.  That’s what we’re here tonight to celebrate.  Now, you graduates, you are here because we are marking together this milestone in your education.

And if there’s one thing I hope we’ve taught you it is this: questions are good.  They are, in fact, the goal of all this education, all these years of going to school, of studying books, of taking tests.  Because the best questions are not the ones that yield answers—the best questions are the ones that lead you to deeper and more profound questions.

The goal of education is to learn enough so that you can start asking the deeper, wiser questions, so that your questions can lead you further and further into that mystery we call truth.  The goal is not to teach you everything—to give you all the answers you need, so that you head out into the world knowing more than anyone else.

The goal of education is to illustrate exactly how much you don’t know, and exactly how much there is out there to learn.  Hopefully, over these past years here at St. Paul’s, your teachers have inspired you with curiosity to learn more, to ask more, to find out for yourselves.

Because your education, really, is just beginning. You are just now approaching the starting line of life–we’re waving the checkered flag at you now.

Going forward from this moment, you will be faced with a whole wide world to explore.  A wide world that you can confront in one of two ways—you can either hold on tight to the answers that you’ve been given, keep to the paths, and stare at your feet as you go, or you can let your curiosity lead you into new and winding paths, you can ask more and more, learn more and more, and gaze up at possibilities above your heads that no one ever saw before.

It’s your world out there.  Yours to explore, yours to uncover.  So as you head on out there, recall Jesus heading to the temple.  Remember this enthusiasm, remember this excitement.  And never be afraid to ask your questions.  It’s those questions that will make you wise.

 

Amen.

 

Telling stories: Absalom Jones

Last week was the week of All Preaching, All the Time.  In addition to preaching at the UMC seminary, I also was asked to preach at the diocese’s Annual Absalom Jones celebration.**  Each year, the diocese comes together at the cathedral to remember Absalom Jones, the first African-American ordained in the US (in 1795), now remembered with a feast day on February 13.

It often surprises people, even long-time Episcopalians, to hear that the Episcopal Church has roots and traditions that transcend the WASPy stereotypes.  (And thank God for that.  As fond as I am of the BBC and British culture, if that’s all the church was, we’d be well past an Eddie Izzard monologue by now.)

The diocese I grew up in had more historically Black churches than anywhere else, partly due to the zeal of a priest named James Solomon Russell. Born right before the end of the Civil War, in Southside, Virginia, he planted around 36 churches all over the woods of south-central Virginia.  He also founded St. Paul’s College, in Lawrenceville, Virginia.  (Two different dioceses asked him to come and be bishop suffragan for them, and he refused, citing his desire to keep doing real work.  This man is my hero.)

My point is:  the Episcopal Church has long been diverse–we’ve just been in denial about it.

Part of ending denial?  Telling our stories.

Here’s what I said.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan
February 7, 2015
Feast of Absalom Jones, transferred
Isaiah 61:1-4

“They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations”
It’s been said that Episcopalians are people of the book. We are a people of the Prayer book, surely—we hold it tight like a security blanket, like a child with a favorite stuffed animal. But we also belong to those who find our relationship with God, its ups and downs, its ins and outs, traced in another book—in the Bible. So there’s that, too.

But, I think, fundamentally, our love affair with books can be traced back to stories. We are a people of stories.

Stories that we tell to each other, to our children, to generations past and generations to come—to reassure ourselves, to challenge ourselves, to remind us who we are and where we come from. Stories comprise our identity as human creatures and images of God. After all, God is the one who created by speaking words into the darkness—the first story. So it has been ever since. We gather together the shards of our lives and we cobble together meaning in a story.

And we know this. We each have these stories of who we are, how we came to be, stories that we rely on. I can remember my grandfather, sitting by the fire, telling me tale after tale of our familial ancestors in Scotland—of the man who was so anxious to win a boat race and win some land promised from the English king that he chopped off his own hand. Of the first immigrants to the New World, who kept getting into bar fights, til one of them got sliced in half. Of the the later, more prosperous relatives who ran a flour mill in Spotsylvania County, and protected it from the invading Yankees, burying the silver in the backyard, and their sons, who fought for the Confederacy before ending up in a POW camp at Ft. Monroe.
The patchwork of stories that composed our family identity and told us who we were, what the world was. We were brave to a fault, we were loyal, and we were bad at decision-making.

We don’t only have stories from our families or from history books. We have these stories from our faith too, that we rehearse and we pass on from one generation to the next. Noah’s ark. Abraham and Sarah’s enduring faith. The deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. The establishment of David’s kingdom in Israel. The coming of Christ and his ministry in the world. His crucifixion, death, and resurrection.

We have these stories, these stories we love, and from these stories, we derive our identity, both as individuals and as a people. There was God, we say, God loved the world, God saved God’s people, and God sent Jesus as proof of this love and to seal this salvation and to open to us the way to heaven. That is our story.

Funny thing about these stories, though—some of them work and some of them don’t. Many of them work better for some of us than they do for others of us. In these stories, some of us appear, and some of us don’t. Some of us come off entirely as heroes, some of us come off as two-dimensional villains, and some of us are erased entirely.

Last summer, I took a trip back to Richmond, Virginia, near where my family is from–where that grandfather grew up–, and I walked the newly-constructed, I should say newly-rediscovered, Slave Trail. So named, because it traces the path that slaves took through the city, from the river landing where the slave ships first came into port, to the auction houses, and the hotels where the European tourists came to gawk, to Lumpkin’s Jail, which held recaptured runaways, or Black people who had otherwise stepped out of line. The path through downtown Richmond took me past buildings I had seen all my life, grown up seeing, and at each stop, there was a plaque, describing the sight. Here the Manchester Docks, here the site, where Willie Boxcar Brown sealed himself up for 3 days in a tobacco factory to make it to Pennsylvania and freedom. At each, my grandfather’s stories played in my head—and no where, in his stories, did he talk about these stories I was seeing. No where in his stories did he talk about the generations of enslaved people whose stories were intertwined with ours, whose lives and whose labor enabled my family to survive, to live as we had.
But now, staring me in the face, was the traces, the impact of these other stories which challenged the boundary of my family’s convenient story. It wasn’t large enough. It wasn’t deep enough. It wasn’t complex enough. Our story didn’t work any more.
When Absalom Jones and Richard Allen planted themselves in St. George’s Episcopal Church, Philadelphia that fateful day, they challenged the story—the safe story the Episcopal church had been telling itself up until then. That God loves everyone equally but on the inside, in an intangible, invisible way. They questioned the story. They pushed back. And initially it didn’t go so well—Absalom and Richard and the other Black men and women were asked to leave that day. But Absalom didn’t give up, because he knew that his story was true.

And later, when Absalom Jones went to William White, and asked for ordination so he could serve his community, he was doing it again–he was listening to his own story. He was listening to the story that said that Jesus saves not just in the hereafter, but Jesus came to liberate us now. Here, on this earth, in our lives, today–Jesus came to change the world.

He stood there, and through his life, he gave us not only the gift of his service, but he did something else too—he broke open the church’s story. He made this church begin to ask questions it hadn’t asked, see things it hadn’t seen. He made the church start to reconsider its story.
We have to—we HAVE to—be willing to question our stories. We have to be willing to open, to reexamine the fabric of the stories we’ve been telling. We have to be willing to enlarge them. Because a lot of these stories we tell, a lot of them don’t work–a lot of them are incomplete, because they’re too narrow. They aren’t enough.
Because the plain truth is that there’s never been just one story of the God we’re trying to reflect–no, not really.
Now, as the church, especially as the white church, (I’m going to get truthful here.) we’ve pretended that there has been for millennia, but it’s just not the case, as any one of you who remembers their bible study will tell you. There are two accounts of creation, aren’t there? Right beside each other,hitting you in the face, Genesis 1 and 2. There are two different accounts of the entrance into the Promised Land–one where the Israelites sort of meander in peaceably, and one where Joshua and co. triumph from behind, and murder everything in sight. There are even multiple texual sources telling practically every story, both in the Old Testament, then again in the 4 gospels.
So for all this time, while the white American church was comfortably telling its same story–there was God, God loved us, God came to save us, but in an inward and intangible way and definitely some more than others, and there are times the white church has been explicit about that, and times it hasn’t–Absalom had a different story that he knew. God was working in his life in a different and profound way, and when he planted himself in that seat at St. George, and when he pushed for ordination, he showed the church a new story, a story that proclaims that every human is made in the image of God. That every person under heaven is equal, not just hypothetically, not just after they die, but today, tomorrow, right now and forever, and Christ came to make sure we knew it. So our lives had better start reflecting that.

Point of fact–the church hasn’t always wanted to change its story. It wasn’t thrilled with the prospect then, and it’s not exactly thrilled now. Change isn’t enjoyable, especially to something as fundamental as your self-understanding, and few things like to admit their error less than the Church. Yet, God calls us to something greater than a simplistic adherence to that thing we’ve always thought. God calls us to honor all the stories. To watch for the hand of God at work all around us. And to be ready to admit when we’re wrong, when our story wasn’t big enough, to apologize and do better.

Because it is in the push and pull of difference, the tension of learning new ways of telling old stories, the recognition of God’s Spirit working in a stranger’s face, that we come to a truer understanding of the God who made all unique, made us all loved, and made us all one.

Amen.

**Full disclosure: we don’t have a lot of Black clergy in WeMo. We have very few. We have two, is my point, and one was, I think, getting dialysis that day, and the other was on vestry retreat.  So the poor committee was left with me preaching.

Post-modern preferential option

Last Tuesday, my friend, the Rev. Marcus Halley–the associate at St. Andrew’s (the Other Episcopal Church in KCMO), asked me to present a talk/speech/thing on God in the digital age.  And I hardly need much convincing to talk about social media.  So I talked about Twitter, and the theology around it–what sort of theology we could construct as we become more interconnected, but in a different way than we’re used to.

Inevitably, whenever I talk about social media, someone always asks, “But how do you know that what you’re reading is THE TRUTH?”

I love this question.   LOVE it.  I want to cross stitch it on a sampler and sew it to a throw pillow, it’s so adorable.

Because, seriously, how did you EVER know that what you were reading was THE TRUTH?  My parents had a set of World Book Encyclopedias from 1965 when I was growing up.  Big set of books that someone (not entirely sure who) paid a lot of money for.

There are a lot of things in those books that are not true at all.  And that’s ignoring the pile of stuff that they ignore entirely.  (I learned after 1 try that I could not do a project for Black History Month by looking in those things.)

But for a long time, they were THE AUTHORITY.  They were books, so they were up there with Walter Cronkite (who also was Wrong on occasion, and who also left out some notable things.)

Objective truth is out there, but there’s no monopoly on it.  So the question is less–how can I find the one truth, and more–have I listened to all the stories I need to?

That’s pretty much where this sermon came from.

August 30-31, 2014

Ordinary Time, Proper 17

Exodus 3

[how do you know what you read on social media is the truth?  Walter Cronkite is dead—there is no ONE OBJECTIVE ANSWER out there waiting for us.  Everyone has their own side of the story, whether we like this or not.]

[transition to…] 

Moses just wants to be a little Switzerland right this moment.  He’s having an identity crisis, of sorts, and of all people, he gets to have one.

Because, if you think back to what you recall either of a Charlton Heston movie or from watching the Prince of Egypt—Moses, when he was born, was saved from a genocidal pharaoh by his sister, Miriam, who stuck him in a basket and floated him down the river.  The Pharoah’s daughter found him, and adopted him as her own, saving him a second time.

So Moses had grown up with a foot in both worlds—the world of the Pharoah’s palace, all prestige and privilege, and the world of the Israelite slaves who made that world possible in the first place.  He’s had access to both worlds, to both places.  So he grew up with two identities—Moses the prince and Moses the Israelite slave. 

They were in conflict, to be sure, both sides of that particular story, but he was managing to balance them, apparently.

Everything was going fine it seemed, until one day when Moses was grown up and he ran into an Egyptian task master beating an Israelite slave. 

All of a sudden, these two identities are in conflict, these two sides of the story are standing opposed to each other.

Moses intervenes and kills the guard.

Well, whoops.

He panics, and flees out to the wilderness, because Moses does not want to pick a side.  Moses wanted to hang onto being a prince, but being a sort of cool prince who understood what was really going on, but still with all the power and money, and stuff.  Moses wanted the best of both worlds, but killing someone was probably going to mess that plan up.

Now, Wilderness is where the people of God go in the scriptures when something weird is going on.  It’s the neutral space, it’s the space of retreat and where you head to rebuild, even though it’s not hospitable.  But it’s also where God usually came and found you.

Which is what happens.

As we hear in the reading today, Moses is tending some sheep when he sees the burning bush, and he hears God call his name.  And God sends him back to Egypt—not as a prince in a palace this time, but as something entirely different.  As the leader who will save the Israelites from oppression. 

In other words, God wants him to pick a side.  And God wants him to give up some things, like power and privilege and some things that go along with it.

Hiding out in the wilderness of neutrality doesn’t cut it—you have to figure out where you stand.  Where God is calling you to go in the stories of today.

because yes, there are always many sides to each story. And yes, God loves us all, everyone.  God loves everybody.  And that has always been true.  God loved the Egyptians and the Israelites. God loved Pharaoh and Moses and Miriam and Aaron and their mother.

And it is God’s love that calls on them.  It is that very love that makes God receptive when the beloved Egyptians start enslaving the beloved Israelites.  It’s that very love that causes God to say to Moses— “I have heard the cry of my people Israel, and I have come down here to set them free.”

God’s love means God comes down, means God picks sides.  God loves the Israelites, so God calls Moses to free them from slavery.  God loves the Egyptians, so God calls Moses to convince them that holding people in bondage is not the way to go.  God’s love for humanity means God gets involved in the story.  God doesn’t stay neutral—that’s not how love works.  Love wants the fullness of human life.  Love wants the fullness of justice and righteousness and peace for everyone involved—and that’s not a thing that’s neutral—and so that meant the Israelites couldn’t be slaves anymore.   Because God’s love forces God to come down on the side of the oppressed, the powerless and the helpless.

Desmond Tutu said once If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse is not going to appreciate your neutrality.

Our pretended neutrality doesn’t serve the love of God.  It doesn’t serve God’s call to us.  And God doesn’t let us stay there. 

God called Moses out of his desert of neutrality, out of having the best of both worlds.  Out of his Egyptian palace and into his role as a leader for an oppressed people. 

And God calls us the same way.  God calls us to take sides, to take sides thoughtfully, to take sides in love.  To side with the poor, the powerless and the oppressed when we see injustice in this world.

So what we have to ask ourselves is where is God calling us now?  Here in Kansas City, here in Missouri, where is God calling us to go?  What desert is God calling us to leave behind? 

For starters, I can tell you that although the tanks are gone from the streets in Ferguson, the basic situation hasn’t changed.  The officer who shot Michael Brown still hasn’t been charged, the original prosecutor remains in charge of the case, the police still have a whole mess of riot gear and tanks and tear gas at their disposal, and not a whole lot has changed. 

Except, in the three weeks since he died, two more young black men who were also unarmed have been killed by police officers around the country.

So what is it that God is calling you to do in this situation? 
Do you need to sign a petition, do you need to have a hard conversation with your friends, with your coworkers, do you need to go to a march, do you need to email the governor?  Do you need to do some research into the history and context of race relations in St. Louis and law enforcement? Do you need to listen to people with first hand experience of dealing with the police while being Black in America?

What are you being called to do here in this moment?

Because we are being called to something. Whenever we as people of faith find injustice, we are called to do something.  We are not called to complacency, we are not called to run to the wilderness, we are called to do something. 

We just have to listen for God’s voice, remember God’s love, and know that God is with us. 

Uncle Sugar is Bad Theology, as well as creepy.

Last week, I was at a meeting for about 2 hours.  When I wandered back to my computer, the Interwebz were spinning themselves into a tizzy.  A politician of a certain stripe had said this in a speech:

“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government then so be it! Let us take that discussion all across America because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be,” Huckabee said.

Huckabee argued that Democrats “think that women are nothing more than helpless and hopeless creatures whose only goal in life is to have the government provide for them birth control medication.”

“The fact is the Republicans don’t have a war on women, they have a war for women, to empower them to be something other than victims of their gender,” Huckabee said.

(Emphasis mine.)

source: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/huckabee-dems-tell-women-they-can-t-control-their-libido


And this is how he defended his comments later:

My whole point was that the women I know are intelligent, thoughtful, educated, capable of running things, capable of making big decisions – and they didn’t need the government to hold their hands. They were not victims of their gender. (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2014/01/25/huckabee-defends-comments-as-miley-cyrus-cosmo-weigh-in/)

Ah.

Well, then.

Let’s agree, shall we, that there are a few problems with his line of thought (birth control doesn’t work like that, Uncle Sugar sounds like a nightmarish cartoon villain, that’s not how apologies work, biology was taught in his school district, yes?, etc) the one that really caught me was the last line.

‘To empower them to be something other than victims of their gender.

That, right there.  That’s the real kicker.

Because this implies a worldview where my gender, by virtue of it being a girly one, might attack me.  Might sneak up and bludgeon me with a candlestick, smother me with a pillow while I sleep, make me snuggle a kitten, do all manner of unspeakable things to me.

But it definitely renders me less-than, second-class, vulnerable, somehow.  I must fight my gender, lest I become a victim of it.*

In Mike Huckabee’s world, if you weren’t born a man (or white, or straight, or rich, or any number of things), then you’re already a step behind, you’re already a problem, and you better fight like hell not to fall entirely victim to your unfortunate lot in life.

And the minute you say it out loud, you should hear the problem here.  (If you’re not Mike Huckabee, whom I’ve decided was wearing earplugs during this speech.)

If women all might fall victim to their gender in your mind, then there’s no way women are created equal in your mind.  Especially when compared to men, who, curiously, are not described as needing to corral their gender.

Women are then just imperfect, incomplete men–It’s Thomas of Aquinas’ theory, back from its medieval casket–and as such, they can’t be trusted or treated as equals.

Why, oh why, oh why, does this nonsense get trotted out by modern-day Christians?  Mike Huckabee is a Baptist pastor.  He should know better, in at least 17 different ways.**

I understand that Thomas “T-Bone” Aquinas is amazing, and well-loved.  He was very smart.  But a.) He was one guy. b.) He lived in the Middle Ages.  Picture what he would have done with an iPhone. c.) Even he was aware that he was frequently wrong.

Which brings me to my final point.

God created male and female in the image and likeness of God.  All genders. Everybody.  God wasn’t working through some issues, or working out some kinks in the system.  God is God, and doesn’t make trash.  (And I’m surprised I have to point that out to folks who rely on that EXACT POINT when it comes to evolution, but irony is fun for us all, I suppose.)

If you’re convinced that 51% of the world’s population is made faulty in some way that they must be on guard against, then that’s a really awful slander against their Creator.  I mean, yikes. Either God is really bad at his job in your mind, or God is just getting a bit sadistic with a whole lot of people.

No God I know would do that.  No God I read about in the gospel does that.  No God whom Jesus describes would do that.

The God I know made me as I am on purpose: an opinionated, sarcastic woman who is very fond of shoes and waves her hands around too much.   The God I know makes each of us, like a different fingerprint, on purpose, because this God is tickled by variety.  Each different person, a new facet of God’s image.  Like a new side of a prism, shining in the light.   And each side, a gift.

I wrote last week that nothing convinced me more of an all-powerful Creator than being reminded of the diversity of people.

To flatten this variety into ‘better-than’ vs ‘less-than’ is to flatten God out, too.

So, while Gov. Huckabee is worried about women being ‘victims of their gender‘, he should be worrying about God falling victim to his poor theology.

*I’m not sure what this entails in Mike Huckabee’s mind.  Buy a switchblade?  Stop wearing heels?  Take up kickboxing?  He doesn’t elaborate. HOW SHOULD I DEFEAT MY GENDER, GOV. HUCKABEE?!

**and that’s not counting the fact that in any local church, women have kept everything running since Jesus learned to walk.  Seriously, Mike Huckabee.  Cross the Altar Guild or the ECW one day and see what happens.

They are the ones who knock, Governor.  Mark my words.

Here I am, send Grover!

I got asked to guest-blog!  On someone else’s blog!  

This was a first for me, and I was very excited.  

The brilliant people over at the Daily Cake asked me to write something “about hope/anticipation”.  “

“Ok!”  I thought.  “I can do this!”  “I can totally write about hope!”  

Then I thought about Grover.  And this came out.  

(Thanks for having me, Daily Cake!)