Mary and Elizabeth: Visitation or Escape?

rape victimsMay 31st is the day the Church commemorates “The Visitation” the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth  as it is recorded in the Gospel According to Luke 1:39-56. Since reading Jane Schalberg’s “The Illegitimacy of Jesus”, I can’t help but wonder if Mary’s visited her cousin Elizabeth or escaped to her cousin Elizabeth seeking protection for the crime of being raped in a culture that all too often blamed the victim.  Historians estimate that Mary may have been all of twelve years old when she became pregnant. There is ample evidence in the New Testament accounts of Mary’s story that suggest that she may indeed have been raped.  So rather than sweep the possibility under the rug, on this the Feast of the Visitation, I’m reposting a sermon I preached a few years ago during Advent.  I do so because women young and old continue to be raped and to this day, are forced to flee from the accusations and persecutions of cultures that continue to blame the victim. What follows is a written approximation of the sermon which in addition to Jane Schalberg is also indebted to John Shelby Spong’s “Born of a Woman” and “Jesus for the Non Religious” along with John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s “The First Christmas”.

Sadly, one doesn’t have to travel too far into the past to arrive at the time when women’s voices were not heard. Indeed, in the Lutheran church, it was only a few short decades ago.  For most of us that time is within our own lifetime. For generations, men have told our sacred stories. Men have decided which stories made it into the canon of Sacred Scriptures. Men have interpreted the stories that were allowed to be told. Men have translated, taught, and commented upon those stories from pulpits, in universities, in seminaries, in commentaries and in the public square. Continue reading

Shady Ladies, Forgotten Stories, and Images of God: Casualties of Our Advent Lectionary

but-god-remembered

In the preface to her beautiful children’s book, “But God Remembered: Stores of Women from Creation to the Promised Land” Jewish writer Sandy Eisenberg Saso tells this revealing story:
“Before God created man and woman, God wanted to create Memory and
Forgetfulness. But the angels protested.

The angel of Song said, ‘Do not create Forgetfulness. People will forget the songs of their ancestors.’
The Angel of Stories said, ‘If you create Forgetfulness, man and woman will forget many good stories.’ The Angel of Names said, ‘Forget songs? Forget stories? They will not even remember each other’s names.’
God listened to the complaints of the angels. And God asked the angels what kinds of things they remembered.
At first, the angels remembered what it was like before the world was formed. Then as the angels talked about the time before time existed, they recalled moments when they did not always agree.
One angel yelled at another, ‘I remember when your fiery sword burned the hem of my robe!’
‘And I remember when you knocked me down and tore a hole in my wing,’ screamed another.
As the angels remembered everything that ever happened, their voices grew louder and louder and louder until the heavens thundered.
God said, ‘FORGET IT!’
And there was Forgetfulness.
All at once the angels forgot why they were angry at each other and their voices became angelic again. And God saw that it was good.
God said, “There are some things people will need to forget.’
The angels objected. ‘People will forget what they should remember.’
God said, ‘I will remember all the important things. I will plant the seeds of remembrance in the soul of My people.’
And so it was that over time people forgot many of the songs, stories and names of their ancestors.
But God remembered.”

As we approach the Season of Advent, I can’t help wondering why the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary (the list of prescribed readings for Sunday worship) have failed to remember the stories and names of our foremothers? John the Baptist will strut across the stage again in this Sunday in churches all over the planet. We have begun a new cycle in the RCL in what is know as Year A the lectionary Gospel readings will focus upon readings from the Gospel according to  Matthew. But followers of the RCL will not hear the names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba; no, not even Mary will put in an appearance despite the fact that all of these women are mentioned in the very first chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew! Last year was the same even though the RCL focussed upon the Gospel according to Luke, neither of the women of the Luke’s first chapter make an appearance without a great deal of effort. Unless worship planners are prepared to tinker with the lectionary Elizabeth and Mary will have to cede the stage to John the Baptist. So, all you worship planners and preachers out there, I say to you, “TINKER AWAY! TELL THE STORIES!”

As this is the year of Matthew, why not invite onto centre stage those “Shady gospel of matthewLadies” from Matthew Chapter 1: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, verses 1-17 make an excellent reading! John Shelby Spong is an excellent resource, you can find a transcript of his excellent sermon here. At Holy Cross we will use Matthew 1:1-17 as our first reading and Matthew 18-24 as our Gospel reading. This will allow us to usher Mary onto centre stage. Then on the Fourth Sunday of Advent we will switch over to the Gospel according to Luke for all three readings: First Reading – Luke 1:26-38, Second Reading – Luke 1:39-45, Gospel Reading – 1:46-59.  

I am forever hearing people despair about biblical illiteracy as clergy and church-insiders bemoan the collective forgetfulness of our culture. I suspect that the snippets of readings that we hear year after year may be a factor in the gaps of our collective memory when it comes to the women of the New Testament. Let this Advent be different. Invite the women of the gospels onto the stage. John the Baptist will be happy out there in the wilderness until his feast day in June!

Mary and Elizabeth: Visitation or Escape?

rape victimsMay 31st is the day the Church commemorates “The Visitation” the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth  as it is recorded in the Gospel According to Luke 1:39-56. Since reading Jane Schalberg’s “The Illegitimacy of Jesus”, I can’t help but wonder if Mary’s visited her cousin Elizabeth or escaped to her cousin Elizabeth seeking protection for the crime of being raped in a culture that all too often blamed the victim.  Historians estimate that Mary may have been all of twelve years old when she became pregnant. There is ample evidence in the New Testament accounts of Mary’s story that suggest that she may indeed have been raped.  So rather than sweep the possibility under the rug, on this the Feast of the Visitation, I’m reposting a sermon I preached a few years ago during Advent.  I do so because women young and old continue to be raped and to this day, are forced to flee from the accusations and persecutions of cultures that continue to blame the victim. What follows is a written approximation of the sermon which in addition to Jane Schalberg is also indebted to John Shelby Spong’s “Born of a Woman” and “Jesus for the Non Religious” along with John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s “The First Christmas”.

Sadly, one doesn’t have to travel too far into the past to arrive at the time when women’s voices were not heard. Indeed, in the Lutheran church, it was only a few short decades ago.  For most of us that time is within our own lifetime. For generations, men have told our sacred stories. Men have decided which stories made it into the canon of Sacred Scriptures. Men have interpreted the stories that were allowed to be told. Men have translated, taught, and commented upon those stories from pulpits, in universities, in seminaries, in commentaries and in the public square. Continue reading

Shady Ladies, Forgotten Stories, and Images of God: Casualties of Our Advent Lectionary

women Matthew1

In the preface to her beautiful children’s book, “But God Remembered: Stores of Women from Creation to the Promised Land” Jewish writer Sandy Eisenberg Saso tells this revealing story:

“Before God created man and woman, God wanted to create Memory and Forgetfulness. But the angels protested.
The angel of Song said, ‘Do not create Forgetfulness. People will forget the songs of their ancestors.’
The Angel of Stories said, ‘If you create Forgetfulness, man and woman will forget many good stories.’ The Angel of Names said, ‘Forget songs? Forget stories? They will not even remember each other’s names.’
God listened to the complaints of the angels. And God asked the angels what kinds of things they remembered.
At first, the angels remembered what it was like before the world was formed. Then as the angels talked about the time before time existed, they recalled moments when they did not always agree.
One angel yelled at another, ‘I remember when your fiery sword burned the hem of my robe!’
‘And I remember when you knocked me down and tore a hole in my wing,’ screamed another.
As the angels remembered everything that ever happened, their voices grew louder and louder and louder until the heavens thundered.
God said, ‘FORGET IT!’
And there was Forgetfulness.
All at once the angels forgot why they were angry at each other and their voices became angelic again. And God saw that it was good.
God said, “There are some things people will need to forget.’
The angels objected. ‘People will forget what they should remember.’
God said, ‘I will remember all the important things. I will plant the seeds of remembrance in the soul of My people.’
And so it was that over time people forgot many of the songs, stories and names of their ancestors.
But God remembered.”

As we approach the Third Sunday of Advent, I can’t help wondering why the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL: the list of prescribed readings for Sunday worship) have failed to remember the stories and names of our foremothers? John the Baptist will strut across the stage again in this Sunday in churches all over the planet. The followers of the RCL will not hear the names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba; no, even Mary is only suggested as an optional replacement for the reading of the Psalm! Unless worship planners are prepared to tinker with the lectionary Elizabeth and Mary will have to cede the stage to John the Baptist. So, all you worship planners and preachers out there, I say to you, “TINKER AWAY! TELL THE STORIES!” Continue reading

Mary and Elizabeth: Visitation or Escape?

rape victimsMay 31st is the day the Church commemorates “The Visitation” the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth  as it is recorded in the Gospel According to Luke 1:39-56. Since reading Jane Schalberg’s “The Illegitimacy of Jesus”, I can’t help but wonder if Mary’s visited her cousin Elizabeth or escaped to her cousin Elizabeth seeking protection for the crime of being raped in a culture that all too often blamed the victim.  Historians estimate that Mary may have been all of twelve years old when she became pregnant. There is ample evidence in the New Testament accounts of Mary’s story that suggest that she may indeed have been raped.  So rather than sweep the possibility under the rug, on this the Feast of the Visitation, I’m reposting a sermon I preached a few years ago during Advent.  I do so because women young and old continue to be raped and to this day, are forced to flee from the accusations and persecutions of cultures that continue to blame the victim. What follows is a written approximation of the sermon which in addition to Jane Schalberg is also indebted to John Shelby Spong’s “Born of a Woman” and “Jesus for the Non Religious” along with John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s “The First Christmas”.

Sadly, one doesn’t have to travel too far into the past to arrive at the time when women’s voices were not heard. Indeed, in the Lutheran church, it was only a few short decades ago.  For most of us that time is within our own lifetime. For generations, men have told our sacred stories. Men have decided which stories made it into the canon of Sacred Scriptures. Men have interpreted the stories that were allowed to be told. Men have translated, taught, and commented upon those stories from pulpits, in universities, in seminaries, in commentaries and in the public square. Continue reading

Pregnant with Possibility: Was Mary a Virgin or Was Mary Raped?

pregnancy test

Mary Pregnant? St. Matthew-in-the-City (Auckland, NZ)

Mary, this enigmatic  woman has remained in the shadows for centuries. All too often the epithet “virgin” has been applied to the young woman who fell pregnant so long ago. As her Advent appearance approaches, I this re-post this sermon which I preached a couple of years ago in which I asked some questions about Mary. At the time I was reading Jane Schalberg’s “The Illegitimacy of Jesus”, John Shelby Spong’s “Born of a Woman” and “Jesus for the Non Religious” along with John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s “The First Christmas” and this sermon is laced with their scholarship. As always the written text is but a reflection of the sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Advent 2009.  

Sadly, one doesn’t have to travel too far into the past to arrive at the time when women’s voices were not heard. Indeed, in the Lutheran church, it was only a few short decades ago.  For most of us that time is within our own lifetime. For generations, men have told our sacred stories. Men have decided which stories made it into the canon of Sacred Scriptures. Men have interpreted the stories that were allowed to be told. Men have translated, taught, and commented upon those stories from pulpits, in universities, in seminaries, in commentaries and in the public square.  Continue reading

Shady Ladies, Forgotten Stories, and Images of God: Casualties of Our Advent Lectionary

women Matthew1

In the preface to her beautiful children’s book, “But God Remembered: Stores of Women from Creation to the Promised Land” Jewish writer Sandy Eisenberg Saso tells this revealing story:

“Before God created man and woman, God wanted to create Memory and Forgetfulness. But the angels protested.
The angel of Song said, ‘Do not create Forgetfulness. People will forget the songs of their ancestors.’
The Angel of Stories said, ‘If you create Forgetfulness, man and woman will forget many good stories.’ The Angel of Names said, ‘Forget songs? Forget stories? They will not even remember each other’s names.’
God listened to the complaints of the angels. And God asked the angels what kinds of things they remembered.
At first, the angels remembered what it was like before the world was formed. Then as the angels talked about the time before time existed, they recalled moments when they did not always agree.
One angel yelled at another, ‘I remember when your fiery sword burned the hem of my robe!’
‘And I remember when you knocked me down and tore a hole in my wing,’ screamed another.
As the angels remembered everything that ever happened, their voices grew louder and louder and louder until the heavens thundered.
God said, ‘FORGET IT!’
And there was Forgetfulness.
All at once the angels forgot why they were angry at each other and their voices became angelic again. And God saw that it was good.
God said, “There are some things people will need to forget.’
The angels objected. ‘People will forget what they should remember.’
God said, ‘I will remember all the important things. I will plant the seeds of remembrance in the soul of My people.’
And so it was that over time people forgot many of the songs, stories and names of their ancestors.
But God remembered.”

As we approach the Third Sunday of Advent, I can’t help wondering why the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary (the list of prescribed readings for Sunday worship) have failed to remember the stories and names of our foremothers? John the Baptist will strut across the stage again in this Sunday in churches all over the planet. We have begun a new cycle in the RCL in what is know as Year A the lectionary Gospel readings will focus upon readings from the Gospel according to  Matthew. But followers of the RCL will not hear the names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba; no, not even Mary will put in an appearance despite the fact that all of these women are mentioned in the very first chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew! Last year was the same even though the RCL focussed upon the Gospel according to Luke, neither of the women of the Luke’s first chapter make an appearance without a great deal of effort. Unless worship planners are prepared to tinker with the lectionary Elizabeth and Mary will have to cede the stage to John the Baptist. So, all you worship planners and preachers out there, I say to you, “TINKER AWAY! TELL THE STORIES!” Continue reading

The Three Deadliest Words in the World: It’s a Girl

rachael weeping

A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more. (Jeremiah 31:15)

Gendercide somewhere in the recesses of my sub-conscious, I know it is happening. From time to time, the horror rises to the level of my conscious awareness and unable to bear the reality, I quickly move on, burying the obscenity once again. After watching Evan Grae Davis’ documentary “The Three Deadliest Words in the World: It’s a Girl” the sheer magnitude of the reality cannot be contained in the caverns of my sub-conscious. I want to weep, wail, shout and scream! Gendercide is the systematicit's a girl killing of members of a specific sex and it is happening in epic proportions to women all over the world. It’s a Girl focuses on the hundreds of millions of girls who are being killed in India and China.  The numbers are staggering! Between the abortion of female fetuses, infanticide, neglect, and murder women are being killed in incomprehensible numbers. Lest we think this only happens in the developing world, the Canadian Medical Association Journal is calling for an end to sex identification via ultrasound in order to curb the practice of selective abortion in ethnic communities in Canada. 

Evan Grae Davis reveals that, “More girls have been killed in the last fifty years simply because they are girls than all the people who were killed in the first and second World Wars combined.  More girls have been killed in the last decade than in all the major genocides  of the 20th century combined.”  It’s a Girl is not an easy documentary to watch but a vital film to watch.  Below you can watch the documentary’s director Evan Grae Davis discuss his own experience of making the film.  

After watching the documentary, I wonder what we can do to help put an end to this horrendous atrocity. We celebrate the stories of those who refused to turn a blind eye and stepped in at considerable risk to save their neighbours from the Nazis and we have prayed that we too would have demonstrated similar courage. So, why then do we allow gendercide to continue?  How is it that this atrocity continues to be relegated to our collective subconscious? Cultural change is not easy, especially if we are unwilling to look at what is happening. Bearing witness is just the beginning. If you are reading this blog, then you have the wherewith all to download and watch the movie ($12.99 on iTunes). Then we will need to be about the work of removing the log from our own eyes, so that we can begin to help our neighbours. 

3 deadliest words

They Don’t Go Home Humming the Sermon!

humLiturgy has the power to from us in ways that preachers can only dream of. The truth is worshippers don’t go home humming the sermon. What we sing in worship matters precisely because music has the power to both open us up and shut us down to change. As our theology evolves, so too what we sing in worship must evolve. But familiar chestnuts  are familiar for a reason. Our favourite hymns are singable! Sadly, so many of the best loved hymns inscribe theologies that posit a god that few of us are willing to worship. But rather than throw the babies out with the bath water, we can give the best loved hymn tunes a new lease on life with texts that do not re-inscribe theories of atonement that we are trying to leave behind. I have been asked to share some of the resources that we have found helpful at Holy Cross and over the next few weeks I hope to post several resources.

Inclusive Hymns Aldredge-ClantonIt hasn’t been easy to find new words with which to resurrect old hymns. But there are two resources that warm the heart of this particular worship planner. Both “Inclusive Hymns For Liberating Christians” and “Inclusive Hymns for Liberation, Peace, and Justice” are the work of Jann Aldredge-Clanton who is responsible for the hymn texts and Larry E. Schultz who provides a few new tunes for Aldredge-Clanton’s texts. I highly recommend both volumes for those progressive Christian worship planners who seek to use music to open people to the possibilities of  more expansive theologies. Aldredge-Clanton’s texts go far beyond “inclusive language” for God and for people.Inclusive hymns for liberation

Jann Aldredge-Clanton currently serves as adjunct professor at Perkins School of Theology and Richland Community College, Dallas, Texas. Her vivid imagery opens the mind while familiar tunes comfort the spirit.  

The good news is that although these resources are not easy to get in Canada, I ordered mine from Amazon.com in the U.S. and the shipping charges were minimal. Better yet, with the purchase of 10 or more you get permission to reproduce hymns for worship.

Here are two videos that provide of just two of the pieces sung in very different worship styles.

The Bible, Women and Violence: Amy-Jill Levine

violence against womenAs always Dr. Amy-Jill Levine’s consummate scholarship encourages and enables her listeners to seriously and holistically engage biblical texts. Violence against women in all its forms, whether they be physical, sexual, emotional, economical, or psychological types of violence, is a global, national, denominational and domestic problem that has all too often been enabled by interpretations of the bible that fail to take the bible seriously or engage its texts adequately. Please watch, listen, digest, and go forth and do likewise. 

Commemoration of Saint Mary: Was Mary a Virgin or Was Mary Raped?

pregnancy test

Mary Pregnant? St. Matthew-in-the-City (Auckland, NZ)

I’m on vacation so I don’t get to preach this coming Sunday. But if I did, I suspect that I would move the Commemoration of St. Mary to Sunday and take the opportunity to explore the life and witness of this amazing woman. Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Mary the Mother of Jesus or as it is still called in the Roman Catholic Church The Feast of the Assumption of St. Mary into Heaven. This enigmatic  woman has remained in the shadows for centuries. All too often the epithet “virgin” has been applied to the young woman who fell pregnant so long ago. So on this festival day I this re-post this sermon which I preached a couple of years ago in which I asked some questions about Mary. At the time I was reading Jane Schalberg’s “The Illegitimacy of Jesus”, John Shelby Spong’s “Born of a Woman” and “Jesus for the Non Religious” along with John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s “The First Christmas” and this sermon is laced with their scholarship. As always the written text is but a reflection of the sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Advent 2009.  

Sadly, one doesn’t have to travel too far into the past to arrive at the time when women’s voices were not heard. Indeed, in the Lutheran church, it was only a few short decades ago.  For most of us that time is within our own lifetime. For generations, men have told our sacred stories. Men have decided which stories made it into the canon of Sacred Scriptures. Men have interpreted the stories that were allowed to be told. Men have translated, taught, and commented upon those stories from pulpits, in universities, in seminaries, in commentaries and in the public square.  Continue reading

Transfeminist Entaglements: Catherine Keller

OnThe MysteryToday the church celebrates the feast day of Martha and Mary. Two disciples whom Jesus  loved, who went on to become Apostles. On this day, I am mindful of the plight of women in the church. I present this lecture by Catherine Keller, a brilliant theologian, as my way of celebrating the role of women in theology. Keller’s work in process theology has enlightened my own theology in ways that continue to challenge my own way of approaching Mystery and I highly recommend “On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process. 

On the Drew Theological School’s website Catherine Keller is described as: “Professor of Constructive Theology at the Theological School of Drew University. In her teaching, lecturing and writing, she develops the relational potential of a theology of becoming. Her books reconfigure ancient symbols of divinity for the sake of a planetary conviviality—a life together, across vast webs of difference. Thriving in the interplay of ecological and gender politics, of process cosmology, poststructuralist philosophy and religious pluralism, her work is both deconstructive and constructive in strategy. She is currently finishing Cloud of the Impossible: Theological Entanglements, which explores the relation of mystical unknowing, material indeterminacy and ontological interdependence.”

Mary and Elizabeth: Visitation or Escape?

rape victimsMay 31st is the day the Church commemorates “The Visitation” the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth  as it is recorded in the Gospel According to Luke 1:39-56. Since reading Jane Schalberg’s “The Illegitimacy of Jesus”, I can’t help but wonder if Mary’s visited her cousin Elizabeth or escaped to her cousin Elizabeth seeking protection for the crime of being raped in a culture that all too often blamed the victim.  Historians estimate that Mary may have been all of twelve years old when she became pregnant. There is ample evidence in the New Testament accounts of Mary’s story that suggest that she may indeed have been raped.  So rather than sweep the possibility under the rug, on this the Feast of the Visitation, I’m reposting a sermon I preached a few years ago during Advent.  I do so because women young and old continue to be raped and to this day, are forced to flee from the accusations and persecutions of cultures that continue to blame the victim. What follows is a written approximation of the sermon which in addition to Jane Schalberg is also indebted to John Shelby Spong’s “Born of a Woman” and “Jesus for the Non Religious” along with John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s “The First Christmas”.

Sadly, one doesn’t have to travel too far into the past to arrive at the time when women’s voices were not heard. Indeed, in the Lutheran church, it was only a few short decades ago.  For most of us that time is within our own lifetime. For generations, men have told our sacred stories. Men have decided which stories made it into the canon of Sacred Scriptures. Men have interpreted the stories that were allowed to be told. Men have translated, taught, and commented upon those stories from pulpits, in universities, in seminaries, in commentaries and in the public square. Continue reading

Another Option for Preaching on Mothers’ Day – Bring Many Names

Until we can fully recover images and names for God that include the feminine, it will continue to be difficult for many to see the face of God in women and girls. Mothers’ Day is an opportunity for preachers to uncover, explore and proclaim the feminine names, attributes, images and activities of the Divine. This Sunday we will begin our liturgy by singing “Bring Many Names” (Voices United Hymnal), we will sing an invocation to Sophia “Come, Sophia” (Miriam Therese Winter), “Sing Lo! Sing, O Sophia” (Miriam Therese Winter), acclaim women of faith in song with “Come Celebrate the Women” (Shirley Erna Murray), praise the Breasted One with our Hymn of the Day, “Womb of Life” (Ruth Duck), after communion we will “Rock-a My soul in the Bosom of She Who Is” (Miriam Theresa Winter) and send folks off rejoicing to “Faith of Our Mothers”. (copyright laws prevent me from posting the music, so message me and I’ll hook you up)

I offer this repost to inspire the bold women and lovers of women to proclaim the love of She Who Dwells Among Us this Mothers’ Day!

GOD’s Radical Mastectomy

divine feminine 3Recently, I found myself in conversation with a young woman who insisted that inclusive language for God is nothing more than political correctness that has been imposed upon the church by feminists. She insisted that because women have now achieved equality with men, the need for inclusive language for God has served its purpose and need no longer be of concern to worship leaders. I am grateful that my age afforded me the maturity not to explode on this young woman who can well afford her opinion as a direct result of some of the language battles that I and my contemporaries struggled to overcome while she was but knee high to a grasshopper. Our conversation has stuck with me and caused me to review some things that I wrote long ago about the impact our language has not only on our images of the Divine but on the way we live together in community. What follows is a portion of a piece I wrote about the disappearance of the Breasted One as a name for God.

“We believe in one God, the Father the Almighty… We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father…  We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.  He has spoken through the prophets. In this God:  “We believe” and “His kingdom will have no end!”  God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our blessed Trinity.  As we proclaim our faith in the words of the Nicene, Apostles’, or (heaven forbid) the Athanasian creeds we proclaim a particular image of the Triune God.  For generations,  a majority of Christians have assumed all three persons in this Trinity are male.  Until recently this assumption has resulted in the exclusive use of male images, symbols and pronouns to represent the Triune God which Christians worship.  God has been declared to be male.  This is not an easy declaration to make.  In order to make such a declaration, many of God’s attributes which are revealed in the biblical accounts have been eradicated from the Christian tradition. 

     Long before the Christian church began to formulate its exclusively male image of the triune God, the Hebrew people used several words to refer to God.  The earliest of these words is “El” which is the generic Semitic word for a god.   

to read the more click here

How Did She Who Has Breasts Become God Almighty?

GOD’s Radical Mastectomy

divine feminine 3Recently, I found myself in conversation with a young woman who insisted that inclusive language for God is nothing more than political correctness that has been imposed upon the church by feminists. She insisted that because women have now achieved equality with men, the need for inclusive language for God has served its purpose and need no longer be of concern to worship leaders. I am grateful that my age afforded me the maturity not to explode on this young woman who can well afford her opinion as a direct result of some of the language battles that I and my contemporaries struggled to overcome while she was but knee high to a grasshopper. Our conversation has stuck with me and caused me to review some things that I wrote long ago about the impact our language has not only on our images of the Divine but on the way we live together in community. What follows is a portion of a piece I wrote about the disappearance of the Breasted One as a name for God.

“We believe in one God, the Father the Almighty… We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father…  We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.  He has spoken through the prophets.[1]  In this God:  “We believe” and “His kingdom will have no end!”  God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our blessed Trinity.  As we proclaim our faith in the words of the Nicene, Apostles’, or (heaven forbid) the Athanasian creeds we proclaim a particular image of the Triune God.  For generations,  a majority of Christians have assumed all three persons in this Trinity are male.  Until recently this assumption has resulted in the exclusive use of male images, symbols and pronouns to represent the Triune God which Christians worship.  God has been declared to be male.  This is not an easy declaration to make.  In order to make such a declaration, many of God’s attributes which are revealed in the biblical accounts have been eradicated from the Christian tradition. 

     Long before the Christian church began to formulate its exclusively male image of the triune God, the Hebrew people used several words to refer to God.  The earliest of these words is “El” which is the generic Semitic word for a god.   

to read the more click here

Was Mary a Virgin or Was Mary Raped?

pregnancy test

Mary Pregnant? St. Matthew-in-the-City (Auckland, NZ)

As Advent draws to a close, our readings turn toward the woman from Nazareth known as Mary. This enigmatic  woman has remained in the shadows for centuries. All too often the epithet “virgin” has been applied to the young woman who fell pregnant so long ago. I have been asked to post a sermon which I preached a couple of years ago in which I asked some questions about Mary. At the time I was reading Jane Schalberg’s “The Illegitimacy of Jesus”, John Shelby Spong’s “Born of a Woman” and “Jesus for the Non Religious” along with John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s “The First Christmas” and this sermon is laced with their scholarship. As always the written text is but a reflection of the sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Advent 2009.

Sadly, one doesn’t have to travel too far into the past to arrive at the time when women’s voices were not heard. Indeed, in the Lutheran church, it was only a few short decades ago.  For most of us that time is within our own lifetime. For generations, men have told our sacred stories. Men have decided which stories made it into the canon of Sacred Scriptures. Men have interpreted the stories that were allowed to be told. Men have translated, taught, and commented upon those stories from pulpits, in universities, in seminaries, in commentaries and in the public square.

Today, as more and more women take on the tasks of translating, interpreting, writing, teaching, preaching and imagining the texture of our sacred stories are changing in ways that our mothers and grandmothers may not have been able to imagine. This morning, I’d like to ask you to imagine with me a radical re-telling of the birth narratives; a re-telling based on the New Testament and the hidden gospels of the apocrypha; a retelling based on good sound historical scholarship; a retelling grounded in the ways of the world; a retelling by women; religious women, scholarly women, women trained in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, theology, doctrine, and the ways of the world.

Our story begins thousands of years ago in the occupied territories of Palestine were being a woman was a very dangerous and even death defying occupation. It is the story of a young girl; who couldn’t have been more than about 12 or 13, who fell pregnant. Notice the verb, it is chosen deliberately. The heroine of our sacred story is a young girl, a child, who fell pregnant. A dangerous and fall one for which the penalty was clear, for there was no ambiguity in the law, such fallen women were subject to stoning; stoning unto death.

But before I tell you this story, let me tell you another story. It’s the story of a woman who made it into the sacred halls of academia.  She was a daughter of the Roman Catholic Church who against all odds managed to earn a PHD and teaches at a Roman Catholic University in Detroit.  In 1987, when she dared to publish her scholarly account of our fallen heroine, she faced the wrath of the men in academia, who poo pooed her work and discounted her evidence without so much as a by your leave.  This much she had expected, what she didn’t expect was the violence or the strange characters who showed up at her lectures hurling more than verbal insults; and she certainly didn’t expect to wake up in the middle of the night to find her car burning out in her driveway. The police told her to keep a low profile. She did for a while, but then people outside the academy picked up her book and the odd reporter quoted her theories and that’s when the death treats got really serious. You may not have heard of this obscure New Testament Scholar, but Jane Schaberg is a hero to many female biblical scholars, for daring to speculate on exactly how a young girl may have fallen pregnant 2000 years ago.

You see then like now, rape was not just a random crime committed by isolated individual men. Then like now, rape was a military tactic designed to terrorize an occupied population. Jane Schaberg uncovered, what many believe to be a deep dark family secret about a young woman, a child who fell pregnant a long time ago and fled for her life. She wasn’t the first to talk about it.  There were men in the past that had dared to speculate about it and felt the wrath of the institution.

Some say the evidence is clear, if you’re willing to see it.  After all there was a large cohort of Roman soldiers encamped near Nazareth.  The people of Nazareth had participated in an uprising against their oppressors and the Roman’s had raided Nazareth in retaliation.  There are numerous Jewish accounts of Roman raids that include details of strategic rapes. Could our young heroine be the victim of such a rape?

There are New Testament scholars who ask you to simply consider the New Testament story of Jesus’ audacious first sermon in Nazareth.  What could have made the good people of Nazareth so angry that they wanted to kill Jesus? Nazarenes were accustomed to listening to itinerate preachers make all sorts of outlandish claims. But this Jesus was a mamzer Jewish texts written within 500 years of his birth attest to it. Historians do not even dare to translate mamzer for fear of reprisals. I won’t translate it for you now, not out of fear but rather because there are children present.  I’ll let you guess the English term we used to use to describe a child born without benefit of wedlock a term that is now used to describe many a man.  Could Jesus’ neighbours have been offended that this mamzer had dared to occupy their pulpit?

 Deuteronomy 23 is clear, “A mamzerim shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” The writer of the Gospel of Matthew alluded to Jesus status as a mamzer in his very first chapter. The writer traced Jesus lineage back through four women who could be described as fallen women. These four women by the standard of the day in which this story was told, these four women were sexually tainted women, “shady ladies” a couple seductress a couple of prostitutes and an adulterer.   These women:  Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, were all under the shadow of scandalous sexual activity and the inclusion of these women in Jesus genealogy should alert us that we should expect another women who becomes a social misfit by being wronged.

But if imagining Jesus as a mamzer is offensive to you, set it that aside for a moment and let’s look at the Gospel according to Luke and try to see past our rose coloured glasses.        The Gospel of Luke tells the story from the perspective of Mary. Over the years generations of listeners and readers have taken the author’s depiction of Mary and created an image of Mary that is larger than life.

The popular image of Mary paints her as the ideal woman, the ideal woman that none of us could ever live up to. The image of Mary is that of both virgin and mother, meek and mild, obedient and perfect. She is impossible as a role model of course and totally unreal.

In order to see Jesus we have to move beyond the popular image and look at what the author of Luke actually wrote about Mary. It’s in the words of the Magnificat that the author reveals the revolutionary Mary. The Magnificat is the song Mary sings when she meets Elizabeth. When read in its original Greek it is clear that Mary bursts into song. The text of the song is a revolutionary text full of historical meaning that would have been clear to it’s first century listeners, but the radical nature of this song has been lost as successive generations have set it to music and prettied it up as best they can. But in the first century Mary was a revolutionary figure. The author of the gospel of Luke, does not intend her to be “mother Mary meek and mild.” The references, with which the author and his audience would be familiar, are to heroines of Israel, to revolution and to war.

The song of the Magnificat is written in the style of two other songs from the Scriptures that would have been so familiar to the gospel writer’s audiences. Elizabeth addresses Mary as “Blessed…among women.” This was not a normal greeting. There are only two other texts in the Scriptures where this phrase is used. In the Book of Judges, Deborah, who was herself a prophetess and a judge of Israel sings, “Blessed among women be Jael”.  And Deborah’s song goes on to tell us who Jael was and what she did. “Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, of tent-dwelling women most blessed. He asked for water and she gave him milk she brought him curds in a lordly bowl. She put her hand to the tent peg and her right hand to the workman’s’ mallet; she struck Sisera a blow, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple. He sank, he fell, he lay still at her feet; at her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell dead.” Sisera was the commander of the Canaanite army. Deborah the ruler of Israel promised her general Barak, that Sisera would be delivered into his hands. So, Barak summoned up his troops and went into battle. As the Israelites seemed to be winning Sisera fled to the camp of his ally Heber the Kenite—who was married to Jael. Jael invites Sesera into her tent, offers him hospitality, and after a meal of milk and curds he falls asleep. While Sesera the enemy of the Israelites lies sleeping, Jael bashes a tent peg through his skull. And for this Jael is heralded as a great heroine of the people as Deborah sings her praises calling her blessed among women.

The second woman in the Scriptures who is hailed as blessed is Judith. Judith is also a heroine of Israel.   Her story takes place as the Assyrians are laying siege to the town of Bethulia, where the Israelites have almost run out of water. Judith leaves the city, allows herself to be captured by they Assyrians and taken to their leader Holofernes. Judith pretends to be fleeing from the Hebrews and offers to betray them to Holofernes. Holofernes welcomes Judith and offers her hospitality.

Judith then seduces Holofernes. After taking him to bed, while he is sleeping, Judith chops off his head with his own sword. She tucks his severed head in her food bag, escapes and returns to the Israelites. When she returns Uzziah, one of the elders greets her with the words, “O daughter, your are blessed by the Most High God above all other women on earth.” Later at a party giving to celebrate her victory, Judith sings a song to God in which God’s support for the oppressed is proclaimed, just as Mary proclaims that the rich and mighty will be brought down.

The author of Luke makes other references in his narrative, which would have been equally clear to his first century audiences. Starting with that angel who appears to Mary. Read Judges 13 for a similar story of an angel appearing to a woman and declaring that she will conceive and bear a son. There you will find the story of Manoah ‘s wife and the miraculous conception that led to Samson’s birth.

Today the angel Gabriel is usually portrayed as a white effeminate male in a flowing white gown. But this depiction is not one that would have been recognized as Gabriel in the first century. Back then Gabriel was understood to be the angel of war and he was associated with metal and metal workers. The mere mention of Gabriel would have conjured up images of a fierce warrior clothed in amour, ready to do battle on the side of the Israelites.

The name that the warrior angel insists on for Mary’s child is Jesus. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew, Joshua. Joshua succeeded Moses, conquered Canaan and established the twelve tribes of Israel in the Promised Land. Joshua was a hero and a warrior. The author of the gospel of Luke makes a deliberate link suggesting to his readers that Jesus will follow in the same mould.

First century audiences would have been very familiar with the parallels being drawn. Mary is being clearly established as a revolutionary heroine, in a nationalistic and violent tradition.  And the Magnificat is a song of revolution which proclaims the downfall of the prevailing order.  The Magnificat is a rallying cry to overturn the established order of wealth; a tune intended to rouse the troops.   

The author of the Gospel of Luke knew exactly the kind of Messiah the people are waiting for. Two thousand years ago in the dusty streets of Jerusalem, revolutionary ideas passed from house to house. The bitterness of Roman bondage had robbed the Jewish people of their ideals but not their Messianic hope. Jewish eyes continued to peer through the darkness imploring hands were still lifted towards heaven and the plaintive cry of Israelites begged the question:  “When will the dark night be over?” In their despair, the idea of revolution was born. It was linked to the coming Messiah; the promised Saviour whom they were counting on to free them from oppression; the longed for a Saviour to lead Israel to freedom.  That was the kind of Messiah the Jews living in the first century wanted.       

The author of the gospel of Luke knows his audience well and he plays to their expectation of a Messiah who will lead them in battle; a military hero. The author presents Mary as a woman, who has a vision of what God will do.  Mary’s song is the song of a heroine of Israel, for blessed is she among women. Mary’s song echoes the words of the Hebrew Scriptures: “My soul magnifies the Most High, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, who has looked with favour on the lowliness of God’s servant: Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name. God’s mercy is for those who revere God from generation to generation.            God has shown strength with God’s arm, and has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;  God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. God has helped God’s servant Israel, in remembrance of God’s mercy, according to the promise God made to our ancestors, to Abraham and Sarah and to their descendants forever.”     

Mary’s song takes on new meaning when heard within the context of violence and rape. Mary’s song takes on new meaning in our world where rape continues to be a military tactic. Let me give you the figures according to a report by the United Nations dated this past June.  In Rwanda more than 500,000 women were raped during the genocide that ravaged that country. In Sierra Leon 64,000 women were raped as part of an attempt to impregnate women in order to shift the racial makeup of that war torn nation. 40,000 military rapes were reported in Bosnia Herzegovina. In the first six months of this year 4500 rapes were documented in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The UN estimates that every day 100 women are raped in Darfor. This past summer the government of South Africa released statistics that reported that 28% of South African men polled admitted to having committed rape in the past year, many of these men admitted to having raped more than one woman.

I need not tell you that the fate of women who are raped is one of shame and isolation, more often than not disease. Indeed in some places in Africa rape ends in death. The children of rape are stigmatized, abandoned and in some cases left to die. The world remains a cruel place for the mamzerim.

The church has told the story of Mary in it’s own particular way for centuries, holding up the image of unattainable femininity to women and men; an image that offers as an example of the perfect woman as both virgin and mother. That image may have suited the purposes of an institution that had a vested interest in having women behave in a certain way, but the time has come to tell Mary’s story differently. For in a world were over half the population is oppressed by attitudes that kill, maim, terrorize, oppress and enslave in poverty, isn’t it time we heard the story of a God who can do great things against all the odds. Isn’t it time to hear the story of God told in ways that liberate, empower those who have been most afflicted. Isn’t it time to hear Mary’s story told in ways that proclaim God’s plan for justice in a world obsessed with violence?

We can re-inscribe the image of Mary as the passive handmaiden of the Lord or we can tell the story of Mary a victim of abuse who with steely grit, courage and support struggles to raise her son not as a mamzer but as a child of God.  The choice of how we read and tell Mary’s story will affect how we read the whole Christian story, and how we understand sin, sex, holiness, and redemption. The Mighty One has done great things for us. 

Now, we like Mary, are part of God’s plan to scatter the proud and bring down the powerful from their thrones, to lift up the lowly.  To help fill the hungry with good things, and to send the rich away empty.  We like Mary, are part of God’s plan.  Part of the promise God made to our ancestors, to Abraham and Sarah and to their descendants forever.

The truth is: Mary had the courage to say yes, to trust God.  Mary had the courage to let something grow inside her.  She had the courage to harbour a Child of God in her body.  Do we have the courage to harbour Christ in our bodies?  When the power of the Most High overshadows you will you have the courage to trust God? Will you have the courage to be a bearer of God to the world? 

That’s the terrifying challenge that this story offers.  This story challenges us to be at God’s disposal, to become filled with God’s life–for the sake of the world.  But be warned, God-bearing is more than a little inconvenient:  it can be heart breaking and even lethal.  Bearing God to the world means letting some of God’s passion for the world become flesh and that can be costly.      

When God sends a messenger to you, will you have the courage to say “Here am I, the servant of God; let it be with me according to your word.  Will you have the courage to join the legions of Mary in bearing God to the world?  Let it be, oh God.  Let it be, according to your word….

May El Shaddai, the Breasted One,

who is God our Mother,

hold you in the love of Christ the Sophia of God,

so that the Holy Spirit can empower you

to follow in the footsteps of Mary

and bring God to birth in the world.

In the name of She who is was

and ever more shall be,

Mother, Christ and Spirit One. Amen.