Church Life, Ministry, Reflectionary

Asked and Answered

My favorite preacher

The question has been asked and answered so many times. At least on this occasion I knew the asker was friendly, offering an opportunity to make the case to an audience containing listeners of mixed attitudes. We had discussed a recent complaint on the matter before the recording began. Even so, I was a little surprised when I heard the question.

“What would you say to people who don’t think women should be clergy?”

He asked, so I answered, bearing in mind our earlier conversation.

“I would point them,” I said, “to the gospel stories of the Resurrection, and to the first evangelists, who were women. I would suggest they read Paul’s epistles carefully and take note of how many leaders in the early church were women.”

Some other preachers I appreciate

My interviewer moved on to the next question, but I know that out in the ether, people will repeat the one already asked and answered. A vocal portion of humankind – which I like to think are in the minority despite the volume of their voices and the attention paid to them – continue to value women only in relation and submission to men.

They make these claims on religious grounds, forgetting or ignoring passages of scripture inconvenient to their thesis. At the church my wife serves, the staff and Session have undertaken a read-along, Four Gospels in Four Months, and invited the congregation to join them. Today’s chapter was Matthew 15, in which Jesus meets a woman who teaches him when she says, “…even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ tables.” She asks, and he answers, and the mission of Christ expands to become a mission to the world.

Holy God, give us patience to answer questions asked again and again, and keep us open to answers that will change us. Amen.

This post was written for the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader. You can hear the interview mentioned above on Day1 in June.

John 20:29-31, Reflectionary

Fantasy League Jesus

It’s no secret that we love baseball at my house. We celebrated Opening Day in Holy Week and actually managed to watch our favorite team, the Washington Nationals, play on TV. My wife and our 13-year-old are playing in a fantasy baseball league, which is to say they have drafted players and named teams, and the rest happens online, where the fantasy teams win or lose based on the daily performance of actual players. Their success is calculated by some math that is beyond my powers, or at least outside my interests.

The strangest thing about it is hearing my oughta-be-Nats fans root for players not on our team, for the sake of their other teams. They are inhabiting a paradigm that is unfamiliar to me. What is it they are wishing for? I understand it intellectually, but not emotionally.

Fantasy league JesusI have to think that in the days after the Resurrection, the disciples felt a similar disconnect. Ten of them – and some of the women, uncounted – saw the risen Christ. And then a week went by. They must have begun to wonder whether they were reliable witnesses to their own experiences. In their fantasy Jesus leagues, were they still looking for his return, maybe followed by some “gotcha” confrontation with the authorities, some earthly kingdom victory? Did they hear his words about peace and calm down? Or did they grieve again, realizing that the risen Lord could not remain with them forever? I picture them questioning each other, retelling the stories of Mary in the garden and Jesus in the Upper Room, asking, “Do you remember exactly what he said next?”

Thomas lived through that time in a different kind of tension. I picture him glowering, frustrated, understanding in his head that they must have seen something, but in his heart feeling hurt to be the only one left out, the only one who saw no sign. I sympathize with him.

This week, preachers will ask their own questions of the familiar story. And let’s be honest, this is not most preachers’ favorite Sunday; we’ve been there before, and we’re in a post-Easter lull. Maybe this year, we can take a page out of fantasy baseball and move the players around. Maybe we can triangulate against the text with Thomas instead of critiquing him. Maybe we can put ourselves and our listeners in Thomas’s shoes.

I’m pretty sure that’s why he’s there.

Find this week’s texts here.

I wrote this originally for the RevGals Weekly e-Reader.

Gospel of Mark, Lent, Reflectionary

And you still don’t understand? (Mark 8:1-26)

I’m not sure whether it’s Jesus or the gospel writer who chooses to double down in Mark 8, but this chapter brings us themes recurring from chapter 7 in a way that does not imply accidental repetition (such as the merging of two manuscripts) but rather the frustration of a very human Jesus with the numbskulls who follow him. The disciples have a way of making things about the bread rather than the good news.

Mark has Jesus feed two separate multitudes. Both times there is enough to go around, with plenty left over. After the second impromptu meal, the Pharisees come to Jesus asking for a sign from heaven. Hear that. After a few loaves and some fish have been multiplied to feed thousands of people – twice!!! – they come asking for a sign from heaven.

The disciples then proceed to obsess about their one remaining loaf of bread.

Jesus knew what they were discussing and said, “Why are you talking about the fact that you don’t have any bread? Don’t you grasp what has happened? Don’t you understand? Are your hearts so resistant to what God is doing? (Mark 8:17, CEB)

He *is* the sign from heaven.

They are being fed but do not know it.

These feeding stories are accompanied by two stories about healing people who are visually impaired. Again, to double down, the description of the second healing adds to the metaphor about spiritual blindness by describing the blurriness of the man’s newly restored sight. It takes a second laying on of Jesus’ hands to make the vision clear.

I can think of plenty of times in my life when I needed to see something more than once to understand it fully. And I was (most of the time) trying! The disciples may be slow, but they are trying, too. Jesus must know that, because he keeps talking to them, even though he is clearly frustrated with them.

But the Pharisees? They cannot see what they will not see. And Jesus is not laying his hands on their eyes. They will get no sign.

Holy One, thank you for your patience with me when I am slow to understand. Amen.

I’m posting this onboard a United flight to Chicago, where I will be holding a focus group for my Pastoral Study Project. Read about it and find the schedule for geographic and online focus groups at Sustaining Clergywomen.

I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.

You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.

Gospel of Mark, Lent, Reflectionary

Ordinary Preachers (Mark 4:1-34)

Don’t you understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? (Mark 4:13, CEB)

I’m always fascinated by what a hard time the disciples have understanding Jesus. He hand-picked them, didn’t he? According to Mark, in chapter 3, he went up a mountain and called exactly the ones he wanted. They had three jobs: to be with him, to go out and preach, and to cast out demons. How, I wonder, did they preach? What could they say, confused as they were?

Jesus seems to have expected more of them.

It’s a good question for any of us who try to be faithful followers. What can we say, confused as we are? Sometimes I think those of us with advanced education in theology and scripture have the hardest time of all, concerned with our socio-political agendas from whatever place on the spectrum.

Ultimately I am both hopeful and humbled when I consider that Jesus chose ordinary people to preach the good news. Maybe God gave the disciples, and gives us, the gift of coming to know Christ more deeply through the act of sharing with others what we do not yet understand.

Holy God, use me today for your purposes and increase my understanding. Help me to accept that sometimes it happens out of the order I would expect. Amen.

I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.

You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.

Gospel of Mark, Lent, Reflectionary

That escalated quickly (Mark 1:16-28)

Lots happens in chapter 1 of Mark, and the words used to describe what happens show that they happen with speed and energy. Right away, immediately, suddenly – four fishermen leave their work to follow him, they all go to synagogue, a person with an unclean spirit screams at the sight of Jesus.

That escalated quickly. Will fishing for people always be so dramatic? Who is this guy? What have we gotten ourselves into, man?

In a time of both spiritual and material emergency, I wonder if we can take some solace in knowing the first disciples, despite being water-wise, had to immediately realize they were in over their heads. Suddenly they saw they were attached to someone unpredictable. Right away he was drawing attention; surely they had been seen with him?

The whole story of the disciples in Mark is about not understanding, asking the wrong questions, acting from wrongheaded impulses, and hiding from the truth.

But without being impulsive and a little boneheaded, I wonder if any of us would follow?

Holy One, help me see how I am like those first followers, and sweep me up with you immediately, suddenly, right away … before I can hide myself away. Amen.

I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible. Tomorrow I’ll be reading Mark 1:29-45. Full schedule can be found here.

Denial is My Spiritual Practice, Reflectionary, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Rheumatoid Disease

What’s she saying?

Early Tuesday morning, I started reading The Wisdom of the Body: A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women, by Christine Valters Paintner, who some of you may recognize as the Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, an early member of the RevGals blogging community. I met her ten years ago when she was visiting Maine, and we had lunch together in a coastal town. We talked about our work, and when she spoke to me about living with Rheumatoid Arthritis, neither of us knew I was weeks away from the crippling flare that would lead to my diagnosis with the same disease.

In Chapter One, I read about Yin Yoga, and then I looked up when my local yoga studio offers it – Sunday morning, during church time – and then I thought about my lonely yoga mat rolled up behind the laundry hamper, and Jessamyn Stanley’s book, Every Body Yoga, with her great descriptions and photos of poses, and I put the book mark in and went on with my day.

(One of the ways I cope with having physical difficulties is pretending I don’t have them until I can’t fake it anymore.)

When I went to take a shower, the first foot in slid toward the far end of the tub. I grabbed for the bar on the wall but I could not stop myself, only hang on as tight as possible. Somehow I pulled the other leg in after me. Awkwardly arranged on the floor of the tub, with the water pouring down, I continued to hold that bar. I got my knees under me. Everything hurt, but nothing seemed to be cracked or split, and my head was still above the rest of me, other than that arm extended to keep clinging to what I considered the safest thing in my vicinity.

I spent a long time after my RA diagnosis trying to parse what happened to me, why I had to live with this particular condition, what it might mean for my vocation, my family, my life expectancy. I admire the way Christine writes about the wisdom of the body, but I find it hard to listen to mine. This week I don’t have much choice.

More like Yank Yoga...I’ve been joking about it, ever since I was sure I was going to be able to get up and out of the shower again. “I was reading about Yin Yoga, but that was more like Yank Yoga!” “I don’t think I’ll try out for that Senior Cheerleading class!” “I strained muscles I didn’t know I had!”

But it’s no joke that I was scared, scared enough to call my wife at her office, and scared enough sounding that she came straight home. It’s not joke that I’ve spent the past few days more aware of how my body feels than I usually let myself be. What’s she saying?

“Girl, slow down.”

I don’t want to hear that.

“I know, I know. You did a good job hanging on, though.”

I guess that’s something.

~adapted from my essay for the RevGals Weekly e-Reader~

Lent, Mark, Reflectionary

Mark read-along for Lent

Reading Mark duringLentI’m planning to read the Gospel of Mark during Lent and invite you to join me. You’ll find the schedule here.

Reading through Luke and writing about it was a great discipline for me last year. As a preacher, I found there were certain sections found in the Revised Common Lectionary that I knew well, and other parts to which I had never paid close attention. I *think* I know Mark better, but I look forward to finding surprises and new insights.