01/23/18

A Reflection for Women of Color

I feel like Advent reflections are supposed to be sweet, something you could read aloud with The First Noel playing the background. But this week, I just want to yell! I want to sit down with every young woman of color that I’ve ever met and tell her, “Please don’t believe the BS that they have been feeding you at church!” Please don’t feel like they are doing you a favor when they patronizingly say, “Women can be good leaders too.”

Maybe even more toxic than the things they say explicitly, are all the things they say to your soul implicitly. Two weeks ago I preached on Luke 1 to a group of leaders, and the implicit audience was women of color: our lived experience, our theological tensions, our worldview was centered. However, the room was a mix of men and women, white people and people of color. Afterwards I ran into one of the WOC in the restroom and I asked how she was doing.

She said, “I don’t know what I’m feeling?…What is happening? …This is strange…I can’t figure out what I’m feeling.”

As we talked, we put together that this was the first time that she, as a woman of color, had been the implicit audience of a sermon. Decades of listening to sermons, and the implicit audience had always been someone other than her.

Every sermon has an implicit audience- it assumes a certain gender, race, and class experience, typically the same as the pastor. Since so many of us attend churches where the pastors are white men, or at least men, the implicit audience is almost always- not us. Sermons are framed around their lived experience, their point of view, their theological narrative.

That does something to our souls.

When the implicit audience of every sermon is male, it devalues us.

When white femininity is used to make us feel less acceptable, less beautiful, less a woman in God’s image, it silences us.

When every Bible commentary we’ve ever seen is written by a man, it dehumanizes us.

And when we turn to our ethnic communities, we often find cultural comfort, but deeply ingrained patriarchy. I want to gather every woman of color together and scream, “Don’t believe them when they say that you are less Asian, less Latina, less black if you question the patriarchy in your community!”

Don’t listen!

Don’t listen to that crap theology that says that our concern for our bodies, and souls, and children are political, but not spiritual. When the concerns for our survival are framed as an earthly concern, but the theological debates of white men are framed as lofty and important. Don’t listen to them.

Listen to Mary.

When the announcement of the new kingdom was made, the first person to explain it to us, and exegete the truth to us, was Mary. Mary interpreted her experience of God, and understood that it had significance beyond her personal story.

His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.

In our churches, we are treated like theology by women is cute and secondary, or that it is dangerous because it is feminist. But the theology of the church in the United States has always been the theology of white male liberation. The theology of the church in the United States has always been a cancerous and twisted theology meant to justify the dehumanization of indigenous bodies and the genocide of Native people. When the government said, “Lets destroy the Indian to save the man,” cthurches stepped up and said, “Let us lead the way.” Denominations in the Unites States used the slave labor of Native children to their financial benefit. And they used their white male liberation theology to do justify it.

White male liberation theology is a theology that justified enslaving and torturing Africans, ripping mothers and fathers away from their children for generations and framing it as a kindness. It is a theology that didn’t want to talk about Jesus with slaves if it would make them think about freedom or threatened the economic system.

Founders of Black Lives Matter- Alicia Garza,  Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors

It is a theology that says that queer black women activists are a threat to this country and pedophile old white men should be its senators. This is a theology that has told us to revere the teachers of our own oppression. It has taught white people to be so blind to a systemic understanding of injustice that you can put them in front of a thousand trees, and they will be unable to see a forest. A million dead Native Americans, thousands of dead Black people- is nothing but a series of unconnected events. Their theology teaches them to see the world this way.

Don’t believe them little sister. Don’t believe them.

Listen to Mary.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.

White male liberation theology legislates the liberty of white male bodies under all circumstances- there is no crime that they can commit on Wall Street that will put them in jail, but if you are black and you sold an ounce of weed, you should be in jail for life. If your white male body rapes an unconscious girl, you will get a few months of jail time. If your Native body fights for your land and water, you will be brutally attacked by the police.

Don’t believe them little sister. Don’t believe them.

Madonna of the North Inuit mother and child by H.G. Kaiser

Listen to Mary.

“God has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down the rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled up the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.”

When the kingdom of God centers the margins, it isn’t token, it isn’t charity. Zechariah is silenced, and Mary moves to the center and articulates the nature of this new kingdom. She exegetes her lived experience, her personal encounter with God, and what is happening to her body. This new kingdom flips everything upside down.  Those in power, those who are rich, those who are powerful- their time is over.

And in celebrating that it is Mary, a poor, illiterate, uneducated young woman who moves to the center and gives us the framing theology for the book of Luke, we must see her for the thinker and leader than she is.

Jose y Maria by Everett Patterson

But we don’t’ need to make her more than human. She doesn’t need to become a virgin for life or someone who never sinned. She does not have to be domesticated and docile, and perpetually letting one boob hang out in every portrait. She does not need to be sinless perfection. And she does not need to be minimized into just a vessel that carried Jesus.

The world does not know what to do with an actual woman who gives us theology AND raises a child.

Who partnered with God AND had sex.

Who understood that God is about lifting up the humble, and marginalized, and hungry and powerless, AND is sending the rich AWAY!

Even today. We make caricatures of women.

It is good to acknowledge that black women were the game changers in the Alabama election. But if we thank them because they saved “us,”but didn’t show up when they called us to say the names of

Sandra Bland

Rekiya Boyd

Sandra Bland

Charleena Lyles

Then we return to tired tropes of making black women’s labor all about helping white people. When we only want to exploit the narrative of their strength, we dehumanize them.

When Asian American women have almost no representation in the media, but an unbelievable amount of representation in porn, it shows that we are not seen as three dimensional human beings that exist outside of the male imagination.

When people have seen more photos of white women in Native headdresses than actual Native American women who are alive today doing important work on the ground, we continue the narrative of colonialism that all the Native people are gone. They are not.

Black women exist in the public consciousness, but to rescue white people.

Native women lead the way at DAPL protest

Native women are erased from public consciousness, but serve as costumes for others.

Asian American women exist for sexual pleasure.

Latina women exist as maids.

Don’t listen to these tiny petty narratives of who we are.

Listen to Mary.

Mary elevates us by being a model of faith, being a theologian, being countercultural. But she doesn’t elevate womanhood to something mythical and unattainable. And she will not be diminished and made trivial and small. She is enough, within the limits of her own skin. And it is with her I stand and await the birth of the Jesus, as they ushers in a new kingdom.

“Our Lady Mother of Ferguson”by Mark Dukes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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12/9/17

An Old Pregnant Lady and Her Knocked Up Cousin

We heard about Elizabeth at the beginning of Luke, but now we finally meet her. And she is a site to behold.

She is well along in years. It’s hard to know exactly what this means, but people place life expectancy at that time around 60 to 70 years. So maybe Elizabeth was in her late fifties or early sixties.

Older parents stand out. I know this because my father was sixty when he had me. And he was constantly being mistaken for my grandfather. Older parents are a little disconcerting, defying your intuitive sense of how things should be progressing.

Elizabeth looks ready to be a grandmother, but here she is pregnant.

It is odd.

And unexpected.

And maybe a little awkward.

I imagine that because she is older, she isn’t one of those women who is carrying her pregnancy like a tiny basketball taped to the front of her body.

I imagine she has gained weight in every direction. She cushiony, fat, old, and very large.

When her very young, unmarried, and knocked up cousin arrives at her home, something amazing happens. Her son begins his ministry from her belly. He leaps in her womb. John the Baptist is doing his work of announcing Jesus in utero.

And then Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and starts talking in a LOUD voice.

Before we get to what she says. I want to dwell on this image.

Elizabeth defies every expectation placed on women in the church.

Older women in church are supposed to disappear, and be nice, and quiet, and bring cookies.

Not Elizabeth.

After five months of seclusion, in order to express gratitude and worship to God, Elizabeth emerges, with her big old belly, and unapologetically takes up space with her body and her voice.

She creates community for her young cousin.

And these women begin to interpret their lived experience, exegete their own bodies, to create a theology that announces the new thing that is happening.

Maybe people thought Elizabeth should be quiet, her husband has been silenced. Zechariah is struggling, and his ministry has been put on hold. He is benched. Isn’t it her job to supportively stand silently at his side?

No.

She is loud.

She takes up space with her giant, old, pregnant body.

With her loud voice.

With her opinions about what is happening to her and to Mary.

She is LOUD. She has things to DECLARE.

I repeat this, because everyday, in thousands of ways woman are told that we must be a very particular type of feminine when in Christian spaces. We must be white women. We should be smaller. Younger. Want spa themed women’s retreats. We must want to be married. We must adore motherhood. We must be careful of the male ego. We must not be too loud.

In disgusting and pervy Chrstiains spaces, we are told we are there simply for the sexual pleasure of our husbands ( school of Driscoll). Or that we must contain anything feminine and leaderly about us ( school of Piper). Or we should elect a predator to office, beause he will vote prolife. And that dirty old man’s reward will be that he can rape that child once she’s 14 years old.   (School of Roy Moore, current school of Republicans.)

We are told we are a means to an end. We are told we can teach women, but not preach the pulpit. We are told that our bodies, our breasts, our butts are too feminine, too sexual, too problematic. We are told that we are a problem if we show cleavage, but also if we wear a hijab.

We are told that we should be more like white men, in our teaching style, our speaking style, our leadership style, our values. We are told to put part of our identity on hold to makes others comfortable.

And this opening snapshot in Luke says that all of that is garbage.

This old woman and this teenage girl are our first snapshot of community. And they are in beautiful and unapoligetic community with each other and the living God. Mary explodes into a theological reflection on what is happening, and later Jesus expands on those themes in the Sermon on the Plain.

These two women at the center of the story, creating a  community of those typically silenced and unseen in theological and spiritual spaces, as Zechariah sits silently in the margins. How can a kingdom that kicked off with such a radical vision of liberated womanhood, go on to perpetuate such antiquated patriarchal misogyny?

I don’t know, but it needs to stop.

Elizabeth is taking up space with her big old elderly pregnant body.

And she is taking up space with her loud voice and prophetic declarations.

And she is creating an affirming and safe space for Mary. A community of women who defy respectability politics, expectations for religious women, and who are drawn to the center of the story by God.

And this is one of the opening images of the Kingdom of God in Luke.

This is the kingdom that we are waiting for during advent.

One where the elderly are not forgotten.

One where the young are not dismissed.

One where women are not silenced.

One where marginalized women exegete their lived experience to create theology in community with each other

Below are four women of color, that inspire me by resisting with their lives, bodies, and ideas. (Clockwise from top left.)

Nanaia Mahuta– New Zealand MP, first woman in parliament to wear a moko kauae, the traditional Māori chin tattoo.

Grace Lee Boggs– American author, social activist, philosopher and feminist

Rigoberta Menchu– Nobel Peace Prize winning  K’iche’ political activist from Guatemala, publicizing the rights of Guatemala’s indigenous feminists

Angela Davis- a legendary American political activist, academic, and author


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12/3/17

Zechariah

Advents is my favorite season of the Christian calendar and Luke 1 is my favorite section of Scripture. So I decided to create a series of reflections on Luke 1 for advent. This week will focus on Zechariah.

Luke often presents two people in a similar situation, but with contrasting responses.

Mary and Martha by He Qi

• Two rich men- one who walks away from Jesus, and one who gives away half of all he  has,and makes restitution to those he has wronged.
• Two men who go to the temple to pray, only one leaves justified
• Two sons- one runs away, one stays home
• Two sisters- one sits at his feet and the other prepares food in the kitchen
• Two people on a cross on either side of Jesus, one makes fun of him, the other
asks for forgiveness.

 

 

 

It is a compelling way to journey through Luke.

I want to look at the opening snapshot.

Two people get visited by an angel.
Two people are going to have baby.
Two different responses.

Cliffhangers
There has been 400 years of silence since the last prophet spoke. And his closer was a cliffhanger- “I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”(Malachi 4:5) Those words were written 400 years earlier.

And then silence.

Release Date- Feb. 16, 2018

Think about how long it took for each Harry Potter book to come out.
Think about how long it is taking George R. R. Martin to finish the freaking Game of
Thrones series. (Correction from my nerdy husband- the series is technically called A Song of Ice and Fire.)
Consider the unending patience I am enduring as I wait for Black Panther to be in theaters.

It all feels like a loooooooong time. And each of those things has happened in the span of years, not centuries.

Suddenly, we are introduced to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Like the country of Israel, they are familiar with waiting. He and his wife were an elderly couple, described as “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” They had waited all their lives to have a child, and yet they waited in vain.

A visual to remind us that Zechariah and Elizabeth were old! (This Syrian Couple has a beautiful story.)

Zechariah is serving in the temple. There were about about 8,000 priest in Isarael at that time, divided into 24 divisions. Each division had 300 priests. The Abijah division, to which Zechariah belonged, served for a two week period each year and 56 priests participated each day.

Each day there were two services, and on this day, during this service, Zehcariah drew the lot. Many priests never had the privilege of serving in this capacity, and no one was allowed to do it twice. He would enter deeper into the temple and light the incense. This moment would be the pinnacle of his priestly career. Outside people would be praying for the redemption of Israel, he would enter and light the incense as a symbol of the prayers of the people rising up to God.

Suddenly an angel appears. ( Cue dramatic music!)

This is not a fat baby angel. 

Every time an angel appears in the Bible people, people are scared, because they were quite badass.

And Gabriel shows up with an amazing message.

At the pinnacle of Zechariah’s priestly career, an angel appears with the most amazing and exciting news. “Your prayers have been heard. You’re going to be a dad. And your son is going to turn people’s hearts to God.”

And Zechariah response, in this amazing moment is …………….. doubt.
“Ummmm… I’m too old for that. And my wife is old too.”

You can hear the needle scratching off the record.

And then the angel starts to talk trash.

“Zechariah. Bro. Do you even know my name? Do you know where I came from? Like, where I JUST came from?  My name is Gabriel. And I was recently hanging in the presence of the living God. Do you get what that means?  I have been sent from God to tell you some seriously good news. And now you need to shut up until the things you are saying start making sense.”

Cliff Notes-  Zechariah, shut up, until you stop talking crazy.

Have we really waited 400 years for this? All our expectations are set: a childless couple, the temple, a priest, an angel. This is the formula for a God thing to happen. For faith to be manifested. For leadership to happen. But Zechariah, the one we would expect to kick off Luke, does not respond with trust and faith. And as a result, the angel silences him.

The one that we think will be the model of faith in this moment, is not.

The one that has all the cultural markers of leadership, is not our faith leader.

The place that we expect to see a faithful response, is a place of doubt and mistrust.

Before we jump to Mary. We have to sit with Zechariah.

Because the first thing that Luke highlights is that the arrival of Jesus means that the ones that we think will lead, are not the ones. The obvious hero, will not be the hero.

 

Reflection

It’s almost cliche how often I hear Christians say that we shouldn’t put God in a box. But every week pulpits are full of men. Not just in white churches. It is probably even more likely in an immigrant church, in an Asian American church, a Latinx church.

Every week we say, “Don’t put God in a box,” but then we expect God to speak through the exact same types people. From the exact same types of places. People with the exact same credentials. The people our culture has told us are leaders.The same people, with the same interpretations of Scripture, and the same narratives of faith.

Men with seminary degrees.

Older men.

Straight men.

White people.

Rich pastors with big churches.

It is the moneyed.

It is the successful.

It is the popular.

Advent says-

It isn’t men.

It isn’t those who are older.

It isn’t the seminary trained.

It isn’t white people.

It isn’t the rich.

It isn’t those who work at church.

It isn’t those who fit narratives of faithfulness.

It isn’t those who have all the markers of Christian leadership.

And in case you have any doubts about who people in the US look to for leadership. Here are a few lists.

Top 15 Christian Leaders in America

The Best Selling Christian Books of All Time

Christianity Today’s 2017 Book Awards

The State of Female Pastors ( Hint 90% are men)

Zechariah has all the right cultural and spiritual markers of faith.  But he has the wrong response, and he is silenced.

Advent is a disruption.

Leadership will be coming from elsewhere.

Something new is coming. Look somewhere new for faith.

It is time for those who have been at the center, to be quiet.

 

 

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