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


SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

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.

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave