Jesus is Born!

This story is pretty much the same as one I posted a few years ago when I experienced the Spiritual Exercises for the first time. I edited some things to better suit what I experienced now and added some comments to the end of it.

Entering, we greeted those already gathered. “Shalom! Baruch hashem Adonai!” “Peace! Bless the name of the Lord!” Unpacking our donkeys, we noticed that there were a lot of people already present. It seems that the whole clan had answered Caesar’s demand that we return for this census. Joseph helped Mary up to the living quarters while I got fodder for the donkeys. As I turned to climb the stairs I saw Joseph gesturing angrily.

“No guest room?! My wife is going to give birth at any moment! You must make room for her and the child!”

“No, we cannot. There are too many people. We cannot have one room given to her alone.”

“Wait,” one of Joseph’s aunts said. “We can fix a place for her down below. There is plenty of fresh straw. And, we can put blankets down to help make her more comfortable.”

Mary, being young and new to the family looked at Joseph and nodded. She was already suspect, being pregnant already. She did not want to give the family any more reason to look down on her.

Evening came. Mary was having contractions every few minutes. One of Joseph’s aunts acted as midwife. They made Mary as comfortable as possible.

Joseph was upstairs with the rest of the family. He was pacing the floor. One cousin scolded him, “Sit down and relax! Everything will be fine. This is not the first child ever born!”

But, everyone knew that many first pregnancies did not end well. Especially, when the mother was as young as Mary. In addition, both Joseph and Mary were anxious about the child. That strange man that had appeared nine months ago had said some very strange things about this child. As the birth drew near, the young parents wondered what kind of creature this was that was about to enter their world.

It seemed as though Mary had been laboring for hours. A final push, and the child arrived! With a cry, the child took his first breath. The midwife lifted the child and tied off the umbilicus.

“It’s a boy!”

Joseph gave a sigh of relief. The others began to pour bowls of wine and a party celebrating the birth of a first-born son began. They sang and danced and drank. When Mary was cleaned up and the child wrapped in clean cloths, Joseph was summoned to come down. He looked compassionately at Mary. She was so strong and brave…no longer a child. Joseph reached into the feeding trough in which his newborn son had been laid. He picked him up and lifted him toward heaven.

“My son, Yeshua!”

A little later I looked up and saw a small group of people entering the house. By the staves that they were carrying I could tell that they were shepherds.

“Who let this rabble in?” I thought. Shepherds were not usually welcome among respectable people. They walked over to where the child lay sleeping.

“We were out in the field tending the sheep. Suddenly, there was a great light in the sky! We feared that something was going to take our sheep and harm us! Then, we heard a voice saying that a child had been born…here…in Bethlehem. The voice said that this child is the Messiah who we have been waiting for!”

Another shepherd spoke up saying, “Then there was a great host praising God! They gave God glory and said that peace was to reign between God and those whom God favors!”

We poured bowls of wine for the shepherds and continued to celebrate throughout the night.

However, Mary had a puzzled look on her face. She said nothing!


As I reflected on this story, I wondered what my takeaway from it would be. Ignatius had encouraged us to see what ‘spiritual benefit’ there was. Yeah, there was the miracle of birth. But, that had been done for millenia. There was the worry and waiting. Again, not new. Even the shepherds showing up wasn’t that all unusual. Just some run-of-the-mill guys showing up to pay respects to the new parents.
Then, I realized something. This WAS my takeaway. What makes this so special is that it’s not all that special!
Ok, ok…I hear y’all whispering out there. I can see the looks on your faces. “What do you mean, not special?! This was Jesus’ birth! That makes it not only special, but unique.”
Yeah, I get it. But, let’s take a moment to think about it.
Yahweh, the God of god’s desired to show love to the world. God wanted to break down barriers and establish ‘table fellowship’ with us. What better way to do that than to join with us so that we can join with God?
This story reveals that the Son of God is just like one of us. Shoot! He IS one of us! He didn’t come down from some lofty mountain like some hero of old. He didn’t appear out of a cloud or flame. He didn’t come walking up out of the sea.
He was born from a woman…just like us. He had a family that loved him…just like us. He grew up in a specific culture in a a specific place and time.

  • JUST LIKE US!

I thank God for this! We have a Savior who, in every respect, is just like us. This Jesus had the same experiences that we have. He had the same wants and needs. He knew what it was like to be loved and accepted. And, he knew what it was like to be hated and rejected.
And, it all began with a simple birth, just like ours.

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How Can a Follower of Jesus Reconcile Violence in the Scripture?

*Note: This by no means a comprehensive treatment of the question of violence in the Scripture. These mental ramblings are simply meant to inspire thoughtful reflection.

I read and listen to a lot of different people with widely varying worldviews. There are evangelicals and progressive Christians. Over there are the atheists and the Nones. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists. I entertain the thoughts and ideas of many people. Every once in a while, even a fundamentalist Christian sneaks in.

The reasons that I do this are many and varied. I’m not afraid of ideas and questions. We are all passengers on this Pale, Blue Dot hurtling through space. We all have responsibilities to each other and to the planet itself. We neglect these responsibilities at our own peril.

I’ve interacted with folks outside of my own faith tradition, several who question the basic morality of Christians and even the Christian God.

They react to Christians who say “God is love,” or “You can’t be a moral person without God as your moral compass.” They site the number of people who say that they follow Christ, yet live like someone has placed a magnet too close to their ‘moral compass.’ It doesn’t seem to lead them toward true North, but toward some barren desert on the outskirts of BFE, (you can Google that yourself).

It isn’t a far stretch for them to observe that if someone claims to live according to the words of their god, then that god MUST be of similar moral and ethical fiber as they are themselves.

So, the questions arise, “What about how your God commanded His people to totally destroy their enemies”? “Their enemies’ women and children?” “What kind of god would command such a thing?”

And, they are justified to ask such hard questions. The sacred texts of all of the Abrahamic faiths have passages that talk about the so-called righteous destruction of god’s enemies. And, in some cases, people who are not enemies, but happen to be living in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Believers then feel compelled to defend God. (Like that’s even possible.) They respond with things like, “Well, God is God and can do whatever God wants to do.” Or, “God must have given those people a chance to repent, but they chose not to.” Still others simply say, “I don’t know, but if God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Worse yet, many conservative believers use these texts to excuse violence against ‘others.’

Progressives don’t fare much better. They rationalize the text by alluding to the fact that these are ancient texts written by and for ancient people. So, it looks like God simply met them where they were culturally and ‘allowed’ certain behaviors that we enlightened folks in the 21st century find abhorrent. Or, they just ignore these texts. Of course, these are non-answers that simply seek to avoid the hard questions.

In fact, any and all responses like these do nothing more than perpetuate the idea that God is some sort of sadistic monster.

 

Then there’s the curve ball…Jesus.

 

The God that I see revealed through Jesus as recorded in the Gospels looks nothing like the God displayed in the Hebrew Bible.

What should one do with this apparent contradiction?

One person in the 2nd century C.E. came up with a unique way to look at this conundrum. His name was Marcion. Marcion came up with the idea that the God of the Hebrew Bible was not the same God as the Father of Jesus Christ. According to theologian Alister McGrath, Marcion believed that “The Old Testament relates to a different God from the New; the Old Testament God, who merely created the world, was obsessed with the idea of law. The New Testament God, however, redeemed the world and was concerned with love.”[1] Historian Justo L. Gonzalez adds, according to Marcion “Jehovah is an arbitrary god, who chooses a particular people above all the rest. And he is also vindictive, constantly keeping an account on those that disobey him, and punishing them. In short, Jehovah is a god of justice–and an arbitrary justice at that.”[2] Marcion went so far as to create his own canon that eliminated texts that did not conform to his special interpretation.

I suppose that’s one way to deal with the hard sayings of the Bible. Just cut them out and ignore them.

The thing is, we really don’t have that option. We’re stuck with what we’ve got.

So, how do we reconcile God with divine and human violence?

Simply put, we don’t; we can’t.

To explain away texts that the Church considers inspired in some simple, easy-to-wrap-my-brain-around-the-unwrappable isn’t something that we are entitled to do.

But, there may be another way to read these texts without ignoring or reading past them.

Recently, while spending time in contemplation, a thought occurred to me. Human history has been fraught with acts of violence and genocide. We don’t need to look any further than our own history in the U.S. Our very existence as a nation came about at the hands of European domination that was given strength by the Bishop of Rome, himself. In the late 15th century, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal Bull entitled, “Inter Caetera.” Basically, the Pope stated that any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered” and dominated by Christians. That’s how Columbus could get lost, yet “discover” land that was already occupied.

But, all of this is another post.

Some countries have recognized the abuses that have been heaped upon others. Notably, South Africa and Canada. Both of these countries have taken steps to reconcile their violent and oppressive pasts.

South Africa had a history of treating the indigenous Blacks living there with forced domination and violence. This system of “apartheid” was designed to keep the white minority in power over Blacks and other people of color at any cost. And, the costs were high. Many died and the freedom of all was taken away.

Finally, after much domestic and international pressure, South Africa ended apartheid in 1994. They set up a tribunal type commission whose mandate was to work toward reconciliation of ALL of South Africa’s citizens. The commission allowed people to have grievances and abuses recorded and, in some cases allowed for amnesty for those who came forward to report their own culpability. It was NOT a way for the oppressed minority to ‘get even.’ It was a way to get the wounds out in the open where they could be treated and healed.

The results have been breath-taking. South Africa has created a functioning democracy that they can be proud of.

Canada also began a process to help heal its own genocidal past. As European colonists invaded North America they ushered in an age of systematic elimination of the Indigenous People who had inhabited this continent for many thousands of years. The brutality and injustice of the colonists knew no bounds. From dislocation, to starvation, to the infamous Boarding Schools, Aboriginal people suffered.

“Reconciliation is about forging and maintaining respectful relationships. There are no shortcuts,” one person involved with the process wrote. It is, in a nutshell, the overarching framework for the Canadian effort. There are many who don’t feel that this goes far enough,. Canada still asks the Aboriginal people to accept the reconciliation effort on the terms of the colonists. This is a valid complaint. But, it is a start. The Canadian government is beginning to understand their own culpability in the genocide and are becoming more inclined to work toward a better relationship with the First Nations.

A common thread in these actions is acknowledging and repenting from earlier behavior that caused hurt to others.

What if we read the violence written in the Scriptures in a similar way?

We could truthfully acknowledge the violence. Yes. Whether the violence actually happened or not, the ancient writers recorded them. And, the people who gathered the early Church Councils canonized them. These facts we must accept because, Duh!, they’re written down.

However, we don’t need to accept the interpretations of these texts that have been passed down to us. God gave us rational minds with which to think and contemplate these words. We are, I believe, commissioned to read the Inspired texts and allow them to live and breathe in our contemporary world. Therefore, we can forcefully denounce the violence for what it was: an abhorrent violation of humanity. There really is no way around it. The actions depicted in Scripture are hateful and bigoted. There is NO redeeming value to them whatsoever.

Through confession and repentance we could claim LIFE for ourselves, our friends and enemies, and the whole of the Cosmos.

I believe that the God revealed in the Gospels would be pleased with this. In fact, maybe God has been patiently waiting for humanity to grasp this. Perhaps we can enter into a new aeon of peace and prosperity with all of our co-inhabitants on this Third Stone From the Sun.

[1] McGrath, Alister E., “Christian Theology: An Introduction”, 4th Ed., Blackwell Pub., 2007, p. 126.

[2] Gonzalez, Justo L., “The Story of Christianity:Vol. 1, The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation”, HarperSanFrancisco, 1984, p.61.

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As always, feel free to use the comments to express your own thoughts.

Blessings!

Story Reprise – Harry Potter Edition

It’s not often that I sit down to write without thinking long and hard about the topic. I can spend weeks developing a theme to discuss here.

However, today is an exception. Besides, it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want to.

Those of you who have followed what I write or have talked with me know that I put a lot of importance on the idea of ‘Story.’ Story provides us with roots that hold us firmly in place. Story teaches us respect for people and the entire Cosmos. Story helps enable our moral compass and encourages us to follow it. Story connects us.

So, today when I read about a conservative commenter showing contempt for Story, I understandably found it necessary to say something.

Apparently,  Hillary Clinton stated to an audience that the Harry Potter stories taught kids tolerance and empathy for others. I agree with her assessment. I’ve read every Harry Potter book multiple times. I’ve seen the movies in theaters and DVD and cable more times than some may think healthy. I love the way J.K.Rowling weaves mythology and history into each story. Simple details like the naming Sirius Black.

We were introduced to this character in “The Prisoner of Azkaban.” In that book we learn that Sirius is an ‘animagus.’ That is someone who is able to shape-shift into the form of an animal. In Black’s case, that shape is a dog. This is quite appropriate since Sirius is the name of the ‘Dog Star’ in the constellation Canis Major, or the ‘Greater Dog.’ Details like this are found throughout the books.

This seems to have rankled right-wingnut commenter Jesse Lee Peterson. Quoted from a podcast, he stated,
“If that is true, immediately stop your children from reading Harry Potter,” Peterson said. “If it’s true that reading Harry Potter causes kids to be more open to immigrants and LGBT people, then you’re going to pay for brainwashing, traumatizing, turning your children away from good toward evil. I would shut down those books right away if that’s true.” (Emphasis added.)

Heaven forbid! Children may learn tolerance and empathy for others! Especially those who are marginalized. Apparently, teaching such things makes Baby Jesus cry!

What is wrong with these people?! Are they so bloody arrogant that there can be NO possible way to understand reality than their narrow, hateful path?

I try to stay neutral on things political on my blog. I want to embrace as many people and ways of being as I can. But, this is simply Bull-SHIT!

I hope that no one is offended too much by what I’m sharing. No, I really do. But, these people are trying to control thought and ideas. Things which by definition cannot truly be contained and controlled. Or, at least should not.

Anyway, thanx for letting me rant for a few minutes.

As always, please use the comments section to share any thoughts you may have.

Off the Path – A Review

Off the Path: An Anthology of 21st Century Montana American Indian Writers, Vol. 1, Ed. Adrian L. Jawort, 2014, Off the Pass Press LLC, Billings, Montana.

I feel a bit strange reviewing a book full of stories written about Native Americans by Native Americans. Mostly because I’m not Native American. I’m a white male descended from the colonists who caused so much of the pain contained in these pages. However, in an interview published in Indian Country Media Network written by Heather Steinberger, the book’s editor, Adrian Jawort said that this book is important because, “it introduces Indian Country to non-Native readers who may not understand what lies right next door. ”[1] So, I purchased the book and read it so that I could get to know my ‘next door neighbors’ a little better.

This volume contains nine stories written by five different authors. Each of them brought their own particular perspective to what it means to tell stories as Native Americans. They shared the raw pain that can only be experienced by people who have been marginalized…who have had their lives ripped open…who have had their culture and history nearly destroyed.

It was a difficult read for me. I have tried to educate myself about our Original Nations and what I found is not pleasant. Our country spent almost 500 years raping, stealing land, and cheating our Native sisters and brothers at every turn so that we could make a profit from the minerals in their lands. We have brutalized these people and tried to assimilate them into OUR culture. In 1879 Richard H. Pratt opened a boarding school for the expressed purpose to, “kill the Indian and save the man.”

I don’t want this to be a history lesson. But, it’s important that we non-Natives have an idea of what has happened as a direct result of our colonial treatment of the Native people in this country.

None of the stories have to do with non-Native violence directly involved. I say ‘directly’ because I think that indirectly we are responsible for everything written. The narratives reveal deep wounds that present in Native violence on other natives. Rape, alcohol and substance abuse, and dysfunction in relationships are all prevalent. The domestic and familial violence shocked me. While I realize that these stories are fiction, I can’t help but feel that they are birthed out of true experience.

I’m not going to review every story in this anthology. I only want to touch on one to give you an idea of what they say. Shoot! If I tell you everything you won’t need to buy the book!

The first story was written by Cinnamon Spear. She is a Northern Cheyenne writer and documentary film maker. In the above mentioned interview she stated, “The greater society knows little to nothing about Natives. Having a voice is everything, otherwise people aren’t going to know the realities of our communities.” Her story is entitled “ God’s Plan.” It reveals a life that very few outside of the Native community will ever hear. A life about which we NEED to hear.

This story tells about a young woman living with a Food Channel expert mom. While the Mom works hard to keep the family supplied with food, clothing, and other essentials, the Dad doesn’t appreciate it. Apparently, Dad had aspirations of becoming an attorney and Mom did something that had shot down that pursuit. At least in his mind. For that he was angry. That anger spilled over to physical abuse. The daughter stated that, while “millions of other American children are in their pajamas carelessly enjoying the aroma of blueberry pancakes while watching Saturday morning cartoons on CBS, [she was] in East Bumfuck, Wyoming unknowingly prepared to practice real life First Responder EMS training in her living room.”

The rest of the story followed this track. The Dad was kind one minute saying, “Good morning, my girl,” to her. The next he was beating her Mom to within an inch of death.

In the end, the Dad announced that he and their Mom were getting a divorce. He proceeded to pit the children against each other by asking who would go with him and who would stay. The daughter chose to stay with Mom while her siblings chose Dad.

In the last scene the Dad says, “I said good morning, my girl. Did you sleep well? Hey! Go wake up your mom and sister, huh?”

The pain and dysfunction in this family resulted in physical and psychological abuse that went beyond extreme. We outside of the Native community do experience dysfunction and abuse. But, within Native communities these appear to be systemic. And, a result of 500 years of mistreatment by colonizers.

If there is anything about the book that disappoints, it is the editing. Or, lack of editing. I’m a grammar geek. When I read a book and come upon misspellings or parts that are not cohesive within the plot I become distracted. And, there was a lot in this book to distract. Perhaps, this was by design. Maybe the editorial staff desired that the work be ‘raw’ and ‘natural.’ I don’t know. But, for me, it was problematic.

Would I allow this to keep me from reading it? No! As I wrote earlier, these stories must be read. They must be read widely. We, as non-Natives owe it to our Native sisters and brothers to listen to their stories. We owe it to ourselves to hear their stories.

[1] https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/culture/arts-entertainment/off-the-path-native-writers-in-montana-share-work-in-bold-new-anthology-2/, Accessed: June 20, 2017.

You Will Be Assimilated

Everyone likes a good story. We grow up with Aesop and Little Red Riding Hood. Stories that contain some kind of moral. There are the stories of Christmas with that old elf in Red. Stories of wonder. Tales of ancient heroes and travelers. Stories of adventure. All good stories capture our imaginations. They carry us to distant lands and worlds. They, in a way, form connections between us and the characters, our past, our lives. Stories can evince within us an emotional, even spiritual, identity with our world and ourselves.

Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “it is affirmation that story is true and takes us beyond the facts into something more real.” More real than our empirical Western minds can describe. For story unveils the true world that facts and figures cannot possibly discern. Things that reveal the deep longing for that which is truly “real”. The Germans gave us a word to describe this: sehnsucht. This may be defined as “Spiritual yearning; a longing after a higher, unbroken and eternal world in which something that is adumbrated in the images of stories – and in life itself truly perceived – will be real, and a conviction that that world is one’s true “home.”

So, what is story? Why is it important? Do we have one?

I think that many of us, in the U.S. particularly, don’t appreciate the power of story. Or, at the very least, we don’t recognize it in our lives and culture. In most parts of the world there is an ancient culture that has nurtured it’s own indigenous story for many thousands of years. We can look at the indigenous nations of North America and find a rich heritage of story passed from one generation to the next for over 10,000 years. These stories were born out of intimate relationships with Creation, especially the Land. Deep roots grew into the rich earth where indigenous Nations dwelt. This is spirituality that flourishes in gratitude and relationship to each other and every part of the Cosmos. Creator God was busy building God’s own relationship with these people. In a very true sense, Indigenous people understand the mandate to steward the land and its resources.

But, what about us? What is our connection to this land, the beings who live here; the People who live here? I don’t think that we who came across the ocean have a story. Well, we do. It’s a story of conquest and murder. We hail from people who, like the Borg of Star Trek, came to assimilate anything and anyone. “Resistance is futile.” Our fathers uprooted themselves and left their stories behind. In fact, I think that many of our ancient stories were lost as we assimilated another one. We took and owned the story of Israel and her Messiah. That story became ours. We even changed the Jewish Messiah, a Semitic man from the late Temple period, into a white savior with long brown locks and a Roman nose. By taking Israel’s story, her connection with her land, and making it our own we were cast adrift from any true moorings to our own land and history. And, without those deep roots to original cultures, we cast about for any other story that could fill the void of our loss. Yeah, Israel’s story helped. But, it wasn’t quite ours.

As we came to this land, new to us, we brought our assimilated story. This story formed our thinking and our way of life. The grafted connections to an ancient Near Eastern people had mutated and became a story of conquest. We overwhelmed the original inhabitants of this land through force and deceit. We stole their land and their lives in the name of our story. We then worked to assimilate these people. In the words of Steppenwolf, ‘the whole world’s got to be just like us.’

In the process of assimilation we attempted to graft onto ourselves the stories of the Original inhabitants. We appropriate what is rightfully theirs and made a cheap mockery of them and their story.

What would happen, though, if we honored their story as THEIRS and learned from them? If we let them tell their story and, if they were willing, to share in their wisdom and understanding of this land? Maybe we could be equal partners in the care and stewardship of this land. I’ve often thought about the Europeans’ so-called divine mandate to colonize these lands. What if there truly was a divine mandate to sail to these shores so that WE COULD LEARN FROM THE PEOPLE WHO LIVED HERE. Instead, we came as rude intruders who burned and destroyed. Our Christian lust and greed decimated the people and laid waste to their land.

The real sad part of this story is that we are the same as our ancestors. Nothing has changed.

We have no story of our own. We have no roots. As the French say, we have no raison d’etre. When will we humble ourselves and seek the forbearance of our Original hosts? I believe that our very survival rests in the wisdom and knowledge of these people. They have the true story of how to live here.

Can we set aside our murderous arrogance long enough to listen?

 

 

Human Trafficking/Human Tragedy…Our Tragedy

As I was going through some old material I happened upon this piece that I had submitted to the NY Times in January 2013. During the current election cycle Ohio Senator Rob Portman is using his work on Human Trafficking for his campaign. So, I thought that I would publish this now. I can’t express how important this issue is now…today…in 2016. Follow the links and do some digging to see if there’s a way for us all to help free the oppressed. As Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

endhumantrafficking January 22nd marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade. Few topics engaged human emotions like this one. Battle lines were drawn and the battles fought. The benefactors of the decision found that their rights as human beings in the U.S. were vindicated. Women across the country were released from the shackles of a male dominated culture. And, they are adamant that those rights will not be taken away.

On the other side, people decried the violence that was allowed to be perpetrated on the “unborn innocents.” Their right-to-life beliefs empowered a backlash against the Supreme Court and the government. To this day they maintain that an unborn human must have the same rights and protections as any other person.

The position of those who proclaim Right-to-Life has grown to include topics beyond abortion. They are against any kind of euthanasia or medical procedures that may bring about death. Removal of life support apparatus can be anathema for these folks. But, there is another area that has as much to do with a person’s right to live as any of these. It is something that very few, if any sermons will be preached about on Sunday. It is the problem of slavery and human trafficking. Women, children and men whose lives are owned by someone else; people who have no rights to live, only to obey their “master.”

I first learned of this problem through a fellow student in graduate school. She was from Argentina and became a staunch advocate of human rights for those caught in the web of human trafficking. I began to learn about the problem and realized that it is part and parcel about a person’s right to life. A good definition of human trafficking can be found in documents from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Quoting from their website, at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html, it reads, “Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.” This definition is comprehensive in its scope. It reveals the lengths that some people will go to in order to profit from the lives of others.

In the U.S., trafficking shows up in exploitation of some migrant workers and their families. But, perhaps the most heinous result is the sexual abuse of girls and women. One article reported in 2011, “Each year, 100,000 to 300,000 American kids, some as young as 12 years old, are exploited in the sex trade.”[1] This particular article revealed that major cultural events are used by human traffickers to sell their victims.

To me, this underscores the culture of power and dominance that is so prevalent in the U.S. People’s rights, that are supposed to be guaranteed and protected under the Constitution, are trampled upon in the name of cultural acceptance. Rev. Jennifer D. Crumpton wrote, “But we also must go deeper to honestly examine our accepted social structures and our systemic commodification of the bodies of women and girls in our arts and entertainment, our media, our sports, and our general corporate and consumer marketing.”[2] Yet, we do not “go deeper.” We prefer to avert our gaze from the reality that in 2013 America, people are commodified and enslaved for personal gain. We choose not to get involved while the “Right-to-Life” of thousands of our fellow human beings is taken away from them.

There are many resources available that people can utilize that can help to educate and bring to light this horrible blight on our society. One is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Their website offers information that can educate as well as provide resources for involvement. (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/index.html?ref=menuside)

The Salvation Army offers support at their PROMISE website for people who are caught in human trafficking, as well as for those who want to help. (http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/www_usn_2.nsf/vw-dynamic-index/F71E07755654D27A85257440006860F9?Opendocument)

A quick search on the internet for the various state’s Attorney’s General will provide a wealth of information that can enable people to learn what their own state government is doing in the fight against human trafficking.

It’s not enough to sit and point fingers at Pro Choice or Pro Life adherents. It’s also not enough to define Right-to-Life by one issue. Hundreds of thousands of living, breathing people do not have a Right-to-Life. We must stand up for them.

 

[1] http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2011-01-31-child-prostitution-super-bowl_N.htm?sms_ss=email&at_xt=4d4d83322a2ff345%2C0, accessed January 10, 2013.

[2] http://www.newevangelicalpartnership.org/?q=node/109, accessed January 9, 2013.

 

Which way? God Knows

This morning as I sat in contemplation, I began to think of the choices that people make during their lives. In the tradition that I came out of, people spent their lives trying to “discern” God’s will for them. We would fret and fume about making the so-called ‘right’ choices. We certainly did not want to make a wrong one and risk at the very least God’s blessing. And, at the worst, God’s condemnation. It was a nasty way to live. Always on the edge. Not quite knowing. Waiting for some Damascus road experience so that we could move forward with some degree of certainty.
As I reflected on this, the following began to form in my mind.

Many paths there are that we may choose.
Where do they lead?
God knows.
Which shall I choose? The one with rich, green grass?
What about the one flag’d gray?
Perhaps, the one of rut and mud?
God knows.
“Choose any,” a voice did say.
“For upon all I will with you stay.”

I think it doesn’t really matter. Follow you heart.
For God will be present and will bless wherever we roam.

Celebrating the Life of My Mother-in-Law

woman of valorThis is what I had the honor to share at my mother-in-law’s Memorial Service on Saturday.


We’re here today to celebrate the life of Irene (Mickie) Taylor. And, what a life to celebrate! Ninety-nine years of love and caring. As I began to reflect on her life, I was drawn to portions of Prov. 31. I’d like to paraphrase these portions beginning at verse 10, “She wears strength and beauty and she laughs at the future.

“She opens her mouth with wisdom and the learning of kindness is on her tongue. Give her of the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the gates.”

The ‘she’ that the writer was speaking of is Eshet Chayil. Those two Hebrew words are the first 2 words of verse 10. They have been translated many ways. Some translations say a “worthy woman.” Others, an “excellent wife.” Still others, a “wife of noble character.” While these may indeed characterize Mickie to an extent, there is another way to interpret Eshet Chayil. A “Woman of Valour.”

The word valour carries with it a kind of macho, male connotation. However, several synonyms show this to be an appropriate description of Mickie. Some of these synonyms are pluck, courage, bold, spirited. Anyone who knew her knows these words can surely describe her. I’d like to take a look at some other Women of Valour whose lives reveal some of these characteristics.

There was a woman who lived in what is now Iran. For whatever reason, her father-in-law thought it would be a good idea to pack up the family and move. So, they traveled to a place in the vicinity of Northern Syria. After a while her husband came to her and said, “God spoke to me and told me to pick up stakes and head south.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that by now this woman was beginning to wonder what was going on. But, she listened to her husband, they packed up all of their belongings and moved on. This woman’s name was Sarai. And, she was definitely in a trying relationship. After all, she had been perfectly comfortable in Ur of the Chaldean’s. Then just as she was settling in at Harran, her husband is hearing voices and the family was on the move…again.

After some time in this new land, Canaan, there was a famine. So, the family moved to Egypt where there was food. Her husband, Avram, made another not so grounded decision. He told Sarai that she had to tell everyone that she was his sister. He was afraid that, because of her beauty, someone might kill him in order have her. Well, that didn’t work out so great. Pharaoh found out about her and took her into his harem. God came along and bailed Avram out and Sarai was returned to him. The famine ended and Sarai and Avram went back to Canaan. Some time later God came to Avram and made a covenant with him to make him a Father of Nations, so God changed Avram’s name to Abraham. God also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah. Abraham and Sarah moved around in Canaan because they had no land of their own. At one point they stayed in a certain place where there was a king named Abi-melek. Abraham apparently didn’t remember the trip to Egypt. He again told his wife to say she was his sister. Maybe Abraham thought that since things worked out so well before, they’d work well again. The story repeats that Sarah was taken into Abi-melek’s harem. Bad things happened and God came to the rescue. This was the second time that Abraham had placed Sarah, his wife, in harm’s way. And, the second time she followed his lead. That says a lot about Sarah’s character. Mmm, maybe not so much about Abraham’s.

Finally, Sarah became pregnant. She bore a son and he was named Isaac. Isaac was adored by his mother. After all, she was 90 years old! And, Isaac was her first born. What joy she experienced! When Isaac was older, however, Abraham said that he heard from God that he was to sacrifice this beautiful son that had been promised. How much he told Sarah about this, we don’t know for sure. But, the next thing we hear about Sarah was of her death.

Sarah surely had many trials being married to a difficult man. Yet, she persevered. She showed real ‘pluck’ throughout her life with Abraham.

For most of her married life, Mickie, too, had to show that same pluck. Every day she and Gene would get up and she would drive them to work. After a full day at Flexo Products, she would drive to Columbia Gas and pick Gene up. She would then drive across the street to a pub where she would wait in the car while he ‘unwound’ from his day. They would drive home where she then prepared a meal for the family. It was hard. She persevered through many trials. However, when asked what had attracted her to Gene, she said that he was kind. She was able to see the very best in people. That integrity and inner strength of character allowed her to not only be tolerant, but to be extremely gracious. And, that grace spilled over on to all of us who knew her. Truly, like Sarah, Mickie was Eshet Chayil.

Another woman lived at a time when her people had been deported far from their homeland. Her name was Esther. Through a number of events, this woman was noticed by Xerxes, the king of Persia. He took her into his harem. There, Esther became Xerxes’ favorite. As the story progressed we find that Esther’s uncle, a guy named Mordecai, uncovered a plot to assassinate Xerxes. He told Esther, who informed the king, giving credit to her uncle. We see here a glimpse of Esther’s commitment to her family and her people.

A little later a man named Haman rose up in the court of Xerxes. He enjoyed the honor and adulation of everyone who was subordinate to him. Mordecai, however, refused to honor him. It became known that Mordecai was a Jew. So, Haman petitioned the king have all of the Jews throughout the realm put to death. When Mordecai heard of this, he went to Esther and asked her to intervene. Now, it’s important to understand, that at that time anyone who entered the presence of the king without permission did so on pain of death. This held even more strictly for a woman. Yet, Esther prepared herself and, taking her life in her hands, she entered the inner court. Xerxes saw her, and “he was pleased.” Esther asked the king to come to a banquet that she was holding to honor Haman. (A wisdom that we aren’t privy to til this point.) On the second night of banqueting, Xerxes asked Esther what he could do for her, up to half his kingdom. She answered, saying that her petition was for the king to spare her people. She told him that she was a Jew and that Haman had orders to kill all of the Jews. The king reversed his decree and had Haman killed instead.

Esther was willing to forfeit her life for her family and her people. Regardless of any obstacles, she was truly courageous. Mickie absolutely would do anything for her family. She saw herself as the glue that held them together. No sacrifice was too costly. No discomfort too extreme. And, she could be very adamant about that. I remember once when Hope and I were dating, I brought up the possibility of Hope graduating from high school early so that we could get married. Mickie, in no uncertain, (and I might add colorful), terms let me know that was never going to happen. I’m sure many of you can relate a time when she drew a line and said, “No further!” Discussion over! Esther was definitely Eshet Chayil. Mickie was Eshet Chayil.

Finally, I want to tell you a story about a young woman. She was about 14 years old. She had been brought up and trained to be a good Jewish wife. All of her expectations and dreams revolved around this future. After all, in a very patriarchal culture, her options were limited. She lived in a time when a woman was little more than property. First to her father; then to her husband. These roles were strictly enforced by religion and culture. One day a man showed up saying, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!” He explained to her that she was going to give birth to a son. Wait a minute! She wasn’t officially married. In fact, she had a fiancé who would be oh so ticked about his virgin wife becoming pregnant. Not only that, her family would be publicly shamed. They had promised Joseph a virgin. Not only would she not be that, she would bring an illegitimate child t, too. This young woman, brought up in a strict, religious home knew the repercussions of all of this…stoning to death. Yet, her response was, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled”.

We don’t usually contemplate this. Mary’s response could have sealed her death. But, she trusted this messenger. No, she trusted God who sent this messenger. Mary’s response caused her to later praise God saying,

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is HIS name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

Mary Lou mentioned to me that Mickie was as ‘born again’ as anyone she ever knew. I don’t think that Mickie would put it that way. She would simply say that “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled”. Her faith in God never wavered. She loved the fellowship of saints. She loved the opportunity to worship God in spirit and truth. Mary was Eshet Chayil. Mickie was Eshet Chayil.

There are many more women who were Eshet Chayil that I can’t say a lot about. There was Deborah who helped lead her people in their struggle with the Canaanites. Tamar, who was cheated by Judah and who boldly confronted him for the birthrights of her sons. One of whom, Perez, was an ancestor of Jesus. Ruth, who was also called Eshet Chayil, whose boldness continued the lineage of Jesus. Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Junius the apostle. Lydia, the first convert to Christ in Europe. Lois and Eunice, the grandmother and mother of Paul’s true son in the faith Timothy.

I could go beyond the Bible and cite Joan of Arc, Marie Currie, Mother Theresa and many, many other Eshet Chayil who have formed us, protected us, nurtured us and passed on faith, courage, integrity and strength of character.

Eric S. Kingston shares:

A woman of valor makes the world change

Her strength is the content that guides through the days

Defined by her actions that bring light to all dreams

Valor is something that’s defined by her deeds.

Her valor is golden, sparkled and gray

She stands up to the challenge no matter the way

It can’t be held back or defined by her age

Yes, a woman of valor makes the world change.

For valor’s not held by the young or the old

But by the deeds of the heart that give and unfold

It’s merit and honor that hold no disguise

Like the creation of being in the blessed Holy One’s eyes.

For valor is the color of the song of her soul

As she changes, creates and turns light into gold

Divine is Her Presence, be it joyous or sad

— A Woman of Valor —

May offer little, but it will be all that she has.

For only her heart will know the depths of her soul

That nurtures and blossoms and forever unfolds

And holds in its essence new life and new gain

Yes, A woman of valor makes the world change

A woman of valor makes the world change

A woman of valor makes the world change.

There is no doubt that Irene has taken her place as Eshet Chayil.

Happy Imbolc!

ImbolcHappy Imbolc! This is the day that our Gaelic forebears celebrated as the turn from deepest winter to the beginning of spring. In the U.S. we celebrate this as Groundhog day. It is the mid-point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. New birth is coming!

Imbolc is considered a pagan holiday. So, those of us who have been a part of the Christian community either don’t know about it, or dismiss it as pagan. (It’s not worth our consideration.)

However, I think that we do creation a disservice by dismissing this. The pagan and indigenous communities seem to be more in tune with the true workings of the cosmos than those of us who claim to know better. They understand the cycles of life. And, they respect them. They celebrate them. For crying out loud! Here in the Northern Hemisphere it’s cold and bleak and gray and too freakin’ cold! What’s not to celebrate about the turning point toward warmth and new growth?

But, many of us. Especially, those of us in the Protestant persuasion consider this beneath us. It’s not in the Bible, so it can’t be good.

Protestant can look back to our birth…the reformation for much of this thinking. At that time we became “people of the book.” We tossed out the title “people of tradition” and leapt headlong into a different way of thinking.

We looked at the Biblical text and ‘voila’! We read that God had created all things and had made humans the masters! How cool! We’re the boss! We can control and exploit all of the resources that the Earth can provide FOR OUR BENEFIT!! Yea, God!

But, there is another way to look at things. Genesis 2:15 states, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” In the Hebrew the language is a little clearer. I mean, what does it mean to “cultivate” and “keep” it?

First, the word to cultivate can also mean ‘to serve.’ Surely, ‘till’ and ‘cultivate’ are part of the meaning. But, by far, the references are to service.

Second, the expression ‘to keep’ has as it’s primary meaning to watch and guard. Other meanings are to stand guard and protect.

For so much of our history since the reformation we have viewed the Scripture to say ‘subdue’ the world. But, is that what God has really desired?

Paul, in Romans 8, wrote that the whole of creation is groaning…waiting for the daughters and sons of God to stand up and be recognized. Even Jesus taught about an unfaithful servant who abused his fellows. In Matt. 24:42 and Luke 12:37, Jesus taught about a certain servant who, realizing that his Master was gone for a prolonged period of time, began to abuse his fellow servants. The Master of will return at a time that this wayward servant doesn’t expect and will punish him for his waywardness.

How much more will we, who have the Scripture to enlighten us, be punished for the way we have abuse the Good Creation of God?

Imbolc and the other so-called ‘pagan’ celebrations can teach us all a lot about how our world actually works. We can find life and purpose in them. That doesn’t mean that we embrace the deities and practices of pagans. But, it does mean that we listen to and respect the natural cycles of the world in which we live. The world that God loves and has redeemed.