Something Special

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Since being home, I am coming off  of a couple days at one of my old jobs. It’s a reflection of the past and anticipation of the year to come. Just joyful. So happy to be part of this position.

“Yes, yes, and it was also my very first kiss!

The last syllable landed like water on a frying pan.

Keeling over on the couch, face completely scrunched, he erupted in the most infectious kind of laugh. He was both proud and flustered. There was no way he could spare that detail. It was his very first date, and apparently… it had gone really well.

He took her to the movies, reluctantly with his parents, whom he had begged to sit in the row furthest back while they took the front. That night he returned to his bedroom with songs in the air and butterflies in his belly. It was a really good night.

And there I was, just basking in his glory. Like the hand-cupped over the mouth, falling back in the chair, tears streaming type of glory. While we hooted and hollered, I whispered to myself,

“I miss this”

My friend is actually someone I am a personal care attendant (PCA) for, but the difference is more or less technical. He is thirty-eight years old and has Down’s syndrome. He works as a custodian and still lives with his parents.

For the past few years I have been privileged to work part-time with folks like him. It sounds patronizing and rehearsed, but truth be told I have learned more about Christ from them than they have from me.

But there was a time, when I first entered into this position, that I held a heavy dose of pity on them.

And a nagging sense of injustice.

There was no fault to be given to anyone, but seriously, how is having an extra chromosome fair? How are inhibited motor skills, frequent health scares and lack of independence fair? Someone has to be blamed, right?

This question didn’t drift back into the recesses of my mind. It planted a seed and took hold. I came to the conclusion that I only had God to blame. He is the all-powerful creator, right?

And then I heard about my buddy’s date. Then another guy handed me a story he wrote, with me as the main character. And then another girl cried over the loss of her grandmother, an event that happened years ago, but still left her heart broken. And then another guy confronted me about how another PCA and I were getting a little too lost in personal conversations and he was feeling pretty left out. Another showed up one night at our cooking class eyes swollen from weeping because his cat had died that day. It startled the rest of our crew, who jumped up and scrambled over to him. They held him close, not minding the hot tears that fell.

It was in these moments that I started to sense something new. I felt a sacred spiritual presence pouring through the eyes of my special needs friends. It was a new kind of special spirituality. Like holiness that was tangible. Looking into the eyes of those cast aside as ugly, without potential, unremarkable, and to be pitied, I felt less than.

It’s not just the cultural assumptions of them, many of which are far from true- I have seen too many triumphs to ever surmise that they are anything but not full of potential. Too many toothy grins to say they aren’t beautiful. Yes, they are different, but also the same… maybe in some ways better.

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Emotional health in today’s society is on life support. We place guards on our hearts that hold the bite of a feral dog by his trashcan. Vulnerability, honesty, authenticity and tears are always regarded as weakness by us. People get close and we bite.

But these guys, they buck the system.

They don’t give in to the same guardian reflexes that we do. They don’t bottle things up. They aren’t afraid to cry. They are relentless in their affection. If they like you, they’ll tell you. If you hurt them, they’ll tell you. They tend to sense danger before we do and they hold us accountable when we fall short.

Some hold tough, have a rough exterior, but those are the ones that I have found to be the most perceptive of the other. They may not say much, but don’t be surprised to find them quietly scrubbing at the sink washing everyone else’s plates.

There are others that express a glee that catches like the sunrise falling upon everyone else in the room, moving spirits only upward. And there are those quiet ones that give windows to wisdom leaving you longing for words.

If you walk into these people’s lives, everything you thought you knew changes.

In one my favorite passages from Brennan Manning, he relays the story of a priest and a young couple in his church. Every Sunday morning the couple would sneak into the back row with their Down’s syndrome baby, afraid of being seen with, what they felt, was something second hand.

 

I will never forget the witness of an Episcopal priest named Tom Minifie several years ago in St. Luke’s Church in Seattle, Washington. He spotted a high-profile couple sitting in the last pew with their one-year-old Down’s syndrome child. It was clear from the parents’ demeanor that the little one embarrassed them. They hid in the rear of the church, perhaps planning a hasty exist once the worship service had concluded.

 

On their way out the door, Tom intercepted them and said, “Come into my office.” Once seated, Tom took the Down’s baby in his arms and rocked him gently. Looking into the baby’s face, he began to sob. “Do you have any idea of the gift that God has given you in this child?” he asked.

 

Sensing confusion and even concern in the parents, he explained his reaction:

 

“Two years ago my three-year-old daughter, Sylvia, died with Down’s syndrome. We have four other children, so we know the blessing that kids can be. Yet the most precious gift we’ve ever received in our entire lives has been Sylvia. In her uninhibited expression of affection, she revealed to us the face of God as no other human being ever has. Did you know that several Native American tribes attribute divinity to Down’s children because in their utter simplicity they’re a transparent window into the Great Spirit? Treasure this child, for he will lead you into the heart of God.”

 

From that day forward the parents began to brag about their little one.” (Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust, Emphasis mine)

So is God to blame? Absolutely.

And we are all better because of it.

RR

2012 in review

Never thought I would join the weird world of blogging. So happy I did. The past few months have been nothing short of spectacular. Thank you for reading guys!

Looking forward to what 2013 holds.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 7,100 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 12 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Education of a Church: Rein in the Youth Pastors

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I was in Junior High. I remember being fully aware of my attractions, but uncertain of where to turn. While I didn’t know where to go, I definitely knew where not to go- my church youth group. Those around me didn’t realize it, but I understood I didn’t belong. They were the Christians and I was the sin. I was the poison to their pool.

Reinforcing this reality were the words of none other than my own leaders. Maybe it was when we watched a short Christian documentary about how people contract AIDS, with a lengthy portion on the promiscuity of gay men.

Or perhaps it was when,

“that’s so gay!”

was said more often than

“God bless you”

It could’ve been when my youth leaders smirked as students spoke in slurs, only then to offer a few cracks of their own. I remember practicing my fake laugh, while my stomach went sick, as the head of my small group did his best impression of a “homo”.

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Later on, as I grew older, I was part of another youth group. It was more mature, but just as disturbing. There was one time in particular. While in the midst of a Bible Study, one of the leaders lamented the fact that the local Christian college granted admission to gay students. He saw it as a slippery slope to Hell, or worse, liberalism.

Strangely, his exhortation took a turn as he noted a statistic he had read recently. He told us that one out of every nineteen people is gay. There were twenty in our group.

What could have been the start of a redemptive conversation regarding the words we use ended with a break and a return to our talk about the evils of Kabballah.

When he threw out those stats, it felt like a warning upon us all. It had the echoes of Jesus saying that one of his own would betray him. I felt the burning crimson begin to cover my face and I excused myself to the restroom… I was barely breathing.

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Years later, on the first night in my dorm, in that college on that slippery slope, there was a night I would never forget. We were all gathered in the common area as our RD spent over an hour handing down the house rules. Everything from curfew to cigarettes to shoes in the door was covered. As she brought the night to a close, she said something that totally caught me off guard.

“Hey, just so ya’ll know, gay is not synonymous with stupid, ugly, unchristian or what have you. I won’t be tolerating any of that here. “

I felt safe. For the first time in a setting of faith, I felt safe.

I should have always felt this way in Church.

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Youth pastors and leaders have such big hearts. Typically, they are the ones that never shed their childhood innocence. The ones still amazed by simple wonders and never lose their silliness. Sometimes they are volunteer college students, other times, they are people with children of their own. These people need not be lectured on the meaning of love because they are living examples of it.

Having said this, there’s something they may need to hear.

I have heard too many stories like my own to know that my experience isn’t the exception, it’s more the rule. Homophobia gets a hall pass in a lot of Churches today. Should it be a surprise that so many gay kids end up leaving the church? The very leaders that they look up to express such utter disgust and contempt for people like them. They make jokes about their pain. They ridicule their insecurities. They teach their friends that gay kids are uncool, creepy and should be kept at a distance. A church youth group is supposed to be a place of spiritual support, not a breeding ground for bullies.

Think, just for a moment, how Christ has been conveyed here. I can only speak for myself but when I was that age… Christ was a guy that couldn’t have cared less about me. He was a knuckle dragger jock who called me creepy and gross. Clearly, he liked my leaders- they spoke about their friendship with him all the time. They talked about how God had told them to come into ministry. How God set them in the position they were in at that moment. He was the one that put them in my life.

My bullies were sent from God.

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This is something that is so solvable. So simple that I really don’t need to articulate a long list of recommendations or ground rules, because, really, it’s that simple. If you are in a position of authority in the church, call the youth ministry into your office to discuss homophobia. It may not be a problem for your church, but why not make sure? Especially in light of all the young LGBT suicides taking place over the past few years, why not sit them down anyway?

You don’t have to change your convictions in order to make your youth groups safer.

Tell the leaders that it is unacceptable, in any way, shape or form, to disparage those that are gay. Make them realize how hostile of an environment they create with their crude comments. Remind them of the Christ that chose to chill with the closeted. Read off the names and stories of kids that took their lives in the past year as a result of bullying. Encourage them to get on board with the It Gets Better Campaign. Give them copies of the books by Justin Lee and Andrew Marin. Assign them homework, tell them to go out and learn more from their brothers and sisters in Christ. Let them know that racism, sexism and homophobia are all forms of prejudice and the wounds they inflict can have long lasting implications.

Furthermore, show them what an incredible opportunity they have to be Kingdom Builders! Tell them that being a leader is not about becoming part of the mob, but about guiding them. Reconciling them. Loving them, bullies and losers alike. Make it a priority.

It is so sad, tragic even, that this is a problem in a community based on unconditional love and universal unworthiness,

But yet, here we are…

Folks, it’s time to chase this sin out of the Church.

Because bullying has no place in youth ministry.

RR

2012 Lists: Reflections not Resolutions

2012

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So since everyone seems to be doing it (and since I’ve loved reading everyone’s) I’ve decided to make a few 2012 lists of my own- reflections not resolutions. Books, moments and blogs are what I am covering in this post. I have to say, cataloging for the past hour has actually been a life-giving practice. Remembering how each item on these lists has quenched the thirst of my soul makes me incredibly grateful to have lived in the year 2012. Here they are:

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…Best Books…

1. The Sacredness of Questioning Everything

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Granted, I am still in the middle of it, but this book has freed me in so many ways already. David Dark paints the picture of a God that you always knew and then burns it to the ground. Humor him, and assume that God isn’t the fit in a box cosmic grinch you thought He was. In this read, skeptics and doubters are given their due credit for constantly craving authentic and bulletproof truth. Something the Church sometimes lacks an appetite for. No sacred cow is beyond question, leaving you with just scriptures and stories and the start of an organic and thriving faith.

2. Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs Christians Debate

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Justin Lee delivers what many have called “THE must read” book for those trying to understand the culture war raging on inside the church. So often we hear about the political nature of gay rights, Justin Lee narrates his way into the heart of the beast (I don’t say that facetiously). The stories he presents from his experiences in Ex Gay therapy, Christian college, and his life in the last several years reaffirm his belief that our “stories are more powerful than our arguments.” You see the devote man of faith more than the gay Christian man. He transcends it all, and provides the most detailed and important way forward.

3. Love is an Orientation

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There is perhaps no other book that has had a bigger impact on my life than Andrew Marin’s, Love is an Orientation. I’ll admit, when my brother first gave me a copy of it, I was skeptical. How the hell was a straight conservative Christian man going to articulate the story of the gay outcast? I have never been so happy to be so shocked. Marin is a translator of sorts for the gay community to the conservative Christian community and vice versa. He takes the bag of misinformation about LGBT folks and spills it across the table for all to scrutinize. Anyone who reads this book will not walk away with answers about the Biblical debate over same-sex relationships. They will, however, walk away with a better understanding of their brothers and sisters in Christ and with a richer perspective of who Christ really was. Marin is truly cut from Kingdom cloth and I am proud to tithe to his organization every month. If you would also like to (PLEASE DO!), Click here.

4. Evolving in Monkey Town

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It is always wonderful to find someone who sees their faith as complicated as you do. It makes you feel less unsaved. Rachel Held Evans explores the contradictions and scary questions of Christianity in a language we all can understand. The title of this work is based on the famous Scopes Monkey trial that took place in her hometown, basically, the Creationism vs Evolution throwdown. Her words are so encouraging to all Christians who fear fundamentalism and its request that we check our brains at the Chapel door.

5. The Scarlet Letter

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An oldie but a goodie. I reread Nathaniel Hawthornes book this year on the life of a social pariah. Hester Prynne is a hero to all of us who have felt out of step, or worse, locked out of the community of faith we so desperately want to be a part of. She swam with sharks for most of her life, with her delinquent little daughter in tow, always bearing the mark of shame on her chest. So much spiritual substance exists in the pages of this book. Overcoming adversity, the agony of ostracism, and putting ourselves all-in. She took the mark and made it into a sign of compassion and empathy. As another writer once said, “In the service of love, only wounded warriors can serve” (Brennan Manning).

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…Greatest Moments…

  1. When the Minnesota Marriage Amendment FAILED

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And marriage equality passed in quite a few others

And the first openly gay senator was elected

And ex gay therapy became illegal for minors in California

And the Church of Latter Day Saints took a big step in the right direction

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2. When Gabby Douglas became America’s Sweetheart

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The first minority from the US to win the All-Around… ever.

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3. When NYPD Officer Larry Deprimo purchased a brand new pair of boots for this homeless man. Exhibit A to Christ’s work in the world.

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“I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me” Matthew 25: 36 (NIV)

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4. When Governor Christie and President Obama sent a reminder that we are all human first.

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We don’t have to see eye to eye to walk hand in hand

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5. When this awesome kid stood up to hate

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Truth lasts;
lies are here today, gone tomorrow.”

Proverbs 12:19 (MSG)

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…Most Awesome Blogs…

1. Incite Faith

And in the mean time, we find who we think we are through other people. Because they’re popular. They have a message that resonates with you. It’s attractive. Everyone ‘agrees’ with it because the desire to be popular and accepted is an easy cover than being vulnerable and authentic.

I’ve fallen in this trap. To agree and believe other people for the sake of merit instead of embracing who we already are, does ourselves an injustice. To believe I’m this wonderful woman of God and have all my crap together would make me a fraud. Because I don’t. I’m not. I struggle everyday…
On finding our identity in Christ

If you follow Julie on twitter, you know how much she cares for people. I have yet to see someone so willing to do whatever she can to uplift those that feel broken down. Her writing has an emotional intelligence to it, which is so rare. She is fearless in her honesty and you see it in every word written. I hope one day I can match her courage.

2. The Monster in Your Closet

My mom died having met only one of her grandchildren: my son. My gratitude that she lived long enough to do so was tempered by sadness my sisters would never see their own children in her arms. I felt guilty every time I shared images of my mom holding my son, because the joy I felt was one I deeply wished my sisters could have known firsthand. Its very presence implied absence.

When I saw the picture my sister sent me, it was truth. It was a truth I have longed for since my siblings and I laid our mom to rest.

You can see it for yourself hereA reflection about her late mother

Deb is great. I have only had a few interactions with her over twitter and the blogosphere, but I thoroughly enjoy her writing. Nothing is off the table on her blog. She takes on issues outside of herself like being LGBT Ally, stories of her adorable son, and then, the heartbreaking and honorable posts about her own mother. The story she shares is well worth the read, I am happy I found her!

3. Running from Hell with El

I’m one of the lucky ones. I get the treatment and the care and the compassion that so many of my ill brethren do not receive. Most people don’t even know that I’m ill. You see, I know the warning signs. In the case of manic episodes, my mind starts racing. Creative thoughts pile onto creative thoughts, and then it gets faster and faster and I can’t stop working won’t stop working don’t want to stop working and it’s amazing the things I can get done . . . but I feel an overload, an imbalance, a systems shutdown approaching. But like a jet plane hurtling through the air on cruise control, I cannot switch directions, not even when I know exactly how it’s going to end: nose down in the mountainside… On Stigmas of Mental Illness

Currently I am nose deep in the RIVETING novel, Ripple, by El. This blogger covers everything from the events of the week to personal testimony. As someone who has often thought about becoming an author, it is wild to read about El’s travels through the world of publishing a novel. I respect anyone willing to walk into that world and, let me make sure one thing is clear…. I am not just being nice about the book, it is actually incredible. Visit the page and see how you can get a copy!

4. Unchained Faith

As a parent of a child with a diagnosed condition, I can’t imagine wanting him to be anything other than the person he is. Does he drive me crazy? Oh, yes. Do I worry that his impulsive nature might not only get him in trouble but land him in the hospital? Definitely. Do I think he needs help learning to navigate around his struggles? You bet. But do I want to stamp it out of him? Not a chance in hell… Discussing Ex Gay Therapy

What I find appealing in any and all writing are people who are unafraid of tough questions. On her blog, Amy, takes on all the haunting thoughts that Christians are often afraid to face. This is definitely a safehouse for the stray!

5. A Flock of Crows

Well, in my humble opinion. Both sides are so busy shouting at each other, they don’t even try to look for a way forward. They could, should, find a level playing field by getting to understand the mindset of gay Christians. The activists could attempt to understand the convictions of our faith, the Christians could attempt to see why we believe we are God’s gay children. If either side could, for one moment, believe what we believe, maybe we could end this war. Instead we are dismissed as self-hating by gays, and as false Christians by those of faith. It’s a sad state of affairs… On being gay and Christian.

I don’t know how much more of a twin I could ask for than D.L. Aiden, blogger of a flock of crows. We are both gay, both Christian, both anonymous and both looking forward to the day when we won’t have to be. This girl is a writer in every sense of the word (except bad!) I love reading her posts, hearing her thoughts on the tension we both live in and seeing the comfort and strength she approaches it with. Let her words refresh you.

6. Joy in this Journey

As much as I get where they are coming from, I simply cannot put some clothes on my writing. For me, writing with clothes on is fake and results in garbage. The truth is that life can dump you into a latrine, and let me tell you, when you’re swimming in excrement, Mrs. Sunshine chirping cliches and pretending all is fine doesn’t help. You need someone who has been there and survived, who knows how you can get out and get cleaned up. That is both hope and help… On writing nakedly

No doubt you have heard of this blog, but Joy in this Journey by Joy Bennett is one of those pages that pulls at both your heart and your head strings. Unapologetically (but also, kindly) she aims at the shame Church can often perpetuate. Yet, her blog is so much more than that. Her words about the loss of one of her children will spill tears onto your key unless you don’t have pulse. Her philosophy is to write without masks, an inspirational message to us all.

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Just imagine what 2013 will bring…

RR

See through Resolutions

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It’s almost New Years.

I don’t know of any other worldwide event that holds more hope for fresh starts and also, less staying power.

Don’t get me wrong, I get excited like the rest of them. I make a short list of necessary life upgrades, grab drinks with friends, watch the ball drop and then break for the exits as the PDA bomb explodes.

And I’ll be the first to admit… There is just something to that dawn of January 1st. Something significant. It makes us feel like destiny is just waiting at the doorstep. Like the world is our oyster. A place where anything and everything is possible.

New beginnings are precious to us because they promise our lives will get prettier. What works will remain and what doesn’t will be left behind. We shed old skins for new ones.

Maybe that’s why we love it so much.

But… it’s also a time of reflection.

We reflect on how we lived the last 365. How many mornings we awoke feeling a sense of purpose. How many times we passed open hands of the homeless on the sidewalk. How often we called up our grandmas just to let them know they’re appreciated. The number of nights we were moved to gratitude for the sparkling stars staring down at us. How we cringe when we count our favorite TV shows compared to our favorite books. The night we put side by side the loved ones we have and those we wished we did and remember which ones we spent more time trying to please.

We bury all of the things we wish hadn’t happened in the last 365. 2012 becomes a time capsule, one we hope no one reopens. Just like all the years before.

So we make pages of plans to prevent the perils of yesteryear. We take the surfacey stuff like learning new hobbies, losing the baby weight, smoking less and so on. Then we make bold inner goals, like giving more of our time to people and building stronger bonds with those that are different. We blueprint the year to come.

And… After a few weeks of realizing that the New Year is just like the old, we stop believing. Reality sets in. No, we actually cannot fly.

Yet, hope can be a stubborn thing…

Like the seed beneath the snow, on New Years Eve- hope breaks through our habits. It messes things up. It reminds us that the scriptures we sift through insist upon the theme of renewal. It claims that every morning we are reborn, we start over, we smell the grace God promises with the dawn, and hope becomes the breath we breathe.

It is the story of Job and Jonah. We read it in the anguish of Lamentations and the promises of Isaiah. Hope is the hidden thread that makes our faith weather our skepticism.

We know too well how imperfect we are and what fools we’d be to even try. We know the difference between things that make us unique and others that make our lives worse. We know that change cannot come through a turn on the calendar, but rather by thoughtful reflection and a turn of the heart.

And we celebrate our weaknesses, warts and all, because Christ treasures them. If the gospels teach us anything, it’s that Jesus is really attracted to those coming at life with two left feet. He smiles and sighs as we huff and puff and check down the list of changes to be done by such and such deadline. He is brokenhearted with our stress, but overjoyed when we finally collapse and toss it all down before him. More than anything, he’s happy that, at least, we still hang on to hope.

While your resolutions probably won’t last a full week (sorry), remember the hope you held before the clock hit twelve. Bottle it up. As with all things in life, 2013 may be a mixed bag for you. Your back may hit the wall. Shit happens.

Take the tingling feeling of promise and let yourself off the hook. This is one of those occasions where you can have your cake and eat it too. Sure, maybe you’ll learn to love broccoli, but may be not! Perhaps you’ll quit smoking, but you might not be ready yet.

And on January 2nd or 3rd as you wince at that list of lofty goals, be sure to be grateful that, at least, you still know how to hope.

RR

The Education of a Church: Eliminating Analogies

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A quick word before you read this next post. Things are moving in a great direction at my brother’s church. The head pastor recently said in a large staff meeting that what they were doing was not a “ministry to the gay community” but rather, “a ministry to the church”. The leadership of this Church has felt a call to learn more about their brothers and sisters in Christ that have been pushed to the margins and muted from the conversation. Their mission is about love and relationships and removing homophobia from the Christian community. Making community mean something. As I hear more and more about what this church is doing, I am becoming weaker at the knees. I love this church.

 

So, I am not real worried about this church struggling with the problem I am about to lay out to you. This is a recommendation to churches all over about how to start reconciliation with gay community in the midst of a continuing culture war.

 

 

There was a serious crisis. A crisis so threatening that those in the Church felt compelled to respond. It was the infamous “Day of Silence” observed by students in my high school. It was a day when individuals took sharpies to shirts in protest of bullying against LGBT students. It was part statement of tolerance and part memorial for students that had taken their lives as a result of bullying.

 

In the wake of this radical event, my family received a letter from a concerned Christian parent who told her story of having an alcoholic father and how she inherited tendencies toward alcoholism as a result. So ya, she knew what it was like to be gay.

 

During my freshmen year of college, a friend of mine opened up about his rough childhood and how he was predisposed to violence. Everyday he chose to use his words instead of his fists, even though it killed him not to throw a punch. So, he said, he knew what it was like to be gay.

 

Others have compared being gay to…

 

Eating disorders

Drug addiction

Pedophilia

Kleptomania

Anger issues

Terrorism (I actually heard this one)

And so on.

 

These are the types of analogies that are spoken off the cuff by both leaders of the faith and common followers.

 

But here’s the deal.

 

If you’re trying to understand something that you have relatively little or no experience with, don’t draw bridges where they don’t belong.

 

There is a gulf of understanding that has to be accepted. I cannot see from a straight person’s perspective. You cannot see from mine. I cannot see from a woman’s perspective and nor can she see from mine. I cannot see from the perspective of ethnicities other than my own. And even within my own, we all have our own crow’s nest.

 

Analogies are utilized to make the complex understandable. It simplifies things. But it can also be used to justify a perspective one has already prepared. To best distribute that perspective, its packaged in bite size sound bytes so the masses can spread it accordingly. It’s simple, it makes sense, and all of a sudden,

 

Children of alcoholics are the same as gay people.

 

I cringe in responding about the difference between alcoholism and homosexuality, so I am happy that the Women in Theology blog wrote a thoughtful piece on it:

 

“while genetic and environmental factors certainly predispose certain individuals to become alcoholics, no one, not even the most genetically and environmentally at-risk person, can become an alcoholic if they never take a drink of alcohol.  This of course is not true for homosexuals.  One does not become a homosexual only upon having homosexual sex.  People typically experience themselves to be gay prior to and independently of engaging in homosexual sex.  In fact, there are people who have never engaged in homosexual sex, either by choice (some priests and nuns, for example) or by circumstance, who still know themselves to be gay.  But why would anyone who has never taken a sip of alcohol consider herself to be an alcoholic?  If someone did do this, we would tell her that she was mistaken; quite simply, what she would say about herself would make no sense to us.”

 

If churches want to be part of the conversation, which I firmly believe they do, they need to stop killing it off with offensive analogies. Growing up gay, especially within Christian community, comes with a mixed bag of blessings and burdens. Our stories are not equitable. All comparisons do is strip away the dignity our testimonies’ deserve.

 

And when I look back- when I reread that parent’s letter, when I remember the time that analogies became staples to every sermon on the subject; that is the time I began putting padlocks on the closet door. After you hear enough people cast you off as an addict, a defected person, or in some cases, a pervert, like a pedophile, there is no reason to go public. You’d have to be stupid to. Instead, you just sit alone and hate yourself for the monster they said you are.

 

To bring the conversation back to the church, the analogies have to be dropped.

 

While I believe many gave analogies in order to establish a certain level of compassion for the gay and lesbian community, they have done just the opposite.

 

Because analogies to painful illnesses and evil behavior are inaccurate, unnecessary and truly offensive.

 

Having said this, any church wishing to chart a new course with us should also not give in to the temptation of creating new positive analogies. That still reduces us to our sexual orientation. Our identity is in Christ not in our attractions.

 

Take in our tales. Listen to the lies we heard for years. Let the shame we felt sink in. Our stories can do far more than analogies ever could.

 

It may seem like mere words, but to us, they carry a lot of weight. Analogies arm every churchgoer we know with the talking points on how to address us. They minimize us. Patronize us. They make us strain to see Christ through all of the mud being thrown.

 

And most importantly, they rob the church of needed yet neglected disciples that are valuable to the body of believers. It kills every good opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation to occur. It is a wrench in the machine.

 

With that, I leave you with perhaps the most important passage pertaining to how we should relate to one another. It’s found in the book of Romans.

 

“Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.”(Romans 14:13-14 MSG, emphasis mine)

 

 

Comparative analogy and authentic testimony cannot share the same bed.

The church has to choose which one is more important.

 

RR

Back Roads to Bethlehem

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It’s the pilgrimage for the proud.

For those with halos screwed on too tight.

 

In every precipice that we slip down

And in all our detours into darkness

We are taken aback by our own depravity

Our worthiness in our unworthiness

 

You may start from the north

And I may from the south

But we both see the same star

We seek the same savior

Before I even saw it shining off in the distance, I was told it wasn’t really for me. I was told if I wanted to find it, I had to start where they were. I had to be one of them. I had to match them step for step. From on top of a peak, they peered down upon me. Asking to come, they said I could not; unless… I severed my scarlet letter. It would repulse the King, they said.

I refused and they called me a contradiction. I told them I tried and they said my faith was too small. Either way, that star was not speaking to me.

So I ran on alone.

Down back roads to Bethlehem, driven by nothing more than a hunger for hope in something I did not, do not, will not and cannot understand. I ran and I ran and I ran. Through thickets and thorns, over daisy dressed mountains, into towns of the gutter, I ran. Until the gravel turned to grass and stones became fertile, with my eye on the star and hand over my heart, I ran and I ran and I ran.

Down back roads to Bethlehem I found a burrow of new faces. Everything was so different there. Saints spoke of scripture in words I had never heard; yet their language felt so familiar.

Clothing me in a love I thought to be legendary, I was drawn in to the hearth of their fires. It was there that stories were swapped and songs were sung and laughs were loud and tears were sent trickling, as we uncovered each layer of the other. For a moment I thought I was already there.

Leaving I turned as I heard one say, “I’ll see you… I’ll see you at the star.”

Faster I flew down back roads to Bethlehem. With each place I met more living in love than not.

And shedding my shame came all the easier.

Soon enough the star hung not twenty yards away. Below it sat the saints of the burrow and the soldiers of the peak. All of them waving me to a spot they had saved.

And stories were swapped. Songs were sung. Laughs were loud. Tears were sent trickling and love, oh love, burned again.

Beneath the umbrella of the star, we experienced our own rescue. None of us deserved it. None of us could earn it. None of us could pay it back.

It just was.

He was.

Down back roads to Bethlehem, saints and soldiers and even runaways like me reached our redemption. Along fault lines of faith, regardless of the rules, we all found the prodigal’s father. We were made new and perfect. We were celebrated as sons and daughters. We were loved as we were.

And we rolled up our sleeves and traded tales of our bruises… denying the lie that we were ever really alone.

 

RR

Four Visits from Christ BEFORE he was Born

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So as the season swings into the climax of Christmas, I find myself searching for the weirdest elements in the story cause I’m weird. I look for the stuff that’s not taught in Sunday Schools or sung by carolers. None of it is really critical, what I am writing is mostly speculative, but, alas, to those lovers of scriptural surprises, enjoy!

It wasn’t until a couple years ago, when I was so close to a sweet nap in the middle of my Christian theology class that my professor said something that got my attention. “Jesus came BEFORE he was baby. Well… he may have.” I think he saw I was close to snoozing, when I looked up he was looking directly at me, so I blinked at him a couple times to let him know “okay, I’m listening.”

Some of these stories are eerily similar to a Christmas flick with a surprise visit from Santa. Like the ones where the janitor, who no one has ever seen before, shows up in the nick of time to impart lifesaving wisdom and as the characters walk away scratching their heads, they take a look back only to find He. Has. VANISHED.

Of the many possible moments of Christ’s early appearances, four really intrigued me.

1.  Melchizedek

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After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and his allied kings, the king of Sodom came out to greet him in the Valley of Shaveh, the King’s Valley. Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine—he was priest of The High God—and blessed him:

 

Blessed be Abram by The High God,
Creator of Heaven and Earth.
And blessed be The High God,
who handed your enemies over to you.

 

Abram gave him a tenth of all the recovered plunder.

(Genesis 14:17-20, MSG)

 

The appearance of the Melchizedek is so peculiar because there is no other reference of him in the Old Testament stories (except in the Psalms). It was like he suddenly appeared out of thin air to Abram. Yet, even while there is no evidence of a historical relationship between these two, Abram gives him 10% of his loot, suggesting a previous understanding.

And He celebrates the Passover with bread and wine before there even was a Passover. (Reference to Jesus’ last supper?”

AND THEN this weird blip on the Old Testament screen makes a huge mark in the book of Hebrews.

“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.” (Hebrews 7:3)

~

2. The Wrestler

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As an angry mob raced to his doorstep, Jacob sent his family across the river to safety and chose to wait the gang out. We are told in Genesis that he starts wrestling with a “man” until the break of day.

The upper hand falls to Jacob, as he is able to overtake the mysterious figure by morning.

The man said, “Let me go; it’s daybreak.”

Jacob said, “I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.”

27 The man said, “What’s your name?”

He answered, “Jacob.”

28 The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.”

(Genesis 32:26-28, MSG)

I could write a million more posts on the meaning of this story alone (I love this story). It is so familiar to how I feel 99% of the time about my own relationship with God.

 

Always wrestling.

~

3. Abraham’s visitors

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Remember when God laid a verbal smack down on Sarah with his, “yes you did; you laughed” in response to her lie? Well, that may have been Jesus.

Jesus:

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58 “Very truly I tell you,”Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

(John 8:56-58, NIV, emphasis mine)

~

4. Furnace Angel

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When the Angel came to rescue Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, he was called an interesting name.

“But look!” he said. “I see four men, walking around freely in the fire, completely unharmed! And the fourth man looks like a son of the gods!” (Daniel 3:25, MSG, emphasis mine)

Pastor Mark Driscoll believes without a doubt that this is Jesus… Not sure if I am beyond a doubt and I am equally unsure of how I feel about agreeing with Pastor Mark on anything, but it’s interesting to think about. Like a son of the Gods.

~ ~ ~

Important to note is that none of these appearances (if they were in fact Jesus) are the same thing as what happened when Christ was actually born. If these were examples of Him, they are what are called Christophanies, essentially nonhuman appearances. Or, as I like to think of them, teasers to the main event.

When Jesus was born, he was fully human.

Which makes his birth even more spectacular. He came to “dwell” amongst us. No longer was he intervening on our behalf by simply stopping by for quick fixes, only to dust off and head home. He put on skin and walked alongside the worst of us. He healed the sick, defended the vulnerable and died a criminal’s death.

The God who chose to stay with us.

RR

The Education of a Church: Recognize

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My brother works at a church which is making an aggressive push to heal the wounds between the (capital C) Church and the gay community. In one of the most honest and awesome efforts I’ve seen to build a bridge with the gay community, they are pulling together a vast number of resources to promote the process of reconciliation. This church is golden.

And, with this, my brother asked for my perspective on what I think the church should do to move forward. He texted me this question, to which I told him I would need much more time and writing space to articulate a proper response than I could in a TEXT.

There is just so much that needs to be said.

So, here is the first of a few recommendations I am making to him and his church.

~

When conversations arise as to how to make churches more welcoming for lgbt individuals, a couple things come to mind.

First, Christian folks uncomfortable in the first place will inject definitions on the difference between “welcoming” and “affirming” which swiftly slides into rather offensive statements about “their lifestyle”.

Second, there is an apparent lack of recognition of those already within the church. The conversers put the cart before the horse in talks of making the church more magnetic to gays outside its walls instead of recognizing those already isolated inside them. If anything is to change, this where to start.

My friend, and Oddmanout blogger, Brent Bailey, put it best when he wrote:

“It is not the church’s job to make room for LGBT members; it is the church’s job to recognize the room God has already made for LGBT members (just like God carved out space for everyone else) and then to delight in the diversity of people through whom God is revealed to us.”

Retracing the steps of church history, there is a clear pattern of struggle amongst the faithful when it comes to inclusion. Early on, the people of God made a real mess of things… They adhered to old rules and rituals, like circumcision, racial classes and gender roles. This essentially left every demographic different from the disciples disqualified from admission.

But a greater truth emerged. One that was lost on those peering down from pedestals.

God isn’t a brick and mortar building. He doesn’t keep some people in and other people out. God is not religion.

Only minutes after the ascension did the disciples start selecting saints like those captains in gym class. These earthly followers, being left in a divine power vacuum, struggled to find their sea legs for church ministry.

For centuries, routine fights would break out, disputes that divided brother from brother. There was always something wrong with this group or that group for the Church. Religious rule always trumped faithful community. This often led to a divine Last Word of sorts where God would step in and say, “yes, them too.”

If there is any story in the Bible that illustrates this best, it is that of Peter and Cornelius. At this point in Church history only Jews could be saved because of their heritage and their circumcision. Racial supremacy was simply an accepted practice of God’s people.

Cornelius had a hunger for God. He was a prayer warrior, an incredibly generous man in his community, and held to squeaky clean moral values. To him, even if the first row was forbidden, he wished to just eavesdrop on the message of the Messiah. It captivated him. He was a huge fan.

So imagine his excitement when an angel appeared before him, telling him that God had heard him from the back row and had a task for him to take on. He was to send a few men out to go find the apostle Peter and invite him over for a meeting.

Meanwhile, Peter, busy running the ministry and avoiding persecution, had a vision from God of a heavenly sheet dropping down with all different kinds of delicious animals before him. Then the voice of God commanded Peter to kill and eat.

“Oh, no, Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that was not kosher.”

15 The voice came a second time: “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.” (Acts 10:14-15, MSG, emphasis mine)

Awakening from the trance, a Holy whisper spoke to him: “Three men are knocking at the door looking for you. Get down there and go with them. Don’t ask any questions. I sent them to get you.” (Acts 10:20, MSG)

Upon Peter’s arrival, Cornelius broke down and began worshipping him. It’s important that this moment not be misunderstood, as I’m sure many have. Cornelius is on the outside, a wannabe, someone not worthy of tying the rabbi down the road’s sandal. At least, that’s what the world told him. His view of himself is an example of the bruised fruit of a faith that diminishes some and elevates others based on human characteristics.

Obviously uncomfortable, Peter stops him saying, “None of that—I’m a man and only a man, no different from you.”(Acts 10:26, MSG)

Settling in and sorting out exactly what was going on, Peter first acknowledges that their meeting is unusual, after all, being in the company of men like Cornelius was a big church no-no. Then Peter curiously asks why Cornelius sent for him in the first place.

Cornelius, probably a bit puzzled, responds that God told him to extend the invitation. Nothing more than that.

Now, you have to take a break and laugh a little at this, because it sounds just like something a kid of separated parents would do to get them back together.

Like the kind where the wife meets her husband at their favorite table at their favorite restaurant, and says, “I loved the flowers you sent me!” and he says, “what flowers?” and then they sit confused, only to widen their eyes five seconds later and simultaneously sigh, oh…”

This is what happens to Peter. Ever since his vision from the previous day, he hadn’t a clue what God was trying to tell him.

And then it all clicked.

“Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.

37-38 “You know the story of what happened in Judea. It began in Galilee after John preached a total life-change. Then Jesus arrived from Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, ready for action. He went through the country helping people and healing everyone who was beaten down by the Devil. He was able to do all this because God was with him.

39-43 “And we saw it, saw it all, everything he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem where they killed him, hung him from a cross. But in three days God had him up, alive, and out where he could be seen. Not everyone saw him—he wasn’t put on public display. Witnesses had been carefully handpicked by God beforehand—us! We were the ones, there to eat and drink with him after he came back from the dead. He commissioned us to announce this in public, to bear solemn witness that he is in fact the One whom God destined as Judge of the living and dead. But we’re not alone in this. Our witness that he is the means to forgiveness of sins is backed up by the witness of all the prophets.”

44-46 No sooner were these words out of Peter’s mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners. The believing Jews who had come with Peter couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on “outsider” non-Jews, but there it was—they heard them speaking in tongues, heard them praising God.

46-48 Then Peter said, “Do I hear any objections to baptizing these friends with water? They’ve received the Holy Spirit exactly as we did.” Hearing no objections, he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”(Acts 10: 34-38, MSG, emphasis mine)

Cornelius’s conversion runs parallel to the Eunuch’s. Remember how the Eunuch asked Phillip the same question about baptism? The point is the same. The exact same. Christ’s body was broken for everyone. He plays no favorites, he sees no pedestals, he could care less about whether you’re black or white, male or female, left-handed or right-handed, or, gay or straight. The God we serve comes with no pre-reqs.

What he wants is for us to love him first and foremost, and then love our neighbor as ourselves.

Can the Church say its in obedience if its debating whether or not to let gay folks in?

The fact that the church needs to accept is that lgbt population does not need its approval to be a member of God’s family. It does not need the Church to measure and weigh the pros and cons of accepting their membership. That’s not church, that’s a country club!

The church needs to accept that we all stand as equals before the Eucharist.

The gay community does not need your help in finding God.

It was Christ that first cut the temple curtain. He brought the burn outs back in. He drank of their wine. He fished with their nets. He kissed on their cheeks. He washed clean their feet.

God’s been with outcasts like us for over two thousand years.

If the church is to be the body of Jesus, it has to be more like the Olympics and less like the country club. Instead of figuring out the best approach to allowing gay folks in the door, it needs to check its back closet and notice all its gay members hiding among the flock. Hell, notice all of the diversity within its walls. Stop seeing what you’re lacking and starting seeing those you already have. Racial minorities, women, the disabled, immigrants and so on.

So, for my brother and his church- Recommendation Number One: Recognize the space God has already created for the lgbt community. Just like he did for Cornelius, Hagar, the Ethiopian Eunuch, African Americans, mentally ill, women and so on.

This is a framework to move forward on.

RR

Unsung Heroes: Mary and Her Sorrow

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The water from her eyes met the blood in his palms, as she waited with her first born for the end. The cross was a cruel end to an ugly beginning. These two had traveled many miles together- their bond so much stronger than blood.

Before he was born- when she was just a kid herself, God chose her to be the one to watch over him. To keep him fed in an age of poverty and teach him the Word in an age of the Pharisee. To direct him on the path he was destined to tread and, with every step, remind him he was loved.

Weaving their way to Bethlehem, she had a close call with death. Her baby was coming. The water had broken (I’m assuming) and if she held him in any longer, complications were sure to arise.

Going door to door in a town bankrupt of benevolence, they finally found a space set aside by a farmer. I have no idea if they wound up in a cave or a barn (doesn’t matter), all I know is that it was the absolute worst. I once heard a pastor compare it to the bathroom at the back of a filthy gas station. The kind with a flickering light bulb hanging down from a chain and a ground covered in feces and urine. The nativity was nauseating.

And even still.

Mary had many more miles to go.

Her days consisted of ducking arrows at every turn. When Herod wanted them dead, they had to run. Tucked at her chest was her son as they rode off into the night. Escaping everything but the moaning of mothers echoing off in the distance. Grief and guilt became familiar ghosts for Mary.

Yet she knew this was coming. In her memory stayed the prophecy from Simeon who said, “a sword will pierce your very soul.”

As Jesus grew into a young man, Mary had to manage the demands of his mission with her vocation as a parent. There was one time when Jesus, unexpectedly, strolled away to the temple, and wasn’t found until two days later. When she walked in and found him with the Rabbis, she scolded him through tears. He worried her sick, and she asked him how he could put his parents through such hell. Puzzled and looking her over, he asked why he wouldn’t be in “his father’s house”? A wistful reminder that he was never really hers.

Years later, in a classic moment of a hovering parent, she approached her adult son at a wedding reception. Smiling and with a tone of suggestion, she said, “they’re running out of wine…” To which he responded (my translation, total speculation), “Would you leave me be ma!?! I’m not ready yet.” That didn’t stop her. She knew her son too well. So she turned and marched on over to his friends and said, “do whatever he asks”. In effect, She set the scene for Christ’s first miracle.

And on Good Friday, not mentioned in scriptures, but worthy of note as it is appears in works of art, is the two meeting at Via Dolorosa. This place was a point on the road Jesus walked as he carried the cross to Skull Hill. The body she had cared for, nourished, protected, watched over, was of no resemblance to the carnage coming down the path. Their eyes must have met in the most heartbreaking of goodbyes. The sword started to chip through her chest.

A small group of women trailed Jesus as he walked up to Calvary. He heard their weeping in anguish, and in an emotional moment, he responded to them.

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’”

This is a reference to the approaching destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Roman Empire. But what’s important to soak in here is that he is referencing the heartbreak of being a mom. Having children was a mark of honor among women, being barren was a curse. Yet Jesus turns the meaning of motherhood on its head. Mary knew this all too well.

Beneath the shower of blood, sweat and tears, the stench of unending suffering, and the hours of agony that went unanswered from on high, all she could do was lay below her boy. Her heart shredding as she heard Him whisper to John, “this is your mother now.” He was always thinking of her first like that.

Wanting nothing more than for it to be done, for mercy to melt their hatred, she stayed silent and wept below the dripping tree. Startled, again she lifted her head to hear her boy try to speak. In a great feat of strength he raised his voice and cried, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” His grace knew no limits. He didn’t get that from her. She knew who that was from.

Frog in her throat, hands shaking, breath shortening, tears streaming, she endured hours of her son’s slaughter amongst a crowd of scoffers. Insult after insult, signs saying “King of the Jews”, rocks thrown at his open wounds. To them, his death was vindication for their judgment. They knew he could not be who he said he was. “Save yourself King!” they taunted. He’s saving you, she must’ve thought.

The hours continued and his breathing became more and more labored. Clearing his dry throat as wet tears ran down his face, again he whispered, “I’m thirsty.” At this moment flashbacks must have come rushing back of her teenage years, how helpless she felt. But no longer could she save him. She couldn’t protect him from this. She would take the nails if she could, but she couldn’t.

Then at last, “Father, I commit my hands into your spirit.”  Exhaling, he sighed, “it is finished.” Her soul was pierced.

It is said that Mary played one of the pivotal positions of the early church. After the collapse of her world, as the public put together a kill list with her name at the top, she worked relentlessly for the dream of her son. For the kingdom building he had started. After the ascension of Christ she is the only women mentioned in the upper room with the eleven other disciples, and many have speculated that she was the “woman elect” amongst the disciples.

~

Now of course Mary isn’t among the forgotten people of the Bible. Every person that knows who Jesus is, knows who Mary is. Having said that, sometimes I wonder to what extent people understand the brutal sacrifice of this woman. What she endured, what her life means today, what she represents and the injustice of how she is presented.

The Church (at least protestants) has always had a wary relationship with Mary. Loving her, of course, but keeping her a bit at bay. In Church teaching, there has always been a fear of Mary becoming some sort of Goddess. A higher being that required us to kneel before in worship. This is actually a legitimate concern to be had, as Christ is the only one deserving of our praise. But in our disassociation with Marian worship, I think we started to strip away the importance of her own story.

The Mary I grew up learning about was the beautiful glowing pregnant woman wrapped in a shawl. Cartoon images come to mind of her flight to Egypt as a ride off into the sunset with her boo. It was romantic and enchanting. She was always a virgin (not true) and she became more or less commentary after Jesus’ childhood. A blurb in the background. A mission accomplished.

My adult eyes don’t see it the same way now. I see the preteen girl asked to carry out a death sentence. I see a saint that suffered for the sake of the Kingdom. I see a woman who’s very survival meant the world’s salvation. I see there is so much more beyond her giving birth. She gave her son. She gave her heart. She gave it all up for the sake of kingdom.

And now, I start to see a pervasive sexism in interpretations of the scriptures.  Paul is ordained a suffering servant who ensured the survival of the faith (which he did). Abraham is seen as the father of Israel who had a faith that was fiercer than blood (which he did). Moses is the orphan who liberated the Jewish nation (which he did.) David was the guy after God’s own heart (which he was).

When it comes to Mary, why don’t we revere her life with the same platitudes as we do with so many of the men of the faith? We never consider the fact that while carrying God’s son was big honor, it was also a horrifying request. The gravity of her response should not get lost on us. We assume this cheerful giver mentality when she may have been scared to death.

Also, why does her story seem to come to a climax at the birth and then not given much consideration thereafter? What about her role in Jesus learning the scriptures, developing mentally and socially, what about the fact that she nudged him into his first miracle, effectively kicking off his ministry? What about the guilt she endured over Herod’s massacre? What about the sword piercing prophecy? The nauseating nativity scene? Watching her son suffer a slow and painful death?

She is much more than that quiet girl who gave birth to God beside some sheep. She is a saint, a servant and one that deserves to have the whole of her story told.

There are a couple reasons the story of Mary has been on my mind. One, obviously, Christmas is just around the corner and I’ve been seeing her face in every nativity scene and hearing it whenever “Mary did you know?” is played. Second, the mothers of Newtown. Just the terrifying notion of being a parent, and the hard truth that whether they are newborns or ninety, you can’t protect them from everything.

Maybe looking to the strength of Mary, her resolve, her conviction, her love and perseverance, can give heart to the parents who lost their babies last week.

RR