God is a God of justice, who empowers people to live in ways that welcome all people, in ways that look after the rights of all people, in ways that ensure the safety of all people—and sometimes, in ways that ask of us to put ourselves and our bodies between the vulnerable and those who would seek to destroy them, between those whose race or religion or sexual orientation or gender identity is being threatened and the ones who brandish fear and hatred against them, between families and those who would tear them apart by ripping children from the arms of their foreign born parents.
We who follow Jesus make up that unbelievably weird group of people who claim to take the side of the powerless against the powerful, to worry more about securing food and housing and healthcare for the poor than securing tax breaks for the wealthy.
We’re the folks who see refugees not as terrorist threats, but as neighbors who are literally running for their lives, who see Muslims not as our religious or political competitors but as fellow seekers of God’s peace and justice for the world, who see undocumented immigrants not as sponges who suck up our resources but as families who bring vitality and worth to our lives.
In a world in which the beautiful, the influential, the successful get all the attention, we followers of Jesus opt for failure by being called to love those for whom so many others can manage only fear and hatred. But a people who follow an executed criminal can never get too caught up in what everybody else understands as success anyway.
By Derek Penwell
Let us imagine that you live in a circle of eight houses, seven of which have fertile gardens in back -- enough to feed a family. Unfortunately, however, the eighth house has a patch of swampy land that makes growing a garden impossible. Consequently, the people that live there spend their lives on the edge of starvation.
In the middle of this circle of houses is a commons that everyone uses to supplement their own gardens. But the gardening done in the commons, split eight ways, is only enough to give each house a little extra produce to sell for “nice things.”
The sharing of the commons is a tradition that has been passed down to homeowners in the neighborhood for generations. Nobody even questions it. The commons arrangement is just the way things are.
However, one-eighth of the commons doesn’t give the family with swampy land enough subsist on.
But that’s the way it goes, right? Life isn’t always fair. There has to be winners and losers.
Then one day, you’re having a cookout at your house with the bounty harvested from the commons. You’ve invited over a friend, who just happens to be a surveyor. She’s interested by the layout of the neighborhood, and the almost perfect solution of a commons. She thinks this is a great idea.
On her way to the bathroom, however, your surveyor friend happens by an antique survey map of the neighborhood hanging in your study. She begins to inspect it closely, as supper is being prepared. As she looks, she notices that the commons isn’t really a commons at all. In fact, the land that the neighborhood has been using freely to supplement each one’s income is actually a tract that legally belongs to the house with the swampy land.
You immediately realize the implications of this discovery: For years, because of a longstanding tradition, everyone in the neighborhood has been fattening their pocketbooks at the expense of the family that lives on swampy land. In other words, you realize that you’ve been getting rich on the back of the neighbor who can least afford it. You have an epiphany: Your neighbor’s family has been starving, while the rest of the neighborhood has taken the proceeds for itself -- the proceeds that rightfully belong to the starving family.
You feel awful. But it was tradition. Nobody knew any better. That you probably should have been more compassionate toward your neighbor all along is beside the point. Now you know.
The moral question is: Having finally realized that you’ve been treating your neighbor’s family unjustly all these years, what are you going to do about it?
- Stay quiet about it and keep the arrangement the way it is. It appears to be in your best interest economically just to keep your mouth shut. Why say anything at all if it’s only going threaten your otherwise comfortable existence?
- You could privately admit to one or two neighbors that -- if it were up to you -- you’d just restore the commons to its rightful owner. You’re humane, after all, you don’t necessarily want to see anyone starve. But then you might continue by telling your friends that, though you’re personally pulling for the family with swampy land, you’re afraid that if you say anything publicly about the injustice, one of two things might happen: 1) your other neighbors might get mad and vote you out of the neighborhood association; or 2) they might just think the whole arrangement is falling apart and vote to disband the neighborhood association all together. And boy howdy! You could never live with yourself if you were the person who submarined such a great arrangement, which seems to meet the needs of so many people.
- Or you could say, “Now that I know an injustice is being committed, I can’t keep quiet about this practice that threatens one of my neighbors, even if speaking up about it makes everyone else angry.”
Whatever you do, though, now that you know your neighbor is suffering unjustly at the hands of people among whom you live and work, morally you occupy a different place than before the surveyor pointed out the inequity.
So, let’s bring this home for the church folk:
If you happen to be a follower of Jesus who believes LGBT people have suffered injustice at the hands of the church, your response to that injustice -- whether you stand up publicly to speak against it or not -- (as difficult as it is to think about) is a moral question.
If you come to believe as a result of your faith that disproportionately imprisoning and killing young African Americans is an epidemic that is just a public manifestation of institutional racism, how you respond to the shooting of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, et al., makes a difference.
If in the course of your life as a Christian and a participant in the great American commons you become convinced that people arriving to participate in that commons from other countries deserve to be treated with dignity and hospitality, whether you choose to stand beside them in the face of hatred is not a matter of moral indifference.
“What will my congregation/denomination think if I publicly name this injustice?” is certainly a question worth asking. But the more pressing moral question has to do with thinking that that question is more important than “What’s my moral responsibility to people facing an injustice that threatens their dignity, their careers, their living arrangements, their ability to be parents -- and in some cases -- their lives?”
True moral knowledge of injustice without action makes you part of the problem. If you don't think so, ask the folks in the swampy land.
Jesus announces a new order of things in which the anawim—a Hebrew word applied to those who are the very lowest in society, the huddled masses, the wretched refuse, the homeless, the tempest-tossed, the folks who live out next to the garbage dump of life (literally, the $#!& of the earth)—a new order of things in which the anawim occupy the places of honor, finally get to sit at the big people’s table, no longer handed the crumbs and the leftovers.
When Jesus calls us to follow him to Galilee, to the walk with the socially marginalized, do we go? Immediately?
There’s work to be done, my friends. Following Jesus as he heads into the shadows to find those people who are trying to remain invisible for fear of what will happen to them requires a sense of the 'fierce urgency of now.'
It’s not easy. Who knows what it might cost you and those you love in the coming days?
But as the activist priest Daniel Berrigan once said, 'If you want to follow Jesus you’d better look good on wood.'
There are too many people looking around, seeing the good others have, and wondering why it’s been reserved for the few. They see folks with reliable health insurance, folks whose children can walk to school without fear of being bullied because of their sexual orientation or gender expression, folks who don’t fear that anytime their fathers goes out for a drive that they’re in danger of being shot. And they say together with one voice, 'You’ve got pretty good lives. That’s good for you, but what about us?'
The church can say all kinds of beautiful things. It can build beautiful buildings, and play beautiful music. It can pack the people into the pews and get itself on radio and T.V., and get invitations to rub elbows with the powerful and the well-off. But let me just say something, if the church can’t answer that question, whatever else it is, it’s not church.
By Derek Penwell
A Course in Creative Writing
They want a wilderness with a map—
but how about errors that give a new start?—
or leaves that are edging into the light?—
or the many places a road can’t find?
Maybe there’s a land where you have to sing
to explain anything: you blow a little whistle
just right and the next tree you meet is itself.
(And many a tree is not there yet.)
Things come toward you when you walk.
You go along singing a song that says
where you are going becomes its own
because you start. You blow a little whistle—
And a world begins under the map.
“They want a wilderness with a map.”
Boy, ain’t that the truth? In a world that seems constantly to be shifting beneath our feet, ministers feel that unspoken expectation every time they step into the pulpit.
“They want a wilderness with a map.”
I think that’s why bumper stickers are so popular. There’s a sense that if we could just get a few things nailed-down, if we could just see a few markers that would point us through the briars, through the overgrown brambles, through the violence, and uncertainty, and senselessness of it all, we might somehow survive another day in the wilderness.
Straight-line, discursive speech that tells us where to put our feet next. We all know about preachers only too anxious to give it to them. The sermon as self-help, as moral disquisition, as prosaic orienteering. “I’m okay, you’re okay.”
“Five easy steps to a better prayer life.”
“God helps them who help themselves.”
“Do this. Avoid that. Don’t talk back to your mother. Brush your teeth after every meal. A penny saved is a penny earned. Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom.”
“Be careful little feet where you go.”
“It’s so hard out here. Tell us something that allows us to believe the whole thing isn’t so unpredictable, isn’t about to blow up in our faces.”
We preachers understand it. We know the diminished expectations. Such deflated speech, however, bridles all complexity, all nuance, all mystery. In our rush to have a manageable reality, a tractable existence we lose the “errors that give a new start/or leaves that are edging into the light/or the many places a road can’t find.”
The temptation of preaching is to smooth the rough edges, to iron out the wrinkles, to fill in the cracks and gaps with caulk, to be assuring and affirming, to opt always for the palliative, rather than the curative.
But this attenuated speech raises the question of why anyone would need to come to church to receive such thin gruel? You can buy that sort of non-confrontational, low-cost reassurance anywhere. Daytime television is busy dishing this stuff out in much more convenient doses, which don’t even require you to get out of bed to partake.
The problem with all this tiny talk for tiny Christians is that bumper stickers are too small to make good maps. If you tame the wilderness, it’s no longer wilderness; it may be easier to move about in an illusion, but you don’t really get anywhere—and it’s not near as exciting.
“Maybe there’s a land where you have to sing/to explain anything.”
Maybe, like Walter Brueggemann has argued, the job of the preacher is not to circumscribe the known world with bromides and banalities—but to render a world heretofore unimagined, to break open a reality that has gone unobserved because we didn’t have the resources to name it, to speak it—by the grace of God—into being, a world where “you blow a little whistle/just right and the next tree you meet is itself./(And many a tree is not there yet.)”
If you ask Jesus, the reign of God is too huge, too grand, too paradoxical ever to be contained by our pedestrian prose; it’s a world so inimical to the way we’re conventionally trained to see things that often the only way we have to speak about it is poetry and parable and story; it’s “a land where you have to sing/to explain anything.”
And in Christ, we’re finally given the words to sing the tree. As we sing the truth, we see that it was a tree all along, and not just a stick with green attachments shooting off in every direction, or a large birdnest, or an inconvenient obstruction to new housing development.
And by singing that one tree into existence in all of its wooded glory, maybe we can begin to understand that there are forests of other trees standing before us, and beside us, and beyond us that we formerly saw as merely wilderness to be traversed as efficiently and painlessly as possible, by whatever map promised the easiest route.
The very act of singing this world sets you on a journey into the heart of the mysterious wilderness. Who would be callow enough, stupid enough to claim that it’s an easy journey to walk? Only those with a pretend map of a pretend land that exists in an illusion called reality, utility, fact—conjured up by people with inexaustable fear, but limited vision.
“Things come toward you when you walk.”
The fact that you begin the journey at all means that you’ll run into obstacles that you would otherwise have avoided if you’d only stayed home and watched Jeopardy.
Beginning the journey at all means that you’ve surrendered the notion that you possess a way to map the wilderness, that it’s possible to have any real understanding as an antecedent to actually taking the first step. In the same way it is impossible to learn to swim without ever getting in the water, it is impossible to know the terrain, to understand the wilderness, while sitting at home in your Barcalounger with a map in one hand and a Budweiser in the other.
“You go along singing a song that says/where you are going becomes its own/because you start.”
Following Jesus is a contact— not a spectator — sport.
“You blow a little whistle—/And a world begins under the map.”
Sing a little bit, take a few baby steps and soon you see that the prosaic maps of the bumper sticker producers, the map-makers only serve to cover up the reality that’s there beneath the surface of a different reality contained in the words the church uses to name that world, and thereby call it into being—a radical, crazy wilderness in which it makes sense to turn the other cheek, to pray for those who persecute you, to sell everything you have and give it to the poor.
Those sorts of big, unwieldy truths don’t much lend themselves to bumper stickers, or to maps . . . or unfortunately for us all . . . to many sermons.
Jai Husband in the pulpit this week!
When we’re the establishment, it’s very difficult not to fall into the trappings of entitlement. Easily I’m talking about spirituality and religion, but I could just as well be talking about gender, sexuality, economics, politics—anytime you have the introduction of the other—into a routine or system previously established, it seems our subconscious default is the exaltation of the normative expression at the expense of and usually invalidation of other-ness. But it’s an illegitimate default as it’s built on authority derived from a projection of ownership that does not exist. IT ALL BELONGS TO THE OWNER OF THE FIELD and that is not us.
The truth of this story, the grim portion of the Christmas story that doesn’t find its way into the Hallmark Christmas Specials, is that Jesus is born into a world that kills children to protect those in power. And we ought not to look too far down our noses at these pre-modern hayseeds from the Palestinian boondocks either. We know all about how those in power seek to trade the lives of children in order to maintain a claim on political power. Flint, Michigan is just up the road after all.
Just because we believe that the work Jesus ultimately accomplishes is precisely what this world needs, we should never be so callous as to say that it magically takes away all the pain the world experiences. As Stanley Hauerwas has said, 'The gospel—the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus—is not a consolation for those whose children are murdered. Rather, those who would follow and worship Jesus are a challenge to those who would kill children.'
In a world that maintains such a casual relationship to violence, a taken-for-grantedness that ought to shame everyone who claims to follow a man who—when given the chance—chose to endure violence rather than inflict it, we need a dangerous mercy, a world altering generosity, the kind that turns reality on its head.
We need a new way of locking arms with those who are too often the targets of cruelty, those who live in fear that the bigwigs who run the show will notice them and begin to stoke the fires of fear and hatred against them—a kindness so destabilizing that the world, as it’s presently ordered, can’t contain it.
Apologies for some of the recording hiccups. You can fill in the missing pieces below in the manuscript.
This year, after an exhaustive polling of the congregation and friends of the congregation, we've decided to have Christmas Eve service at 5:00 p.m., while giving you a time to be with your family and friends on Christmas Day. We will not have Christmas Day Sunday service or Sunday School this year. If you would like to attend Christmas Day services, we invite you to visit with our friends at St. Paul United Methodist Church.
In addition, we will not be having Sunday School on New Year's Day. However, we will have worship at the regular time on that day. Happy holidays!
By Derek Penwell
I used to say that when I was younger … more than I like to remember. Wrong coach. Wrong teacher. Wrong boss.
Of course, I’ve quit some things that were well worth quitting.
I quit the violin in fourth grade, because I could barely manage to make it sound like anything less than two love-starved Carpathian Marmots in the throes of passion.
I was a horrible boy scout, inasmuch as I thought sleeping outdoors in a cotton/poly-blend sack on the hard cold ground a fool thing to do. Moreover, I don’t even like properly heated Chef Boyardee, let alone the gelatinous squares glopped from between the jagged edges of a can opened with the little used implement on a $7 Swiss Army knife knock-off.
I worked at a Ziebart, rust-proofing the undersides of cars against the ravages of Michigan winters. I came home from that place looking like Rambo after a night spent in the rain-soaked climes of the Pacific Northwest with only a Ka-Bar knife and the song in my heart to keep me company.
I sold Icecapade tickets for disabled children as a telemarketer in the back of an old H&R Block building one summer, with a besotted Nick Nolte look-a-like threatening to give all the good leads “TO SOMEBODY WHO CAN ACTUALLY SELL WORTH A &%#@!”
I worked at a church one time that sucked my soul like an Electrolux plugged into a 220 V outlet during a power surge. I was a half inch shorter by the time I quit that one.
Some things I take pride in having quit.
But there are other things I would like to have stuck with.
I wish I hadn’t quit the guitar.
I wish I hadn’t let some of my languages slide.
I wish I hadn’t stopped writing that novel … or that other novel.
Knowing when to hang on and when to quit is, I suspect, something of an art, rather than a science. It has more to do with plot structure or composition than with empirical verifiability or equations.
Part of the problem stems from our inability to know which voices to listen to, and which to ignore.
Social media, which opens us up to a much more insistent set of opinions often only serves to complicate things. I have people who are simultaneously telling me to shut up, while others are telling me to talk louder. Some people apparently believe that I’m Satan’s advocate, while others tell me I’m doing the Lord’s work.
In my better moments I can find the necessary reserves to tune out those who would like nothing better than to see me quit the things I find most important to do. In many moments, though, those voices seem loudest, their warnings most dire.
How do we know when quitting is in everyone’s best interest, and when quitting is the sucker’s way out, that if we’d just hang on a bit longer, our initial instincts would be vindicated?
This is a difficult question, since a lot seems to ride on the ability to persevere through doubt and distraction. It turns out, though, that one of the greatest predictors of personal success isn’t brute intellectual force, but the ability to press on in the face of adversity and doubt. According to Angela Duckworth the highest predictor of success is self-control, not self-esteem. That is to say, students who excel are those who have what she calls “grit,” rather than those who are the smartest and who feel the best about themselves.
In a brief article for the American Psychological Association about Duckworth, E. Packard writes: “Backbone, chutzpah, fortitude, guts, stick-to-it-iveness: All words that describe what separates brilliant slackers from the simply talented who excel through a passionate yet steady approach.”
Having spent the better part of my adult life in post-secondary education I can attest to the insight: the people who do well in school (and, I would suggest, life) aren’t the brightest, but the most dogged—those capable of identifying the good among a host of competing voices, and pursuing it … even though the prevailing wisdom seems unanimous in its prediction of failure.
Clearly, there are some things worth quitting. The trick, though, is not only knowing what’s worth quitting, but why.
Congregations, it seems to me experience this sort of conundrum. Facing decline, anxious congregations capable of working up the necessary courage to try something new often lack the patience to see it succeed. Expecting that everything has to have—if not an immediate payoff, then—a payoff that shows results pretty dang quick.
“But we just started our cat shaving ministry last month!”
“Yes, but it seems to be going nowhere. We thought it would have a greater impact on the spiritual pilgrims in the cat shaving world. Alas …”
On the other hand, there are some things these congregations can’t quit, despite the fact that continuing to hang onto them is like clinging to the alligator as it does its death roll.
“We think that given a bit more time our lace doily making ministry is bound to catch on with the younger generation.”
“But we started it in 1946. We got our last new doily maker in 1972. We shouldn’t rush into any big decisions, but, you know, maybe it’s time to start thinking about going in a different direction.”
Some things are worth quitting.
But there are other things that congregations do on which they ought to take a longer range perspective—not least because ministry should be done for its own sake, because it’s the right thing to do.
Ministry, after all, isn’t about getting what we want, it’s about God getting what God wants.
Those who follow the crucified Jesus shouldn’t be surprised to find out that sticking with a losing proposition sometimes works out in the end.
How can we ever expect the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Hutus and the Tutsis, the Indians and the Pakistanis, the Chinese and the Taiwanese (or the Tibetans), the United States and the Afghanis to live together peaceably if the church doesn’t show them what that might look like?
The church offers hope to the world precisely to the extent that God establishes the church to give the world a glimpse of the new world God has in store—a world in which wolves and lambs lay down together, a world in which Jews and Gentiles claim one another as family, a world in which black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight are no longer epithets to keep one another at arm’s length, a world in which Muslims and immigrants and refugees don’t have to spend their lives always looking over their shoulder for people determined to fear and hate them, a world in which that which unites us is always stronger than that which divides us.
Advent is a scary time of waiting to see how it’s all going to shake out. We’re hopeful, but it’s not with us yet. You only have to read the front page of the New York Times to know that.
We can’t see what it’s going to look like in all of its glory; the mist blocks our vision. But we get glimpses, tiny snatches of light. We stand waiting for Christ to be revealed, but the darkness appears to rule.
Bullets fly. Water canons and concussion grenades are unleashed. The building of walls is contemplated. Children die in the dry night. Governments hire people to invent ever more ingenious ways to damage one another.
God is not satisfied with the world as it is presently ordered. And we hear Isaiah say, 'But in days to come . . .'
According to Jeremiah God didn’t say,
You who rule . . . act with suspicion and distrust, and make sure to guard the stock portfolios of the oppressor. And make certain that the alien in your land runs into the wall of your fear and hatred, prevent widows from obtaining access to food and healthcare and housing that should be reserved only for the deserving. And please, whatever you do, don’t fall for all that sentimental political correctness when it comes to orphans—who are lazy and shiftless by nature; they only want to take advantage of the system. Because, let’s face it, the only innocent blood belongs to people who look like us. So if you have to shed blood, make sure it belongs to people who don’t have any power.
Reality, according to the flattened world in which we live, views poverty, violence, racism, sexual assault, anti-immigrant hatred as something “you people are just going to have to learn to live with."
'You people'—which means 'other people'—which ultimately means 'not me.'
The church—to the extent that it has promoted a version of the gospel concerned primarily only with helping me to get to heaven—has been complicit in allowing Christians to get comfortable with the idea that poverty, xenophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia aren’t a primary matter of concern when it comes to Christian responsibility—that the cries of our sisters and brothers are of interest only after we’ve secured our individual souls.
In our prosaic reality, all that stuff happens to other people who—although we may not make them targets of our open hostility—qualify as perfect candidates for our indifference.
By Derek Penwell
A friend of mine had a baby. After the shock of finding herself the proud new owner of a six pound bundle of joy, pandemonium, and excretion, she went to the mailbox and discovered a bill from the insurance company—the presence of which bill shocked no one, since babies (if they ever did) don’t come for free anymore.
However, after she returned to the newly baby-besieged confines of her home, she opened the bill, only to find that the insurance magnates had refused to pay for her epidural (you know, the hope of chemical relief to which many women cling when the pain becomes unbearable). Sagely, the compassionate folks in underwriting had determined that an “epidural is an elective procedure for a vaginal birth.” Consequently, the insurance company refused to pay that portion of the costs.
My friend was furious. And I, though I lack the requisite equipment to give first person testimony on behalf of the advantages of an epidural for a vaginal birth, was pretty certain an outrage had been committed. I have witnessed labor up close; and I feel safe in admitting my uncertainty about whether I would have the pain tolerance to face it without a great deal of chemical handholding.
I told my wife, a Postpartum nurse and mother of three herself, about the insurance company’s dodge. She got a dangerous look in her eye (the same one she got, perhaps not coincidentally, when I tried to convince her of the propriety of taking my last name when we got married) and said, “Some man made that decision!”
That struck me as wise.
Not long ago my daughter said to me in the car, “Did you know Walmart pays its women employees less than its men?”
“It’s bad, isn’t it?” I said.
Disgusted, she said, “It’s not right.”
No, it’s not right. So, to prove her point, when we got home she sent me a link detailing just how “not right” it is. Women comprise only about 15% of the top management positions in the retail division. Both salaried employees and hourly wage earners who are women earn less than their male counterparts. In fact, there are no regions where women make more than men as Walmart employees.
So bad, in fact, is the disparity that a class action suit was brought against Walmart on behalf of all its female employees, a suit that went all the way to the Supreme Court (Wal-Mart v. Dukes).
In a June 2011 the Court handed down a controversial decision, the substance of which argued that “all female employees” was too big to be certified as a class. The practical effect of that decision shored up a corporate structure that, at least according to the data, suggests a de facto system engineered to keep women at a financial and vocational disadvantage.
And I heard my wife’s voice in my head: “Some damn man made that decision!”
Turns out she’s right … literally: The Supreme Court delivered a decision in which the five deciding votes were all male, while of the four dissenting votes, three were female.
What sometimes get lost in the analysis of this decision—focusing as it almost always does on the implications for Class Action lawsuits—is the reality that, according to both statistical evidence and the anecdotal corroboration, women are being systematically discriminated against at Walmart—and that a male dominated court took a look at the evidence, and said, “What’s the problem?” As Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg argued in her dissent: “The Court gives no credence to the key dispute common to the class: whether Wal-Mart’s discretionary pay and promotion policies are discriminatory.”
Translation: While you boys argue over whether “all female Walmart employees” can constitute a class, women continue to get the short end of the stick at Walmart.
But then again, men making decisions about women’s lives and bodies isn’t something new. Men have been running the show forever—not because that’s what God wanted, but because they could. The apostle Paul was pretty clear about what God really wanted in the wake of Jesus’ work: “There is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
So, just so we have this straight: Those people who claim to follow Jesus have a duty to embody this new reality, where men and women are not only viewed as equals … but treated, paid as equals.
I realize that for most of the culture suggesting that Christians actually ought to support female equality is swimming upstream. The church has a long history of putting its thumb on the scales of justice on behalf of men. Arguing that the church is pro-woman to many people sounds like arguing that dolphin lovers are pro-tuna—the dolphins make out just fine under such a system, but it’s hell on the tuna.
But I don’t think those of us who take Jesus seriously as the great liberator of humanity, as the herald of the radical nature of God’s unfolding reign of peace and justice, can stand silently by while men continue to make decisions as though they possess greater understanding of the needs of women for their own health and bodies. People who actually believe that “there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female” cannot continue to live as though males ought to continue to have some kind of privileged status in virtue of possessing the preferred sexual appendage.
And when I say that Christians must make a stand on behalf of an equitable system, I don’t just mean female Christians. If the world we live in is ever going to look anything like the reign of God announced by Jesus, men are going to have to be just as outraged by knucklehead underwriters refusing to cover epidurals as the women who suffer by being told their pain management is a choice.
Male Christians are going to have to be some of the loudest to speak up when it becomes public knowledge that their sisters, and wives, and daughters, and mothers earn disproportionately less at the hands of corporations and industries (I’m looking at you congregations and employers of women clergy).
Those followers of Jesus who are male are precisely the ones who are going to have to raise hell when Abercrombie & Fitch tells women that they’d prefer that only “thin and beautiful” women wear their clothes, who lose their minds when Victoria Secret markets clothing to teenage girls with phrases like “Call Me,” and “Feeling Lucky?”
In order to be faithful, the church needs some masculine feminists.
It’s not about being politically correct. It’s not about paternalistically protecting the women folk from the depredations of a culture bent on maintaining the power disparity. It’s not about chivalry. It’s about doing the right thing.
It’s about living like Jesus. If we take Jesus seriously, seeking justice isn’t an optional add-on after you get your personal life in order; it’s the way to pursue a personal life for everyone that’s worth ordering.
And just to be clear: some man can’t just make this decision … it’s going to take all of us.
In a world where the sands seem always to be shifting beneath our feet, in a world where fear and trembling are a part of getting out of bed in the morning, in a world where uncertainty holds us captive the ability to “stand firm and hold fast to the traditions” is a way of affirming a different reality—a reality that proclaims that—all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding—God is in control, that God will not allow God’s children to live without meaning in what appears to be a random and arbitrary world, that the fear and trauma we face will be faced by us with God at our side, and that God is already in the process of unveiling a new reign of peace and justice.
FYI: We had a technical hiccup about halfway through. For the unabridged sermon, you can still refer to the manuscript below.
You see, saints aren’t people who do great things for God because they have no shortcomings, no flaws; saints are people who do great things for God in spite of the fact that the deck’s stacked against them, that the shortcomings and flaws always threaten to undo them. Saints are people determined to live their everyday lives as if God matters more than the sum total of their weaknesses.