Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bachmann Played the “Gender Card”?

Just prior to the Iowa caucus last January, the results of which prompted Representative Bachmann’s decision to end her run for the GOP nomination for president, one article particularly got my attention.  The headline was “Bachmann plays gender card as Iowa GOP vote nears.”  It is available at the link below:

I thought the headline was interesting because from my vantage point, Representative Bachmann had not seemed to emphasize gender much.  And after reading the text of the article, in my mind there did not seem to be a lot of evidence that Representative Bachmann was emphasizing her gender.  The article by Brian Baskst of the Associated Press quoted her as describing herself as an “Iowa girl” and saying “We need a strong woman to turn this country around, right?”  To me, such throw away lines don’t seem to be much if any emphasis on gender.  So, she used gendered nouns instead of a more neutral term like “person.”  Big deal.  That hardly means that Representative Bachmann was making some sort of claim of superiority due to her gender.

Mr. Baskst also noted in his article that earlier in the campaign Representative Bachmann had shared an “emotional story about how a miscarriage fortified her anti-abortion views,” and she had made references to motherhood in the campaign.  Again, I don’t see that as particularly different from what male candidates have done in the past. 

Some of them have referenced their children or shared difficult family trials to make political points.  Rick Santorum has made references to his large clan to shore up his support for family values.  John Huntsman talked about his sons’ military service to shed light on positions he’s embraced. 

Again, these points don’t seem to support Mr. Baskst’s claim that the congresswoman played the “gender card.”  Sure, she may be the only one to talk about her experience of having a miscarriage.  But obviously that is simply because she is the only one running for the GOP nomination in this election cycle to have been pregnant.  Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich by virtue of biology simply could not have those life experiences to draw upon. 

Mr. Baskst also describes Representative Bachmann’s status as a mother of five and a foster parent to several dozen as a “favorite biographical detail” of the congresswoman.  But plenty of male candidates have done the same sort of thing.  Senator Santorum in particular comes to mind.  If family values are a critical part of your political philosophy, it makes sense you are going to play up to voters how your own family has been important in your life.  Again, I don’t see anything about Representative Bachmann’s gender that makes that different.  Perhaps I am wrong, but if her husband were running for public office, I suspect he would also be touting those same credentials as a parent.

In the article, Mr. Baskst also describes Representative Bachmann’s affectionate nature on the campaign trail.  He talks about the “warm hugs” she gives, as well as running “her hand along another woman’s back during conversations.”  Interesting.  So, being affectionate is playing the “gender card” per Mr. Baskst?  I find that to be terribly sexist. 

Apparently like Representative Bachmann, I too tend to be a hugger.  When people are happy or sad, my reflex is to hug them.  That is one way I myself express empathy to those around me.  But I don’t think that has anything to do with having a uterus.  I know plenty of women who are not affectionate.  And I know plenty of men who are.  It is very sexist to associate affection with gender.  It plays to gendered stereotypes that women are supposed to be nurturing while men are supposed to be tough and stoic. 

As both a modern 21st century person and a Christian, I think such stereotypes are just caca.  Indeed, Jesus was male, but he was apparently very nurturing and in touch with his emotions.  He ministered to people in gentle, personal ways.  He often healed them by the laying on of hands. 

I also understand that Jesus was affectionate with his friends.  Indeed, it is said that he was “betrayed by a kiss.”  Judas Iscariot used a kiss to Jesus as the sign to signal the authorities who he was so that they could arrest him.  I glean from this that such expressions of affection were not uncommon among the disciples.  Judas was trying to subtly signal the authorities.  He was doing something that would not arose attention or suspicion.  If Judas and Jesus never expressed affection in that way, then the kiss would have not been received or would have attracted commotion. 

Further, when his friend Lazarus died, it is recorded that Jesus wept.  As I understand the Scriptures, this was apparently out of empathy for the grief of Mary and Martha who were mourning the loss of their brother.  Jesus seemed to know that he was about to raise Lazarus such that his death was not permanent and was not worthy of mourning.  As a result, Jesus does not seem to have wept for Lazarus, but instead for the pain Mary and Martha were experiencing.  That passage suggests that Jesus was so empathetic that he was feeling the pain of Mary and Martha.

Beyond examples from the New Testament, I also think the focus on Representative Bachmann being affectionate is misplaced based on modern political context.  She is hardly the first candidate for the Oval Office to be affectionate on the campaign trail.  I recall Hillary Clinton doing the same thing when she ran for president.  Heck, her husband was even better known for his big bear hugs when interacting on the campaign trail.  And I’m pretty sure Bill Clinton does not have a uterus.

Anyhow, the article by Mr. Baskst provided little evidence of an alleged playing of the “gender card,” but instead focused on comments of voters on the gender issue, as well as comparisons to Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.  Instead of reporting on what Representative Bachmann was or was not doing to emphasize her gender, the article seemed more a bit of analysis of how gender was impacting her campaign. 

The misleading title of the article is annoying to me.  It was lacking in transparency.  If Mr. Baskst wanted to write some analysis of gender, then he should have done that without suggesting that Representative Bachmann was herself exploiting her gender. 

Moreover, the title of the article, in my mind, suggested that there was something to be exploited to the benefit of Representative Bachmann’s campaign because she was female.  In my observation that is far from the truth.  Being female is much more of a hindrance on the campaign trail than it could ever be a benefit. 

Further, the wording of the title plays into fears and even paranoia of many in our society who believe that affirmative action gives unfair advantage to those who are unworthy and unjustly denies benefits to those who are deserving.  There are many in our country who have never been able to see beyond President Obama’s race and believe that he was elected simply because he is partially of African heritage.  I disagree with those who hold such views.  Like being female, I think being African American is much more of a hindrance in a nation-wide election than it could ever be a benefit.  But I am cognizant that many disagree with that conclusion.  The title of this article on Representative Bachmann, however, feeds underlying fears and paranoia that are very much alive in our country.  I do not know Mr. Baskst and have no idea if that was his intent.  Perhaps it was an unintended consequence.

Matthew 26:48

The man who was going to help them catch Jesus had told them that he would give them a sign. He said, “The man that I kiss is the one. Catch him and hold him.”

John 11:30-35

Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him.

The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.

Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.

And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.

Jesus wept.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

“Red State Feminists”

Last month I heard a really interesting interview on NPR.  Michelle Bernard, a conservative political analyst, was interviewed to discuss the presidential campaign.  The transcript from the interview is available at the link below, as is an option to listen to the interview.

There were a number of points in the interview, which I found intriguing. 

It was noted that over half of the votes cast in the last presidential election were cast by female voters.  Thus, women are an important segment of the electorate.  Candidates overlook them at their peril.  Indeed, Ms. Bernard sees women as a voting bloc in their own right.  She opined that overwhelmingly she believed they were “absolutely dismayed” at the focus in the GOP primaries on contraception.  Instead she wanted to hear the candidates talk about the economy and “the least amongst us” for whom “the American dream seems to be a very cruel joke.”

In the interview, Ms. Bernard described what she referred to as the concept of the “red state feminist.”  That was an intriguing concept to me.  I’ve lived in red states most of my life, but I’d never heard that phrase before.  Ms. Bernard also explained that red state feminists felt that in the last presidential election Sarah Palin had spoke for them.  Such women did not want to feel “demeaned” because they were raising children and not in the workforce.  As I understood the concept, a red state feminist is a woman who may opt to stay at home to raise her kids full-time, but wants to be respected for that choice.  A red state feminist is apparently someone who doesn’t agree with our culture’s emphasis on respecting only those who bring home the bacon.  Amen to that!  As a Christian, I don’t believe that our worth as human beings is equivalent to the number of zeros on our pay stub.

Ms. Bernard was asked about her reaction to Mr. Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke.  Ms. Bernard said she was “stunned” and “there really are no words to describe how sad” it made her to listen to his words about Sandra Fluke.  Ms. Bernard also said that she believed people running for the highest office in the land have a “moral obligation” to speak out against such bigotry, whether it was sexism, racism or religious bias.

Matthew 25:40

“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

Monday, April 23, 2012

Christianity and Sexism

Before Easter, I was exploring certain issues on the topic of sexism.  In future posts, I’m going to be returning to similar themes for a while.  To some, this may not seem like an obvious fit for a blog on the intersection of Christianity and secular law.  As a result, I’d like to elaborate a bit.

I think the relationship between sexism and secular law is fairly obvious.  Secular laws often have implicit sexist biases or can be an unwitting tool to continue discrimination against women.   Alternately, secular laws can be crafted to empower women and protect them from various manifestations of sexism in our society and our economy. 

Moreover, the politics of choosing our lawmakers is ripe with gender bias.  Only a small fraction of our elected officials nationwide are women.  The media and the public sometimes don’t know how to react to female candidates.  They get questions that male candidates do not.  The media pay attention to aspects of their lives that are ignored when covering male candidates.

The relationship between Christianity and gender bias is perhaps not as obvious to some.  Indeed, many assert that the first century Jewish worldview, from which Christianity emerged, was patriarchal and oppressive to women.  Many also believe that the Christian church has propagated the same sexism to the current day.  I’m not sure I can necessarily refute such points.  Nonetheless, I do believe that Christianity affirms the inherent equality of men and women.  I believe that to be the case even if we the faithful have not always reflected or worked to effect that equality on Earth.

Even in the Old Testament, there are a number of strong female role models.  Deborah, Esther and Ruth all come to mind.  A few others should also be considered including Rebekah, Rahab and Judith. 

In the New Testament Gospels, it is remarkable that Jesus is reported as having spent considerable time ministering to and teaching women outside his family.   The male writers of the Gospels did not always bother to tell us the names of these women, but what they did record was insightful. 

Jesus healed several women including Peter’s mother-in-law and the woman with the “issue of blood.”  He also showed mercy and brought spiritual healing to the woman at the well and the woman caught in the act of adultery.   Particularly remarkable considering the culture in which he lived, Jesus also taught women like Mary and Martha about the Kingdom of God.  Indeed, Jesus even gently rebuked Martha when she complained that Mary should abandon her learning to help prepare the meal.  Women including Mary Magdalene, Susanna and Joanna apparently traveled with Jesus during his ministry.  They appear to have supported the ministry financially.

And even after Jesus’s earthly ministry, we know women were important in the early Christian church.  Examples recorded in the New Testament include Chloe, Phoebe and Priscilla.  I’ve read a fair amount of analysis of Paul’s letters.  He is often viewed by many as being misogynist, but modern scholars now are uncertain that some of the most sexist passages were actually attributable to Paul.  Indeed, it was Paul who taught in Galatians 3:28:

"There is not any Jew nor Greek, not any slave nor free, not in male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Those were revolutionary words two thousand years ago.  Indeed, many would say they still are even in the present era.

Luke 21:1-4 (English Standard Version)

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Celebrating Easter When Experiencing Loss

In the last post I talked about the importance of family.  Like Christ, I intend a broad definition of “family.”  But the point is that it is in such close human relationships that we can begin to conceptualize the love of God. 

I can remember two distinct occasions in my life when I felt with particular intensity that I was loved very, very deeply.  One was on the day of my baptism when I was in my early 20s.  The other was several years later when my husband and I got married. 

On the first occasion, I was so amazed and so grateful for God reaching out to me and calling me to be part of his family.  It was overwhelming.  I prayed that I’d be worthy of his love.  I prayed that others would know his love too.

On the second occasion, I felt loved from two different sources.  I felt loved by God for sending me such an amazing man to be my partner.  And I was just incredulous that a person who wasn’t even related to me, who was under no obligation to do so, affirmatively chose me in such a profound way.   Even though I am a total weirdo and quite imperfect, my guy loved me so much that he chose me to share his life.  He publicly promised to God and a bunch of other folk that he’d stay by me forever. 

The intensity of being so loved made me cry like a baby at both my baptism and at my wedding.  During our wedding liturgy, I remember my poor husband desperately ripping the faux hankie from his rented tux to try to console me and give me something to sop up the tears that wouldn’t stop flowing during the hour long mass. 

One of the bittersweet aspects of loving human relationship is that at some point we will experience separation due to the physical death of people in our lives.  As Christians, we understand that kind of loss to be temporary.  We know physical death is not permanent and we’ll be reunited in heaven.  Nonetheless, that kind of separation is very painful, even for people of faith.  When you love someone so deeply, not having them in your life any more hurts intensely. 

The loss of a partner can particularly be difficult.  And that pain can be intensified at certain milestones, like holidays.  Our family has several friends who have been widowed in the last year.  I’ve been thinking of them this week.  Some of them were celebrating their first Easter without their loved one.  I know it must have been very difficult, but I hope they were consoled by the meaning of Easter.

As I’ve been reflecting on the profound impact of being loved by one’s partner, and the pain at being separated from that person, two songs have been on my mind.  They are by very different secular artists, but they express similar experiences.  I hope you enjoy them.

“I Try” by Macy Gray

“Where Have You Been?” by Kathy Mattea

John 11:32-37

Mary [the sister of Lazarus] arrived where Jesus was, and as soon as she saw him, she fell at his feet.
Lord, she said,
if you had been here, my brother would not have died!

Jesus saw her weeping, and he saw how the people with her were weeping also; his heart was touched, and he was deeply moved.
Where have you buried him? he asked them.

Come and see, Lord, they answered.

Jesus wept.
See how much he loved him! the people said.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Celebrating Easter

Last night at church was our family’s liturgical celebration of Easter.  It was great!  Today on Easter day, however, we’re just spending time together and enjoying each other’s company.  It is a laid back day to rest and have fun.  Nothing big on the agenda, just simple pleasures.  Grandma is making her “famous” enchiladas, which our kids have been looking forward to all week.  To a family with Texas roots, nothing says “celebration” like enchiladas!

Christians in the United States often are known for their advocacy of “family values.”  This advocacy often takes on political ramifications.  And the exact interpretation and application of such values can be controversial at times.  But today I just wanted to explore briefly why “family values” are even important to Christians.

It is not that Christians have a legalistic emphasis on bloodlines or the concept of the family as a fixed unit.  No, that’s not it.  Jesus had a fluid and inclusive vision of family.  Consider Matthew 12:46-50:

 Yet while he spake to the people, lo! his mother and his brethren stood withoutforth, seeking to speak with him.

And a man said to him, Lo! thy mother and thy brethren stand withoutforth, seeking thee.

And he answered to the man, that spake to him, and said, Who is my mother? and who be my brethren?

And he held forth his hand into his disciples, and said, Lo! my mother and my brethren;

for whoever doeth the will of my Father that is in heavens, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.

Consider also John 19:25-27:

But by the cross of Jesus stood His mother, His mother's sister, Mary the [wife] of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

So Jesus, seeing His mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing near, said to His mother, [Dear] woman, See, [here is] your son!

Then He said to the disciple, See, [here is] your mother! And from that hour, the disciple took her into his own [keeping, own home].

Christ taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  And in the parable of the Good Samaritan, he explained to us that God has a very expansive definition of the term “neighbor.”  But we humans typically don’t know what it means to love unless it is modeled for us and we experience love firsthand.  For most human beings, we are first introduced to the concept of love within our families. 

No family is perfect.  And even if there is disharmony or dysfunction, we can glean lessons of love by the way our family members try to meet our basic needs and extend compassion to us in acts of tenderness.  When we learn those lessons of love, it then equips us to fulfill the Great Commission of the risen Christ to teach all nations about the ever-lasting, omnipotent love of God.

Recently, I came across some beautiful music that really exemplifies these points.  I wanted to share that music today because it seems so apropos on the day we celebrate Christ’s resurrection.  Death has no power over us, so we’re liberated to do God’s will in sharing his abundant love with all his children.

My family is second to none in its enthusiasm for public libraries.  We go to the library on at least a weekly basis to find new books to devour.  And sometimes we branch out and borrow CDs.  Recently, I found a CD by Ziggy Marley in the children’s section of the library.  I have been aware of Mr. Marley for a long time. 

I was somewhat familiar with his father, Bob Marley.  I enjoy reggae.  And his classic song “One Love” is incredibly beautiful.  I’ve heard it sung in churches.  Indeed, Bob Marley was an adherent of the Rastafari movement, which I understand is fundamentally Christian and is focused on the repatriation of people of African descent to Africa.  Bob Marley was baptized as an adult.  He often spoke and sang with references to biblical concepts. 

Bob Marley was actually a little before my time.  I know of him like I know of Elvis, the Beatles, the Doors and Aretha Franklin.  But his eldest son, Ziggy, is my contemporary. 

When I was an undergraduate, Ziggy Marley was a young adult, just a few months older than me and he had just released Conscious Party.  He released the album with his band, the Melody Makers, which was composed of his siblings.  The album was amazing.  In those days before CDs caught on, I listened to my cassette tape over and over again. The music was beautiful and the lyrics were deep.  The album made a splash in pop music because it seemed incredible that someone so young would have such insightful observations to share with the world. 

A good friend of mine and I went to a concert at our college when Ziggy Marley & and Melody Makers came to town in support of Conscious Party.  It was a great though rather intimate concert in a relatively small venue.  I remember being impressed and moved seeing this young man performing with his family.  As I recall, his mom was even on the stage singing back-up.  A family singing together publicly.  Parents, kids, siblings apparently getting along, and working towards a common purpose.  What a concept. 

That concert was over 20 years ago.  I’ve been a little busy during that time.  I haven’t exactly had my finger on the pulse of pop music.  I have to admit I haven’t really listened to Ziggy Marley’s music much over the years.  But finding his 2009 album Family Time at the library recently was so serendipitous.  It is a great collection of songs.  Our whole family has enjoyed it.

Like me, Ziggy Marley is now middle aged, married and a parent.  Apparently Mr. Marley and his wife, Orly, have six children.  (I love the names they have chosen!) Perhaps not surprising for someone with such a large clan, Mr. Marley is passionate about family.  That passion inspired his 2009 CD.  The whole album is great, but there are two songs in particular I wanted to share with you: “Family Time” and “I Love You Too.”  Though they aren’t explicitly religious in theme, both of these songs embody the idea of the family as the context where we first encounter God’s love to equip us to share that love with others.  Such an apropos message for Easter.

The links below will play videos of those two songs.   Enjoy!

Luke 10:33-35

But a certain Samaritan who was traveling came up to him and, when he saw him, had compassion.  And he came up and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine, and he put him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  And on the next day, he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him, and whatever you spend in addition, I will repay to you when I return.”

Matthew 28:19-20

Go then and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you all the days (perpetually, uniformly, and on every occasion), to the [very] close and consummation of the age. Amen (so let it be).

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Kick-Off

Easter is technically not until tomorrow, but in some faith traditions, we just can’t wait and begin celebrating tonight! 

For example, at my church tonight we’re having a Passover Seder dinner together.  It is an annual tradition at our parish.  It is very popular.  Who doesn’t enjoy delicious food?  After our dinner, after the sun has gone down, we all go into the dark church with candles to begin the longest service we have all year.  The darkness is meant to represent the darkness of life without Christ and the emptiness of the tomb.  We’re going to read a lot of Scripture leading up to the climactic point when Mary Magdalene encounters the risen Christ, whom she initially mistakes for the gardener.  We’re going to sing a lot of joyous songs.  And we’re going to do some baptisms to welcome others to the Body of Christ.  It is going to be a party!

Easter is the reason we call ourselves “Christians.”  If the resurrection had not happened, then Jesus would just be a wise teacher.  But we Christians do believe he died an earthly death, yet rose again.  Death as we humans had previously understood it ceases to exist.  It is a temporary state.  Life does continue.

Many years ago, the country singer, Dolly Parton, recorded one of my favorite Easter songs.  It basically tells the story of Christ’s resurrection in a personal way from the perspective of the disciples.  The first link below is a clip of Ms. Parton performing the song at the CMA awards in 1989.  The second one has Ms. Parton’s vocal performance but with images to express the story told in the lyrics.  Enjoy!

Luke 24:13-35

And behold, on that same day, two of them were traveling to a village named Emmaus that was sixty stadia distant from Jerusalem, and they were conversing with one another about all these things that had happened.  And it happened that while they were conversing, and discussing, Jesus himself also approached and began to go along with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are these matters that you are discussing with one another as you are walking along?” And they stood still, looking sad.  And one of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to him, “Are you the only one living near Jerusalem and not knowing the things that have happened in it in these days?”  And he said to them, “What things?” So they said to him, “The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene, a man who was a prophet, powerful in deed and word before God and all the people,  and how our chief priests and rulers handed him over to a sentence of death, and crucified him.  But we were hoping that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. But in addition to all these things, this is the third day since these things took place.  But also some women from among us astonished us, who were at the tomb early in the morning,  and when they did not find his body, they came back saying they had seen even a vision of angels, who said that he was alive! 24 And some of those with us went out to the tomb and found it like this, just as the women had also said, but him they did not see.”  And he said to them, “O foolish and slow in heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that the Christ suffer these things and enter into his glory?”  And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things concerning himself in all the scriptures.  And they drew near to the village where they were going, and he acted as though he was going farther.  And they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is getting toward evening, and by this time the day is far spent.” And he went in to stay with them.  And it happened that when he reclined at the table with them, he took the bread and gave thanks, and after breaking it, he gave it to them.  And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he became invisible to them.  And they said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was speaking with us on the road, while he was explaining the scriptures to us?”  And they got up that same hour and returned to Jerusalem and found the eleven and those with them assembled,  saying, “The Lord has really been raised, and has appeared to Simon!” And they began describing what happened on the road, and how he was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Our family leads a busy life like everyone else.  The world does not stop because it is Holy Week.  It is a hectic time at work for me.  My poor husband even has a big test this weekend in one of his classes.

Nonetheless, our family is taking time to reflect and remember the events commemorated during Holy Week.

My kids are still young, so we’re doing age appropriate things with them.  For example, I rented the Veggie Tales Easter Carol video, which we watched last night.  It is an Easter version of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol.  Like any video in the Veggie Tales series, the characters are all cartoon vegetables, there are catchy songs and the stories are based on Christian themes. 

Easter Carol tells the tale of a Scrooge-like character who misses the point of Easter.  His beloved grandma had loved Easter and making Easter eggs.  She had told him as a child that Easter meant no more death.  He hadn’t really gotten what she was saying, he didn’t listen when she tried to tell him about Jesus.  The Scrooge character later built a factory to make plastic Easter eggs that would never go away.  He thought that was what Easter was all about.  He thought making Easter eggs year round would keep his grandma’s memory alive. 

Nonetheless, with the help of a wise pixie played by Christian singer, Rebecca St. James, the main character finally understands the Jesus story.  The pixie shows him what the world would be like without the hope of Easter; people would be fearful and selfish, never caring about or daring to help others.  Our family really enjoyed the Easter Carol  video.  Like all Veggie Tales flicks, it was entertaining and had valuable messages.  My husband and I often half joke that we’ve learned a lot about the Bible from watching the Veggie Tales.

Today is what is called “Maundy Thursday” or “Holy Thursday” by many Christians.  It is the beginning of the “Easter Triduum,” which is the three day intense liturgical period consisting of Maundy/Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.  Many Christians go to church for services or prayers on these special days.  Our family’s church has a special service tonight.  It is a remembrance of the last supper.  We have a foot washing and then we prepare communion (a.k.a. Eucharist) for the last time before Easter. 

The foot washing admittedly seems weird initially.  But the point is reenacting Jesus’s act of love and humility in washing his disciples’ feet at the last supper.  Jesus knew that his earthly life was nearly over, and he gave the disciples a very powerful example of love for the community.  He wanted them to take care of one another when he was no longer physically present.  Though strange at first blush, the foot washing is actually a very beautiful part of our service.  A lot of people cry.  Even me, though I never feel up to having others wash my feet.  It is powerful to be reminded how deeply God loves each one of us, and how we are each called to be the hands and feet of Jesus to bring that love to other human beings in need.

After the foot washing tonight, we will prepare communion.  We take communion in remembrance of the last supper.  Then when communion is over, we read the passage from the gospels about Jesus’s arrest.  Then all the lights in the church are turned off and everyone walks out quietly.  We contemplate how the disciples must have felt.  After the love and intimacy of the last supper, their leader is taken from them.  They are lost and crushed without him.  Again, it is such a powerful experience, that many of us tear up as we leave the church and head out into the darkness.  Among other things, it makes me grateful for having Jesus in my life.  I’ve been a Christian for over 20 years now.  I cannot imagine how empty my life would have been without the light of Christ.

Tonight, after our Maundy Thursday service, our church will have an all night vigil.  The purpose is to remember Jesus’s final hours, and to reenact in a way his agony in the garden.  People from our church have signed up to take one hour shifts throughout the vigil.  By the time I signed up, there was just one shift without a volunteer and it was in the middle of the night.  I may be a little tired tomorrow!

I’m quite partial to sleep in the base case, but I’m really looking forward to the vigil tonight.  It is a little crazy to go to the church and pray in the middle of the night like this.  But it is exciting that our church is doing this. 

Last year I did it for the first time.  I was nervous and brought my Bible to read through my shift.  The hour before me was covered by an adorable elderly couple—a retired pastor and his wife—who had sat and prayed together for an hour.  It turned out that it was too dark for me to read during the vigil.  Only one small light was lit, and frankly I couldn’t find the main switch in the chapel area.  So I just sat and meditated on God’s presence in my life.  The hour went faster than I anticipated. 

A sweet friend of mine showed up to relieve me and take the next shift.  She was very alert and bubbly for a shift in the middle of the night.  The anticipation of Easter was hard for her to contain; she was so obviously excited.  The protocol of the vigil is such that there is not supposed to be talking; it is a quiet and somber event.  So, when my friend showed up to relieve me, we didn’t talk, but just exchanged big bear hugs.  Our excitement for our faith, and our love for Jesus was obvious even without words.

John 13:1

Now before the feast of Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come that he would depart from this world to the Father, and having loved his own in the world, loved them to the end.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

“El Shaddai” by Amy Grant

I’m kinda old.  At some point, I officially crossed the threshold into middle age.  Oh, well.  That is not particularly bothersome to me.  In many ways I really embrace this fact because I have experienced and learned a lot.  There is still a lot to learn, but I cherish the experiences I have had to-date  because they have taught me much.

In my time on this planet, I’ve witnessed (among many other things) the career of Amy Grant.  I have been able to see how revolutionary her career has been.  Though I have never met her, I’m very proud of her.  Younger folks may barely know who she is.  They probably also take for granted (no pun intended) the popularity of the genre of music called “Contemporary Christian.”  It was actually quite controversial when Amy Grant spearheaded it several decades ago. 

In the early 1980s, I was not even a Christian, but I remember the tremendous excitement my Christian friends had for Amy Grant.  She was a young artist who expressed her deep love for Jesus with a modern style of music.  She wore purple sweatshirts and jumped around the stage when she performed.  She was often compared to Madonna who was very popular at the time.  But Madonna had a very different style from Ms. Grant, e.g., wearing rosaries and little else as she simulated sexual acts on the stage.  Though repeatedly encouraged by the media to speak out against artists like Madonna, Ms. Grant refrained from doing so and insisted it was not her place to judge.   

Yet despite the fact that Ms. Grant was pretty tame and was very devout in her religious beliefs, many were threatened by her new approach to Christian music.  She received ugly, threatening letters that accused her of blasphemy and sacrilege.  Some of the letters expressed the writers’ view that Ms. Grant was going to burn in hell for her diabolical music. 

Even though I was not a Christian at the time, I was deeply impressed by Ms. Grant’s refusal to judge other artists and her steadfastness despite the ugliness that some fellow Christians cast at her.

Later, when I did become a Christian, I took a closer listen to her music.  By then, some of it had made it into the worship music that churches used in their services, and she had even had a few secular hits.  Amy Grant wrote and recorded a lot of really beautiful Christian music over the course of her career.  I’m grateful for the gifts she was given, and I’m grateful for her courage to share her gifts with others.

One of my all-time favorite songs that Ms. Grant recorded was “El Shaddai.”   The title is from the Hebrew language and is often translated into English as “God almighty.”   The song is a real classic.  Others have sung it as well, but I’ll always be partial to Ms. Grant’s version.  It is simple and yet very powerful.  I listened to it recently on Palm Sunday; the lyrics brought tears to my eyes though I have heard the song countless times.  It is very moving.

The link below takes you to a performance of “El Shaddai” by Amy Grant just a few years ago.  She too has crossed over into middle age at this point.  The lyrics of the song are written out underneath the video inset.  I encourage you, particularly during this Holy Week, to take a listen to “El Shaddai” and to reflect on the beautiful lyrics.  They are truly a gift.


Galatians 6:8

Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

“The Word”

In the Christian religion, we have a lot of labels we use to reference Jesus of Nazareth.  Some of these may sound pretty odd to non-Christians: “Lamb of God,” “the Son of Man,” “Light of the World,” “Alpha and Omega,” “Bread of Life,” among other labels.  As Christians, we sometimes take these terms for granted and don’t necessarily reflect much on what they mean.  They are just such a common part of our liturgical lexicon.  Unless someone stops and asks us, we may not pause to reflect on what these terms really mean.

I’d like to explore one of these labels a bit: “the Word.”  At the beginning of the Gospel of John, the author begins with the mysterious statement:

IN THE beginning [before all time] was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself.

He was present originally with God.

All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him was not even one thing made that has come into being.

In Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men.

And the Light shines on in the darkness, for the darkness has never overpowered it [put it out or absorbed it or appropriated it, and is unreceptive to it].

(quoted from the Amplified Bible John 1:1-5)

When compared to the language in the other three New Testament gospels, this opening to the Gospel of John is pretty odd-sounding stuff.  I’ve always been a little perplexed by it, not confident I could explain it to others.  Recently, I think I may have had a bit of an epiphany on its meaning, however.

God truly works in mysterious ways.  I read a lot about theology and biblical scholarship.  But my little epiphany did not come from something I read.  Instead it came about through an experience I had recently.

Last week I came down with a nasty cold.  It started as a head cold, then traveled south and triggered the worst case of laryngitis I’ve ever had.  Losing one’s voice is kind of a catastrophe for someone who teaches.  Being able to talk is critical to do my job. 

My Wednesday class had to suffer through my hoarseness.  And things were so bad by Thursday that my students that day had to put up with my use of an annoying microphone to be heard.  I don’t teach on Friday this semester, so after my Thursday class, I’ve tried to be quiet and refrain from talking entirely.  I’ve been to the doctor and I’m taking all the right meds.  But unfortunately the best thing for laryngitis is quiet.  The voice needs to rest and recover.

So the past few days I’ve been forced into a fast from talking.  I tell you, it is tough!  Although I cannot talk, that doesn’t mean I’ve been able to withdraw from those around me.  My family and I still have to interact to do things around the house and to maintain our relationships.  We have chores to get done, we want to share ideas with one another, my kids want to ask me questions.  It is tough to do all that without talking.

We had to get my daughter to soccer practice Friday, then she had a double header of games on Saturday.  Our family went to church this weekend.  In all these interactions, people talked to me and I needed to talk back.  Information needed to be exchanged.  To avoid offending people, I had to pantomime the situation with my laryngitis to explain why I was apparently giving them the cold shoulder. 

Unfortunately, my husband and I had previously volunteered to usher this past weekend.  It was hard to do that without the ability to talk because the responsibility of an usher involves a lot of hospitality and guiding people attending the worship service.  Again, without a voice, that is pretty tough to do.

Our family’s house church group had its monthly meeting Saturday night.  It is a fun time where a handful of families come together to worship in a small group setting, share their faith and some yummy potluck.  Because it involves a lot of talking, I had my husband and kids go on without me.  I stayed home alone.

Over the past few days, I’ve limited my interaction with the outside world.  My family has been on the front lines of my inability to talk.  I’ve been quite disappointed with my husband’s inability to read lips.  He’s one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known, so it has stunned me that no matter how slow I mouth a simple one or two word message, he never seems to know what I’m saying.  Not even when the mouthing of words is augmented by some pretty darned clear pantomime.  Meanwhile, he’s been ticked off at the handclapping and snapping I’ve had to resort to in order to get his attention at relevant times to do my mouthing and pantomime. 

My daughters’ skills at charades are frankly not that hot either, which often has left me as the recipient of blank stares and crumpled brows.  It has been frustrating to have to write out my words.  It takes too long and apparently some people say I have messy handwriting.  (OK, in truth, this seems to be a unanimous sentiment in the Pease-Wingenter household.)  A faster typist, I’ve had to resort to e-mailing my husband a few times while he was only a few feet away. 

Other times—actually many times in the past few days--I’ve just had to give up on getting my message though.  When even a few key words couldn’t be understood by my family, I sometimes had to just waive the proverbial white flag.  As long as no one’s life was on the line, I had to accept that I couldn’t always get my message across, and there would just be messes to clean up later as a result.

All of this has given me a greater understanding for the importance of human language and oral communication in our ability to conceptualize God.

Throughout human history, God has tried to reach us in different ways.  The Hebrew Bible story of Joseph illustrated the idea that God has sent people dreams to communicate ideas, but not everyone has had the ability to interpret what God is telling us in those dreams.  God is often said to speak to our hearts.  That too is an inexact means of communication because we humans do not always comprehend fully.  In a few instances, God has taken less subtle approaches to reach out to us.  But most of us will not experience a burning bush in our lifetime.

Christians understand Jesus of Nazareth to be God’s son sent to us, fully human and fully divine.  This is quite an astonishing concept.  The Creator of the Universe becomes a mortal human being.  This idea certainly sets Christianity apart from all other religions.

Some may question why an omnipotent god would do such a thing.  It may not make sense.  Indeed, even as a Christian, it is something we contemplate but may not fully understand.  We use terms like “mystery” to describe it.

This week with my laryngitis, I felt like I understood that mystery a little better.  Human language is imperfect.  It doesn’t always capture fully what we are trying to express.  But it is a powerful tool nonetheless.  Sending Jesus to live among us, to use human language to teach us about God’s Kingdom was a brilliant way to get through to us.  Jesus taught us primarily through his words.  He spoke Aramaic to those with whom he interacted.  He used terminology they understood to help them comprehend God. 

Moreover, he did this through oral communication.  Jesus’s ministry was not a ministry of letters.  There was no e-mail or texting.  He did not write books.  Indeed, most of the people in Jesus’s society were illiterate.  Writing his message down would not have been an effective means of communication.

Instead, Jesus talked to people.  A lot of people.  He spoke to those around him where he lived.  He traveled and approached strangers to talk to them.  He attracted crowds and he talked to them too.  He did not express himself through mime, dance or the dramatic arts.  He spoke words. 

And those words changed those who heard them.  They perceived a truth in Jesus’s words they had not previously known.  That experience inspired radical reactions.  People left behind the life they knew to follow Jesus in his ministry.  They were so drawn to his words and the concepts behind them.  They were clearly very deeply moved.

I think we sometimes take words for granted.  Even those of us, like me, who work in a profession based on the importance of words.  Words matter.  They change people in profound ways.

We also tend to take for granted the criticality of oral communication.  That is the key way we as humans interact and express what is inside us.  My recent forced abstinence from spoken words has helped me not take all that for granted as much.  And it has given me a new appreciation for the appellation “the Word.”  Thank goodness Jesus had a healthy voice and was able to communicate orally!

Mark 4:33
With many such parables [Jesus] spoke the Word to them, as they were able to hear and to comprehend and understand.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Beginning of Holy Week

Today is Palm Sunday, which marks what many Christians refer to as “Holy Week.”  It is the climax of the liturgical year.  As our pastor observed this weekend, it is an “emotional rollercoaster.” 

We begin with Palm Sunday, which marks Jesus’s final entry into Jerusalem.  It is a triumphal entry.  He is welcomed by adoring crowds who greet him in a celebratory fashion by waving palm branches.   But not long after, he is taken into custody by the religious leaders, then handed over to the secular Roman leaders.  He is tried and convicted.  He receives the death penalty.  And the Romans had a particularly cruel form of imposing death on convicts: crucifixion. 

Not only does Jesus die a torturous death as a common criminal, he is abandoned in a cowardly fashion by those closest to him.  Those who had vowed at the last supper to never betray him, those who  had previously declared their love and loyalty to him, soon would protest that they hadn’t even known him.  Jesus died in agony alone in this world.

But that is not the end of the story.  For Christians, this week will end with Easter.  It is the reason we call ourselves “Christians.”  It marks Jesus’s triumph over death.  For himself.  For us.

Before we get to that glorious point, however, we spend this week in preparation.  We Christians are not just a bunch of dour folks, gluttons for punishment.  That is not why we spend Holy Week remembering Christ’s final days on this earth.  We take time to remember his entrance into Jerusalem, his last supper, his last night when he knew his arrest was imminent, the crowd’s demand to release Barabbas instead of Jesus and Christ’s passion because without doing so, the resurrection would lack context. 

As a lawyer, I find Holy Week particularly interesting.  Jesus of Nazareth was considered a common criminal in his day.  That’s what the authorities in his land determined.  He was tortured and executed as a criminal.  Yet a large percentage of the world’s population worships him as God.  What a curious thing.  I would think that would particularly give us Christians a certain sympathy for those caught up in the criminal justice system.  We of all people should understand that such systems are not perfect and innocent people can be convicted, even executed.

The behavior of the twelve is particularly interesting to me.  If someone were to ask why I’m a Christian, one thing that I could cite is the behavior of the twelve before and after Jesus’s death.  During his ministry, they traveled with him and seemed convinced he had a special relationship with God, and might be the messiah.  Some of the twelve even quarreled about getting a special spot of preference in heaven because of their earthly relationship with Jesus. 

They didn’t get it.  In those days, the concept of “messiah” was that someone was to be sent by God to make things right, to crush enemies.  The person was supposed to be powerful.  When Jesus was arrested, convicted and crucified, the twelve were confused.  That was not supposed to happen to the messiah.  Their dreams were crushed.  This man they had followed, loved and worshipped seemed to not be the one they thought he was.   How devastating.  They retreated in fear and defeat, hiding because they thought the authorities might next come for them. 

But something happened a few days later.  It changed the course of history.  These defeated, depressed, disloyal cowards experienced the risen Jesus.  It was such a game changer that these men who exhibited such cowardly behavior days before became incredibly emboldened.  They no longer feared earthly leaders with earthly powers.  They preached the gospel and literally went to the ends of the earth to do so.  They willingly risked their lives to do so.  Indeed, most of the twelve were killed for their evangelization.

Holy week is about understanding those huge changes of attitude.  The disciples’ reactions after the crucifixion don’t mean as much if we don’t understand how they behaved beforehand.  We remember the abandonment of Jesus not to judge the twelve, but to remember we all stray from Jesus and his teachings.  Fear and the distractions of daily life get in the way.  Sadly, we fall short of our ideals.

And we contemplate the heartbreaking loss the disciples must have felt when their supposed messiah was taken away, humiliated and killed.  The loss must have been crushing.  I get emotional thinking about it two millennia later; I wasn’t even there.

Mark 14:25-34 (Amplified Bible)

Solemnly and surely I tell you, I shall not again drink of the fruit of the vine till that day when I drink it of a new and a higher quality in God's kingdom.

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

And Jesus said to them, You will all fall away this night [that is, you will be caused to stumble and will begin to distrust and desert Me], for it stands written, I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.

But after I am raised [to life], I will go before you into Galilee.

But Peter said to Him, Even if they all fall away and are caused to stumble and distrust and desert You, yet I will not [do so]!

And Jesus said to him, Truly I tell you, this very night, before a cock crows twice, you will utterly deny Me [disclaiming all connection with Me] three times.

But [Peter] said more vehemently and repeatedly, [Even] if it should be necessary for me to die with You, I will not deny or disown You! And they all kept saying the same thing.

Then they went to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to His disciples, Sit down here while I pray.

And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be struck with terror and amazement and deeply troubled and depressed.

And He said to them, My soul is exceedingly sad (overwhelmed with grief) so that it almost kills Me! Remain here and keep awake and be watching.