Angle double raise takeouts, (Un)Coupling,& Toasters

Every Monday night in winter, I grab my shoes and my broom and head to the Steinbach Curling Club to curl with my dad.  The old man plays skip, and I play third.

I not only love to actually curl, but I also love simply watching curling on TV.  During the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Brier, I’ll often pull up curling on my phone and go to bed watching the roaring game.  When I asked Ashley to marry me, I’m not sure she would have said yes if she knew this was a thing.

I love the strategy behind it.  And the technicality behind it.  But I also love how down to earth it is, where on most Monday nights, win or lose, both teams head upstairs to the bar and can sit together at a table and laugh at all the shots we missed.

My curling team, this year, had a bit of a rough start.  We lost our first 7 games in a row. I’d rather go to the dentist 7 weeks in a row to get my teeth cleaned than lose 7 games in a row.

The good news, though, is that since losing 7 in a row, we have now won 8 in a row.  Yes, we are in the B division and not the A division, but still, we have won 8 in a row, and that is better than losing 8 in a row. I like to think that we’re peaking at the right time.

But, the real highlight for me, is that I have gone from missing most of my shots, to making more of my shots.  And I think that my improved shot making is having a direct impact on our overall record.

Now, obviously, the better you play the more likely you are to win… That’s in any sport. But in curling, how well you play directly affects the person after you.  So, in our case, me making my shots means that my dad has relatively easy shots to make, like an open draw, or an open hit.  But, if I miss my shots, oh my, then the old skipper has to get in the hack and make an angle raise double take-out every end. Which he usually misses. And then we lose.

Most curling games cannot be won by the skip alone.  In order to win, most curling games require the whole team to play well.  You cannot win by yourself.

In today’s Scripture reading, Jesus got baptized. But, he did not baptize himself.

He asked John the Baptist to do it.  And, every time I preach about John the Baptist, I simply have to use this picture.  Every time.

Although this year, a random person on the internet sent me a picture of John the Baptist in the Red River in winter, which is just delightful.

red_river_john_batist

Jesus INSISTED that John baptize him.  The son of God, the prince of Peace, the Messiah, was adamant that a regular human preacher baptize him.

Jesus allowed this to happen to him.  He surrendered.  He gave his consent.  He trusted the people around him.  Jesus did not consider himself strong or independent or superior.  He actually did the opposite.  He took a position of inferiority and vulnerability and dependence.

And only then was he ready to be baptized.

His baptism was not a sign of him being ready, that he had reached some magical level of faith maturity, or having all the answers. No! It happened at the beginning of his ministry.  It was a sign of him being open.

Open to God’s way of living.


Well, I like to think of baptism being about both coupling and uncoupling .

We couple ourselves, we link ourselves, we ally ourselves, we choose to place ourselves in the Kingdom of God… We couple ourselves to God’s rule, both in our hearts and in our world.  We open ourselves up to walking together as a community, to care for each other, to be the body, to both give and receive grace and peace, to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves, and to orient our lives around being a disciple of Jesus.

Also, we uncouple ourselves, we break up, we dissociate, we disconnect ourselves from that which is the opposite of God.  Selfishness, racism, the desire for vengeance and revenge, sexism, hatred, nationalism, rage, envy, and more

Now I know that these lists are pretty intense.  And none of us are really good at doing or not doing all these things all the time.  But again, the story of Jesus’ baptism isn’t about him arriving, or having it all together.  It’s about the intent.  The openness.  The allowing of God to change our lives.  The aligning of our lives with God’s purposes.  And the community of people that commits itself to walk together, and invites others to join them on that path.

Not because we’re good at it.   But because we want to.

Well, I’ve already talked about my parents today, so now I’ll talk about my marriage.

Ash and I got married young.  Now that I’m old and wise I say that we got married too young to not know that we didn’t know anything.  But we have no regrets.  I’ve rather enjoyed getting old and wise with Ashley, and becoming a couple that wants to go to sleep at 9pm every night.

But we didn’t wait to get married until we had all the answers.  Or knew how to be a great husband and wife.  We learned along the way.  There have been moments where I have been an above average husband, like this year for Ashley’s birthday, when I arranged that the staff and students at her school would give her a special present from me every hour she was at work. And moments where I’ve been a below average husband, like that winter when our toaster broke so her Christmas present was a new toaster that was on sale for fifteen bucks.

You don’t think about all these things on your wedding day. How can you? Life is hard sometimes.  And you don’t know when those toasters are going to be on sale.  But you can think about why you’re getting married, how you intend to treat each other, and how you’ll figure out the details as they come, but you know it’ll be okay because no matter what you, you’ll face them together.

But postures of openness, intent, vulnerability and commitment are pretty important to healthy relationships.

And when we do adopt these postures in our spiritual lives, we join others along the way.  Because none of us can baptize ourselves.  We are part of a 58 year old Grace Mennonite Church tradition, a 494 year old Anabaptist tradition, and a 2000 year old Jesus tradition, all of which have been filled with saints holding the Christ light for us.  And we are invited to do the same for the next 58 years, the next 494 years, and the next 2000 years.

Because none of us can baptize ourselves.


But, my favourite part of this story is at the end, where a dove comes down and we hear God speaking.

This is the first time we hear God speak in the New Testament, so we should probably pay attention to what she is saying.

 “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”

See, these are two lines from Old Testament Scriptures:

Psalm 2:7, invoking images of being a king.

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.

And Isaiah 42:1 , showing what kind of King he will be… A different kind of king: one that serves, and one that will bring justice to the nations.

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

A king who serves, and works for justice

“This is my beloved son; I am well pleased.”

I like to think that these words, spoken by God, apply to us today.

That of all the voices in our world that tell us that we’re not good enough, that we need to be better and try harder, that we need to look a certain way or do a certain thing.  A voice can penetrate them all with the words:  You are my beloved child, and with you, I am well pleased.

God has chosen us.  All we can do is to allow that love into our lives and let it rule.  We just have to receive it.   We just have to say yes to it.  We just to give God permission.

 

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Fruit Cake, Street Cred, & Throwing Food at King Herod

Today is Epiphany Sunday.

My first year as a pastor, a solid thirteen and a half years ago, I was given the task of preaching on Epiphany Sunday.

And the week before I was supposed to preach, I distinctly remember asking my co-workers:  “What in the world is Epiphany Sunday?”

My co-workers stared at 22 year old Kyle and probably thought “Who in the world did we hire?”

I now like to think of it as them having an opportunity to take a young naïve pastor and introduce him to the church calendar.

See, for most of us, after we’ve gone Boxing Day shopping and the Christmas tree is put away and the calendar turns to 2019, we promptly move on from little baby Jesus being born.

But if we follow the church calendar, oh no, we are still in the depths of Christmas.  Because little baby Jesus was 12 days ago, and we need to keep celebrating.

And Epiphany Sunday is when we tell the story of the three wisemen showing up on the scene, bringing gifts to little baby Jesus.

Except that… The three wisemen actually showed up about two years after Jesus was born.  So little baby Jesus is actually little toddler Jesus, in the middle of his terrible twos and probably saying NO to everything his parents say.

far side

And our Bibles don’t even record how many of wisemen there were.  We just think there were three because of the three gifts.

Gary Larson, with his Far Side Cartoon, thinks there may have been a 4th wiseman, but he wasn’t allowed in the door because he brought fruit cake.

And the Bible doesn’t even say that they were men, or wise.

If they were really wise they would’ve brought better gifts that frankinscense, gold and myrhh… like diapers, soothers, and a potty training book.

And because they had to stop to ask for directions, surely there must have been a woman amongst the lot of them, as we all know the stereotype that most men would rather be lost for days than stop and ask for directions.

Okay.  Enough lame jokes.

Epiphany is another word for “Aha!”  “Eurkea!”  It’s a light bulb moment, where one says “Oh! Now I see what’s going on here!”  It’s like when you finally understand what a derivative is in calculus.

Epiphany is where we remember the magi meeting toddler Jesus, and it’s called Epiphany Sunday because it’s a Sunday were some pretty big things are revealed.

Revealed.

It’s a word I use often when I preach.

Jesus reveals to us the nature of God.  The cross and resurrection reveal what God’s love and victory look like.  The parables of Jesus and The apocalyptic texts reveal the inner hearts of his listeners.

Reveal.  Something is there, and it’s always been there, and it’s just that now we have the eyes to see it.

And for the next few months, we’re reading and preaching about Jesus as found in the gospel of Matthew, so there’s going to be a lot of revealing of who Jesus us.

The story of the magi reveals four things to me.  There are probably more, so if I miss some, please do tell me, and then I’ll be sure to put you on the preaching schedule for Epiphany next year.

Epiphany #1 –  The magi stopped to ask directions to toddler Jesus from King Herod.  I’ll spare you the long history lesson with a short synopsis:  King Herod was a Jewish puppet king set up by the Romans to rule the area.  And he was a homicidal maniac.  So much so, that when the magi didn’t return to tell him where toddler Jesus was, King Herod ordered the killing of all the baby boys age two and under.  He figured that if he couldn’t the one little boy king to kill, he’d just kill all the little boys.  Homicidal maniac.

And so the magi set up the scene where Joseph and Mary and Jesus flee to Egypt. They left their home for a different home, fleeing violence in one country for safety in another.

In today’s world, we call that a migrant.   Or a refugee.  Or an asylum seeker.

Jesus was a refugee. 

Jesus was a migrant. 

Jesus was an asylum seeker.

I’ve preached on this before here at church, so I won’t belabour the point, but to posture oneself as against refugees or against migrants coming to our country, you are literally setting yourself up to be against Jesus.

In a world where there are 68 million displaced people (the most we’ve ever had on the plantet), and in a world where borders are being more and more closed to refugees, Mary and Joseph fleeing with toddler Jesus to a new country is a pretty big deal.   And the story still speaks to us today.

Jesus was a refugee.  Jesus was a migrant. And we will keep telling this story every year on Epiphany Sunday.

And the good news?  It is really, really easy to help refugee toddler Jesus.  When you put money in the offering plate that we stick in front of you every Sunday, 7.5% of that is designated towards sponsoring a Syrian refugee family that we are currently waiting for.  Our church, and our refugee committee, has made it really, really, really easy to help.   That’s good news.

Moving on.

_______

From now til Easter, we will be preaching through the gospel of Matthew.  Matthew was the gospel written primarily to the Jewish community, and some of the stories, or quirky details he includes, make a bit more sense when we remember this.

For example, someone over Christmas asked me, “Kyle, why do we keep calling Jesus the Key of David, or the Son of David.”  Well, Matthew was intentional about showing that Jesus was in the lineage of King David in an effort to “up the street cred” of Jesus.  To modernize it, this is literally like people in Steinbach playing the Mennonite game of who’s grandparents or great-grandparents were mayor back in the day. “You should listen to me, because do you know who my grandpa was?!?”  While we may roll our eyes a bit now about this, Jesus being in the lineage of King David was a really big deal to the Jewish community.

So, I’ll give you the next two epiphanies at once, because they’re related.

Epiphany #2 and #3Insiders can be outsiders, and outsiders can be insiders.

Insiders can actually be outsiders:  King Herod was Jewish.  A homicidal maniac, but Jewish nonetheless.   And he missed it.  He totally missed it.  He knew the religion, he knew the stories, he knew his texts, he had access to priests and religious scholars, but he still missed Jesus.  Herod belonging to his religious community did not stop him from missing God entirely.

And related, outsiders are now insiders:  The magi were scholars from a different country, and a different religion, and a different economic class. They should have been among the last ones to come and pay homage to a toddler born in the lineage of King David.  And yet, here they were.    The outsiders are now insiders.

This is the beginning of the gospel writer of Matthew speaking about God’s love and God’s community being for everybody, not just the chosen, not just the select, not just the holy ones blessed by God.  The good news of Jesus is for EVERYBODY.

And, if we put on our bible nerd hats on,  (and I know a bunch of you got bible nerd hats for Christmas), we know that the gospel of Matthew was written in 80-90 CE, about 20-30 years after the Apostle Paul wrote his letters.  And we know that the Apostle Paul spent a lot of time claiming that GOD’S LOVE WAS UNIVERSAL, how it’s for everyone.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:28)

So in the middle of the early church debating questions about who’s out and who’s in and how that all works, Matthew shows up on the scene and drops this story on them.

You want to know who’s in?  Foreigners from a different religion. And you want to know who’s out?  Jewish king Herod.

I think these epiphanies are good news because

  1. It should cause us to be quite humble, and far less judgy. Because simply participating in a religion, in a church community, showing up and sitting in the same pew every Sunday, doesn’t mean that we won’t miss God either.
  2. And it’s also good news because it’s reminder that we should keep our eyes and hearts open to where God shows up, because God can show up in a whole variety of places, and to a whole variety of people. None of us have a monopoly on God.  And that is good news indeed.

_______

And finally, Epiphany #4 –   Little toddler Jesus is NOT running around the halls of power.

Little toddler Jesus is not throwing his food at King Herod.  Little toddler Jesus isn’t being raised to be Emperor.  Little toddler Jesus is born OUTSIDE any sort of power structure or authority or government.

It’s almost as if God says, “I don’t trust that any king, queen, president, prime minster, or emperor would know what to do with Jesus.  So we’re just going to bypass that entire system.”

Toddler Jesus bypassing the halls of power, the decision makers, the ones with power, the ones with access to wealth and armies and the ability to write legislation… Genius move there by God.  Genius.

It’s genius because can you imagine if Jesus were born a Republican?  Or a Democrat?  Or a New Democrat?  Or a Conservative?  Or a Liberal?  Or a Green?  Or a Bloc Quebecois?  Or whatever party Maxime Bernier is starting?   Or if Jesus was born as a leader of the Romans, the Persians, or the British or the French or the Russians or God forbid our best friends the Americans?  Or gasp… What is Jesus was born a Canadians?   We wouldn’t use that for our own gain, would we?

I mean, like, can you imagine what kings and queens and presidents and prime ministers would do in the name of God is they thought God was on their side, and they had Jesus in their back pocket?

Can you imagine?

Oh, right.  We can.  Because we’ve been living with rulers claiming God’s on their side only since… forever.

And you know… If God’s on your side, you can’t really disagree with that, can you?  You should need to get in line and follow.

This is actually one the reasons why, as a pastor, I have never directly said “God told me to say this.”  Because then, shoot, if God told me, then none of you can disagree with me, and that’s not how we role both here at Grace, or as Anabaptists either.  God’s will is discerned in community, but we’ll be hearing about that in February.

So Jesus avoiding the halls of earthly power is this great new idea that we should maybe keep reminding ourselves of.

Nobody has a monopoly on God.  God will not be confined by our earthly structures and systems and government.  God might even choose to work around them entirely.  If we pay attention, God is present on all sides.  And this is good news for all of us.

So, those are my 4 epiphanies.

My 4 ahas!  Four of the things revealed by the story of magi.

Jesus was a refugee.

Insiders can be outsiders.

Outsiders can be insiders.

And God chose to avoid the halls of power.   

And I would suggest that these 4 things are all good news for us today. And, I’m kind of looking forward to seeing what other good new will be revealed as we keep learning  about and worshipping Jesus.

 

Lobsters, Reservoirs, and Eye Rolls (plus all my regret about that one time in Sobeys…)

A sermon from Micah 6:6-8


I usually do my grocery shopping on Monday mornings.  I have Mondays off, so I make a menu for the week, make a list of what I need to buy, and take my kids to Sobeys.

Last year, the Sobeys in Steinbach kicked it up a notch, and they got new shopping carts in the shape of cars.   Which my kids just love.

Now, these carts are usually in pretty high demand, and unlike Canadian Tire, which has oodles of kids carts, Sobeys only has two. sobeys

One of them is a red fire truck.  And the other one is a pink racing car.

If they’re both available, I let my kids decide which one to take.  And if only one is, well, then, we take it. Because who really wants to be stuck in a boring, grey cart?

There was one Monday morning when I was shopping with Zach and Milo, and only the pink racing car cart was available.  So in go the boys and off we go into the store.

We start in the bakery, and then hit the produce section for our fruits and vegetables.  Then we go to the meat department, but first we stop to say hi to the lobsters.  At the deli, we take at least three of those little paper numbers (which the staff just love), and then it’s off to the dry goods aisles.

And the day we had the pink cart, by aisle 1, Zach, who was four, looked a little sad… almost on the verge of tears.

“Zach, what’s wrong?” I ask.

He pointed down to the far end of the aisle, “That other boy made fun of us for using a pink cart.”

And without a moment of hesitation, I came to my kids rescue by saying out loud, “Well Zach, that little boy can shove it.”

At first, I was a really proud parent… I was teaching my boys that they can shop in any colour of shopping cart that they wanted… We were busting gender stereotypes…  I was not going to let peer pressure become bullying, and I was going to teach my kids to be strong and independent and make their own decisions, and let them know that THEY are not allowed making fun of other kids who choose different things than them.

“That little boy can shove it.”

By aisle 3, I was mortified that I would be simultaneously defensive AND aggressive to another child.  That when “attacked”, my first response was to lash out… to give what I got.  I could not believe what kind of negative example I had set for my own children.  And I was embarrassed that this hostility towards another human being, let alone a child, was lurking just beneath the surface.


See, I love this morning’s Scripture. I love Micah 6:8 so much that Zach’s middle name is Micah, and we have a little picture on his wall with the words:  Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.

And when we read these prophetic calls to peace and justice and humility, we all nod and agree.  Like, who can be against peace and justice and humility?  Who’s not for love?

So, maybe, a good question is to ask:  What’s lurking just beneath the surface?  Love?  Kindness?  Compassion and patience?  Or enough defensiveness and anger and frustration that we tell other people’s kids to shove it?

There’s this Franciscan priest who lives in Albuquerque… In his newest book on love, he writes this:

“So we are the interpreter of what we see, fear, desire, lust over, or react to, and it is finally our interpretation of any event or encounter that prevails.  If we do not have a somewhat-natural recourse to a larger framing, which is what healthy religion is supposed to give us, we will spend much of our life in very small boxing rings, fighting largely useless battles, all based on our unproven and usually self-referential assumptions about what is happening. 

All this, in great part, depends on

  • Which inner reservoir is ready and waiting
  • Which inner reservoir is empty and begging to be filled
  • With what, precisely, our reservoir is filled

This takes genuine and daily vigilance.  It is the heart of all spirituality.”  – Richard Rohr

What’s our reservoir filled with?  And is it full?  Is it empty?   What’s lurking just beneath the surface?

When we work for justice, when we work for equality, when we share our resources, when we live and love people in our community, what are we anchored to?  What source are we drawing upon?

Are we acting out of our own, small selves?  Or something larger?

I think these questions matter, because if we get the answers wrong, we might end up telling little kids to shove it.

Or, we’ll end up wishing harm upon our enemies.

Or, we’ll end up letting our fears and anxieties determine how we live our lives.

Or, we’ll end up seeking power through any means necessary.

Or, we’ll end up believing that the ends justify the means, and in Christianity, the ends never justify the means.

If we don’t get the reservoir question right, we might end up responding to hate with hate, and in the process become the monster that we’re trying to fight.

It’s the difference between doing good poorly, or doing good better. 

Here’s the thing about Micah.  Micah was speaking to religious folk who were trying to do the right thing.  They were trying to check off the boxes to know if they were pleasing God.

And so they asked:  Shall we be bring you sacrifices? Are cows good enough?  What about a thousand rivers of oil?  What about if I sacrifice my child?

If this were us today ,we’d ask:  Should I give some more money away?  Even a whole year’s salary?  FINE, I’LL COME TO CHURCH ON CHRISTMAS MORNING!

 “It’s not about what type of offering we give so we can check off a box.  It’s about a way of life.”  – Tyler Mayfield

Hence why the first Christians were known simply as followers of “the Way.”  A way of life.



Yeah… obviously, none of us here are into those pious acts that make us look good, are we? We’re not into empty showy sacrifices.  We’re not into going through the motions of empty religious practices.  We’re not into religiosity, right?

We’re into the stuff that Micah is talking about.  Not religion, but justice and mercy and authentic love.

I get why we’d lean towards that, because I do, except that’s not exactly what Micah is saying here.

“Nowhere does Micah tell people to stop observing ritual practices or to stop being religious. The problem is not religion in itself. The problem is using ritual practice to excuse ourselves from the divine demands of justice and mercy.” – Amy Oden

See, this is one of those areas where I like to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy religion.  And healthy religious practice can actually help us with our acts and mercy and justice, and help us do good, better.

Healthy religious practice involves showing up to places where we are reminded that the world does not revolve around us.

Healthy religious practice involves confessing when we’ve made mistakes.  And involves confessing when we’ve been selfish.   And when we’ve lashed out at little kids.

Heathy religious practice involves reminding ourselves that we live for the Kingdom of God, and not our bank accounts, or our own sense of security.

Healthy religious practice teaches us how to rest, and helps create spaces of silence, solitude and stillness.

Healthy religious practice reminds us to practice gratitude.

Healthy religious practice helps us pray for others, even those people who frustrate us.

Healthy religious practice orients us towards our neighbours.

These practices actually can root us, and help us do justice and mercy, better.  And maybe even with humility.  These practices can help fill our reservoirs with goodness so that when we encounter suffering or resistance or pushback or challenges or little kids in Sobeys, we can respond with love.

And, if you are blessed enough to not say mean things about other people’s kids, then simply pay attention to how you react when a politician you didn’t vote for wins.

Or all the times you give a person an eye roll and shake your head behind their back.

What’s in the reservoir?

And, believe it not, healthy religious practice CAN fill the reservoir with love and goodness.

And THAT is what I think is one of the cool things about church.  When we view participating in this community as an opportunity to fill our reservoirs with good things, I think we’re looking at it through the right lens.

Church is not primarily a place to figure out morality.  It’s not primarily a place to assert our own sense of rightness.  It’s not primarily a place where we think we can go to please God, or be seen by the right people, or check off the right boxes.  It’s not primarily a place where we get information.

It’s a place where we look for transformation.

It’s a place where we fill our reservoirs with good things, so that we can love, better.

It’s a place where we fill our reservoirs with good things so that we can go and do mercy and justice, better.

It’s a place where we learn love and practice love and remind ourselves about love.

Because God is love, and the Trinity is loving relationship, and that’s what we try to fill our reservoirs with.  Love.

Not power.  Not being right.  Not empty rituals or really big sacrifices.

Love.

I recently heard a podcast featuring two of my favourite people that I follow on the internet.  And yes, one of them is Richard Rohr. But I would not be doing my job if I didn’t share it with you.

The host was Hilary McBride, a therapist from Vancouver… just by talking she makes me want to share all my feelings and cry.

She asked Richard Rohr a question:  What is it that you most like about being a Christian?

He answered:

“You know, I think it’s the expectation from other people that I should be loving, and that the world should be loving.   Christian, in many people’s vocabulary, and they don’t even know, is co-terminus with being a loving person.  “Well, he’s not being very Christian.”  I like living inside that expectation,  because it allows me to go there, it pushes me, and it invites me to go there. And that we’ve kept that much of our brand name in tact is very exciting to me.  That even on the unconscious level, most people assume that Christianity is still about a loving person.  So that’s what makes me happy about being a Christian.”

Oh, thank you Father Richard.

The Lord has shown all you people what is good.

To act justly.  To love mercy.  And to walk humbly with your God.

 

David, Bathsheba, & #metoo

Content Warning:  Sexual Assault


“The explicit nature of the biblical text calls for an equally explicit conversation about the text and, I argue, that includes from the pulpit.” – Wil Gafney, Womanist Hebrew Bible Scholar


I saw something floating around Facebook a few weeks ago… some of you even shared it.  And I figured would work well as an introduction.

I’m going to ask the men here a question.

 “What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?” 

Take a moment and think of an answer.

Most of us, I think, would answer something similar to my answer:

“Nothing.  I don’t think about it.”

Okay, now I’m going to ask the women here a question.

“What steps do you women take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?”

Take a moment and think of an answer.

These might be some of your answers:

Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cell phone. Don’t go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don’t put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry Mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man’s voice on my answering machine. Park in well-lit areas. Don’t use parking garages. Don’t get on elevators with only one man, or with a group of men. Vary my route home from work. Watch what I wear. Don’t use highway rest areas. Use a home alarm system. Don’t wear headphones when jogging. Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime. Don’t take a first-floor apartment. Go out in groups. Own a firearm. Meet men on first dates in public places. Make sure to have a car or cab fare. Don’t make eye contact with men on the street. Make assertive eye contact with men on the street.  (This is from Jackson Katz)

Let’s pause for a moment here and let this sink in.

Bathsheba can add another thing to this list:

Don’t take a bath in my own home.


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See, many of us who grew up with this story have had it explained to us as a story of adultery.  That David and Bathsheba were having an extra-marital affair, and then David wanted the husband, Uriah, out of the picture.

So he arranged for his murder.

Except in all of this story, Bathsheba never says a word.

She never agrees to have sex with David.  We assume that she did, but I’m not so sure that we should.

In fact, David sends his men to her house to go and get her.

Think about that.  Your husband is off at war, and the door knocks.  And outside the door are two of the king’s messengers, maybe even personal body guards (I doubt David sent the accountants), and they say “The king wants to see you.”

What do you?  Can you even say no?

According to our Bibles, Bathsheba never gives consent to this relationship.  She never gives consent to sex.  She never says yes.

Unwanted sexual contact.  That’s the literal definition of sexual assault.

This isn’t a story of adultery.  This is a story of rape.


We’ve heard a lot of stories of assault over the past year…

The #metoo movement, started by Tarana Burke, is where women are taking courageous steps and stepping forward and saying “Me too.  I am a survivor of sexual assault.”

I remember when my social media feeds were filled with the words “Me too”.  Family, friends, high school acquaintances, strangers, famous people, people I go to church with.  Everywhere.   Me too.

1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in their life. 1 in 10 men will be sexually assaulted in their life.

And the numbers don’t change in churches.

And this isn’t something that happens “out there.”  This is something that happens “in here” as well.  This is us.  This is our story.


First of all, our primary posture should be one of where we believe the stories that we hear.   Because they’re probably true.

What about false allegations?

Only 2% of reported allegations are found to be false.  And those are of the reported cases.

98% of allegations are true.

There is a far, far, far, far greater chance that a woman will be assaulted than a man falsely accused.  Far more.

So when somebody tells us their story, it is probably true.  And so we believe them.

Our primary posture is one where we believe survivors, and work to create spaces where survivors are listened to, and feel safe and supported.


Secondly, we reinforce to survivors is that it is not their fault that they were assaulted.  They are the victims, and are not responsible for the actions of the perpetrator. 

We do not and we cannot blame the victim.  

Blaming the victim is where we tell the victim that they were part of the problem.

It manifests itself in phrases like this:

“Well, look at the clothes they were wearing.”  “They should know not to get drunk in places like that.”  “They should have said no.”  “They shouldn’t have been alone at night.”  “They were asking for it.”

No.

Victim blaming is saying, “You shouldn’t drive because you might get killed by a drunk driver.”

No. We don’t say that.  We say “you shouldn’t drink and drive.”

What does victim blaming look like in the story of David and Bathsheba?

“Well, she shouldn’t be bathing on the roof.  That’s just asking for trouble.”

And what makes that victim blaming even harder, is that our Bibles don’t even record Bathsheba on the roof.  David was on the roof.  It doesn’t say where Bathsheba was.

We think she was on the roof because of Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah, where we hear “You saw her bathing on the roof.  Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya.”  But our Bibles don’t say that.  The Bible locates David on the roof, but not Bathsheba.

And, this victim blaming feeds into the myth that female body is so powerful that men can’t control themselves, so it’s up to women to stop men from assaulting them.

No.

It is not up to women to stop men from assaulting them.  It’s up to men to stop themselves from assaulting women.  It’s up to men to stop themselves from assaulting men. 

We don’t blame victims.

Victims are not responsible for their assault.  Ever.


If 1 in 3 women are survivors of assault, and 1 in 10 men, it’s worth asking:

Who are the offenders?

Almost exclusively, men are the offenders.

At least 98% of offenders are men.

And, only 1 in 4 assaults are by strangers, so by far, these assaults are being committed by men we know.   Spouses, family, friends, co-workers, service provider, and yes pastors… we’re in this category too.

This is a problem for us men.

So, I’m going to take a few minutes and speak to men.

Women have long figured out how to survive in a world where the risk of assault is real.  It’s time for us to figure out how to get our stuff together and lower the risk of assault.

Look, I get it.  We’re not always good at having vulnerable conversations.  I recently drove twelve hours with a bunch of men my age, and I think we spent about ten minutes talking and the rest either eating, sleeping, or listening to music.

I would encourage all of us men to have at least one conversation about #metoo and assault, because clearly we are the ones with the problem.  We are the ones causing harm.  We are the ones who are hurting the people in our lives.

What to talk about?

Well, let’s start with these:

Boys Will Be Boys – Nope.  We will not assume that we are a bunch of wild animals with no control.  We will expect better of ourselves.

It’s Just Locker Room Talk – Nope.  Talking about women in any way that doesn’t edify them or treat them with dignity is not okay.  Don’t do it.   This is probably one of those areas where we can actually make a difference.  While we may not participate in these conversations, are we willing to step up and tell our peers to stop?  I know when I’m at the curling club, twice where I could not believe the vile coming out of someone’s mouth, but did not want to get into an argument.  I regret both of those.  Hopefully 3rd time’s the charm.

She is someone’s daughter/wife/mother – Nope.  While yes, she is someone’s something, a woman’s dignity is not tied to their relationships with men.  Women deserve to be treated with respect because all humans deserve to be treated with respect.

I’m afraid of false accusations, so I’m limiting how much I work with women.  I’m scared to hire a woman. I’m scared to mentor a woman  – Nope.  Because a)  That’s sexist and b) The risk of men abusing women is far, far higher than the risk of a false allegation.  So, by the very nature of men and women working together, women bear far more risk and have far more to lose.  And, come on… when we even start talking about equality, and not being assaulted, we respond by giving women less opportunities?!?!  Unbelievable.

Because of #metoo, I don’t know how to act around women now.  Good!  Women have learned how to navigate relationships with men to avoid abuse, to survive, forever.  And now it’s time for us to do our work.  So if we have to think extra hard, or make double sure that our actions are appropriate, that’s a good thing.  If we have to make sure we’re doubly clear about consent, awesome.  If we have to spend 20 minutes on google learning, great!  That’s called “doing our work.”  And if we end up saying something wrong, we’re allowed to own it and say “I’m sorry.  I’ll do better.”

It’s a scary time to be a man.  Nope.  Just nope.   Patriarchy is a drug.


Here’s something that we all need to be aware of.

In all relationships, there are different levels of power.

We call them power dynamics.

And we always have to ask ourselves:

Who has more power?  Who has less power?  Who makes decisions? What are the consequences of that decision?

And when we start to ask these questions, we realize that every time there is some sort of oppression happening, some form of abuse, some form of inequality, some sort of injustice, they’re all connected to the realities of power.

Power dynamics affect sexism and assault.

Power dynamics also affect racism, homophobia, war, poverty, political disenfranchisement, genocide, and how many refugees Canada takes in every year.

Power matters.

So, when King David sends his men to go get Bathsheba, and then they get married after David has her husband killed… Who has more power?  Who has less power?  Who makes decisions? What are the consequences that decision?

When we ask these questions, we realize quite quickly that Bathsheba is probably trying to survive.  Because the king has shown that he is a violent man who will kill when he doesn’t get what he wants.

“Hey Bathsheba.  I just killed your husband. Want to get married?”   What is she supposed to say?

Power matters.   

Thus, a relationship with two different levels of power is pretty much impossible, because it’s actually classified as an abuse of power.   And this applies to everyone:  Teachers, pastors, lawyers, doctors, child care workers, youth workers, nurses, coaches, politicians.

With David and Bathsheba, what’s we’ve historically called adultery is not only sexual assault, but it’s also an abuse of power.

Take a moment… Do you know of a politician who’s been accused of sexual assault?

Take another moment and think of a different politician who had an “affair” with their secretary?”

See… it’s not a conservative or liberal thing, a left thing or a right thing, a religious thing or non-religious thing.  It is a power thing.   Someone with power wants something and they use that power to get it.

I’m picking on politicians here, but the same can be said in the media world, the business world, or the church world…  And ugh, we in church world have our own skeletons to deal with.  I’ll get to that in a bit.

But if we look closely, and ask questions about power, we sexual harassment and abuse are rooted in power dynamics.

Catcalling?  Unwanted massage?  Assault?  All of King David’s gross actions? They’re clearly not the same behaviours… but they are rooted in the same desire: Power and control, and using power to dominate and get what one wants.   And none of it is “loving our neighbours as ourselves.”

We have some work to do, don’t we?


I’m going to take a few moments here and address some of the unique ways that our faith affect our postures about #metoo.   Each of these deserves a sermon on their own, and I don’t have answers to all of these. But I do think there’s value to naming them.

1. In our effort to “not be a stumbling block” to others, we have put an unfair burden on women. We create dress codes for women and expect modesty.  And while I’m open to having a conversation about these things, when we do these things to help men “not sin” or “not to lust”, we again are blaming the victim, and removing any sense of responsibility of men.

And just for fun, Jesus wasn’t in favour of dress codes.  He was in favour of gouging out men’s eyes.  Because, he said that if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out.  He’s having no part of this victim blaming business.   

(But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  Matthew 5:28-28)

2.  We are terrible at talking about sex. We are brutal at it.  Now, this probably applies to most humans, and not just us religious folk, but still, we’re especially bad at it.   I think this is why the church spends so much time talking about same-sex relationships and the LGBTQI community, because as long as we’re talking about “that”, we don’t have to talk about ourselves.  And because we’re so bad at talking sex, it makes talking about assault and abuse that much harder.

3. Related to that, we need to find better ways to talk about sex other than “True love waits. Wait until you’re married and then it’ll be great. And this is really important.”  We need to find better ways to talk about this, because a)  In a recent survey, 80% of Christians have sex before they’re married.  88% of non-Christians have sex before they’re married, so clearly the message of “true love waits” only works for about 8% of us.

But this message is also really harmful to victims of sexual assault. So not only is there the trauma of being an assault survivor, but then there’s the added guilt and shame that religion adds because now you can no longer save yourself for your future partner, or now you’ve had extra-marital sex.

4. Forgiveness – We like talking about forgiveness. It’s kind of one of our things.  And this is one of the reasons why I’m a Christian.  But what we’re not always good at is figuring out what forgiveness all entails.

Someone much wiser than me once said that:  “Forgive and forget is one of the worst phrases in the English language.”   Forgiveness is not about forgetting.   Forgetting means we just let the abuser keep abusing, or we keep them in their positions of authority, or keep giving them access to vulnerable people.

Forgiveness involves accountability.  It involves repentance.  It acknowledges harm.  It is equally (but probably more so) concerned about the victim as it is the offender.   And forgiveness takes time.

Forgiveness is not forgetting.

We in the church still have a lot of work to do.


A few years ago, I found myself saying over and over again, “We don’t walk alone.”

And that still applies today.

We don’t walk alone.

We walk together, trying to love each other.

We walk together, working to create safe communities.

And we walk together, trying to interrupt violence and injustice wherever we can.

We don’t walk alone.

We walk together.

And trust that in the midst of all it, God is with us.

We trust that God has crushed the power of sin and darkness.

And we trust that God cares deeply about hope and healing, liberation and justice.

We don’t wake up, unless we do it together. – Rev Matthew Wright

 


If you live in Manitoba:

  • To contact the 24/7 Sexual Assault Crisis Line, call 1-888-292-7565.
  •  To contact MCC about resources, support groups, consultations & information
    visit abuseresponseandprevention.ca
  • To report clergy abuse, contact your church conference pastor

I’m grateful for the help of Steph from Southeast Coalition Against Trafficking, Hilary from Into Account, Jaymie from MCC, and many other women who helped shape this sermon.

 

Batman, Summer Camp, and Shrek

A sermon from Exodus 14, which is the story of the Hebrews leaving slavery in Egypt, and crossing the Red Sea.


So, one of the things that the preacher is NOT supposed to do is assume that everyone in the audience knows their Bibles, or that they know the stories we’re preaching about.  We are not supposed “Oh, you all know the story.”

However, with today’s story, I’m going to assume that you know it.

The  Exodus is the story of the Hebrews who the Red Sea after leaving slavery in Egypt.   It’s the centre of the story of Moses, where Moses grew up a prince in Egypt, ran away, came back and told Pharaoh “Let my people go!”, Pharaoh said “no”, and then some plagues happened and eventually the Red Sea parted for the Hebrews and they crossed on dry land, while all of Pharaoh’s army the dead man’s float.

Moses 1

I’m going to assume we know the gist of this story because a lot of people have made a lot of movies about it.

If you are older, you will remember the greatest epic of all “The 10 Commandments” from 1956, featuring Charlton Hesston.

moses 2And then, twenty years ago “The Prince of Egypt” came out, and oh my goodness, this was one of the most star laden casts of the 90s!  I had no idea at the time, but this movie featured the voices of Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Steve Martin AND Martin Short, with music by Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston AND Boyz II Men.    What was the budget for this movie?

moses 3And then recently, we saw Ridley Scott take a crack at the story of the Moses in “Exodus:  Gods and Kings” featuring Christian Bale and Sigourney Weaver.  I enjoyed this unique take on the story, although, I have to admit that every time I see Christian Bale in a movie, all I can think about is him from the Dark Night:  “I Am Batman!”  And every time I hear the name Sigourney Weaver, I just think about Finding Dory.   “Hello!  I’m Sigourney Weaver!”

Okay. So I hope we know the story!

The story of Exodus, of God hearing the cry of God’s people, liberating them from slavery, and then crossing the Red Sea on dry land, is THE story of the Old Testament.

This was the first Passover for the Jewish people, and is celebrated to this day.  There are even stories of Jewish folk in concentration camps still celebrating Passover, reclining together and re-telling the story of God’s liberation of their people.

This story is as story of God fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham, that Abraham’s descendants will number like the stars and they will make a great nation.

This story is a story of God hearing the cry of the oppressed and acting.

This is one of the stories that African American slaves latched on to in America, where they put their faith in a God that liberates people.

This story is a big deal.  If you watch sports, this is their TSN turning point.   It’s the climax of the spot.  To quote Rachel Held Evans, “Let my people go” has “shaped the faith of millions of people, inspiring artists and activists and world leaders for centuries.”


Okay, and now we’re going to look at this story in two different ways.

One of the ways will probably feel more natural to you, and the other one might feel a bit uncomfortable.   One more be more familiar, and one new.

And with Google, you definitely can find people supporting both ways to look at the story.

I’m going to let the cat out of the bag and let you know that we’re going to end up in the same place.  So, rather than look at the other side of the story with disdain or fear or animosity, try looking at it with curiosity, compassion, and understanding.    Someone needs to hear the story differently than you, and that’s okay.


Path #1 – This would be the way of looking at the story that’s portrayed in the first two movies, the 10 Commandments and the Prince of Egypt.  This is a story of Moses leading his people out of slavery, of challenging the empire, or God freeing one million Hebrews, of God delivering them to dry land.

God is good, and mighty to save.

This way of looking at the story is actually captured in a kids song, called Pharaoh Pharaoh.  I sang it when I was a kid at summer camp, and then when I was a counselor at camp we sang it, and then this summer we sent Arianna, my daughter, to her first time at summer camp, and during the parents program, guess what song they started singing?  Pharaoh Pharah! Ooooo Baby.  Let my people go, O-ah-ah, yeah yeah yeah.  All of us parents in back started laughing and said “They’re still singing this song?”

At the end of the song, though, there’s a line about all of Pharaoh’s army doing the dead man’s float.  And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve wondered about that.

Did those soldiers have kids?  Partners?  Surely they had parents who would rather not have to get into a boat to go pick up floating kids?

And those soldiers – Shoot… Surely they had hopes and dreams and might have trying to save enough money to buy their first house.  They were just doing what they were told by their commanding officer, and we celebrate their death as God’s victory?   And then we make a kids song of it?  With actions? That’s kind of dark, isn’t it?

Let alone that the Hebrews are only free from Pharaoh because God came and killed all the first born Egyptians.  I know that the Egyptians weren’t very kind and loving, but isn’t God supposed not to return tit for tat?  This has never sat well with me.  Maybe because I’m a first born, and if my parents were Egyptian, I’d be dead.  Or, now I think about my daughter.  Or let’s try this.  How many of us are the first born in our family.

Do liberation and freedom come at the expense of our enemies dying?  In this story… yes.  Pharaoh wasn’t going to let them go until he suffered enough consequences.

But do these questions take away from the liberation of God’s people?  I mean, like, they were in slavery for over 400 years.  That’s kind of a long time isn’t it?  What do we do with this?


Path #2 – This one is fairly new to me, but when I heard it, I was grateful.  I first heard it by reading some Jewish authors on their understandings of the Torah, and I’ve also heard this recently Christian scholars.

They suggest that the Exodus might not have happened exactly as recorded in the Bible.  Something happened, that’s not up for debate.  But what exactly happened, is.

We know quite a bit about Ancient Egypt, as they built pyramids and we’ve opened up their tombs and studied their mummies and read their hieroglyphic mission statements on their walls.  And what we’ve found out is that there is no recorded history of the Hebrew slaves leaving Egypt.  The assumption here is that if one million slaves walked out of Egypt, someone in Egypt would have written it down.  They didn’t.  The assumption is that if every firstborn died, somebody would have written it down.  But they didn’t.

Now, the absence of proof isn’t proof itself, so we can’t say with great authority what did or did happen.  Maybe it did happen. Maybe it didn’t.  Maybe there weren’t a million people.  Maybe there were 500. Or 5000. Maybe they crossed the Reed Sea, not the Red Sea, as some scholars suggest.

It maybe not happening as recorded certainly gets us around the whole “God killing all the first born children” bit.  And the soldiers doing the dead man’s float.  I certainly don’t love worshiping a God who’s down with violence.

But it can also leave in an uncertain position.  Because what are we supposed to do with this story, and it’s place in Jewish religion?  And what do we do with many of these stories?  And what do we do with the fact that Jesus, Paul, Mary, Isaiah, Elijah, Esther, and Peter, were all Jewish and believed this story was an integral part of their religion?

Is just a fairy tale?

I actually think one of the worst things that we can do is treat this story like a fairy tale.   People in concentration camps do not gather to celebrate Passover because of Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty, or Santa Claus.  They gather to celebrate Passover because God is in the business of freeing people, and they will never forget that.

When I was in Albuquerque with Richard Rohr, he explored the question of why African American slaves adopted the religion of their oppressors.  That makes no sense.  Why would you worship the God of the people who owned you?

American slaves did not adopt the Christianity because it’s like Shrek or Star Wars.

Sure, Harry Potter is great, but I’m not so sure it can lead people out of slavery.

No… They heard the story of a God who hears the cry of the oppressed… they heard the story of a God who sent Moses to tell Pharaoh “Let my people go”… They heard the story of an enslaved people being saved by God’s hand leading them through the water to freedom.

God leading them through the water meant the trackers couldn’t follow them.  Through the water meant the dogs would lose their scent.  Through the waters meant that when they crossed the Ohio River, they were free.

There’s power to this story.  There is truth to this story.

This story was written to as a cosmic battle between the God of the Hebrews, Yahweh, and the gods of Egyptians. And the god of the Hebrews was far more powerful.

This story was written to show that in a world of localized religions, where the gods of one nation didn’t have power in another, or… there was actually a universal God who’s jurisdiction is the entire earth.

This story was written as a replay of the creation story, where on day 3, the water of chaos is separated to reveal dry land.

This story was written so that the Israelites would never forget that God has laid a claim on them, and they were to serve that God.  Not Pharaoh.  Not slave masters.  Not kings.  Not foreign armies.

But God and God alone, because God is in the business of giving God’s people freedom.


Freedom.  That is the invitation today for World Communion Sunday.  Freedom.

Freedom to claim God’s power in our world and in our lives.

Freedom to live in God’s claim on us.

Freedom to serve God and God alone.

Freedom to participate to in God’s way of life, where good news is proclaimed to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind… where the oppressed are set free.

Freedom to see the image of God in everyone, and live like it.

“Because if we can’t see Christ in others then we are no longer looking with the eyes of Christ.”  – Richard Rohr

And there is freedom to be found when we can see the Christ in others.

This is one of those times where I think that coming to have communion on Sunday morning is  quite counter-cultural and revolutionary, because today we’re not only going to look for the image of God in each other, but we’re also going to practice it.  We’re going to practice living into God’s way.

Who’s invited to communion?  Everyone.  As good ole wise Richard Rohr says, “Communion is meal for the sick, not a prize for being perfect.”  There is no meritocracy in Christianity.  Nobody is keeping score.

So we are all invited.  Friends, lovers, enemies, and fr-enemies.  Come.

Married or single, divorced or common-law or widowed.  Come

Straight or Gay or Bisexual. Come.

Those us who have lots of money and those of us who don’t have a lot of money.  Come.

Young and old or somewhere in between.  Come.

Mennonite or Catholic or Evangelical or Ukrainian Orthodox or Spiritual but not religious.  Come.

Women and men and gender non-confirming or those transitioning.  Come.

Those of us who are differently abled.  Come.

Pacifist or not, veteran or conscientious objector. Come.

Theologically liberal or theologically conservative or if you just don’t about any of that stuff. Come.

There is space for everyone at God’s table.

And when we serve each other, we begin to see the Christ in each other.

We come and serve each other as people who bear the image of God.

When we serve each other, we are learning to see with the eyes of Christ.

Amen.

On being Christian, following the Bible, and the LGBTTQI* community

Over the past several years, the stories have started to accumulate.

Stories that seem to follow the same story line.

A Christian starts telling people they identify as LGBTTQI*

And then the consequences start.

 

I know someone who was told they can no longer call themselves Christian.   

I know someone who was no longer allowed to teach Sunday School.

I know someone who was no longer allowed to sing in church.

I know someone who has preaching gigs cancelled.

I know someone who knows that following their call to be a pastor is near impossible.

I know someone who has been called a pervert and abomination.

I know someone whose donors stopped supporting them.

I know someone whose pastor now has a hard time shaking hands in the foyer.

I know someone who can’t bring their partner to family gatherings.

I know someone who was kicked out of their house.

 

And what breaks my heart in all of these is that the harm is being perpetuated by Christians.

Christians who believe in love.

Christians who believe the Bible.

 

Me too.

I believe in love.

I believe in the Bible.

When Jesus was asked which is the most important commandment, he answered “The most important one is this:  ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31

The apostle Paul agrees.  “Let no debt remain outstanding except the debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments… are best summed up in this one command:  “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  Love does no harm to its neighbour.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:8-10

 

Are our actions loving?

Are we loving our neighbours as ourselves?

 

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law of the Prophets.”  Matthew 7:12

 

Are we treating our neighbours in ways that we want to be treated?

 

Or, are our attempts at faithfulness causing harm?


I fear that
that sometimes, instead of faithfully following the Bible’s instructions on love, we actually end up doing the opposite of what the Bible says. 


 

PS – The positives stories are also accumulating. Here, my attempt here is to acknowledge that most of the resistance to lgbttqi* equality is rooted in my community, the Christian one.  And because of that, we have to ask ourselves some extra questions.

The Bechdel Test, Policy Binders, and Calling Out the King

Have any of you heard about the Bechdel test?

It’s a test developed by Alison Bechdel used to evaluate how women are portrayed in fiction, including literature and television and movies.

The Bechdel test works like this:  If there are two women with names, talking to each other about something other than a man, then it passes the test!

Two women.  Whose names we know.  Talking.  Not about men.   That’s it.

Simple enough, right?  Well, actually, when you drill down into it, most of what we read and watch fails to pass the Bechdel test.  It’s really kind of pathetic, actually.

However… this week, when reading this morning’s Scripture, I dawned on me that Ruth chapter 1 passes the Bechdel test!

Women characters named? Yup.  Naomi and Ruth are the main protagonists, with Orpah making a cameo.

Talking about something other than men? Yup. While the background is that all their husbands passed away, and Naomi telling her daughters-in-law that she won’t be having any more kids, there is that one part where Ruth pledges to never leave Naomi’s side, and Ruth declares that whatever fate befalls Naomi will befall Ruth too.

Alright!

This is actually one of the only times that any story in the entire Bible passes the Bechdel test.  Yikes. The roots of patriarchy are deep.

When Ruth pledges her fate to that of Naomi, the Hebrew word best used to describe that his Hesed – It’s an act of loyal loving, of loving-kindness.  It’s a covenant of love, so it’s something one commits to regardless of how you’re feeling.  A wedding vow might be a similar comparison. Through thick and thin, health and sickness, good times and bad.  Hesed is also used to describe God’s love for God’s people.  It’s loyal love.

Ruth and Naomi talking about loyally loving each other is certainly better than them talking about men, right?  Although that does come in chapter 2.

We’re going to come back to hesed in a bit.


Naomi and her husband and their two sons are Israelites, and they move to a foreign land called Moab.  And, the sons marry two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah.  And then when all the men pass away, Naomi decides to go back home to her own country and her own people.

Now, according to the customs of the day, Naomi’s daughters-in-law were free to go back to their own families, their own people, their own rules and customs and culture and religion.  Naomi “released” them.

And Orpah went.

There is something freeing about rules, isn’t there?  That there are clear expectations of you, and you know that if you do what you are supposed to do, it’s probably going to be okay.

Pay your taxes, and CRA probably won’t send you a letter.

Don’t speed, and you won’t get a speeding ticket.

Take out a building permit before you add on a sunroom, and then you won’t have to take down the sunroom that you just built.

I know someone who started their new job as a chaplain, and on her first day she was given a big black binder labeled “Policy Binder.”

At first she was a bit overwhelmed.  She thought, “How am I ever going to follow all these?”

But after a few months, she actually came to appreciate the policy binder.   She said there was a certain level of freedom in there, where she knew what the expectations were and if she followed them, she’d probably be okay.

Rules, can be freeing.

Naomi knew the rules.  She was free to release her daughters-in-law back to their own people and culture.

And Orpah followed the rules.  They hugged, they kissed, they said goodbye, and they went on their different ways.

There is a place for the rules… and then there’s what Ruth did.

Ruth went BEYOND the rules in her love and devotion to Naomi.  She said, “I know what’s expected of me. I’m going to let my love move me beyond the basic requirements.”

In almost all our relationships, I’d suggest that the more committed we are, the more we go above the basic requirements, the better off that relationships is.

Our cars – If we wash them in winter, they’ll last longer.

Our lawns – If we fertilize  and water, they will look nicer.

Our gardens – If we weed, they will give us more food.

Our jobs – If we show up and work hard and take courses to keep learning, we will have more satisfaction.

And I think our relationships with each other is similar.  If we’re committed, if we go above and beyond what’s “required” of us, I think we’re setting ourselves up for all sorts of positives. Because love moves us above and beyond what is simply “required” of us.

And we’re back at hesed – Loyal loving.  Covenant of loving-kindess.  More than a feeling. Beyond what’s required of us.


And do you know what makes the story of Naomi and Ruth and hesed even more cool?

Naomi was an Israelite from Judah.

Ruth was a Moabite, from Moab.

Ruth was a foreigner.

We read lots in the news about foreigners, don’t we?  Refugees from Syria, asylum seekers making irregular border crossings into both the USA and Canada.  We tend not to hear much about how my French ancestors were kind of unwanted to New France 500 years ago by the First Nations, perhaps even considered illegal immigrants, but that’s a different sermon for a different day.

But Ruth was a foreigner.

What are the requirements of treating foreigners?

Well, as Christians, our first loyalty is to God, not our country, so we’ll spend our time there.  (although, interestingly enough, it’s that loyalty to God over country that resulted in Mennonites being banned for a while from moving to Canada, as we couldn’t be relied upon to fight for our country, but I digress).

Well, let’s start with the Old Testament:

The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.  Leviticus 19:34

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.  Exodus 22:21

And then there’s Jeremiah, sticking in to the kings of the world.  “This is what the LORD says:  Do what is just and right… Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.”   Jeremiah 22:3

Or Isaiah, blasting his own people:  “Is not this the kind of fasting I have choses:  to loose the chains of injustice… to set the oppressed free… Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?”  Isaiah 58:6-7

I’m usually not a fan of cherry picking verses from the Old Testament to support what I already believe, so let’s take a jaunt into the New Testament, shall we?

But first of, we should make note that the New Testament says very little about foreigners directly, because the life and teachings of Jesus AND the apostle Paul tore down the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles, between them and us.

Galatians 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, but you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:19 – Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of God’s household.

But I really love reading Scripture through the lens of Jesus, where we give more weight to the words of Jesus than the other parts.

We can talk about how the Jewish leaders tried to kill Jesus after he referenced a bunch of times in the Old Testament where God was found among foreigners (Luke 4).  Or the time he spent eating with and healing Romans, the hated oppressors of Israel (Matthew 8).  Or when he healed foreigners (Mark 7) .  Or how he treated the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).

Or when in doubt, we always have good old Matthew 25:

“Then the King will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me,you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Jesus kind of says that if we don’t look after strangers in need, we risk the fires of hell.

Yikes.  So harsh, right?   Good thing we’re gonna be like Ruth and err on the side of doing MORE than the law requires, right?

Let alone all those other part of the Bible about hospitality, or when we host strangers we might be hosting angels, or if we have two cloaks we should give one away, or that Jesus was a refugee who crossed into other countries, or that time Jesus told a story about how the hated foreigner is actually our neighbor, or how “Love does no harm to its neighbor.” (Romans 13:10).

One of my favourites, though, about Ruth being a foreign Moabite, is actually found in the gospel of Matthew.  We’re going to working through Matthew starting in January, but we’ll just quickly jump in there.

Right at the beginning of Matthew, before the Christmas story of angels and wise men, we’re given the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew was written to a primarily Jewish audience, so the genealogy is there to give some street cred to Jesus.  Kind of like us living in rural Manitoba figuring out who are grandparents and great grandparents are.

And in the genealogy of Jesus,  we have all sort of big hitters:  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David, Solomon, Josiah…

And then, tucked away into there, we read the name Ruth.

…Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth…

Ruth, a foreign woman, made it into the genealogy of Jewish Jesus.

The son of God, the prince of peace, has a foreigner in his bloodline. They could have left her out of the list.  She doesn’t have to be in there.

But she is.  They intentionally listed her in the genealogy of Jesus.

Maybe, just maybe, they knew that including a foreigner in the genealogy of Jesus was revolutionary.

Kind of like how Ruth choosing hesed, to go above and beyond what was required of her, choosing to loyally love someone she isn’t required to, is kind of revolutionary.

And so, in conclusion, may we continue to practice love… Love for our families, love for those in our community, and those who are from different parts of the world.  May we continue to love our neighbours as ourselves, and may we always remember that love does no harm to its neighbour.