Gentle Mary?

Gentle Mary, meek and mild. We like to sing about it every Christmas. We look at pictures of meek and retiring Mary. She always looks to pure, so innocent.

I call bullshit.

Image by Ben Wildflower. It is one of my favourite depictions of the Magnificat. I have the tshirt.

Where on earth did we get the idea that a woman who sings about God scattering the proud, who calls on God to bring down the powerful from their thrones and lift up the oppressed, who demands that God fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away with empty hands – where on earth did we get the idea that this woman is anything but a strong, feisty, courageous woman with agency?

When I read the gospel accounts of Mary the mother of Jesus, I do not see some mild-mannered girl quietly acquiescing to God’s demand of her to carry his son.

Rather I read about a woman who joins a long line of people throughout Scriptures and throughout history who question God. What if her “How can this be?” in Luke’s story of the Annunciation is less about doubt and more about wrestling with what God is asking of her? And what if in wrestling with it, she decides to agree to the vocation of being the mother of Christ? “Here am I.”

Just as Moses said “But suppose they do not believe me… O my Lord, I have never been eloquent” but went with God’s words.

Just as Isaiah said “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips” and then said “Here am I; send me.” And God sent him.

Just as Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak!” but then went and prophesied the message God gave him.

Just as Esther hesitated because of the strong possibility of death, but then spoke out at great risk and saved the Jewish people.

Just as “ordinary” folks like you and I wrestle with the tasks – big and small – and vocations that God sets before us; wondering if we are really being called, debating whether we actually want to do that, and eventually finding that God really is with us and we want to say yes.

Mary’s agency is at the heart of this story, and it is this strong and courageous woman who answered God’s call and brought God into the world.

Amen.

 

With thanks to my Young Clergy Women International (YCWI) sisters for some inspiration, and who, through our conversations on Mary and consent, provided more links for thought:

The Mary Who Said No

Mary’s Choice: What the Annunciation Story Tells Us About Moral Agency

Did Mary Say “Me Too”?

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Collared

Before I was ordained, I didn’t think I would wear a clergy collar very much – probably just for services on Sunday and maybe a few “official” things in between. As it turns out, I have been wearing my collar nearly every day that is “work” day. The days I have not worn it, something has happened that has made me wish that I had.

It isn’t that I feel like I need to wear it in order to do “church work” or to feel like I have the right or authority to do that work, but I see it as a way of visibly bringing the church into places where people might not expect it. I enjoy exploding people’s expectations.

There is another side to wearing the collar, however. That is people’s reactions to it and to me wearing it. I will admit, I had my own set of expectations to how people would react. I expected that it would make me almost gender-less, that people would look right past me to the collar and see me as a representative of the church – for good or for bad. Which is why I’ve stopped jaywalking while walking around downtown while wearing it…

There have been a few really lovely interactions with people as a result of walking around downtown in my collar. One woman stopped dead in her tracks while walking towards me on the sidewalk: “Whoa! Are you a priest??!” I am a transitional deacon, but I said yes, deciding that now was not the time or place to try and explain the intricacies of Anglican holy orders.

Another man stopped me and very loudly introduced himself as “KEVIN WITH SCHIZOPHRENIA,” asking if I was an Anglican priest, telling me about the Catholic parish he attends, his favourite prayers to pray, and what time his service was this coming Sunday.

Them there was the couple sitting outside of one of the coffee shops I frequent who asked if I was the minister at one of the United Churches in town. Apparently she has taken to wearing a collar on a more regular basis. And obviously there can only be one female walking around town in a collar… (Hah!)

There are the less fantastic interactions that happen, however. I was catcalled last week while wearing my collar and riding my bicycle the six blocks in between the Cathedral and St John’s. Catcalled.

This week, in the space of about a half hour walking around town, I felt visibly undressed by two men as I waited at a stoplight and another gave me a lascivious wink as I walked by.

So much for being gender-less in a clergy collar.

It isn’t a surprise to the Internet that women feel objectified for what they wear. We often spend far too much energy analyzing our clothing so that it gives the “right” impression. Never did I think that I would spend more time analyzing clothing when the top is a given, the clergy shirt and collar, than when I am just dressing to go out the door for an ordinary day.

Not that I regret putting this piece of plastic (for now plastic – I’d like to get some softer cloth collars!) around my neck each morning. It is the visible symbol of what I have committed to in my life. It is often a visible sign of the presence of the church, and therefore (gulp) God, in the world. My life might end up being on display to people but it also opens the door for conversation and for challenged expectations of what and who is the church. After all, that is kind of what I signed up for in my ordination vows: You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known by your word and example, to those among whom you live and work and worship. You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world … At all times, your life and teaching are to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself.

Green

This Sunday is Palm Sunday. We read through and studied the gospel reading for this Sunday in class this week. From the gospel of Luke (19:28-40), we read the story of the procession into Jerusalem:

After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” he answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

One of my classmates asked us to draw an image that came to us from this passage, one that speaks to where this passage is going. I have always been captivated by the closing line spoken by Jesus, “I tell you, if these [people] were silent, the stones would shout out.” It is such a powerful image of creation crying out praises to God even if we human fail to keep it up all the time. So I drew a pile of rocks with a speech bubble and the word LIFE! proclaimed loudly in the speech bubble. Because ultimately that is where the procession of palms ends a week later: rock tombs opening up and shouting life as Jesus is risen.

I don’t know about where you are, but in this little corner of the world we are starting to see spring. It has been raining and the smells of spring are in the air. Green is beginning to sprout and I will not be surprised if trees start to bud soon. Seeing green pop everywhere always brings to mind the song “The Color Green” by Rich Mullins.

And the moon is a sliver of silver
Like a shaving that fell on the floor of a Carpenter’s shop
And every house must have it’s builder
And I awoke in the house of God
Where the windows are mornings and evenings
Stretched from the sun
Across the sky north to south
And on my way to early meeting
I heard the rocks crying out
I heard the rocks crying out

Be praised for all Your tenderness by these works of Your hands
Suns that rise and rains that fall to bless and bring to life Your land
Look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that You have made
Blue for the sky and the color green that fills these fields with praise

The rocks cry out, the colour green cries out, sun rise and rain fall bless the name of God.

We’re headed to the celebration of Palm Sunday and then on to Holy Week and the great Tridiuum services. But at the end of the day, the rocks cry out along with us: Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Life!

Thank You

It has been a long school year and a lot has happened. I got engaged. We had some health stuff. We both had a full course load, and then some, each term. I have been working part time. And then there was the church field placement.

Twelve to fifteen hours per week. In a church. Doing stuff.

What that “stuff” was varied each week: preaching, proclaiming the word, leading parts of the liturgy, searching around for my supervisor’s reading glasses (where the heck did he leave them this week?!?), home and hospital visiting, assisting at a funeral, drinking beer at the pub while leading a bible study… the list goes on.

What did not vary each week was the love and support of that church community. St Andrew Memorial Anglican Church: Thank you.

Thank you for being a welcoming community.

Thank you for opening yourselves to me and letting me be myself amongst you.

Thank you for welcoming my partner as warmly as you welcomed me, even though he worships at another church as a part of his field placement.

Thank you for letting me learn without judgement.

Thank you for being a community where it has been okay for me to try and not be perfect.

Thank you for your encouragement, your laughter, your enthusiasm, your chocolate, and your joy.

Thank you for being a community that loves fellowship and food.

Thank you for your heart for worshipping God.

Thank you for loving me.

I have learned a lot from you, with you, and because of you. As Pastor Marty said at my last service with you, a piece of your community will come back to BC with me and will always be a part of my ministry.

Multitude

I was honoured to be invited to contribute to a Lenten reflection booklet curated by a friend and fellow postulant in the Diocese of British Columbia. My reflection was for today and is based on the Hebrew Bible lectionary reading for the day, Genesis 17:3-9.

 

Your name shall be Abraham for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 

Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God.

I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all the tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Before he even reproduced, God had made Abraham the father of a multitude of nations. It still seemed impossible – there was not even one child, let alone a multitude of nations.

And before Abraham was even conceived of, Jesus is.

In the beginning was the Word…

Time and space. What is time to God? A thousand years is like a day to God, we are told. Yesterday is last year, tomorrow is 2019. Or 2130. Or 1875.

God was, God is, God will be.

That multitude of nations? God knew them then. God knows them now. God sees and knows those that will be. Each and every one.

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again:

And yesterday, today, and tomorrow we all join together; with Abraham, with the angels who heralded Christ’s birth, and with the multitude from every nation envisioned by John, praising God.

Publication!

I did some writing last summer, though not for school.

One piece that I wrote over the summer is getting published in a book this spring! Its a short essay I wrote that is, essentially, a theological reflection on the work I used to do in emergency shelters in BC. It will be published in the book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments, and the Healing Power of Humor which is set to come out mid April (though the amazon page says mid-May).

The book has come out of a community of women who’s wisdom I have appreciated, the Rev Gal Blog Pals. I’m looking forward to hopefully meeting some of them as we get closer to publication. I’m also really looking forward to reading everyone’s essays in the book!

You can see more about it on the Publisher’s page (Skylight Paths Publishing), or on Amazon.

I’ll keep you posted as more information becomes available about its publication date and so on.

Sermon for May 4, 2014, St John the Divine, Victoria

Over the last weekend, May 1-4, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund’s Youth Council met in Victoria, BC for our spring meeting. A lot was accomplished and we had a wonderful time meeting new members and enjoying the lovely surroundings of spring on the south Island.

On the Sunday morning, we had the opportunity to spread across four different Anglican churches in greater Victoria and share about the work of PWRDF. For some, public speaking is ‘old-hat’ and they are used to it, for others it is a scary event that needs coaching.

One of the wonderful things that youth council does, in addition to tell the stories of PWRDF, is develop young leaders from across Canada. Our speaking groups were made up of new youth council members and veterans. In my group was a brand new youth diocesan PWRDF ambassador. She’d spoken at her own church before, and at high school youth events, but never to a group as large or as unfamiliar as the congregation at St John the Divine, Victoria. So I did most of the talking, and she told a story in the middle. She did an excellent job and I think we’ll be hearing more from her in the years to come!

Because we couldn’t all be in the same place, I said I would post my sermon for those interested. The gospel reading from last Sunday was the Road to Emmaus, found in Luke 24:13-35. We focussed on that reading for our preparation for speaking, and I also spoke out of my knowledge of the engagement St John’s has with their community.

*****

Good morning!

Thank you for having us here this morning! It is an honour to be worshipping with you.

We are members of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund’s justgeneration program – a body of youth from coast-to-coast who care deeply about the work of the PWRDF are involved in both speaking with the Board of Directors in order to bring a youth voice to that forum and in developing resources and telling the stories of our PWRDF partners in such a way as to engage youth.

A group of 16 of us have been having our spring meeting in Victoria for the last three days and this morning we are excited to be spread across Victoria, talking about the work of PWRDF in different Anglican churches. I am thankful to be back worshipping with you this morning, along with Matt from Winnipeg and Gillian from Brandon.

We have had a full weekend, participating in the lock-in hosted at the Cathedral on Friday night, meeting together as a group in the beautiful and peaceful surroundings of a retreat centre by the ocean in Metchosin, and talking and sharing with each other as we have been preparing meals and eating together throughout the weekend.

Immersed as we have been in eating good food and discussing issues relief and development and food security, it is unsurprising that talk of food jumped out to us as we were reading through the gospel as a group this weekend.

The gospel writer writes:

As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay here with us, because it is almost evening and the day is nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

They recognized Jesus in the sharing of food in the breaking of the bread.

This got us thinking about the centrality of food in our lives and how important food really is to daily life.

Most of you, I am sure, participate in feeding people. Whether it is preparing food to eat yourself or with your family, or making food to bring for breakfast or supper at the Out of the Rain Shelter, or bringing non-perishable food for your food bank, this is a community that knows about the importance of food.

When I lived in Victoria, before moving to Ontario for seminary, I worked for the Victoria Cool Aid Society. An off-hand remark I made to a coworker one day made me realize the importance of food in a new way. In the middle of a particularly busy day I remember saying that I really needed to go and take a break to eat my lunch before I got too cranky to do my job. As the words left my mouth, I stopped and realized the irony of what I was saying. Here I was, working at Rock Bay Landing where people often come hungry and cranky, taking a break to eat so that I could continue to function well in my job. I like to hope that this realization gave me a lot more compassion for the people with whom I worked both here in Victoria and around the world through my work with PWRDF.

I think it works like that in so many other areas of life as well. We have known for some time that ensuring kids in school have enough to eat will help them with their school work. Gillian is going to tell you about one of our PWRDF partners who is doing just that….

[Gillian: Many families in Haiti are stretched beyond their capacity to feed everyone. Children are often kept out of school so that they can help support their families by working. Through the Fred says “some like it hot” food campaign, we are providing hot lunches at schools in Haiti, which encourages parents to send their kids to school system and takes some strain off of the parents. Giving the children the food helps them bring them back to school and keeps them focused to study and learn. So far, PWRDF, in partners with the episcopal church in Haiti and CFGB (Canadian Food-grains Bank), we have helped feed nearly 8000 students, increase the enrolment in schools and the academic performance of schools substantially. ]

So here in Haiti they recognized Jesus in the hot lunch given so students could learn.

In 2009 I had the opportunity to visit a food relief project also being carried out through our partner the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. The project was responding to longstanding drought in Kenya, providing beans, maize, and oil to families. The standard process in each village was for the hungriest, as identified by the community council of elders, to be the ones selected to benefit from the food aid. Unfortunately everyone can receive food in a food relief project – only the worst of the worst – because there isn’t enough to give to everyone in the region. Each village seemed to accept this, except one. One village we visited, down in the Masai Mara took a different approach.

The beneficiaries who were selected to receive the food aid still lined up to get their sacks of beans and maize. However as they left with the bags, they stopped, opened them up, and scooped out the top 10% of the beans and maize into another pile. From this pile, the rest of the villagers were able to have some food to supplement their meagre diets.

Here in Kenya, they recognized Jesus in the sharing of beans and maize.

In November, the youth council met together with the PWRDF board members and diocesan representatives in Toronto. Joining us was Bishop Griselda of the Episcopal Church in Cuba, one of our PWRDF partners. Bishop Griselda shared with us the incredible story of some of the Cuban farmers. In some of their communities, the church was finding that a number of people were going hungry, despite the fact that they had the land to grow food for them to eat.

So they began to teach people in community development: teaching about gender issues, farming techniques, and nutrition. This has led to better access to healthy food, increased income from the sales of food, and a decrease in gender-based violence through improved understanding between the men and the women within the communities. People have become more confident, creative, and hopeful through learning how to farm for themselves.

In fact, Bishop Griselda told us, some of the communities had grown so much food that they began to bring it to the church. They would place it on and around the altar to be blessed before sharing it with the less fortunate in their community.

The Cuban farmers recognize Jesus in the growing, blessing, and sharing of farmed produce.

A little over a year ago, I found myself in South Africa, visiting PWRDF’s partner, the Keiskamma Trust. Keiskamma operates in a region of South Africa with an HIV/AIDS infection rate of 40%, with one in three pregnant mothers carrying the disease and potentially infecting their child. Keiskamma has been working for a decade to reduce the rate of HIV/AIDS by providing education around and access to life-saving anti-retroviral medications.

One thing that we have learned about Antiretroviral medications is that they need to be taken with food. What some of our partners have been finding is that people have stopped taking their medications because of a lack of food. With partners in Mozambique, we have been helping to fund food baskets so that people can continue their medications. Our partners at Keiskamma got people in the community together to start organic gardens to grow produce for those needing more in their diets to continue their medication regime.

They recognize Jesus in the giving of food so that health can be restored.

These are the stories of just a few of the people we have the privilege to partner with through our work with PWRDF. This is the work that we all participate in.

Again, thinking back to our gospel reading this morning, an interesting thing about the story of the road to Emmaus is that they didn’t actually recognize Jesus right away. They almost missed him. They encountered Jesus and travelled with him as a stranger – yet welcomed him in to share their food anyway.

This is the work of PWRDF that we all are a part of. Most of us have never shaken the hand of one of the Cuban farmers or served a hot lunch to the Hatian students. But through the work of PWRDF and the sharing of lives and stories back and forth – much like the exchange on the road to Emmaus – we participate in that work. We participate in God’s work. We are walking along the road together. Welcoming those strange or unknown to us, never knowing where or in whom we will find Jesus.

It wasn’t until travellers invited Jesus in to share food with them that they saw. It was in the breaking of the bread, when Jesus did what Jesus does in the way that only Jesus does it that they recognized their companion on the walk.

I wonder when have you and I been completely oblivious to the work of Jesus in and around us? I wonder when we have missed Jesus appearing right in front of our face, or missed the work of Jesus in the world because we are so caught up in the drama of our daily lives.

As we prepare to come together to the table to break bread in the way that Jesus taught us, I pray that we would recognize Jesus in the friends and strangers beside us, across the table, on our streets, and around the world. I pray that our eyes would be opened and Jesus made known to us whenever and however we share food.