Archive for August, 2018

Farewell to Social Media

As of September 1st I will be stepping back from the personal use of social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter.

I choose this for a number of reasons.

Primarily, I choose to limit my tacit support of Facebook and Twitter as much as possible due to the way they conduct their businesses and to which voices they choose to offer a platform versus which voices they choose to exclude or punish.

I also have discovered that for me personally Facebook no longer offers what it once did. It has become a place where my tendency to constantly feel compelled to compare myself and my life to others is compulsively and painfully fed.

Likewise, while Twitter remains for me a beautiful haven of voices so different from my own, it has also become a swirling vortex that pulls me into a never-ending spiral of fear and rage. I find myself feeling more and more compartmentalized and triggered to anger by it every day.

I disengage not to ignore or push away the problems of the world we’re living in. I disengage because I have been able to see clearly over the last two years that I am becoming addicted to the rush of emotions that accompany so many of the things I see shared, and it is not making me a more conscientious person but a more frustrated, bitter, and exhausted person. It is becoming harder for me to be gentle, and while I do believe in the importance of fire and strength in the world we’re living in, it is nothing without gentleness to balance it.

Let me be clear on two points.

First of all, I am not going to get on the social-media bashing bandwagon. My time on Twitter specifically exposed me to a plethora of folks who would not have the good lives they do without social media, particularly those with social anxiety and various disabilities. In no way do I intend to impugn the idea of social media. It just became clear to me that the joy I got from it was less than the issues I had with the companies I used the most.

Secondly, I in no way intend to impugn anyone else’s continued use of these companies, nor am I blaming anyone or their content for my problems with them or social media in general. This is a personal choice that is being made for my own health.

Now I must confess that the nature of my work means I cannot fully disengage. I will, however, be confining my use of social media as much as possible to the workplace.

I will still produce my Advent and Lenten albums and other content, and will announce both on my Facebook page, but will no longer share the posts there. Instead I’ll include a link to this blog and post them here, and will become more active here. If you want to know what I’m up to, hit me up on this site!

Thanks for reading. I love you all.

Resistance Lectionary Part 9: God’s Justice

Citation: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

As we learn more about science and the architecture of the universe, it becomes clearer that any divine being must be so utterly vast and unknowable as to be impossible to describe or fully fathom. This sense of distance from deity has permeated a lot of my own conversations with those who don’t claim a religious belief for themselves.

It’s a strange thing to hold in balance with the belief that Jesus lived among us in our flesh.

How can something be both utterly unknowable and yet closer than the blood in our veins? More easily than you think. After all, another person in all of their complexities can never be fully be known by us, no matter how close we are. I have known my mother for my entire life. There is much I can interpret of her feelings without her telling me. And yet, I know there is so much more that I could never know unless she chooses to tell me.

In this passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Paul calls the community to put an end to its divisions. Anyone with any parish experience will know what this looks like! Conflict arises when strong leaders clash. Paul, rather than using his cache among them to claim ultimate authority, humbles himself, saying that it was not his own skill that brought people to Christ, but that God wished to prove great power by infusing Paul’s poor words with it.

This is the paradox that Paul constantly returns to. For men in the Roman Empire, bravado and confidence were prized and weakness was to be avoided at all costs. (Sound familiar?) Paul utterly rejects this, often referring to himself as a “slave for Christ,” a title of humiliation. By doing so, he sets up a demarcation between Roman society and God’s way. By elevating weakness and foolishness, he proves that God’s wisdom and justice is wiser and more just than societal wisdom and justice.

But how can we know what it looks like? If we are Christian, we can look to Jesus’ life, and to the cross, but we must not think that is the whole of the message. Indeed, the Hebrew Scriptures as well are woven well-through with stories of a God who is concerned with treatment of the poor, who rarely metes out punishment without forgiveness, who makes use of society’s rejects for the great work of wooing the world back to Eden.

This is what a true heart of justice looks like: soft, fiery, concerned most of all with balance.

The hour has come: Summer 2018 Preaching Series, Part 11

Today’s citations:

1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43

John 6:56-69


Although we will officially do our final wrap-up sermon in our series on kings next week, today’s readings are, in effect, the last readings in the saga of the first kings of Israel and Judaea. Next week’s passage, with which we’ll conclude, is from the Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon, and so while we may imagine it as a poetic gift from King Solomon, it’s not officially part of the narrative.

This week, we have a moment in our Hebrew Bible passage where, if it was a film, the music would swell and the camera would focus on tearful faces as the ark was finally brought into the temple that God had promised would be Solomon’s legacy. God’s presence is made known by the presence of a great cloud in the temple, which may speak to us here in BC a little more deeply than we’d like.

Solomon marks this momentous occasion, this culmination of God’s covenant with the Davidic dynasty, with a beautiful, eloquent prayer. This prayer shows us that once again there is a man on the throne of Israel who knows his place in God’s world. He extols God with majestic language, even admitting that his own temple, the promised home that God tasked him to build, is not a container but a shrine.

What’s most striking about this prayer is the last part of the passage we hear. Solomon says,

“[W]hen a foreigner comes and prays towards this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling-place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.”

This piece is striking because it highlights what would become a complicated relationship with foreigners in the young nation. On the one hand, this request that God hear the prayers of foreigners within the temple is a lovely call to openness and goodwill, Solomon’s memory of the commandments to be hospitable to the foreigner as the people were once foreigners in Egypt. However, while Solomon is greatly beloved in Jewish tradition as the wise king who built the first temple, the writers of his story chastise him much later for his dalliances with foreign women. We learn that when Solomon is very old, his young wives and concubines turn away his heart to foreign gods, and though God attempts to get through to him a few times, she is not successful. It is then that Solomon is cursed to lose his kingdom – although not in his lifetime, out of God’s love for Solomon’s father David.

All of that’s far in the future, however. Right now, this is a moment when Solomon is on the right path, calling on God to draw all people into an embrace big enough for the whole universe. God is Solomon’s first love, and having been drawn into Solomon’s heart through the request for wisdom, God pours out blessing and glory for this beloved servant.

This is one way that our texts show us to respond in fealty to God, the monarch of our hearts.

The other is perhaps stranger, but poignant.

Here, contrasting the image of all the world streaming to the temple, is Jesus, from whom people are now beginning to turn away. While just as eloquent as Solomon, the words he says are too much for the people around him. The writer of John’s Gospel is careful to say that Jesus is not bothered by this. We must remember that the evangelist’s devotion is so strong that he paints a Jesus who is in complete control of events. Jesus knows who is destined to follow and who is destined to leave.

But folks do leave. The call to eat flesh and drink blood – taboo enough by itself but most especially the call to consume blood, which was not permitted under Jewish law – was a step too far. The temple of Jesus’ body is not going to be a place where many gather and lift up their prayers to God.

At least, not yet.

In the Gospel of John we are haunted by the phrase, ‘the hour had not yet come.’ This hour is, strangely enough, not the moment of the crucifixion, although that is bound up in it. The moment comes when Philip the disciple brings the Greeks who wish to see Jesus. Jesus responds by saying, “The hour has come for the Child of the Human One to be glorified.”

Jesus has become, in a sense, a beacon, like Solomon’s temple, shining a light to all nations. But of course this is not the final moment of glory. For the evangelist, Jesus is first enthroned on the cross. He is lifted up, a beacon for all, and indeed pouring forth scarlet and sapphire glory from the wound in his side in a powerful image of death and birth woven together.

This may seem a shocking contrast to the triumph of Solomon, but on a broader read, you will probably see parallels. After all, there’s a reason why history refers to the first and second temple periods. Solomon’s temple is destined for destruction at the hand of the Babylonian Empire. The temple that followed it, even grander than the first, was also destroyed, this time by the Romans.

The writer of the Gospel of John was quite deliberate in the temple imagery used to describe Jesus. Most scholars agree that John was written decades after Jesus’ death, so the writer would have known of the second temple’s destruction. This would have been a devastating and traumatic time for the Jewish people – and of course the followers of Jesus still counted themselves as Jewish people then. To comfort the community, this writer, like many other Jewish writers trying to come to terms with this terrible loss, wrote of a God who could raise up temples as well as nations and lead them into a new understanding of what it meant to be a people of God, and indeed, into a new understanding of God. Here was a God who was not tethered to earth but chose to visit it with an everlasting presence of love. In the infant church the story began to reflect a God who was so close to us that there was no need to even be separate from our flesh, and so chose to take on the form of one who walked among us and knew all of our struggles, our joys, our sorrows, and our pain.

Over the last few months we have been exploring this notion of monarchy and what it looks like on earth versus how it looks in heaven. We have discovered a divine monarch unlike any monarch on earth: a monarch who calls all of us into deeper relationship rather than seeking to cement a hierarchy.

This is a monarch who is both more powerful and more generous than any earthly monarch or leader we could ever hope to see, perhaps the only real entity worthy of the title. But it is a paradoxical power made manifest in weakness. While the kings and queens and politicians of history seek to both consolidate authority and soften their image to us through the use of media or propaganda or photo-ops, our divine king comes to us wrapped only in the stories we once told centuries ago and continue to tell around this table. And yet, this monarch’s power is so great that, despite a chasm of years almost too great to imagine, those stories still speak to us, not only from this book, but in our own lives and in the world around us.

We look at cultural movements and heroic lives and the regenerative powers of the earth and the undying light of justice and see this story. We look at the cycle of stars and trees and mountains and oceans and see this story told in tongues other than our own. We look at people from every corner of the earth who have adopted the story for their own and we see this king in a rainbow of skin tones and orientations and languages and he is still ours and he is still us.

Just as we have been called to come and be known – so let us come and know this heavenly monarch, stronger than Saul, more faithful than David, and wiser than Solomon.

Resistance Lectionary Part 8: Our Jubilee

Citation: Nehemiah 5:1-13

Nehemiah is another one of those Biblical characters who isn’t well known in popular Western culture. It’s likely he was a real historical figure, and many scholars agree that his account of his time in Jerusalem is relatively accurate.

Nehemiah, cup-bearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes, learns that his people in Jerusalem are struggling to restore the nation after their return from exile under the defeated Babylonians. He is permitted to go and act as governor among his people, and helps the people begin the long work of rebuilding their beautiful city.

Like Esther, Nehemiah is an example of someone who uses their privilege to benefit others. Upon hearing the complaints of the less fortunate against the powerful among them who had forgotten God’s call to deal justly with each other, Nehemiah turns not to the bandaid solution of personal charity but encourages the whole community, rich and poor, to come together as a family once again. He denounces the greed of the nobles and officials, calls for an end to interest payments and bond slavery, and demands that lands and houses which had been seized on account of debt be restored, enacting the first recorded instance of jubilee in the Bible.

And he doesn’t only talk the talk. Later in the chapter he makes many personal sacrifices, renouncing the wealth, land, and food allowances afforded to previous governors.

His passion has an impact on the people. They immediately follow his instructions without hesitation, and redistribute the wealth.

Nehemiah is an inspiring character who shows us that speaking truth to power in our own communities, and leveraging any privilege of station, education, or personal skill, is not only a way to empower and restore. It is in fact God’s will that we use every tool at our disposal to make a more just and balanced world now, rather than waiting on God to have it ready for us in heaven.

As a wise rabbi is reported to have said many years later, “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your God in heaven.”

Come and be known: Summer 2018 Preaching Series, Part 10

Today’s citations:

1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14

John 6:51-58

We’ve hit a big milestone in our summer preaching series on monarchy as we bid goodbye to King David, giant of the Hebrew Bible. Succeeding him on the throne is his son Solomon, the second child he bore with Bathsheba – their first, for lack of a better word, legitimate child.

This week we also said goodbye to another cultural and spiritual giant: Aretha Franklin. Known as “the Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin was a titanic figure in the music scene from the sixties onward, recording dozens of hits including “Respect,” a cover of an old Otis Redding tune that has since far outstripped the original for a number of reasons, chief among them being that the tone of the piece changes significantly when sung by a black woman. It becomes an anthem.

Aretha wasn’t just a queen because of her voice. She was a deeply spiritual and politically active person, posting bail for the prominent African-American activist Angela Davis, touring with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King as a young woman, and financially supporting other figures in the movement.

Something I didn’t know about Aretha was that she was a P.K., a preacher’s kid, daughter of the American Baptist minister and civil rights activist C.L. Franklin. C.L. Franklin became a preacher at age 16, worked an itinerant circuit, then settled at a number of different churches before finally being called to New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where he served from 1946 until 1979. He was a prominent civil rights activist and a personal friend of the Rev. Dr. King.

While reading about Pastor Franklin I learned he had had some of his sermons recorded, including one lauded as his most famous: “The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest.” I decided on the morning after Aretha’s death to listen to it as my morning devotional.

It was about half an hour, being a black Baptist sermon, and it was incredible.

Referencing a passage from Deuteronomy, Pastor Franklin preaches that whenever we come to times of difficulty in our lives, these are moments when God, like a mother eagle, stirs the nest of her fledgelings so that they will topple out and learn to fly, and dives beneath them if they do not yet have the strength to do it.

Each sentence, of course, is punctuated by beautiful interjections from the congregation: “Yeah-huh,” “My Lord,” “Yes He does!”

“I don’t believe you hear me,” Pastor Franklin says every so often, and the congregation responds, “I hear you!”

Now there’s an old saying I learned in my preaching class when we talked about the differences between white and black preaching styles. It’s “Start slower, go lower; Go higher, catch fire.” White preachers tend to drop their voices when they get to the climax of their sermons. Black preachers tend to build and build until the roof comes off the top of the church with joy.

This is what happens in Pastor Franklin’s sermon, as you can imagine, but I had never heard anything quite like it. There was a certain point where I really couldn’t tell if he was speaking or singing. In between each phrase, he would take a rapid, deep breath, making a growling sound that made me think of earthquakes and thunder. It was mesmerizing.

“Now the question is, is God still stirring the nest? Yes! He’s still stirring the nest – he stirred the nest in history when we came as slaves to this country. …My great grandparents were slaves, but oh, look where their great grandson stands tonight. Well God has been stirring the nest. In suffering there is redemption, oh Lord.”

He wasn’t called the Million Dollar Voice for nothing.

Folks have all kinds of different ideas about what meaning can be ascribed to suffering, so it’s okay if you can’t follow Pastor Franklin that far. But it does take a person of very deep faith to be able to see God’s blessing flowing through one’s life like a river. This is one of the great gifts of many of the African-American churches – the way that a people so marked by suffering and pain could find themselves in Scripture as chosen people of the liberating God of Exodus.

Solomon, David’s son, is now left without his father, whom he loved. Like his father, he too has been put on the throne through the machinations of others, specifically Nathan and Bathsheba. We should expect this, as we learn at his birth that God loves Solomon, who is even given a special name by Nathan: Jedidiah, “beloved of God.” Why should he be more beloved than the others? It’s never certain, although if we think back to the story of David and Bathsheba, perhaps we may surmise that Solomon was born in a spirit of reconciliation and repentance. David mourns and fasts for the child he has lost, then goes and consoles Bathsheba in her own grief. He has finally learned to look beyond his own desires and see her as a person. It is then that they conceive Solomon. God surely smiled to see David return to the exemplary man he once was.

Solomon then delights God in asking not for riches or many wives or a large kingdom, but for wisdom. He does not put his trust in his own innate ability or privilege. He wants to be a good and wise ruler, to, despite her birth into privilege, carry that shepherd’s mantle his father once had. And since wisdom is from God, this is almost like saying, “Holy One, I want more of you.”

Of course God responds – and not only to Solomon, but to us.

Jesus, still speaking with the crowd about living bread, goes a step too far for some as he claims that his own flesh is the living bread they desire, and his own blood is the true drink which brings eternal life. It may sound a bit vampiric to us, but this is a misunderstanding. Eternal life, for one thing, does not mean simply life forever, here on earth or in heaven. The Greek word, zoe, does not only refer to physical life but spiritual life. This is a life marked by fullness and peace, by depth and intimacy with the sacred. This is beautiful enough, but be aware that we’ve come back to something we touched on last week. Jesus here is not merely himself – either Jesus of Nazareth or even Jesus the Christ. Here, we are invited to see Jesus as wisdom itself, a Sophia figure.

Like Wisdom, Jesus calls out to those who pass by the cross-roads, inviting all to a feast of his bounty. The bounty is of his own body, flowing forth, and if that suddenly made you think of mother’s milk, you’re not the only one. John, Paul, even Augustine saw this parallel, although as you can imagine it took a woman to write about it most beautifully. Julian of Norwich, the famous anchoress of Medieval England, wrote in her book Revelations of Divine Love that Christ was like a mother breastfeeding us with the Eucharist. This is wisdom, a most intimately received substance which helps us grow, helps us heal, helps us mature in our faith.

In his sermon, “John’s Vision of a New Heaven,” Rev. C.L. Franklin preaches, “As I look around upon the horizon of time and observe what’s going on in this world, the misery, the war, the bloodshed that’s going on in America… all that’s going on all over the world tells me that God is about ready to give birth to a new world.”

He wrote this in the ‘50s, but listening to it you can imagine it speaks just as strongly today. And indeed, we still stand as confused believers among a crowd that grumbles against the bizarre claims made by our strange king. We still stand among those who are afraid to accept such intimacy, having been burned so many times before. We stand while wondering where we stand.

It’s times like this that it helps to take a moment to remember who we are.

So come here to your mother, your beloved, your life, wisdom. She awaits with open arms.

Come, and be known.

Oh, my son: Summer 2018 Preaching Series, Part 9

Today’s citations:

2 Sam 18:5–9, 15, 31–33

Jn 6:35, 41–51


Believe it or not, our preaching series on monarchy is coming to the last couple of stories on David, and almost ready to make the shift to his son, King Solomon.

Many of you know that I sing, but you might not know that I’m a choral music fanatic. I grew up listening to the Tallis Scholars, Chanticleer, the King’s Singers, and various other groups, singing pieces from all over the world, mostly pre-modern. As an adult, I tend to favour composers like Lauridsen, Raminsh, Esenvalds…really anyone of Scandinavian origin. I love thick suspended chords, soft dark beds of bass and sparking soprano sections. And if you know anything about this kind of music, you won’t be surprised to know that I love Eric Whitacre. He’s a bit trendy these days – some folks roll their eyes when I say I like him. He’s seen as a bit of a derivative upstart in the choral world.

I really don’t care. You like what you like, right?

One of his more epic pieces is called “When David Heard.” It uses text from today’s 2nd Samuel reading: “When David heard that Absalom was slain, he went up into his chamber over the gate and thus he said, ‘My son, my son, my son, Absalom, my son.’”

It’s rather torrid, and it’s far too long, and I can’t listen to it without bawling.

The sopranos quietly begin alone, and then each section, beginning with the bass on the bottom, enters one by one, building a tangled layer of discord that rises into a rich but painful chord, sparkling like flames reflected in broken glass. And then, abruptly a tenor soloist slides up and down, “A-hab-sa-lom,” eventually joined by the rest of his section and the sopranos, sometimes with large beats of silence between each syllable as though taking big shuddery breaths, finally soaring into stratospheric wails, all of which masterfully evokes a sobbing human voice. It’s extraordinary. You can find it on Youtube if you’d like to hear it for yourself.

This is the kind of passage that seems irresponsible to present without context, as the lectionary composers have done.

After the death of their first child, David consoles Bathsheba and they conceive another son, Solomon, whose name, ironically, means peace. The story that follows is anything but.

Absalom is David’s third son, by his wife Maacah, the former wife of the king of Geshur. He is the half-brother of David’s firstborn, Amnon, who we learn is David’s favourite.

Absalom had other siblings, notably a beautiful sister named Tamar. Amnon, her half-brother, becomes besotted with her, and lays a trap to get her alone. When he propositions her, she resists, and so he forces himself upon her.

In a horrid inversion of the story of Jacob’s daughter Dinah, Amnon loathes Tamar once he has gotten what he wanted, and commands her to leave. Again, she protests, saying that this is a worse evil than the rape itself. He doesn’t listen and kicks her out.

David is enraged, but because Amnon is his favourite, he does nothing. Absalom tries (poorly) to comfort his sister, and the text says she remains “a desolate woman” in his house for the rest of her days. Since she was a virgin at the time of the rape, she can no longer marry herself into a better place. Amnon, having done this while also being her half-brother, has committed a terrible sin.

Absalom, full of justified anger, uses trickery to bring Amnon to his house for a feast, and has him killed. He then flees David, like his father once did from Saul.

After a few years, David allows Absalom to return, and even forgives him. But Absalom, clearly mistrustful of his father, begins to win the people of Israel over to his side, hoping to kill and supplant David on the throne. David reluctantly sends out his soldiers to quell the uprising, and although he begs them to spare Absalom’s life, his trusted general Joab has Absalom killed. David, to Joab’s great consternation, is deeply grieved.

Imagine what must have been going through David’s head. He paid dearly for the sin he committed against Bathsheba and God, but despite the punishment he has already received in the death of their first child, Nathan’s prophecy that trouble will be stirred up in David’s house has still come true. His beloved son, Amnon, has committed a similar yet far greater sin of sexual assault against his own half-sister, and has paid the price at the hand of his own half-brother. David is desperate to prevent further bloodshed and does what he can to stop it, but still loses yet another son.

Where could this deeply personal and perhaps very familiar story of compounded grief intersect with Jesus’ cryptic talk of manna and living bread?

We’ve spoken at length about the lust for power and what it does to the human brain and soul. But of course no matter how much earthly power a person attains, they are never free from pain, illness, or death. Sooner or later, it will find us all. David is once again forced into humility. But along with his grief must have been a sense of the world tilting under his feet. David had gone from the leader of a relatively small family of tribes to a player on the world stage. His nation had grown into something bigger, something forming an identity of its own. Forces within the nation were spiralling out of his hands. His children were making their own mistakes and decisions. David was still the king, but his kingdom had, in a way, begun to grow its own soul. As king he was starting to become an idea, a figurehead, more than a shepherd who knew each sheep by name.

This should be familiar to all of us as well. The Church, once a small band of miscreants, has ballooned into a worldwide movement that has waxed and waned in influence and moral authority. She is not just us in this place. She is Catholic and Anglican and Baptist and Pentecostal. She is Calvinist and Lutheran and Moravian. She is communal and hierarchical. She is Western and privileged; Southern and growing; Eastern and besieged; Northern and struggling. She is the people within and also the buildings around them. And we cannot control her or fully claim her, no matter how convenient that would be for us. Like God’s covenant with Israel, the Church will always be mysterious and beautiful and frustrating, a movement much bigger than the sum of her parts.

What Jesus offers us to hold us together is the joy of memory, what theologians call anamnesis. This is not merely a sentimental recollection, but an active work that changes the atmosphere around us. In this passage from John, the Gospel writer uses particular language to hearken the listeners back to the Israelites’ time in the wilderness: grumbling against God, receiving the precious gift of manna, being called into a relationship of trust.

There was already a mystical tradition in Judaism which equated the manna with God’s unending wisdom. Here Jesus stands in the place of Sophia, making manifest God’s wisdom, God’s Word, in flesh. And this occurs not only in the simple lines of this text, this story, but here at this table before you. Where David is left reeling and wondering what good his kingship ever brought him, we are left with this anchor of truth to hold us steady. When we come together to remember, the walls that separate all the members of the Body of Christ are broken down. Our hearts beat together, across time and space. The memory itself is what makes it possible for God to be among us.

There will come a time when in our grief like David we may forget who we are, what holds us to the earth, what holds us to each other. But when our hearts sing those thick, tangled chords of despair, let us lift our voices knowing that we, the building blocks of the kingdom, are never alone.

We are bound not only by memory but by our identity as beloved servants of a broken king.


Resistance Lectionary Part 7: Mischievous Midwives

Citation: Exodus 1:8-21

In the years after Joseph’s death in Egypt, we learn that a new king has arisen who does not have the same cordial relationship with the Israelites that once existed. The old patterns of suspicion and xenophobia begin again, and the Egyptian leadership begins a campaign of oppression and all-out genocide against the Israelites.

It has barely taken one generation for the friendships forged by Joseph to be forgotten.

During this time, new heroes of faith emerge in the story of the people of God.

Shiphrah and Puah are largely unsung in white Christian discourse. We don’t tend to learn about them in Sunday school, focusing instead on the story of baby Moses in the basket on the river. These two midwives, however, are remembered with great honour in the Jewish faith. The great 11th century rabbi Rashi identified them with Jochebed and Miriam, Moses’ mother and sister in his Talmud commentary.

The prominent Jewish theologian Francine Klangsbrun reflected that their act may have been the “first known incident of civil disobedience in history.” While it’s difficult to say that with certainty, it’s surely one of the earliest documented examples available to Western civilization.

Shiphrah and Puah occupy only six verses and have strangely generic names (they mean “beautiful” and “little girl,” respectively), but tradition remembers them as literal saviours of the whole Jewish people. We should not overlook the significance of their inclusion as heroic women in the Book of Exodus. While white patriarchal Christianity often makes reference to women as crafty deceivers, the story of the midwives complicates the idea of female cunning being solely or even inherently negative.

If that notion seems conveniently modern to you, know that Shiphrah and Puah are not the only crafty women who will use their wiles to become heroes of faith in the Bible. We will learn about many more as we continue our journey through the Resistance Lectionary.

Resistance Lectionary Part 6: The Burning Truth

Citation: 2 Corinthians 4:6-10

August 6th is the traditional date for the Feast of the Transfiguration, the day when we remember the story of Jesus taking his closest friends up a mountain and the mystical experience that followed. Mark, Matthew, and Luke all include this strange story of Jesus’ clothes becoming dazzling white, of the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and the voice of God proclaiming Jesus as a beloved son.

For early Christians, persecuted by the state and arguing about their relationship to the Jewish faith from which they came, this story was an important way to establish their identity as the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel.

For Christians in the 21st century west, things have changed. We are a relatively privileged faith. There are Christian communities around the world that still suffer significant, even state-sanctioned, persecution. There are many countries where political ideologies and religious extremism subject Christians to discrimination, imprisonment, physical violence, and death.

And lest we feel tempted to point the finger “over there,” there are Christian communities like Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the site of the Charleston church massacre, which do not enjoy the same privileges that other churches can claim.

These Christians will have a very different read of this passage from Second Corinthians. Western Christians must not co-opt that narrative when a Wal-Mart employee says “Happy holidays.”

In light of this difference, where might a privileged Western Christian hear the voice of God? What could Transfiguration look like for the rest of us?

There might be a window in verse 10: “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be visible in our bodies.”

There’s another one in the Transfiguration stories themselves. Each one makes explicit reference to Jesus’ work in Jerusalem – the betrayal, suffering, and death.

We must never forget that God is calling us out of easy answers and comfort, out of Galilee into Jerusalem. If we do not find ourselves there already, struggling against the powerful, we need to take up our crosses and go there to stand beside Jesus anew.

This is a terrifying thing, and yet Paul calls it a “treasure.”

And it is.

To hold within our bodies the death of Jesus is to hold within ourselves a bright and burning flame of truth: that the Creator of the universe came among us not to be crowned an Emperor of the world, but to take on all of our pain and suffering and brokenness. Jesus was not a white American. Jesus was not even a Roman citizen. He was a poor brown man living in occupied territory who was murdered by the state.

It’s a scandalous truth, and a holy truth. For if God willingly took on that scandal for us, it means that God is on the side of the oppressed, always, and that is where God can be found, if we would only look.

A Jesus masculinity: Summer 2018 Preaching Series, Part 8

Today’s citations:

2 Samuel 11:26–12:13a

John 6:24–35


Last week we discussed the story of David and Bathsheba in the light of #MeToo. Today, we are still encountering the echoes of the story of David’s devious act. It seems like a good time to talk a bit about toxic masculinity.

You might have heard this phrase going around as the #MeToo discussion amped up, or you may have heard it used when audio footage of Trump’s infamous “grabby” speech came out. A lot of folks feel uncomfortable with the phrase, because they see it as a blanket condemnation of everything masculine.

Toxic masculinity is actually a very particular type of masculinity, a kind that may not always be explicitly encouraged, but has rarely been challenged until now. In Hollywood it’s the Fight Club kind of man, the one who manages grief, loneliness, and rage with brute violence, shouts and postures, intrudes on the public space of others, decries any type of emotional honesty as weak or, worse, “feminine.” Funnily enough, the novel Fight Club was meant to be a criticism of that kind of masculinity. It’s telling that scads of young North American men responded to the film by idolizing the protagonist rather than seeing him as a monster.

It sounds cliché but the best example of real-world toxic masculinity really is Donald Trump, a person who all his life has allowed nothing to stand in the way of his entitlement. He is in power now because there is a steady current in many parts of the world that yearns to express this unbridled id: an admiration for strong-arm tactics, for the freedom to say anything we please, for the comfort of blaming all of our own problems on someone else. When we see it in a leader, we feel like things will really get done.

Toxic masculinity is also not always so explicit. It can be subtle. Monopolizing speaking time in group settings over the voices of women. Catcalling women on the street and responding to criticism with, “It was just a compliment.” Telling little boys to “man up.” Accusing others of being “too sensitive” while simultaneously inserting oneself into a conversation about men by insisting, “Not all men.” Expecting romantic partners to provide intimacy at all times and shoulder emotional and domestic labour while providing nothing in return.

Toxic masculinity is toxic because it hurts not only the people it criticizes, but the person who embodies it. It is a soul poison, hurting men by not permitting vulnerability or emotional growth.

David exhibits toxic masculinity by allowing his desire to take precedent over Bathsheba’s personhood and deviously having her husband murdered.

What’s most interesting, I think, is how God responds to this behaviour.

You may notice on the surface of the text that God does not seem to care as much about the assault as the fact that David murders Uriah. This is the moment when the writer says, “What David has done displeased the Lord.” But don’t despair. Nathan’s parable of the lamb is a masterful story which proves that God does care deeply about what has happened to Bathsheba.

Nathan tells a story about a beloved lamb and a poor man. Notice how the poor man does not seem interested in eating this lamb. It is “like a daughter to him.” The rich man, on the other hand, not only sees this lamb as an object, but flouts important social laws about hospitality in the ancient world. It is completely inappropriate to take from someone else to provide for a guest, unless you have nothing to give. This rich man doesn’t want to share his own wealth, so he steals, and doesn’t seem to care that he did not just steal an ordinary serving of lamb chops but a creature that was deeply beloved.

David’s sin is a grave insult to the God who has provided everything for him – wives, riches, and power. The parable shows us that God does care about Bathsheba, humanizes her even while it somewhat problematically describes her as someone else’s property. She is loved.

David trips himself up in a wonderful bit of irony, and admits his sin. David’s punishment, which is not included in today’s reading, is the death of the child they conceived together.

This might seem terribly cruel, but we consider that Bathsheba may have been relieved. It is only once that child, conceived in a moment of great power imbalance, is gone, that David begins to treat Bathsheba as a person. Finally, the two of them appear to be on better footing.

Once again, let’s compare King David with King Jesus.

There is no toxic masculinity here. Our king is a sissy. Our king is not defined by his sexual prowess or history. Our king does not take from women, but lifts them up and honours them. He spurns power and posturing. He cuddles children.

When you think of the crucifixion, it’s not too much of a stretch to see the parallels between the assault of Bathsheba and the stripping and execution of Jesus. His side is even pierced, penetrated, with a spear. Jesus is a victim of toxic masculinity. He knows, intimately, the pain of all those who have been violated by it.

In today’s story, Jesus invites others to consume his flesh. Jesus, the man who abhors and complicates toxic masculinity, stands in front of the suffering and says, “You want to hurt someone? Is that the only thing that you think will cure your soul sickness, your own pain, your own fear and desire to be good enough? Fine. Hurt me. Consume me. Ravage me.”

Then, once he has been consumed, hurt, despised, mocked, and pierced…he comes back, having allowed every bit of physical evidence, every scar, to remain. Our king returns to us disabled, yet another identity routinely despised in toxic masculinity. And not only does he return disabled – it is in his disability that his power is most truly known.

What does this tell us?

We have to be careful. It’s very easy to slip into what some of us call “doormat” theology, encouraging people to be willingly debased and be happy in their suffering. This is a tool of the oppressor. It is not the will of God. God does not wish women to stay in abusive relationships. God did not wish black people to be happy in their slavery. God does not wish queer children to sacrifice their sexuality for a spot in heaven.

When we are in that place of pain, fear, or abuse, God’s desire for us is comfort and solidarity. We can have peace knowing that God holds us in our agony. But if someone else is in that place, God has a commission for us, and it is that we own and use our privilege.

This is another word that can be misunderstood. Privilege is not a negation of the struggles we’ve endured. Rather it is something that is unearned, but can be used to our advantage on behalf of others.

So men have to be willing to take risks by calling out toxic behaviour when it arises among their friends and those around them. White people have to be willing to condemn and work to dismantle the structures that oppress and murder the colonized. Straight and cisgendered people need to be willing to question and destroy the prison of binary thinking. Able-bodied (who are always only temporarily able-bodied, remember) and neurotypical people need to challenge a world which views disabled folks and neurodiverse folks as a burden.

When you choose to follow Christ the King, you choose to follow not a strong man but a convicted criminal, a loser, a sissy who willingly took on the pain and guilt and rage of the whole world not to make us feel guilty but to close the gap between us.

When we take his body, we remember the closing of the gap. We remember Jesus’ desire to be closer to us, to be held within us, an invitation to full consensual intimacy.

Holding the beautiful truth of that invitation in our hearts, we may ask ourselves this week, what other gaps could we be called to close as we venture forth from this place into the places where God has given us responsibility?

Who could our king be calling us to remember, to liberate, to feed, to embrace?