No Fault Forgiveness

Photo by Uriel Soberanes on Unsplash

I woke up at 3:30 this morning, and I was preaching a sermon. Or as I prefer to say, teaching a sermon. Yes, I was awake, watching myself, in a sense, creating an outline on a whiteboard and inviting the congregation to talk about repentance and forgiveness. It was a very strange experience, needless to say. At the time, I thought to my semi-aware self, “I hope I remember this in the morning to write it down, because I think it’s good stuff.”

Who knows though how good 3am theology really is? Also, as I’m writing this having been up since 3:30am, I make no guarantees on its quality, either.

I am writing it down. I believe that someone needs to hear it, whether that’s you, my congregation, me—I don’t know. It didn’t come to me for no reason though, so here, at least, is part of the forgiveness piece.

What Forgiveness Is–and Is Not

Many people in the church, especially women, are bullied into forgiveness rather than walked alongside toward it with grace. You don’t have to look far right now to find the double anguish of women who have spoken up about abuse seemingly helped along by the church. In too common practice, leadership then accuses them of trying to destroy their church/pastor/spouse by not engaging in “biblical” forgiveness. 

What they mean, of course, is not being willing to pretend the abuse never happened, and if it did, to agree that they are mostly to blame.

So where do repentance and forgiveness belong in the cycle of church life and discipleship? 

Forgiveness seems to me to have 3 steps.

  • Release
  • Reconciliation
  • Restoration

(Yes, even in an odd awake dream, I apparently alliterate like a good preacher. The “repent” side was also 3 ‘R’s.’ Whatever.)

Release

“Release” is what we typically see Jesus talking about when he mentions forgiveness. In Matthew 18.22, he uses a word that means to cast away or to let go. When Peter famously asks how many times we should forgive someone who has harmed us, Jesus answers with “seventy times seven”—a phrase known to mean “infinite.”  

When someone harms you, continually release them from the debt they owe you. Let the account go. As Paul will later explain, “Love keeps no record of being wronged.” So forgiveness, to Jesus, means to free both people from the imprisonment of holding on to a wrong. He asks that we choose to toss away the accounting books that hold the debt.

This aligns with the parable with which he follows his statement to Peter. A rich man forgives the massive debt of another man. The second, however, chooses to hold on to a much smaller debt owed to him. This, Jesus makes clear, is an affront to the generosity he has had extended to him. As what we now call the Lord’s Prayer teachers us, true gratitude for our own forgiveness results in forgiveness extended to others.

In Jesus’ definition of forgiveness, books are wiped clean.

But what is not happening in this story? Debts are wiped clean, but does this mean the people in the story are to go forward pretending they had never been incurred? Do they allow the person to accumulate debt again in the same way? Jesus doesn’t demand that. The release is required—but the reconciliation and restoration are not necessarily a part of that equation.

That’s where we can fail, in an abusive situation, to teach forgiveness the way Jesus did. Forgiveness is a miracle and a sign of a heart alive to Christ’s deep love for them. It can never be marveled at enough. Downplaying its importance is to forget Jesus’ pretty serous words earlier in Mathew 6.14-15.

If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Yet forcing it, in a world where we know repentance is often false and peace a one-way street, feels like an abuse of the very concept. It appears to be mocking Jesus’ “490” proclamation, not endorsing it.

Full disclosure—I am a #metoo woman. I was abused by a relative from the ages of 8-14. I have quite a clear grasp on what it feels to demand forgiveness versus come to it by grace. I have forgiven. The release is complete for me. Nevertheless, restoration of the relationship was never on the table. The harm done continues to this day, and a demanded restoration of trust would have been a sham. Indeed, with three daughters of my own, trust would not ever be offered in any way. We both have freedom. We do not have a relationship.

This is why it’s helpful, I think, to look at this 3-step process for forgiveness. We can get through step one, and that truly is the forgiveness that Jesus asks of us. Steps 2 and 3 may happen, and they may not. Either one is OK.

Reconciliation

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

A possible Step 2—reconciliation—is simply to say to another, “You’re part of the family again. You’re accepted back.” The person has repented, and the relationship is mended.

  • It’s the church treasurer who stole money and repaid it reconciled to the body—but she is not necessarily given back a position at the till.
  • It’s the person who has gossiped or lied about another being taken back into a group of friends or a church small group. The person lied about has received an apology, but he might never entrust that friend with vulnerable truths again.
  • It’s the alcoholic parent being invited to Thanksgiving and the family vacation at the lake. His daughter, however, will continue to hide keys and perhaps credit cards.

Reconciliation is a move beyond release to acceptance, with caution. The release is done. The forgiveness part is over. The shalom has begun. It is not yet complete. In this place it might never be. We cannot force reconciliation nor should we, because we could be pushing someone who has already forgiven back into a relationship where there is no true repentance. 

The abuse will continue, and it will be twice as damaging, because everyone will assume all is well when a happy face bandaid is put on a deep unhealed wound. There will be pressure for the wounded not to speak up again, and the abuser will take advantage of that. 

Reconciliation is the choice of the victim, and it should never be assumed. 

Restoration

Photo by Tandem X Visuals on Unsplash

Restoration seems to take it one step farther in the sense that the relationship is restored completely. Terry returns to the equation.

This is the church treasurer not only being invited back to fellowship but to trust and leadership. It’s the spouse not only forgiven abuse or adultery but the repair of the relationship to a better state than before. It’s Saul of Tarsus becoming Paul while Ananias vouches for the man who would have killed him a month before, given the chance.

This is the kind of “as far as the east is from the west” forgiveness God extends. It’s not a human ability. When it happens, it’s a miracle of grace and God. 

It doesn’t have to happen.

Healthy Forgiveness

I believe it’s time we look at Jesus-taught forgiveness for what it is, not for the painless (for the perpetrator), “don’t make waves” conviction many church leaders fall into. Forgiveness is the release of debt. It can be done unilaterally, as in my case mentioned above. 

Jesus emphasizes its importance because our unwillingness to wipe clean the slate of another shows a poor understanding and experience of God’s great love in clearing our own slates. Bitterness and resentment in the heart and soul of a believer set up a roadblock to our own intimacy with God. We lose our first love.

Reconciliation and restoration are never unilateral. They cannot be the work of one person. The image of either one requires two sides coming together. Thus while one offended party does the work of release, the offender must be doing the work of repentance. (Recognize the wrong, take responsibility for the wrong, and restore what was taken—if you want to know the 3 R’s in that half.) 

The reconciliation and restoration are possible—but they are not required. This side of eternity, many things will be restored by the grace of God. Many, however, will not. This is the tension with which we live as believers. We believe and hope for God’s kingdom come on earth as in heaven. We recognize that this liminal occurrence isn’t common. We pray for grace. W repeat. Amen.

What I Learned about Church from an Ecuadorian Chef

I didn’t even see a name on the restaurant front. Its virtue was that it was steps from our tiny hotel’s door, and we were exhausted after a 36-hour ordeal/flight from hell designed by an airline which shall remain nameless. 

The chef/owner slid open a window and informed us the place was reservation only, but he would take us if we wanted to sit outside. It was a tasting menu–whatever he wanted to cook that day, we would eat. We sat, intrigued (and tired). We took in the modest patio, with dogs barking low and nearby car horns hitting the high notes. Near the door hung strings of drying corn. We finally figured out these weren’t decor–they were on the menu. Our sturdy table sat in the equatorial moonlight, and we closed our eyes, with no idea what we were in for.

A Surprising Conversation

We conversed with the owner through the meal, as his window was five feet away. He detailed what he was cooking, where he got his ingredients, and he asked about our travel plans. Through the courses, we started discussing deeper things. 

Chef Sebastian explained that, pre-covid, he had owned several places in higher rent districts—wine bars, restaurants, etc. He was forced to shutter them. It looked like defeat. Then he ended up opening this one small place, Quitu, in a much different kind of neighborhood.

He spoke of using fresh local ingredients, becoming much more affordable to people because of much lower rents, and how he loved his new life. Then he told us something that stuck with me.

“I decided to become a restaurant for the neighborhood instead of a restaurant for the world.”

A Church Like Quitu

My mind jumped to church and leadership and why we do what we do. Yes, I want us to speak about national issues, world justice, the responsibility of the privileged of this globe. That is part of living with both feet in the Kingdom of God. 

Yet it’s so easy to lose our way when our focus points toward that large stage. Any large stage, really. The popular allure is more mesmerizing than the neighborhood grit. It’s easy for “winning” to become the idol and affirmation to morph into the goal. I think our Quiteño chef understood that. He’d had the success. Covid forced a choice he now embraced. He wanted to return to a life where the community felt welcome and his food wholesome and accessible. 

Church leaders, how do we embrace that value? How should we be redefining “normal” to make the places we lead accessible, inviting, and healthy? How ought our yearning for justice to roll down and integrity to be great again affect not only our twitter feed but our presence with the real life people on our block?

How do we become a church for the community rather than a church that happens to be in a community?

Downsizing. Decentering human leaders. Sourcing our nourishment from the wells of goodness and grace. Looking around and asking ourselves–what do the people here need, and why am I in this place and time?

I like chef Sebastian’s approach. His food was pretty great, too.

Why Pray? To Remind Us Whose We Are

Photo by Hector Farahani on Unsplash

Why Pray? 

We’ve learned a few things about prayer in the last several weeks. We’ve learned we need to approach it with humility and gratitude. 

We’ve learned that the first purpose of prayer is to gain a mature relationship with God so that we understand his heart and our own. We’ve learned to ask God to radically re-organize our priorities so that they match God’s own. 

So what’s next? A simple line. Or is it?

“Keep us alive with three square meals.”

I love how clear and down to earth that translation is. The one we know better is:

“Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6.11)

But it means the same thing, right? Give us every day what we need to survive. This seems so simple, but it’s really a complex and important idea. In the beginning, God created a garden that had everything we could ever need or want. It was way more than daily bread. And it was all there as a gift. 

But Human beings wanted to make their own daily bread. They wanted to be in charge. They wanted to believe that everything they gained came from their own hands. (I don’t think humans have changed very much.)

Fast forward to the Israelites wandering in the desert. They complained because they didn’t have enough food, so God gave them miraculous food from heaven called manna. They had enough for every day—but they were not supposed to collect more than enough. Why not?

Photo by Evi Radauscher on Unsplash

God’s command regarding the manna was a lesson in: 1) remembering that God provides absolutely everything and 2) not being greedy and wanting more than what we need. When the people collected more than they needed, it rotted. That was both God’s signal to stop hoarding and also a reminder that he does provide every single day. We don’t need to worry about the future. 

Plan sure, but worry? That’s where this line of Jesus’ prayer comes in. 

“Keep us alive with three square meals.” Give us this day our daily bread. 

It’s Enough

It’s more than a request for provision. It’s an understanding that we trust God with today, tomorrow, and every day after that. We ask for daily bread, not a month’s worth. God wants us to learn how to come to him regularly and trust him for absolutely everything.

Asking for daily bread as opposed to what I need for the long term is an exercise in trust, not a request for food. It’s saying to God—I know you’ll still be there tomorrow for what I might need then. I choose to pick up only the manna I need.

It’s also a way of teaching us to submit to only wanting what God says we need. We request bread, not cake. It’s Jesus telling us, as God told the Israelites long ago, don’t gather more than you need. Make sure there’s enough for everyone. Daily bread is what’s really necessary.

Photo by Austin Ban on Unsplash

When we say “give us our daily bread,” what are we saying? We’re implicitly saying that we recognize there is an “us.” It’s not just about me. 

It’s Our Daily Bread

Part of what we’re asking is that we be willing to share our daily bread with those who maybe don’t have any. When we ask for enough for everybody, we’d better be ready to remember the lines in Jesus’ prayer before this—set the world right. So if I have more bread than someone else, I need to partner with God and making sure we all have what we need each day.

What’s the purpose of prayer? In these lines, it’s to remind us where everything comes from. It puts us in a posture of humility to come before God and remember that he supplies all of our needs. We cannot ever take credit for all we have and gain, no matter how hard we work. Also, it puts us in a place of remembering that he loves to give us what we need because he loves us. And everyone else.

Why Pray? To Get My Priorities Straight

Many years ago, I stood at the checkout in a liquor store in my hometown. I was bringing home the sparkling cider for our family’s Christmas dinner. 

The woman behind the register asked: “Are you 21?”

I stammered a moment. “Well, yes, I am. But I don’t need to be. This isn’t alcohol.”

She looked, laughed, and waved me through. “Bottle sure looks the same. I didn’t notice. Merry Christmas!”

I could have presented ID for my purchase—but it wasn’t required. I, or anyone, was freely allowed to buy that celebratory bubbly bottle and take it home.

Often, we feel like prayer is this kind of requirement—ID we must present before we get what we want. We look at it as a hoop we need to jump through. Facts we have to memorize do for a test. 

What if prayer is none of that? Neglecting prayer isn’t something to beat ourselves up over, as we might if we’ve failed the test. At the same time, it’s something to be sad about if we miss it. The truth is, like sitting with a best friend or wise mentor, if I neglect the conversation, I’m missing all the goodness of my relationship. There is delicious bubbly, celebratory conversation to be had freely. It’s my choice if I want to take it or treat it like an ACT test to fret over.

As we continue this exploration of prayer (begun in my previous two posts here and here) the next lines of the Lord’s prayer are:

Set the world right; Do what’s best—
    as above, so below. 

(Matthew 6.10, The Message)

Or in more familiar terms:

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Do What’s Best

Honestly, how often do we come before God and just say those words? “God, please do what’s best.” Don’t we usually have our own list of things that we think are best? I know I do. We tend to come to God with our plans and wishes and ask him to bless that. Yet one of the first things Jesus teaches us is that our hearts need to want what he wants more than what we want.

We need to come to God not with our list but asking God,—“What’s on your list?” God, do what’s best. How can I be of service in that?

Of course, when we look at Scripture, we know what’s on God’s list. It’s encompassed in that first line—“Set the world right.” God’s list is all about reconciliation of all things and putting the world back the way the Creator intended it. “Set the world right” isn’t a metaphorical concept. It’s really what God wants—things righted in the way they were always meant to be.

“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is a plea for all of God’s goodness to be the priority of our daily lives. The purpose of prayer that comes out here is this: To ask that God’s priorities be our priorities.

Once we’ve taken the first steps in prayer, listening to God and knowing who God is and what is on his heart, we already know what his will is. We’ve seen it as we listen and learn. We know that when we say that line—“Your will be done in earth as it is in heaven”—exactly what we’re asking for. So the question is—

How much do we mean it? 

Do we really want God to set the world right—because we know that’s going to mean upsetting quite a bit. The world is very wrong, and often the church is right there with it. We know the status quo is not God’s will being done on earth. We also know that we often benefit from the status quo. So praying this line is an exercise in self denial. It’s a check of our obedience. It’s testing to see if we are willing to submit our will to God’s. 

It’s not some out there, cosmic idea. 

Yeah, I think it would be a good idea if your will was done on earth, God. Somewhere on earth. You know, where things are really bad and people are being exceptionally stupid. Out there. On earth. Vague gesture. 

It’s a request for God’s will to be done right here right now, in my heart and in my life, starting in my neighborhood. Let’s be honest—sometimes I’m really bad and exceptionally stupid. It’s not all “out there.”

God, make your priorities my priorities. Mold my will in service to yours. Help me to give up the things on my list if they’re not on your list. Give me a heart that cares about the things in the world that are not set right. Give me the courage to partner with you to set them right. 

That’s what we’re asking when we pray this line of the Lord’s prayer. It’s radical. That’s why I like to hear it in a translation we’re not used to hearing it in—so that we recognize the crazy upside down world that Jesus is asking us to pray for and know what it all means. 

Set the world right; 

Do what’s best—
    as above, so below.

Amen.

That’s a Wrap

Rounding Up

We did a LOT of puzzles in 2020

Are we ready for a round up post? On February 1? Of course we are. Because we know:

1) I’m not usually on time for these sorts of things. 

And

2) You got inundated with that jazz last month, and now you actually have time to look at these things. 

See? I planned that out. So here we go. My favorite things of 2020. 

Five favorite books

OK, 7. Because choosing is hard, and I could have easily picked twelve.

I met my goodreads goal of 35! I know that’s not a ton, but 2020. I was tired. We were all tired. I spent the first third of the year finishing and defending my thesis. Plus also, I did a lot of puzzles. Finishing the goal is a win. It doesn’t matter what the goal was. I finished.

Let’s not waste our time moving goal posts on ourselves because we don’t think what we did was good enough. Not Spoiler: it was good enough. We made it.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. Enough said. Truth – I’ve never read it. I’ve been a little major and an English teacher, and I have never read this book. Now I have, and now it has changed me. It makes me sad to see how much has not really changed. To see the world through the eyes of a child and to see her slow awakening to what people to what people are capable of, both good and bad, is enchantingly and devastatingly told.

From Burned Out to Beloved: Soul Care for Wounded Healers. Bethany D. Hiser. As a pastor and as a person who is constantly trying to save the world (is that redundant?), I found this work indispensable. Ms. Hiser helps people like me to pull back and to see ourselves. She helps us to equip others rather than to “save” them. In the process, we learn how to love and be blessed by our work rather than burned out. After the year we’ve just had, this is required reading for caregivers of any sort.

Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, Eugene Peterson. Peterson’s work is so challenging for pastors and so absolutely necessary. I needed this this year. Desperately. His whole section on rest and Sabbath is something I had been contemplating and wrestling with for a while, and this book blew it wide open.

Sabbath is a chance to let God do what God does best, without my interference. It’s my chance to join that after stopping long enough to see and to hear it.

The God Who Sees, Karen Gonzales. Gonzales puts the story of her family’s journey from Guatemala to the United States alongside the nomads of Scripture. The foreigners, those on the margins, those of whom God tells us to take special care. She explains to the reader God’s heart for those who find themselves on this journey and how we can make that struggle easier. I love the way she puts the stories together and the research she does into this very difficult issue. 

Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell. I will inherently love anything Gladwell writes. This book is quite timely, given our desperate need to hear what others are thinking and understand where they’re coming from. His exploration of how our different backgrounds and “languages” of communication affects the way we understand one another is fascinating. Gladewell is always a winner for me. He’s what I want to be when I grow up.

The Sun Does Shine, Anthony Ray Hinton. What can I even say? This man lost most of his life in prison. Why? Because, to summarize the words of those who arrested him, “they will convict any black man of the crime, and you are as good as any other.” It’s not just a story of one man’s injustice though. It’s a story of the relationships he made in prison and what all of us can learn from listening to those men alone in their cells. The relationship between the author and the klansman was so crazy and beautiful. This is one of the men you meet in the movie Just Mercy. You should meet him in this book, too.

Booked, Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior. As the Goodreads descriptions says, this book is for, “Anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.” Dr. Prior tells her memoir through literature, and this is so relatable to me. As a little girl who could never be torn away from a book, I could also tell my life through stories. Some of the stories she chooses could also be mine. I love the mingling of memoir and literature and life. This, too, is how I could explain out my life.

Five favorite recipes

Creamy Sun-dried Tomato Fettuccini Yes please. Pasta. Garlic. Sun-dried Tomatoes. The word “creamy.” It’s all there.

Cinnamon Roll Macarons. Hands down the best macarons I’ve ever made. Only I put chocolate ganache filling in, because who doesn’t’t love cinnamon and chocolate???

Vaca Frita de Pollo. One of the women in our church was making this while on zoom, and I NEEDED the recipe. It was all I dreamed of.

Chicken Normandy. Do it on a cold day when you have lots of time and want the most delicious chicken dinner you’ve ever had, possibly.

Za’atar Man’ouche. I saw this on a travel show and said—I need this in my life! And what do you know? Our kid had given us zaatar in a Christmas gift. Here you are. You’re welcome.

Thing I’m most proud to have made: Two of the kids gave me a Great British Bakeoff Book, and let me tell you, everything in it I’ve made is incredible. But this was quite the challenge.

Five favorite podcasts

2020 was not a good year for podcasts. I generally listen to them in the car, and, well, I didn’t spend much time in the car this year. Like, we saved a lot of money on gas, maintenance, and we should have just probably cancel the insurance. I hardly drove that thing. So I’ve been missing my podcasts. But these have been my favorites.

The Holy Post

Lead Stories

Revisionist History

The Bible Project

And a new one to add—Three Black Men

Five things I hope don’t go back to “normal.” 

That we learned to love the outdoors again. 

That we learned to slow down and live without the unnecessary things we thought were so important.

That we said “enough” to injustice and decided to change ourselves in order to change our culture. We also decided to stop engaging with the nonsense and just get to work.

That many of us came to appreciate in a new way those who keep the gears running and keep us safe. Healthcare workers, food workers, delivery drivers and sanitation workers. Those who bring my groceries to my door and those who hover over ICU patients, for 36 hours straight. Please, let us not forget. Oh and by the way, a lot of those people are immigrants.

That we learned to hold our people tightly and our plans loosely.

The thing that happened this year I desperately needed and didn’t know I did. Can you guess?

That’s it. That’s my round up. What about you? What were the things you loved about 2020? What are the things you’ll remember and take forward? I would love to hear.

Editing the Church

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Today, writing a blog feels weird. 

See, I typically write my blogs a few months in advance. What you read in March I wrote in January or even December. But today, that’s kind of inconceivable.

I have no idea what this world is going to look like in a few months. I’m not even sure about next week. I don’t feel any sense of security or serenity writing about what my outlook on things will be in March as we sit here a few days out of a coup at the nation’s capital. I’m not assuming it’s over. 

Much has been written on the day, and much of it has been stellar. I’m not repeating those analyses.

So today, I’ll move some things around and respond to now, not two months from now.

Photo by Jeremiah Higgins on Unsplash

My focus, as you know from reading my banner if not my blog, is not on the politics so much is on the church. Not that the former is not important, but the future of the church is the passion that God has given me. What do these unsettling times mean for the church? Most importantly, what does the fallout mean for the next generations of our church? 

It’s not an exaggeration to say that this could be the most devastating event for the American church that we have seen in a very long while. The next generation has seen the church in reaction, and they’re not having it. I don’t blame them at all.

Mind you, I wouldn’t be all that sad to stand at the grave of much that passes for American Christianity. My concern is with the baby that will likely get tossed with the bathwater. The bathwater stinks. It’s filthy. It is in desperate need of change. 

But the baby—the church you don’t see in the cameras—is filled with people who honestly, humbly, falteringly attempt to follow Jesus. They could be the innocent victims of this drive-by disaster. 

Jesus’ church really does have people in it who love him more than they love themselves. They’re just harder to find in the swill and swell of the stinky bathwater.

Photo by Stefan Kunze on Unsplash

God will not suffer. Ultimately, his church will survive. Jesus Christ is King, and that will not change. He does not need us to defend him. He will raise his remnant as he always has. Like Simba, the church that survives will stagger up, blink at the light, and bewilderedly continue in the circle God has started. But it is likely to die, first. 

Four in ten young adults between the ages of 23 and 38 now say they are religiously unaffiliated.

IN a 2017 study, “Political rifts between young Christians and their congregations are growing. A quarter (25%) of recent dropouts said disagreements over their church’s stance on political and social issues contributed to their decision to stop attending, compared to 15 percent

That those rifts have increased with the advent of QAnon and “Stop the Steal” conspiracy theories being welcomed and applauded in the church is clear from a thirty-second perusal of social media. 

The exodus isn’t temporary, as it has been in the past, either. For the first time, young adults are not returning to church when they have families, because they don’t believe they need the church to teach their children how to be good people. That isn’t because they believe God has failed them or isn’t good. It’s because they believe the church is no longer filled with good people.

The people in the church cannot teach their children what they do not know.

While in the past most of those disaffected with church retained their belief in and some relationship with Jesus, that is also changing. 2019 saw the greatest surge in atheism in America. Those who consider themselves atheists, agnostics, or”nothing in particular” have risen to over a quarter of the population. The next generation has lost their spiritual community, and with no one to talk with about their questions, doubts, and ideas, their faith has eroded as well. This was inevitable—God created us for community, and we cannot go without it for long without serious effect.

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

An Atlantic article explores the sudden sharp decline in American Christianity in the 1990’s. “According to Christian Smith, a sociology and religion professor at the University of Notre Dame, America’s nonreligious lurch has mostly been the result of three historical events: the association of the Republican Party with the Christian right, the end of the Cold War, and 9/11.” The last two have complex sociological issues and are fascinating to look at. The first is the important one, for my purposes.

Here are some of the reasons younger generations are leaving the church right now. They are amazingly clear-eyed at the illogic and incongruity they see. These are the things they can’t understand. Church, we have to bring these things they see into the light. face them unflinchingly, and set them right. 

The same people who have told them that men cannot meet with women over lunch because they fear the “appearance of evil” are silent regarding “Jesus Saves” signs next to confederate flags and nooses—unmistakable symbols of white supremacy and lynching. These symbols do not convey the appearance of evil—they are evil. We are to believe Christians can stand next to them and not participate in the stench of their meaning. Yet a male pastor cannot accompany me, a female pastor, to a training meeting because “appearances.” This is the incongruity causing young people to leave the church.

The same people who tell them social justice and creation concerns are not the gospel and “just preach the gospel” are very concerned about fighting for their constitutional rights. Also, they don’t appear to know the gospel very well. This is the incongruity causing young people to leave the church.

The same people who protest that talk of racism is dividing the church will tell them on social media that anyone who votes for a democrat is a baby killer and not a real Christian. We are supposed to assume this is not sowing division but righteousness. This is the incongruity causing young people to leave the church.

The same people who taught them that “Jesus loves the little children—red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight” don’t find those children precious when they’re in cages at a southern border. They shrug and consider those precious souls collateral damage in a war against the neighbor we’re supposed to love. This is the incongruity causing young people to leave the church.

The same people who counsel them to “think for yourself” succumb to outrageously unlikely claims that fit what they see as a “safe” worldview. The same pastors who tell teens to question what their teachers tell them admonish them never to question the pastors.This is the incongruity causing young people to leave the church.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I’ve been an English teacher, a writer, and an editor. I’ve graded hundreds of papers and critiqued dozens of articles. There are two kinds of writing that an editor or a teacher find almost impossible to critique. That which is perfect as it is—and that which is hopelessly bad. 

In the first, we can find nothing bad to say. In the second, we don’t know where to start. We don’t think there’s any way to help the work improve. 

If I critique the church, it’s because I have hope. It’s because I don’t think it’s beyond fixing. I don’t think the people in it, like myself, cannot do better. I believe they, like me, are sinners in need of redemption. I edit with conviction and ferocity because I know we are better than we’ve been. I believe God is working, as Paul says in Ephesians 2.10, on a masterpiece. 

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Ephesians 2.10
Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

The problem is, sometimes the block of clay God is trying to mold prefers to mold itself into a different sort of creature entirely. One that does not image the Creator. This is when God needs to start over, sometimes smashing that clay down, to re-form it in the way it was meant to be. 

If that’s what happens to the American church, so be it. It needs to be re-formed. I pray that we choose to work with the artist in that reformation. I pray that the next generation wants to come along for that work and join us in it. Let it be a re-creation of integrity, free from incongruity (which others read as hypocrisy). Let it be a church that transparently looks and acts like Jesus. 

We’ll get some things wrong. I have no illusions that we won’t make our own massive errors. We’re all hypocrites, every one of us, preferring to see others more clearly than we see ourselves. That’s why we need one another.

We need to do one another’s critiquing, while we’re not too far gone, and we need to hear the critique of the next generation. As the mom of three of them, I can tell you—they’re pretty smart.

Divine Reset

F4DA45A9-7124-4BB8-9EFE-B92B5D50C13A

I don’t have time.

I’m too busy.

I haven’t gotten enough done.

How are you doing on the sabbath rhythms we talked about a couple weeks ago?

I hope well, because it really is life changing.

But—not only for the person keeping the command.

Honor the Sabbath

This honoring of the sabbath because it’s our chance to slow down enough to remember God as our God and in charge of our lives is swings toward 1st 3 commands and Jesus’ great command—

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.”

But the second reason God gives for keeping the sabbath swings in the other direction—that of the last six command of Exodus 20.

Don’t murder, steal, commit adultery, want what others have, lie about others, dishonor elders.

It also reminds us of the other half of Jesus’ great command—

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

And for that we have to look at the second reason God said to honor the Sabbath rest.

Deuteronomy 5.12-15 Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

Last time, we read in Exodus that God told us to remember the Sabbath because of his acts in creation. This week, he has a completely different reason. It’s because they must remember they were once slaves in Egypt and God saved them. Did these two conflict? Not at all. One swings toward loving God and the other toward loving neighbor, and they meet in the middle perfectly.

Seamless

In Deuteronomy, this command has to do with how we allow others to celebrate and honor the sabbath.

The Sabbath wasn’t created just for me or you. The Israelites were to give rest to children, servants, foreigners–animals even.

God is telling them that he is the one who brought them out of slavery; it is his hand that saved and restored them. He gave them the very opportunity to rest of which they speak. If he had not done this, they would still be slaves and there would be no rest at all. 24/7 hard labor. This chance to enter into a life with rest involved is purely a gift of a God who makes redemption his #1 business.

Because of this, he commands them to remember those not as fortunate as they. They are not to allow their freedom to make them unaware of and uncaring about the freedom of others.

REMEMBER that you were once slaves—you know how it feels.

CAA0865A-7CE6-4AD4-BE57-1CBB08BD2D90

Keeping the Sabbath is to willingly interrupt our planned out life to remember it is our job to bring others into rest and freedom.

And if we don’t see the fallout of not keeping this command to remember those around us—the centuries of frustration and anger at the injustice and oppression of breaking this command right and left throughout history—we’re not looking too hard.

You were once slaves and I freed you. Do not treat others as you’ve been treated. Treat them as I treated you.

But it gets even better. After God’s people are commanded to rest every seven days, he also establishes a celebration every seven years. They are to let the land alone and trust him that there will be enough food to carry them throughout the year without planting or harvesting. They are to leave the extra grain and grapes for the poor.

Beyond this, God gets uber extreme.

He Commands what we call the Jubilee. This is one of my favorite things in the Bible. Every seven sets of seven years, not only are they to give themselves, their servants, and the land rest for a year, but they’re told to do it again for a second year—to celebrate a 50th Jubilee year. And this special year, everything lets loose.

They set their servants free. They return their land to its original owners. They forgive debts. It all basically resets. Everything returns to an even playing field. They all get a brand new start.

Feels like what should be happening right now, no? Don’t you kind of wish for a divine reset button right about now?

DF043534-0379-413D-AEFB-B33A70E633B2

Why? Same reasons. God wants to remind them that nothing they have really belongs to them, nothing they have done has been because they were in control, and they must always be thinking about those who have less. They must always be willing to relinquish what isn’t theirs for love of God and neighbor. This is the point of Sabbath.

If we don’t keep the rhythms, we forget. We start to trust ourselves. We start to forget other people and convince ourselves that if they only worked harder they would be doing better. It’s not our problem – we’ve earned what we have. That’s the opposite of what God wants when he makes this all important command.

If we don’t keep these rhythms of rest, reflection, and worship, we forget everything. Every important part of our relationship with God and neighbor.

He Doesn’t want his people entering a new land in a new community without that. He doesn’t want that for us either.

Shame, Blame, and What Should Have Been

luma-pimentel-1vnB2l7j3bY-unsplash
Photo by Luma Pimentel on Unsplash

Early Days

My parents married when I was already on the way. This was supposed to be information we never figured out, I guess. Both had come out of unsuccessful first marriages. Dad had four kids; mom had two. Both had full custody. You could have called us the Brady Bunch, but that would not have been an appropriate comparison for how we made it work, which, apparently, wasn’t that well.

I thought we did. I was the youngest of seven—what did I know except that our happy world centered on me, the baby? I had no idea until later it wasn’t so happy for the others.

I was the product of the marriage that should have been, I think. The only child of the one that worked. Neither ever spoke of their first marriages. I suspect my parents wanted to forget, to forge ahead into the family that “should have been” had their “mistakes” never happened. But that’s impossible when the evidence of those relationships surrounded us daily in the form of six siblings whom I considered absolute sisters and brothers but time has proved not so much.

That focus on what should or could have been cost us all dearly.

This Sounds Familiar

foto-pettine-IfjHaIoAoqE-unsplash
Photo by Foto Pettine on Unsplash

This is where we are in the Bible story. Rebekah and Isaac married and had two children who struggled, literally: Jacob and Essau. Their issues were nothing compared to the drama of Jacob’s not-so-blended family hot mess.

if you’re not familiar with the story, read it here.

TL;DR: Jacob wanted to marry Rachel. Through some extreme (fairly deserved) trickery, he got Leah instead. He eventually got both, and after ten sons he finally had a son by Rachel—Joseph. Instead of making everything all better, though, this turn of events made it all worse.

Joseph represented to Jacob all that should have been. He was the son who should have been first. The son from the marriage that should have been the only marriage. Joseph should have had the firstborn fatherly blessing if life had played fair with Jacob (a pot calling the kettle black scenario if ever there was one).

So foolishly, Jacob makes happen what his dreams and regrets believe should have happened. Even though the evidence of his other relationships in the form of ten children surrounded him. Joseph, as the youngest before Ben came along, probably looked at his ten big brothers and thought they hung the moon and stars. He probably considered them his best friends, adored and wanted to be just like them.

I know how this story goes.

ben-rosett-RBouLnm0L0Q-unsplash
Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash

Share the Love

His sibs were not on board with all that. Jacob so absorbed himself in his alternate universe where all the should’ve would’ve could’ve’s in his head had finally come true, that he neglected to consider how it might affect the other ten real people. He played them like extras in the chorus and expected somehow that they would love the star of the show as much as he did.

The fact that they sold Joseph into slavery instead must have come as something of a shock to dad much later when that little tidbit came to light.

It’s a big mistake to live in dreams rather than reality.

It’s the breeding place for resentment, blame, and shame. Three solid curses that come straight out of the Fall.

Shame.

You know those brothers first convinced themselves that had they been better sons, Dad would have loved them more. They didn’t understand the dynamics of his life before them anymore than I did my parents. Assuming they were to blame for his lack of attention makes sense. Most kids do that. The deep shame they must have felt for being “inadequate” sons fueled the smoldering fire of anger at little brother more than anything else, I’m sure.

marcos-paulo-prado-YMQiKI2L1z0-unsplash

We see it as a story of jealousy. I believe shame came first.

Do We Do This?

For a long time, I’ve condemned myself for not being further along in my career. Why aren’t I where I want to be/should be? Why didn’t I work harder? Why didn’t I put in more time/effort/networking etc to be living a different professional life?

I’ve finally looked those lies straight on and realized the terrible attacks they are.

There are a number of reasons for where my career is, and lack of a will to work is not one of them. It’s easy to look at all the should have beens and blame yourself for them. Rarely do we look at all the other factors we had no choice in. Focusing on the fantasy world of where I should be shames me into not being what I could be now.

The brothers focused on what they should have been to be loved, but the lie was in the one who didn’t love, not in the ones waiting for it. They were never deficient. They had no choice. The fantasy world lie shamed them and kept both brothers and father from being the parent and siblings they could have been in the now.

If I had chosen a different career . . .

If I had gotten better grades . . .

If the pandemic hadn’t hit when it did . . .

All of these are birthed in the same lie.

I should be at a place in life that I’m not. Shame on me.

Blame and Resentment.

So the brothers shift their anger at themselves to another target. Little Bro. Little Joe. It’s all his fault. He’s daddy’s favorite. He’s full of himself. The truth they’re not admitting that makes them so resentful though is this—He’s got what they want. All of daddy’s love.

It’s not Joseph’s fault, and they know it. He makes a good scapegoat though, and blame and resentment don’t care about collateral damage. They only want someone to hurt the way they’re hurting.

jaime-spaniol--L0N74GWsq8-unsplash
Photo by Jaime Spaniol on Unsplash

Yes, We Do This

As a teen and young adult, I was very good at resentment. I disliked everyone who had what I wanted, and I wanted a whole list of things, primarily acceptance. Acceptance looks like so many things that we don’t think we have, from good hair to a good job.

I’m still good at it if I let it happen.

If I had married someone else . . .

If my parents had done a better job . . .

If my boss saw how valuable I am . . .

All of these are birthed in the same lie.

I should be at a place in life that I’m not. Shame on them.

Good Shame Versus bad Shame

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t fight for good, valuable things that should be. Never stop making God’s good kingdom a reality on earth as it is in heaven! It also isn’t to say, “Hey, if you had lousy circumstances just accept it and move on.” God’s people are called to right wrongs and bring justice forward. Especially in this time, do not confuse unhelpful blame and shame with helpful calling out of societal shame and brokenness. Living in a communal world of “what ought to be” is a very good thing.

What I am saying is this. Living in a personal world of should’ve would’ve could’ve’s destroys the life we have right now. It ruins relationships. It paralyzes us in the present. It blinds us to opportunities in our abundant present life.

It does no favors for the future, either.

Lies of a fantasy world we could be in but aren’t help no one in living the life we are in. If only’s only convince us a better option would be easier than working to hold on to the one we have. Let Jacob be a warning echo. Fighting for and appreciating the good in what is brings far more joy than imagining, pretending, or resenting what isn’t.

Featured

Mother’s Day

He was the first black teacher I had ever had–the first the seminary had ever hired. In his class, we read about various groups of people often misunderstood– and tried to formulate a Christian response to their experiences.

The Black Experience?

I read first all the material on the black experience. I didn’t get it. Anger jumped off the pages, and I couldn’t understand why. What made these people so angry? Why couldn’t they address their own issues? Why could they not address them in a kind, thoughtful, appropriate way?

The way I would address them. The way a white, middle class, mother of two felt things should be done.

The Experience of Women

obi-onyeador-wudE2k8bd3k-unsplash
Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash

Then we began the section on women. I read of abuse, rape, assault, and oppression. Lack of job opportunities and lack of respect. And I got angry, Real, real angry. I knew sexual abuse. I knew cat calling and male “ownership,” demeaning social expectations, and even Christian pressure to shove myself into a mold I didn’t fit. I knew all this personally, not statistically.

I knew the fear of going out too early or staying out too late simply because of my gender. I knew the worry about looking in my back seat and carrying my keys to hurt an assailant. I knew about women who were blamed for their own assault because of what they were wearing–I knew some of them personally. I knew these things, and I knew men did not have any idea of them.

I did not feel kind or thoughtful about it all. I felt angry. Angry that I had to live with the background noise of fear because I was born a woman, and no other reason.

Lightbulbsjohan-extra-KsSUgqDwvb0-unsplash

And then, as God does, He lit the 500 watt lightbulb above my head that I had completely missed. Was this the way those black men and women felt? That was my first moment of grasping the tiniest bit of what my sisters and brothers of color feel. I will never forget it.

I have not watched the video. You know the one I mean. The one where a black man, on a jog, is murdered by vigilante men who still believe, apparently, that they live in the wild west and they are required to enforce laws themselves, with shotguns, or we will all devolve into some lawless dystopia.

Side Note: We live in one of the safest countries in the world. We have precious little need to be the good guy with the gun. Statistically speaking, the odds of a robbery in your home are approximately twice as likely as getting struck by lightning in your lifetime. “So proportionally speaking, you should prepare for a home invasion twice as much as you prepare for being hit by lightning.” 

Further, more than half of all armed robberies are drug related. So, steer clear of doing or dealing drugs, and your lifetime need for concern is miniscule. Good news, right?

But Ahmaud Arbery wasn’t breaking into anyone’s home. He was running. He was guilty of running while black. And that earned him the death penalty.

Happy Mother’s Day

Today, as I write this, his mama is having to live through Mother’s Day without her child. This is not a thing we would ever, ever wish on anyone. Yet this is both the common nightmare and experience of black mamas around our country.

I know some of them. I also know a number of white mamas with black sons. They know this fear in ways that we can never know. Ways that I can understand, because I’m the mother of three daughters. I have taught them from an early age that this world is not safe for them, either. It makes me angry that I have to do so. No one has ever had to explain to a white son that this world is not made for or safe for them. So I do understand these mamas fear and anger.

No one has ever had to explain to a straight, white son that this world is not made for or safe for them.

The deep need for a certain segment of men in this country to play vigilante self-appointed sheriff, living out their fantasy of chasing down the bad guys and making the collar, a mixture of all the John Wayne and Die Hard movies and cop shows they’ve digested, collides with something even more insidious to create the state we find ourselves in.

The belief, still, among some of those men that black bodies are theirs to do with what they like. The need to fly giant confederate flags is a symptom of this deeply embedded national sickness—some white men believe they should still have the right to be the masters over black men. They have not let this go. This is uncomfortable truth.

White Women–Listen Up, Please

jake-melara-ZDhLVO5m5iE-unsplash
Photo by Jake Melara on Unsplash

White women, I’m going to talk to you. You are a large portion of my audience. And you are powerful. Demographically, you are said to be one of the most potentially strong groups to swing elections. Here is what I need to say to you.

  • It should not be deadly to run.
  • It should not be deadly to sit in your living room.
  • It should not be deadly to drive down a residential street.
  • It should not be deadly to fit any description that only includes “black.”
  • Existing while black is not a crime. It does not deserve death.
  • No mama should have celebrated Mother’s Day yesterday without her child because he was born black and that got him killed. None.
  • We can change this.

omar-lopez-auEe5lKHZCw-unsplash
Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

 

White women:

  • We cannot continue to vote for candidates who mouth the words “pro life” yet remain unconcerned about the death, demeaning, and destruction of people of color.
  • We cannot continue to rationalize and excuse and say “but not all” anyone. We need to see the truth that some, not all, need desperately to be talked about and dealt with.
  • We cannot continue to be silent. We cannot continue to not know. We cannot continue to offer thoughts and prayers alone.We have to show up.

Go deep into your experience and tell me you don’t know what it’s like to fear simply because of your genetics, and then look at your black and Latinx brothers and sisters. Look, and listen. We are more alike than you believe.

It is the opposite of pro life to accept them as collateral damage in order to gain some semblance of “rights” we think we need. This will not end in gaining our rights but in losing our integrity and our humanity. What does it mean to gain the world and lose your soul, women? This is that intersection.

This will not end in gaining our rights but in losing our integrity and our humanity.

Here are some resources I’m learning from. Please offer some you know of. We can lean in, learn, and act together.

I’m Still Here: Austin Channing Brown

Just Mercy: Bryan Stevenson

White Fragility: Robin Diangelo

Mary, Mother, Meek (Not) Mild

3073081A-B395-47A2-BF72-59F60C09D68E

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.

    How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.

He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.

His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.

He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.

He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.

For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.

(Luke1.46-55)

A 15th century English carol begins, “Mary, Mother, meek and mild.” Yeah, not really.

Screen Shot 2019-12-04 at 1.29.29 PM

This Advent, I’ve been studying the songs that begin the New Testament. I’ve thought about how songs burrow their way into our souls. This is how I’ve delved into some deep Christmas theology. This is also how I’ve ended up binge listening to John Denver on YouTube. Because music.

I can’t remember my kids’ phone numbers, but I can recall every lyric of Evita. Even those a pastor should probably not quote in public. I can still sing every Denver tune of my childhood.

Music can give you an ear worm; it can lift you to the face of God; and it can break your heart. We have this sign on our kitchen wall now, because none of us will ever forget singing it together this spring as we knew we were saying goodbye to mom, and it will never again be just a hymn to us.

D3A2D74C-E843-425C-A0A6-652EBC2C838C_1_201_a

Music goes deep.

Mary. Her song is the first of Luke’s gospel, and what a song.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Mary’s Magnificat “the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary hymn ever sung.”

76987F2A-BBCC-4BCE-BEE5-1C25C8B5C26D

He’s not wrong.

Her song gives us some kind of “fly on the wall” experience of why God might have chosen Mary to bring Life and Light into the world.

There’s that first word.

Magnificat.

7A43CBA9-7173-46F8-866D-135FA6B58FA2

Magnify. “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

See the picture first. Her cousin Elizabeth has just opened her door on Mary, the tired, pregnant traveler, and covered Mary with a rainstorm of words that praise and glorify her—Mary. 

She could not utter enough good words about how great her little cousin was and would be.

Mary might have responded—“Why yes, yes I am. Now that you mention it, I’m a pretty big deal.” She is. Elizabeth speaks truth.

Screen Shot 2019-12-04 at 1.40.40 PM

She doesn’t. The first word our of her mouth is “magnify.” Magnify whom? God.

Elizabeth—I want to make God bigger! Let’s not talk about me—let’s talk about what an amazing God we share! Mary wants nothing of the temptation to magnify herself, and it must have been real given all the adulation she receives before even stepping foot in the door. Her deepest desire is to make God bigger—that’s what magnification does, right? It enlarges our view of one important thing. Magnification focuses us, allowing us to see something in its most important, valuable detail.

Cousin Beth, I want to enlarge everyone’s view of God.

And she does.

Mary’s first impulse is echoed later by the baby in Elizabeth’s own womb. Years afterward, her son, John, replies similarly to those who ask him—aren’t you just a tad jealous of you cousin Jesus’ success?

Nope.

“He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”

(John 3.30)

Mary and John are on to something.

The world is desperate for humble people. On a recent twitter thread asking about leadership qualities, one person wrote, “Honestly, I only look for humility now. It’s the number one requirement for me.” Why? I suspect because we’re so, so tired of the opposite.

Me Culture

Our world feels so crowded with people whose goal is to stick their heads up the highest. Take a picture of me. Hire me. Choose me. Like my tweet. Buy my book. Love me.

For writers and speakers like me, self-promotion matters as much as writing, but it feels exhausting and inescapable some days. Some days, I get so tired of me. In my head, I assume others do, too.

We have men defending one another at all costs in the pulpit. Christians taking one another apart on social media over points that seem less about God and more about power. Bullies in the White House and other high places.

Our current culture’s obsession with being the strongest, best, and greatest defies what we see played out in these first words of Luke.

Oh, how my soul magnifies the Lord.

Mary displays the greatest quality necessary in all ambassadors for Christ—humility. A quiet knowledge of who God is and who she is, and a clear recognition that the two positions should never be interchanged or leveraged against one another.

This by no means makes Mary weak, meek, or mild. Indeed, it makes her a force of nature. Would any of us dare to sing the song she sings?

4299230E-C847-4E0C-A8B4-F7EBAF0CF4BA

Think for a moment about the society in which Mary sings out her words of joy. Mary is:

  • An unwed, pregnant young woman, in a society where that could be a death sentence.
  • Among the 98% of people who live poor, day-to-day subsistence lives.
  • A minority in a Roman society that despises her ethnicity and a religious culture that even despises her descent (can anything good come out of Nazareth?)
  • A young woman living under foreign oppression. A foreign power that, if it heard the words of her song, could lock up this girl on grounds of rebellion.

He has brought down princes? Sent the rich away? Scattered the proud?

Make no mistake. Mary proclaims a new order. A world where a new King comes and returns the world to its original authorial intent. She’s singing in Genesis 1—the earth as God made it and intends to remake it. The child kicking around in her womb will ensure that renovation.

Mary isn’t making some pie in the sky reference to hopes and dreams.

She is declaring here and now that kingdoms of humans have no chance.

She is uprooting the order of things.

She is calling out injustice as not being of God.

She is challenging the powerful of her day—just as her son would.

She is singing a song of deep rebellion.

She is doing it as a teenage girl.

Mary is kind of amazing.

We’ve lived in a world that is upside down for so long, we don’t even recognize it. Mary sings about the One who will turn it all right side up again.

And she sings as if it has already occurred.

This is no meek and mild teenaged submissive Mary. She is not what we’ve been taught.

She is smart—a theologically sharp young woman who knows her scriptures.

A humble young woman, yet one willing to question an angel.

A young woman willing to be embarrassed, mocked, cast off, misunderstood, and pregnant for the sake of the kingdom.

I love that she sings this in the past tense. It is as good as done for her. She hasn’t even finished three months of morning sickness, yet she speaks as if this unborn child has accomplished it all quite completely. God has promised these things—and that means they are DONE.

7BCFF3FF-E773-46CF-B163-6C9319353B27

In some sense, this gives Mary power as well.

She doesn’t have to fear the powers of the world, and they are real to her people. She does not have to give heed to the proud who would tell her who she was and wasn’t. She doesn’t have to fear lack or scarcity.

She doesn’t have to fear at all.

She has the fulfillment of everything  in her womb.

And so Mary sings out, because she knows she can.

BB4F8308-FE39-4371-8E16-74D4FBF777D2

Being humble does not equal being weak. It means we’ve placed ourselves, our demands, our dreams, our futures and our fears at the feet of the One who is all powerful. We’ve taken ourselves out of the power equation. Because of that posture, we have every confidence in the rightful owner of the power.

There is no greater strength. There is no greater confidence. There is no greater assurance. Because of that, we can fear nothing.

That appears to be Mary’s conclusion, as she sings loud and strong about human pride and self-assurance crashing into oblivion.

One is coming.

One has already come.

I will magnify him, oh my soul.