Friday, December 28, 2018

"There's Something About Mary" - My Christmas Eve Homily

Over the years for my Christmas Eve Homily I have looked at the Christmas story from different perspectives. From the Innkeeper, the Shepherds, the Wise Men, but I have always stayed away from the story of Mary.  I admit there is something about Mary that I struggle with.
But I believe we should look deeply at the things we struggle with.  My struggle with Mary originates with the Virgin Birth. Of course I’m always troubled by the concept that the Christian Scriptures changed the wording in the Book of Isiah in the Hebrew Scriptures, from Young Lady to Virgin as a way to legitimize the virgin birth. Now of course today with in vitro fertilization or intrauterine insemination virgin births actually are theoretically at least a potential reality.  
It is an interesting point to think about what we consider a miracle in one generation is a common medical practice in another.  
But my bigger challenge is that I grew up in a neighborhood where Mary was a venerated saint. The church wanted to create their image of a perfect women, who was faithful, passive, modest and sublimating her needs to the needs of her family.  Many feminist critiques of course point to this as a way the Church perpetuated the patriarchal system thus diminishing women’s power. Christians also used Mary’s virginity as a  juxtaposition to Eve tempting Adam in Genesis as a way of showing Christian superiority over Judaism and thus adding to millennium of oppression for Jews. Many feminist writers object to the adoration of the virginity of Mary as well as it leads to unhealthy and negative views of sexuality and the suppression of natural sexual desire. When we suppress what is natural within us it often gets expressed in unhealthy ways. Lastly, there is also the question of consent,  can there really be consent when one side is all powerful and can determine your life and death in this world? If you read the scriptures, people who reject God do not end up well in the story.
And so after saying all that, There is still something about Mary that requires a closer look beyond the critique. First I want to remind everyone something that we often take for granted, childbirth should still be looked at as a miracle in and of itself I want to hold up the value of and importance of raising our children, no matter what our gender. We all want our children to live up to their potential and we all struggle to figure out the best way to accomplish that.  We come together week after week after week to struggle together with that question. What must it be like to imagine your child is the messiah.  How would that impact how you raise that child. This is a very common question every Jewish mother thinks about even today.  I went to great lengths in my childhood to prove to my mother I was not the messiah.  
When thinking of Mary, It is the human Mary that I think about,
unwed mother,
arranged marriage,
raising and loving all her children deeply,
could you imagine what it must have been like to parent the siblings of Jesus
(why does he get to do that and I don’t)
then suffering the death of her husband,
the alienation of her child for a time as he rebelled against their family as often many young adults do, seeing the course of the life of your child,
knowing it will lead to risk of their death,
and accepting it as their choice,
and then grieving their death and carrying on that child’s legacy.
This is a human Mary I think we all can empathize with and relate to.
Metaphorically, the reading by Jan Richardson, is a reminder of the courage it can take to say yes to difficult questions, to life altering decisions.
To do the hard but important thing.
Knowing that listening to the call of the soul,
by saying yes, our lives will never be same.  
Like Jonah in the Hebrew Scripture after reluctance, Mary says Here I am.  
We often initially reject the call of our soul.
We ask ourselves
Am I good enough,
can I really do this,
what if I fail.  What if I succeed?.
Or the question Mary asks, “how can this be?”
Who am I to do such a thing?
The cost of answering the call of the universe is giving up the imagined security of the safe and the known, but embracing our call we can find peace within and find our voice for what we know is true for us just as Mary found her voice when she embraced her role as parent of the messiah,  Her speech in the Book of Luke the Magnificat is the longest speech by a women in the Christian Scriptures. This statement speaks as a revelation of her connection to the divine and its message, is a prelude to the ministry of Jesus:
“scattering the proud,
bringing down the powerful from their thrones, lifting up the lonely,
filling up the hungry with good things
and the remembrance of mercy.”
Deitrich Bonhoeffer the German Theologian who tried to kill Hitler called the Magnificat "passionate, powerful, proud, enthusiastic even revolutionary”  It is the speech that is at the heart of liberation theologians whose words lift up hope for the hopeless
Let us remember it was Mary who raised Jesus and taught him the messages of the Magnificat.
It was Mary who taught Jesus to love your neighbor
It was Mary who taught Jesus to help the Marginalized
It was Mary who taught Jesus to work for the peace and Justice
And then she let his life unfold so it could reach its full potential
Let us as we look forward to this upcoming year see where we can make a difference in the world and like Mary, I encourage you to answer the call to life, to say yes, to spend your time and thus your life meaningfully. I know this is not easy, but I invite you to struggle with it. Amen.  

Now I have something to ask of each of you to lift up the oppressed in our community.  
Each year at the Christmas Eve Service we do a collection for the Ministers Discretionary Fund.  This fund is to help in a confidential manner those in our community who are in need. 
This past year it has been used among other things to prevent an eviction, provide a place to sleep, a meal to be eaten, and for holiday gifts to our staff.  If upon reading this, or you have found my ministry meaningful, I invite you to go to and make a donation via paypal and in the memo line write MDF (Ministers Discretionary Fund). Thank you for considering doing this!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Thoughts on Rudolph

This was a short response to the Children and Youth Program at the Congregation about how the Rudolph song and story did not connect with our Principles:
As we re-teach the lessons we learned in a new way to our children, we too learn, we come to notice the how the stories  we hear subtly influence our lives. 
I’ll be honest, I never thought much about the Rudolph story.  I saw it as a quaint coming of age story where others realized the potential of another.
But if we are going to create a new world based on our values, where all are valued, not just for what they offer us, but for who they are we have to change our stories. People are not disposable, just because they do not benefit us. All have inherent worth and dignity.
And I ask you to think about the Rudolph story in another way
Perhaps we should rethink our punitive form of punishment for offensives, the whole naughty or nice question. (PPT) In this cartoon you can see Santa adrift on a melting iceberg saying  
“Perhaps I should have been giving all the naughty kids solar panels instead of coal”  Although we all need to be accountable for our actions, if we do not promote healing and reconciliation amongst each other, retribution leads to long term negative consequences for all. 
And lastly, when you think of the reindeer, (PPT) what gender do you imagine in your mind they are. They are often portrayed as male. Yet if you think about their names,
Dasher, DancerPrancerVixenComet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen.  For the most part, really non gendered names. I was really surprised by how much debate there is about this online. But the scientific proof is that male reindeer tend to lose their antlers by the end of October, so if Santa’s reindeer are shown with antlers they are probably female.  So I invite you to shift your perspective about who is pulling Santa’s sled.
I ask you to shift your perspective on what is real and what we have been conditioned to believe.
I ask you to shift your perspective not just on this holiday but all year long away from consumption and towards caring and compassion for others and this planet.