Saturday, March 27, 2010

[catchup sermon (16)] Epiphany Sunday 2010

Epiphany [to have been preached on Sunday, January 3, 2010]
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12
"Arise, shine; for your light has come."

"Arise, shine; for your light has come."

I really like that idea -- that we are called to shine because our light has come.

Christ has come to transform our lives -- to lift us out of the darkness and into the light.

And we are called to then reflect that light into the world -- to be filled with divine light and carry it with us through the world, illuminating the darkness through which we travel.

On this Sunday of the Epiphany, we celebrate not only God's light breaking through in the person of the Christ child but also that Magi from afar sought out this Light.

Matthew's story of the adoration of the Magi purposely echoes Isaiah -- "Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.  [...]  They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Holy One" (Isaiah 60:3, 6b).

The Magi make the long journey from the East, asking, "Where is the child who has been born sovereign of the Jews?  For we observed this child's star at its rising, and have come to pay homage to this child."

I don't imagine the Magi themselves were Jews, but they recognized that something special was happening -- in a land far from theirs, in a tradition and culture foreign to theirs, but important nonetheless.

Maybe they just wanted to build a political alliance.  After all, they stopped at King Herod's rather than going directly to Bethlehem.  Did they do a bad job of following the star?  Did they think that the star wouldn't be the most efficient guide (traveling by night is surely suboptimal) and so they wanted some more explicit human directions?

Regardless, they follow the star to the place where the child is, and "when they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy" (Matthew 2:10).  Their long journey is over.  They have found what they were seeking.

Sometimes it is a long journey to that which will save us.

And sometimes we get sidetracked along the way -- we seek guidance from institutional leaders who turn out to want to destroy that which will save us because it threatens their power and stability.

But we always have stars to guide us.

The Magi were likely trained astrologers.  They had been trained to read the signs in the sky.  Thankfully for us -- particularly those of us living amidst air and light pollution -- we don't need to be able to read the night sky in order to find the Christ.

So how do we find Christ?  The Psalm offers us some guidance.

In today's reading, the Psalmist invokes God's blessing on a sovereign, praying that this ruler may be righteous and have a reign which endureth.
May this one judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.

May this one defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

May this one live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

May this one be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

In the days of this one may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.


May all rulers fall down before this one, all nations give this one service.

For this one delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

This one has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

From oppression and violence this one redeems their life

    (Psalm 72:2:-7, 11-14a)
Over and over again, words of a concern for the poor, the weak, the needy.

This is how you shall know the rightful ruler -- righteousness will abound.  Our thoughts will be filled with metaphors of abundance -- of rain, of verdant mountains.

And there is the hope that rulers from far away will come and bring tributes of gifts and service -- not because of the power and might of this ruler but because this sovereign delivers those who have no advocate, redeems them from oppression and violence.  There is a hope and a prayer that this be the model that the world will respect.

Of course, we know this is not exactly how it works.

Surely others had seen this strange new star in the East.  The Magi are the only ones we hear about who cared enough to actually venture out -- to venture out on faith, I dare say -- and seek this new sovereign.

How often do we see signs that God is doing a new thing in the world -- proclaiming release to the captives and healing for the afflicted?  And how often do we join our energies with those efforts?  How often do we work for the freedom of all who are imprisoned and oppressed, for the healing of all those who have been broken by the world, for the full inclusion and participation of all who are different from us?

Epiphany Sunday reminds us not just that Christ reached out beyond borders of religion, nationality, and culture, inviting all into God's abundant grace, but that we are called to follow.  We are called to leave our ivory towers, to not just study the stars but to go out and follow them.  We are called out into the world -- out of our comfort zones and into the frightening and sometimes even dangerous world.

And it's worth it.

"On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary the mother; and they knelt down and paid homage.  Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (Matthew 2:11).

An infant -- or anyone in a peasant family -- arguably has little use for precious metal or resins for incense and perfume, but those were the finest things the Magi had.  They opened their treasure chests and poured out the contents in abundance.  Similarly, we are called to let our hearts crack open, to pour out the abundant treasure of our lives and ourselves.

What gifts do we bring?  How can we use those to honor the One who is the Source and Breath of all life?  Can those of us who make friends everywhere we go find ways to make the stranger in our midst feel welcomed and beloved?  Can those of us with contemplative spirits help teach the community the deep practice of listening for that still, small voice?  Can those of us who are passionate about social justice out in the world find ways to light a fire for justice in our siblings here in the church, and help connect them with other bodies who are already doing work that will feed their souls and feed the world?  Can we find ways to stretch ourselves, to grow in leadership and ministry in ways we might not have expected?  Can we support each other so that no one burns out under the burden of trying to do too much?  Can we challenge each other to trust in the sustaining power of the Triune God?  Can we remind each other to take sabbath rest?

Paul writes, "Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8).

The boundless riches of Christ.  Just as the Magi poured out their riches to honor the Christ child, so Christ desires to pour out on us the abundance of God's grace and mercy.

And we, all of us, even the least of us, are given the grace to bring to all the good news of the boundless riches of Christ.  We are called, not to insist that people conform to a rigid doctrine, but to bring the good news of abundance to all.  We are called to invite people into community life where they will be beloved for their whole selves.  Where they can be honest about their struggles with mental illness, with unemployment, with painful family relationships, with grief.  Where they can celebrate new lovers, milestones of sobriety, adopting a baby, finally getting a drug cocktail that works, their family of origin finally using the correct pronoun for them.  Where they can be their whole, authentic, selves.

Christ calls us into new life.

A new life no longer imprisoned by cultures of shame around sexual orientation, gender identity or presentation, mental illness, "invisible" disability, class, immigration status, race or ethnicity, or anything else which our world tells us makes us "not good enough."

A new life in which we are all one body -- the Body of Christ.  We are created in the image and likeness of God.  That night two millennia ago, scholars perhaps from Persia (modern-day Iraq) saw the Face of God in an infant born to a peasant family in a small town in Palestine.  We, today, as the Body of Christ, in all our diversity, reflect the Face of God to the world.  We are the infant body of Christmas.  We are the baptized body.  We are the transfigured body.  We are the feasting body.  We are the fasting body.  We are the broken body of Good Friday.  We are the resurrected body of Easter.

We are fat, and we are healthy.  We are thin, and we have dangerously high blood pressure.  We are losing weight because we're too depressed to eat.  We are gaining weight because we're now being properly medicated for our hyperthyroidism.  We take the elevator because we travel in a wheelchair.  We take the elevator because we have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  We don't always come to church because our social anxiety is so bad.  We always come to church because it is the one place we know we will be safe.  We are Deaf and blind -- not in the metaphoric ways that imply an inability or refusal to access the Truth but in the literal physical way.

We are the Body of Christ.

At the end of today's Gospel lesson, we read of the Magi that "they left for their own country by another road."

In other translations, "They returned by another way."

As a historical event, I am doubtful that encountering a human infant was a particularly transformative experience for them, but as myth, it's powerful -- they encountered Emmanuel, "God with us," and so they returned not through the way of the powerful of the world (Herod in Jerusalem) but by another Way.  They returned transformed.

And so we are called to be transformed by our encounters with the Divine.  My best friend's pastor says that we come to church because it is here that we "touch the face of God."

We are called to make our churches a place where everyone present can touch the face of God, and we are invited to be transformed by that experience, to go out and be the face of God for all whom we touch in the world.

This is the Good News: that your light has come.  Now arise, shine.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

[sermon 15] Lent 5C - Preparing for the Desert Rain

Lent 5C - March 21, 2010
Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8
Preparing for the Desert Rain

I can tell we're nearing Holy Week.

And not just because we've stepped out of Luke for a detour into John with the foreshadowing of Jesus' betrayal and death (and resurrection).

Through Isaiah, God proclaims, "I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert" (Isaiah 43:14).  We often talk about Lent as "desert days."  We give up things that bring us passing pleasure to help us draw closer to the Source and Life of Being who brings us true joy and peace.  We practice resisting temptation just as Jesus resisted temptation during 40 days in the literal desert.  In the Northern Hemisphere, Lent begins during the end of winter, when the sky is still dark and the land is still hibernating, not yet bearing fruit.  In the Southern Hemisphere, Lent begins during the end of summer, so the parched land very much echoes desert.

But rain will fall in the desert.  Such rain that there will be rivers.

Okay, this is a bit of an uncomfortable statement here in the Northeastern USA where we had so much rain and wind last weekend that many roads and schools and workplaces shut down, where many people stayed home not just because it was unsafe to travel but because their basements were flooding.  One of my friends who works in graphic design lost huge portions of her high school and college art portfolio when her parents' basement flooded while they were out of town.

But this is not that kind of unwelcome river -- well, maybe it is.  God is not always welcome in our lives.  "My ways are not your ways," we heard God say two weeks ago (Isaiah 55:8).

This week, God says, "Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old" (Isaiah 43:18).  That is difficult.  My friend who lost much of her portfolio?  One of her friends commented: "Jim Morrison once permanently destroyed all of his writing by intentionally setting it on fire. He said it gave him the freedom to write new things that were completely original. I've thought about doing the same to everything I have before, but never had the guts..."  She said, "I like that thought... freedom to create new things. I'll keep that in mind, thanks," but I don't imagine that was easy.

This past Wednesday, Laura Ruth reflected on the passage in Luke (9:1-6) where Jesus empowers and commissions the disciples.  Jesus' instructions end: "If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them" (Luke 9:5).  Laura Ruth talked about transitions -- about how difficult it is to know when to move on, to not leave too quickly and to not labor too long.  She wondered whether the disciples got the hang of it after a few times -- if these pairs of disciples had conversations like, "I think we should go -- I think we're not welcome here any more" / "What are you talking about?  We're definitely still welcome here."  I'd never thought about that part of this passage -- that it's one thing to not be welcomed into anyone's home and to shake the dust off your feet on your way out of town rather than try to wheedle your way under someone's roof for the night, but once you have lodging somewhere you still eventually have to leave.  At morning prayer this Lent we're following the PC(USA) lectionary, which Gospel readings take us through all of Mark, and earlier this week I commented on how every day or every other day we read that Jesus and the disciples got in the boat and went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee -- Jesus is forever leaving communities, moving on to new communities that also need to hear the proclamation of the dominion of God and to feel the healing touch.

As I said at Rest and Bread this Wednesday, I'm really bad at letting go of things.  I want to stay and try to fix them, even long after they have ceased to nourish me.  I'm kind of a control freak, and I want things done my way, and so I keep coming back and trying to make them better, to make them more like I want them to be.  I'm not good at shaking the dust off my feet and letting go -- moving on to places or people that might be more willing to receive me.  Oh, I'm happy to make my home in those communities that love me, that nurture and challenge me and allow me to nurture and challenge them in return.  But I still try to work in these other places as well -- struggling along in ill-fitting garments, in unfruitful lands.

In our Gospel reading today, we read about Mary (sister of Martha and the resurrected Lazarus, I presume) anointing Jesus' feet with a costly perfume made of pure nard, and wiping them with her hair.  Judas is outraged and points out that this perfume could have been sold for three hundred denarii (a year's wages) and the money given to the poor, but Jesus replies, "Leave her alone.  She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial" (John 12:7).  There will always be opportunity to provide for the poor, but I, Jesus, will not always be with you.

In their book on Holy Week, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan talk about the version of the story in Mark (14:3-9) and argue that the woman is the first to really realize what Jesus is saying.
    "She has done what she could," says Jesus, "she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial" (14:8).  She alone, of all those who heard Jesus's three prophecies of his death and resurrection, believed him and drew the obvious conclusion.  Since (not if) you are going to die and rise, I must anoint you now beforehand, because I will never have a chance to do it afterward.  She is, for Mark, the first believer.  She is, for us, the first Christian.  And she believed from the word of Jesus before any discovery of an empty tomb.
    (p. 104)
I'm intrigued by how to use this in my own life -- to create rituals that allow me to prepare for leaving, that prepare me for the deaths that are a part of life.

I show up at the door (of someone I have dwelt with before) and I am told, "I cannot receive you right now."  And I want to say, "But what about later?  Is there a time I could come back?  And can we talk about why you can't receive me?  I don't have to stay at your house; I could come in for just a little while, drink a glass of water and then leave.  Let's talk."  But the door is shut.  And I want to come back, to knock again, to have this clarifying conversation.  And I know that's not a good idea.  That I need to shake the dust from my feet and leave.  There are others in the village who know me, so if this person wants to welcome me back at some later date, they can find me.  I suspect they won't -- that even if circumstances change such that they would be willing to welcome me in, they won't be willing to make the effort to track me down and invite me back.  But I have to risk that.  For God is doing a new thing.

How do we pay attention for the signs that death is approaching?  That change is coming.  That our welcome is waning and it is time for us to move on.

I think one way to do this is to check in with ourselves regularly about whether the work we are doing is feeding us.  Has the earth we were tilling turned into desert somewhere along the way?  Yes, God is making a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, but that means we have to actually follow that way, to move from our old patch of earth to a new one along the banks of the river.

The Psalmist tells us:
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

    (Psalm 126:5-6)
I appreciate this reassurance.  That God will restore our fortunes, our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy (Psalm 126:1-2).

The opening of this Philippians passage is familiar to me -- Paul establishing his credentials -- but I was struck when I hit verse 10: "I want to know Christ."

"I want to know Christ and the power of Christ's resurrection."


That's such an incisive summary of what it is to be a Christian -- of why we are Christians.  That deep desire to know Christ and to know the power of Christ's resurrection.

What greater desire could there be than that -- to know the one who is the very face of God and to know the power that has defeated even death?  We're not at Easter yet, but there is always a certain cognitive dissonance in Lent (as in Advent) because we are anticipating an event which has already happened.  During Advent, we anticipate the coming of the Christ child alongside Mary and Joseph, who have had angelic visitors and even if they hadn't could certainly perceive the child gestating in Mary's womb.  In Lent, we are reenacting Jesus' forty days in the wilderness, which fall between baptism and the beginning of public ministry, so chronologically it's entirely out of order for the weeks leading up to Jesus' death and resurrection, but of course it makes a great deal of sense psychologically -- although Jesus' disciples continue to Not Get It about what awaits them, Jesus knows what's coming, and so we are traveling with Jesus, trying to be faithful companions, to be attentive to Jesus' teachings.

And what awaits us at the end of that journey?

Betrayal, death, and resurrection.

Not necessarily literally (though yes, death is the literal end of our journey until the resurrection), but there is a sense in which Christ calls us to die to our old lives so that we can be resurrected in Christ.

There are lots of parables about that -- you can't patch an old wineskin with new cloth or it will burst and the wine will run out and be ruined, instead you must put the wine in new wineskins (Luke 5:36-39); a seed must fall and die and break open in order to become more than just the single seed that it is in itself (John 12:24).  We could come up with our own parables -- like the caterpillar who metamorphoses into a butterfly.

In Trina Paulus' book Hope for the Flowers, we learn that in order to become a butterfly, "You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar."

Lent is about learning to give up being a caterpillar -- and about learning to want to fly.  Learning to give up the things that keep us attached to this desert ground so that we can soar, as we were always meant to.

Lent is about preparing ourselves for that new thing which God is desiring to do in our lives.  About preparing the desert places in our souls for God's quenching rain -- uprooting the weeds so that new life can blossom.

And so I send you forth -- back into the desert, back into the wilderness, back into wherever you are in the world -- to continue preparing for the rain which God is preparing to send, so that you may have resurrection life.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

[catchup sermon (14)] Christmas 1C - Did You Not Know That I Must Be About My Heavenly Parent's Business?

[written as if preached on the actual date]

Christmas 1C - December 27, 2009
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
Psalm 148
Colossians 3:12-17
Luke 2:41-52
Did You Not Know That I Must Be About My Heavenly Parent's Business?

We celebrated the Nativity only two days ago, and already we're reading about twelve-year-old Jesus.  We'll jump back to infant Jesus at the Epiphany of the Magi next Sunday, but in this in-between space we're pulled away from the picturesque domestic scene in Bethlehem, into the city of Jerusalem -- at the time of the Passover no less, when Jews from all over fill the city.

We're not meant to spend too long cooing over the the nonthreatening infant.  We are called to real engagement.

"Why were you searching for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"

My best friend was recently looking up the Greek, and apparently it's more like, "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's things?" so the alternative translation, "Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?" is more accurate than "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"

We read that Jesus' human parents did not understand this response -- which is interesting since Luke has already told us about the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and sending shepherds to adore the infant, and about Simeon and Anna coming out and prophesying about the baby Jesus after the circumcision.  One might think that Mary and Joseph would at least understand Jesus' affinity for the temple.

Perhaps it is intended as a reminder to the reader -- that sometimes even when the Divine is speaking directly to us we fail to understand.

Whenever we think we have Jesus safely ensconced in our caravan of familiar friends and family, Jesus slips away from us to wrestle with the Divine.  And in so doing, Jesus leads us back to the Divine.

My first thought upon reading today's lectionary was: "Jesus, like Samuel in a way."

Samuel was born to Hannah after years of childlessness, in response to her fervent prayers.  Hannah had promised God that if she bore a son she would dedicate that child to God, and so after Samuel was weaned, Hannah brought Samuel to the house of God at Shiloh, "And the child Samuel grew up in the presence of God" (1 Samuel 2:21b).  Similarly, Jesus is born to Mary miraculously, and we know that Jesus grows up always intimately connected to the presence of God -- closer to God than any other human being.

Our Hebrew Scripture and Gospel readings close with very parallel verses:
"Now the child Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with God and with the people" (1 Samuel 2:26).
"And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor" (Luke 2:52).

But in looking back in Luke, I read also, after Jesus' family goes home after Jesus' circumcision, "The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon Jesus" (Luke 1:40). So perhaps the real point here is growing up.

In today's Gospel text, Jesus, along with many friends and relations, has come to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.  When the Passover is ended, everyone starts to return home.  Except for Jesus.  Jesus spends three days in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions -- and apparently answering some, too, since it is reported that all who heard were amazed at Jesus' understanding and answers.

After the exchange between Mary (and Joseph) and Jesus, we read, "Then Jesus went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them" (Luke 2:51).

They didn't understand Jesus, but Jesus went back with them -- didn't argue the case further to try to force their understanding, didn't insist on staying longer, just went back with them and was obedient to them.

Maybe Jesus thought, "Okay, I'll come back to Jerusalem later. Perhaps next year my family will let me go off and do my own thing."

Maybe Jesus realized that the temple was not the only place to be to learn about God.  For Jesus isn't reported as returning to Jerusalem until a Passover some twenty years later which will end in suffering and death -- and resurrection, but I get ahead of myself.

Just as we are not to linger overlong at the manger, neither are we to linger overlong at the temple.

We are called back to Nazareth, to Galilee -- to our families and friends, to our communities, to the world outside the small group of people who live and breathe these texts.  (Which is, of course, not to say that scholarship isn't a valuable vocation.)

We are called to bring the Good News to the world.  To be evangelists.

eu - good (like euphoria), angelos - messenger

We are called to be messengers of the good (news).  To be angels.

Paul exhorts us: "As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God" (Colossians 3:12-16).

This is admittedly more an attitudinal blueprint than a bullet point plan of action.  But given what a bad name evangelism has in progressive circles these days, I think it's worth reflecting on.

The Nativity event was world-altering.  The Source and Life of all Being incarnated -- became enfleshed -- to live and dwell among us more fully.  To model for us how to walk in the Way of God.

This is the Good News.  God loves us and wants to be a part of our lives.  God knows intimately the human experience and wants to journey with us.

We are called to share this good news.

Not by arguing with people -- though healthy debate of course has its place -- but by living into the truth that Christ is come.  That the kindom of God is near.

We are called to be compassionate, kind, humble, and patient -- bearing with each other and forgiving each other just as God has forgiven us.

Through Christ we are called into one body with many members, so we are called to live together in peace, bound together by the Love which is above all loves.

Teaching and admonishing each other with wisdom.  With gratitude, praising God.

This is Paul's blueprint for living out our lives as God's chosen ones.

I know Paul is speaking to a particular church community, but I think this model still holds for how we are to interact with the broader world.  We are called to proclaim the kindom of God, and we are to do this in deeds as much as if not more than in words.

The Psalmist exhorts all of Creation to Praise the one God -- for God commanded and they were created.  But at the end of the Psalm, we learn that it is not just that -- "God has raised up a horn for God's people, praise for all God's faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to God.  Praise God!" (Psalm 148:14).  God has created us, and God has also saved us.

Christ is come.  And we celebrate this.  But we are also called away from the manger, away from the temple, to share this Good News -- to live out the truth of this Good News in community.

We are on the third of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  I invite you to extend the Christmas spirit -- the true Christmas spirit, not the spirit of frenetic stress -- throughout the remainder of the season.

We need to be in our Divine Maker's presence.  We need to be about God's business.

And so I send you forth, in the name of God our Creator, Jesus our Redeemer, and the Spirit our Sustainer. Amen.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

[sermon 13] Lent 4C - Called to a Ministry of Reconciliation

Lent 4C - March 14, 2010
Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Called to a Ministry of Reconciliation

We ARE a forgiven people.

Oh, you want me to say more than that, don't you?
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah

(Psalm 32:4-5)
Sin and guilt tire us out.  They weigh heavy on us, and they wear us down.

And when we confess, when we hand all our failings and guilt over to God, we are freed.

I've been leading the Call to Confession at midweek service for some time now, and when I do I talk about God who is always reaching out to us, always desiring to welcome us back.

All we have to do is ask.  All we have to do is turn.

Our Old Testament reading today is from the book of Joshua, and it tells us of the day the manna ceased -- don't worry, this isn't a bad thing.

The children of the Exodus, forty years after the departure from Egypt (during which they were not yet born), have reached the border of the Promised Land.  God tells them, "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt."  The burden of their past has been lifted from them.  God has opened the Promised Land to them.

Had we started at the beginning of this chapter from Joshua, we would have read:
For the Israelites traveled forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the warriors who came out of Egypt, perished, not having listened to the voice of the LORD. The LORD had sworn that none of them would see the land promised on oath to their ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey.  So it was their children, whom God raised up in their place.  (Joshua 5:6-7a)
In that earlier portion of Chapter 5 we would have also read about those who were to enter the Promised Land getting circumcised with flint knives, for they had not been circumcised along the way.  That is some serious dedication.  I'm not sure there's any Promised Land I want enough to go through something like that (provided I were a guy -- I guess their sisters and wives and daughters got a free pass).  And so there is this tension -- God's forgiveness and mercy are always and abundantly available to us, we need only ask for them; but to really share in God's commonwealth requires something additional, something difficult.  It requires that we give up something of our past lives, of our past selves, before we cross this threshold.

Paul writes:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know Christ no longer in that way.  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to Godself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Godself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.  So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making God's appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  (2 Corinthians 5:16-20)
We are called to the ministry of reconciliation.

Luke tells the story of the prodigal child.  Sometimes we are the prodigal child -- welcomed back into loving arms after having squandered all we demanded as our fair share.  And sometimes we are the elder child -- angry at the largesse extended to an ungrateful turncoat while we have toiled diligently but unacknowledged.

The story of the prodigal child is one of the stories that Jesus tells to answer the authorities who were complaining, "This one welcomes sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:2).  The parent in the parable -- a stand-in for God -- tells the elder child: "Child, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this sibling of yours was dead and has come to life; was lost and has been found" (Luke 15:31-32).

God says to the faithful, "You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours."  In the face of that, how can we begrudge anyone else any of God's abundance?

And yet we do.  Over and over again we do.  We have earned what we have -- we have worked hard in the house of our Lord, and how dare these others come in and get a glorious welcome.  We have worked hard within the system, we have earned what we have -- nevermind the privilege of our race, our class, our physical and mental health or ability, our nationality, our citizenship, our sexual orientation, our gender identity or presentation -- so why should all these other people have advantages and access bestowed upon them?  Why should "special accommodations" be made for those with disabilities?  Why should my tax dollars go to paying for health care for undocumented immigrants -- why don't they just go back where they came from?  The list of people we may resent is neverending -- the parent with the screaming child on the T (don't they know how to make their child behave?), the person on the sidewalk asking for spare change (surely they'll just use it to buy drugs), that first-timer who hasn't stopped talking to your pastor all Coffee Hour (don't they know that you're a lifetime member of this church and you have a very important conversation you need to have with the pastor?).  But we are called to a ministry of reconciliation.

Or maybe we are the younger child.  We have been given so many gifts, and we have squandered them, and now there is a famine in our lives, and we don't know where else to turn, so we return to the place from whence we came, desiring only to work unseen somewhere until the famine passes.  The head of the household rushes out to meet us on the way, and we flinch, expecting to be berated for our poor financial planning, our unhealthy life choices -- but instead, we are embraced.  We cry out, "I'm not worthy!" and against our will we are robed in markers of the house, markers of belonging.  God says, "Child, you are my beloved.  Welcome home.  You belong here."  And it is hard for us to believe -- especially with elder siblings sullenly preparing the fatted calf for dinner -- but it is true.  We are God's children; we are part of God's family -- right along with everyone else.  And we are called to a ministry of reconciliation.

The Israelites kept the Passover and on that day they ate of the land -- of the fruit of the land rather than of the manna God had been providing for them throughout their journey.

In eating of the land, they solidify their identity as people of that land -- no longer nomads.

What we eat is important.  And where we eat.  And whom we eat with.

This past Wednesday I heard a Reflection on the part in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:17ff) wherein he berates them for replicating the injustices of the world in their enactment of the agape meal instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper.

This commemoration of the Last Supper was not the mere mouthful of bread and sip of drink that we have today, but a full meal.  And at the church at Corinth, instead of all sitting down together and eating like friends, like family -- people were eating and drinking without regard for each other.  Some indulging to such excess that they go home drunk, while others are going home hungry.

No one should leave Christ's table hungry.

If you're leaving hungry, it is a table not of Christ but of the world.

Whose table do we proclaim in our meals?  The meal we serve at Coffee Hour -- are we attentive to the dietary needs of our congregation?  The grocery shopping we do for the meals we make at home -- are we purchasing food whose production is in keeping with our social values?

We are called to a ministry of reconciliation.  And that means recognizing the interconnectedness of all life -- recognizing our responsibility to help care for all of God's beloved Creation.  And that includes ourselves.  God declares over and over to us, "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt."  We do not need to earn this -- we do not need to do good deeds to offset the less good deeds we have done.  We are called to the hard work of ministry because we are family, but whenever there is a famine in our lives, God is rushing out to meet us, welcoming us back to sit in front of the hearth and eat a bounteous meal with all those who love us.


Friday, March 12, 2010

[catchup sermon (12)] Advent 4C

Advent 4C - December 20, 2009
Micah 5:2-5a
Psalm 80:1-7
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-55
We Light the Candle of Love Today

"But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days."  I love this -- "one of the little clans of Judah."

Later on [Luke 3:23-38], Luke will list Jesus' pedigree for us, and it's pretty impressive -- son of David, son of Adam, son of God.  But there is a consistent tradition (in both the Old and New Testaments) of God choosing the underdog, the unlikely, the marginalized.  And that is the aspect of Jesus' pedigree which I find most resonant.  Besides, we are all Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve -- many-gendered children in ways elided by C. S. Lewis, created in the very image and likeness of God.

Mary's hymn of praise says God "has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."  These are physical things -- the place in which you dwell, whether your stomachs are full or empty.  I'm reading Borg and Crossan's The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus's Final Week in Jerusalem, and the authors talk about how Herod ruled from Jerusalem, and about the opulence of his palace.
    Herod ruled from Jerusalem, and the city became magnificent during his reign.  Above all, he rebuilt the temple.  Beginning in the 20s of the first century BCE, Herod "remodeled" the modest postexilic temple, but in effect built a new temple surrounded by spacious courts and elegant colonnades, with sumptuous use of marble and gold.  To do so, he had first to construct an enormous platform, about 1,550 feet by 1,000 feet---almost 40 acres.  (p. 13)
And so now when I hear about the powerful on their thrones, I have this image of the huge platform of the Temple.  A throne isn't just a fancy chair -- it's a symbol of an entire system.

And this system will be overturned.  In fact, has been overturned.  "God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."

And this redemption and overturn happens through bodies.

Regardless of how exactly "the Holy Spirit came upon her, and the power of the Most High overshadowed her," Mary was with child in a very physical way.

The Nicene Creed affirms that Jesus was "Very God of Very God," but Yeshua was also very flesh of very flesh.

Upon being presented with Eve, Adam exclaims, "Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!" (Genesis 2:23).  The child who gestates in your womb is similarly bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh, regardless of its lineage.

We are an incarnate people.

God doesn't say, "Oh, I will rescue your spirits for all eternity while your bodies rot here;" God comes and dwells among us, to redeem us here on Earth.

At Cambridge Welcoming, we concluded this reading not with verse 55 but with verse 56 -- "And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home."  I'm really intrigued by this idea that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months before going home.

We talked about how the Magnificat comes after Mary has gone to see Elizabeth and after Elizabeth has rejoiced and affirmed her.  We talked about the possibility that Mary hadn't really accepted it until she talked to Elizabeth, and I suggested that maybe she went to this hill country town to abort the baby (maybe she had just been placating the angel ... how does one know if an angel is truly from God anyway?) and changed her mind after seeing Elizabeth.

At the end of our conversation, Tiffany asked us what we would take with us from this for the coming week, and I said for me I would take with me that reminder that within the beloved community we can find love and joy even in the midst of events that are so scary and confusing.

I invite you to hear again the story told in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke.

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, and his wife Elizabeth, who was a descendant of Aaron -- the first High Priest of the Israelites.  So these are two people who are deeply steeped in the priestly tradition -- the tradition of those who are specially called to mediate between the people and the Holy of Holies.  These two people are getting on in years, and they have no children.

One day, Zechariah is in the sanctuary of the Temple and an angel of the Lord, Gabriel, appears.  Zechariah is terrified, but Gabriel says, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah."  So Zechariah stops and takes a deep breath maybe.  Possibly tries to look less absolutely terrified.  Gabriel goes on to say, in what I like to imagine are tones of comfort, "Your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear a child, and you will name this child John."  And here I like to imagine Gabriel getting excited -- so filled with expectant celebration at the great things God is doing.  "Many will rejoice at this birth of this child.  Even before birth, John will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and will make the people ready for the Lord."  Zechariah thinks this is highly unlikely since he and his wife are both quite old.  Gabriel does not take back the gift in the face of this skepticism but says, "Because you did not believe my words, you will become mute until what I have told you comes to pass."  And so indeed Zechariah is rendered unable to speak.  But after he goes home, his wife does conceive.  "And for five months she remained in seclusion" -- which I think is interesting.

And when Elizabeth is six months along in her pregnancy, Gabriel again appears, this time in a town called Nazareth, to a young woman named Mary -- betrothed, which is as good as married, to a man named Joseph.  Gabriel says, "Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you."  Mary isn't sure what to make of this greeting.  Perhaps she's outside somewhere.  Young women for millennia have been putting up with uninvited approaches from strangers.  So maybe she just stands there silently, perhaps a little awkwardly, hoping this stranger will leave her alone.

Gabriel continues: "Do not be afraid, Mary.  You have found favor with God.  You will conceive in your womb and bear a child, and you will name this child Jesus.  This child will be called the Child of the Most High and will reign forever over a kingdom that has no end."

Like Zechariah, Mary questions the physical impossibility of this prophecy.  Gabriel does not respond in the same way ze did to Zechariah, though.  Instead of punishing Mary for her skepticism, Gabriel patiently explains: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy and will be called Child of God."  Gabriel continues, still tenderly, as if to convince Mary of the reality and possibility of this proclamation, "And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a child; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God."

Mary says, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."  Satisfied, Gabriel departs.

And this is where we rejoin today's lectionary.

"In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country."

I can imagine Mary having wanted to placate this stranger but feeling unsure.  Maybe this stranger really is a messenger from God.  And if so, she is bound to accept this seemingly impossible future for herself.  And if the stranger wasn't from God, what was she doing pledging herself to a commitment to these strange words?  Has she sinned against God in making this vow to someone who does not come from God?

And so she goes to see her relative Elizabeth.  If the impossible news this stranger told her of her aged relative is true, then perhaps the prophecy of her own future is true as well -- and who better to help her prepare for such a future than another woman facing an unlikely child bearing.

And she goes with haste.  Maybe the Holy Spirit has already come upon her and she can feel that there is something different, something new, in her body -- can feel that something has changed.  Maybe she is frightened.

Mary shows up at the house and greets Elizabeth, and upon hearing this, Elizabeth's unborn baby leaps in the womb.

It is in this encounter that Elizabeth (and, as prophesied, her unborn baby) is filled with the Holy Spirit.  Hear that again.  It is in this encounter with Mary that Elizabeth, and her unborn baby, are filled with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit comes upon Elizabeth and John, not in isolation but in community.

Elizabeth proclaims blessings upon Mary and upon her child yet to be born.  She questions yet exults that the mother of her Lord has come to her.  And she seems to indicate that she knows Mary is the mother of her Lord because upon hearing Mary's greeting, her unborn child leapt for joy -- even before being born, John is teaching others to recognize the coming of the One.  And lastly, she blesses Mary for having believed that what the Lord spoke to her would be fulfilled.  If Mary had any doubts as to the stranger's message, perhaps she feels a bit abashed in this moment.

And perhaps Mary feels relieved.  Here is this wise old woman, a relative she has known all her life, affirming for her the news the angel gave her -- affirming not just in the sense of reiterating that it is true, but responding to it with joy.  Here is her aged relative Elizabeth, incongruously swelled with the curves of a six-month-along gestating baby, a baby who is quickening in her womb, who responds to the very sound of Mary's voice.

Mary responds by blessing God her Savior.  This is the first time in this story that God is referred to as Savior rather than as Lord -- at least in the NRSV.  God wishes to be Lord of our lives, but not in the domineering way that so many seek to have lordship over our lives.  God does not seek to control us, to extort our resources.  Rather, God wishes to save us from that which destroys us.  In Jesus' day, to proclaim that Christ is Lord was to proclaim that Caesar is not.  To proclaim God as Lord is to reject the lordship of all else in our lives -- to reject the claims the world makes on us.  To say that we are not enslaved to the hamster wheel pursuit of jobs with higher and higher salaries, of positions with impressive titles, of the next product that will make us thin and beautiful and acceptable.  To proclaim that the unnamed God of Judaism and Islam and Christianity is Lord of our lives is to accept the radical notion that we are beloved just as we are, that we are created in the very image and likeness of God, and that we are called to the radical work of proclaiming to each and every person we meet that they too are beloved, and to welcome them into the Beloved Community where Christ has opened up a table of abundant life for all.

Mary blesses God because God has looked with favor on her, a lowly servant of God.  She was lowly, but from now on all generations will call her blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for her.  Not through her, but for her.  This child is a gift -- not just to the world in some abstract way, but to her in a very particular and concrete way.

Mary goes on to proclaim that God's mercy is for those who fear God -- those who recognize that it is God rather than the powers of this world toward whom we should orient our lives.  God has scattered the proud and brought down the powerful -- lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry with good things, sending the rich away empty.  Those who seem to triumph in the systems of this world will not always be triumphant.

God remembers a promise made so many generations ago to Abraham and all Abraham's descendants -- descendants who are as numberless as the stars (Genesis 15:5).  God proclaimed to Abraham that, "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Genesis 12:3), and it is this promise that God and Mary are recalling.

This is the Sunday of Love.

"For God so loved the world that God gave God's only Child that whosoever believeth in Hir should not perish but have eternal life."  So says my best friend.  (And also the Gospel of John.)

The Psalmist cries out:
O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
    (Psalm 80:4-7)
I'm so struck by that line, "You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure."

God provides us food and drink -- food and drink which is sometimes painful.  Sometimes our mouths are full of our weeping.

And sometimes it is the radiant face of God shining before us that jolts us out of that weeping, that startles us into slack-jawed amazement that the tears may fall out of our mouths and God may feed us something new.  The Bread of Life and the Cup of Blessing that we share together every week at Christ's Table -- the Eucharist (from the Greek, meaning "thanksgiving").

Paul tell us, "Consequently, when Christ came into the world, she said, 'Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure' " (Hebrews 10:5-6).

This is a major theme throughout this Epistle -- that our focus should not be on sacrifices in the Temple but rather on Christ's bodily sacrifice which is so world-shaking and salvific.  Mary, too, offers up her own body as a sacrifice to God -- not in a martyrdom way, but saying, "Here, God, let it be with me according to your will."  Mary gives up lordship over her own life, gives that lordship over to God, saying, "God, I trust you.  I trust your will for my life.  I commit myself to follow your Way, to let myself be led to surprising and sometimes frightening places."

It is not the fact of Jesus' death but rather Jesus' faithfulness even unto death that we are called to imitate.

Again and again in the passage from Hebrews, Jesus says to God, "I have come to do Your will" -- not, "I have come to die," but "I have come to do Your will."  And so we are all called to follow in the Way of Jesus, always seeking the will of God.

So go now, in the assurance of the everlasting and ever-faithful love of God, emboldened to proclaim that all are beloved of God, and to work to open up Christ's abundant table for all.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Yes, I have become this person.

FCS-Ian added a whole bunch of hymns to the rotation for Lenten morning prayer service, which I was stoked about. Peter (husband of Rev.Molly, so has been at First Church UCC for over 7 years and probably in the UCC for longer, but grew up Episcopalian) mentioned that he didn't know some of the ones that had been added. I was surprised because I'd thumbed through and had been stoked that I knew all of them (in contrast to hymn selections there often). So FCS-Ian and I sang through the ones that Peter (and/or Althea) didn't know. "Oh Sacred Head Now Wounded" I realized I was sight-reading, but I "knew" it sufficient that when I saw it in the folder I was like, "Seriously?!"

So we got to talking about Good Friday hymns/theology. (Yes, I was ~10 minutes late to work because I was in the church kitchen consuming !Communion bread and grape juice and arguing discussing theology.)

As we wrapped up the conversation so that we could all get to work, Peter said to me: "You have a very full Protestant theology, is what it boils down to." (Whereas I had been thinking that I was so echoing CWM/Borg&co. when I was talking about an emphasis on Easter rather than an emphasis on Good Friday, and Jesus' death being as a result of undermining the domination system rather than a requirement for us to be reconciled to God, etc. -- but on later reflection, I think part of what he was reacting to was what I said I hear when I hear hymns like "The Old Rugged Cross.")

During lunchtime phonecall today, I told Ari briefly about my morning, and of course I mentioned "The Old Rugged Cross," because even though I block it out such that I couldn't actually sing it for you from memory if I tried, it's totally my go-to example for classic blood atonement theology hymn (which is maybe unfair of me). She has a lot of positive associations with the hymn, but she has problems with the parts like "exchange it some day for a crown," and so we got talking about kingdom language/theology.

I've recently started reading Borg and Crossan's The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus's Final Week in Jerusalem (for CHPC adult ed), and so I talked some about what I learned from the first chapter of that book about Jerusalem and the Temple in Jesus' time and the peasants who were Jesus' audience.

I knew from other books that Borg purposely uses "kingdom," knowing that many of his progressive compatriots dislike it. In one paragraph in The Last Week, the authors pointedly state that Jesus used the term "kingdom of God" on purpose -- that "Jesus could have spoken of the family of God, the community of God, or the people of God, but, according to Mark, [Jesus] spoke of the kingdom of God" (p. 25, emphasis in original) specifically because it was a political as well as a religious metaphor: "To [Jesus'] hearers, it would have suggested a kingdom very different from the kingdoms they knew, very different from the domination systems that ruled their lives" (p. 25).

I said that I understand this but that I don't think it necessarily makes a strong case for us continuing to use kingdom language, because we don't hear that tension when we hear "kingdom." I said that we (middle-class white folks) hear "kingdom" and think happy shiny King Arthur.

Ari recommended that I read Horsley's Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder.

After she got back to her desk, she emailed me: "We should do a book study together. You know, since we have so many silent hours together that we need to fill." ♥

I'm still not likely to start using "unequally yoked" language.

One of the readings at Simple Shifts last night was Romans 12, and at "Do not be conformed to the world," I thought of Ari, because we routinely invoke that exhortation when we see Christians buying into paradigms of the dominant society which we feel are in conflict with God's Will.  (For example, when someone at a church meeting says, "I can eat this cookie because I didn't have dinner tonight," and one of us comments that skipping meals is unhealthy and the first person says they don't care about whether it's healthy, they just want to lose weight.  This is where we silently scream, "We are called to be in the world but not of the world!  When Paul said, 'Do not be conformed to the world,' this is what he was talking about!")

And I thought of how yeah, it is trufax that we build each other up in faith.

Earlier, I had read aloud from Genesis 2 (we read the second Creation story) and I said "God" where the Inclusive Bible said "YHWH" because Ari won't pronounce the Tetragrammaton and I've come to feel similarly.  I'm much less comfortable with gendering Jesus as male because of her and much more comfortable gendering Jesus as female because of her; because of her I think about lesbian christology [sidebar] and transgender eschatology; because of her I think about how it is particularly problematic to gender the (post-Easter) Christ and about how the disciples didn't recognize the risen Christ and about how resurrected bodies (Christ's and ours) are transformed and perfected and how that could mean so many different things.  And she thinks about stuff like "kin-dom" language because of me.  We push each other.  We talk for hours about church and liturgy and theology and worship and what we believe and how that comes out in the language we use and how that is or should be reflected in how we live our lives.  We tell each other, "You are a bright, brilliant, beloved child of God -- and you are beautiful to behold."  Theology and Scripture is the language we use to talk to each other.  (Also fandom, and probably other things.  We are a cunningly multi-lingual people.)

Ari and I were talking on Sunday about how our standard for romantic partners is the way we interact with each other.

I talked about this some in therapy on Tuesday, about how the woman who hit on me last week is really really into me and I'm just not that into her, and therp asked me why I'm not that into her and said it back to me that I didn't feel like this woman was deep enough, and suggested that I maybe don't need a romantic partner to be really passionate about the same things I am so long as they have things they are deep and passionate about.  I am willing to entertain this possibility, but I do think it would work much better if my partner loved Christianity the way that I do.  Yes, if there is stuff of substance that we can connect about, I have an Ari (and other people) for talking about liturgy etc.  And if I could have conversations with my partner about gender and ableism and language that marginalizes and all that, even if they weren't engaged in church, maybe that would be fine.  But I love church so much -- and it's what I do with so much of my time ... I think I would feel really disconnected if I was all talkative about church two or three or five or six days a week and my partner just nodded indulgently at me -- maybe if they were really engaged with Christianity academically it would be okay if they were non-practicing/non-believers ... but I'm growing in appreciation for the power and value of community, plus this is real to me and there's a profound disconnect if it's not real in that way for another person (though obviously plenty of Christians differ as to which things are True Myth and which are True Fact).  And of course I know that lots and lots of interfaith couples work just fine (hello, my parents) -- I'm just talking about figuring out what I think I need.  And I'm not setting up any first-date dealbreaker ultimatums anytime soon (I don't think).  But I told Ari the other day, that I was so excited that this woman loves her church like I love my church -- but I don't think she loves Christianity like I love Christianity (and I think maybe it would be more accurate to say: she loves her church like I love my church, but she doesn't love church like I love church -- though that's still not exactly it).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

It would be inappropriate to say, "This makes me want to vomit."

At Shad (my work gym) yesterday, I saw a flyer for "Bridal Boot Camp." Do. Not. Want.

This morning, Scott stopped by my desk before class. He saw the "Shad March Events" flyer on my desk and asked me what I thought of Bridal Boot Camp (which was one of the ones listed there). He read me the description (which I hadn't looked at before).
Bridal Boot Camp will help you get into tip-top shape for your wedding day. It works because there's a deadline and no room for mistakes! This will be a total immersion style of training, with twice a week sessions and access to your trainer, ensuring accountability and success. Your trainer will motivate and train you the way you want to be trained. Get slim, strong, and sexy with emphasis on building symmetry and balance.
I said I understood the desire to look your best for this really important event which will be immortalized in photos but I'm uncomfortable with the idea of weight as a measure of health, and the idea that you have to be a certain shape to be attractive -- "get skinny and fit because no one will love you otherwise; oh wait, you're getting married, so someone already loves you!" I said my feelings on this are strong and probably unsurprising. He was in agreement with my feelings, which I appreciated.

I told him a little about an article I read yesterday -- about "fat talk" and how women "race each other to the bottom." (I told him I felt like this was one of the ways I failed at being a girl and that I was really okay with that. Though yes I'm sure I've absorbed some of that acculturation.)

Here's the excerpt I was gonna post yesterday but didn't have the brainpower for:
One of the things that I am really into studying, lately, is adolescent female friendship. It is this hugely complicated and fascinating thing, wherein girls create immensely powerful spaces of resistance, but also put each other through Patriarchy Boot Camp, and I am starting to hold the opinion that studying it extensively will reveal to you the Secrets of Life. I won’t go into all of that right now! But I will say that I have, recently, been reading a book called Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, by Rachel Simmons. One passage in this, which grabbed me and blew my mind and suddenly made about a thousand troubling incidents way more easy to understand, was about how female bullies pick their victims. The author interviewed a whole bunch of girls about this, and she came up with a really good, really obvious answer. So, do you want to know how they pick their victims?

They pick the girl who seems the most confident.

Yes, that’s really it! In the particular seething cauldron of insecurity, unhappiness, and fear that is female adolescence, girls tend to feel shitty about themselves for about a million reasons, and to think that they need outside approval – from friends, from boys, from the culture at large – in order to be worthwhile. But if a girl seems not reliant enough on outside approval – if she doesn’t hate her body enough, if she’s too successful at getting guys to like her, if she’s not interested enough in getting guys to like her, if she thinks she’s smart or cool or worthwhile or pretty (or if she just is smart or cool or worthwhile or pretty, and it’s pronounced enough for the people around her to take notice) – then the wolves start circling. Because they’ve all been bullied, too; they’ve all been undermined; they’ve all made the mistake of standing out, at one point or another, and they’ve been punished for it. And now, because they feel like shit about themselves, you have to feel like shit, too. A girl who doesn’t feel like shit is a threat to the entire social order, the extensively complicated and crappy system whereby women have to earn their way into a pretense of self-esteem by getting enough approval from other girls or from other outside sources in general.

What girls learn to do, in order to survive in this particular dynamic, is to race each other to the bottom. It lasts for a lifetime. They maneuver, hiding the urge to matter and succeed under an appropriately self-loathing demeanor, so that they can get ahead and climb up without ever appearing to do it.

For example: have you ever gotten the Complinsult? It is a wondrous and immensely complicated thing, the Complinsult. Here’s one of the best I have ever received, which I keep close to my heart: “Your outfit is amazing! I think it’s so great that you can wear that out in public. I’d never have the nerve.” The words are saying “I suck and you are awesome,” and yet? That is EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what it means. Guys do this, too, sometimes, but typically only guys who are really adept at social maneuvering; girls tend to learn it earlier, and to have it down better, and to use it more, if my own personal experience is any indicator.

Or: the Fat Talk. You know about the Fat Talk, right? Lots of people have written about the Fat Talk already. For years, I thought this was some grody stereotype that you only found in male stand-up comedians’ routines about how women are awful. But then I met women who actually did it: the thing where, before ordering dinner at a restaurant, you all talk about how you should order this and you absolutely cannot order that, because you are so disgusting and you cannot stick to your diet and eating a cheeseburger will literally send you right straight to hell, and if you are the girl who straight-up says she wants some nachos so covered in cheese and guacamole and various meats that they might as well not even have any chips involved – just a big mess of meats and milk fat and squished-up avocados, that is the experience for which you are aiming, and also it would help if the entire thing had sour cream all over it – well, you just might have earned yourself a Complinsult about how brave you are with your dietary habits, young lady.

The weird thing is that, in this scenario, it seems not to ultimately matter whether you get the cheeseburger or the nachos or whatever: what matters is the extensive ritual of saying bad things about yourself, and contradicting other ladies about the bad things they have said about themselves, and giving each other permission to order the nachos, before they’re ordered. And if you don’t get permission to order the nachos, if you’re the one girl at the table who doesn’t get contradicted when she says she’s fat and shouldn’t be allowed to eat what she wants, then you know something is up. You know someone at the table, or maybe everyone at the table, has a problem with you. Which is why you don’t place your order without doing it: for a long time, I thought I was just demonstrating my good body image by ordering a cheeseburger and not participating in the Fat Talk, and then I sort of figured out that I was straight-up declaring that I was so hot I got to do whatever I wanted and was too insensitive to appease the body insecurities of my friends, who were (my actions declared) less hot than myself. I still think the Fat Talk is destructive and body-hating and stupid, and I don’t want to do it, but the way I get around it is to talk with the girls I have lunch with about why I think it’s destructive and body-hating. Not to just bypass it. Because that’s how self-esteem, and self-promotion, and social status, tend to work with girls: it’s a series of very subtle interactions in which you say you’re not good enough so that other girls can tell you that you are.

not okay, Amanda Palmer, not okay

I've never had any real involvement with Amanda Palmer, but I have friends who were fans. I first heard about the Evelyn Evelyn project I have no idea where, but I heard about it in a way that made me think it was Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley pretending to be conjoined twins. How this was "edgy" or "artsy" or whatever was totally lost on me, but I didn't really engage with it. Then the Evelyn Evelyn thing blew up on the Internet a couple of weeks ago. I read AFP's big blogpost telling the Evelyn Evelyn backstory [before it got edited], and reading it I took it totally at face value -- apparently missed whatever cues were supposed to tell me it was performance art. (I've read that the promo vid and such are pretty transparent, and I don't doubt that.) I read a whole bunch of critiques of the project [e.g., this and this, if you're unfamiliar and want a place to start] and of Amanda's (and Jason's) responses to the critiques. I agree with the people who think the Evelyn Evelyn project is problematic and that Amanda and Jason should have been more thoughtful. I'm skeptical of Amanda and Jason's "oh, if you'd learned EE's tragic backstory through the beautiful art that is the album, instead of this blogpost, you wouldn't be so offended," and am not really interested in withholding judgment until the album comes out. I've not been entirely unsympathetic to Amanda and Jason, though.

Then Mary Borsellino linked to this. I am officially repulsed by Amanda Palmer.

Addendum from Mary Borsellino:
I have put all my Dresden Dolls and Amanda Palmer stuff up for auction.

I will be donating the high bid to a charity which supports disabled women; I'm happy to work out the specifics of which organisation and what name the donation is given under with the winner of the auction.

Please pass on the link and spread the word. Let's make something beautiful grow out of this dirt.