Mary Did You Know? You’re Everything Wrong with American Christians

Okay, Mary’s not what’s wrong with American Christians, but “Mary Did You Know?” is. You know the song… That terrible, overplayed, evangelical Christmas song that is you have ever read Luke 1,  the Magnificat , you would know that clearly this woman who is chosen to carry the savior of the world in the most dramatic and possibly most ridiculous way of all time DID know, leaving the song as one long mansplaining episode by the writer Mark Lowry? Yeah… that one.

Listen, I know it’s got a pretty melody and Pentatonixs made a video of it in a cave and it made you cry, I get it. And I’m sorry, because the reality is, it’s the most ridiculous song I’ve every heard. AND EVEN MORE THAN THAT, it is everything that is wrong with American Christians.

FIRST- It’s Patriarchal- Mark Lowry is a white evangelical who is a graduate of Liberty University, one of the most conservative universities in the country. I mean, I guess he can’t help it, right? From day one he was taught that women in the bible are evil, maybe Mary was an exception to the evil, I mean she and her “purity” is what all woman should subscribe to.

We’ve missed the fact that the news that Mary gets through this angel is that her body is about to be violated, she will become pregnant without her consent. She is to carry the child and she is to name him Jesus. She has no choice over her body or even his name.

Not only that, but she will be culturally shunned and her engagement will most likely be called off. We forget that she must rely on Joseph’s mercy to forgive her (for something she didn’t do). We forget that she could have been stoned to death if he chose not to forgive her. But she is to be regarded and appreciated not for her amazing strength and will but for her purity.

Purity takes on many forms. The obvious one is virginity. Women should be sexless, except inside of the covenant of marriage and even then, for procreation. Mary is the perfect woman because she could have a child WITHOUT having to have sex with a man and therefore she is the perfect woman in purity, fulfilling her role as a woman without demolishing her virginity.

However, in the patriarchal church Mary couldn’t have possibly have known what was happening to her, that is until her husband accepted her pregnancy. Even though if you read the scriptures the angel Gabriel comes to Mary, tells her what is to happen. She then goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth and through their conversations Mary processes what is happening to her and does a battle cry of justice and mercy of God that shall reign through her child.

However, because no man has been involved in this story so far (angels aren’t “men”) so regardless of the scriptures, she could’t possibly understand. Women are simply not capable.

SECOND- It’s Proof Texting- According to sources (wikipedia) the song was written as a script for a Christmas play. These were questions Mark would like to ask Mary, the questions were asked between scenes of the play. It seems to me that would be the shortest Christmas play ever:

Mark: “Mary, did you know?”
Mary: “yes. yes I did.”

AND Scene.

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Here’s the thing. Mark knows his bible, pick me a line, any line from the song and it is based in scripture. To save time here’s a random sampling- Walk on water? Matthew 14, Sight to a Blind Man? John 9, Calm a storm? Mark 4, Walked Where Angels Trod? John 1, Rule the Nations, Matthew 28, and my favorite, This child that you deliver, will soon deliver you, John 19.

Why is it my favorite, BECAUSE SHE’S LITERALLY STANDING RIGHT THERE! John 19:26 “When Jesus saw his mother…” Seriously?!? Is she invisible? Yes, see point 1.

Proof texting is when one pulls a quote and uses it out of context to prove their point. When you proof text, you miss the arc of the story, you often miss the intention of the meaning of the quote. Here’s a quote for you:

“Feminism encourages women!”

I love it, it’s beautiful, it’s also true. It’s also Pat Robertson and here’s the whole quote, “Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” But Pat Robertson endorsed feminism and said it encouraged women! See what proof texting does?

“God hates Fags”, it says it in the Bible. Well, okay, there are two mandates that Leviticus lays out (see what I did there 😉 and says men shall not lie with (have sex with) men. Leviticus also says that I can sell my daughter into slavery and I can’t eat pig or wear clothes of mixed fiber. Read more about all this here.

Mary Did You Know? massive flaw is that these scriptures are taken out of context. Read the Magnificat she knew, she was also there participating in Jesus’ ministry!

THIRD- It’s Emotionally Manipulative- Listen, I’ve been there. I’ve been the sweet young girl who soloed “Mary Did You Know?” in front of a congregation because they wanted to see innocents personified. The song appeals to the maternalization of Mary.

Find some young sweet, young fertile girl, to remind us just how innocent and unsuspecting she would have been. Put her in front of a congregation so we can swoon over days gone by. So we can be lulled into complacency that if I pray hard enough and do the “right things” there will be a brand new Lexus at my door come Christmas Morning.

We so easily make the story of Jesus conception and birth about starry nights and a beautiful quiet sleeping baby and a perfect family. We so easily forget the emphasis that Jesus had a human birth, which means, it was messy. Very, very messy.

Jesus was born of a woman, meaning there was a bodily fluid and blood. There was a placenta and sweat and maybe even a bowel movement. Birth at this time also didn’t take place in a nice sterile hospital either, and Mary didn’t get the advantage of being in the comfort of her home with her family midwife near. No, she’s miles away in a smelly barn with her deer in the headlights husband, who according to the scriptures has never even seen her vagina.

There was sweat, there was blood, there were tears and screams and cow dung. Silent Night my ass. But that doesn’t appeal to us this time of year. In order to truly appreciate the story she wouldn’t have broken a sweat, laid down, popped the perfectly clean baby out and immediately made tea for her guests. This is what brings us close to God, she pondered these things in her heart, and iced her whoha.

So let’s get it straight, American Christians. For the love of all that is Holy, literally. Can we stop pressuring each other into pretending that Mary wasn’t scared, can we stop pretending that she didn’t know for one second the risks her son would go through? She knew the world better than anyone, and despite all the bullshit she had been put through not only did she know, she said yes!

God love her.

The Magnificat is a war cry. Mary knows the history of the Israelites waiting for a messiah, she celebrates by singing, that singing is to drive us into action for Justice and prepare us to be true followers of Christ. We want silent night but Mary knows, better than we do, that the king that is coming, is going to turn out world upside down.

The Stress of It All

In a week I will be in Cuba. The sun will shine, the humility high, the smell of diesel engines everywhere. I will spend a week with my Cuban family and I will be at home.

Cuba has been in the news a lot lately. More and more people are getting to visit. In the long run these tourists will be good or bad for Cubans, depending on how you look at things. This will be my 3rd trip in the last 2 years. The church I serve has a sister church there since 1999.

When I go to Cuba it is like coming home to a family who has done nothing but sit around and missed me. Of course this is not true but it feels that way. I have a Cuban madre (mother), a cuban novio (boyfriend who is at least 70) and hermanos y hermanas (brothers and sisters).

They are people just like we are, they have hopes and dreams just like we do. They carry a burden of abandonment, of hardship, of oppression. But they do not want our pity.

As I prepare I am collecting the usual things – chocolate to bring, extra shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant. Writing a sermon to be translated into Spanish and I am pulling summer clothes from the closet, but what I am most preparing is my soul.

1422399_10203198787072619_1253925515_nWhen I arrive in Cuba I will arrive on a 747 will all the luxuries and technology of a chartered plane. I will walk through a Caribbean airport and security and then into a parking lot full of cars from 1962. I will be greeted with warm hugs and probably more than a few tears will be shed, a sigh of relief will come from my being. I am in good, loving hands.

The rest of week will be rest, visits, food, worship, prayer, travel, and leading “my people” through the journey of their own spirituality. I will be on Cuban time, there’s no hurry, no stress about being late, no worry at all. I will talk to others about hardship, about cancer, about lack of access.

I will probably play volleyball and dance, I will get yelled at for not covering my very pale skin in the sun (the concept of sunscreen is a little hard to explain to some). I will get stares in the marketplace for my skin color and a few colorful calls for the same reason, children will want to touch my hair and skin and I will smile and delight.

I will have no contact with my family and friends for a week, I will be, in a different world. I tell my family, if something happens, just don’t bother trying to contact me, there’s nothing I can do about it. No phone, no internet, nothing distracting you but the person in front of you and the beauty of the world.

In therapy this morning I was describing this world, the problem is not letting go. It’s coming home.

When that plane lands in Miami I thrill and turn my iphone on immediately. I can’t wait to get home and hold my little people and connect with my friends, but when you spend a week away from the stress of life, it’s crushing to come home to it. Credit Cards, finances, work in the second week of Advent, access to everything and anything I want at any moment. Cars, phone, internet, OH MY!

For people who have had pain management you will understand this metaphor- the plane landing is like the pain medication wearing off. Slowly the weight of life returns. The stress of it all feels unbearable.

I am nervous of this feeling. I am scared and anxious about returning home in the midst of Advent, the stress of Christmas. Truth is, it wouldn’t matter, Christmas or not, the abundance of my life is crushing and I need to figure out how to handle it better, period.

Truth is, being in Cuba just holds up the mirror of life. “You do too much,” it says, “slow down, breathe, live.” but in America, that too feels like pressure.

Darkness to Light

The people

The people who walked

The people who walked in darkness

deep darkness

have seen

have seen

have seen a great light.

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One of my favorite moments of the whole year happens on Christmas Eve. Yes, you can probably guess it’s the singing of Silent Night with the candles, but probably not for the reason you think. It’s what happens right before it. When the world (or at least the church) is dark. Darkness. It’s a profound thing.

It is the symbol, the tangible evidence of everything that is lonely, scary, and sad.

The church goes completely dark and I sing the first verse of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, I speak the words of Genesis and John 1. When God proclaims light I strike a match. God said “Let there be Light” “Ptchhhh” the match strikes and flame appears, so vivid, so bright in the midst of the great darkness.

I’ve been walking in deep darkness this week. We lost a beloved member of our staff, it’s a crushing blow, he was my creative partner, my friend. He resigned to deal with a a crisis in his life. I’m heartbroken. I’m in the dark about where to go and what to do, about how to move forward.

Today as I watched the Advent Wreath be lit in the first service I realized that the first candle brings the most light. I’ve been reflecting on how this is the Hope candle. If you light a candle in the midst of darkness the room is flooded in light, no matter how small the light, any amount of light overcomes the darkness. It literally is painful on the eyes at first. It’s a miraculous things to watch, it’s one of the most beautiful images of God’s love I have ever witnessed.

But as you add to the light (as we did today) it’s not quite as satisfying as that first candle. We are making progress, the amount of light has literally been doubled, yet it is not as miraculous for some reason as when something was formed out of nothing. Yet again, there is a turn. On Christmas Eve we will light all five candles and then spread that light throughout the room and the light, the love of God entering the world is overwhelming.

I am always sad on Christmas Eve for those in the congregation, I wish they could see what I see. I see a room flooded with light, a candle illuminating each face, some smiling with their families proudly, some silently weeping from heartbreak. It is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Each candle a representation of God’s love for them. Every candle a remembrance that the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness, the darkness cannot, will not, and shall never overcome it.

For the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. As we add to our candles each week this is my hope and my prayer. Amen.

Advent: Come Lord Jesus

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Tear gas engulfed the police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., on Monday. Credit Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

I can’t stop staring at this image.

The juxtaposition of light and dark. If glanced at it could look like Christmas lights.

Look again.

It could be blurred Christmas lights with haze.

But it’s not…

It’s tear gas, and machine guns, and gas masks, and the glare of shells on Rambo style rounds of bullets.

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday after the Darren Wilson grand jury decision and my timeline and news feed was full of comments from pastor friends and how they were addressing the decision. My sermon was written, it was finished before I left for vacation, the week before. It was on the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel and mentioned race, but in that quick and general way. It was about the darkness of the season and how we rush to cover up the darkness with twinkling Christmas lights. And then I read this article today, which contained the photo above. The article was good, but I stared and stared at the image.

We rush to cover the darkness…

As I write this a song plays “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent/Wondrous Love” a piano solo by David Burroughs. This is one of those instances where if I didn’t find embedded music that automatically played on websites so annoying I would do it. It’s only a sample, but click here, then go back to the image. There are no words in this version, but here is the first verse of the hymn.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

I want to yell and scream, and if that’s what you need to do, do it. Yell. Scream. Amen!

But as I think about the darkness, the waiting, and the season of Advent – I cannot help but see the images, the images of people standing in silence with their arms raised.

“Don’t shoot,” with fear and trembling we stand.

David Burroughs combines this hymn with “What Wondrous Love is This.” An Advent hymn, with a Lenten one. Two seasons of waiting, waiting to receive our savior – our light in the darkness – and waiting for the end of the earthly journey. A journey that ends with injustice, injustice that was part of the political system. An injustice where the laws “worked accordingly.”

How does this advent end? When does this advent end? How many more lives will be lost? How many more tears will be shed? How many more images like this will appear?

I have no answers, only more questions and to simply say this: Come Lord Jesus, Guide our Way.

Darkness to Light

Advent is a season of waiting and preparing, preparing for the birth of the savior, Jesus, who came as a baby and whose birth we celebrate each year. We celebrate the spiritual birth and honor his work in our hearts on Christmas; it is a most sacred time of year.

Each year I write or say something like this from the pulpit, and I admit, I do not connect with it. Yes, I have two children and I know what it is to wait and prepare for the coming of a child. I also LOVE Christmas (in the secular sense). I love decorating and presents, both giving and receiving- I’m not going to lie. I love crazy sweaters and people’s “cheer” and parties where we dress up in clothes that sparkle.

I love it all.

But I, like most people who celebrate Christmas, want to skip right over preparation and hold the baby. I want to sing Carols of the birth, not of the coming. I want to skip right to the light and forget the darkness. When waiting for a child to be born there is so much unknown, so much uncontrollable mystery. The sex of the baby is always the first question asked, then the due date. And the annoying question that I always got was, do you think it’ll have red hair? As if I knew the answer…

As the expectant parent, grandparent, or friend we wonder. Will she be healthy? What is something happens to him? What if something happens to me? Will I be a good parent? And this is just the beginning.

If we skip over these very real and very scary questions, we are ignoring God. God is just as present in the preparation.

Christmas Eve is often everyone’s “favorite” service of the year. But when asked why it is not easily articulated. It’s the same story, same music, same candles every year, what makes it so special?

I believe what we cannot articulate is that Christmas Eve is the ritualization of the light meeting the darkness. For a few brief moments, everything is good, we tell the story of the birth, there are angels and shepherds, but then the lights go out. The words of darkness and watery chaos come, then the light of the word enters and the darkness could not overcome it.

This is the best news we have to share. The story of God through Jesus Christ has been summed up in many ways, but all the love, grace, mercy, faith, hope- can be summed up in this one verse.

The darkness, (cannot, will not, and) did not overcome the light.

The light of the world is coming this season, and we do need to adequately prepare. But we cannot ignore the darkness that comes with preparation, we cannot skip the tough, uncontrollable questions that come to us in the dark, for God is there too, ready to show us the way into the light.

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