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 A word

We cannot please everyone. We know this. But sometimes it’s even our job to piss someone off, gently, but piss them off nonetheless, stand up for what’s right. We expect, anticipate fallout. It’s good. It means that a hard situation is being wrestled over, but at least it’s out in the open.

We can handle this, we feel in control of this. But it’s the completely unexpected, the unknown, the X factor that has us all flummoxed. Years ago I was standing at the door on Christmas Eve, shaking hands as people walked out. I served a small church in upstate New York. It was the kind of church where all the kids “came home” on Christmas and there was not a seat to be found.

I was burnt out, I was tired, and I forgot to recruit someone to do the lights for the candlelight/Silent Night portion of the service. I asked a session member, he was also the plant committee chair, he had also been a member since his youth. He should know how to do this, I would not need to micromanage.

I was wrong.

The lights didn’t go down all the way, and something just didn’t “feel right”. It was not my fault, it wasn’t even this guy’s fault. But on the way out the door the daughter a parishioner who I see a few times a year walked out without saying hello. “Where’s [insert name here]”. At that time she storms back in and exclaims that was the worst Christmas Eve Service she’d ever been part of!

Well…

It didn’t matter what it was or how it was or why it was. All that I heard was negative feedback. All I heard was someone was upset. All I heard is that I’d ruined Christmas. As if I had all that power. Or someone had given me that authority.

The truth is, I let her ruin my Christmas. I spent all Christmas Eve and all Christmas Day filled with anxiety.

Anxiety continues to get the best of us. Over the last few weeks I have seen a reasonable group of people tear apart decision after decision many people have made (including themselves as a body). There is no going back, but we do it because we hope we can find the mistake. We pray we can pinpoint the person and the thing that created the angst.

Truth is, that’s rarely the case.

Even if we could go back and anticipate everyone’s reaction and what everyone wanted and what everyone was thinking it probably wouldn’t have changed anything anyway.

On that Christmas my sermon could have been better, the lights could have worked great, and every single thing would have gone perfectly. That woman still would have had the worst Christmas. Because the anxiety she was feeling was not about any of it.

But it’s going to come out somewhere, and it happened to be me.

My mistake was letting it affect me. Yet, how could I not? It’s just who I am. What I didn’t do (what I constantly strive not to do) is continue the cycle and push the anxiety on other people.

I did nothing wrong and going back and changing anything wouldn’t change the outcome but this situation/circumstance/life is hard and we don’t like hard. Surely it’s someone’s fault. Surely someone is to blame.

As leaders we find ourselves in this position a lot, we are even taught that it’s the measure of us doing ministry right. I’m still learning not to harbor the anger I get from receiving so many people’s anxiety. I am still learning not to be disappointed in myself or someone else for not being appropriate with their anxiety. For it is a dangerous weapon.

Anxiety (and fear and the like) is a silent killer of relationships and it should be handled with thick rubber gloves. I look forward to the day that the CDC finds a vaccine for it, eradicates it, and sticks it in their vault next to Polio and Small Pox.

Until then, breathe, sometimes things are just difficult and we don’t need to go around blaming everyone else for that feeling. It doesn’t have to be your fault, but it’s not necessarily mine either, sometimes life’s just a little difficult.

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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.

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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This is the Day the Lord has Made

My first year out of Seminary, at my first church as a solo pastor, it just happened to be that Christmas Day fell on a Sunday.  In the churches I have served, like most mainline protestant churches, we have service on Christmas Eve night and only have church Christmas morning, if Christmas falls on a Sunday.  That year, there were mega churches in the area and around the country that decided to not have Sunday Services on Christmas because it was “family time”.

That year I wrote a sermon that “railed” (as much as I can do) against these churches.  I thought it was ridiculous that they would close church on a Sunday morning just because it fell on Christmas Day.  “What better way to teach our children what Christmas is all about than bring them to church on Christmas Day?” I asked (and still say when Christmas falls on a Sunday.)

But here’s the truth, I don’t like it when Christmas falls on a Sunday.  It is a family day. And I am exhausted from the night before.  But I get up, and bring my kids away from their toys to remind myself and them what Christmas is all about, that a child was born this day in the city of David, and he is the light of all the people.  That is why we celebrate.

Over the years of being a minister I struggle with the commercialization of Christmas, yet as a woman who grew up in America and has small children I also get caught up in it.  It is an opportunity to give gifts of appreciation of others, it is a time to overload my kids with toys they don’t need just to see the smile on their faces.  It is also a time to put up a Christmas Tree, decorate my house and bake cookies.

None of these things are biblical, and yet, I love them.  It’s not Christmas without them, my heart feels.  Yet my head knows that if we didn’t decorate our house or church or sing Christmas Carols, Christ would come anyway.

As much as I love Jesus, I also love hanging my stockings with care, and putting out the ceramic Christmas tree my beloved Aunt made years ago, and unwrapping each baby ornament as if they were as fragile as babies themselves.  And this decoration takes place the first weekend in December just as it did for my mother and her mother before that.  And the decorations don’t wait to come down until Epiphany, but come down New Year’s Day, just as it did for my mother and her mother before that.

There is something sacred for me in the non-sacred traditions of Christmas.  Not just following the routine my mother did, but wrapping the creche in the same paper I unwrapped it from. Each year getting a little softer and one or two more tears until when my children are older the paper will no longer be there to protect, but the paper itself will become an integral part of the tradition.

So yes, my Christmas decorations when up before Christmas and yes, the came down before Epiphany- but I still say, it’s okay.  Christ lives on despite our rules.  I can honor God and my family despite when the decorations come up or go down.  And yes, I will also remain hypocritical when I will follow this practice of Family tradition and not church tradition, because in 2016 (which I’m already not looking forward to) I will rail against churches who close on Christmas Day because it happens to fall on a Sunday and as they say that is Family Day.  Because Sunday is the Lord’s Day and despite everything, it is the day God made to come and adore.

Just though I would give you fair warning.