Mary, I Didn’t Know

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To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. — Genesis 3:16

In 5th grade, all the guys were led into a classroom down the hall, where we were taught some sterilized version of the facts of life.  The girls had their own lecture.  If I remember correctly, their conversation lasted longer than ours did.

I remember rejoining some of my female friends, and seeing a strange look in their eyes. They all seemed to have aged a year or so in maturity.  I wondered if they had been told different facts than we had.

Indeed, they had.  More than just the rough outline of Male/Female sexuality, they were learning about pain.  The monthly ordeal of menstruation, the excruciating process of childbirth.  I don’t know if any time was given to the discussion of other forms of pain for women — objectification, harassment, abuse.  Somehow I doubt it.

I had no clue.  I knew of none of this, and wouldn’t for years.  Some of it, I’m still learning.

Last week, for instance, I sat with my senior high Sunday School youth at the coffee shop and asked what was meant to be a throwaway question, “The angels said ‘be not afraid’.  What’s your biggest fear?”

One of the young women said, without irony, “I’m afraid of men.”  The other two quickly agreed.  They began to share with me and the other young men there, how difficult it is for them to be out, anywhere, by themselves.  I don’t know what it was about this unexpectedly frank conversation, but as they each gave real world examples of how scary and painful it can be living as a young woman in this world, it occurred to me…

That little wood-carved figure of Mary, there on my coffee table nativity set, is going through some stuff I simply can’t imagine.

Not only do I have next to no concept of what it means to be a young woman in our world today, I am utterly clueless of what that young girl in her teens must be enduring on Christmas Eve.

Having a baby is a big deal.  Having a baby in a cattle stall, with only (I’m guessing) a pretty clueless husband to assist must have been terrifying.  I can only imagine such physical pain coinciding with great joy!

I’m aware there are many women in the world whose pregnancies aren’t successful, due to complications, or lack of assistance, or poor sanitation. Wow. More pain that I can hardly fathom.

I’m reminded of Adam and Eve, expelled from the Garden of Eden.  There were consequences to their disobedience, and one of them was that childbirth would bring pain. I’ll be honest, I haven’t thought much about it before.  The literal pain alongside the joy of Christmas.

I tend to think that God is not inflicting these punishments, but that they are natural consequences for us choosing to live in the harshness of the world.

Regardless, I feel that Eve got the worse end of the deal, compared to Adam.  As did Mary, with Joseph.  As I’ve come to believe more and more, women in general face pain that men aren’t always aware of.

This is not a pity party for the ladies. It’s closer to a celebration of the strong and faithful women I have known in my life, who may have had to struggle more than I know just to celebrate Christmas this year.

In the least, I’m aware that the mother of my Savior deserves some gratefulness on my part.  I’m guessing the same is true for all the other women in my life.

It’s not much, but I wanted to say, on behalf of my 5th grade clueless self, and my 50-year-old slightly less clueless self…

I was thinking of you this Christmas.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Mitch

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A Laity Bill of Rights

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Let’s stop right here, before I get started.

I’m not a member of the laity, and I’m pretty sure a laity bill of rights should be written by laity.  But, at the risk of “clergy-splaining”, I want to throw a few things out there for your consideration, laity.  Freedoms and protections I believe should be inalienable in The Church.  Use what you want, and throw the rest away.

  1.  The right to think.   Just because you have a dazzling pastor or a Harvard trained Sunday School teacher doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use your brain at church.  Some churches tend to tell you what you should believe.  I don’t go there.  I see the church, and it’s leaders, as teaching you HOW to believe–how to engage in disciplined, faithful inquiry.  Will your pastor make a strong case for the quadrilateral or prevenient grace?  Absolutely.  But how (or if) you integrate it into your walk of faith?  That should be your job.
  2. The right to bare arms.  Heehee.  Simply put,  I believe a church that puts a dress code over and above hospitality is already a dead church.  That said, different churches have different cultures.  If you’re wearing a tuxedo and everyone around you is in cutoffs, you may have a different concept of reverence.  There may be a church culture that fits you better.
  3. The right to accountability.  Here’s what I mean:  Lots of older churches (and their leaders) have allowed accountability to sort of drift away.  Being a member of a church means…attending occasionally?  Putting a few bucks in the plate once a year?  I find myself guilty of letting my congregations down in this way.  Laity who sign on for the adventure of discipleship deserve to encounter discipline along the way.  Discipline shapes the life of a church, in terms of expectations, opportunities, and structure.  If you’re going to make a commitment to a church, that commitment should challenge you, engage you, and work to form you into the disciple you’ve committed to be.
  4. The right to disagree.  You believe in creation, but your pastor teaches that it’s just a metaphor.  Do you have to change your beliefs? (Or change your church?)  No.  It’s okay to disagree.  Your Sunday School teacher tells you animals don’t have souls, but your dog Pearl (r.i.p.) was the most loving creature you ever met.  Do you have to sully her good name because your teacher said so?  No!  This may be obvious, but I think there are laity who forget they have the right to disagree.  It’s even possible to disagree without painful conflict or separation.  Great conversations can emerge from seeing things differently.  Just the same, if you find your pastor on the opposite side of the fence every Sunday, you also have the right to rethink if this church is truly feeding you.
  5. The right to be safe.  Churches are those rare buildings that actually house a “sanctuary”–a place of refuge and safety.  That could be said of the whole church property.  That’s the fervent goal, anyway.  There are times, it pains to say, when that right is violated.  You also have the right not to be bullied for your belief or any other reason.  You have the right to be safe at any age and in any situation.  These are rights we strive so hard to assure.  But sometimes, through negligence or evil, this right can be painfully violated.  God forbid, but were something like this to ever happen…
  6. You have the right to remain silent.  But I hope you won’t.  Instances of abuse are traumatizing, and we see one example after another of people who have waited decades to speak up in the face of that painful occurrence.  If you ever experience something that makes you uncomfortable or threatened or exposed, I truly hope you’ll tell somebody that you trust.  This is bad stuff, and it can threaten the rights of everybody in the church.  And if you are that trusted person somebody confides in, you have the right–no, RESPONSIBILITY to do right by them.  Listen to them.  Believe them.  Reach out to others who can help.

This is such a short list.  Maybe some laity out there will offer their own lists of rights.  I pledge, as a clergy, to listen and respect every word.Maybe I should be focusing on a bill of rights for pastors.

Hmm. Here’s a start:

1. We the clergy have the right to … pretty much all of the above, too.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Fuzzy People


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You ever meet someone who seems a little out of focus?

As if they don’t quite click into reality.

Maybe they tell you conflicting stories about their life.

Maybe they seem needy — or unhealthily independent.

Maybe you’ve met someone, or know someone, who looks like a human being, but acts like someone who is just acting like one.

I’m talking about people who have been broken into so many pieces that they may never be successfully put back together again.

I call them Fuzzy People.

Some Fuzzy People get that way from abuse.

Or years in the foster system.

Some Fuzzy People have untreated mental illness.

Or dangerous substance abuse.

Some Fuzzy People have all of the above.

It’s hard to know how to help Fuzzy People.  They may require more than you can ever give.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. That doesn’t mean there is no hope.

There is counseling and medication and treatment and time and care — it can take the love of many people and agencies to help these most broken of people.

And your compassion plays a part.

So love as you are able,

and say your prayers for Fuzzy People.

That their damaged lives may come to see God’s love

more clearly.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Have you been abused?

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Some things need to be said.
And I’m gonna say em.

If you have endured
(or are enduring) some form of abuse in your life
(Sexual, Physical, Psychological…)

You aren’t alone.
You aren’t alone because abuse is more prevalent than most of us realize.
You and I encounter people every day who are victims of child abuse, or spousal abuse, or rape, etc.

BUT ALSO

You aren’t alone because
of all the places where God chooses to be,
God MOST chooses to be with those who suffer.
God is with you right now, arms around you.

You deserve to be safe, and happy. 
God wants that for you,
and will never give up on pursuing that for you.

If you are not safe, or not happy, I’m very sorry.
Whether your abuse happened 30 years ago
or is happening right now,
pain is pain.

This little devotion probably won’t change that.
But just know that I was thinking about you today.
Whoever you are.

And if there’s a way I can help,
Listening to you.
Praying for you.
Helping you be safe.
Pointing you towards people who can help in other ways,
I will try.

I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which means
that I believe Hope Springs Eternal.
that good can triumph evil.
that Love can heal what has been broken.

That is my wish for you today.
To be healed and hopeful and triumphant.

In the name of Jesus,
May it be so.

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