courage, 2017

A couple of weeks ago, I planned a “star word” activity for my congregation. Each person chooses a small star with a word printed on it. The word can be a way to pray, reflect, or grow through the year. It’s a way of celebrating epiphany – remembering both the star that the magi followed toward the manger and reminding us that we are in the liturgical season of light, even though the days are still short and the nights are still dark.

A southern snowpocalypse hit the weekend of Epiphany, and we ended up cancelling worship. I offered to choose stars at random for anyone who emailed or texted me for one, and almost everyone did.

As I prayed for each other person and chose their stars at random, I was surprised to see how many star words matched so perfectly with the personality of the recipient. Someone I know as really humble got ‘humility.’ Someone else, a delightfully zealous and energetic person, got ‘zeal.’ I decided to choose a word for myself, hoping that it might be an affirmation like that. I flipped over my word, and I’ve been pouting about it ever since.




I am not a very courageous person. I have done some brave things, and sometimes surprise myself that the shy, quiet bookworm who didn’t really like leaving the house as a kid is now a fully independent, single adult woman who pays her own bills and changes her own windshield wiper blades and meets new people and cultivates relationships for a living and has traveled across oceans by herself.

But courage is not at the top of the list of Dana’s Virtues.

I am terrified of many, many things. I trust routine and get anxious when it is disrupted. I hate being forced out of my comfort zone. I need a while to decipher any new challenge, and even longer to decide what to do about it. I do not like being forced into threatening situations.

So, I spent the last few weeks whining and pouting and arguing with myself. I even turned the little wooden star upside down on my desk so I didn’t have to think about what a coward I usually am.

But then, after a few weeks, I started thinking about the people I know who ARE courageous. And I started thinking about the incredible things that they’ve done that wouldn’t exist without that bravery.

And then, I started thinking about all the things that terrify me. Some of them are too huge to even consider right now, but I did begin to realize that there are tiny, everyday things that I am afraid of, and that if I start there, maybe I can begin practicing courage. Maybe if I cultivate courage in small things, whatever this year brings that requires the virtue won’t feel so insurmountable. I decided to challenge myself.

This list feels small to me, but I’m going to complete it, anyway. It’s a weird reality out there in the world today, and I need to be doing something about it – even if it’s just practicing myself into a virtue that I expect to be needing more of sooner rather than later.

THE LIST (for now. Let’s call it Courage: For the First Quarter)

Walk to the library.

This is a ridiculous thing to fear, I know. I have walked to the library at least twice a month for the last year. The main branch of the Durham library system is less than a mile from my house, and it is huge and full and has that particular smell that old libraries harbor. But on January 1, the main library closed for 2 YEARS for renovations.

There is another branch exactly the same distance from my house, in the opposite direction. The walk from here to there is not like the walk from here to downtown. It takes me past strip malls with bars on the windows, at least three permanently stationed homeless guys with cardboard signs asking for money, a liquor store, a pawn shop, and a payday loan enterprise. According to the local police, there were six crimes committed this week between my house and the new library. Zero between my house and the old one.

A year ago, when I moved to downtown Durham, I did it intentionally. I wanted to live in a place where I could not easily ignore my white privilege. I turned down suburban apartment complexes in favor of this downtown loft so that I could walk more, interact with people on the sidewalk regularly, know my neighborhood at a pedestrian level, and generally be less of an isolated middle class suburban white lady. I am probably only succeeding at those intentions 30-40% of the time. I still do my grocery shopping elsewhere, I get in my car far more often than necessary, and I still avoid certain blocks on foot during the day; all of them at night.

But constant access to a car and the ability to drive is a privilege that I rely on too often. I have friends without either, and have been impressed and inspired by the courage they use every day to walk where they need to go because that’s the only way to get there. Courage: walking to the library. Regularly.


Call my congresspeople.

Again: not exactly scary. But I am terrified. I have looked up all their numbers, I have researched scripts for what to say and how, I have given myself pep talk after pep talk, but I have not yet been able to participate in this particular aspect of democracy. Yesterday, I picked up my phone, entered Senator Burr’s number, threw it down and sent an email instead.

I hate the phone. Detest. I don’t like answering calls and I dislike making them even more. Always have, expect I always will.

And also: politics has never been my thing. In fact, I have studiously avoided politics out of what I believed to be theological commitment to an alternative way of being. I have been ambivalent about voting, decidedly against spending time, energy and money on national politics in general and, at times, quite smug about it all. I am afraid that doing this one thing will drag me into an inescapable pit of political awfulness.

But these are weird and convicting times and both my worldview and my theological one have shifted in recent years. I voted in the presidential election. I am horrified by the results. I elected these representatives, I want them to represent me in their offices and with their votes. So, the least I can do is call.


Lead a conversation about sexuality at my church.

This one terrifies me. I am not scared of leading conversations – I have experience at that, even tense and important ones. I am not scared of my congregation, either – they are some of the most genuine, hospitable and thoughtful people I know. I’m not even scared of discussing sexuality – it’s an elemental part of who we are as humans, and the impact of these conversations has immediate spiritual and political impact.

What I am scared of, I guess, is the combination of the three things: sexuality, church, and leadership. Specifically, being a leader in the church when we talk about sexuality. Colleagues have lost their credentials for not much more. Not long ago, my integrity was questioned because I have an opinion about it. And I know that people I love and respect – and who are in positions to complicate the standing of both my congregation and my credentialing – disagree with me.

But I also remember the unimaginable courage of my friends who have done this – led a conversation about sexuality in the church – without the privilege I enjoy of being straight and cisgender. That’s bravery, right there: to put your own safety on the line in order to prod the community toward discernment. If they can do that, surely I can do this.

Okay. The list was actually a lot longer, but my stomach is in a few knots and my anxiety level is rising just having reflected – theoretically – on these three.

Courage. Courage. Courage.

I can do these (not very) hard things.

sowers of delight

Sermon 1-22-17

Matthew 13:3-9

In today’s parable, Jesus is talking about a farmer, a gardener, someone going out to the earth to sow seeds.

My imagination immediately flashes back to my grandpa Bobby’s garden – a giant, empty lot in Roanoke where he spent his early retirement planting, tending and harvesting all kinds of vegetables and flowers. I remember planting beans with him and my cousins: we’d drive his big blue Ford pick-up truck over the bank and into the garden and, after he tilled the rows, we kids got handfuls of pink and white October beans.

I have a vivid memory of those seeds in my hands – such bright colors, for seeds. And they were slightly chalky, maybe from chemicals meant to prevent mold, maybe just because that’s how the seeds were. I remember the feel of a handful of beans, fillng my palm. I remember feeling very useful, to be planting these seeds. And I remember feeling very important, to be here in the garden with all the adults.

We were clearly instructed about where those October seeds went: they did not get not thrown out willy-nilly, not discarded in the grass, not strewn about without any plan. Those beans went in these rows. And so, we walked, up and down those rich brown garden rows, dropping beans into the tilled rows, methodically, one after the other. I mean, most of the time. Most of the time we followed directions and dropped seed after seed into properly tilled and readied row. Most of the the time. We were kids, after all.

I am not a gardener. My thumbs are fairly gray – houseplants have a fifty-fifty chance of surviving in my apartment. But I have vivid memories of being in Bobby’s garden and dropping those chalky pink and white beans into the prepared rows.

And I have equally vivid memories of the end of the process – late in the summer, sitting on my grandparents’ back patio, my grandma JoJo with a big bucket of full-grown beans, pulling out a handful, snapping the ends off into a plastic bag and throwing the snapped beans into a pan to be washed and, later, canned. I remember the slow afternoons, the sound of those beans snapping, the conversation that flowed over and around the work.

And after the snapping and the washing came the canning, and eventually, later in the year, the eating. I hated beans for a long time – glad to plant and snap but reluctant to eat any of them: no limas, no half-runners, no pintos, no peas. Beans were gross.

How was it that I was so excited to be a part of the sowing and harvesting, snapping and canning but couldn’t bring myself to enjoy the delicious yield? I regret, these days, that I missed out on so much fresh, homegrown, manual-labor and love-infused food.

I’m not a gardener. But I did learn a thing or two from those summers with my grandparents. I learned about the processes of sowing and reaping, the way that hard work can yield nourishing food for the family. I learned where food came from – not only McDonald’s or Mom’s freezer, but from the ground. I learned that the food that sustained me and helped me grow was the result of someone else’s hard work, dedication and care.

I confess that I forget these lessons all too often – that my current state of health and welfare is, so often, the direct result of someone else’s hard work, dedication, and care, sown long, long ago.

In this parable, Jesus is talking about a sower. But this sower did not listen very well to Grandpa Bobby’s instructions. The seeds did not end up in the neatly tilled rows of the garden. Clearly, this sower has been neglecting her job – maybe playing over at the edge of the garden with her cousin Ashley instead of walking neatly up and down the rows, maybe distracted by her sister Leah’s dance routine over in the far corner, maybe distracted by her cousin Adam’s jokes in the next row, maybe running down the tree line to catch a glimpse of that deer and her babies that lived close by. The seeds aren’t ending up in the right rows! The seeds are all over the place, falling through the cracks in the sowers fingers, unheeded, neglected…wasted.

Or so we think.


Jesus says that while the sower was out sowing, some seeds fell on the path and birds came to eat them.

Some other seeds fell on rocky ground, where nobody had tilled a safe, deep row for them. They sprouted, but since they had no roots, the sun’s warmth quickly scorched them.

Some other seeds fell among some thorny plants (squash, probably, or the rose bushes in the far corner), and the thorny plants grew up and choked out the seeds.

But some seed – some of it – did fall on good soil. And the seed that got in that good soil had INCREDIBLE results! Some yielded a ratio of a hundred to one, others a ratio of sixty to one, and still others a ration of thirty to one.

And, with that right there, this tiny, simple, weird little parable of the sower, Jesus says: “Everyone who has ears should LISTEN!”

Well, all right, Jesus.

I’ve got ears, so I’m listening to you.

But I don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me. I’ve been a sower of seeds. I’ve had those pink-and-white Octobers fall through my fingers, and I’ve had them drop deliberately into their prepared good soil.

So, what is it that you’re wanting us to HEAR, here?

Much of the interpretation of this parable ends up focusing on where the seeds fell. We could spend days and days trying to find ourselves in the seeds, figure out if we are the seeds who are on the road, or in the rocky ground, or among the thorns. We could spend months trying to decide if we’re the ones with shallow roots or being pricked to death by those annoying thorny people around us.

In fact, Matthew even goes so far as to include an explanation of the parable a few verses later, awkwardly inserting an interpretation for this parable, but not for every other one. Even in the text, the explanation feels awkward. It condenses the possible meanings into an awkward one-to-one correlation. You can almost hear Matthew talking to himself as he scratched out his gospel: “Oh, man, this is a WEIRD one, Jesus. They’re gonna need some interpretation for this one. I’m going to just go ahead and write out the key here, even though I KNOW you tell these stories so that they have as many meanings as there are ears that hear them…”

And, anyway, Jesus doesn’t ask us to explain the parable, or to understand it so we can file it away as one more idea, conquered and defined. No, Jesus asks us to LISTEN to the parable.

Well, when I listen, I find myself not so much curious about the seeds as I am curious about the sower.

What kind of gardener would toss the seeds about like that? What kind of bean planter would let so many beans escape the carefully tilled rows and end up tossed all over the place?

Maybe the sower IS like those little kids in my Grandpa Bobby’s garden, less intent on planting properly and more excited simply to be there, helping with the process, out in the sunshine and near the rich brown earth.

Maybe the sower is less of a perfectionist and more of an opportunist. Maybe the sower has so much seed that she can afford to toss it up in the air in celebration. Maybe the sower delights in a cousin’s companionship or a sister’s performance or a sighting of delicate wildlife more than she cares about the proper placement of each and every seed.

Maybe the sower is sowing, not out of necessity or fear that there won’t be enough, but out of sheer joy and abundance at getting to be part of the process. Maybe this is a sower who can afford to let the tiny, chalky seeds fall through the spaces between her fingers just for the enjoyment and wonder of the way that feels. Maybe this sower is far less concerned with keeping the rows straight and much more interested in sharing the seed with every nook and cranny of the place.

What if Jesus is asking us to listen, in this parable, not to the possibilities of seeds growing in various contexts, but to the possibility of becoming planters like this one – so caught up in the joy of planting, so delighted by the experience of joining the crowd of gardeners, so immeasurably excited to have that handful of october beans to share that we cease to worry about proper placement of the seeds, or the exact depth of the tilled rows, or the appropriate chain of command in the garden enterprise, or the coordinated timing of the harvest…

If that were the way gardening worked, I would certainly be more interested in taking it back up. If I could be a sower like little kid Dana was, celebrating the very opportunity to be a part of the enterprise, letting beans fall where they may, throwing a handful up in the air just to see them shower down…well, maybe my houseplants would survive a little longer.

But here’s the thing: In this parable, that IS how gardening works! It isn’t an efficient way of gardening. It’s not frugal or stingy or calculated, but the seed that does fall on good ground? Well, it yields 100 fold! It turns out that all that seed that dropped in other places wasn’t wasted after all. It was part of the process. It was part of the joy. The seed that grew in good soil yielded enough and more than enough. There was no reason to worry about scarcity after all. There was no reason to get angry at those clumsy sowers preoccupied with delight.

I am taken by this parable, taken by the possibility of becoming sowers of delight – less preoccupied with whether or not we are doing this faith thing ‘right’ and more interested in whether or not it is an undertaking of joy, delight and attentiveness.

This morning, our worship is focused on the mission resourcing campaign of the Virlina District. They’ve chosen this passage as their theme, and it seems fitting. Our call, in this parable, is not to worry about whether or not the church as we know it will survive these coming years, not to wring our hands about the proper placement of limited resources in the here and now, not to argue over the size of the rows or the exact placement of the seeds, but to be sowers of JOY – sharing what we have now where and how we can.

And if we sow this way, we might find – like I learned from all those hours spent with my grandparents in the garden and on the porch – that our hard work, dedication, care and JOY can become the things that create health and well-being for others we don’t even yet know.

Our job is not to perfect the rows. Our job is not to sow only in proven good ground. Our job isn’t even to worry about rocky soil or thorny plants or any other threats to the seed of the gospel that we are called to share. Our job is to be a sower like this one – to arrive joyfully at the garden, so taken by the opportunity to join in the planting that we cannot stop smiling. Our job is to sow recklessly, abundantly, trusting that the growth doesn’t depend on us, but on the one who gave us the seed in the first place. Here: have a handful of beans. There: there’s the garden where they’ll grow.

Go. Sow. Dance and shout with the joy of it.

A blessing, from Bishop Ken Untener, of Michigan:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent

enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of

saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an

opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master

builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

#rendtheheavens Day 28


Luke 2:16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

My aunt (hey, Trisha!) has been reading all these Advent posts, and when I saw her yesterday, she mentioned them. “Yeah, I said, it’s been great, because I’ve written every day! Even though some of them have been kind of…fume-y.”

I meant that some of these posts have been written with only the fumes of leftover energy and ideas during a high-energy season of church life. She heard “fuming.”

Also true.

The practice was meant to be cathartic, I think. Rend the Heavens or Fuck This Shit – the prompts were apocalyptic, texts of judgment and warning, reminders that the world has always been ending, that Jesus was no stranger to global upheaval and immediate oppression.

It served its purpose. I feel properly purged, emptied, vented, lamented, confessed. It has been a year of major changes for so many of us, and finding the time and space to name them and process them and accept them as the way things are going to be is important.

All of this grief, pain, despair, racism, misogyny, violence and political disaster is real, and all of it has very real consequences for very real people.

And also:

God is here.

Not just as a Spirit, not just as a clock-maker, not just as an inaccessible, far away father-figure, but here. In flesh. With us. In the midst of all the grief, pain, despair, racism, misogyny, violence and political disaster. God knows it. God lives it. God was put to death in one of those very real consequences for very real people.

And in some ineffable, cosmic, mystical way, that divine presence, that incarnation, that Emmanuel, that God who would choose to be here, with us, embodied and subject to the indignities of aging, family systems and gravity changes everything.

It means that none of this shit is the last word. None of this shit gets to exercise unmitigated power over us. None of this shit wins, in the end.

Love wins.

Those apocalyptic texts call God down from the Heavens to conquer foes, heal wounds, make a way where there has been no way. They call on God to change the King’s heart, lift up the lowly, throw the powerful down from their thrones, find the lost, serve the least, and guide all of us into the ways of peace. They call on God to work justice and salvation and mercy in places that have been without for so long.

And you know what God does?

God agrees. God answers.

God rends the heavens and comes right on down to do every one of those things.

God has done it – that’s what we celebrate today. God rent the heavens and joined us here, on earth, in flesh.

And God does it again and again and again.

Every time we lament, every time we confess, every time we learn some new truth or engage some new perspective. Every time we pray, every time we serve, every time we consider the flesh and bone of neighbors and strangers with care and compassion. Every time we – the Body of Christ – act as Jesus did, and every time we – the household of God – trust in God’s presence and power the heavens get rent. God arrives on the scene.

The trick is that it never looks the way we expect it to. That arrival rarely comes with robes and thrones and trumpet blasts. It’s quieter and more human. Silent nights, mangers, grubby travelers and emergency births. It’s not in the halls of power, but tucked away elsewhere, slowly building and growing like mustard seed, like kudzu, like lanterns being lit one by one.

And just like it’s important to lament and grieve and name the pain, it is equally important to watch and hope and seek out those glimpses and glimmers of heavens rent in two.

Here’s to a blessed Christmas season, on the lookout for shimmering lights, glowing and growing steadily

until the new dawn from on high breaks upon us,

giving light to all those sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death;

guiding all our feet into the way of peace.


#rendtheheavens Day 27

Day 27: HELL

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”—

I skipped a couple of writing days while I was in Roanoke celebrating with my family this week, and now it is the evening of Christmas Day, the end of all that Advent waiting, the celebration of God’s reign on earth in the form of a tiny little baby boy, and I have to write about hell and hangings.

I don’t know a lot about hell, and I don’t know a lot about hangings.

The first is because hell is a slippery, pseudo-biblical concept that no one living has actually experienced.

The second is because the history I was taught over the course of many (many) years of formal schooling conveniently left out most of the hangings that white Christians orchestrated, attended, adulated and encouraged in American history.

From 1880 to 1940, white American Christians lynched nearly 5,000 black Americans.

And they didn’t do it under cover of night, either. They were not ashamed of what they were doing and, like James Cone says in his book “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” they apparently made zero connection between lynching their neighbors and the lynching of their Lord and Savior, Jesus.

Cone says:

71tl6zhn0zlUnfortunately, during the course of 2,000 years of Christian history, this symbol of salvation has been detached from any reference to the ongoing suffering and oppression of human beings—those whom Ignacio Ellacuría, the Salvadoran martyr, called “the crucified peoples of history.” The cross has been transformed into a harmless, non-offensive ornament that Christians wear around their necks. Rather than reminding us of the “cost of discipleship,” it has become a form of “cheap grace,” an easy way to salvation that doesn’t force us to confront the power of Christ’s message and mission. Until we can see the cross and the lynching tree together, until we can identify Christ with a “recrucified” black body hanging from a lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy.

I am astounded at the ways we lie to ourselves about the righteousness of our own behavior. Parties! People held lynching parties! And this history – the one I am learning, finally, now, the one that I resisted for so many years, the honest and painful one – makes me wonder how many ways white America is lying to ourselves still, today. How many ways am I lying to myself about the righteousness of my own behavior, right now?

God of truth and repentance, open my eyes to the ways I deceive myself, the lies I ignore, the false history I buy into in order to avoid confession. Wash me, so that I might be clean. Purify me, so that I might have the courage to confront the power of Christ’s message and mission.

#rendtheheavens Day 26

Day 26: ROLL(OUT)

Revelation 22:18-19  I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19 if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

Everybody’s bidding good riddance to 2016, ready to roll on out and into a fresh, clean new year.

But things don’t look too promising for 2017, either.

Unless, of course, we really are hoping for an apocalypse.

Apocalypse means ‘uncovering.’ It’s not necessarily about explosive destruction, but rather about a revealing of the true realities underneath the supposed powers of the world.

I think that’s happening, and I think it’s painful and necessary.

Hope isn’t optimism, and it isn’t certainty. It is, like Rebecca Solnit says, admitting that we do not know the future. Confessing that we don’t know. Saying out loud that all our assumptions were wrong. Owning up to all the ways that we have been wrong, that we have been overconfident, that we have relied on our own power and safety and comfort instead of cultivating curiosity, humility, and openness.

I once got criticized for using the phrase “I don’t know” as a refrain in a sermon. I was a new preacher, and I probably didn’t wield the phrase very skillfully. But, years later, I am still committed to being that kind of honest in my preaching and in my life. I don’t know when the world ends, I don’t know how, I don’t know why. I don’t know what powers spin what consequences, or why god makes it to rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. I don’t know a lot. Sometimes that opens me up to a shit-ton of mansplaining after I confess it, and sometimes it opens the door for someone else to say “Thank God. I was so tired of having to pretend I knew when I didn’t.”

Jesus himself said that he didn’t know when the world would end, and that we really shouldn’t waste our time thinking about it.

Here’s where I think I’ll anchor my hope, these days: Hope in the things I do not know. Hope in the mystery. Hope in the irrational, illogical, inbreaking of something else. Hope in tucked away corners, like mangers and forgotten towns. Hope in totally unforeseen angles on old, old problems. Hope in reversals, restorations and resurrections. Hope in ways made where there was no way. Hope in a God who would choose to relinquish even the privilege of being DIVINE to be with us.

#rendtheheavens Day 25


Matthew 1:16-17 …and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

Matthew’s genealogy is one of the best parts of the bible.

No, seriously.

I read a feminist argument recently, about the ways that in patrilineal societies, women get left out of genealogies. As if any of those begats would have been possible without women’s ovaries, wombs, cervixes, labor. The author alluded to biblical genealogies as a cardinal example of these patriarchal lists.

While it’s true that the begats do lend themselves to female erasure, Matthew is not falling for that old trick.

Matthew includes four women in the genealogy of Jesus.

Of course, there are dozens and dozens more who do get left out, erased from the collective memory, cut clean out of the narrative. But the genealogy of Jesus is not exactly as misogynistic as some might have us believe.

And these four women: hoo boy.

  1. Tamar: after her father-in-law refused to provide protection for her after two of her husbands died, she pretended to be a prostitute, intercepted her father-in-law on the road, got pregnant by him, and forced him into providing her protection as the mother of his heirs.
  2. Rahab: an actual prostitute who lent shelter and secrecy to Israelite spies who were plotting to take over the city of Jericho, winning herself and her family lasting protection once they gained control of the city.
  3. Ruth: wily widow who decided to stick with her widowed mother-in-law instead of returning to her own home and family, tricked a distant cousin into having sex with her and, again, offering inheritance, standing and protection for both her and her chosen family.
  4. Mary: unmarried, teenage pregnant woman, whose lineage and importance were negligible, but who was nonetheless chosen by God to bear God’s incarnation of God’s self.

Talk about scandal.

The “wife of Uriah,” i.e., Bathsheba, also gets a side-eye mention in the genealogy. She’s not mentioned by name, just as the ‘other man’s wife.’ King David saw Bathsheba bathing, lusted after her, summoned her over, got her pregnant, and eventually killed her husband in order to avoid owning up to what he did. Bathsheba’s not a great story of female agency, but the fact that Matthew mentions her and the unconventional turn the lineage takes there at her pregnancy is worthwhile.

The women who get named as vital to the house and lineage that produced Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, are women who were ignored, betrayed, shunned, widowed, in charge of their own sexuality, makers of unpopular decisions, aiders and abetters of spies and criminals, unwed mothers, boundary crossers, the stuff of scandal.

I’m intrigued that each of these women violated some sexual boundary or taboo, that each one took charge of her own body and her own space in such a way as to secure her own life and, in each case, the lives of others as well.


by artist Tricia Robinson


I do not understand the church’s insistence on some myth of sexual purity. Where in the world did we get the idea that God wants us to all fall in line with the given sexual assumptions of our day? That’s not what Tamar did, it’s not what Rahab did, not what Ruth or Mary or, really, any of the other women mentioned in the New Testament did.

These women who refused patriarchal rules and regulations ended up making salvation possible.

These women who crossed sexual boundaries were direct ancestors of Jesus – you know, the one who hung out with lepers and eunuchs and women and tax collectors.

These women did not only what they had to do, but what they felt compelled to do – not by external cultural rules or assumptions, but by some divine inner leading, something much stronger and purer and more important than What the Dudes in Charge Told Them to Do.

And if they hadn’t – if they had not broken taboos, sexual mores, cultural expectations and assumed gender roles – well: no Jesus. No incarnation. No life of preaching, teaching, healing, exorcising and raising the dead. No resurrection. No Christ. No Christianity.

I am thinking, these days, about unforeseen consequences of our choices and our actions. I am wondering if any of those women knew how powerful their actions would be, down the line. I am wondering if some of the women in my life know how powerful their choices have been and are becoming. I am wondering what things I agonize over, lament, fight against and feel shame about might be the very places – vulnerable, unexpected and powerful places – where God is doing some incredible thing even while I fuss and wallow.

#rendtheheavens Day 24

Day 24: STATIC

1 Samuel 2:3

Talk no more so very proudly,

    let not arrogance come from your mouth;

for the Lord is a God of knowledge,

    and by him actions are weighed.

Christmas is really not the best holiday. It’s beautiful, yes, and full of family and friends and food and celebration…and expectation. Not all of us do so well with such jam-packed weeks and such heightened expectations of joy. I’d venture to say that maybe the majority of us don’t do so well with it. Nonetheless, December is what December is.

I am an introvert, and something of a homebody, and a 5 on the enneagram (one characteristic of 5s is that we have or assume we have limited stores of energy and have to choose carefully how and when to use it). Being with people, especially big groups of people, exhausts me. I don’t mean that I don’t like it, and I don’t mean that I don’t enjoy people. But after the third or fourth gathering in a row, I am literally weak in the knees, brain-scrambled with an abundance of interaction.

My left eye has been twitching for a solid week, now. It’s what happens when I get overloaded, overextended, overstimulated. It’s December, it happens.

When I get too full like this, all the external and internal channels start to sound like static. Pride, arrogance, posturing – my patience is short for it all, from others and from myself.

I know that I am in need of some silence, some stimulation-free time, a day without a to-do list and an evening without a gathering. I am arguing with myself about when and how to make it happen.

Know what the irony is of all this? I wrote a column about how to avoid it. Literally wrote a how-to on avoiding getting overwhelmed by holiday stress. Pride, arrogance, posturing…I could probably stand to take a bit of my own advice.

So, I’m going to put on some Over the Rhine and stare, unfocused, at my Christmas tree for a while. Maybe the static will resolve itself.