Thursday, February 9, 2017


I've never liked the parable of the persistent widow. I just haven't. I avoided preaching on it. I kinda liked the interpretation given by A.J. Levine. It didn't change my mind much, though. When I'm talking with people about church, this is never the story I tell. I often quote Matthew 25. The Prodigal Son comes up fairly regularly. Pretty much everything else in Luke makes me exceedingly happy.

This parable, though, no. Not at all. If you're not familiar with it, the summary is there was a corrupt judge who gave the widow justice only because she annoyed him enough to finally do what was right. I have to say, there's a very real element that resonates with a seven year old: if I don't stop asking, eventually I'll wear mom or dad down. Pony, here we come!

Then, Elizabeth Warren ends up silenced while speaking against a Supreme Court nominee and Mitch McConnell ends up talking about why he did it, and we have the wonderful line, "Nevertheless, she persisted."

Damn right, she did.

It has been a wonderful few hours of hearing women's stories, all the ones that invoke, "Nevertheless, she persisted." And I love the story of the persistent widow now. One of the best parts about the Bible is that it can always be heard anew.

In this case, I never noticed really that the cause is what makes the story worthwhile, not the action. The deep, abiding truth is that justice isn't given easily. Most people don't want justice; they want power. We're seeing that play out in ways almost unimaginable as men create laws about women's bodies and the new version of the KKK is making pleas for enrollment. Then, of course, there are the Muslims who are being vilified at every turn possible.

One of the best reminders for me that has come out of this time is the danger of narrating justice as given. We do that a lot. Women were given the right to vote. White people freed slaves. White people ended segregation laws. The reality is, the women, the slaves, the African Americans worked for those rights. They marched, they rallied, they were threatened. The less-than-human narrative around slaves meant the life of a person with dark skin was expendable; plenty of those black lives were and are expended as a result.

I'm a little embarrassed that it took me this long to connect this story to these experiences. I'll even go so far as to say it's my own racism that means it took a white, privileged woman whom I admire to make me see it.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

As much as I love Elizabeth Warren, I also am reminded that having the holy narrative in addition to these secular narratives matters deeply. First, it does, indeed, reorient us toward justice. When we live with a broken justice system, when just is a filler word or a water down word, when justice is the name of a clothing store that didn't choose the name because of a commitment to sustainability or fair wages, we don't exactly have a good view of justice. We need a theology of justice because, practically, we're far from it. We need stories of peace, abundance, and sharing resources. We need the stories of sacred scripture, not just the ones that flit through popular channels.

Second, and more importantly, it is the holy narrative that gives us energy. One person gets tired. One congregation gets tired. But seeking God's justice is not a thing I do, it is a thing we do. It is a thing we do in partnership with God. As the story of the persistent widow flows through my mind, I remember the lectionary text from Isaiah a few weeks ago, "But here is my servant, the one I uphold...he won't be extinguished or broken until he has established justice in the land." In between those lines is even more imagery of this faithful servant who brings justice without violence. Christians have interpreted this faithful servant as Jesus.

And here, the feminine imagery for the church that normally drives me crazy comes in handy. Because as I read of the injustice happening all around us, as I read stories of laws designed to create more injustice, I am also holding on to a place that God blessed, breathed, and called out, trusting that there is one thing that can be said of the Church: nevertheless, she persisted.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Perfect Love

My partner and I have been rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Say what you like about the fashion choices and some of the early special effects, the storylines hold. Joss Whedon, atheist that he is, remains a better theologian than many preachers I've met. Like Stephen King, he has a deep understanding of human nature and critiques it well.

We're into season two now, where the villains linger from the season before: the Master and the Anointed One. If you're not a Buffy fan, no worries. You pretty much need to know they're villains who plot to destroy the world. And yes, that's true of every single season in some way. The Master, in all his evil mastermindy-ness, talks about humans, saying something very similar to: "What do you think the greatest force in the human world is? Love? No, they'd like you to believe it's love. It's fear. Fear is what drives and motivates."

It probably sounds more dastardly when he said it. I'm not rewatching for the quote right now. I might already spend more time than I'd like doing that.

But I do rewatch, reread, revisit because it's easy to forget. There's no way I'd have remembered that line from the last time I watched Buffy, likely three years ago. And you know what? The Master spoke the truth.

He spoke what is painfully true apart from God.

I feel the fear right now. Sometimes it's masked in anxiety. Friends speak of sleepless nights for many reasons. Some can name their fears. On the liberal side of things, the echoes are painful: I'm afraid for my healthcare, my kid's school, my safety. I fear for my marriage. I fear what comes next.

Before that, though, I remember the others fears: Muslims will try to convert me and my children; bombs will fall here; I can't find a job to feed my family. The fear of hell looms in some other issues named as evil: abortion, gay people, trans people. Even if I think the fears are unfounded, I do not deny their reality for the people who are so fearful. Unfortunately, a person's reality is often not something grounded in facts, alternative or not.

As I watched the Master, the vampiry-est vampire of the vampires, breathe these words, I remembered, "Perfect love casts out fear." Some book from the Bible called John taught me that. Much more I didn't remember.

Well, luckily, the internet makes searching even easier. Here's more from the bit of text I remembered. The translation is different than the one I used then, but I liked this one. It's from 1 John 4 starting in the second half of verse 16: "God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them...There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment."

There's a lot more in there, of course. Somewhere, I knew it before: fear has no place with God.

For us, who are all trying to assuage fears of our own, we could end up with a good set of questions to help us live, especially right now:

  • Am I calming fear? If so, you are likely doing some good. I'm not talking about the "Trump won't be as bad as you think," version. Let me tell you, anyone afraid because of Trump will just want to punch you in the face. I'm talking about taking their fear seriously and offering something that might actually do some good. I'll fight for your marriage, too. I'll register, too. I'll introduce you to the refugees I know. 
  • Am I creating fear? There's talking about issues and there's creating fear. Which are you doing? Fear paralyzes. Issues motivate. Which are you doing? 
  • Are you punishing someone? Y'all. This is the "You got your eight years, now let us have ours." Or the "She had sex so she has to deal with the results." 
I'm not pretending for a moment that those questions solve everything. They do go a long way, though. 

May our love drive out the fears of others.