In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bathsheba...the wise one?

A reflection on the propers for 11B: 2nd Samuel 11:1-17 by the Rev. Terri C. Pilarski

In the four chapters between last week’s reading in 2nd Samuel and this week – there were a lot of battles, sometimes called the “Davidic Wars” – which tout David’s skill as a military leader and his rising authority as King.

Now this morning we hear the story of David, the beloved king, who having developed a rather high opinion of himself, acts with arrogance and self-entitlement – he orders another man’s wife to be brought to him. And not just any one, Bathsheba is the wife of the Uriah, a loyal warrior in David’s army. Of course Bathsheba has no choice, if she wants to keep her life she must obey the king, and so she goes to him…and we all know what that means…she ends up pregnant with David’s child.

To cover his indiscretion David first attempts to convince Uriah to leave his military post and sleep with Bathsheba, so that Uriah might be fooled into thinking that the child is his. But Uriah is a good man, loyal to his duty, and refuses to break the protocol of a warrior. David then conspires to have Uriah killed and  he takes Bathsheba as his wife. 

David pays dearly for this egregious act of arrogance – betrayal of Uriah - a loyal friend and soldier; betrayal of a married woman – an act that might have cost Bathsheba her life too. Tragically even the child dies. Although David’s first wife, Michal tried to warn David that he was becoming too arrogant, he ignored her.  (2nd Samuel 6:20).

The lectionary will skip the next seven chapters, but in them David is held accountable by the prophet Nathan, and by God, for his behavior. Suddenly cognizant of how his actions have harmed others, David becomes aware of the depth of his sin. David is humbled, makes amends, and tries to repair the damage done, to heal the brokenness he has caused.

Of course this story would be much different if told through the eyes of Bathsheba or Michal. It would tell a story much like the stories of today – of women who are nothing more than property. Michal, the wife of Saul who becomes the unloved wife of David. Michal who speaks her mind to David regarding his arrogant behavior and as a result David spurns her. Michal experiences the greatest humiliation of a woman in her era, she is childless.

And what of Bathsheba? Is she happily married to Urriah? What does she think when the king’s servants come to fetch her? We have no idea, her thoughts are not recorded. But one can imagine that she was filled with terror – she has no choice but to obey the king. And yet obeying him will surely mean the end of her marriage, and thus the end of her life. She probably felt doomed one way or the other.

Such is the fate of many women, even today. As the Olympics take place in London we hear the stories of women who have struggled against all odds of culture and religion for the opportunity to compete in these Olympics. As war wages in Syria I think of the women who are surely the untold victims of violence.  Guerilla warfare tactics understand the power that raping women will have on the structure a society – these crimes of war undermine the very fabric of the community. These tactics are inexpensive, easy to organize, and effective. They leave women brutalized and their husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers angry – sometimes at the woman herself – sometimes at themselves and their helplessness to prevent it – and always at the perpetrators. Countless stories could be raised that point to the victimization of women.

Thus it’s curious to me that in story in Second Samuel, David conspires to have Urriah, the husband, killed. Under the typical circumstances of war and violence it seems the woman would have been the one to die. Why does Bathsheba live? Perhaps that says something about the character of David, broken as it is? Perhaps it also says something about Bathsheba herself. Perhaps she was wiser than the text reveals?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Proper 11B

A reflection on the readings for Proper 11: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 by the Rev. Kate Hennessy-Keimig

It’s easy to imagine the scene. Simon and his brother Andrew, James and John, Philip, Nathaniel and Matthew, Thomas and the rest of them all gathering around Jesus. They are fresh from their mission trip; all talking a mile a minute and gesturing wildly, each wanting to be heard, each wanting the beloved rabbi to know that he had been out there teaching and preaching and healing. Perhaps wanting some praise for a good job done, or just to let Jesus know that he had indeed gotten it, that he was a good and accomplished disciple.

And all around them are the people, coming and going, people who are pressing in on every side, people making demands. There was not even time to eat! Jesus invites them to take a break with him, and they get into the boat to go in search of some peace and quiet. But of course, the people “recognized him,” got to other side of the lake before they did, and instead of a peaceful deserted retreat, Jesus and the disciples are met by the crowd full of need.

Mark says the people were like sheep without a shepherd. These people were wandering, looking for something, looking for someone. They had been failed by those in whom they had put their trust. They have been at the mercy of poor shepherding for a long time with a series of harsh and unjust leaders. The people recognized something different in Jesus and came to him came to him believing that if they just touched the fringe of his cloak they knew they would find healing. Those sheep had found their shepherd and they gathered gratefully close around him, sure and certain that what they needed would be found in him. Mark says he had compassion for them. Compassion -- empathy, mercy, love and concern all in one package. No wonder they were drawn to him!

We are told that the people in the crowd “immediately recognized” Jesus. We can’t help but wonder how. Surely not the way we would recognize him, from having seen his picture on the evening news, or having him be our friend on Facebook! They knew him by who he was, by what he did, by how he lived. His life was the most consistent expression ever of loving relationship with God. To know Jesus was to know God. The constancy of Jesus’ compassion and love revealed his kinship with and dependency on God. He knew God’s love in every fiber of his being and his every action manifested it.

As we run around in our busy lives, out there on our mission trips, working hard at meeting the world’s needs, struggling to find the leisure to rest or eat, perhaps it’s good for us to remember that there is more to our story, too, and to rest in the faith that we too are part of God, loved by God and to be God to each other by the way we live every day.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

"Just Dance"

A reflection the readings for Proper 10B/Ordinary 15B: 2 Samuel 6 by the Rev. Karla J. Miller

During my first year of seminary, I took a liturgical dance class, as I was interested in learning more on how to integrate movement in worship, especially with children. I was especially excited that the instructor, RevDance, was a former member of the Alvin Ailey dance company among other credentials, and her thesis for her M. Div. degree included a sermon dance on Hagar, which I had seen online and found incredibly moving deep in my core.

Now, I have to say here that I am NOT a dancer, and have had no training in dance, unless you count learning the Virginia Reel and the Hustle in high school PE classes.

Oh, and Jazzercise as an adult. I don’t have long Rockette-like legs, or lithe flowing arms--rather, I am a bit, well, stout, and with just hints of flexibility. Jus’ sayin.

On the first day of class, after RevDance warmed up us with some exercises and group movement pieces as she read scripture, we sat in a circle on the slate chapel floor to go through the syllabus. She informed us that during the semester, we would create a worship service together. I immediately said, “We don’t have to dance in front of the whole school, do we?” and she assured me that we would take the lectionary for the week, and create a movement inspire worship service around a theme we found in the scriptures. I felt assured, because I sure as heck wasn’t going to be leaping around and shaking my booty in front of my colleagues.

The course was really wonderful, and I learned some great skills in how to work with liturgy and movement that I could use in ministry. Then, the time came to plan for chapel. We had this wonderful Psalm, so while RevDance read part of the scripture, then the seven of us moved as a cluster after each verse, while this amazing jazz pianist riffed on the piano. It was very improvisational--that’s the only way I can explain it. So, as we practiced together, all of sudden, RevDance said, “Karla, at the end of this verse, I want you to peel off from the group, and do a solo.”

“Solo what?” I thought in my head, and I looked at her quizzically, and said, “Huh?”

“Just peel off and let your body move to the music and Word. Everybody will have a chance to do it.” I was horrified. “Are we going to do this in worship tomorrow? This peel off-y thing?” She brightly said, “Yes!” Sh-t, I thought to myself, because I couldn’t really say it out loud at the time. I lamely practiced my solo by running around the space and fluttering my fingers, getting back to the group cluster as fast as I could.

I mean really, what the heck?

I considered being really sick the next day, so I could miss chapel, but instead, I pulled on my sweat pants and t-shirt, and showed up in bare feet for worship. Did I say the guy improvising on the piano was pretty stellar? Totally moved by the Spirit. The time came for our “piece.” PianoJazzman began riffing, and then RevDance was reading this beautiful scripture, and the Spirit started moving in me, and when it came for my solo, I totally let loose.

I didn’t care who or what was happening in the room, it was just my body, the Word, and music that was so holy it felt sacramental. I twirled, I swept my arms down to the floor, I rolled on the group, I lept, I cried--I danced unto the Lord! I Danced! It was one of the few times I felt completely fearless, filled with love and joy, without abandon. I felt like I was flying, but completely grounded.

So, when I reflect on David’s leaping and dancing with all his might (and quite possibly nakedly, according to scholarship) as the ark was brought into the city of David, I think of the moment when I truly danced for God, without abandon. The sheer, pure joy truly is fearless. The passion is abiding. It’s something I can appreciate, in spite of this flawed character of a King.

There are problems in this text that beg to be noticed. What about all that unpleasantness with Uzzah? The poor guy was just trying to still the ark with his hand because the oxen shook the cart it was resting on. God strikes him dead? No wonder the lectionary leaves out those verses in the reading.

One of the other silences in this text centers around David’s wife, Michal, who is Saul (David’s predecessor in the kingship). Traditionally, Michal gets a bum rap because upon seeing David dancing in the streets, she “despises” him, and later, in verses 20-23 (also not in the lectionary reading) appears as if she is nagging David for exposing himself in the street like any common vulgar fellow. David defends himself, and the text ends with the report that Michal never had a child to the day of her death. Does that mean David abandoned conjugal relations with her, as a punishment? Did God strike her barren? We don’t know, but we do know that she never had the joy of childbirth, which was pretty much an expectation of success for women in the ancient world.

Cheryl Exum has a wonderful chapter in Alice Bach’s book, The Pleasures of Her Text, entitled, “Murder They Wrote: Ideology and Manipulation of Female Presence in the Bible” which explores the story of Michal, and lifts her out of the “phallogenic bias of the text” in order to “hear her voice” and giving her a “measure of autonomy denied in the larger story.” She notes that previously Michal “loved” David, but nowhere in the larger story does David show any emotion or affection toward her. His attitude towards her is either ignoring her, or being defensive. In addition, instead of perceiving her as nagging, perhaps she is trying to preserve and defend what is holy and sacred in their tradition. The point being, there is much more to this woman than the bias of the text leads us to believe.

So back to the dance. David is not perfect, and usually a downright scoundrel, if you ask me, in spite of writing some beautiful music. But he was deeply passionate in his praising of God, and even in his despairing laments to God. He knew how to let loose, which I think is important for all of us to learn, because really, each day is an improvisation on life and faith, isn’t it?

And perhaps, the more we can fear less, and be opened more, we notice the wider world more--and discrepancies and injustices come to light, and we might be led to passionately and courageously expose them. The presence of Uzzah and Michal remind us, than in the larger story, there are those who are excluded, and as we dance with God and for God, we are called to bring forth those excluded into full inclusion in this story of Life.

Let’s dance together, shall we?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Proper 9B

A reflection on Proper 9B:2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Ps. 48; Mark 6:1-13 by The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt

From the snippet of reading we get today from the Second Book of Samuel, David had it easy all the way to the top: no bruising primaries, no devastating poll results, no skyrocketing unemployment rate, no dog strapped to the roof of his car while he took his family on vacation.

What is left out of the snippet is in fact how bloody and tough it was for David to make it to be the King of Israel. It was in fact a struggle to occupy that stronghold of the city he would name after himself, and it was only in looking back, as the people of Israel reflected on David’s long reign, on how David got greater and greater, that they realized that indeed, the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.

The people of Israel understood their history as God’s history – indeed, their story was only a story, because God chose them and directed them, God blessed them, and God punished them, and no matter what, God always loved them as God’s own. Often, in the midst of unpleasant things – like David’s bloody war to take control of Israel – it was only in looking back that the people could see God’s hand at work in the world around them – it was only in looking back that their story made sense.

Similarly the Gospel of Mark – as an immediate account of the life and ministry of Jesus that we will get – is also told from the point of view of the ending. Looking back, after the resurrection, what people remembered about what Jesus said and did made sense. They could discern patterns, meanings, could see how this story was connected, intimately, with that older story of God’s dealings with the people – they could see the connection between that older shepherd-king of Israel, David, and this one, this Good Shepherd, bringing about a reign of God’s justice and peace.

If we were in, say, Nazareth – an established town – with our own routines, where things maybe could be better but were not so bad, at least tolerable – where we lived in houses, with families, where we could make ends meet – if life was ok for us, we would not be so interested in this itinerant preacher and healer coming in and telling us that things were about to change, staring with him, starting right now. It is likely that the people of Nazareth heard those stories that we read last week, about the healing of the older woman and the little girl, about Jesus sailing back and forth across the Sea of Galilee, visiting those dangerous strangers on the other side, and who could possibly believe that he made the storm to cease and the seas to calm? The passage says the people of Nazareth knew Jesus, knew his family – they certainly knew where he came from – and not even all that familiarity caused them to trust him.

What Jesus was doing made no sense to them, those townspeople who kind of had it together. It is harder for people who have options to weigh to decide to follow Jesus – harder for people who have things to lose, who are doing OK. When your little boat is about to go under, when you have been bleeding for decades, when your daughter’s life is slipping through your fingers, and then Jesus comes and does something, then you have no problem believing. Then you get it. When we are really comfortable – or think we are comfortable, or are comfortable enough – in our lives, then we are less trusting of those whose message of salvation and Good News seems only to challenge us enough to make us uncomfortable.

Jesus seems really surprised by the people’s negative reaction – “amazed at their unbelief,” the Gospel says. His response to this setback is to double his efforts – to send his disciples out two by two. Their charge? To attack demons and to heal. To act on the Good News that God is calling for change. The disciples aren’t just about getting people “to come to church.” They are sent out as agents of transformation, sent to be part of how God is changing the world – agents that show that there are parts of the world’s status quo that God is not interested in, that God does not bless.

Like the disciples, our community here is rooted in Jesus. Like for the disciples, this community should be a launching pad – not just to invite people to join our club, but to join us in this marvelous adventure of being God’s agents in the world, of taking up God’s impatience with the way things are, of telling the Good News that things COULD be different, that more abundant life is available to all.