On Believing Women

Luke 24v11

The story appeared to them to be nonsense, and they would not believe them.

jacarandas

So… seems like women have to jump through some hoops to be believed in some situations. (I’m referring to some of the awful responses to women who have come forward with stories that expose, often high profile men, in the #metoo and other circumstances.)

As I went to sleep a bit worked up by this last night I was reminded that is not a pattern that the Bible sets out for us.

Two women sprang to my mind – One from the Old Testament and another from the New. Women who may have easily been dismissed with the unbelievable message they were given. Women who prove to me that God believes women, God entrusts himself to women and God expects men (and others!) to believe women.

Step up Rahab – what a woman!

She is mentioned in Hebrews 11 the chapter of the the faith greats. She is a gentile so pretty much expressly off limits for the Israelites in terms of marriage material. She is a prostitute… also not winning her any points. And yet! She is also named in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1) and she plays a key role in the battle of Jericho.

Spies are sent into the land to get a sense of what may be in store. They come back with their proverbial tails between their legs – ‘the land is great, but it’s too hard to conquer’ is essentially the feedback they give.

Two spies return with great news. This land is ours to take. They’ve spent the evening in the company of an intelligent, gentile woman who has protected them, reminded them of their past and their faith in God, prophetically declared what will happen, she has encouraged them, strategised with them and they have made her a promise, ‘Our lives for yours.’ (Which they follow through on).

Contextually, Rahab lived in Jericho, the most important Canaanite fortress city in the Jordan Valley, a stronghold in the path of the advancing Israelites. She practises prostitution in a key place of idol worship to Ashtaroth, goddess of the moon. Being one of the vilest and most degrading of the Canaanite religions (it could include child sacrifice and sex acts).

She owns a home in the city walls ‘entertaining’ travellers, being well versed in the history of Israel from the men she has met. Familiar to the king of Jericho, she is called on for information pertaining to the Israelite spies who have entered the city. She chooses to mislead them, hiding the spies. Rahab also provides advice, ensuring their continued safety after they have left her home. At the time her actions would have been viewed as treason with punishment including eye gouging, tongue and hand removal, public humiliation and stoning. Rahab’s overwhelming trust in the God of the Israelites, and her accompanying actions, leave no doubt of the justification of her title as one of the faith heroes.

The message Rahab gave the spies was an unbelievable one, but they believed her. They didn’t try to take advantage of her or dismiss her because of her questionable character. They spent an evening with a prostitute and no-one felt entitled to take anything from her physically. They saw a person who was intelligent, quick thinking, who had much to lose by speaking truth to them, and they believed her. Equally, God entrusted Rahab and Jesus has her named as one of his ancestors. The writer of Hebrews recognises her faith and courage. This is what it looks like to #believewomen and this is our example to follow.

This story could have played out so differently, and sadly I think in many spaces it still would – the foreigner, the woman, the reputation – none of these are unscalable walls to God. May they not be for me.

Woman two – Mary Magdalene.

Mary of all people is perhaps given the most impossible of messages. Standing as we do on this side of Easter it is easy for us to forget that the disciples had no framework for their Messiah to be crucified and no inkling that he would be resurrected. When they heard ‘it is finished‘ it had no wonderful ring to it. It was a funeral bell tolling for all they had believed.

In first century Judaism the testimony of a woman was not permissible in a court of law. So we have a grieving woman, bravely entering a garden as night turns to light only to be delivered the most exceptionally unexpected news and then commissioned to go and tell the others.

Mary is the first apostle. God doesn’t care if her testimony will hold up in a court of law. Jesus is not worried about the fact he is giving his message to a woman, that he is commissioning her before anyone else. Mary is the first choice! Jesus expects his followers to believe her. Mary has been right in the circle of Jesus friends, she is at the cross (most of the blokes had scarpered) and she is named in all the Gospel accounts as the first to encounter the risen one. This commission is given first to a woman, and subversively underscores something of the nature of salvation and mission. “John regarded the apostolic testimony of a woman as valid, effective and approved by Jesus.”[1]

Mary clearly went and told the news. She raised her voice, she declared truth that some were unwilling to receive. Perhaps they put it down to ’emotionalism’ or a ‘fragile mental state’ or something else. I’m glad that didn’t stop her. If this woman Mary could speak truth then I can do the same. If Jesus trusted her and she was bold and courageous maybe this might be true for me too.

The Bible clearly shows us, on more than these two occasions, that God believes women and sees them as valid agents of participating with and declaring what is and will be. Wouldn’t it be great if Christians were more like this too?

Here’s my morning reflections as I sat with these thoughts and the wonder of the women at the empty tomb:

It doesn’t look good for the credibility of the story when a woman, whose testimony does not count, is the bearer of the news

…. but God operates beyond our accepted systems.

It’s hard to deliver news that appears to be nonsense when you don’t have a framework for a crucified or resurrected Messiah

… but God is not limited to all we have understood thus far.

God is…

reframing our perceptions

reestablishing Eden

recalling the lowly to honour

repositioning the honoured to kneel

reordering relationships

exposing our prejudices

entrusting the message to the unexpected

expecting the faithful to respond with humility, faith and joy.

May we not forget that the most unexpected Good News may be delivered to us by the most unlikely of candidates.

Are we listening? or, will we miss out and remain wandering in the desert of our unbelief and prejudice, barred by our smallness and deaf ears from the welcoming voice of the promised land?

Be blessed and be courageous. May we champion all those who choose to speak the truth when their voice shakes and they have much to lose.

MJ x

 

[1] Schneiders, Sandra Marie. Written That You May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. Rev. and expanded ed. New York: Crossroad Pub, 2003.

 

 

 

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The Room

I was asked to give a talk on the value of creativity recently. I finished it with this poem.

May we all take up the room!

stars

THE ROOM

we stand here on the edge of a room

this room, our lives

we observe the players

moving across the floor

admire their skills

the grace with which they carry themselves

their confidence

 

but this room is our life

this one wild life we have been given

with such generosity

 

to stand in the world at this time

on this whenua

with these skills

with this voice that might ring out and make its story heard

 

are you hanging out at the edges?

convincing yourself to shrink so no-one will notice what you lack

allowing the brilliance of others to loom large

overshadowing your horizon

 

throw off the cloak of small surrender

and waddle like the toddler you know yourself to be

stand

in the centre of your life

and sing

or dance

or build your sandcastle

 

will you fall and fail?

or hit a wrong note

or find you can only create something imperfect?

 

yes, you will

 

you will be weaker than you’d like to be

disappointed in the gap

but you will be growing steadily into

skills that will one day inspire others

 

every child must crawl, or bum shuffle, or commando their own way to walking with confidence

so it is with us

 

if we are to be more than outputs measured by economic scales

if we are to tell the story we would like to tell

let us start today

with one small thing that brings us joy

 

apologising not

for taking up space in this life

 

may we hold life with wonder

do our thing with bravery

 

let us be curious,

let us be joyful,

let us be courageously creative in a world that invites us only to small perfections

 

let us take up space

let us own

the room

miriam jessie

x

Justifying Ourselves

Today I’ve been listening to the song of Valjean from the musical Les Miserables. I’ve felt incredibly challenged by the lyrics and how easily they challenge self-justification.

IMG_2587

You can listen to it here.

Here are the lyrics:

He thinks that man is me
He knew him at a glance!
That stranger he has found
This man could be my chance!
 
Why should I save his hide?
Why should I right this wrong
When I have come so far
And struggled for so long?
 
If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!
 
I am the master of hundreds of workers.
They all look to me.
Can I abandon them?
How would they live
If I am not free?
 
If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!
 
Who am I?
Can I condemn this man to slavery
Pretend I do not see his agony
This innocent who bears my face
Who goes to judgement in my place
Who am I?
Can I conceal myself forevermore?
Pretend I’m not the man I was before?
And must my name until I die
Be no more than an alibi?
Must I lie?
How can I ever face my fellow men?
How can I ever face myself again?
My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on
 
[He appears in front of the court]
 
Who am I? Who am I?
I am Jean Valjean!
 
[He unbuttons his shirt to reveal the number tattooed to his chest]
 
And so Javert, you see it’s true
That man bears no more guilt than you!
Who am I?
24601!
Valjean is suddenly presented with this wonderful opportunity to be truly free. A life no longer pursued by Javert. How easy it would be for him to think, ‘oh great. God has seen my hard work and he’s freeing me.’
But the one who knows God, who knows redemption and forgiveness must deeply know that our freedom is never at the expense of another.
Paul and Silas knew this in the dark of a prison cell, beaten and put in stocks – that earthquake that loosen their shackles seemed like a freedom gift from heaven.
But their freedom in this instance would have cost the jailer his life.
We want to think we are more important, the rules don’t really apply to us the way they apply to everyone else, our rights are worth defending at all costs. It is so easy to justify ourselves, to think about what we are doing and why it is so good/right/justified.
Slavery, racism, division, oppression…. these things cannot belong to the person who truly knows that every life is of equal value.
It’s easy for Valjean to justify this circumstance – he is a factory owner, the mayor, people rely on him – he has campaigned to be a light in his community. He is making a difference. This other person is probably poor and has no power or title.
Justice comes at a price.
We can live free but it will cost us – it might cost us financially missing out because we’re not prepared to compromise on things that come at the expense of others or dishonest business practice, it might cost us friendships, it might mean we are marginalised with the marginalised…
Yet in this story we also see the bright light of redemption. Because we have an

This innocent who bears my face
Who goes to judgement in my place
The truth is that we are condemned, we are broken, we have damaged others, we have been complicit in silence or in action and we deserve the sentence.
But Jesus.
The innocent who bears our face – whose full humanity allowed him to go to judgement in our place.
And so we are faced with the great irony
But the one who knows God, who knows redemption and forgiveness must deeply know that our freedom is never at the expense of another.
because
our redemption and forgiveness has come at the expense of another
May we all have courage to confront our own desires to justify the behaviours in us that come at the expense of others. Maybe it’s the way we purchase (ouch), the way we make friends with some people and leave others out (ouch) maybe it’s the protective boundaries we put around ourselves, our families, our communities to keep ourselves in and ‘others’ out (ouch).
As I say, these are things that challenge me deeply. As a dear friend puts it, ‘I am a hypocrite in transition.’
Do we have the courage to not allow our freedoms, our comfort to be at the expense of others?
May we know what it is to have been loved so deeply that an innocent went to judgement in our place, and may we see that value in every other.
May we be brave and may we be agents of justice and freedom.
x

The Tiring Work of Restoration

Over five years ago the city where we live was taken beyond broken with earthquakes, one especially.

Recently I was driving down a road that is still in need of repair and I felt myself sighing inwardly, anticipating the months of cones and detours and single lanes and 30km p/hr signage. In that moment I said to myself, ‘I wish they’d just leave off the repairs and let us drive on it bumpy.’ Despite the innate joy I get driving down a perfectly smooth and sealed road (and there are some) I just couldn’t hold onto the vision for that end.

All I could see were the difficulties in the process of getting there.

cones1

At that moment I knew this was such a picture of God’s restoration work in my life too. Restoration work isn’t pretty. It’s time consuming, it derails and detours pathways you driven on for a long time. It forces you to negotiate new ways of getting to familiar places.

Restoration involves acknowledging the fact that small surface issues actually point to much deeper problems underneath. The odd pothole that sends me careening off into an angry outburst is evidence of something weak and failing beneath the surface.

Maybe I can drive carefully and avoid exposing the bumps on the road but is that really what I want to be long term? A busted up just functioning, ‘drive carefully around’ person? Even though I long for a perfect road I don’t long for the work to get it done.

I think this work needs time, it needs openness, it needs acknowledging that I might need to rethink how I’m travelling. It will need grace from the people who love me and I will need to trust a great deal in the Master of restoration.

There’s a beautiful quote I often come back to that says, ‘Grace loves us as it finds us, but it doesn’t leave us there.’

2 Corinthians 3 describes it this way,

They suddenly recognise that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognised as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

Maybe there are back roads, or main roads, or even highways in your life today that need the tiring work of restoration begun on them.

Perhaps there are roads that have been cleared and closed ready for work to begin, but it’s been easier to turn away and drive on different places than deal with the tough and painful process of the work.

Maybe it feels like you’ve been on road cones and detours for ever and you just need to hear the words – not long now, nearly there.

Wherever you are right now may you have courage to bear the pain, strength to persevere, Hope and Trust that the future will be worth the current delays.

May you have all the grace you need today.

 

Happy Mother’s Day

Darling mamas today I am sending you love and thanks for the role you have in the lives of children.

Sam & Wil 3

For the unseen longings,

for the silent tears,

for the midnight wakings,

for the joys and wonders of motherhood.

May we each of us receive grace for the journey – a deep reassurance that there are many types of wonderful mothers.

This is my prayer for you today.

For more of my mother’s day musings this is something I wrote for Esther & Friends recently. (This is for all women, not just mamas x).

All the love

xxx

 

Investment

It’s been playing a bit on repeat in my heart of late… this idea about using what you have well. It’s that parable of the talents, the one who uses finds increase – the one who hides in fear loses them altogether.

Haven’t we all at some time sat and lived someone else’s life for them. If I had that wealth imagine what I could do with it, if I could speak, look, achieve, write, influence…. whatever… like so-and-so, what I would do with all that talent.

stained glass

Maybe we need to stand back a little and view ourselves through such critical eyes. In your bag of tricks there are so many things –

capacity

tenacity

creativity

skills

education

geography

finances

opportunity

relational support

passion

ability

attitude

….

some of those might be larger or smaller than others but essentially you have, I have, we all have, an incredible collection of these things, and others,  – and we are generously given those things through Grace and not because we ‘deserve’ them more than others.

However, when a naturally agile person lives their life without moving, stretching, pushing that ability they may find that in time they are no longer agile. They have neglected something for long enough and now, if it even exists, it is only a shadow of what it could have been.

I wonder if I spent less time wishing about the gifts I wanted, less time agonising over which thing I should do and I actually just looked at what brought me life, what fitted my bag of tricks well and got out there and did some of it – not for money, or recognition but just because it brings me life. In turn, maybe my capacity and skills would actually grow and maybe my influence in the world would ring louder, travel further and be sweeter.

If you are stuck on repeat when it comes to seeing what other people do have and you don’t have – ask someone you love, someone who knows you well what talents they see in you….. and if you are really brave and you trust them, ask them what talents you are wasting and how they’d like to see you develop them, spend them, invest them, share them.

In all the world you are the only you – don’t waste that you, it’s a good one.

Being Fed

When my friends have a baby I make them ‘feeding biscuits’ which I take them when I go and visit them in the hospital. These feeding biscuits are my own special recipe and I give them with strict instructions,

for the feeding mama, not to be shared

thing is, this mama is working hard to feed her baby and she needs to be fed too. I was thinking about those biscuits the other day and how, like many simple things, it talks to me about something else too.

plate

It’s this thing of thinking we can feed others without being fed ourselves.

Like we have it so together, we have so much knowledge that we can give out, give out, give out and not become malnourished ourselves.

I’m asking myself this –

  • do I want to feed others? resoundingly yes.
  • do I regularly make sure I’m being fed? perhaps, sometimes.

If you’ve been doing this Christian thing long you might need more than a drive through meal on Sundays, if you know what I mean. If you’re in the business of feeding others you’ll find yourself hungry and malnourished if you don’t make sure you’re taking some extra ‘feeding biscuits’.

If you want to feed you need to be fed,

and in the same way,

if you want to lead you need to be led.

We need wisdom, we need leading, mentoring, guiding. I’ve spent a lot of life longing to be well led, to have someone or ones to mentor and challenge me.

There have been several people in my life, 3 especially, who stick out as people who have come alongside me. People who have believed in my combinations of talents without feeling the need to squash me into a round hole or bring me down the peg board all together. People who have gently challenged me, pushed me to go deeper, spoken life into my dreams.

I love those people so much for their generosity, their own security and maturity, the way they shine bright but not overwhelming.

I guess today I’m thinking about that desire in me that wants to feed and lead, and the balancing requirement for me to be intentional about feeding myself and the joy of being well led.

So if your heart is in for leading and feeding may you have resources and wisdom around you to make sure you are well equipped.

And if you are mentoring, leading or guiding others take heart you are making a real difference. (and don’t forget to feed yourself!)

At The Heart of It

We’ve all seen it at an event, churchy or otherwise, the ‘giving buckets’ roll around and the pennies tumble in.

Although the act is the same, the people putting in their contributions, there is all sorts of different at the heart.

There are the overflowing/ joyful givers, whose gift comes with a heart supremely grateful to have something to give.

The brave givers, who give in defiance to cultural values that say life is about trusting wealth as the be-all and end-all.

There are the resentful givers, who give because they feel like they are under duress to give.

The imagey givers, whose gift is about what other people might think. The ones who give because they judge and feel judged.

There are the DNA givers, who like giving, who look to give, who don’t give it a second thought because it’s just what they do.

The cause givers, who give because they want to use their money/resources to change political and cultural landscapes.

And there’s more and probably as many categories for those who didn’t give – the secret givers, the tight, the poor, the gave it all away yesterday, the empty purse but willing heart…..

From the outside the actions are the same. Who’s to say which giver is which and who has the right reason for giving.

hands

The point is we are limited by what we observe, but we judge by that standard. Wouldn’t it be so easy to watch the bucket go by and judge the non-giver and approve of the giver not knowing that the non-giver had withheld in order to give more to a cause the are passionate about and the giver gave purely for image and as little as possible.

If this is true for as small an act as pennies in a bucket then doesn’t it become more so for so many other situations?

We step onto a slippery slope when we start to take our perceptions as reality, and we live poorer and smaller when those perceptions derail our ability to live without judging others.

I’m trying to slow down when I see actions – good, bad or otherwise – and remind myself I am bringing my own perceptions to that situation. If we must judge (and really must we at all?) let us judge people by the best perception possible.

We will be richer for it.

We see but a slither, if an action is an iceberg it is only the tip and we cannot perceive what is driving that action forward without truly knowing the person. Sometimes we do not even understand our own actions properly.

In all this I am reminded of these enduring words,

A person looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart. (1 Sam 16v7)

and, in light of this, I join with David in praying,

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139 v23-24

I am challenged and delighted by the words of Paul,

Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behaviour and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong.

Romans 14v22-23

(the whole chapter is brilliant for this issue of judgement and perception).

May we all keep humble when we see, reminding ourselves we do not fully know the whys. May we live right and true in our own actions neither to impress others, or out of fear. May we be pure in our motives and small in our judgements. We will be richer in all ways if we can.

and…. may we all have generous hearts, and full wallets when it comes to the causes that make our hearts beat fast xxx