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 Beatitudes

Heya,

This is a poem I wrote recently as I reflected on the Beatitudes as found in Matthew 4:23-5:12. I hope these words wrap you in encouragement wherever you are.

Miriam Jessie x

 

it is a strange invitation

divine and dusty

a call to be biggest

most invested

brightest

in the secret space

to pour silently, intentionally

into what will not be seen

 

when all the world is building followers

promoting best-sellers

building platforms – virtual & physical

 

a long-ago man sits

on a quiet hillside

no stadium, or microphone, or publishing deal

and tells his friends

the real secret to

blessing

joy

abundance

 

it sounds like downwardness

empty self

to be filled up – undeserved

 

it sounds like letting go

when inside and out chorus

“hold tight

no.1

self-promote”

 

it sounds like surrendering

glamour

gold

desire

 

embracing imperfect contentment

striving no more

standing open hand & heart

before persecution

& embracing an enemy with a knife in his hand

 

How can this appeal?

yet, on his lips

this man of dust and divine

I am considering it

excited even

at the prospect

of throwing it all away

the

important, image, ideology

& finding myself

 

home

fulfilled

content

 

in the company of the scarred

the overlooked

the locust-eaters

and perfume pourers

 

the depressed prophets

& righteous afflicted

the children

& the poor

 

What can they possibly offer someone like me?

 

I think perhaps

they are the shining stars

whose legacy

becomes my powhiri

 

“come, we have space for you too”

 

and a nail-scarred hand,

to match a body that did not grasp

deserved glory

enfolds mine

leads me gently

says to me

“come

 

here, amidst the mess & pain

& disappointment, & affliction

here is the

very throne room

here

is kingdom come.”

 

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!)

The Gift of Grieving Well

I’ve been remembering today how as I child I determined not to cry at the raised voices, hurt exchanged and received in my house. How as a family broke down I held my grief tight and pushed it down stamping it firm, the effort leaving fingernail marks digging into my palms.

I reflect on the small things, small sadnesses years later that would leave me weeping in ways that were totally out of proportion to the things themselves.

There were tears that needed to be shed.

There was grief that needed to be expressed.

It strikes me that we fear grief sometimes, our own and others. Like it might overwhelm us and never let us go if we dare tread into its sacred, locked away spaces. Maybe we fear the grief of others, the rawness might unwittingly unleash something in us – like their pain might accidentally undo what we have worked so hard to keep reigned in.

So, we jolly along the grieving. We minimise their pain by telling them clichés of ‘more fish in the sea’, ‘God’s good plans’, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. That’s not to say there is no truth in these things, but

but

Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. 

proverbs 25

we are doing a disservice to the person, and ourselves when we live like grief is not a gift to us. A journey that allows us to acknowledge pain, to honour the difficulty of rejection, hurt, disappointment.

Grief is a real state, and while we don’t want to build a city around it and set up permanent residence we have to go through it.

Sometimes it feels like the path is a maze and there is no clear way through. Sometimes we speed through only to find a seemingly insurmountable wall at the other end. Sometimes we feel like we have grieved well but we realise from time to time we have a pocket full of souvenirs from the city of sadness.

We are welcomed to journey with one another in a genuine way. We are invited, taught even to weep with those who weep. To sit on the step together and acknowledge together the feeling of another. To join them in their grief without minimising it, judging it, explaining it… just to sit.

romans 12

 

Not every grieving heart sheds seen tears but that doesn’t mean the heart is not struggling or even broken. I often think of those wise words

even in laughter the heart may ache or as another translation puts it sorrow may hide behind laughter.

If there is grief in your heart today may you find the peace and space to give yourself permission to shed the tears that need to be shed. May you find a safe place and a safe person to sit next to you in your grief and acknowledge with their presence that you are loved and worthy whatever the state of your heart.

And may we all of us know the Presence of the One who has never rejected the broken. Who has associated with us in our grief and who has walked the path of hurt, rejection, pain and taken it all up into Himself.

The One who promised he would not break a bruised reed.

May we all be brave enough to enter the sacred space of grief – our own and others. To show up and sit and weep as many tears as need to be wept and laugh if we need to do that too.

Sitting with you this moment in love and care and gentleness x

It is difficult for me to write about the pain of my parents divorcing because I know how their grief about the pain they caused is still carried by them, some 20 years on. I love my parents very much, I honour them for their loving commitment to me and for their continued inspiration in so, so many ways.

the sounds of Bethlehem

It happened when my first child was small. A bundle of beauty at about 7 months old – all the joy of my life. We sat Christmas morning in a family members church – a beautiful building, built in a time when parishioners were expected to sit quietly and mod-cons weren’t included.

My perfect bundle started to wiggle and make noises, and there wasn’t a modern nursing room to retreat to or even an easy retreat, that didn’t involve clanking sounds on wooden floorboards and pushing past people in the narrow row. I sat in that unfamiliar church on Christmas morning feeling uncomfortable, feeling a perceived disapproval from the mainly older congregation.

Then words from the front diverted from the liturgy and planned delivery.

‘Isn’t it nice to have the sounds of Bethlehem in the church this morning.’

and I can’t even write those words without tears filling my eyes 9 years later.

advent cover option

 

To be so wholly welcomed, so valued, so included when we weren’t the expected demographic in that particular place.

The grace of those words.

The echo of those words speak so deeply into my own heart-beat for the church.

There is room for everyone.

I so want to be the balm of those words to other weary travellers… to people squirming in the seat, to people unsure if there is a space for them, to people who just feel like they don’t fit the demographic.

I think about that first Christmas – the smells, the sounds, the outcasts, the angels…. the sounds of Bethlehem aren’t perfect choirs with hours of practise, amazing stain glassed windows and perfectly vaulted ceiling arches. As much as I love those things, the sounds we are called to first are the mucking in despite the lack of harmony, sticking at it in discord, welcoming whatever odd sounds we might find ourselves surrounded by.

The sounds of Bethlehem are broken, wonder-filled, imperfect people gathering around an unexpected manger at a rescue mission delivered in a tiny little bundle.

It seems to me we could all of us be those grace words today.

Those words that say – I’m glad you’re here, you are welcome.

Let’s be grace words to weary souls today. Let’s be wildly abundant with our love. Let’s be kind and gracious and generous in our welcome even if it disrupts our plans.

 

 

 

On Needing Help

Many moons ago I set out to learn all the words from Romans 12. Now when I look back through the fog of remembering and forgetting there is this line that jumps out again and again

and each belongs to all the others

It rings loud this theme of belonging

of the lonely being placed in families

of being known by our love for one another

Christianity is not a solo journey. There are admonitions not to give up meeting together, challenges to show generosity and hospitality, especially to those in the family of believers.

Still I cling stubbornly to my right (or ‘value system’ to Christianise it) to be independent. We bandy around tired clichés ‘God helps those who help themselves’ and believe that not wanting to be another ‘needy’ person somehow elevates our moral status.

If the death of Jesus has not proved to us yet that we are helpless to do it alone then we are truly further from our centre than we realise.

So I take hold of my self-esteem, which is something I have more of than I need, and I remind myself that community, unity, fellowship means more than providing endless social engagements and potluck dinners – frozen pizzas and sausage rolls to the trestle tables! Relationship is a two-way street and I cannot be the only person who is never in need of help.

Moses had the strength in his hands to win the battle for the Israelites only he didn’t have the strength to hold his hands up. So one on either side – Aaron and Hur – did for him what he could not do for himself.

exodus 17

There are times when I have choked on the belief that tells me unless I do it all by myself I cannot have credit for the outcome.

So I’ve settled for holding onto pride and a lesser outcome.

In this instance it was Moses’ hands that held the victory. God had given Moses the anointing for the job – so shouldn’t he have been able to do it for himself? Surely, surely if God has called me to do something I should have all the resources I need to achieve it all by myself. ‘Those he calls he equips’ and all that….

We forget, I forget, we serve a trinity – One God forever in loving relationship and endless unity – isn’t that a pattern of what we are called into as well?

Today I feel invited to lay down my self-imposed, pride-inducing, self-sufficiency and lean into the support of others.

I love this picture of Moses exhausted and worn down – his heart beating for the people he loved, wanting to support them, anointed to support them, unable to go on. Then two friends push over a large rock and sit him down, then they take a stand next to him and lift his hands. They enable his abilities to be fully recognised in this instance. They stand with him and give him what he can no longer do alone.

They give him the support to move fully into the anointing and victory and blessing he has been given in that moment.

I’ve been sending out some emails lately. Leaning in to the support I have, to realise something I feel called to do. I am finding that I am not diminished in the asking, my work is not diminished in the support, rather I am enriched and my contribution is infinitely enlarged in the beautiful people I have around me.

Could it be that:

Humility + Unity = Victory

Unity is more than not disagreeing and hanging out all the time – in fact I think unity might be neither of those things. Genuine unity, genuine community must include being better because we work together.

Being better because we draw out more of the best in each other.

Being better because we realise together what we could never realise alone.

Would someone pull up a rock for me and sit alongside me while I try to offer my contribution to the battle?

1 Corinthians 12v26

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Romans 12v4-5

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Praying for the One I Wish I Was

Somewhere along the way from childhood to adult it comes, this realisation that every one of you doesn’t get to grow up and marry a prince, or win x-factor, get the olympic gold, or win next top model… or whatever childish dream was ‘the’ thing we all wanted to be.

… and so when it dropped like a pebble into a pond that we all couldn’t be ‘that thing’ we all wanted the ripples didn’t just lead me to grow up and put off childish dreams

because dreams, hopes, visions – those things are the stuff of humankind from ghetto to castle – we all dream, desire, hope

… the ripples whispered it across my subconscious and suddenly the others became ‘competition‘ and there was only one pie and we were all wanting a slice, the biggest slice. And there were only so many slices.

Suddenly a person succeeding at what I want desperately with my own heart isn’t a cheerful reminder that it can happen… that person becomes a sign that I’ve missed my slice, that they got there first

and that wicked whisper points out their shortcomings
and it points out my shortcomings

and it tells me that they aren’t my sister or brother, they are my competition

since when did a person become our competition?

and when the whispers of judgement are finished
and the whispers of condemnation are finished

I’m left with a stomach full of dissatisfaction and hopelessness

So I am changing the channel.
I’m hearing the words of Jesus that says, It is to my father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples

Because we serve a God who wants us all to be fruitful, to be bearers of his glory, to use our gifts at the extreme ends of our ability – extended by His anointing.

So this is how it works – everyone I look at who seems to be doing what I wish I was I’m praying for them. I’m not entertaining a searchlight of judgement on them. I’m praying all God’s best for them, for them to be more successful, for them to be more influential, for them to get more opportunities, commissions, invitations, for them to reach further, shoot higher, be blessed.

And when I start to worry that I’ve missed out on a serve of that pie I so desperately wanted I’m pulling up my seat at the table and I’m realising I was never competing with anyone. I look down and see the pie in front of me it’s all for me.

Because dear one, you have been served up your own pie.
This journey, there is room for you, there is room for me and we aren’t competing for a serving of the same pie.

Let’s all of us stop thinking of others as our competition and start championing the cause of everyone.

I’m singing loud these words over you today dear heart:

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;

    may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

May he send you help from the sanctuary

    and grant you support from Zion.

May he remember all your sacrifices

    and accept your burnt offerings.

May he give you the desire of your heart

    and make all your plans succeed.

 May we shout for joy over your victory  

and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.
Psalm 20v 1-5

Today I’m praying for champions, for the ones who appear not to need any help because they already have it all. I’m praying for every one of them like my dreams depend on it.

I’m praying success, peace, provision, influence, joy, opportunity, invitation.

I’m finding my peace in seeking God and trusting that other people doing well is absolutely as it should be.

Because even Moses needed people to hold up his arms and maybe your faithful blessing of another person might be an arm-supporting breakthrough in the battle for many.

Maybe letting go of covetousness is a commandment for our freedom. Maybe we are lessened by jealousy and comparison in a way that limits us.

God let me be one who truly champions the giants. Give me the heart of Jonathan to stand alongside David and pray his success even though that feels like my diminishing. Strengthen the heart that feels scared of missing out. Let me love with an expansive heart that sees no-one as competition. 

Small Voices

A large black crow sits atop a conifer cawing.

He will not be moved from his tree top position. He is big, he is powerful.

A noisy miner rises, joined by others, calling, scolding on the defence. Something precious dwells in that tree.

The crow remains. Briefly he opens wings to hold balance, on defence.

The miners are undeterred. They continue on swooping, their vocalisation constant. Smaller, prettier, weaker, they beat, and turn and call again and again. They work together.

The crows sits unflinching – its large presence threatening – its caw guttural and bleak.

Finally the miner birds win, crow rises, wings wide and cawing. The miners do not stop. They rise shooing the crow right out of their territory. They surround it noisy with their indignant calling, working together to reclaim what is theirs.

One miner bird alone might be no match for a crow twice its size. But the miner has its own weapons. It has the solidarity of its group, voices raised, making a fuss, doing all it can until the threat is gone.

Around us we observe the trauma of giants exerting power over minors. Women sentenced, silenced, censored. Children victims, voiceless, abused. Business that lines the pockets of the few by emptying the pockets of the many…. and it can all just feel too hard, too removed, too big.

I finger my Rapunzel necklace, standing in solidarity with those locked in towers; towers they are powerless to escape from.

We cannot think that those problems of other places are problems we can close our ears and eyes to. If the gospel is for all people everywhere then God’s freedom is for all people everywhere. When news seeps across the planet of atrocities committed we see the crow perched atop the tree – taking power, claiming ground…. it is not enough for us to look at how small we are.

We read a narrative of Davids and Deborahs of Gideons and Esthers. Ours is a narrative of the underdogs who took ground. Of voices raised where darkness tries to hold ground.

Maybe we need to raise our voices on behalf of those God loves, on behalf of those he made to be his image bearers and swoop, annoy or beat our wings on their behalf.

Maybe the crow wasn’t sitting atop the tree some of those miner birds occupied but they didn’t leave the few to defy the crow. They all raised their voices, they made some noise, they made a problem for the crow.

Maybe we need to be a problem for some crows in our world. And if all we can do is raise our voice then lets raise it noisy and make it count.

Helen Keller – deaf and blind, said this
I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything but I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.

Isaiah said, and Jesus confirmed –
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

Today when you see a crow on your patch gather your noise makers around you and do not give in until you have seen the victory. Today when you are fatigued by the bleak stories of the powerful and the powerless – ask, What is it I can do here and now?

Gather up your troops – we are not defeated until we turn away our faces in silent indifference. 

I will not refuse to do the something I can do.


God, would you forgive us for our indifference, for our obsession with our rights at the expense of others, would you show us great and creative Holy Spirit how to raise our voices, how to beat our wings, how to use our community to break the chains of injustice. Where we are fatigued by brokenness would you speak Hope. Where our hearts are broken and our swords bent would you gather a tribe around us to strengthen us again. Help us to love in word and in deed.