Call me lumpy

This last Sunday we talked about the familiar metaphor of the potter and the clay. As a pastor, sometimes I find it really hard (and dull and boring) to preach on topics that have been preached almost to death. To try to liven things up a bit and help us to approach the metaphor from a different direction, everyone at worship that morning received a piece of clay and listened to John Denver’s song, “The Potter’s Wheel.”

After that time to play with the clay and reflect on the metaphor we checked in. Some people shared their thoughts, others shared what they had created and what it meant. Then I suggested that if God is typically the potter and we are the clay, what happens when that metaphor is actually in our hands and we are massaging and creating? Who are we and who is the clay?

Yes, we are God. And the clay is our lives, our world, our relationships, our attitudes and behaviors… anything we choose to mold and shape. One person spoke up and said, “Then does this make us co-creators with God?” Yes! Absolutely! Our hands are on the potter’s wheel with God’s.  Unlike puppets on a string, we have the ability and responsibility to help create our own destinies. It takes our participation, our hard work (sometimes harder than others), our imagination and our desire to create a new, better self, or a new, better world.

To continue to examine the potter and clay metaphor, I recognize a few important things. First, we always have a second (third, fourth…) chance to create and re-create ourselves and our lives. What a beautiful thing! That doesn’t mean it is easy, but it is possible. Second, the artist always has an intimate relationship with their creation. The artist knows the vision, where it came from, the trials, errors and frustrations of getting there. The artist understands that sometimes what at first appeared to be a flaw in the design later turned out to be the key piece or source of inspiration.

And third, in this particular medium of molding our lives we are never truly done. Life changes and we must change. We must continue to grow, learn and adapt. Personally, that probably means you can call me Lumpy. The clay of my life is rarely smooth and seems to be in some constant state of flux. But I believe, that with my hands working with those of the Spirit, my clay is slowly becoming more and more authentically me.

~ Kaye

Bible debunking

This morning I had a wonderful person from our spiritual community tell me that they don’t read their Bible anymore because they feel like so much of it has been debunked. Honestly, I felt sort of bad about that.

Yes, it is the goal of my preaching, our adult classes and our women’s group to share scholarship, theologies and ideas that are not typically taught in mainline Christianity. But this has never been done with the intent of turning someone off to the Scriptures. My/our intent has been to show that there is so much more depth to the scriptures than anyone has ever dared to tell us. Dominant Christian theology, designed and propagated by educated, white men, has basically given us one perspective for so long that most people believe that there is only one perspective (or only one right perspective).

I suppose it feels like the Bible is being debunked, but I think it is really what we’ve been taught about the Bible that is being debunked. We’re taking the Bible seriously, examining different perspectives, historical situations, archeological information, cultural traditions and myths and then asking, “Alrighty then, what does this mean for us today?” I may be a little odd, but I find it exciting and liberating.

So, I’m encouraging you not to give up on your Bible, but to let your understanding of the Bible evolve. Let the literary nuances come alive. Think about who the stories were written for and why. Sprinkle your understanding with cross-references to other religious texts (remember Buddhism and Hinduism were around long before Christianity) and other Christian writings that didn’t make the cut into the canon. Remember that nothing was recorded verbatim as it happened, but was most likely written down years, if not decades, later. And put yourself in the cultural mindset that understood that scripture and fact (as we understand it) were not synonymous. Hopefully you will find (as I do) that the text becomes richer, the characters become more real and your understanding broadens.

Happy reading!

Kaye

A Gentle Whisper

My call to the ministry was nothing more than a gentle whisper from God, gentle enough to dismiss it. You should be a pastor. Certainly I’d been imagining things. I had only been going to church for a few years, it must be my mind playing tricks on me. I got a Business and Marketing degree. You should be a pastor. I’m not going to uproot my family every few years, and besides, it is a stupid idea. For the next four and a half years I worked in three different jobs until I found myself in a dead-end emotionally, spiritually and mentally. You should be a pastor. I cried. I didn’t want to be a pastor, but I knew the road I was on was wrong. I cried some more and I prayed a lot. Couldn’t I have a clearer sign than something that might be considered an audible hallucination by the psychological world? A vision or sky writing… something bigger and more tangible?

(For the full audio version of this sermon, click here:  SJ Sermon 8_11_13.)

In the book of 1 Kings when Elijah is told to wait for God to pass by, Elijah discovers that God isn’t found in the big things – the whirlwind, earthquake or fire. God finally arrived in the “gentle whisper” or “still small voice.” Well, for heaven’s sake, if God is supposedly all-powerful, couldn’t God work out something a little more obvious and convincing? It is completely frustrating, but there you have it. If we want to hear from the Divine, our best bet is to quiet down and listen. I heard actual words (and no, I don’t typically tell people this since it does truly sound a little crazy), but we may also hear God’s voice in the breeze, the rain, a ray of sunlight, a bird’s call or a rainbow. There are infinite ways the Divine message may be revealed to us and almost all of them require attentiveness and awareness on our part. Such is life.

Shhhh…. listen.

Kaye

Jesus’ wife…

 

Rumor has it that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. I know you’ve heard this idea before.

Stained glass window of Jesus and a pregnant Mary Magdalene from Kilmore Church in Dervaig, Scotland.

Maybe you read or watched The DaVinci Code, or maybe in your super-intelligent brain postulated the theory yourself. I would hazard a guess that you didn’t hear about it in church. Unless, that is, you went to our church. We tossed around this idea yesterday, not as rumor, but as distinct possibility given the multitude of clues that exist in the Bible and in the Gnostic Gospels.Traditional Christian doctrine would have you believe that Jesus was single and celibate, but not because the Bible asserts that. In fact, the church simply assumes this because of the lack of any direct mention of a wife. And they like to quote Matthew 19:3-12 where Jesus talks a tiny bit about men who have chosen celibacy “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

Let me back up for some simplified history of scripture. Early Christianity was far from having one official, correct teaching. In actuality, there were a multiplicity of teachings circulating during the late first and second centuries. Then in 313 CE the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official state religion and gathered a group of powerful church men to determine what the definitive teachings of the church would be (this made it all the easier to persecute those who weren’t going along.) As tends to happen in committees, the issues were debated and one side won. This side is what we now know as the Roman Catholic Church. The side that lost became labeled as Gnostic and were seen as heretics. These heretics saw the writing on the wall and buried hundred of scrolls bearing their sacred stories and theology. It wasn’t until more than 1500 years later that these scrolls were discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt and people began to realize that there were many other views of Jesus, his life and his teachings. But in those 1500 years the winners had written the traditional theology of the Christian church and it was well ingrained.

Interestingly enough, the Gnostics (while they held many of the same ideas about Jesus) emphasized inner spiritual transformation, had communities and churches with women leaders, priests and disciples, held Mary Magdalene in a special place of honor as Jesus’ companion and best student, and saw love as a spiritual path. Perhaps it is time to reintegrate the two strands of Christianity and determine if together they might offer a more complete understanding of Jesus and his teachings.

As I mentioned, there are many clues that lead us to question, if not believe that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were intimate companions if not husband and wife. To begin, there are the logical arguments that if Jesus had grown up a normal Jewish man, he would have been married by his late teens. And certainly to be considered a respected rabbi one would have had to be married. But the Bible also offers us significant hints.  Three of the four gospels specify that Mary Magdalene was a witness to Jesus’ burial. All four gospels name Mary Magdalene as the premiere witness to Jesus’ resurrection. All four gospels insist that while the disciples all flee after the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene stands firm. And, in three of the gospels Jesus specifically sends her to tell the others; it is the first apostolic appointment (an apostle being one who is sent out).

In addition, in John 20:1-18 Mary Magdalene calls Jesus “my Lord” and “Rabboni”, both titles appropriate in Jewish society only for a wife to use in addressing her rabbi husband. Also, Mary demands access to Jesus’ body from the one she believes is the gardener, “an act appropriate only for the deceased’s nearest of kin.” (John Shelby Spong, Sins of Scripture, p. 107)

The Gospel of Philip (2nd century) – “Three women always walked with the master: Mary his mother, <his> sister, and Mary Magdalene, who is called his companion.”

“The companion of the [savior] is Mary Magdalene. The [savior loved] her more than [all] the disciples, [and he] kissed her often on her mouth].”

The Gospel of Mary (late 1st or early 2nd century) – Peter said to Mary, “Sister, we know the savior loved you more than any other woman.”

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (possibly 4th century) – In September 2012, a new papyrus fragment was found to contain references to Mary Magdalene including the phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”

Bishop John Shelby Spong & Margaret Starbird – Both of these theologians suggest that “Magdalene” did not refer to the village of Magdala (as in Mary of Magdala), as no one has been able to locate it. Instead it is possible that Magdalene is a play on the word migdal, referring to a tower, or something tall, large and of great significance. She then becomes “Mary the Great.”

There are many more clues, but I will stop here. If you are curious to examine the clues yourself, check out some of these references:

  • Karen King, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala
  • Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene
  • John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture
  • Marvin Meyer, The Gospels of Mary
  • Margaret Starbird, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar

The more I read, the broader my understanding of Christianity, the more accessible my image of Jesus and the more expansive my God. Perhaps the same will be true for you as well.

Peace, Kaye