Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today


December 2010

I am no Ignatius

Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuit order of the Catholic Church) said “What I see as white, I will believe to be black if the hierarchical Church thus determines it.”   This was #13 of his rules for thinking [link].

I have to admit that I am not Ignatius. I have no interest in this type of insistent loyalty. I know that may seem obvious, since I am a Protestant, but it has been troubling me quite a bit lately.

There are actually two parts of this that get to me. The first challenges me to question how I define authority. Where does authority come from and who decides that? It is clear that I am unwilling to live in the kind of authoritarian system that Christendom operated in. But where does that leave me? Continue reading “I am no Ignatius”


>New Year’s reservations

>There are going to be some changes for me and Everyday Theology in 2011. I am now in a PhD program and I have been trying to get a job. I have been able to get a couple of small part-time jobs for January-February, two of which will affect me publicly and privately.

My two gigs are with Religion Online [link] and Big Tent Christianity [link]. I am very excited about both, the first will impact me long-term, the second will be big in the short-term.

Here are the three changes to Everyday Theology in 2011:

  • Everyday Theology will continue to be a weekly Podcast about the everyday implications of what we believe as Christians in the 21st century. I will put up the transcript  every week where comments and questions can be posted.  I love this conversation!
  • I have several other projects which I will manage through my other Facebook account. You can participate with those other projects at Lead From the Fringe (my ‘quick thoughts’ blog) and Ethic Space and Faith (where I am an ‘Admin’ and sometimes author). 
  • In a PhD program, your time is spent a little differently than as a full time minister. My thought life and book selection are different and the expectation of how I interact with the material is consequently changing. I will need to adjust the content of the podcast a little bit in order to take advantage of the reading that I am already doing and also to practice the discipline of engaging current and historical authors and thinkers.  

Some of you may know but, a couple of years ago I left a church that I loved very much and I did not know what going to Seminary would mean or how I would be able to bridge the gap with my new direction. It went better than expected and Everyday Theology has been a wonderful conversation to help me think through what it looks like to have a progressive christian faith in the real world.

The final thing I want to say is that I faced a big decision in the past months. I have taken great effort (and pride) in not being reactive, argumentative or inflammatory. I read a book almost a decade ago that impacted me radically. The book was called The Argument Culture and the author, Deborah Tannen, got to the very root of this damnable  way that we conduct ourself in the west (especially North America including Canada).

Perhaps the biggest change for 2011 is the change that I have decided to pass up. I decided that I just don’t want to contribute to the argument culture and I certainly don’t want to be one of those christians who attack and criticize other christians (as much as I can possibly help it).   So here is a story about why that decision has been so difficult.


I exist mostly in a progressive (not a capital P) christian context. That is what I would say is my community. Most of us have ‘emerged’ (not capital E) from a predominately evangelical-protestant- with charismatic leanings type heritage.

In my circles I have always assumed and heard that when public characters like  Jerry Falwell sounded off on Hurricane Katrina being a punishment from God for the people of New Orleans – that most people rolled their eyes and knew that he was such a marginal expression that he should not be taken seriously.

or when Franklin Graham said that Islam (as if it were one thing) is a terrible religion filled with hate – that people knew he was not a spokesman for  Christians (as if we are just one thing).

or when Mark Driscoll says that he could never worship a Jesus that he could beat up – that it carried about as much weight as a WWF wrestler mouthing off to get pumped up before a match, pulsing with vibrato and testosterone.

But apparently that is not the case.  

Moving can be a  powerful experience to encounter new perspectives.  I recently moved A) regions of the country B) from a Masters program to a PhD program and C) from a school with ‘Evangelical’ in it’s name to a school that is widely known for being wildly liberal.

The weird part is that I have never heard more about hell. Honestly, it comes up several times a week in a variety of conversations and settings. There seems to be a collective obsession with who is going to hell and who gets to say who goes to hell. I have heard more about hell in the last 6 months than the last 6 years combined.  It’s almost as if there is a collective trauma that has happened by so many people telling so many other types of people that they are going to hell. The people that I hang out with take great offense at being told that they are going to hell by our more conservative brethren.

SO here is the moment when I got some clarity:

In our readings for a class, the names Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham, and Pat Roberson  came up as the 3 examples of American Protestants .  Two weeks before this class  I was at a huge event at the LA Country Library for a global conversation between two nationally known authors – and these same three names came up.

It caused me to stop and think, “Wait – I thought that everyone knew that there were alway those marginal voices in any group – that there are clowns at every circus…” but they are not spokesman for the cause. They don’t speak for me and my circles.

So when our class presenter referenced this part of the reading (a mention that was noticeable because it was not the central focus of the reading) I perked up.  The presenter said that they are a public face of Christianity – that when people who are not Christians think of Christianity , that is who they think of.

If this were true, I would have to change my approach.

I assumed that when people say Pat Robertson – Jerry Falwell – Franklin Graham they thought “affluent white male christian TV personalities”.   I didn’t think that they thought “all Christians”.

When a group like the Gospel Coalition forms with people from that exact same demographic (only this time with a Calvinist bent) – I thought that people just saw a bunch of dogmatic guys from Reformed backgrounds… I am starting to reconsider that.

Lest you think that I am I being too optimistic or that I am being too naive…  I have an agenda – I am trying to figure out if the Big Tent vision of Christianity is big enough to include those who think that there is a very small tent that they are not only IN, but are in charge of .

I have been giving everyone the benefit of the doubt that they knew that there is not just one type of Jewish (Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, etc.) – that there is not just one type of Christian – that there is not just one type of Muslim – that there is not just one type of Atheist…  that the world is very nuanced!   Does everything just get boiled down to a soundbite?

At that point, I was thinking that maybe I need to become more aggressive and more confrontational.  Now I think that we already have too much of that and have decided to just stick with this M.O. and be who I feel called to be. I can not be responsible for the big picture or determine the outcome. All I can do is play the role I am suppose to play and bring my best to the table.

I hope that you have a wonderful NewYear and I am looking forward to the ongoing conversation in 2011.

>the value of adding an ‘s’

>Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!  I wish you the very best.

It is difficult, to say the least, to give a gift via a blog. Such is the nature of the beast. But if I could give you one thing that would have a big different in this coming year, it would be this: I would give you an ‘s’.

An ‘s’ can be a wonderful thing. Especially when you put it at the end of words that have been made singular but that should be plural!

Two historic examples and then some contemporary ones:

The Industrial Revolution, according to historians like John Merriman, was actually three industrial revolutions.
The first was an agricultural revolution which allowed people to grow more, which encouraged a bigger population and thus all the surplus labor that would be needed. The second was inventions that impacted small groups of workers, like the cotton gin. Then came the big one that generally gets all the headlines with big industry and coal burning factories. The name ‘the industrial revolution’ is a bit of a misnomer that lumps these three together. They actually happened progressively over quite a long period of time.

The same happens with the ‘Protestant Reformation’. Most people don’t know that Luther and Zwingli were kind of up to two different things and that later Calvin came in (initially as a Lutheran) and then there were at least three little reformations. Then there was England’s Anglican movement that was doing its own thing, and the Anabaptists. That is 5 reformation movements.

When it comes to religions, it is often appropriate to add an ‘s’. 

When we lump together the Jewish religion or the Jewish perspective, we may be overlooking the fact that there are three huge branches within Judaism, as well as many other splinters. There is a Reformed Judaism, a Conservative, and an Orthodox.  They are very different from each other.

Islam is the same way – there are over 80 types of Islam. So when we say “Muslims _____”  we may want to be careful and be more specific by adding a plural mentality and saying “some types of Muslims ______”.

Even within Christianity there are God knows how many different kinds of Christianity. So to say that “Christians believe ______” is more than challenging.  It may be misleading.

There are several Judaisms, several types of Islams, and multiple Christian perspectives.

Sometimes people say things like “the Biblical Worldview” as if there is only one. There are actually many worldviews that informed Scripture. Certainly the view of those who wandered in the desert in the Exodus story had a different view of the world than Paul the cosmopolitan Roman citizen of Jewish descent.  And one can clearly see that what Paul wrote in Romans 13 to submit to governments because they do God’s work was a different worldview than the person who wrote Revelation and called Rome ‘Babylon’  and a ‘whore who is drunk on the blood of that nations’. There are many examples that I could use but the important thing to note is that there are many worldviews in the Bible.

We are entering an era of Plurality and Multiplicity. These are two things that I value tremendously.  Adding an ‘s’ is sometimes the key to getting it right – to move it from overly simple singularity to the possibilities of seeing the diversity.

There is not one kind of Judaism or a Jewish perspective. There is not one type of Islam or a singular ‘Muslim’ perspective.  There is not one one kind of Christianity or a single ‘Christian’ perspective.

My gift to you this holiday season is an ‘s’. It may seem little… but trust me, it can be very powerful when used in the right place.

Ministry is a privilege

I was reading a book on ministry this week  (Practicing Gospel by Edward Farley) and it spurred three thoughts:

When we talk about ministry it is good for us to begin quietly with the humble  admission that firstly, we are called by God. That in itself would be enough. If this were what we were asked to do by God then doing it would be its own reward.

Secondly, we recognize that this work of ministry does a great deal of good in the world.

Continue reading “Ministry is a privilege”

>Friday Follow up: Mashing Christmas into Easter

>Just a couple of reflections on this week’s conversations, posts, and emails:

1) The biggest response was to the idea that “Christmas reminds of this every year: live in the place, speak the language, love the people, and show the way.  It’s called incarnation and it is how God works in the world.” I am always intrigued by what draws the most responses and this one really got me thinking. I wrote my Master Thesis on this topic and so it is an everyday aspect of my thought life… but it dawned on me that I have not said or done much here with the idea.  I will have to build this into more of the posts down the road – since it is the thing that I care the most about in real life!

2) Mashing things together is a real problem.  several examples surfaced this week after the Pod was recorded.
– Like saying “worship” and meaning what happens on Sunday morning when we are together and singing.  That is such a shallow definition of worship.
 Worship is a whole life response to God’s gracious love and lordship.  Trees worship on Tuesday nights as much as I do when I sing on Sunday morning. A nursing baby worships in the early hours of morning with her mother – who is also worshipping in the same act of offering. The mechanic worships when he does an honest estimate for a transmission repair.

Thank God for honest mechanics and nursing mothers and trees as the grow toward heaven.

– When we say things like  “God showed up”… I know what we are after but,  it is such a bad understanding!  God was already there and at work long before you showed up , in fact – it might be WHY you showed up.  God was calling.  SO to say that we did this, sang this, prayed this and then God showed up is bad language and worse theology.

3) Incarnation is HOW god works.  I agree with John Cobb when he says : I think that is it a BAD understanding of power to say that God does whatever he wants in the world and however it is is how God wanted it. 

  Saying that the world is the way that God wants it is not true.  God is not that kind of powerful.. God is a different kind of powerful. I say that God is weak. Some people do not like that I say that.
Some say that God self-limits (I get what they are doing with that).
Some say that God is persuasive rather than coercive (I agree).
Others say that God is sovereign like a King is sovereign – unable to control every move and decision of every member of their Kingdom… but in charge of it (I like this).
Still others say that God is storing up his judgment for the End (I worry that they might be disapointed with how gracious God is in the end).

However you come at this, I think you have to admit three things:
a) God does not do whatever God wants
b) The world is not the way that God wants it
c) as Christians, we should look to Jesus as our model when we look at God’s methods

4) This is why I keep saying that it is almost as if Jesus did not come!  When Christian ministers, theologians and lay people talk about power or love – it is almost as if this was done without reading the Gospels of Jesus Christ.  Most of the definitions are about some ancient conception of God or some philosophical assertion about God – but what they clearly are NOT, is reflective of the revelation of God in Jesus.

I know that it is probably too cynical to say that Jesus came into a world where the Powerful reigned, he presented a vision of humility, and then the Powerful co-opted Jesus and went back to being Powerful only now it is in Jesus name.

I look at organized religion and think to myself “it is almost as if Jesus never came”… when you look at Priest centered – Temple worship and then Roman power structures, it is tough to see sometimes what difference Jesus makes.

Sure – the TOPICS are changed and the SUBJECT is different, but the motives, the methods and the models are almost unchanged… but like I said , that is too cynical.

OK  until next Tuesday – I hope that you have a wonderful weekend and I pray that you are safe in your travels this Holiday season!

>Christmas is not Easter


Christmas is not Easter. They each hold a meaning that is in danger of getting lost when it all collapses into one thing. For the purpose of this conversation, I would like to even pull apart the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Each of these three is essential, and while there is a unity that ties them together, there is something  particular to each one – a uniqueness that we don’t want to lose.
 [if you get what I am saying – go ahead and jump down to the main point… you can just skip the side thought]
Listen to the Podcast [here]

Side Thought: I generally do not like when things get mashed together – especially when I am not sure that they belong together. I think that it often takes away from the very thing that it is suppose to provide our understanding.

There are four gospels.  We love to ‘harmonize’ them make it one gospel – which can be a helpful study tool – but let’s not be under the impression that there is only one gospel account.

Then there is that crazy thing people do with the Anti-Christ. When most people talk about the mythical character, what they actually do is mash together 5 biblical bad guys from  various genres and centuries. You end up with the Prince (of Daniel 9), the False Prophet, the man of Lawlessness, and the Beast jammed into one Big Bad Guy that – if you actually read the four passages in John – don’t sound like a single person or in a single time period.

We already covered the whole Heaven & Hell mashup and the Devil mashup last month (and earlier). But it is a real problem! It’s this darn thing that when Jesus says “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction” and people automatically swap out ‘destruction’ for ‘hell’ when that passage is clearly not about hell.

So as you can see, this is a real problem. I love that every modern Christian can have a Bible in their hand. But as with most things, there is both an upside and a downside. The downside is that a lazy condensing or mashing together can result in something that leads to monstrous amalgamations.

You might think that I am overstating it, but I actually think that the amalgamations are perverse. This whole shorthand thing that we do with Heaven & Hell, the Devil, Salvation, the Anti-Christ and prophecy drives me crazy. I actually have come to think that they are a form of false-religion that keeps us from true religion (as defined in James )

Oh – one more… when we talk about Jesus‘ miracles by simply saying “he was God” , that sunday school answer actually becomes a real problem. By not celebrating Jesus’ humanity we cripple ourselves when it comes to participating is the kind of miraculous religion that we (who love the Bible) celebrate so much in the book of Acts.

But that is a side note. 

Main Point: Leading up to Christmas, I love to ask church and non-church people of all ages “why did Jesus come?”  The most frequent response is ‘to die for our sins’ or ‘to save us’.  Which is fine enough I guess (on one level) but is really more of an Easter answer and not a Christmas answer.

One of my favorite professors in Seminary made the point (I think that he may have been  quoting James McClendon) that if the whole point is for the just to die for the unjust then Jesus could have been ‘created’ by God as a sinless little baby and plopped in the Arctic, to die in the harsh elements.  That would have satisfied the sinless life expectation of ‘the righteous for the unrighteous’.

But that is not how it happened. Jesus was born to a family, in a place, learned a language, and participated in a culture. That was not a random detail or an accidental circumstance. That is important and central to the story.

If God could have accomplished the atonement in the Arctic – having made Jesus to suffer and die the cruel effects of human existence and to experience an unjust death that would satisfy the wrath of God and heal the broken gulf between God and his creation… since that is how it could have happened (and it could have) – then there is something significant in the fact that it did not happen that way.

No, Jesus was born via painful labor, to a family, with a family name (Bar Joseph), and he learned to speak their language and practice their religion. He participated in ceremonies and cared for his sibling and mother. This is all a part of the incarnation. It is not secondary or inconsequential – it is central.

So here is my theory:  Christmas is not primarily about the salvation of mankind or the redemption of the world. That is what the crucifixion and resurrection are about!  (they – by the way – are not the same thing either and there is something that we are suppose to learn from each of them as well – by resisting the temptation to mash them together into one… but that is for a Pod about 4 months from now.)

Christmas is about Incarnation.  Incarnation tells us that God has drawn near to humanity. We know that God has bridged the gap and that this is in order to restore the broken relationship. In fact, God did not just visit for a day and import, impose, and implement a new order… God dwelt with us.  Literally (in the original language) God tabernacled with us. As The Message has it “God moved into the neighborhood”.

God is not afraid of our sin. God is not offended by our presence. In fact, God became one of us.  And here is the wild twist – God became like us so that we may become like God. This is an ancient tradition called Theosis – made famous by St. Athanasius of Alexandria.

In fact,  what the Incarnation is to the beginning, Pentecost is to the middle. Not only did God become one of us – but God gave us the Spirit of God as a gift to help us along the way and God’s Spirit remains on the earth as a constant presence … but I don’t want to get ahead of myself and mash things together that do not go together.

Bottom Line: the Christian life is not to simply to believe that in a time long, long ago in a land far, far away that God did something … and that if you just believe and receive that ‘truth’, that after you die, then God will take one part of you (your soul) to another place.

No. There is something else going on in the Christmas story. It has to do with the fact that God loves the world. That God became one of us, spoke human language (not heavenly or angelic language) and showed us the way to live.

The goal is not so much to believe right things so that I go to a better place after I die – but to behave like Jesus showed me so that I experience that life of the ages (the eternal life) before I die and then impact this world that God loves so much that God came and visited in person – becoming one of us.

We miss most of that when we mash Christmas and Easter together. Incarnation is the thing that God did and it is what we are suppose to learn (and do) with Christmas: move into a neighborhood, learn a language, give our life and show the way.

The Christian religion is to be – first and foremost – relational.  It is transformational (of both person and place) and this is accomplished by being incarnational. Christmas is suppose to remind of this every year: live in the place, speak the language, love the people, and show the way.

Spirit vs. Letter

I stumbled onto an interesting story while researching my Ethics of Pluralism paper

The LA Times examined a case study of a Jewish Center and Synagogue* that wanted to construct a eruv by surrounding a city with monofilament fishing line and designating it as one space. This would allow those participating in the orthodox congregation to satisfy the codified expectations of Sabbat while moving within the eruv, as this would no longer be moving between one place and another. Continue reading “Spirit vs. Letter”

>Friday Follow-up: Mary & Jesus

>Harold posted an amazing thought (from Wendell Berry) on the Facebook discussion and I wanted to follow up on it.

I had asked: If someone came out with the Magnificat today, do you think that it would be disregarded as a John Lennon style “Imagine” daydream, or dismissed as socialist utopian propaganda, or even disparaged as a Liberal agenda?

Harold responded:  I was reading “The Burden of the Gospels,” by Wendell Berry the other day ( ), and he put forth a similar, thought-provoking question:

If you bad been living in Jesus’ time and had heard him teaching, would you have been one of his followers?

To be an honest taker of this test, I think you have to try to forget that you have read the Gospels and that Jesus has been a “big name” for 2,000 years. You have to imagine instead that you are walking past the local courthouse and you come upon a crowd listening to a man named Joe Green or Green Joe, depending on judgments whispered among the listeners on the fringe. You too stop to listen, and you soon realize that Joe Green is saying something utterly scandalous, utterly unexpectable from the premises of modern society. He is saying:

“Don’t resist evil. If somebody slaps your right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too. Love your enemies. When people curse you, you must bless them. When people hate you, you must treat them kindly. When people mistrust you, you must pray for them. This is the way you must act if you want to be children of God.” Well, you know how happily that would be received, not only in the White House and the Capitol, but among most of your neighbors. And then suppose this Joe Green looks at you over the heads of the crowd, calls you by name and says, I want to come to dinner at your house.

“I suppose that you, like me, hope very much that you would say, “Come ahead.” But I suppose also that you, like me, had better not be too sure. You will remember that in Jesus’ lifetime even his most intimate friends could hardly be described as overconfident.”

Definitely makes one think.

Joe said: It seems we most often assume we’re one of the people trying to really understand his teachings…but I think we would do well to place ourselves in the shoes of the Pharisees (trying to discredit and disagree at every point) or the Roman guards, looking over the crowd of peasants and trying to determine what to do if they get out-of-hand. I think in subtle ways we often take on one or both of those roles.

I wanted to add two points:  I have heard it said (and I wish that I could remember who said it – I am suspicious that it was Peter Rollins) that we need to be careful when we read a parable to find ourself in the story. If , for instance we are reading the parable of the Good Samaritan and we cast ourself in the role of the Good Samaritan… we are reading it wrong.
    If on the other hand we see ourself in the religious leaders walking by or in the wounded traveler (or god forbid in the robbers who did the harm) then we are hearing what Jesus was saying.
    We have to be mindful of our privileged perspective and remember that the Gospel that Jesus came to preach was good news in a specific direction. (see Luke 4:16-21)

Secondly, I run into this odd line of reasoning with people who Major in Church History. There seem to be a weird attraction to defending people of the past by dismissing any bad behavior as simply “a product of their time” and stating confidently “if you had lived during that era – you would have done exactly the same.”

This line of reasoning seems to fly in the face of a two evidences to the contrary:

A) There were people at that time who did differently and spoke out against the way things were! So apparently it IS possible to have historically deviated from the ‘spirit of the Age’ and actually thought for oneself and followed ones conviction!  (I have a Podcast on this coming out in January called “the Minority Report”)

B) IF you do not hold opinions in opposition to your government, protest agains the economic oppression of your era, or buck the dogmatic stance of your denomination today… then “no” I don’t suppose that you could have been expected to do any different than was done by the majority in any period of history. IF however you exhibit resistance now and demonstrate a prophetic stance in our current era – then I think it is fair to at least entertain the possibility that you MIGHT have done differently had you lived in the past.

The simple fact is that we will never know. It is all speculation – we are not in charge of which era we were born into. However, what we are in charge of is what we stand for and how we counter-culture in our actual era.

>Amazed by Mary

>As I go through advent, every year I am amazed again by the faith of Mary. Her confession “may it be unto me as you have said” (Luke 1:38) is breath taking in it’s simplicity and profound in it’s content. The place of faith that she must have been coming from astounds me  – and challenges me.

I am especially taken back when I put her within the narrative context of scripture. I don’t know if you have ever thought about, but women don’t fair so well in the Bible on the whole. I’m not even talking about the parts where they are told to  ‘remain silent’ or the ‘submit to your husband’ stuff. I mean the actual characters in the narrative (both in the Hebrew and Christian testaments).

There are a lot of nameless women in the Hebrew Scripture (that’s what we used to call the Old Testament) and it generally does not go too well for them.

There are lots of examples of nameless women: Lots’s wife, Lot’s daughters, Potiphar’s wife, Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:34), or the concubine of Judges 19, not to mention the “witch” of Endor (in 1 Samuel 28) . If you took just these examples you would get the picture that women are (in no particular order): powerless, short-sighted, faithless, seductive, deceptive, duplicitous, mischievous, and spiritually dangerous.

Even the women that are named are usually not in positions of power  – though they do fare a little better. Tamar, Ruth, Ester, Bathsheba, and Rahab are named and each plays an important part in God’s plan.

  • Tamar is prostituted by her Father-in-law then almost burned for it (this is Genesis 38 – not to be confused with the later Tamar that is raped by her brother and then despised for it in 2 Samuel 13). 
  • Ruth is poor and gleaning crops with her mother-in-law from the edges of fields – a type of welfare system set up by God in scripture. 
  • Ester wins a primitive (some would say perverse) form of a beauty contest with the grand prize of entering a harem. 
  • Bathsheba gets spied on while she is bathing (all the men were suppose to be out of the city), she is brought into adultery, she becomes pregnant, and her husband (Uriah) is assassinated by the man who committed adultery with her (King David). 
  • Rahab is an actual prostitute. 

Tamar, Ruth, and Rahab all make it into Jesus’ genealogy that appears in the prologue to the Gospel of Matthew!  Unfortunately Bathsheba, for all her troubles, is referenced only as Uriah’s wife (not David’s mistress or by her real name). But that is how it goes for women in the Bible sometimes…

This is what is so amazing to me about Mary. By all accounts she would not have been rich (to say the least), she was young and her situation was scandalous. Poor, young, and disgraced is quite a predicament for a girl. Then she comes out with these amazing declarations of faith!

You have to keep in mind that this happened during a time in history when women’s testimony were not even valid in court!  Which just puts a whole wild spin on the fact that God chose for the women at the tomb to be the witnesses – and to testify to the male disciples (who did not believe right away) about the resurrected Christ!

With that in mind, Mary was asked to be more than a witness! She was to be the container of the uncontainable; the womb of the uncreated. YIKES.

That is why it hits me so hard when I hear her ‘Magnificat’ declaration in Luke 1:46 – 55:

“My soul glorifies the Lord 
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
for he has been mindful 
   of the humble state of his servant. 
From now on all generations will call me blessed, 
  for the Mighty One has done great things for me— 
   holy is his name. 
His mercy extends to those who fear him, 
   from generation to generation. 
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; 
   he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 

 He has brought down rulers from their thrones 
   but has lifted up the humble. 
 He has filled the hungry with good things 
   but has sent the rich away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel, 
   remembering to be merciful 
to Abraham and his descendants forever, 
   just as he promised our ancestors.”

I hear this and I am stopped in my tracks. What kind of world did Mary think that God wanted to make? What did Mary expect God to do with this kid she was to carry?

Is this what the Hebrew prophet was looking forward to in Isaiah 40 ?

Comfort, comfort my people, 

   says your God. 

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, 

   and proclaim to her 

that her hard service has been completed, 

   that her sin has been paid for, 

that she has received from the LORD’s hand 

   double for all her sins.

 A voice of one calling: 

“In the wilderness prepare 

   the way for the LORD[a]; 

make straight in the desert 

   a highway for our God.[b] 

Every valley shall be raised up, 

   every mountain and hill made low; 

the rough ground shall become level, 

   the rugged places a plain. 

And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, 

   and all people will see it together. 

            For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Is this what Jesus meant when he said “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” in John 10:10 ?

Is this what the Letter writer was saying with passages like 1 John 3:8 ” The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work”?

I am also struck by two things that weigh me down:

  1. If some poet or prophet or preacher was to put this out now, it would most likely be disregarded as a John Lennon style “Imagine” daydream, or dismissed as socialist utopian propaganda or even disparaged as a Liberal agenda.  When you think about the relationship that Jesus had with the priests of his day and the relationship that those priests had with the poor, the immigrant and the outsider – and compare that to the relationship that Jesus had with that same crowd… you can clearly see the he was Mary’s boy!!
  2. I listen to the Religious Media that is so powerfully broadcast on Christian radio and preached on TV by preachers at big churches with big followings and I am haunted by the suspicion that what calls itself Christianity in capitalistic and consumeristic North America is not quite what Mary’s song pointed toward. I am dismayed so often by the conservative Christianity I encounter. It is almost as if Jesus never came.   Even in a ‘Christian Nation’,  Priest, politics, and power …  well , let’s just say it this way:  I would love to hear the kind of things that Mary said coming through the radio and from the pulpit. 

This is why Mary mesmerizes me. She ‘got’ something – she knew something – she saw something that allowed her to say something that radically changes the way we look at Jesus and continues to impact the vision of  people who are suppose to speak for Jesus.

Mary challenges us. She inspires us. Her vision projects a world that has yet to materialize fully. Her words frame our expectation.

I think about her words.  I pray that I may see what she called for. I thank God for her and the standard that she sets.  I call her ‘blessed’.

Merry Christmas everyone – today is truly the day of the Lord’s visitation.
The Lord is among us!

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