Words of Hope
Words of Hope
Wednesday – March 27, 2019
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12.2
A Word of Hope
From what bass do you operate?
I go see a lot of comic book movies. In the latest entry from the Marvel universe, I was thrilled to see the new Captain Marvel movie. This is not the DC comics version of the character Billy Batson who shouts Shazam!” No. This character is pronounced ‘Mar-Vell’ and this time Marvel studios gives us a female hero, who, in this case, must outthink her own origin and decide who is she is going to represent and ultimately save. Without revealing spoilers, I was first interested in seeing how the writing team developed a character that originally appeared in comics as a male. The world of superhero comics was predominantly white and male when I grew up. Usually only boys read them. I was “conformed to this world.” But, finally, the studios have realized that the current audience for these movies is everybody. I’ve been thrilled to see characters reworked to fit our current world in which heroes truly do come from a big melting pot. Black or white, male or female, our heroes come to us from all kinds of backgrounds and from varied circumstances.
I’m thankful for this approach in storytelling. It took a long time for me to embrace the idea that our world shouldn’t be structured just to serve the privileged white male. I am the product of mid century thinking, from the era that was realistically portrayed in the TV series called Mad Men. I enjoyed that series not only because it was my era from the 1960s, but also that it represented a society in which the everyday heroes were female, the people never given the highest ranking in my boy-centric universe. Yet, looking back on my real life growing up, my actual favorite heroes then were my grade school teachers, most of which were very strong women, standout survivors of that era.
I remember that about 20 years ago I was casually sharing my experiences about the many strong women in my life who were true leaders. I was speaking with a person I considered to be a friend. The man to whom I stated my obviously feminist viewpoint did not care for my opinion in the least. I told him that the strong women should be applauded for their tenacity, but he was stuck in an earlier time, the Mad Men era when men ruled on all fronts. I concluded that women should be running for the highest of offices including the presidency and he looked at me as if I had gone crazy. So many frightened men still look at me the same way 20 years later. Seeing my old friend’s extreme reaction, I began questioning myself, at that time, and why I was feeling so strongly about women in leadership roles.
My attitude was the opposite of my upbringing and my experiences. Was I led by the Spirit; the will of God? Transformed? I can’t say for sure. I do know I had simply found that those old misogynist teachings were dead to me because so many of my personal heroes for so long had been the women of my life. I had witnessed them continually working harder than any man for that honor. Christopher Reeve once said, “A hero is an individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” Even though he had portrayed the first male superhero from which all the others grew, he was referring to anybody and everybody, regardless of gender or ethnic origin. These women had endured in spite of the most overwhelming of obstacles.
So from which base will you operate in this world? Who are the people that you call your heroes? Do they match your race and gender? Are they those certain heroic ordinary people who usually go unnoticed? I, myself, want to complete the unlearning of the message I grew up with, when all my favorite comic book superheroes were white and male. I want a hero to be everybody’s hero, but more specifically I want to be sure to never overlook those ordinary people who do extraordinary things in extraordinary times; the real heroes without credit or awards or a picture in the news.
I hope some of my original women heroes are still around to see Captain Marvel as the representative of the credit they are long overdue in receiving. I’m certainly not paid by the Disney company or Marvel Studios, but I would urge you to see Captain Marvel, a woman of ordinary beginnings who re-defines true heroism. So far, I’ve seen it three times.
Send us a hero for these extraordinary times. May she show us how to save us from ourselves and be transformed by the renewal of our minds.
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare
Tuesday – March 26, 2019
“I pray that out of God’s glorious riches, She may strengthen you with power through Her Spirit in your inner being…And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power, together with all God’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” —Ephesians 3:16-18
A Word of Hope
Sometimes I feel like my own move into progressive Christianity has led me down a more balanced, reasonable, sane path. Many of us don’t roll around on the ground overcome by the Spirit, many of us don’t believe Jesus literally burst forth from the grave, we’re not too sure if we ever think Jesus is really going to come back, and many are rather certain there isn’t going to be some glorious thousand mile-wide city where God’s new house is built and Jesus reigns over the whole earth.
When we read stories in the early Jerusalem church about all the disciples sharing everything in common or about “cities being turned upside down” by the Christians in the Book of Acts, we don’t really associate ourselves with those people.
And maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe these experiences or ideas are too extreme. Too dangerous. Too much. In fact, I’ll go a step further, I’m fairly confident that one of the reasons progressive Christians often abandon the more extreme, absolutistic, intense, magical things is because such ideas do hurt people. They are problematic.
But recently, I’ve realized I miss the extremity, the madness of it all, the wildness, the insanity, the absurd faith. I miss how ridiculously dramatic it all was. Sounds strange, right? Progressive Christianity, with its central focus on evidenced wellbeing and sound ethics, keeps us safe from all of that. Its boundaries, its reasonableness, its sensitivity, its awareness of power and hurts, it keeps us safe. Right? I think it does. But I cannot help but wonder if there might be a way to keep some of those ethics, some of that safety, but add back in some of the wildness, some of the drama, some of the magic.
I wish I had the answer to it. But I read verses like the one above and I see someone who was seeing something unbelievable, something colossal, something not-of-this-world. And I think, where is that? Has my Christianity become entirely humanistic social justice? And don’t get me wrong, I LOVE humanistic social justice! But is there another layer of meaning I’m missing? Is my theism being replaced by my humanism? And right now, I’ve got this one idea to offer: maybe it’s okay to be as dramatic as this writer, to shout things as loudly as they did, to believe something as insanely, as wildly, as disruptively, as they did. Maybe it’s okay to be a dramatic theist.
God, can faith be intense without being too dangerous? Is there a way for theism to be dramatically, vividly real without it hurting people? I yearn for it, Mother God. And I need your help, to be filled with the fullness of You. I need Your power, but I’m scared. Amen.
Tyler James, LPC, MA
Monday – March 25, 2019
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. Luke 1. 28-33
A Word of Hope
In several faith traditions, today is the Feast of the Annunciation, or the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of the 12 Great Feasts of the church calendar. The timing of the Feast is exactly nine months from December 25, the tradition birth date of the Christ. It is the celebration of the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary at which time he informed her she would become the mother of Jesus, the Incarnation of God. Gabriel also took the time to tell Mary to name her son Jesus, which means “Savior”.
One of my favorite studies in art is comparing the literally thousands of Medieval art interpretations of the story of the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary. The images have always fascinated artists who usually depict a frightened and submissive woman cowering before the powerful figure of a man- but not just any man. This one is glowing with heavenly light and hovering mid-air, flapping his golden wings. It’s typical of the art of the Middle Ages, during which time the artists were almost always men. But is Mary really a submissive woman?
Luke tells us that Mary does not just sit there shaking. She immediately recovers from her shock at the marvelous sight and pointedly questions the angel: “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” After an explanation from her visitor, she models understanding, faith, and cooperation. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
Throughout the rest of the Gospel stories, our glimpses of Mary are never about a woman under the authority of a man. She is the key recipient of the message of the Prophet, Anna, and is the family’s spokesperson when she grills the 13 year-old Jesus who had wandered away in Jerusalem. Even when her adult son is reluctant to perform a miracle at the wedding in Cana, Mary presumes that Jesus will follow her instructions anyway. He does. She is physically present with Jesus until his very end on the cross. Finally, she is still with the Disciples in the Book of Acts, leading and teaching the other women in the faith. She knew the story better than anyone; this woman who had treasured up these things in her heart as she held the divine infant in her arms.
Mary’s key appearances remind us that she has bravely and faithfully prepared herself from the beginning for a responsibility that no other person will ever be asked to endure. She was the mother of the Savior.
Jesus, grant to each of us the strength and faith of your mother. Amen.
Minister fro Children and Families
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare
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Friday – March 22, 2019
Create in me a clean heart, O God;
and renew a right spirit within me.
Psalm 51.10 (KJV)
A Word of Hope
If we pay attention to any media news reports, we are usually depressed by the statistics; remembering the almost 3,000 people who lost their lives in September of 2001; about how far more American soldiers died since then in a war completely unrelated to the attacks; about 40,000 plus citizens of Iraq who died in that war; and as this century of conflict wears on, news about well over 3,000 children and youth being victims of American gun violence yearly. In Dr. Stephen Sprinkle’s sobering book, Unfinished Lives, he chronicles and preserves for all time our nation’s alarming frequency of brutal LGBTQ hate crime deaths. We are faced with the fact that these barbaric slayings have increased significantly since 2008 among teens and young men of color. In the last few years, the divisions in our nations have gravely increased every one of these statistics.
I’m reminded of a 1979 Sci-Fi movie called Time After Time, in which a time-traveling Jack the Ripper sits mesmerized in a motel room while gaping at a television news report on war and domestic violence and finally says, “My God, compared to these people, I was an amateur.” How do we change all this? As simplistic as it may sound, we must begin by following the petition of the Psalmist. We must first and foremost change the attitudes in own hearts.
For years, I’ve recited the above Psalm as a meditation mantra; for so many years in fact, it is the eloquent old King James Version that I remember best. Listen to what it says. “Create in me” reminds us that God is still actively involved in the never-ending process of Creation, and that we can be instruments of God’s divine evolution. A “clean heart” is the result of that evolution. The Psalmist considered the heart to be the center of all emotions and motivations. A clean heart, a heart for God, can allow us to take action toward our own renewal. Notice it says “a” right spirit, not “the” right spirit. We are participants in this metamorphosis, empowered to find “a” way that is unique to each of our own spirits to do what is right, what is peace-seeking, good; what is just.
The Psalmist reminds us that we are individuals, not numbers, not grim and hopeless statistics as we noted above. There can be change and peace in the world, but only after each of us becomes peace in the world. If statistics outrage us, they should outrage us for peace.
Create in me this day a clean heart for peace. Amen.
Minister for Children and Families
Thursday – March 21, 2019
So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men….Daniel 3:26-27
A Word of Hope
You probably remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The ambitious, empire-expanding, egotistic King Nebuchadnezzar makes a golden idol of himself and orders everyone in the realm to bow down and worship him—no exceptions. Offenders will be thrown into a fiery pit and burned to death. He gets word from some Chaldeans that certain Jewish appointed officials “payed no heed” to the executive order, holding fast to their allegiance to the one true God. Nebuchadnezzar confronts them, is enraged at their disobedience, binds them up, and throws them into the fiery furnace.
But then, as the King watches and waits for the miscreants to howl in pain and die, he notices that the flames do not consume them, and that there are not 3 but 4 people in the death-hole walking around unbound. Nebuchadnezzar takes this miracle as a sign of God’s power and exclaims: “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted him” (28). Moreover, he pledges to punish anyone who utters blasphemy against God.
This story is a worthy focus for meditation during Lent. It is a narrative of autocratic political over-reaching, of individuals speaking truth to power, a story of political resistance because of one’s faith—even when it costs us greatly.
On a more individual level, it is a tale of faithfulness—even in the midst of the most harrowing times of our lives. Like the 3 officials, we all have times of being in the fiery pits. As Joyce Rupp reminds us in The Open Door: “[S]ometimes uninvited and unwanted life circumstances push the door open to our inner self and propel us inside.” But God is faithful. When the doors of our lives are blown open by crushing trials, that is the very time the “angels”—human or divine—stand with us, and our trust in God is forged with tensile strength. The development of such great trust does, indeed, loosen the bonds of our lives and sets us free.
Life-Shaping God, In the fiery trials of our lives, strengthen our trust in you. Amen.
Dr. Pat Saxon
5910 Cedar Springs Road
Dallas, TX 75235
Toll Free: 800-501-HOPE (4673)