Birthdays make me reflective and as I get older the more
reflection I seem to need. I just had my birthday and I have been contemplating
memories of the last 72 years. I find it
hard to believe that I’m in my 70th decade and it is even harder to
believe I survived all those years.
Have you noticed memories are kind of weird? We never really
remember them as they were but as we want them to be. I also don’t remember
them in order and one memory seems to trigger another that may have happened
years before or years after. But, the
act of remembering is a re-membering of me.
It is a process to remind me from where I came and how each memory
created me. It is a little like a yearly
‘Examen.’ It isn’t just remembering but an accounting of my life. It is an opportunity to remember the good
times and the bad, to forgive others, and to be forgiven, and to offer myself
I find God’s grace in memories, grace I hadn’t noticed when
I was living them. I sometimes discover angels who have been my guides or
protectors that I didn’t recognize when they entered and left my life. Each
grace and angel helped form me into the person I have become. Unfortunately, I
have also recognized a few individuals who lead me from my path, and I had to
struggle to return, often with the help of one of those angels. It is one of
God’s enduring graces that angels come when we need them and it’s usually when
we have gotten everything all wrong.
I have been rescued so many times that my guardian angel carries
an extra-large emergency kit. I am sure
she is grateful I haven’t needed to be rescued for a while. I started very
early with getting my self into trouble. I was 6 when I pulled a deep-fat fryer
down on top of me, resulting in 2nd and 3rd degree burns
over 75% of my body. My memory of the incident is I wasn’t alone, I was being
told I would be alright, and I was. An
angel in the shape of a plastic surgeon came and volunteered to perform all the
skin grafts, paying for the hospital himself, and not charging my parents. Without the skill of Dr. Meany, I would have
been severely crippled. I would have been unable to live a normal life. My
gratitude for the Doctors and nurses who worked so hard to save and heal me has
no bounds. To give back the gift given
to me I have tried to be present to those who have been burnt, giving them
comfort, and sitting and listening to their fears.
Passing on the gifts of grace has become part of who I am. I
have been on the verge of homelessness a couple of times in my life and each
time one of those angels was sent in to help. To pass on that gift I have
helped others who have been on that edge, never expecting I will be repaid but
always expecting that they will pass on their gift of grace. If everyone did that no one would ever be
Those are nice memories, but I also have memories I am not
proud of. In my early 20’s I worked with
a woman who could be abrasive and, quite honestly, we didn’t just not get
along, we disliked each other intensely. I am ashamed to say that I started a
not so nice rumor about her. There was a small, very small, bit of truth to it but
essentially it was an exaggeration of the facts. I never apologized to her, in fact it wasn’t
long after it happened that I left for college. I regret that. I will never see
her again, I don’t even know if she is still alive. A few years ago, during a
ritual of forgiveness, I asked God to let her know, wherever she is, that I am truly
sorry. I also offered a prayer to forgive myself in order to let go of the feelings
of guilt, and, anger I had felt towards her. It took a while to feel within the
forgiveness I sought but eventually I did.
Memories are funny things, I don’t remember the same ones
every year but the ones I do seem to be the ones God wants me to remember. As I am 72 I have a lot of memories, I sincerely
hope I have enough time in the life left to me to ask for forgiveness, and to
express gratitude for those I haven’t remembered yet. Only time will tell.
Birthdays are not something I celebrate, but I find them useful. They offer a time to recognize grace, ask for forgiveness, and find peace in a life that has seen some rocky roads. I have no idea what memories I will form in the next years and I hope they will be good ones. I also hope they won’t be too embarrassing, but if they are, I know God and the angels will be nearby. After all my guardian angel has that huge emergency kit just waiting for me to mess up.
I have reached my limit for lies, hate, and violence. I have reached my limit for the whining of so-called
“men with fragile masculinity” who can’t accept women having just as much right
to succeed at work and leadership as they do. I have reached my limit for white
men, and women, who think they are the only ones who have rights and
privileges. I have also reached my limit for “so called evangelical Christians”
who have hijacked my faith to feed their power, position, and greed.
I am disgusted with the so-called Christians who deny
services to people who are LGBQ, they refuse to welcome the immigrant, or care
for the hungry, homeless, or ill. They profess to be “Pro-Life” but don’t
support child health care programs or food programs to keep children healthy,
which has led to an infant mortality rate in the US that is 19th out
of the 20 wealthiest countries. (CNN: Among
20 wealthy nations, US child mortality ranks worst, study finds, By Jacqueline
Howard, January 8, 2018) All practices taught by Jesus of Nazareth.
Despite what they call themselves the evangelicals they have
nothing in common with the carpenter from Nazareth. And, it is time we stopped them from using
the title of Christianity to promote laws removing safeguards for the most
vulnerable in our country. It is time to stop people, like Donald Trump and
Mitch McConnel, from using religion as an excuse to hord the wealth of our
country as they seek to persecute the poor, immigrants, people of color and push
middle income Americans into poverty.
It is time to take back the moral high ground from people
who have no morals. Lying, bigotry,
hate, greed, and selfishness have no place in our country where there are
enough resources to care for all. Providing for the welfare of our citizens is
mandated in our constitution and in the scriptures of every major religion. To
do otherwise is a crime against humanity, a crime against the Divine.
I have had it with the lies and false information coming out
of the mouths of elected officials. I am tired of their denial of climate
change, their love of firearms, and their refusal to accept firearm regulations.
I am tired of destructive international polices and the relations with
dictators that has put our country at risk. I am tired of people who manipulate
our political and legal systems in order to fill their pockets with money they
don’t need and satisfy the need for power.
I am tired of the theft of our electoral systems to consolidate power
and money in the hands of the few. All of it done with the approval of evangelicals.
I am tired of . . . all of it.
As a Christian, a person who follows the teachings of Jesus,
I can no longer stand by and not speak out.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes:
“When societies grow affluent, when
the burden of law-abidingness falls on the state and institutions, when people
define right and wrong in terms of externalities – punishments and rewards –
and in terms of what other people do and are seen to get away with . . . on
immediate benefits not long-term sustainability, then society begins to erode
from within and there is little anyone can do to halt it.” (The Great Partnership, Schocken Books, New
York, 2011, pg 161)
Faith has traditionally held our society in a cohesive unit.
Whether or not people attend or claim a religious background the basic rules of
a civilized society that are learned and kept comes from religious practices.
The ideas of right vs wrong, that might does not make right, that it is better
for everyone when all people have what they need to survive and thrive are
lessons learned and kept.
Our country once had the reputation for altruism. While we have never had or needed a state religion, we still helped those in need of shelter, food, health care, clothing, all without the expectation of return. Individuals and in concert with our elected bodies we helped people. We provided a beacon of giving light in a world where there were men who wanted to extinguish that light. Compassion, mercy, and kindness were traits we valued in our society. So, what happened to us? I have asked myself that question many times and I have no answers. I am sure the “experts” have one, but, I do not. What I do know is the only ones who can put a stop to the madness sweeping America, is us.
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
Speaking out is an obligation, a duty, of being a Christian,
as are all members of Judeo/Christian/Islamic faith, when injustice occurs. Speaking
through Prophets, God repeatedly extoled the Hebrew people to care for the
widow, young, elderly, and the ill, and welcome the stranger. Through the
prophet Micah, God tells the people of Judah:
Jesus also tells us
34 Then the king will say to those at
his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom
prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you
gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a
stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was
sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the
righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave
you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that
we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And
when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king
will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of
these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)
Such lessons from our faith are being twisted by people we
normally would trust, our own leaders, nation, state, and local. Instead of
honoring the commands of God, and Jesus, they have assimilated the values of
ancient Romans and Greeks who held self interest as the most valuable ideal.
For today’s leaders the ideals of compassion, mercy, and justice only applies
to them. Their actions display anti‑Christian
beliefs so why do allow them to demean our faith, our good name.
It is time to call them out, for Christians to standup and
speak out about their abuses. We have been way too silent, letting people like
Paul Ryan claim to be a good Christian while working to dismantle all of the
work of the last 50 years to support the welfare of Americans. Donald Trump
proudly tells his thuggish supporters to beat up, and attack those who he
doesn’t agree with, where in scripture do you find that?
Because of people like Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump who
favor racist, bigoted, and violent speech there has been a loosening of
violence across this country. More people are afraid of those who follow these
people than they do ISIS! I am not saying to copy the actions of the followers
of Trump or GOP, no, there are ways to resist them that are not violent or
contrary to the teachings of scripture.
Do not endorse, by your silence, racist,
bigoted, violent, or abusive religious statements. Speak up and demand it to stop.
Become involved in some way with the Poor Peoples Campaign, https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/. This is a National Call for Moral Revival
uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils
of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the
nation’s distorted morality. This is a
non-violent group that provides many avenues and opportunities to challenge
those who would destroy us.
Identify Anti-Racist groups and organizations in
your local area and work to change our communities
Write, e-mail, or phone your congressmen,
senators, state and local representatives that racial discrimination, bigotry,
and violence must end.
Write letters to the editors
Do as I am right now writing a blog.
Last but not the least (and this may be the most
powerful) use social media to support anti-racism, anti-bigotry, anti-violence
in speech and actions.
There is something for everyone to do to resist and challenge those who would see the end of the United States. We must never become a dictatorship, we must repel the tyranny of the religious few who have desecrated the name of Jesus and of our Judeo/Christian/Islamic God. Only we can do this. The fate of who governs this country, what we will believe is in our hands no one else’s.
Circle us, Lord, on this New Year’s Day Circle us with the light of your presence, bright in a world going dark Enable us to overcomer fear and temptation Enable us to have courage to overcome despair and apathy Enable us to become that which you would desire Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation Circle us with the light of your presence
Circle us, Lord, each day of the New Year Circle our families within the shelter of your outstretched arms Protect them in each moment of their daily lives Guide them in the decisions they face Protect their homes and relationships Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation Circle our families with the light of your presence
Circle us, Lord, each day of the New Year Circle this nation, with your unconditional love and hope, Create a desire to listen to each other Create a willingness to understand and respond Create a need to reach out to you, Lord, for strength and courage Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation Circle our nation with the light of your presence
Circle us, Lord, each day of the New Year Circle this world with the joy of your Salvation Where there is sickness and disease bring healing Where there is hunger and despair bring hope Where there is torture and oppression bring release Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation Circle this world with the light of your presence
In the struggles we choose and the Crises we don’t,
we offer prayers for those who stand against the darkness. God in your mercy, hear our prayers
It is right to remember those who gave us the freedom
to choose to live our lives in safety and comfort.
It is right to offer prayers for those who chose to give their lives for us. God in your mercy, hear our prayers
We share a history with those lives,
those who risk their lives to protect our homes,
rescue us from disaster, care for us when injured: for all First Responders we pray:
Law Enforcement, Fire, Search and Rescue teams, and Medical and Support teams. God in your mercy, hear our prayers
On land, on sea, and in the air
our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters
our wives and husbands risked all, are risking all, and will continue to risk all;
for those who served and serve still, we offer prayers.
For the men and women of the Army, National Guard, Coast Guard,
Navy, Marines, and Air Force we pray. God in your mercy, hear our prayers
They may be gone, but they are with us still.
The lives they lived give us the strength to carry on.
Their words remind us that freedom isn’t free,
we, the living, carry these brave souls with us,
their voices call to us to continue the fight,
to care for the wounded, to protect the innocent,
and defend the defenseless. God in your mercy, Hear our prayers
They call us to reject those who would deny the freedom to
live with dignity, to worship as they choose, to be who God has called them to be.
It is our loving duty, our responsibility, to never fail those who did not fail us.
We, oh Lord, accept the challenge to continue to stand
with those who stood for us. God in your mercy, Hear our prayer
Breath of . . .
Voice of . . .
Touch of . . .
Taste of . . .
Sight of . . .
Smell of . . .
Joy of . . .
Jealousy of . . .
Loyalty of . . .
Sadness of . . .
Anger of . . .
Tears of . . .
Love of . . .
Compassion of . . .
Forgiveness of . . .
Laughter of . . .
Beauty of . . .
Faith of . . .
Grace of . . .
Peace of . . .
I have given the events of the last few weeks a great deal of thought. It has been a greatly disturbing to watch the witness of Dr. Ford and the lack of respect she has been given by those we have entrusted with power. Saying I am angry doesn’t actually describe what I am feeling. As a victim of sexual assault, I am not just angry, but furious at the dismissal of Dr. Ford’s testimony. The Senate committee has heard her and then pushed her aside because she is a woman challenging their power to do what they want. And, what they want has nothing to do with the good of our country.
Placing Brett Kavanagh on the Supreme Court would aid these greedy, power-hungry men in setting all of our civil, social, economic, environmental, and international advancements back 50 years. Our waters will again be fouled with toxic waste, our air will be unbreathable, women can forget about controlling their own bodies, and those who are not Lilly white or heterosexual will again become anathema to a Republican, Trumpian world.
We know the response toward Dr. Ford’s testimony of sexual assault by Kavanagh was appalling, it wasn’t received by the Senate committee with any kind of respect or belief. Yet, no one had doubted the testimony of men who came forward with their memories of being sexually assaulted by Catholic Priests 35 and 40 years early. (Yes I know they didn’t testify to the any congressional committee, but several of these men did make comments on the testimonies.) So why wasn’t Dr. Ford not believed? The first reason is she is a woman, an untrustworthy, unable to care for herself, no understanding of reason or logic, flighty, and a sexual siren, woman. This is what woman have been told for thousands of years. We have been shammed into believing we, women, are the cause of men’s violence. That our lot in God’s world is to lay down and accept the rule of our bodies to our “male lords.” We are to procreate, raise the young, cook food, keep a clean house, and satisfy our “man.” That is not only slavery, it is treating one-half of the population like domestic animals.
Sexual violence has nothing to do with lust, or sex, it is all about power, about being overpowered. Sexual violence is all about men who believe they have a right use the power of their penises to control and oppress women. Men, like Brett Kavanagh have used women for their personal satisfaction, used their gender to control what a woman does and how far she can go in life, blamed women for their failures, and used those failures to justify their violence towards women. As a victim of sexual violence, I am tired of being told it’s “my fault” I was assaulted, it’s “my fault” that my pay check is lower than a man’s in the same position, and it’s “my fault” that I am a second class citizens.
I am tired of weak, pathetic men apparently believing they have the right to demean women. Who use women to give them their needed power trips, and to make them feel powerful. And, that is the second reason Dr. Ford wasn’t believed she is challenging their power. By their protestations it is obvious they believed Dr. Ford, they just can’t admit it because they would then have to acknowledge their own abuses of power, and of women. Yes, they believe Dr. Ford but their own guilt, greed, and hunger to keep hold of their so-called power prevents them from admitting it.
They also dismiss her because she had the courage to come forward and testify to the truth. How dare a woman challenge them! They have seen how the #METOO movement has affected men in the news and entertainment industries and they have no doubt that the accusations will be arriving at their door as well (at least I hope so).
I am not saying that all men have abused the power they have just because they are male. However, having lived to 71 I have experienced enough to know how men in positions where they control, or influence others are abusive and oppress those who depend on them.
I have also known women who have abused their positions, that is why I know that sexual abuse and gender abuse, is not isolated to one gender and is not related to sex.. Some women who have made it to the top of their field feel they too have the right to be controlling and subject the people who work or live with them to same kind of abuse. Often, they have overcome abuse, pressure, and humiliation themselves to get to where they are. Sadly, some have used those very same tactics to make sure they succeed just as their male counterparts. In those case’s they have as much to lose as a man does if Dr. Ford and the #METOO movement are successful.
My question to those of us, who have so much to lose if the Senate succeeds in their efforts, what will we do about it?
Will we give up the fight and go back to accepting patriarchal rule. Or will we stand up and say no more. While this is not just a woman’s fight, it is women, of every color and culture, who stands to lose the most. Unless we continue to demand restitution for the violence done to our bodies, to our minds, and to our economic security we will not succeed. The male bosses, our male political representatives will not simply grant it to us. We women must defend each other against attacks that serve to demean and humiliate us. We cannot let Dr. Ford and others like her stand alone and be bullied by the bullies in congress or the White House. We have power, especially together we have great power, now is the time to use it. Every woman must vote for the candidate who will advance our cause of equality. Read about them, GOOGLE them, and find out what they have done in their past lives, what they really stand for today. I am not telling you to vote for one party or another, I am saying know who you are voting for. Vote because the lives of your children, especially your daughters and granddaughters, lives depend on how you act today, in November and in 2020.
We women are standing up and fighting back against years or abuse and male control and that is frightening for the male ego. We women are finally saying no to the way it’s “always been done” to the detriment of our lives. Men need to understand we aren’t going back. Both men and women of every color, education, culture, or religious belief, have equal opportunities to succeed in their lives. Those who do not want to work with us, get out of our way, your power is broken. Get used to it.
2 I was sleeping, but my heart was awake. A sound! My love is knocking: “Open for me, my sister, my dearest, my dove, my perfect one! My head is soaked with dew, my hair, with the night mists.” 3 “I have taken off my tunic— why should I put it on again? I have bathed my feet— why should I get them dirty?” 4 My love put his hand in through the latch hole, and my body ached for him. 5 I rose; I went to open for my love, and my hands dripped myrrh, my fingers, liquid myrrh, over the handles of the lock. 6 I went and opened for my love, but my love had turned, gone away. I nearly died when he turned away. I looked for him but couldn’t find him. I called out to him, but he didn’t answer me. 7 They found me—the guards who make their rounds in the city. They struck me, bruised me. They took my shawl away from me, those guards of the city walls! 8 I place you under oath, daughters of Jerusalem: If you find my love, what should you tell him? That I’m weak with love!
I have always loved poetry. In college I had a professor who called them paintings with words. And, like a good landscape some poems are just what you see, such as Fog by Carl Sandburg:
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
And then there are the Picasso like poems, you know, the ones you have to think about, they say one thing and mean another such as the opening lines of the Song of Solomon:
2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine.
3 Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
your name is like perfume poured out.
No wonder the young women love you!
4 Take me away with you—let us hurry!
Let the king bring me into his chambers. (1:2-4)
For all intents and purposes this is nothing more than a love poem about a young couple in love. But if we look closer there is more than one meaning hidden in these beautiful words. We can read this as love poetry or we can interpret the Song of Songs as an allegory of God’s love for the Hebrew People, or Christs love for the church. I am sure if we sat down we would find another allegory that would work just as well.
The Song of Songs, as it is titled in the Hebrew bible, is one of five books called the “Five Scrolls.” They are The Song of Songs (a collection of eight poems), Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations and Esther. Of those five, the Song and Esther are the only two books in either the Hebrew or Christian canon that never mentions God, which makes them unique.
Sometime between the third and fourth century CE the Hebrew Canon was pretty much finalized. The discussion of the inclusion of the five scrolls, especially the Song of Songs, into the Hebrew Canon was fraught with controversary. The Song is after all very erotic and sensual poetry. While the poems use inuendo and metaphor instead of openly sexual language it was still not considered quite proper. It was eventually included because the Song was understood to have a more important meaning than simply love poems used for wedding ceremonies. Rabbi’s, such as the second century Rabbi Akiva, defended its inclusion saying, “while all of the sacred writings are holy, the Song of Songs is the holy of holies!”
Christians have also had a hard time accepting the Song as part of holy scripture, many considered it scandalous and not appropriate for Holy Bible. Christianity’s nearly 2000-year-old toxic attitude about sex has kept this sacred writing, that shows women in a positive light, from being studied and enjoyed for what it is. In The Forgotten Books of the Bible (2018) Robert Williamson writes “the third-century Christian theologian Origen warned . . . “that all but the most spiritually advanced people should abstain from reading the Song.” There was a fear that women who read the Song would somehow be “corrupted” and develop strange sexual longings to the detriment of the male ego. The uptight fathers of our faith simply could not accept that biblical writers could compose something as sensual and erotic as the Song of Songs! Yet Jewish tradition attributes these 8 poems to Solomon the son of David, the same David who stole Bathsheba from her husband, and the same Solomon who had 700 wives. Sexuality was Okey Dokey for biblical men, but women weren’t allowed to have the same urges. The shaming of women and blaming women for imagined male problems has been part of our culture long before St Augustine felt guilty about having sex. It is only now that we are seeing women courageously stepping up and saying no to male oppression and openly affirming they too are sexual creature’s beloved by God.
By the fifth century CE the Christian Biblical cannon was closed, which included our New Testament books and the Hebrew bible as the Old Testament. By accepting a majority of the books in the Hebrew Cannon the Christians of the 5th century was accepting the Song of Songs’ Jewish interpretation, with a minor variation. Jews interpreted the poems as God’s love for Israel and Christians as Christ’s love for the church, so not really all that different. But there is one more way to interpret the Song of Songs, and for us today, that is the interpretation I find so interesting and important. Let me describe the three ways to interpret the Song of Songs.
Of the three ways to interpret the Song of Songs, the first and foremost way is love poetry. The 8 poems celebrate young love, specifically the love between a young girl who cares for a vineyard and a young shepherd boy. The family wants to shelter their daughter, believing she isn’t ready to have a serious relationship, and, they would be wrong. Here she sings;
1 All night long on my bed
I looked for the one my heart loves;
I looked for him but did not find him.
2 I will get up now and go about the city,
through its streets and squares;
I will search for the one my heart loves.
So I looked for him but did not find him.
3 The watchmen found me
as they made their rounds in the city.
“Have you seen the one my heart loves?”
4 Scarcely had I passed them
when I found the one my heart loves.
I held him and would not let him go
till I had brought him to my mother’s house,
to the room of the one who conceived me.
Certainly not the words of an immature child. This poetry unabashedly celebrates the love between two people. There is no embarrassment or shame attached to their joy in their bodies and their total enjoyment of the pleasures of sex. The poems describe flirting, and playful language highlighting the excitement and joy the two lovers have in the presence of each other. To read the Song of Songs as paean to the sacredness of love is to remember and relish our own experience as lovers. That is what love poetry is for.
Unfortunately, the Songs of Songs has been ignored and push aside for so long that most people have never read it, and some don’t even know it is part of Holy Scripture. That is a real shame. Here is a biblical book that shows women in a favorable light, as a human who thinks, loves, celebrates, experiences grief, and loneliness just as men are depicted in scripture.
Our culture has always had a problem with sex and the church has had a role in creating that problem. Since the beginnings of the church we have had an unhealthy relationship with our bodies. This has resulted in half of humanity being told to be ashamed of who they are and the other half doing the shaming. Saint Augustin of Hippo (354-430 CE) played a huge role in how women were viewed and treated by the church. He was man consumed by guilt and one of those guilts was his guilt for having sex. His beliefs that women were the cause of mans downfall, i.e. Eve, were instrumental in the churches views on women. Having a Holy Book in the Bible celebrating the passion of young lovers’ and the enjoyment of each other signals the importance of loving and being loved.
The image of the strong female character, even though still a teenager, is an important image that empower women and girls, something our church fathers were very much against. The male church leaders were not in favor of giving up the power they had in the church to women. In this time of the “METOO” movements it is vital that positive images of biblical women be highlighted. It is time for women to claim their rightful place in God’s Kingdom, not as a second class, appendage to the male’s ego’s, but as equal partners in Gods creative universe.
The second, and third, way of looking at the Songs is with allegory. The interpretation of God/Christ, as the male character, and the people of Israel/the church as the female character is the traditional Jewish/Christian interpretation. Jewish tradition reads the Song during Passover as a reminder of God’s love by rescuing the Israelites from Egypt and the care God gave them during the Exodus. One beautiful passage describes God’s embrace of Israel, “His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.” (Song of Songs, 2:6) An intimate picture of God holding and loving humanity. Christians rarely read the Song, which is a sad commentary on our inhibitions.
At the beginning of this article I quote a passage from the song that paints another picture of God as the male lover. The lover comes late at night to the woman’s door and when she is slow to respond to his summons he walks away. When our young woman opens the door and finds him gone she runs into the street to look for him but instead is found by the guards and is abused and assaulted.
One interpretation alludes this passage to the Babylonian Exile, when God abandoned the Hebrew people. However, most Jewish, Christian, commentaries I read seemed to pass over this with a statement that acknowledges Gods inconsistency in dealing with the Hebrew people, or the Church, throughout history. But I find this passage disturbing. The idea of God simply abandoning humanity in times of suffering, pain, and crisis is abhorrent. How can a loving God do that? This leads into the Third and final, allegorical interpretation.
What if we identify God as the female lover and the male lover as the people of God? How does that change our view of the Song of Songs, of God, and of our role in our relationship with God? Reading the allegory as the female character transforms the Song of Songs. No longer is God the lover who goes gallivanting around the countryside, while the lady waits patiently for his return. God now is the one who says,
“I looked for the one my heart loves;
I looked for him but did not find him.
I will get up now and go about the city,
through its streets and squares;
I will search for the one my heart loves.” (3:1b-2a)
Now it is God who is the constant one, who waits for, and longs for the one she loves to return from wanderings and come into her arms. Humanity is the one who leaves, abandoning God. It is Humanity that turns away from the door when we believe God doesn’t answer quickly enough. It is God who risks being assaulted and beaten because she goes into the dark to find us. God’s claim on each of us is not of our doing, we are Gods because of God’s love for us. God’s love has nothing to do with faith, no, rather it is the matter of divine certainty. In a bad parody of Captain Picard, God made it so. When we read these words:
Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame. (8:6)
. . . we no longer hear humanity asking God to remember us but rather we hear God’s voice giving us the assurance that God will never forget, can never forget us, even unto death.
In the end there is no right or wrong way to read the Song of Songs. Read it as love poetry and revel in the celebration of young bodies, young people in love. Read it allegorically with God as the young man who passionately loves humanity, calling us beloved. Or read with God as the female lover who claims us before we claim her. Who waits for us to finish our wandering and return to her. Who goes into the dark and risk the divine life for us.
The Song of Songs is not shameful, rather it is the celebratory expression of human sexuality, and God’s passionate love for us. There is no other book in scripture that can express in a better way the passion and intimacy of God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for each other.
Mark 8:34-38 34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? 37 For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
This passage in Mark, is one of my favorites. I have mulled it over for many years, coming to different interpretations as I have grown in my ability to understand scripture and matured in my spiritual life. As a result, I have come to the belief it is an important passage because in it lies a key to understanding our veneration of the cross and what Jesus has called us to be.
I am a member of the Westar Institute, a group of theology scholars who study the scripture to find our theological history and discover the true words of Jesus, often called the Jesus Seminar. Not that I do any of that, but I do attend meetings and follow the findings of those who are much better scholars than I am. This past March I attended a lecture by Dr. Arthur J. Dewey at Westar’s Spring Meeting. Dr. Dewey’s lecture was on how the Death of Jesus was remembered. His studies of the crucifixion added a new piece to my understanding of the paradox of the cross. In fact, it changed the way I interpret Jesus’ death on the cross.
First, we must remember Jesus was Jewish, he was not Christian, he was not a Roman, and he wasn’t a gentile of any kind. What He was, was a good, a very good, practicing Jew. And, he knew the meaning of the cross. In the Roman world the cross was a tool of execution for those who defied Rome in some way. It was an instrument of humiliation, torture, and a means to wipe the condemned-out of memory, out of history. After all who would want to admit they knew or were related to someone who died on the cross.
Jesus knew all that, because wherever he went he would have seen the cross with its victims hanging from its arms, big billboards that said; ‘stay in line or this will happen to you.’ Jesus knew if he preached a radicle way of life, a life that would completely change how we live in the world, he would die on that cross. Oh yes, Jesus understood. The Gospel writers knew because they wrote their Gospels to give courage to those who risked their lives by following The Way.
Throughout our church history we have been taught Jesus’ death on the cross is our salvation. We are saved from sin if we believe Jesus died for us on the Roman cross. We are told if we bear our troubles with bravery, confess our sins, and accept that Jesus took those sins away by dying on the cross we will be saved from Hell and its horrors. It is in the power of the cross to save us. What if I told you that is most likely not what Jesus meant?
It is believed Mark was the first Gospel written and that Matthew and Luke copied Mark for their Gospels. What I first found interesting in each of the versions is that Jesus is telling the disciples and the crowd if they want to follow him they must take up a cross, embrace the cross. And, if they denied him and tried to save their lives, they would end up losing their life.
My first inkling that there is more to the scripture than we have normally understood was when I realized that in the synoptic Gospels Jesus doesn’t carry his cross to Golgotha, Simon of Cyrene is pressed into service the minute Jesus is escorted out of the Roman Garrison. In addition, there is a fifth Gospel not included in our cannon, which we have only fragments of, the Gospel of Peter. Fortunately, what did survive was the Passion of Jesus. Dewy and John Dominic Crossan both believe that the Gospel of Peter was written before Mark and represents the earliest beliefs of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They also believe Mark used the Gospel of Peter in writing his Gospel. As the Gospel of Peter tells it, when Jesus is led from the Garrison he is made to ‘run’ to the place of the cross and if he is running he could not have been carrying the heavy beam he was to be nailed to. Mark, and subsequently in Matthew and Luke, follow Peter by not having Jesus carry the cross. So, if in these 4 gospels Jesus doesn’t actually “take up” his own cross what are we supposed to do with the cross? What is the meaning Jesus is trying to make?
Jesus was a teaching a radicle way of life, one that had the power to transform peoples lives and the entire world, if only his disciples were brave enough to follow him. Charles Hambrick-Stowe says:” There is no great theological meaning in martyrdom for an ideal or in death that otherwise results from force, injustice, misunderstanding, or accident.” If the cross doesn’t mean, we will be saved because we carry our burdens like a cross or die because we believe it brings our salvation then it must mean something else.
Ched Myers, in Binding the Strong Man, a political reading of Mark’s story of Jesus, offers 3 meanings that have changed how I understand the cross.
1) “deny yourself;” This isn’t a call to spiritual reflection, this is a call to stand in court, accused of sedition, and not saving yourself from death. It is not denying Jesus, but our own self-denial, we willingly risk our own lives. And, to save our lives we must lose it in the name of Jesus and the Gospel.
This isn’t a self-emptying, this isn’t a spiritual awakening, it is taking up the “cross” and walking to yours and my crucifixion to right injustice. This is not a theological understanding, rather this is a radicle political stand where we put ourselves between the other and danger. It is being in a court of law and given the choice of saving your life or going to the gallows in the name of Jesus. Jesus puts this in economic terms. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but loses his soul.” To renounce Jesus in or to try to redeem one’s life would be a “bad investment”; for even if it showed a ‘return’ of the whole world, it wouldn’t represent a profit; rather it would be a dead loss; double-jeopardy; fidelity to Jesus has no price.; Everyone has a ‘price,’ everyone that is except Jesus. Jesus revealed that his messiahship means political confrontation with, not rehabilitation of, the imperial state. Those who wish to follow Jesus will risk the test of loyalty under interrogation by state authorities. If self is denied, the cross will be taken up, a metaphor for capital punishment on grounds of insurgency.
2) “take up the cross;” “here Mark’s subversive narrative bursts into the open.” This is a political statement, there is only one purpose for the cross and that is public execution and the total humiliation of its victims. The way Mark writes this phrase is to invite the disciples and those who follow Jesus to share the consequences of the audacity of challenging Roman authority. The Cross symbolizes shame for the convicted and his family. It served the purpose of wiping out the person from memory. Mark’s readers would have understood the implication of Jesus’ words. They would have seen people on the cross, some, if not most, would have had family members or acquaintances crucified. The cross isn’t a representation of salvation, it is symbol of resistance.
3) “follow me;” To follow Jesus means a self-denial that puts our earth-bound lives at risk while saving our souls. This isn’t by being pious, rather it is by getting down and dirty in the trenches of Justice. When we take up a cross it only appears to be a defeat, a triumph of government and their supporters, but actually it is our vindication and their Judgment. We either stand with Jesus, deny ourselves and loose our lives for his sake and the gospel’s or we stand “ashamed” before Jesus and “the angels.” By resisting our fear of losing our lives and pursuing the kingdom of God even at the cost of death, we are contributing to the shattering of the powers’ who reign death over us.
The faith we profess is not a faith of inaction, Jesus told his disciples he didn’t come to bring peace he came to bring a sword. That sword is our bodies standing for the defenseless and speaking and writing for speechless.
These passages in Mark, Matthew, and Luke are not calls of salvation, they are calls to action. We are called to stand between the victims and victimizer. We are called to defend what is right and resist injustice, hate, and cruelty all in the name of Jesus. Jesus knew death on the cross was inevitable, but he did not deny his Father, he refused to back down when it came to overcoming injustice. That is what the call of the cross means. We hold the cross up as a symbol of fighting against injustice, stand for compassion, love, and mercy. The symbol of the cross in today’s world is not passé nor is standing between the voiceless and accuser. Today people are arrested for trying to protect immigrant children and their parents. They are defending women, immigrants, members of LBGTQ community and people of color who are under attack. People are lifting up their voices in a chorus demanding that our rights be preserved. You are those people, I know many of you have marched, spoken up, and cared, for the defenseless. We are a community that has heard the call and have responded, young or old we stand up to be counted.
Today, our world continues to be torn apart by those who would have us believe that the defenseless have no rights, we must continue to choose to take up our own crosses, in whatever way we are able to. We must be willing to defend the undefended, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, provide homes for the homeless, and welcome the strangers who come to us. To spread the word that injustice has no part in our world by writing, speaking, marching, and screaming if we must. We must act despite opposition by those who in denying Jesus and his call continue to harm the defenseless and the voiceless and dismember the freedoms we have gained over in 250 years.
Jesus did not teach us a faith of only contemplation, it is also a faith of rebellion. None of this is an easy choice to make, but choosing the radicle life Jesus lays out for us has never been easy, otherwise our world would be a very different place. In the last 2000 years only a few have had the courage to accept that challenge. All of them met death knowing they were faithful to Jesus’ teachings.
We too have challenges to accept and while we won’t me hung on a cross, and hopefully not face physical death, we could be destroyed financially or socially. The good news is every time someone accepts that challenge we get closer to be the community we were meant to be. Yes, contemplation is very important, without it we would be unable to hear God and Christ give us the strength to carry on. But contemplation without action is a withdrawal from the world, of saving only ourselves and a denial of the ministry given to us.
Dewey, Arthur J.; Inventing the Passion, how the death of Jesus was Remembered, Polebridge Press, Salem OR, 2017 Myers, Ched; Binding the Strong Man, a Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2008, 20th anniversary edition
13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrong doing but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
This passage from 1 Corinthians is probably one of the most well-known writings of Paul, yet no one understands or follows the simple mandate, love each other. Love, everyone knows what it is, everyone wants it, and it is probably the most hoarded grace of all time. Oscar Hammerstein II, wrote:
“A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it –
A song’s not a song ’til you sing it –
Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay –
Love isn’t love ’til you give it away!”
Love isn’t something you say, it’s something you do, you must express love in some way for it to have any meaning. To give it away is to hold someone when they hurt, offer the essentials of survival to those in desperate need, or sit and listen when no one will, that is love.
It sounds so simple and it is so hard to do. We humans just can’t get the idea of love right. The author of 1st Peter said: “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” (4:8) Or, if you love enough you will let the irritations of life go. Unfortunately letting go is the farthest from many of our minds or behavior. God loved the Hebrews and as a result forgave them their sins repeatedly, and then he sent prophet after prophet to remind them of that love. God sent Jesus to tell the gentiles (that’s you and me) divine love was there for the asking. Trouble is we don’t ask, and we don’t give, we hoard.
All too often our lives are filled with the endings of love and compassion what we need are the beginnings, the constant expression of love, our eyes are dimmed to the graciousness that surrounds us and all creation. Love comes in many forms and, sadly, the only way we observe it is when we are hit over the head with compassion, kindness, and mercy. Yes I know there are those who say the word love and believe it’s good enough or they believe love only applies to those who think like they do, but saying is not enough, loving only those who love you is not enough. You must put love into action and when love is freely given away to all, it multiplies hundreds, thousands of times over and over.
Today our government promotes hate, greed, and racism as part of the evangelical cult that’s taken over our politicians’ lives. Love has no place in their world view, they love only those who see the world in their own twisted way. We see the result of their twisted understanding of love every time a person of color is killed, a law officer is killed, hate groups such as Nazis are allowed, encouraged, to harass and hurt people different from them. We see the hording of love every time we see injustice and when we keep silent and do nothing we become part of that cult of hatred and hoarding.
If we are to be faithful to Paul’s words and the teachings of each prophet God has sent, then we must put ourselves between those who do not show or share love with those in need. When we do not act we are just as guilty of hording love, compassion, justice, mercy and peace. It is our responsibility, our ministry, our job to act and pass the grace of love on multiplying it into infinity.