Jesus FeministTitle: Jesus Feminist

Author: Sarah Bessey

Date Started: April 9, 2014    Date Finished: April 16, 2014

Number of Pages: 234    Total for 2014: 8413

What It’s About: Oh, for a day when people no longer have to write books justifying the equal partnership of women in working for God’s Kingdom…

The title of this book may have given you pause. Jesus and feminism don’t seem to go together very well in Americanized Christianity. Yet, arguably, Jesus does seem like he was kind of a feminist. He elevated women in a way that was revolutionary in his lifetime. He welcomed women to walk alongside him, to learn at his feet and to carry good news to others (even the very best news of his resurrection was entrusted first to women). Yet the church spends so much time defining a role for women that is separate and not often very equal. Like many before her, Bessey challenges this viewpoint with her beautifully descriptive writing style. This book is Sarah’s own testimony of God’s goodness in her own life, but then it becomes the story of many women and men who are working for and serving God’s Kingdom.

One of the ideas Bessey writes about in her book is the cultural context into which certain ideals are often preached. In our culture of Christianity, “we” have this idea of Biblical Womanhood and what a female follower of Christ should be and do. The line that I’ll remember is when she quoted a friend as saying “If it’s not true in Darfur, it’s not true here.” If something cannot be preached in every context for every person or follower of Jesus, it has particular cultural relevance and may be instructive in context, but it should not be treated as Gospel truth.

And this powerful sentence from chapter 10 that reminds us why this is actually still important, even when people from all angles of thought grow weary of discussing or reading about it: “Many of the seminal social issues of our time–poverty, lack of education, human trafficking, war and torture, domestic abuse–can track their way to our theology of, or beliefs about, women, which has its roots in what we believe about the nature, purposes and character of God.” (She goes on to describe and statistically back what she means.) We are not over the need to talk about issues concerning women and the place of women in Jesus’ Kingdom and Church, in our society or worldwide.

Why I Read It: I was intrigued by the title and the words of others who had read it already.

blue christmasTitle: Blue Christmas

Author: Mary Kay Andrews

Date Started: April 4, 2012     Date Finished: April 4, 2012

Number of Pages: 208    Total for 2014: 8,179

What It’s About: Eloise (Weezie) is an antique dealer in Savannah, GA. She’s dating a man named Daniel, owner of a local restaurant. As she navigates the pitfalls of her personal and business life, weird things starts to happen. Items go missing; the gate is left is open; food for a party disappears; someone is seen sleeping on a bed in her shop one night. Busy with Christmas plans, she barely has time to examine it…until the night when it all comes together in a hilariously tragic way.

Why I Read It: For book club! It’s the April selection. It was a fast, fun read. I read it on Friday night, but am only just getting around to adding it to my blog!

 

I’m a day late with this list! I was still thinking about this until this morning, actually.

According to this, it’s electronic devices week!

“Are you going to have to unplug your night lights?”  a friend mused after reading the post about my Lenten “challenge.”

Well, sheesh, if we’re going to count each night light as an electronic device, I’m in trouble.

Also, if we’re going to count every appliance we own that makes our house run in a modern way and keeps my neat-freak husband from losing his mind. I mean, if I had to count the appliances individually, I’d probably trade one of them in for my hair straightener because I’m preaching at a women’s gathering on Thursday and I’m apparently still too vain to just wash and go with my hair when it really counts.

Here’s the list:

1. my phone

2. my laptop

3. my hair straightener

4. the television

5. all of the major household appliances (dishwasher, stove and washing machine. Surprise–our clothes dryer broke before the weekend! If it gets fixed, about which I am hopeful, it counts in number 5.)

6. all of the lights.

7. [Left blank so far. There are 5-6 things I'd like to add to the list, but I'm going to try to go without all of them.]

Wait! Where’s the coffee maker? How could you not include a coffee making device?

A lovely family from my church is going on vacation this week for Spring Break, and the Mr. of the family read my blog and sent me a message: You can use our French Press while we’re gone so you don’t have to count the coffee pot! 

I mean, I was planning to include the coffee pot (part of why 7 is blank). But using the French Press has been fun!

Easter is coming, friends, and I am so glad! This is the point in Lent when I usually feel so weary. The practice of regular prayer has helped, but on this dreary, rainy morning I’m feeling it a bit today.

Easter. Is. Coming.

orangeTitle: Orange Is The New Black: My Year In A Women’s Prison

Author: Piper Kerman

Book Started: April 2, 2014  Book Finished: April 6, 2014

Number of Pages: 322  Total for 2014: 7,971

What It’s About: Piper Kerman had a brief “career” as a drug mule in the early 90s post-college when she delivered a suitcase of drug money for her then girlfriend. When that ex-lover snitched on her as part of the terms of her own conviction, Kerman was charged, convicted and finally sentenced a decade later. Now with a legitimate career and a fiance who loves her, the woman who is barely a threat to society surrenders herself for her fifteen month sentence at Danbury. She learns to navigate the prison system, makes friends and works her way through her sentence. Her memoir of this time is an up-close look at the women who are incarcerated and the triumphs and failures of our nation’s prison system.

Why I Read It: I heard Kerman speak on “The Moth” Podcast last June and was intrigued by her story. I watched each episode of the Netflix Original Series based on this book. When the book was super cheap on Amazon, I bought it. Again, the armchair social scientist in me was curious about her story.

If you’re wondering how close it is to the Netflix series: Yes, Piper Kerman (her real name) was in prison for 13 months, however the series has been embellished and sensationalized to be more entertaining for an audience used to lots of violence, swearing and sex. Kerman’s book does not contain a lot of the more illicit scenes and details written into the series, and although the overall arc of the story is similar, a whole lot has been added.

zodiaTitle: Zodiac: The Shocking True Story of the Nation’s Most Bizarre Mass Murderer

Author: Robert Graysmith

Book Started: March 27, 2014  Book Finished: April 4, 2014

Number of Pages: 400   Total for 2014: 7649

What It’s About: The author was on staff at the San Francisco Chronicle during the time the Zodiac Killer first struck. He has collected all known evidence of the killer, including evidence not previously released to the public, and compiled it in this book. Victim by victim, month by month, he recounts this evidence, offering his own commentary when applicable.The case remains open, although, according to Wikipedia, a credible, death bed confession is currently being investigated.

Why I Read It: The untrained social scientist in me is always fascinated by tales like this one.

Photo Credit: Nibby Priest (taken in Church Fellowship Hall)

Photo Credit: Nibby Priest (taken in Church Fellowship Hall)

(…or any group fitness class.)

You probably know that for the last one and a half years, I’ve been participating in Zumba classes that are held at Presbyterian Church in downtown Henderson KY. Three instructors teach in the gym at the church on Mondays (5:30 p.m.), Tuesdays (5:30 and 6:35 p.m.) and Saturdays (9:00 a.m.).

Almost all of the participants are women. Many are mothers. Some bring their children with them to Zumba. Sometimes the kids play in an attached classroom, but sometimes they watch or participate in the class. The instructors are very gracious, and I think it’s great when kids are there.

Yes, it’s great because they are exercising and kids exercising is a “win.” Yes, it’s great because they are learning some basis dance moves (cha cha, mambo, salsa, single single double). But it’s also great because they are seeing something they don’t get to see everywhere: women of all ages and body types, of all abilities and inabilities doing something fun and healthy.

We worry about daughters in our society. The media available to them is often full of air-brushed and plastic body parts. We worry that they’ll try to obtain something that’s impossible–the perfection that only comes with personal trainers, personal chefs, personal plastic surgeons and Photoshop.

In my Zumba classes on Tuesday night (I took 1.5 classes on Tuesday), there were several children present. At one point, there was a part of a song where we were all facing the north wall of the gym and shaking it. I mean, that’s the instruction: face that wall and shake it out. Bodies of all types, created by God and beautiful in each one’s own way, shook and moved. Young and old, short and tall, thin and curvy, full of energy and exhausted after a day at work or at home. Women, who got up that morning and themselves may have looked in the mirror and made a face because what they saw was not the impossible perfection they wished the were seeing, were smiling and shaking and laughing and encouraging each other.

When you take your daughter to Zumba, she gets a different message than the traditional media gives. She sees real bodies,none of them completely alike, being strong and healthy. She sees real women, some of whom she may look like when she grows up, doing something fun and energetic. She learns that “normal” isn’t airbrushed, and “perfect” isn’t impossible. She sees that “healthy” involves laughter, that “strong” can mean trying something new and that no body moves exactly the same way.

When you take your daughter to Zumba, she may just be learning to love her own body. And that’s truly a “win.”

fault in our starsTitle: The Fault In Our Stars

Author: John Green

Date Started: March 30, 2014   Date Finished: April 2, 2014

Number of Pages: 318   Total for 2014: 7,249

What It’s About: Hazel Lancaster is 16 years old and has stage IV cancer. It’s terminal. She’s sent to a cancer support group for kids. One night, while there, she meets Augustus Waters. The ill-fated high school students soon find their way into each others hearts and arms as they wrestle with questions we all wrestle with as we approach and consider death–does my life matter? Will I be remembered? Is there anything after this? This story, funny and tragic all at the same time, resonates deeply.

Why I Read It: This book is beloved by teenage girls everywhere, much the same way “A Walk To Remember” was a decade ago. After much urging, I borrowed it via Kentucky Libraries Unbound. It’s fantastic.

thank yousIt’s Thanks Week during Lent (Don’t panic if you didn’t know.  I made that up.) and I’m writing 7 thank you notes each day, Being thankful will cause you to be happier and more satisfied with your life. Writing thank you notes will brighten the days of people you love or people who have gone above and beyond, but weren’t really expecting any thanks.

Here are ten people you can go out of your way to thank this week! I recommend notes, but an email or phone call or text or face to face will work, too.

1. A teacher who made an impact in your life or is making an impact in the lives of your children.

2. A coach, scout leader or mentor to your or your children.

3. A young person who volunteers in your community.

4. Your pastor, youth minister, or any member of your church staff.

5. A friend who gave you a gift.

6. Someone in the healthcare field who went above and beyond for you or a loved one.

7. A person who loves you and is important in your life, but you never think to thank him or her (like a spouse or a parent).

8. A person who has made a difference in your life or the life of one of your children.

9. A co-worker (or in my case church member) who helped you do your job or filled in for you while you were away.

10. God (as in a written prayer of thanks).

Who Is This ManTitle: Who Is This Man?

Author: John Ortberg

Date Started: February 15   Date Finished: March 30

Number of Pages: 225    Total for 2014: 6.931

What It’s About: Ortberg takes us through several areas of impact that the person of Jesus Christ had in the world, from the dates on the calendar to how women are treated, from his impact on art to the destruction his followers have caused in his name. History’s most recognizable figure…yet, a man who lived so humbly. Ortberg writes like he preaches and this book is full of fun topics to discuss in a group.

Why I Read It: We read this book for a study at the church led by one of our church members.

El Greco "Healing of the Man Born Blind"

El Greco “Healing of the Man Born Blind”

This is the text of the sermon I preached this morning at Presbyterian Church in Henderson, KY.

Where have you witnessed God at work? Every summer, as you may know, we join with three other churches in town for Vacation Bible School. Our theme, Scriptures and activities are always different from the years before, but one thread that runs through every VBS for the last several years are the “God Sightings.” We ask kids every day to go home and watch for God at work. We give them a visual reminder of some sort to help them in this task (sometimes a bracelet that says “Watch For God!”).

Here’s one thing we’re teaching (and learning ourselves) by doing this: if you are watching for God, you will most certainly see God. If you will seek God, you will find God. I remember growing up that my mom had a coffee mug—for some reason I seem to think it came in a floral arrangement—but either way, it said “Expect A Miracle.”

When we live in expectation of miracles, we see the miraculous around us.

The man in our story today, however, was not watching for a miracle. In fact, he wasn’t physically watching for anything and he had probably been taught over time not to expect anything miraculous, either.

JOHN 9:1-3

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 

Here we are in John 9. If we understand John to be happening chronologically, the following things have already happened: The calling of the disciples, the wedding at Cana, Nicodemus visiting Jesus at night, Jesus meeting the woman at the well in Samaria, Jesus feeding the 5,000, Jesus walking on water, Jesus dealing with the situation involving the woman who was accused of committing adultery and was about to be stoned, and Jesus causing chapter after chapter of division and trouble among his disciples and among religious leaders. His teachings were hard and often hard to understand without further investigation and he certainly was not afraid of being called a heretic. He wasn’t trying to make friends or start a revolution. Jesus was doing the work of God and inviting people to take a risk and work with him.

So when we get to chapter 9, and the disciples turn an unsuspecting man into an object lesson, we should not be surprised at how it goes.

Hey, Jesus, here’s a guy who was born blind. Who sinned? Him or his parents?

The cultural belief was this: something bad happened to you? Must be because someone sinned. Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. Now, one who owns the entire canon of Scripture might point out that actually the Old and New Testaments are full of words that counter this belief, but either way, this was still embraced by the people of Jesus’ day.

The fact that the man was born blind seems to be universally understood in this passage, so I do wonder how the disciples thought it could be because of the man’s own sin. The sin that God knew the man would commit before he was born? That just makes my head hurt.

“Neither,” says Jesus. “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

Wait, what? This man has lived his whole life without his sight, which in ancient Palestine was a trial in itself—he couldn’t work, he couldn’t have a family, he couldn’t participate in religious life—just so God could be glorified in him? How is that just or good? He’s spent his whole life on the outskirts just so Jesus could heal him today?

Yes.

I don’t like the answer Jesus gives, but I trust in God’s sovereignty. And I know that I’ve certainly seen God glorified in painful or difficult or unfair circumstances in my own life and in the lives of people I love.

Right now, this man is an unwitting object lesson, but he’s about to experience a miracle.

JOHN 9:4-7a

We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). 

This lesson is fun to teach to kids. Jesus heals a guy with spit and dirt. Did you ever wonder why? We have lots of instances of Jesus simply touching people or declaring them healed without even touching him. Why did Jesus make mud?

It’s the Sabbath. The teaching is clear: kneading on the Sabbath—even kneading spit into dirt—is not allowed. Jesus is being clear: I’m healing on the Sabbath. Right before he mixed up the dirt, he told them why:

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” What Jesus is doing is time-sensitive.

What about the man who is at the center of the object lesson? Here he is, minding his own business, going about his usual day and all of a sudden, he’s surrounded by a group of people who talk about him like he’s not there and all of a sudden someone puts spitty mud on his eyes.

It’s a moment that changes his whole life and he wasn’t even watching for it. Literally. Or figuratively.

JOHN 9:7b-12

Then the man went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’

The man is healed. He returns to the place where he used to sit and beg and can see it for the first time. Can you imagine what that must be like? I can’t. It must have been incredibly overwhelming. He doesn’t really get to enjoy the experience completely because his neighbors want answers first from each other: are you sure this is the same guy? and then from him:  “But how were your eyes opened?”

JOHN 9:13-34

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’

 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’

 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.

This should have been the happiest moment of the man’s life. He doesn’t know how it happened, he hasn’t seen the man who performed the work, but he knows this: I was blind, now I see. It must be because God had a hand in it.

The Pharisees are one thing—we know they have a reputation for being skeptical, for trying to trip up Jesus at every pass, for driving out people who challenge their stance. But his parents? His own parents who have known him as long as he’s been alive, who raised him in his blindness, who had surely agonized over what his life would be like without sight…

His own parents reject him too, all because they fear that their church will throw them out if they accept him.

And then this man is tossed aside by his neighbors, his family and his church. In their failure to watch for a God who is much bigger than they have expected, they dismiss the possibility of a miracle rather than having to move their lines and consider that one has happened.

JOHN 9:35-38

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him.

John 9 is a long chapter, but if you hang on this far you read the most beautiful part of it.

The man has no idea what Jesus looks like. Jesus has healed him, has given him a reason for hope, has given him a bright future and the man can’t recognize him when he bumps into him.

It was no accident he ran into Jesus, for Jesus heard what was happening and went to find him. What a mix of emotions the man, whose name we never know, must be. Joy for having sight restored. Anger and sadness for being rejected by all of the people who have ever mattered in his life.

Jesus, who has crowds following him everywhere he goes, went looking for just one guy–a guy he had already helped! When no one else wanted to stand with this man, when no one else wanted to acknowledge him or what this dramatic change in his life really meant, Jesus was there. This one person mattered to Jesus.

No gimmicks, no steps to salvation, no scare tactics. A simple question: Do you believe? A simple answer: Lord, I believe. Jesus’ miracle has changed this man forever…and gotten him exiled from his religious community. But he can see! And he is befriended by Jesus! And he devotes himself to his new Lord through worship.

But Jesus has one last word about sight and watching for God at work:

JOHN 9:39-41

Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

Jesus uses a miracle involving physical sight to teach about spiritual sight. He turns the wisdom of the time on its ear, as Jesus often does.

To those who refused to consider the greatness of God or the possibility that God could be working here and now, Jesus says:

When you were blind, you were without sin. But now that you can see, and still choose to reject me, your sin remains.

The Pharisees, the neighbors, the man’s parents: they were so concerned about their understanding, their own place, their own teachings that they missed seeing God. They missed a miracle!

What about us? Do we ever do that?

Yes, I do. I have a feeling we all do.

When we close our eyes and hold onto our viewpoints and affiliations, we miss seeing God at work.

When we put other people into columns and categories, we do the same to God.

When we would rather be right than ask questions or seek answers we don’t know, we miss the chance for God to mold us.

When we refuse to seek God outside of the boundaries we’ve set up ourselves, we will likely not find God in unexpected places. Which is where miracles usually happen.

Our Scriptures teach that you and I are created in God’s own image…yet sometimes it seem like we’re trying to make God in our image. We’d rather have a God who is like us. Who believes what we believe. Who hates the people we hate. Who respects the boundaries we’ve set. Like this man’s teachers, neighbors and family, we miss the point. We miss the miracle.

When we ask kids at Vacation Bible School to watch for God, we give them a way to record their God Sightings. Each day, they bring them to VBS and share them with their small groups. As we hear each other’s testimonies, one thing becomes clear: God works in big things and small things. Things I never thought of as miraculous or done by God’s hand are illuminated for me as a five year-old sees God at work in his grandmother fixing his favorite meal for supper or an eleven year-old recognizes God working in a conflict she’s had with her best friend. A seven year-old sees that God is present with her uncle who is battling cancer and a teenage crew leader gives thanks for the beautiful clouds God created.

When we open our eyes, we can see. We should see.

Watch for God! Amen.