Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sometimes Returning A Call Is The Most Important Thing

I just finished reading Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hseih, who is CEO of Zappos. I have been wanting to read this for a while and just found out my library finally got their copy in.

I was actually a little disappointed in the book. While the history of the company was interesting, I was hoping to have him explain more why they do what they do, how it works, etc. Instead it seemed more fluff, like the type of stuff I used to get from the companies I worked for about how great it was to work there and how important their "culture" statements were. Of course for those companies it was just a bunch of hot air and never actually matched the reality that the company proclaimed.

Reportedly Zappos is very different and they actually mean what they say, but that didn't get communicated very well in the book, and his extensive use of emails that he has sent out did nothing to assist in that either.

But, what I did find most interesting from the book was how they chose UPS as their shipper. As they were starting up to carry their own stock, rather than drop shipping everything, they were looking for a vendor to assist them and so they called UPS, FedEx and DHL. They ended up going with UPS for the very simple reason that UPS was the only company that returned their call!

Sometimes the most important part of being chosen, of being the one people rely on, of being the one that people trust, is really the easiest part, and that is simply responding to the request.  How often we forget that.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Jesus and the Canaanite Woman

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 15:21-28:

This past week witnessed a holiday that I am guessing few of us observed, in fact I am guessing that few of us probably even knew it existed let alone knew that it was observed on Thursday. The holiday is known as Yom HaShoah. It is the day that has been designated within Judaism to remember the Holocaust. But it is not just a day to remember the lives of 6 million jews, and another 5 million others, lost in German concentration camps, but also to remember those who survived and those who helped Jews survive. It is a day to remember an event that I pray will haunt us for all time, and I pray that because if it does not haunt us, if we forget the holocaust, if do not continue to be disturbed by that event then I fear, or rather I know, it is something that will be repeated, and in fact it has been repeated countless times since then in Cambodia, Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Darfur, just to name a few.

The plan to exterminate all of the Jews in Europe, which if Hitler had been successful would have been just a start, was known as the “final solution.” But most people don’t really follow-up on what that actually meant, what was it meant to be the final solution to? It was meant to answer the question, “What are we supposed to do with the Jews?” This was a question that was not just posed by Hitler, but was posed by society in general. It was not just that Hitler was somehow able to convince the Germans that they should dislike Jews and follow him, instead he tapped into deep seated feelings that were already pervasive in the culture and went back a long time.

Rev. Dr. George Hermanson said “social conventions develop over centuries, and by definition, are never explicitly discussed or agreed upon. A crucial aspect of ‘convention” is that it is unspoken and taken for granted. Indeed, so taken for granted that we are by and large completely unaware of how much these codes are embedded in our most deeply held sense of what is true, right and just.”

In his phenomenal book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, lays out the social conventions that allowed people to view Jews as the other, as less then, things like speed limit signs on corners, which would say 25 mph, and then in smaller letters, 65 for Jews. It was things like this which pervaded the society, and went back even to the writings of Martin Luther, which were filled with vitriolic anti-Semitism. People didn’t need to talk about these things, they weren’t taught in any formulaic way, they didn’t need to be because they were so much a part of society that everyone just knew them and just assumed that these things were just “true, right and just.” And so when Hitler proposed a final solution, it didn’t strike many people as outrageous, because they themselves had been asking “what should we do with the Jews?” and proposing their own solutions, which ranged from living with them, locking them into their own neighborhoods, which is what the Russians had done, all the Jews were moved to one area in the country called the pale, which is where we get the term, beyond the pale, some posited forcing them all out of the country, and others proposed combinations of these things and killing those who refused to obey.

The way that unspoken conventions, unspoken rules about people, especially about the “other” work is important to fully comprehend what is going on in today’s story. Jesus has entered into gentile territory in order to try and get away from crowds that surround him everywhere he goes, and he encounters a Canaanite woman. The simple fact that the woman is named as she is is a set-up, but not one that we really understand today because most of us have no idea who or what a Canaanite is, unless we are very familiar with stories from the Hebrew scriptures.

The Canaanites are long time enemies of the Israelites. They were living on the land the Israelites are going to occupy when they leave Egypt, the Canaanites occupy the promised land. When Joshua leads the Israelites against Jericho, and the walls come a tumbling down, this is the first conquest against the Canaanites. We are also told that they are descendents from Canaan, who is the son of Ham, and the grandson of Noah. You might remember that after the ark has settled on dry land, that Noah gets drunk and then something happens with his son Ham. What happens is not entirely clear, and we will actually cover the stories of Genesis next year at this time and will try and look at this, but Ham does something and therefore earns a curse from his father Noah. But here’s the interesting thing, the curse given to Ham actually says “cursed be Canaan, lowest of the slaves shall he be to his brothers.” So Noah doesn’t actually curse his son Ham, he instead curses his grandson Canaan, and then the descendents of Canaan, besides for the Canaanites, are the Phoenicians, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemarites, and Hamathites.

There are 613 Mitzvot, or commandments, given in the Torah, which are the first five books of the Bible. You probably know the term Mitzvot from its singular version Mitzvah, from which we get bar mitzvah, which literally means son of the commandments. The 596th of these 613 commandments comes from Deuteronomy 20:17 and says about the people living in the towns that God is giving to them as the promised land, “You shall annihilate them – the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites.” These are people that the Jews have been told are servants to them and should be annihilated. This is not just sort of permission to treat them roughly, but instead they are told to wipe them out, to literally “not let anything that breathes remain alive.” That is who the Canaanites are to Jews, much like the Jews were to the Germans, and so here comes this Canaanite woman up to the disciples and she is making a major ruckus, she is not just asking for assistance she is shouting for help, and nothing they do, including Jesus ignoring her will make her go away. Her daughter is sick and she wants help and she is demanding them to help. She has apparently heard about Jesus, maybe about his teachings, but most definitely about his healings and so she wants him to heal her daughter.

This woman who is sort of an affront to everything that the Jews believe is “true, right and just” and she confronts them asking for assistance. A Canaanite woman, a person they all despise is forcing herself on them, and so the disciples turn to Jesus and ask him to send her away because she is bugging them. We have already been told several stories like this several times in the Gospels in which the disciples have told Jesus to send someone, or a group of people away, and in the past Jesus has always rebuked the disciples and done whatever it was that he wanted. This happened just two stories before this in the feeding of the five thousand. The disciples tell Jesus to send the group away, and instead he refuses and feeds the group with five loaves of bread and two fish. Everything is set up to follow this very similar pattern.

In addition, the woman comes to Jesus making a very Jewish proclamation. She cries out “have mercy on me, Lord, son of David.” She is not crying out in some foreign language, nor is she trying to fit Jesus into her own understanding of the world. She does not say, “If you are the son of David” then do this. No, instead she cries out to him asking for mercy and making a messianic claim, that Jesus is the son of David. In Matthew’s gospel, the idea of mercy plays a prominent role, as Jesus has already quoted from Hosea saying “I desire mercy not sacrifice” twice when this encounter takes place. This woman seems to be doing everything right, saying all the right things, and everything is set up so that our expectations will be that Jesus will rebuke the disciples for their treatment of the woman and then turn to the woman and grant her request. But that is not what happens, but before we get to that, let’s look at one more parallel story.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is at Jericho, remembering that Jericho was once a Canaanite city, and as he is leaving Bartimeaus, a blind man, cries out “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” Sound familiar? The crowd tries to silence the man, but instead of being quiet or going away, the man imply cries even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus then calls the man to him, asks him what he wants, and then tells the man that his faith has made him well, and instantly the man was able to see (Mark 10:46-52). This set-up is exactly the same as that for the woman, but with one distinct difference, and it is this feature which seems to make all the difference in the world, and that is that we are told she is a Canaanite woman. The only distinguishing characteristic is that this woman is of a heritage that is despised by the Jews, and so rather than rebuking the disciples and then blessing the woman, or at least asking her want she wants, which is what we would expect, Jesus response is so totally out of character that we almost want to do a double take as he says to her “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But then the woman persists, and Jesus says “it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

What we sort of miss through time and the vagaries of translation is what Jesus is actually saying to the woman. This is not just a sort of rebuke; this is actually a racial slur that Jesus is throwing out. We don’t usually use the term dog now as a slur, as we more likely to do a fist-bump with someone and call them a dog, but ancient Israelites did not use the term that way. Instead it was the derogatory term used by Jews towards Canaanites. There is a term which references female dogs, which begins with a b, which sort of begins to get at the connotation, but it’s really a little deeper than that. It’s more as if Jesus had called her a coon, or a chink, or a wop, or a spic, or a mic, or a dike, or a kike, or a towelhead, or one of the other extremely derogatory words that one group of people throws at another, usually the group with power using it against those without power, and they do so usually without thinking about them except that their cultural assumptions tell that it is “true and right and just.”

Now when you hear Jesus’ response in that language, I’m sure that you, like me shudder a little bit and then ask, “Can Jesus really have said that? Can the Jesus who told us to love our neighbors as ourselves really have just thrown out the d-bomb against this woman?” and the simple answer is yes. Now if you do some readings on this passage you will find plenty of people are try and soften it up a little bit, or make excuses for why he didn’t say what he really just said. They’ll say that he was really trying to prove a point to his disciples, who had probably used this slur themselves, as it was a favorite of the time. They’ll say that the woman understood what he was doing, and that he didn’t really mean anything by it. And they’ll say that it was really a test of the woman and her persistence, that Jesus wouldn’t just let this word fly unless he was trying to teach a lesson. But, while those all sound like reasonable excuses they are not ones that I buy even for a minute.

Instead, I think that what we have captured for us here in this amazing story is a moment in which Jesus himself is enlightened and comes to a deeper understanding of his own ministry and mission. In the passages immediately before this, Jesus has heard of the death of John the Baptist and then he keeps trying to get away from the crowds, to find a space where he can be alone, but everywhere he goes people keep surrounding him “begging him” in the words of Matthew to heal them, and then he has another encounter in which he is being challenged by the scribes and Pharisees about keeping the holiness codes. I think that Jesus is tired and frustrated, he’s beginning to get at his wits end, he can’t get away to recharge his batteries, and just then this woman comes shouting at him to help her, and it’s not just any woman, but it’s a Canaanite woman, and he’s just had enough, he can’t take anymore and so he says the first thing that comes into his head, and he throws out this slur. Most of us have been in similar situations in our lives, when we have said something which we immediately regretted the moment we said it, and if we had thought for even a second we never would have said it in the first place. Maybe it’s something we don’t even believe, like something derogatory about someone else, but it’s around us all the time and it just sort of slips out, and there it is, exposing the conventions of society.

What Jesus said would not have been shocking to the disciples. It probably was not even shocking to the woman, in that it was not something that she had probably never heard before. It certainly might have shocked her that Jesus said it, but maybe she did truly understand that she caught Jesus, as some commentators have said, “with his compassion down.” But it’s the woman’s response that truly stops everyone, because she changes the entire nature of the conversation by telling Jesus “Yes Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

In my imagination of this story I always picture Jesus sort of shaking his head at the woman’s response. Not in agreement or even in disbelief, but instead sort of shaking the cobwebs out or clearing his head and being taken to a new level and a deeper understanding and meaning. He is forced, maybe for the first time, to confront his own prejudice and those of his culture. He is forced to a new understanding that his message is not just for the lost sheep of Israel, but is instead for everyone, even the Canaanites. Some have said that we really need to see two Jesus’ in Matthew’s gospel. There is the Jesus BCW – before the Canaanite woman – and there is Jesus ACW – after the Canaanite woman. The one before shows partiality to his own people, but the one after expands and welcomes all people. In the stories leading up to this, and in the stories in other gospels, in similar circumstances Jesus would rebuke the disciples or others, or give them a new teaching so that they went away with a new perspective. Jesus responds to those who offer him hostility with a correction. But in this story it is Jesus who responds with hostility and it is he who is responded to with correction, and he goes away a different person.

As I already said, there are plenty of people who want to try and soften this story, who want to make it something different than what it is, who want to try and add things, or subtract them, in order to make Jesus fit some image that we have of who he is, what he does, and what he has to be. But to do that is to make a mistake. Rev. Steve Charleston says “we need to let the integrity of this strange, bizarre story stand on its own. We need to allow this moment to confront us, to say that Jesus, in fact… lived as a member of his culture, was acting in a very human way of dismissing someone else – for all of the stereotypes and all of the reasons that [we might] mention. Because she was a foreigner, because she was different, because she was female, and because she was pushy.”

After last week’s sermon on Mary Magdalene, several of you came up to me and said that I didn’t really talk about the fact that what Mary Magdalene also represented was the fact that Jesus’ message was for everyone, that it was not simply for men, even though they were his disciples. My response to that is that that is entirely true, and what we can see from the fact that there were women who were following Jesus around was that his message obviously contained something which was appealing and attractive to women, which offered them new hope and new understanding about their relationship with God and about their role in the Kingdom of God. But, I believe that it is the Canaanite woman who shows us who Jesus’ message is for and what it is about, and it is shown to us not because Jesus initially understands that, but instead because he sees in the simplicity of her answer, in her cry for mercy, in her language that is to become the language of the Christian church when we say Kyrie Eleison, lord have mercy, that Jesus is not just for a small group, that Jesus is not just about a small message, but that Jesus’ message is for everyone, that the gospel message is for everyone, that the cross is for everyone, that eternal life is for everyone. It is this woman looking for healing for her daughter which causes Jesus to understand that his healing is for the whole world. Jesus leaves this encounter changed.

Edwin Markham wrote a famous poem about something like this that goes, “they drew a line that shut me out, heretic, rebel, a thing to flout! But love and I had the wit to win. We drew a circle and brought them in.” Drawing circles of who is in and who is out is seemingly part of who we are sometimes. We want to make us’s and thems because it make the world easier to operate it. it’s easier to live in a world of black and white, rather than a world of grays, to live in a world in which it is clear who is with you, and who is against you, who is in your group and who is out, and then to treat the “other” in derogatory and demeaning ways, after all, they are not us.

What Jesus shows us, what the Canaanite woman shows us, is that when we draw these circles, that those who draw them the narrowest will always lose, and those who draw them the biggest, not only win, but are also closer to who and what God has called us to be. It has been said that the easiest way to do evangelism in the church is to see who is at the table, and then recognize who is not there and then reach out to them, to reach out to those who have been excluded, to reach out and offer the bread of life to those who have been rejected, to those who have been told they are not worthy, to those who have been told that God does not love them, to those who have been told that they are dogs, and the children’s bread cannot be wasted on them.

When we begin to draw that circle as broadly as possible and welcoming all to God’s table, then we begin to live into the gospel message and we begin to understand the call of the Canaanite woman and what she means for us as disciples of Christ, and we truly understand what is “true, right and just.” May it be so my sisters and brothers. Amen.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

When The Ball And Everything Else Was White

Yesterday the Boston Red Sox celebrated the 100th anniversary of the opening of Fenway Park with a rematch against the rival New York Highlanders (now the Yankees).  The Yankees won, which was fabulous, and the throwback uniforms were fantastic, especially without the numbers and names.  Everyone kept talking about what things were like in 1912 versus now, comparing shots of the stadium, but the one thing that no one commented on, at least that I heard, was the simple fact that in 1912 because of the "gentlemen's agreement" all the players were white.  Yesterday obviously stood in stark contrast to that reality.

Since we were only a few days away from celebrating Jackie Robinson day (although he was not the first African-American player) it seems this would have been the obvious thing to say, but they didn't.  They might have also commented on the fact that the Red Sox were the first team to scout Jackie Robinson, but became the last team to finally integrate, and when they did they brought in an inferior player so that Tom Yawkey, the owner of the team, could say that African-American players simply weren't as good as white players. (I think Pumpsie Green was there yesterday but the coverage on the MLB network was so bad that I'm not sure)

Congratulations to Fenway.  It's a beautiful park, but not a great one to see a game in as many of the seats are hugely uncomfortable.  Although current ownership has done a great job on doing renovations (which helps them to lower their MLB payroll taxes, so it's not totally altruistic).

 But the one thing that was glaring to me was that in 1912 all the players were white, and that in yesterday's celebration they weren't.  How many great players, like Rube Foster and Josh Gibson, were missed and so their greatness was never known because people simply never saw them play?

Friday, April 20, 2012

The City So Nice They Named It Twice

We have now been back in New Mexico for ten months after having lived in Boston for eight years. We always considered New Mexico home and we are grateful to be back. But lately I've really been missing New York City. Even my wife has mentioned this longing to me. We were watching a movie a couple of weeks ago that was set in Manhattan and she turned to me and said "I miss New York."

We never lived in New York, but it was always right there. It would take us as much time to drive from Boston to New York as it does for us to drive from where we live to Albuquerque, and the two cities are not even comparable. There is just something about New York that I love.

There is always something to do, there is so much energy, there are so many museums, there is just so much.... Boston has great history, but New York is New York. I always loved the point as you approached the Triborough bridge when all of the sudden the city would appear before you. No matter how many times I saw it it was an amazing site, and of course my heart lies just a little further up the road at 161st ave in the Bronx. I know that New Yorkers are pretentious and think they are so much more than others, but even that has a certain charm (it can also be grating as well).

Once we had our daughters we didn't get to the city as often as we did before, although the girls were always excited to go and thought that any city with tall buildings was New York City. If I was to ever seek to serve a church outside of New Mexico again I think the only place we would be willing to go would be New York.

We love being back home, we love being near family and in a place where there is a horizon, and we miss our friends we left behind in Boston but at the moment I really miss New York.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Government Waste

So the GSA has become the poster child for government waste at the moment. I think the Secret Service should be thanking them for this since it's taken some of the coverage away from them. There is no question that the $823,000 that was spent on this Vegas trip seems like a total waste, but what I really wonder is what is the investigation and congressional hearing costing us to expose it?

Congress has the right and the authority to investigate, and when they suspect fraud or other waste they certainly should. But let's add a little perspective to all this. The Senate just rejected the "Buffett Rule" because some argued that the 46.7 billion it would add in income over ten years just wasn't that much money.

They are holding hearings over $823,000 to show the stupidity of some bureaucrat, who will, and probably should, be fired, but are rejecting 46.7 billion as not being enough to be concerned about. I also seem to remember that in the bailout of wall street than many of the people who led us down that disaster each received bonuses well in excess of $823,000. But then there was nothing we could do because they had contracts, which of course we "had to honor." We don't have to honor contracts we make with others, like school teachers, but wall street crooks have to be protected.

And let's not forget about the 6.6 billion that simply disappeared in Iraq. No one has any idea where the money is, although in their final report the special inspector general said that it appeared this money was stolen, not just an "accounting error." I've done a lot of bookkeeping. Forgetting to put in a $20 ATM withdrawl is an accounting error, misplacing 6.6 billion is never just an accounting error. There are way to many zeros to simply be an error.

The report goes on to say that this may be "the largest theft of funds in national history." I know Congress held hearings on this too, but apparently these weren't as interesting, or maybe didn't go on as long, because I certainly don't remember this much coverage or outrage. Again, $823,000 versus 6.6 billion, the math just doesn't add up.

It appears to me that this, like so many other things, is simply politicking in an election year. I am all for stopping ridiculous and wasteful spending, but the GSA is not the only group doing this. Their frivolous expenditures are not the reason we are where we are today, but holding public inquiries simply to say you did something, or just to get your face on TV so you can say it looked like you were doing something, seems to me to be throwing bad money after bad money.

As I said, I don't know what it cost to hold this hearing, but I would strongly suspect that it is probably at least 6 figures. Go figure.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mary of Magdala

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was John 20:1-18:

When I asked for sermon ideas in December in January, one of the questions I received was about the role of women in church and the household and so today we begin a new sermon series, which will take us to the celebration of Pentecost at the end of May, in which we are going to try and address this question in a sort of roundabout way by looking at the scriptural witness we have about women in the Bible, and at the end tackle one of the most controversial statements about women, which is Paul’s famous, or infamous, statement that women should be silent in church, which is found in 1 Corinthians.

I could have just sort of tackled it right away and done some other things with that question but I decided not to for several reasons. The first is that if I save this issue to the last then maybe you’ll stick with me up to that point, but the other reason, and maybe really the most important reason, is that I will try to build a little background, give a little reasoning so that when we get to Paul’s statement we’ll have some foundation to use as we begin to look at and unpack that passage.

When I began asking people what women in the Bible I should preach on, without exception the first name that came up was Mary Magdalene. While the bestselling book of all time is the Bible, the tenth best-selling book in English is
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, which purports to tell us the real story and the truth about Mary. It is also the thirteenth best-selling book of all time in any language. Although people have had a fascination with Mary Magdalene for a long time, and within recent memory, she has played a significant role in Jesus Christ Superstar and in the novel and movie The Last Temptation of Christ, it is The Da Vinci Code which has driven a resurgence in interest and thinking about Mary. But most of this has been more speculation and fiction, than reality.

Now if you’ve been here for some of my sermons in the past you know that I don’t have a very high opinion of Dan Brown. I think he is a great suspense writer, and I have, in fact, read most of his books, but the problem is he includes facts that could be disproved with just two minutes on Wikipedia or ten minutes in the library, and then passes those off facts as the absolute truth, and this is especially true in The Da Vinci Code. So for example, he says that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1950s and contained the earliest Christian writings, when in fact they were found in 1947 and did not contain any Christian writings at all.

But the claims he makes about Mary, and what we can claim about her are even worse, and I strongly suspect have influenced what many of you think about Mary Magdalene. And so to begin we are going to spend some time deconstructing some beliefs of Mary, looking at what we know about her from the Bible, and then because Dan Brown focuses a lot of his material on non-canonical texts, that is books that were not included in the Bible, we will look briefly at those as well, and then we will discuss what she means for us and why she is important.

Mary Magdalene is mentioned only thirteen times in the four gospels, and that includes the times in which the same story occurs in multiple gospels. She does not appear in Acts, which talks about the early church, or in the writings of Paul, which are the earliest writings we have, or in any of the other books in the New Testament. Now she is often seen in more stories in the gospels than where she actually appears because the name Mary is so common.

In fact, of the sixteen women named in the gospels, six of them are named Mary and this is not just an anomaly, as nearly one in four of the women that we know of from first century Palestine were named Mary. That is why normally when the name Mary is used, it comes with a description after it, such as Mary, the mother of Jesus, or Mary the mother of James. We know her as Mary Magdalene because she is apparently from the town of Magdala, which was a fairly large fishing village on the Sea of Galilee, around where Jesus spent most of his ministry.

The first and only mention that we have of her before the crucifixion and resurrection is found in Luke, where Luke says that Jesus was traveling with the disciples “as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.” (8:2-3)

This is a very interesting passage, especially as it relates to Mary. What this tells us is that Jesus and his disciples, who were itinerant preachers and had left their occupations behind, and therefore had no means of income were being supported financially by these women. Since the vast majority of people at the time made just barely enough money to survive, the fact that these women were supporting these thirteen others indicates that they had some level of financial means. The fact that the wife of Herod’s steward is listed amongst these women gives further proof of this.

In addition, since women were responsible for making sure the household was taken care of, one of the few ways that a woman would be able to follow Jesus around would be if she had someone else, probably slaves, at home to take care of the household while she is away. So based on these few facts we might be able to guess that Mary had money of some kind to allow her not only to support Jesus but to be able to travel with him. This money could have come from her family, and under Roman law, contrary to common belief, women were able to inherit, or she may have had an occupation that allowed her to make a good income, like Lydia who supports Paul who we are told sells purple linen, or its possible Mary was married to someone who had wealth.

One of the reasons that Mary Magdalene is often thought of as a prostitute also comes from this passage. It’s not often that we can say exactly when an idea began, but in this case we can. On September 14, 591, Pope Gregory delivered a sermon in which he claimed that the seven demons that were cast out of Mary represented the seven deadly sins, and that she was also the sinful woman who Luke says had anointed Jesus with oil, which is the passage just before she is mentioned. There are several problems with this attribution.

The first is that a woman being identified as “sinful” does not mean that she was a prostitute, instead it simply means that she did not keep Jewish laws. Second, nowhere in scripture is prostitution attributed to demon possession. Instead, it almost always relates to health or psychological issues. Third, Mary Magdalene is not the sinful woman who anoints Jesus with the oil. This is someone else, and in the context of each gospel it is clear that this is the case.

We also know that Mary is not the woman who is caught in adultery in which Jesus gives the famous phrase, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Again, although a prevalent trope, and it appears in both The Last Temptation of Christ and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, it is not scriptural. Finally, as a counterpoint to this view of Mary, the Eastern Orthodox Churches have never viewed Mary Magdalene as a sinful woman who then becomes repentant and a follower of Christ. Instead, they say that Mary was always so virtuous that the reason the devil sent her seven demons was in order to try and get her to do something bad.

So, all that we can really say about Mary from the Bible is that she was a follower of Jesus, that she helped support Jesus and the disciples, and that she traveled with them to Jerusalem for the Passover and was present at both the crucifixion and at the resurrection. But before we get to the crucifixion and resurrection, let’s clear up what is probably the most shocking claim, at least to some, that Dan Brown makes in The Da Vinci Code and that is that Mary was married to Jesus and had his child.

He makes this claim based on the fact that he says that the non-canonical gospels, again those are books that are not found in the Bible, claim that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. The problem is, as you might guess, not a single gospel or other document either canonical or non-canonical makes such a claim. In fact no document makes this claim until the 13th century, nearly 1200 years after Jesus. But, some of the non-canonical gospels do indeed address Mary, and there are two that Brown highlights.

The first is the Gospel of Mary, which purports to tell a secret message Jesus gave to Mary. It should be noted that this document does not in fact claim to be written by Mary, but is instead about Mary, although it never actually identifies this Mary as Mary Magdalene. Brown says that in it Jesus tells Mary about how the church is to function after Jesus dies and is resurrected, and that is the reason why the church ignored it or tried to suppress it was because it says that Mary was to be the head of the church. Again, a little bit of research would have shown that this gospel says nothing of the kind.

First it takes place not while Jesus is alive, but instead after the resurrection. Second it has nothing to do with the church, but instead it is a treatise on the afterlife and what is to come. The Gospel of Mary is an extremely important text for understanding Christian Gnosticism, which I don’t have time to describe here except to say that it was deemed to be a heresy, and it is the only gospel from antiquity attributed to a woman, but it says nothing about the church or about Jesus and Mary being married.

The other non-canonical gospel that Brown highlights is the Gospel of Philip, which does indeed say, as Brown claims, that Mary was Jesus’ companion. But then Brown says, through one of his characters, that “as any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse.” The problem, and you knew there would be, is that the Gospel of Philip is not written in Aramaic, but instead is written in Coptic, which is an ancient Egyptian language. And the word used here for companion is not even Coptic or Aramaic, but instead is borrowed from Greek where it means what it says, companion, not spouse.

In addition, it is claimed that the text says that Jesus and Mary would often kiss. But because the manuscript has deteriorate and there are gaps in the text it isn’t even really clear what it says. How it reads is “[gap in the manuscript] kiss her [gap in the manuscript] on her [gap in the manuscript].” Who is kissing her is missing, although from the context we can guess it is Jesus, so we know that he is kissing her somewhere, but were not sure where. For us this might mean that they had a very special relationship, after all they were kissing, but that is not what it means here. Because if it does mean that, they we need to totally rethink things, because the Gospel of Philip also says that Jesus kissed James.

But what they are talking about is the kiss of peace, which we know it was practiced in early churches, because at the end of 2nd Corinthians Paul says “greet one another with a holy kiss.” When we greet one another at the beginning of worship we do it with a handshake, because we think you might be a little freaked out if we asked you to kiss one another, but that is how you would greet each other in the early church, and of course there are still cultures where this is the case.

Now even after all of this some of you might still want to say, isn’t it possible that Jesus was married to Mary? Sure it’s possible, but if you want to talk about possibilities, I would say it’s more likely she is married to Peter? Why? Because Peter is the only disciple that we know for sure is married, as Jesus heals his mother-in-law, and in many of the writings Peter and Mary are constantly arguing. Sounds like an old married couple to me. The problem with talking about possibilities is that all of these are arguments from silence, and those are arguments that are simply impossible to make.

The simple fact is, if Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, I would expect the scriptures to say that, but they don’t, and absolutely no other writings give us this information. In addition, when Mary encounters Jesus after the resurrection, in the only words we have recorded from her to Jesus, which we heard this morning, she does not call him honey, or darling or husband, as we might expect if they were married, instead she calls him rabbi, or teacher. And to dismiss one more argument, Dan Brown says that it would have been very unusual, and against Jewish custom, for Jesus not to be married. While it might have been unusual it would not have been unique, as we have lots of witnesses to non-married Jewish men, Paul being one of them, as well as members of the Essene community, who were the one who preserved the dead seas scrolls.

Now let me just say, for the conspiracy theorists amongst us, I am not trying to defend the church or how it has treated Mary Magdalene, or women in general, because as we get through this series you’ll find out that I will criticize when necessary. In fact I know of no conspiracy about Mary. I would agree that her memory has sometimes been attacked by the church, but I don’t think that the way to increase her importance, or to return her memory is to proclaim that the only reason she is important is because she was married to Jesus and had his children. Rather than freeing her, which is what I think those who want to elevate her position as a disciple are seeking to do, I think they are giving in to just another view of acceptable roles of women. Mary is important to us because of her gender, but she is also important regardless of her gender

It is clear that after the other disciples had fled and deserted Jesus that Mary Magdalene and some of the other women were there at the cross. And then on Easter morning it is clear that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. While who else is there depends on which gospel account you are reading, they all have Mary Magdalene present. In addition, she is always listed first, even in Luke’s list of those who supported Jesus and his disciples she is listed first, so clearly she held a position of importance and prominence amongst even this group, and she clearly held a position of importance for the early Christians as well.

In the Roman world, women were not trusted. They could not testify in court because it their testimony was said not be believeable, their testimony wasn’t worth anything. While we might say that the three ways to get a message out are to telegraph, telephone and tell-a-woman, the Romans did not believe that. We even have scriptural witness to this as there was hesitancy by some, Peter in particular, to believe what Mary was saying. And yet, the first person to witness the empty tomb, the first person to see the risen Christ, the first person to proclaim that Christ is risen, was a woman.

If, as Dan Brown claims, the church had wanted in a great conspiracy to try and diminish Mary Magdalene they would not have retained her story, they would have simply removed her all together, and there was certainly plenty of reasons for the early church to try and silence this witness. But instead we have her story told, not just once, but in all four gospels. In addition, we have tales of her in other non canonical gospels, indicating that her story circulated throughout the Christian community and rather than trying to diminish her importance, even with what Pope Gregory did, the church has instead elevated and honored her.

An apostle is one who is sent, and so in reality, Mary is the first apostle. It has even been argued that without Mary that the resurrection might not have become known. It is Mary who goes to the tomb, it is Mary who encounters Christ and it is Mary who is the first to proclaim the resurrection story. In the tenth century, Mary was given the title Apostle to the Apostles, that is the messages delivered by the apostles after the resurrection are all dependent upon Mary’s witness. The witness that society said could not and should not be trusted is the message that brings us here today. When everyone else, or to be honest, when all the men had fled, Mary was there. When all the men were in hiding not sure what to do, Mary was there, she was the one who went to the tomb, she was the first one to encounter the risen Jesus, and she is the first one to proclaim the Christ is risen.

Jesus does not first appear to the disciples, he appears to Mary and she is the one who is sent, she is the first apostle of the church. Although she has certainly been battered around at times, Mary Magdalene holds a position of great importance in the church. She was obviously changed by her encounter with Jesus and his ministry and she became a devoted follower, and she is in fact, in most gospels, the example of what it means to be sent into the world to proclaim the gospel message.

Because of Mary we are forced to ask, are we going to be like the disciples and flee from the cross or are we going to be at the foot of the cross? Are we going to be like Peter and go to the tomb only to go home, or are we going to be like Mary and stay around in order to encounter the risen Christ and then proclaim the message? Are we going to listen to what society says about us or are we going to be true to ourselves and our message from God?

Jesus calls Mary by name and then tells her that she cannot keep his presence to herself, she must tell others what she has seen, and she does. She is the first one sent to proclaim the message. Mary Magdalene is the apostle to the apostles. She was sent to proclaim that she had seen the Lord, and the message continues to us today, but the question we must answer is, what are we going to do with the message that Mary proclaims? Amen.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Easter v. Passover

Got behind on my Daily Show watching, but Jon Stewart's take on the White House's Easter and Passover celebrations was great. You can watch part one here, and part two here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Francona Says No

Former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona has told the Red Sox he is not interested in returning to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park because he is still upset with the team and he's not ready to make nice. One of the things that he says most upset him, besides for how his firing was handled, was the fact that someone from the Sox leaked to the Boston Globe that they thought Francona had been abusing pain medications which affected his ability to manage the team last year.

The way he was treated really should not have come as a surprise to anyone, nor should the fact that the information appeared in the Globe, because that is how the Red Sox have treated nearly everyone in recent years. The Boston Globe, which is part owner of the Sox, is the mouthpiece for the Sox, and it is pretty rare for them not to parrot the party line. In addition, they are the ones used to abuse and attack people when they leave.

When Nomar Garciaparra was traded, the Globe proceeded to publish a series of articles from sources "inside" which talked about how he had quit on the team, what a terrible teammate he was and how everyone was glad to see him go. When Manny Ramirez was traded, the Globe published a series of articles from sources "inside" which talked about how Manny had quit of the team, how everyone was tired of "Manny being Manny," and how happy everyone was to see him go. This was in spite of the fact that Manny led the team in batting average, on base percentage, and RBI during the time he was supposed to have quit. Now Manny did quit on the team in 2005, but the team and the Globe were strangely silent about that at the time.

So the treatment that Francona received should not have surprised anyone, because anyone who follows the team knew it was coming. My question is where was Francona when the same thing was happening before? Why didn't he come out and defend Nomar or Manny or any of the other players and personel who were dragged through the mud by the team and the
Globe? When negative behavior is tolerated for years, even by consent through silence, you cannot then express outrage after it happens to you.

Was Terry Francona treated unfairly? No question. But, was he treated in any way that was different from how the Sox have treated everyone else they have wanted to portray in a negative light in order to protect themselves? No. This is how the Sox and the Globe operate, and sadly most Sox fans buy it hook line and sinker and they too begin to parot the party line because the Globe tells them to.

Sorry Terry, the team did what they have always done it's just that you were the victim this time instead of someone else.

Update: Grady Little, another manager who was mercilessly dragged through the mud by the team and the press, has not replied to his invitation to attend. It is assumed that he will not be there.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Presuming Whiteness, Part Two

Before moving to rural New Mexico to serve, my last church was in a suburb of Boston (although the town was founded only 9 years after Boston, so not a suburb as the way most people think of it). The congregation, which was primarily white, had a sister-church relationship with a congregation in Boston that consisted primarily of people of Caribbean descent.

What always struck me every time I went into their sanctuary was that the pictures on the walls consisted entirely of white faces, including Jesus. The church was built when the neighborhood was primarily white, mainly Irish and Eastern European, and the church still reflected that even though the congregation no longer did.

I took our confirmation class there one time, and after it was over I asked them what they thought of the pictures of white people on the walls, especially Jesus. One of them said, "I didn't really think anything of it, everyone thinks of Jesus as white, don't they?" And then she had to think about it for a while. I always wondered, although I never asked, what the people in the church thought about the white Jesus. Even Jesus is presumed to be white.

One of the things that Trayvon Martin case brought up was about black parents having "the talk" with their children, and especially with their sons. Now normally when we talk about parents having "the talk" with children it's about sex. But this talk was about how to interact with police and other's in positions of authority, of what to do and what not to do. Some people sort of smirked as this was brought up, as if this wasn't necessary because these things don't happen. But this "talk" became all too evident to me after having preached at this church one time.

It was shortly after President Obama's inauguration and I was talking about the fact that while Obama's election was a move in the right direction that it did not indicate that we now lived in a "post-racial" country as so many people wanted to say. As an example I talked about the then recent shooting of Oscar Grant by BART police in Oakland.

After my sermon, the lay leader for the event took the time to remind the congregation what to do if they were stopped by the police. To be respectful, to follow their directions exactly, and not to do anything to upset them or to escalate the situation. As a white male this was a startling moment in my life because I would never have had to have said that to my congregation.

I would never have had to tell them what to do when police pulled them over. I would in fact never have even considered saying something like that during worship because it simply was not a reality either for me or for my congregation. None of them had ever been pulled over for being white, and so didn't need to be reminded. But for a congregation of primarily minorities this was most definitely a part of their reality and therefore something with which the church had to deal.

What was also presumed by members of my congregation was that Dorchester, where the other church was located, was in a dangerous part of town and therefore wasn't safe to go to. While there was definitely more crime, including violent crime, in that neighborhood, what I had to remind them was that the high school that served that church had not had any students killed there, whereas our high school had had a murder, and thus violence can and will strike anywhere. That being white, and being a white community, did not make us immune to violence.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Presuming Whiteness

A little while ago I was reading Hunting Season by Nevada Barr. At the beginning of the novel we find Anna Pigeon sitting in a church for a wedding at which her boyfriend, Paul Davidson, who is a priest and sheriff, is performing the service. The groom is named Lonnie and is a deputy sheriff. As the wedding progresses, we are told that the bride's name is Showanda.

As I heard the name I remember thinking, "oh, they're black." I was struck by the simple fact that in hearing the story I just simply assumed that the characters were white, until I was given information that indicated otherwise. I also then made the assumption that if Showanda was black, then Lonnie must also be black as well. That is, I quickly came to the assumption that this was not an inter-racial marriage. Later we are told that Lonnie is indeed black, but why did I make that assumption to begin with?

The simple fact is our society makes the assumptions that people are white, unless we are told otherwise. Just as we make the assumption that someone in a leadership position or certain occupations are men, unless told otherwise, and in other occupations (like nursing or teaching) we assume that they are women, unless told otherwise.

I just finished John Grisham's newest book and I assumed all the characters were white. I did so for several reasons. The first is that their ethnicity was never described, except for one character, who was described as Asian. If a character is not white then we need to say so, but if they are white we don't say anything because everyone will know they are white. The second reason I assumed whiteness is because, like nearly all Grisham's novels, it was about attorney's, and we assume "professionals" to be white, unless told otherwise.

We can also see this in the recent controversy surrounding The Hunger Games. Now I have to be honest that I had never heard of these books until the movie came out, and still no nothing about them, but there has been quite about made that the characters were played by African-American actors. The problem for some is that they never saw them this way, they presumed they were white, even though they are described in the books as having dark skin. But people wanted to identify with them and so they made them white, and when they saw otherwise they were quite upset, even to the point of one person saying that Rue's death wasn't as sad because she was black. It was sad when she was white, but not when she was black.

Because whiteness has been normalized, and also elevated as the preference, then we make the assumption that characters and people are white until we have evidence otherwise. Does this make us racist? To a degree, but more because it's ingrained in us then because it's something we consciously act upon. But we still act upon it and for non-whites the outcomes for this unconscious racism are the same as for those who are overt.

In studies done on hiring practices, researchers have found that people who have names that are assumed to be white are much more likely to be called for interviews then those having names that might identify a race, especially for blacks. Thus the information that changes the presumption of whiteness changes their ability to actually get a job.

This leads me to the Trayvon Martin case. I don't know anything about George Zimmerman. I don't know whether he is a racist or not. But, the one thing that no one is talking about is the fact that he lived in a gated community. This is noted in news stories, but is not being discussed.

One of the main reasons for gated communities is to keep "undesirables" out, and to protect those inside from "those people." All too often those "undesirables" are minorities, and in particular blacks. These are communities that are almost exclusively white,and thus unstated, but there all the same, they are the "right" people. I am guessing this is why the news media initially assumed that Zimmerman was white, and then later continually referred to him as "a white Hispanic."

So when Zimmerman saw a black youth, and one with a hoodie on (and we all know what that means because we've all seen the portrayal thousands of times) in a white community, the only thing he could think was "this is a person who is suspicious" because people like "that" don't belong in gated communities. What happened next is totally unknown, and will probably always remain that way because the only person there who can tell us who is still alive is Zimmerman and he obviously has something to protect.

But the simple fact is if Trayvon had been white, even wearing a hoodie, he would have been safe because he "belonged" where he was, because we presume whiteness and assume it to be safe. But Trayvon didn't fit that stereotype because we have given black men another one. Zimmerman was just acting out of the presumptions that we as society have, and all of us have it even when we don't want to.

I don't want to assume that characters are white, but I do, and when I catch myself making those assumptions I'm always disturbed by them, but they are there nonetheless. They are what we are taught and they are continually reinforced throughout our lives. The simple fact is we presume whiteness and until we get past that then race will always be an issue.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Rocks And Bread

This was my sermon for Maundy Thursday. The text was 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:

In her autobiography, Wait Till Next Year, Doris Kearns Goodwin recounts how growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950’s she and her friends acted out the hearings being conducted by Senator Joe McCarthy. “We had begun by transforming our living rooms into a counterpart of the Senate chamber,” she said. “We set up a table facing a single chair in the middle of the room. The person designated as the accused sat in the chair while the rest of us asked questions and made charges from behind the table. As our accused fidgeted uneasily on the stand, we grew increasingly hostile, interrupting explanations with points of order, claiming we had documents and proof to back up our accusations. We shouted and argued just as we had seen the counsel do on television,” she said.

“Day after day we played this treacherous game, even though one of us usually ended up running from the room in tears. We accused one another of being poor sports, of cheating at games. We exposed statements of the ‘accused’ which denigrated others. Marilyn… accused Elaine of saying that the new girl on the block, Natalie, was fat; Elaine accused Marilyn of saying that Eileen was a crybaby… Eddie accused Eileen of complaining that Elaine was too bossy. Often these charges were true. We did, indeed, talk behind one another’s backs, but we had never imagined that our slurring words, bad mouthed comments, and hurtful language would be made known to others….

“As the games progressed, they became even more vicious and mean-spirited. Marilyn said she knew the truth about my family, that my real mother had died when I was born, and that my mother was really my grandmother. Stung by the attack, I lashed back: ‘How can you say such a thing? Your name isn’t even Greene. It’s Greenberg. You’re the one who’s hiding things, not me.’

“Our games created rifts between us,” she says, “dividing us into rival camps, until we finally grew tired, and a little afraid, of the anxiety and the nastiness. One day, as we sat in our circle trying to decide whose turn it was to be the accused, we chose instead not to play anymore. It was as if a terrible fever had gripped us, and now it was broken. We moved the chair and table back to their proper places and never again conducted our mock trials.”

Of course we don’t really have to go back to the height McCarthyism in order find similar behavior taking place, not necessarily amongst children, but in society in general especially during this election year. How often have we heard that someone is not American enough, not conservative enough, not liberal enough, not black enough or not white enough? Not sufficiently pro-capitalism, or not Christian enough, not masculine enough or not feminine enough? Of people are too of anything of these things.

These are attacks that surround us on an almost daily basis, and somehow, like Doris Kearns Goodwin’s story they show us something fundamental about who we are as humans, about the ugly side of our nature. We try and make ourselves look good, try and protect our own identity and beliefs, try and do everything we can to feel better about ourselves, by attacking others. Sometimes we do this verbally and sometimes it’s done physically. Sometimes it’s done merely out of spitefulness and sometimes it’s done under the guise of defending and protecting the law, especially if it’s one that we can proclaim was handed down by God. If God said it then it must be carried out, or at least as long as it’s a law we support, since we like to ignore vast numbers of other laws found in the Bible.

In one of the most famous scenes in the New Testament, which is found in the Gospel of John, some scribes and Pharisees bring Jesus a woman who they claim was caught in adultery and they want to stone her as required by the law. The first question that comes to mind is where is the man, as it does take two to commit adultery, and by the rule laid down in Deuteronomy (Deut. 22:23-24) says both are to be killed, but regardless of where the man is, what does Jesus do? He says let the person without sin be the first one to cast the stone. And then one by one the people drop their stones and leave until it is only Jesus and the woman left. Then Jesus looks at her and says “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” and she answers, “No one sir.” And then Jesus says “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and from now on do not sin again.” (John 8:1-11) He does not cast the stone as we are so want to do.

Tonight is Maundy Thursday, the night we remember Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, and then his betrayal and arrest. The word Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means commandment, and comes from John’s version of last night in which Jesus says “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” That is the new commandment, that we love one another, and why? Because Jesus has loved us. The world wants to bring out stones and create division and discord, it wants to spew hate and dissensions, to create divisions based on what we look like or what we think or what we do, but Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

For me what makes the stories of this night so amazing is that Jesus could have played the role of judge and jury. He could have attacked the disciples, and he could have been like the children playing prosecutor and divulging all of the dirty secrets that they knew about each other, he could have offered them all stones for their transgressions, and worse for the transgressions that they were about to undertake. But what does he do instead? Jesus washes their feet. This is the role normally relegated to servants, and not just to any servant, but to the lowliest of the servants, and yet there is Jesus, getting down on his hands and knees washing their feet, washing all of their feet, washing the feet of Judas, who is to betray him, washing the feet of Peter who is to deny him, and washing the feet of the other ten who will all abandon him. Love each other as I have loved you, Jesus says.

Rather than condemning the disciples, rather than picking up a stone, instead Jesus gathers with them at the table and offers them bread and wine. Even though Jesus knows what is about to happen, he breaks bread with all of them. He knows that Judas is about to betray him, and yet Judas is still there, still eating with Jesus, and because we are told that Judas dips his bread into Jesus’ cup we know that he is seated at the most important seat at the table. By sitting next to Jesus, who is the host, he is sitting in the place reserved for the most honored guest. Judas, the man who is about to do the unthinkable, is sitting in the highest place of honor at the table. And Peter, who Jesus also knows will abandon him and deny him three times, is also there, sharing in the breaking of the bread and in drinking from the cup. They are all there. Jesus could have offered them stones, but instead he gives them bread. He could have broken disciples apart, but instead he brings them together and he gives them himself.

Jesus did not deny the meal to anyone, instead he invites all the disciples, and he invites us, to bring our whole lives to the feast, to bring our biggest weaknesses, or biggest sins, or biggest doubts, to bring everything to the table and to gather with him in fellowship. In the passage we just heard from 1 Corinthians, Paul is not telling this information to the Corinthians because they are doing such a good job in celebrating communion, instead he is chastising them. Rather than having communion bringing them all together, it is instead breaking them apart, and they are casting metaphorical stones at one another. Rather than gathering as one body of Christ and destroying the barriers that keep them apart so that they might be united in covenantal community with one another and with Christ; instead they are creating boundaries and barriers that are keeping them apart and destroying the very thing that Jesus sought to create. Do this as often as you gather in remembrance of me, Jesus says. We remember, so that we may re-member, that we might come back together as one community, as one people, as one body of Christ, united in our differences, united in our brokenness, united as one people sharing a meal together.

As Jesus begins his ministry, he is led into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days, a time we remember during these forty days of lent, and the devil said to him, “if you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread,” and Jesus said “It is written ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matt. 4:3-4). Surely if Jesus could have transformed stones into bread, he could have also transformed bread into stones, which is what we would have wanted to do on that last night, to turn the bread into stones and to cast them at those who are about to betray, to turn the bread into stones and to cast them at those deny, to turn the bread into stones and to cast them at those about to abandon us, to turn the bread into stones and to cast them at those who are about to arrest and try us.

But Jesus does not offer the disciples stones, he offers them bread and a new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you,” and he offers it to all of them, he offers it to Judas and to Peter, and to James and John, and to Matthew and Simon, and all the other disciples, and he offers it to us. Because of Christ, because Christ first loved us, we are invited to his table, to eat at his meal, to come together as one body, for we all partake of the one loaf, to remember as we are re-membered. Jesus does not do as we would like to do, he does not do as the world does. He does not pick up stones and cast them, he does not even condemn those that the world wants so desperately to condemn, instead he offers peace and forgiveness, healing and reconciliation, understanding and compassion, he offers us bread and the fruit of the vine.

Jesus gives of himself and invites us to his table in fellowship, in oneness, in unity. Love each other, Jesus commands, as I have loved you. And how do we do this? As Jesus did, by being a servant and offering bread instead of stones. May we do likewise my sisters and brothers. Amen.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Gendered At The Grocery Store

I am the one who does most of the grocery shopping for my family. In this I know I stand out, as according to a survey, 70% of grocery shopping is done by women. But the number of men who do the shopping is increasing, and men and women also tend to shop differently from each other (men are more impulsive at the grocery store for example). This means that as the market expands that stores will have to begin making changes, but here is an easy one they can start implementing now.

Yesterday as I went to the check-out with a full cart I chose my line very poorly and so was standing there for a long time waiting. At the impulse area there were all of the typical magazines you expect to find, but there was not a single one aimed at men. While I was waiting I couldn't even try and occupy myself by looking through some magazine, which is what my wife does. There was no
Sports Illustrated or Popular Mechanics or anything I was interested in. The only thing that would have been even remotely appealing was People.

What's worse about this selection is what it says about what the stores and marketers think about women and what they are interested in. The viewership of professional sports by women has more than doubled in the past few decades, but you couldn't tell that from the check-out area. 1/3 of viewers of Monday Night Football are women, but I think grocery stores simply believe it is on in the background while the women read Cosmo so they can discover the top ten secrets about men that every woman should know.

Could it really be that there is no impulse market among women for other types of magazines? And, forget about Sports Illustrated for the moment, what about Time or Newsweek or other things to keep us informed? And since men are more impulsive then women at the store, wouldn't this be the perfect place to put things for men to buy?

I've said it before, and I will inevitably say it again, it's amazing how far we've come in gender equity, and yet how far we still have to go. The grocery store still has a long way to go in recognizing the simple fact that not all shoppers are women, and not all women only want to read about movie stars and the newest gossip. Some want to read about sports and other things, as do the men who are spending their time there.