Girls On The Rise – Part 3: A Servant Hearted Virgin and The Willingness of Women

This is part 3 of a series on what the bible has to say about letting women lead.

Click here to start at the beginning.

Women aren’t perfect, men aren’t either. There’s no implication in this series that they are. Even though we’re all level when it comes to our perfect status, women get the short end of the stick when it comes to being recognized as an equal contributor to influence others.

Even though women, like all huMANity, are flawed, they are irrepressibly  competent, capable, and courageous. It’s not their imperfections that hold them back, it’s the attitude and perception that they have leadership limitations. Imperfection doesn’t equal limitation. The fractured view of woman sets statutes of limitations upon them.

Unfairly.

Despite the marred view, women are doing some incredible and irreplaceable work in the world.

The attribute that stands out to me most about women, is their willingness. This quality is not true of all women, but it is a defining aspect of many who emerge as cultural influencers.

Willingness is defined and demonstrated by openness and boldness. Willingness is a neutral virtue that expresses itself in different ways, some healthy and some risqué.

Take Britney Spears. Willing to dance around with a snake around her neck. Willing to be a slaaaaaaave for you.

Unfortunately for the unbridled lust of men, there are many women who are willing to take it all off.

Other women are willing to stay with him, even though he doesn’t even deserve to date a tree.

These are a few examples of the risqué nature of willingness. There are some actions and behaviors that women should be unwilling to associate with and participate in.

Then there’s the glorious nature of willingness. A willingness that is not risqué but risky and brave, compelling many to live vibrant lives of willingness.

For instance:

Amelia Earhart was willing to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, and she was willing to attempt circumnavigating the globe. She is quoted as saying, “I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.

One of the most radiant versions of willingness is Brene Brown, who was willing to be vulnerable in front of a TED Talk audience with her shame. “Vulnerability,” she shared, “is our most accurate measurement of courage — to be vulnerable, to let ourselves be seen, to be honest.”

Then there’s the list of women I mentioned in part two of this series, who are read and tweeted and quoted and envied for being willing to admit that their lives are a hot mess. Shauna Niequest describes her life like this:

This is who I am…not the sparkly image, not the smoke in mirrors, not the accomplishments or achievements. This is me, with all my limitations, with all my weaknesses.

Present Over Perfect

And how about Michele Obama? Stepping to a mic, like Joan of Arc to a battle, in New Hampshire, willing to speak up for the dignity and sexual protection of women, with gracefulness and confidence, “The shaming comments about our bodies,” she spoke bravely, “the disrespect of our ambitions and intellect. The belief that you can do anything you want to a woman.” Amy Sullivan wrote a report for yahoo.com that asserted Michele Obama as one of the most powerful speakers of this era because she is human, and with that bracing humanity comes vulnerability. It means hearing the hateful things said about her and her family, and being hurt. In large part for the sake of her daughters and all children.

One of finest examples of willingness comes from one of the most popular women in history, Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Mary was from a town called Nazareth and she was pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. The gospel of Luke tells us that Mary was a virgin and pregnant with the son of God at the same time. When word got to Joseph, he was less than thrilled and more than unwilling to move forward to marry Mary. He must have been pretty close to calling it off that an angel had to assure him that it was all part of God’s plan.

Mary, in contrast, was willing from the beginning.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.”

Her response is awe-inspiring. Holy. Sacred. Her words may have made her more immaculate than her womb did. This willingness–to be the Lord’s servant–set her apart, and it has set women like her apart ever since.

This is the willingness to go to church when your boyfriend or husband is antagonistic or uninterested.

This is the willingness of single women to travel as a missionary to foreign lands with unfamiliar people and customs.

This the willingness to step into roles of leadership and authority over girls, boys, women, and men with composure and humility.

This the willingness to step out of the stereotypes and embrace a God-sized vision and direction for life.

To carry God in the womb.

To be a servant of the Lord, no matter the risk.

To deliver the good news to a world of raised eyebrows and hardened hearts toward women, with a message for all people.

This should be the mantra: If she can, we can.

Mary is a tangible example of willingness that all women can imitate. You don’t have to be a virgin or a Jew. All you have to be is willing. Willing to receive an assignment from God and face the challenge and the criticism and the misogyny head on. Who knows, you may just bring God into someone’s world in ways you never expected.

A child in your classroom.

A teen mom in your neighborhood.

A wife on the rocks of divorce.

A coworker in the office.

A man set in his prejudiced ways.

God works miracles through the willingness of women.

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An Emotional Advent 2: Wonder Woman

Photo cred: jaymantri.com

I will be blogging through the emotions of the Christmas story this holiday season (see part 1). This post will concentrate on Mary’s worries found in Luke 1:26-38:

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come to you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

My wife and I have been walking a long journey on our way to becoming resource (foster) parents. It’s been an on-again-off-again journey, starting and stopping, and then restarting. We’re almost there.

There was no voice of God or angelic messenger pointing us in this direction. It was billboards and evening news and conversations that caught our attention. I can still see a random billboard from my college town advertising foster care. Makes sense, right? Eat at McDonalds. Drink Coca-Cola. Be a foster parent. We would turn on the news and somehow it was perfectly timed with the segment highlighting foster care in our county. Then we began to notice we were having more and more conversations with people who were in foster care, or who were foster parents, or  who were somewhere in the process. There was no escaping it. DSS (or God) had us on their list.

The only list I had was a list of worries.

What if people think we’re crazy?
What if we don’t have enough money?
What if they hurt my kids?
What if my kids hurt them?
What if we don’t have enough money?
What if we can’t handle the change?
What if we’re not ready?
What if we overlooked something?
What if we don’t have enough, yeah, you know…

Worry comes naturally to me.

Worry may be the result of the what ifs, but its roots go deep into our psyche. Worry takes many forms, writes, Dr. Henry Hallowell, but it almost always stems from an overwhelming sense of vulnerability and powerlessness. Yes! Yes, I couldn’t agree more. When I worry, I feel exposed, weak, incapable, and overwhelmed by my list.

How do you think Mary felt when she found out that God had chosen her to conceive, carry, and give birth to none other than, God?

Maybe a little what if-y?!?

If the Gospel of Matthew was written to give us a view of the announcement and arrival of Jesus Christ through the eyes of Joseph, the Gospel of Luke was written from the vantage point of Mary–what she saw, what she heard, and how she felt.

Matthew tells us that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Luke tells us that God sent the angel Gabriel to meet with Mary in person. (Lucky!) How did she respond?

With worry (she was greatly troubled).

Then with wonder.

Somehow Mary was able to open herself to the angel’s message. She doesn’t ask what if, she asks, how is this possible? Virgins don’t have babies, unless they’re not virgins. Mary’s question is rational. The angel’s response is supernatural, The Holy Spirit will come to you, the Most High will overshadow–God will take care of it.

This is where wonder takes over, or even displaces, Mary’s worries.

I am the Lord’s servant, Mary answered. May your word to me be fulfilled.

Mary demonstrates the unassuming, the unexpected–the hidden–power of wonder.

If worry asks, “what if…?,” wonder asks, “what is God up to?”

Worry is the inability to see possibility.

Wonder opens us up to impossibilities.
Unexpected possibilities.
Strange circumstances.
Uncomfortable callings.
Uncertain outcomes.
Challenging responsibilities.
To participate in miracles.

Worry wants certainty.

Wonder opens us to allow God to operate outside of our God-box. Wonder allows us to join the plans of the Divine, instead of confining the Divine to our plans. Wonder is threatening to our reputation, our relationships, our comfort, and our paradigms.

But certainty is threatening to our souls, because it won’t allow us to move.

Worry says, what if…

Wonder says,
Go
Do
Give
Try
Sacrifice
Seek
Trust
Journey
Discover
Stretch
Wake up
(and for us, foster)
God is inviting all of us into a grander story.

Mary and the angels of Christmas beckon us. Worry less. Wonder more.

Wonder will take us where worry and certainty never will.

The Advent story is good news for all humans who worry, because even the vulnerable and powerless can still wonder.

An Advent Meditation: Lead me out of certainty into wonder.

A Podcast for Reflection: Audio Liturgy Podcast – Wonder

Preggers With Grace and Truth

What’s the big deal about the virgin Mary? In my opinion she gets more press than she desrves. It is important to acknowledge that she, as a virgin, did give birth to Jesus, but this didn’t make her sinless or better than anyone else; and it doesn’t set her above Jesus in holiness.

Mary is just like you and me.

Throughout hundreds of years it has been belived that Mary, the mother of God, was full of grace, making her sinless and equipping her to provide others with grace for the salvation of their souls. This is a distortion. Mary played an important role in God’s story of rescue and restoration, but it did not exalt her to the level of perfection above the rest of mankind.

She’s just like you and me.

The idea that Mary is set apart from the rest of humanity is based on a misinterpretation of a verse in the Gospel of Luke. An angel appeared to Mary to reveal the part she would play in God’s plan to redeem humanity and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” And a couple verses later reiterates, ” Mary, you have found favor with God.” It’s understandable that some would interpret this in such a way that would place Mary on a pedestal over and above the rest of mankind. God doesn’t just show up on any ‘ol person’s doorstep claiming that they’re favored by Him, right?

Or does He?

As the story of Jesus’ birth progresses angels show up again, and this time the sky is packed out with them in all their winged and haloed swagger. They appear to a field full of unknown shepherds and sheep singing Handels Messiah and helping Anaheim win the world series. They actually came to make an important announce. Yes, Jesus was born, but this wasn’t the only good news they had for the Shepherds. The angels proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Mary was favored by God and so were a bunch of unnamed shepherds?

So, why don’t these guys get the attention Mary does?

It is because their part in the story wasn’t to give birth to Jesus, but only worship and proclaim His coming instead?

Mary and the shepherds are the same, they were just given different roles to play in God’s story. All they had to do was be faithful to their responsibility. If Mary had said “no” to the angel, God still would have come to earth in human form most likely through another virgin who was willing, but Mary was the one God wanted to use. All she had to was be faithful to the call. But her faithfulness didn’t make her holy, because all people, Mary, shepherds, you, me, criminals, and our enemies are favored by God – we all have been offered grace and truth through Jesus; and a part to play in God’s story of rescue and redemption.

Billy Graham is a world renown name. He has delivered God’s message of grace and truth to millions. He has been esteemed by men and women over the past 50+ years, but he is no more favored by God than anyone of us. He just has been faithful with the role God has set for him to play in His story.

John 1:14 says that Jesus came to earth full of grace and truth. When Jesus filled Mary’s womb she was literally filled with God’s grace and truth for all humanity. Jesus came to reveal the truth about God, the reality of our sin that separates us from Him, and what He’s done to rescue and restore us. And Jesus came to offer the grace of God to a broken and lost people incapable of saving and repairing our lives. When we accept  the truth about God and admit what has damaged our connection with Him we become the recipients of His grace – grace that can’t be earned but can forgive and heal our relationship with Him.

Essentially, when we let Jesus into our lives, we, like Mary, become pregnant with, full of, grace and truth. Our responsibility, then, like Mary, the shepherds, Billy Graham, and the multitude of other unnamed individuals who have told us about Jesus, is to reveal, expose, “give birth” (if you like), and offer the grace and truth of Jesus that we have received, to a world so desperate for the knowledge that everyone is favored by God so much that He would offer us grace and truth. We just have to be faithful with our role in God’s story.

:: The French Pressed Four ::

: Egg Nog :: Don’t hate!

:: Harris YMCA 5-1-5 Basketball Tournament :: Hooping to help the homeless in Charlotte. Well done fellas!

::: Slumdog Millionaire :: Saw it post-hype, and still liked it.

:::: Menno Simons :: A little church history for you to brew on over the weekend.