Tuesday, January 30, 2018

By what authority

Mark 1: 21-28
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
January 28, 2018





            

           If it’s one thing most people know about Star Trek, even if you’ve never watched any of the 741 episodes or any of the thirteen movies, it’s the Prime Directive. The term prime directive has made its way into our culture to the point that it is in the Oxford dictionary. If you do an internet search for prime directive, one of the top five responses will take you to an article on the Forbes magazine website, asking whether the prime directive is truly ethical.



         In the episode entitled “Bread and Circuses” the prime directive is defined as: “no identification of self or mission; no interference with the social development of said planet; no references to space, other worlds, or advanced civilizations.” Every Starfleet officer takes an oath to uphold the prime directive, even if it costs them their lives, their ship, their crew. The philosophy behind the prime directive is that every culture’s values, beliefs, and practices should be respected and that every civilization should determine their own path without interference; certainly the opposite of the colonial explorers from our history. Remember that Star Trek aired during the Vietnam War; the prime directive stood in direct opposition to the U.S. role in that war. Yet there have been allowable circumstances in which it would be unethical not to intervene.

            

         Of course, there would be no strange new worlds, new life, or new civilizations to seek out and explore if the prime directive wasn’t defied or at least stretched every now and then. This next episode is an illustration of the ethical conundrum that is often the prime directive.



         The Enterprise is transporting Ambassador Robert Fox to star cluster NGC321 to establish diplomatic relations. One of the planets in that cluster, Eminiar VII, sends a signal to the starship that it should not approach the planet, to stay away at all costs. The ambassador insists that a landing party be sent down to investigate. When they do, Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and three other crew members are told that they have landed in the middle of an interplanetary war between Eminiar VI and Vendikar that has been raging for the last 500 years. The catch? It is fought entirely with computers, very much like our video games today. Targets are assessed, virtual weapons are launched, and casualties are counted. Citizens whose area has been identified as a target zone have 24 hours to report to a disintegration chamber so that their deaths may be recorded as valid. In this way, culture and civilization are preserved and life proceeds apace. But if either side refuses, even one citizen, the other planet may launch an attack with real weapons.



         The Enterprise became a target when it came into orbit, thus it becomes a casualty. The crew must beam down to the planet for disintegration. Of course, Captain Kirk has another idea.







         This episode strikes a chord in me with the problem of gun violence in our nation. We are 28 days into 2018 and already we have had 11 school shootings, the most recent in Benton, KY. Like any other war, we have all the horrors of gun violence—death, injury, trauma, grief—yet at the same time we preserve our gun culture and our civilization despite the violence—that is, if we are privileged enough to do so. I was reminded that there are both state and federal laws in place that should’ve prevented what happened in Kentucky. What more can be done, we ask, even as we’ve made little progress after the deaths of 20 first graders. As Bob Dylan wrote: How deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?


         
Paul Sika

         What if we employed the opposite tactic of that interplanetary war? What if, based on statistical analysis, we calculated the probability of the next school shooting, the next mass shooting in a mall or cinema or church or temple or mosque or gurdwara or nightclub or concert? What if we then enacted a law that said every person identified as a victim must report to be euthanized; every person identified as wounded would report for surgical alteration. But that would be insane, barbaric, wouldn’t it? It would be inhuman.


         
Paul Sika

         We don’t use words like ‘unclean spirit’ or ‘demon’ these days, except perhaps when undocumented immigrants or women who exercise their right to reproductive justice or those we disagree with are demonized. As for what is unclean, certainly that which prematurely, violently, intentionally separates us from life could be considered as such. The irony in the gospel story is that the unclean spirit is the only smart one in the room, the only one who knows who Jesus is and what he is about. And yet it does seem as though we are demon-possessed, that there is a kind of madness in our nation when it comes to gun violence, as if we were under a directive of non-interference.


         
Paul Sika

         Jesus wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if he’d followed non-interference. As it is, Jesus acted with authority, with the belief that he had power to speak and teach what he believed to be true, power to change lives. It wasn’t that Jesus knew he was right that changed lives; Jesus’ power, his authority was love—love that included wholeness and justice for the vulnerable and powerless; love that was also powerless against the cross; love that did not end with death; love that turns pain into power.


         
Paul Sika


         By what authority do we act when it comes to gun violence? At times we contradict ourselves in this nation: we appear to value life above all else, and yet we also treat human lives as replaceable commodities and allow some to benefit at the expense of great suffering of others. What is life without love, without justice, without compassion? Alice Walker wrote that the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. And we don’t typically think of love as power to do, power to change. Love too often feels powerless, makes us feel vulnerable. Love is not efficient. It can be messy and painful.



         Let me put it this way: empire thinks of itself as being the only authority, as efficient, invulnerable, powerful, orderly when it comes to details. It enslaves the weak and powerless, and it is numb to the pain it causes, including gun violence.


         
Paul Sika


         Jesus didn’t free people from bondage, he didn’t forgive them their sins, he didn’t challenge empire, the powers that be just because it was the right thing to do. The cross certainly didn’t look like the next right thing. He did it out of love. Not a love deserved, but a love that chooses freely. And Church is our spiritual workshop where we learn how to love like that, with people who sustain us in love, so we can love where and when it’s really tough to love, even to forgive those who really have no idea what they are doing.

         


         That’s our prime directive, that’s our authority, that’s our power. Amen.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A piece of the action

Mark 1: 14-20
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
January 21, 2017

         



         Human beings, like many other species, are mimetic, that is, we imitate, we mirror, we follow what we see, often subconsciously, and it is a powerful influence on how we live, learn, and model behavior. It’s how we pick up on social cues or develop another accent. It’s how we learn how to love and hate, use violence and be compassionate.



         In this next Star Trek episode, the Enterprise arrives at the planet Iotia to investigate cultural contamination by the starship Horizon that visited over a hundred years ago, before the prime directive of non-interference. The intelligent and highly imitative Iotians have patterned their industrial society based on one of the books the Horizon left with them entitled Chicago Mobs of the Twenties. The planet is divided up into a dozen or so territories, each with its own mob boss and underlings. Two of the bosses, Bela Oxmyx and Jojo Krako, are vying to take over as the only boss when Kirk and his boys beam down. Captain Kirk comes to an unorthodox solution: to peacefully unify the planet into a syndicate under one boss, with the Federation as a silent partner.







         There’s been a cultural contamination in Jesus’ time and it’s called empire. One after another—Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and now Rome—have enslaved and exiled and divided and occupied and oppressed the people of Israel for centuries. Some have imitated their oppressors and become accustomed to the occupation and the power that has been meted out to them. But most of God’s people are tired of being trampled underfoot, of surviving in the face of injustice, and long for God to keep God’s promises of hope and deliverance.

        

         So when Jesus comes to Galilee, the Appalachia of Israel, and proclaims that the kingdom of God, the Beloved Community, has come near, to repent, to turn toward God, and believe the good news, of course Simon and Andrew, James and John drop everything to follow him. Time’s up for empire and injustice. He doesn’t promise them more fish or job creation or a return to some imagined glory days. Only that they will learn to do what he does, by imitating him. “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”



         
         Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are incredulous when they learn that the Iotians created their society from only one book. And yet that was supposed to be our story too. Like our Jewish and Muslim friends and neighbors, we are People of the Book. God’s law, God’s word was supposed to be written on our hearts. We are made in God’s image, a mirror of God’s self. Since God’s people knew what it was like to be a stranger in a strange land, following God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves wasn’t supposed to be that much of a stretch.



         
         Even when there are those who read the Bible as the literal word of God or those who take a more progressive view, we still can’t manage to love our enemies or forgive seventy times seven. No matter our stripe of belief or tradition, none of us follow completely blind despite our accusations toward each other. We all think for ourselves to some degree but in accordance with what we’ve imitated from others, what we’ve been taught.



         
         Someone once asked how many different religions there are and someone else wisely responded, “About 7 billion.” We all have our own take on the truth; we all tell it slant, through our own lenses of experience and emotion, education and upbringing, tradition and values. And yet we all want to love and be loved, we all want our lives to have meaning, even the most wretched, the most obnoxious, the meanest among us. Sometimes I wonder if the whole purpose of this existence is to continually search for our own truth, to grow and learn while in community with others, to share the journey without killing or hurting anyone in the process.



         


         Like the Iotians we too are intelligent, highly imitative people. And yet there are days it would be a relief if there was one divinely-ordered way in which all human beings are to live, if we had one teacher, one book, and all we had to do was follow them, imitate them in order to have unity. But that’s not who we are. We’re Muslim and Hindu and Jewish and Buddhist and Atheist and Agnostic and Sikh and Unitarian and Christian and Shinto and Jain and Baha'i. We’re Latino and Hispanic and Native American and European and African American and Asian. We’re queer and straight and polyamorous and single and pansexual and asexual and cisgender and non-binary and trans. We’re conservative and liberal and progressive and moderate and fundamentalist and centrist. We are the mirror in 7 billion pieces. We’ve followed, we’ve been the leader, we’ve looked to others for truth, we’ve looked to ourselves. There is no one book for this. If anything, all of us together are the book.

         


         As it is, Jesus is looking for a freely-given, wholehearted ‘yes’ when it comes to following him. Perhaps those fishermen, as well as the women who followed him, didn’t have to think twice because they knew that not only their lives but the lives of their families, their people depended on the new thing that was happening in this man. But we know that a piece of the action that Jesus is offering is going to cost us something, require something from us. It’s one thing to search for the truth; it’s quite another to live it.



         Samir Selmanovic, a self-described Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian, writes this about following Jesus: “Jesus offered a single incentive to follow him; it was woven into all he said and did. [To]…summarize his selling point: ‘Follow me, and you might be happy—or you might not. Follow me, and might be empowered—or you might not. Follow me, and you might have more friends—or you might not. Follow me, and you might have the answers—or you might not. Follow me, and you might be better off—or you might not. If you follow me, you may be worse off in every way you use to measure life. Follow me nevertheless. Because I have an offer that is worth giving up everything you have: you will learn to love well.’” (1)



         If we want a piece of that action, we’re in the right place with the right people: flawed, imperfect, beloved, forgiven, each of us trying to live out the truth we know the best we can, not just for our own but for justice’s sake. Why not love each other well while we’re at it? Amen.





1.  Selmanovic, Samir.  It's Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

To be beloved

Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
January 14, 2017



            


         The underlying question in every Star Trek episode is “What does it mean to be human?” What does it mean to be human in the face of the unknown? Our next episode does this in very personal and intimate way, much like Psalm 139.



         
         The shuttlecraft Galileo is transferring ailing Assistant Federation Commissioner Nancy Hedford back to the Enterprise when it is forced off-course to land on planet with only two inhabitants: Zefram Cochrane, inventor of the space-warp drive, and a cloud-like creature known only as the Companion. When Cochrane was brought to this planet by the Companion he was 87 years old. The Companion reversed the aging process, keeps Cochrane young and provides for his every need—indeed hemming him in behind and before, knowing when he lies down and when he gets up, never out of sight. The Companion can discern Cochrane’s thoughts from far away; even before a word is on his tongue, the Companion knows it; they communicate telepathically. The Companion has brought those aboard the shuttlecraft to the planet as human companions to Cochrane, recognizing that he is lonely—the Companion will not let him leave the planet. Through a universal translator, it is learned that the Companion is female and her feelings for Cochrane are more than companionship.







         Like the Companion, God sounds like a helicopter parent in this psalm. This isn’t the free-range God of Genesis who seemed to wander off when Eve and Adam ate the fruit of the tree and then hid themselves among the trees, when God came walking in the garden with the evening breeze. Rather, God is a continual presence, encompassing every move, even from before birth.



         
You Have Known Me by Jan Richardson
The psalm is written by King David and thus it’s about their relationship, but this is also the prayer book of God’s people. Presumably David was writing about the human experience of a relationship with God from his own point of view. The relationship between God and David was special but not unique to him. God knows our coming and going; our lives are an open book to the Holy One and in it are already written all the days of our lives before we’ve even lived one of them. There is nowhere we can go where God’s love and power are not. If we wanted to sneak a smoke, God would know about it before we had a chance to light up.



         In our own time of individualism and independence we don’t always appreciate those who hover about, but I’ll bet that’s comforting in a world, in a time when one’s place in the world is precarious and unsure. Israel had a successful although imperfect king in David, but Israel was small and vulnerable compared to stronger, mightier empires around them. In the 90th psalm we read that we are lucky if we live to be 70; luckier still if we reach 80 years. Verses from Psalm 103 tell us:

As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.



         But then when are we not vulnerable? Our lives can turn on a dime. We know that no amount of helicoptering over those we love will save them. Even God’s 24/7 love and power cannot protect us from the big bad.



         Earlier this week when our president made his remarks concerning certain countries from which immigrants may come to our country, he was referring to nations that though they possessed their own strength, over centuries they were surrounded by and ravaged by stronger and mightier empires; nations now where whole swaths of people can slip through not only cracks but chasms of poverty, natural disasters and famine brought about by climate change, violent conflict, and opportunistic threats such as disease and human trafficking. Though it is not yet pervasive, we have the same cracks in our own country. We have our own holes through which our people fall. What would we give for a loving, giving companion who would safeguard our every need, keep us safe, and preserve us from all evil? All this companion would ask for in return is our freedom.



         
God is holding your life
But that is not how this Star Trek episode ends. The Companion forsakes immortality and, with her consent, unites with the ailing Commissioner Hedford, saving her from death and lives out a normal human life with Zefram Cochrane. Now they are able to love each other as equals.




         This is what it is to be beloved. The story of Christmas tells us that the God who companions us, loves us so much that God gives up freedom and power to become human with us, to be as vulnerable and weak as we are, even to death on a cross.



         

         William Butler Yeats wrote: “But Love has pitched [its] mansion/in the place of excrement/For nothing can be sole or whole/that has not been rent.”  To live the truth we must be willing to live it whole: the good and the bad, health and sickness, plenty and want, joy and sadness. We are married to life, all of it, until death parts us from it. 





         And it is love—unconditional, unlimited, extravagant love—that makes that living worthwhile; that upholds us when life is bone-scraping hard; that knits us together into a web of caring; that calls us to make justice for those who live in the holes. The love that hems us in behind and before, that knows every one of our days, is for all of us. And none of us are whole until all of us live and love that way. That’s what it means to be beloved.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

To go boldly

Mark 1: 1-14
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
January 7, 2018







         Star Trek is a television and movie phenomenon with second chances woven into its fabric from the very beginning and throughout its many incarnations. It was the first show in television history to have its pilot episode rejected and then a second pilot commissioned. Much of the original cast was replaced with other characters. Even the now beloved Mr. Spock was thought of as too inhuman, his character not very likable, and was almost dropped but for Gene Roddenberry insisting that Spock was the very likeness of what Star Trek is all about: exploration of the unknown.


         



         After the show had been on the air for only three months it was in danger of being cancelled. A group of science fiction writers, including Robert Bloch who wrote the book Psycho, Richard Matheson, and Harlan Ellison—each of whom would write an episode for Star Trek—wrote a joint letter to the mailing list for the 1966 World Science Fiction Convention, urging Star Trek fans to write letters and complain loudly to sponsors and television stations. NBC heard the noise and renewed Star Trek for another season. Fans saved the show again for a third season but that was as far as it could go, given the ratings. The original series aired from September 8, 1966 to June 3, 1969. But Star Trek would continue to have second chance after second chance, from continuing into syndication and an animated series to movies, to a succession of Enterprise crews, ships, and many other adventures.


         



         The episode “The Naked Time” occurs early in the first season. In the trailer we saw the effects of a virus communicated through water and sweat: revealing hidden fears, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and fantasies of the ship’s officers and crew. In his fear a junior officer asks a question that some still ask today: Why are we out here, anyway? We have no business out here. We bring pain and trouble with us. Going boldly into space and into this world means we take these very human parts of us with us, risking as we go. Going boldly means we can’t hold these hidden aspects of ourselves against each other if we’re going to survive and explore the unknown. Going boldly means second chance after second chance.




         For John the Baptist, going boldly meant making that way in the wilderness with his voice and his passion, “proclaiming a baptism of the heart’s transformation, for forgiveness of sins”.[1] With his clothing of camel’s hair and leather belt, eating wild locusts and honey, he would have fit right in on this Star Trek episode, except John’s wildness was caused not by a virus but by the Holy Spirit and the conviction of his beliefs, his prophetic voice overwhelming any need for propriety.

         
John and Jesus they were not.


         For Jesus, going boldly meant siding with those who were coming to the Jordan for John’s baptism: the poor, the outcast, the marginalized, those whom empire stepped on, who could not afford the ritual bath of purification in the temple. Going boldly meant there was no question who sent him, in his vision of the dove and a voice declaring him beloved. Going boldly meant heading immediately into the desert to be tested. Going boldly meant following John’s arrest with Jesus’ own proclamation of the good news, risking that the same might happen to him. Going boldly meant offering grace—second chance after second chance—to everyone.



         



         It’s up to each of us to figure out how our hearts need transformation; how it is we will go boldly. Going boldly can be getting out bed in the morning and living another day. Going boldly can be getting through the day without cutting or drinking or smoking or shooting up. Going boldly can be a loss of interest in judging others or oneself. Going boldly can be giving ourselves or someone else or a whole group of people a second chance. Going boldly can be approaching this table as we are—our weaknesses and fears, our gifts and hopes. Going boldly can be opening ourselves to whatever it is we need to be a whole human being. Amen.





[i] Mark 1: 4, Hart, David Bentley (2017). The New Testament: A Translation. New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Justice for Jesse



To all my readers:  spread this far and wide. Public pressure is needed so there can be #JusticeforJesse. Go to the State Dept. webpage and use the contact form. 

Here's what I wrote: "I am a colleague and friend of Rev. Molly Phinney Baskette, whose brother Jesse Phinney died under suspicious circumstances in custody of Filipino authorities. This family deserves answers as to what happened to Jesse while in custody and to be able to repatriate his body. Please put pressure on the Filipino government for an independent investigation. No country should be allowed to treat foreign nationals like this. No questionable death should go unnoticed, without justice. What if it was your brother, your son? What would you, as an American citizen, want your State Department to do? If one American's questionable death on foreign soil is not important, then we are all valueless in the eyes of our government. Be accountable and hold the Filipino government accountable to a human ethic of justice and compassion."

Please keep this family in your prayers.  Thank you.

Coming home to be counted

Luke 2: 1-16
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
Christmas Eve 2017

         


         Before I moved to Delaware, I never really had the opportunity to become a regular at a restaurant, bar, or hangout. I never served in one place long enough, as I did supply preaching and interims and filling in for colleagues when they went on sabbatical. There has also not been a place I’d want to show up to every week, which is what it takes to become a regular.



         
         Now for the first time I am a regular, at Grain on Main, our neighbor on the upper east side of Newark. It started at Kate’s, with Andy the bartender and a few other regulars there. But when Andy moved to Grain, so did a few of us regulars from Kate’s. And we stayed. Some of us even got our faces up on the wall. The TV show “Cheers” got it right from the start: "Sometimes you want to go/where everybody knows your name/and they’re always glad you came/you want to be where you can see/our troubles are all the same/you want to be where everybody knows your name."



         
Beer and Carols, Dec. 20, 2017
Brian Ford, one of the other bartenders at Grain says this about regulars: “When a guest rolls up to the bar looking for their favorite seat and wearing gear sporting the restaurant logo you come to realize that the bar is more theirs and less yours. Regulars are the best part of any bar and watching someone turn into one is the juice - needless to say ... ours are pretty (insert f-bomb) cool.” Anybody can be a regular. It doesn’t matter who you are. When you’re a regular, you become a part of something bigger than you, your life, your worries. When you’re a regular, you’re family. You feel like you matter, that you count for something.



         
         If the story about Jesus’ birth means anything, it means we count for something. Every last one of us. Like college students welcomed home in church, Joseph and Mary went home to be counted, where everyone knew their names because they were family, regulars. Mary and Joseph weren’t turned away from an inn but told there was no space in the upper guest room so they would have to bed down with the rest of the extended family and the animals. Scholars think that Jesus was born in Nazareth rather in Bethlehem and that there probably wasn’t a census, but let us remember: this is a story, Jewish midrash, not history. It’s a story that sets up Jesus as Lord versus Caesar as Lord. The foolish versus the wise. The lowly versus those in high places. The marginalized versus the powerful. The peaceful versus the vengeful. The kingdom of God, the Beloved Community versus empire.



         
         When empire wants to count you, it’s as a number, as profit, as taxable, as productive, as efficient, as entitlement, as the amount of resources you consume and what you give back. If empire knows your name, it’s because you’ve gained celebrity or power or wealth. In God’s realm, even the hairs on our head are counted, we are so worthy and rare and precious; our numbers compared to the stars in the heavens or grains of sand.



         In the 2020 census, the U.S. Census Bureau was considering removing a question about sexual orientation from a marketing survey for the census—a survey to determine why certain “hard-to-count” populations—non-white, undocumented, non-binary as well as LGBTQ—do not participate. If you don’t feel safe in public space, why would you participate? In empire, if you’re not counted, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. But after public outcry and that of advisers to the bureau, the question will now remain in the set of proposed questions for the survey.



         
         There are many in this nation who are returning home for holiday celebrations who are not counted as part of the family, who do not count themselves as part of their family because of their gender identity, their sexuality, their political views. There are those who are not welcome home at all, who are thought of as one who has died. There are those who will work instead of celebrate, who have to choose between a few simple presents and rent, who will work all year long to pay for the Christmas they have. There are too many in this nation who are regarded as nameless, who have nowhere to go and no one to count them as family.



         
         The people amongst whom Jesus was born are those empire values least and counts as expendable: day-laborers and hired hands in the shepherds, a carpenter father, an unwed mother, extended family living under one roof, the poor and humble, all treated as immigrants in their own land. This story and its power persists, and we must persist with it, precisely because it is the lowly who are lifted up, it is the voiceless who spread the good news, those who go unnoticed who are counted and welcomed home. It is a story of hope in the face of a despairing world, peace amidst a culture of violence, deep joy despite the certainty of sorrow, and love that never ends.



         
         No matter who we are, what we’ve done or left undone; no matter our skin color or sexuality or gender identity or physical ability or mental health; no matter our family configuration or family name or where we live or where we’re from; no matter our religion or our belief or our education; no matter who we are, each one of us matters. Our troubles definitely aren’t all the same, but in the Beloved Community, all our troubles matter. We are seen. We are valued. We are heard. And we’re forgiven when we don’t do it well. We’re all regulars. We all count. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.



Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The prophet Mary

Luke 1: 26-56
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
December 24, 2017

       

Eve and Mary


          Just about every version of this story the headline above it reads “The birth of Jesus foretold” with variations like “An angel tells about the birth of Jesus” or “A virgin conceives”. It is only in J.B. Phillips’ 1958 translation of the New Testament that we read “A vision comes to a young woman in Nazareth”.
Manga Annunciation
In truth this is the call story of Mary to be one of God’s prophets, one of God’s truth tellers. Mary is our prophet: she is called to be the New Ark of the covenant of God’s Word, made flesh in Jesus. From the 9th century onward, in many of the classic works of art depicting the annunciation, Mary has a book on her lap or on a lectern. Mary knows her scripture, that is to say, she knows where she came from and not only her but God’s people.



         
Red Light Annunciation


         In her song, like the songs of Miriam and Hannah and Deborah before her, we hear themes of praise, justice, and that level ground that Isaiah spoke of. From the Song of Hannah in 1 Samuel:



Annunciation by Kathleen Scarboro
“The Lord makes poor 

and makes rich;
God brings low, 

and also exalts.
God raises up the poor 
from the dust;
and lifts the needy 
from the ash heap,
to make them sit 
with heads of state
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.



       
Annunciation by Eija Liisa Ahtila
   Through the centuries we have domesticated this story and Mary along with it, even though she was one of the bravest and strongest prophets God ever called.






         Mary’s story is one of consent and agency—a woman making decisions about her body without shame.

When she says that God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly, we can hear the #MeToo movement—those who have spoken out about sexual harassment and assault and the predatory behavior of those who have power. Unlike other prophets before her, Mary does not question whether she is up to the job or if she is worthy. She’s not na├»ve of how babies are made but asks how is it possible to bear a child while unmarried because she also knows the consequences—stoning and death—but neither does she allow this to frighten her.
Annunciation by Linda Sutton
Mary is both humble and confident—qualities we often think of as competing but not when they act in harmony with one another. Mary knows this is more than just about her and her life. How are we to perceive the new thing God is doing in the life of humankind if we don’t at least think about saying yes?






         
Annunciation by Peter Hawksby


         In many works of art depicting the annunciation, we can see how this story perplexes, confuses, disturbs not just Mary but also the artist and those who view their art. 
Angels have wings or are a column of light. The angel kneels, sometimes takes off footwear, like Moses on holy ground. The Holy Spirit is a dove or in some, a beam of light from above or even the biological seed itself. Mary is receptive, agitated, overwhelmed, mystified, uncertain, interrupted. And just as we have created Jesus as white, we have done even more so with Mary and we rob her of her power. For the most part, when Mary is depicted as non-white, she does not appear as passive or demure or fragile. She is empowered, challenging, self-possessed.
Annunciation by Talia Prilutsky


         
Carlo Crivelli, Annunciation with St. Emidius
  Ultimately, what Mary said “yes” to was: “yes, I will be vulnerable and open”; “yes, I will embody your justice-seeking, peace-making love”; “yes, I will risk my life for this love”. Yes to courage. Yes to hope. Yes to the interruption and the new direction. Yes to using the voice we have to do what we can. Yes to the poor and the rich getting what they need in order to be whole. Meister Eckhart, a 13th century mystic said, “We are all called to be mothers of God, for God is always waiting to be born.” Amen.


Annunciation by Rose M. Barron

Annunciation by John Collier

Annunciation by Fra Angelico

Annunciation, Jesus Mafa

Listening


Annunciation by Gottfried Helnwein

The Windsock Visitation by Mickey McGrath

Annunciation by Paul Woelfel

Visitation by Romare Bearden





And perhaps my favorite one....

Annunciation by Linda Richardson