You will be. You will be

Inclusivity Devotional for October 17, 2021

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

Revised Common Lectionary Reading: Mark 10:35-45

This passage always reminds me of the movie Empire Strikes Back. In a scene inside Yoda’s hut, he and Luke Skywalker are debating if he should train young Luke as a Jedi. Yoda sees Luke’s impetuousness and immaturity. He sees the anger in young Luke and decides not to train him as a Jedi. Luke is hot-headed and impatient. He wants to be a Jedi. He wants to fight like his father. He wants to be a hero and overthrow the Empire. Yoda wonders, “Will he finish what he starts?” Pleading with Yoda he says, “I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.” Yoda looks at him ominously and says, “You will be,” and repeats, “You will be.”

John and James come to Jesus and ask, “Allow one of us to sit on your right and the other on your left when you enter your glory.” He asks them “Will you drink the cup I drink?” They respond, “We can.” Ominously, Jesus answers, “You will drink the cup.”

They ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left. These are places of honor. They are looking ahead to the victory. They are looking ahead to the time when Jesus will reign. They see themselves as riding shotgun and basking in Jesus’ glory. What they don’t understand is that at the height of Jesus’ glory, the ones at his right and his left will be hanging on crosses just like Jesus.

The Revised Common Lectionary suggests for us to start this reading at verse 35, but to get the full context we would be well-served to start where we left off last week – at verse 32. By going back to verse 32 we see that Jesus and a crowd were “going up to Jerusalem.” The response is a mix of awe and fear, so Jesus takes the Twelve aside and reminds them (for the third time in two chapters) that in Jerusalem he will die an ignominious death before being raised up.

When the other ten hear what James and John asked, they get angry. The funny thing is, I don’t they are angry that they asked the question. I think they are angry that James and John asked it first. None of them truly understand at this point what ambition looks like in the Kingdom. Christian ambition is a tricky thing. Aren’t we all supposed to be striving for greatness?

Jesus redefines greatness. The twelve are still operating in the system that judges greatness by how many people serve you. For Jesus, greatness is defined by who many people you serve. It is not measured by rank or status. Greatness is not marked on attendance pads, church budgets, charge conference forms, or plum appointments. Greatness is earned with kindness, generosity, and service. It is seldom rewarded in the ways we expect, or even desire.

Like John and James, we may be eager for the glory. Like Luke (Skywalker, not the apostle), we may be eager to be heroes and run off and fight the evil Empire. It is good to consider just what that means. “I’m not afraid,” you may be saying. “You will be,” comes the ominous response.

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Left behind (not that kind of left behind)

Inclusivity Devotional for October 10, 2021

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

Revised Common Lectionary Reading: Mark 10:17-31

Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life.”

Today I wonder how many LGBTQ kids have walked away from their homes. How many were forced out? How many have “left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms” because they simply wanted to live their lives as truthfully as possible?

I want to ponder that for a moment before we go any farther with this passage. How many young people were forced out of their homes because of their parents’ misunderstanding of Scripture? How many young people are forced to live a lie and dwell in anxiety and darkness because of how they were created by God. How much good news has been quieted by those who think they are following Jesus?

Before we get caught up in figuring out how to get a camel through the eye of the needle (spoiler alert: there was no such gate in Jerusalem called “the eye of the needle.” That story was a total fabrication to make people more comfortable with Jesus’ harsh message in this passage), before we wrestle over the nature of “obtaining eternal life,” before we wonder if Jesus was talking to just one rich man or to all of us, I want us pause and think of those who have “left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news.”

There are thousands of brave, courageous, faithful gay, lesbian, and transgendered people who refused to lie about themselves and who have remained with Jesus. Their faith is an inspiration. They have been shamed, beaten, called names, and outcast by people who claim to love them. Yet they remain faithful to Jesus because of the good news.

This morning I stand in awe of my brave siblings in Christ who, as Peter said, “left everything and followed you.” No pastor, no institution, no Book of Discipline, no misunderstanding of a few verses of the Bible, and no reprimanding parent can keep them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

I pray that you receive one hundred times as much as you have left behind. I pray that you receive truth, grace, affirmation, mission, and community. The eternal life of Christ is one of depth, meaning, joy, and peace that surpasses all understanding, and I hope you receive it all. I am thankful for the places and communities who have welcomed you. I pray for your search if you have not yet found a such a place. I believe Jesus’ promise that you will receive it. I am inspired by your faith. I will keep working for you, preaching for you, and praying for you.

Even as I search myself for the same eternal life, I remember that for humans, entering the Kingdom of God is as easy as a camel passing through the eye of the needle, but with God all things are possible. Thanks be to God.

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Wisdom shouts

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

The Revised Common Lectionary reading for September 12, 2021

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Gospel Reading: James 3:1-12 and Proverbs 1:20-33

When the author of James wrote, “Consider ships: They are so large that strong winds are needed to drive them. But pilots direct their ships wherever they want with a little rudder. In the same way, even though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts wildly,” there is no way that he could have envisioned what happened near his homeland in March 2020. In the early days of a global pandemic and mass shutdown, the enormous ship Ever Given, roughly the same size as the Empire State Building, got wedged in the Suez Canal, devastating global trade. The eyes of the world watched with great anxiety as the ship blocked traffic for six days in one of the most important waterways in the world.

In the case of the Ever Given, the rudder was not enough to keep the winds at bay. The ship got turned in a way the pilot could not avoid and the result was an economic disaster. While the Ever Given’s rudder was not enough, the point is still made: The tongue is powerful. Words matter.

We live in a world full of talking. The cacophony of 24-hour news, click-bait articles, pithy memes, social media ‘researchers’, talking heads on TV, and political maneuvering, feels as if we are surrounded by fire. Foolish words are doing real damage, and as the song of Wisdom declares in this week’s reading from Proverbs, “Wisdom shouts in the street; in the public square she raises her voice. Above the noisy crowd, she calls out.” And yet it feels as if no one is listening.

Last week I shared an image with different petri dishes, each showing the growth of bacteria after breathing, coughing, and singing into the dish with and without a mask. I felt is a was a graphic representation of the wisdom of modern science. I believed it showed perfectly why masks were important, and that no one would be able to argue such a graphic and clear illustration.

As soon as I shared it though, I regretted it. Even as the likes start to count upward, I realized something. People are going to like the image or not like the image, but no one is going to gain anything from it. I was not sharing wisdom. I was sharing my perspective and making it clear that anyone who disagreed with me should feel ashamed for doing so. I deleted the post.

Was this a small step in “taming my tongue”? Maybe. I decided that it was more important to share compassion and kindness. Social media has created a world in which throwing matches on fires is easy. In fact, it is rewarded with little hits of dopamine called “likes.” There is little doubt in my mind that the comments sections have been set ablaze by the fires of hell. Intentionally rigged to fan the flames.

I cannot expect to bear good fruit on the vine of a rotten plant. Instead, I will try to cultivate true relationships. I will share kind words in hopes that wisdom can be heard above the noise. As the world seems to dig deeper trenches and divide along clear lines of demarcation, I will recognize my own tendency to bless God in one moment while cursing God’s image with the same mouth. Like James said, it shouldn’t be this way. I hope a voice of change can start with me.

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Open Up

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

In this reflection, I offer to you a prayer of illumination. Feel free to use it in your worship setting, and do not feel obligated to offer me credit.

The Revised Common Lectionary reading for September 5, 2021

Gospel Reading: Mark 7:24-37

“Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors,” has been the promise of the United Methodist Church since 2001. For twenty years the UMC has used this as a slogan in billboards, commercials, and websites. Today, if you go to umc.org, you will see the slogan at the very top of the page.

If you are anything like me, you have had misgivings about using the slogan. For many inside the United Methodist Church, it feels like false advertising. The exclusionary practices and policies of the United Methodist Church toward the LGBTQ community makes many wonder if the people of the United Methodist Church truly have open hearts, minds, or doors.

I still use the slogan, but I no longer think of it as a description. Instead, I see it as a prescription. I do not consider the word “open,” to be an adjective. Instead, I express it as a verb.

Today our passage includes Jesus healing two people. In the first story it seems as if Jesus himself is the one who is opened. This is a troublesome thought to many. They will use many dubious explanations about the diminutive form of “dog” to avoid what is clear in this story: Jesus acts in a closed-minded way. Yet this woman – a foreign woman from a foreign land – challenges Jesus and helps open his mind to the Gentile mission.

This is particularly poignant because this comes right off the heels of Jesus criticizing the religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Now Jesus is confronted by a foreign woman and he does the unthinkable – he changes. In the second half of this passage Jesus is confronted with a man unable to hear or speak. Jesus takes him aside, gives him a holy wet-willy (not really, but it is shocking how physical this sign is when the previous one was done at a distance).

“Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’” (Mark 7:34). With this word, the man can hear and speak. Despite Jesus’ best efforts to keep this miracle quiet, word about him spreads even more.

These are two stories of opening. First Jesus’ mind is opened. Then the man is opened. Sometimes open is a verb. Sometimes we are called as a church to do the opening. This is where the power of our slogan truly lies. It is our role as pastors, lay people, and Christian ministers all of us – to open up pathways to God’s power. We are to open our hearts and the heart of others. We are called to open our doors. We must always be willing to open our minds.

In my congregation, we say this prayer every Sunday before the reading of the Scripture. It is our prayer for illumination and keeps us mindful of our task as a church: “Holy Spirit, open our hearts to the story of your love. Open our minds to new ways of knowing you. Open our doors to all whom you would welcome.”

Many of us have been challenged by our own versions of the Syrophoenician woman. We were forced to open up our minds through encountering people who we may have at first considered “other.” Many of us have been opened up by Jesus himself. We were given ears to hear and words to speak by the power of the Holy Spirit. May all our closed spaces be touched by the grace of Christ. When I think of the United Methodist Church, I can’t help but look up to heaven, sigh, and pray, “Ephphatha.” Open up.

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Jesus makes a poop joke

The Revised Common Lectionary reading for August 29, 2021

Gospel Reading: Mark 7:1-23

Jesus’ popularity was growing. Crowds were coming. Word of Jesus’ popularity had reached King Herod. Stories of plentiful food and calming storms circulating among the people. Chapter 6 of Mark’s Gospel tells us that “Wherever he went – villages, cities, or farming communities – they would place the sick in the marketplaces and beg him to allow them to touch even the hem of his clothing. Everyone who touched him was healed.”

The Good News of Christ had come. People had bread. People were fed. Even the storms seemed to obey this wandering preacher. The movement was gaining steam and lives were being transformed. Herod wasn’t the only one in Jerusalem who had heard about Jesus. Enter the Pharisees and Legal Experts from Jerusalem. They came to see just what was going on, and what did they see?

They didn’t see the people with enough to eat. They didn’t see people’s lives being restored. They didn’t see the good news preached to the poor and oppressed. They saw the disciples not washing their hands. Germ-theory and best COVID practices aside, this is not what they should have seen. They were students of Torah – they should have seen God’s greatest commandment being lived out. Instead of rejoicing at the love of God and love of neighbor that was overflowing, they saw only the breaking of tradition.

“That’s not how we do it!” They complained to Jesus. “We have rules to follow. We have a discipline to uphold” (Mark 7:5 paraphrased).

They were worried that breaking their tradition could contaminate them. They were worried that if the proper way was not upheld, they would lose their relationship with God. They were convinced that the rules they had created were as important as the Law of God. Jesus, frustrated with their lack of being able to see what was actually happening, reminds them of what truly matters. The rules, well-intentioned as they were – had missed the point.

Quoting Isaiah, Jesus says, “Your worship of me is empty since they teach instruction that are human words. You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you” (Mark 7:7-8).

To get this point across to his disciples, he makes a wonderful poop joke (yes, Jesus makes a poop joke!). What enters the mouth exits the other end and goes into the sewer. The Pharisees were concerned about a rule that mattered about as much as what drains into the sewer. What harms our relationship with God is not breaking human rules. It is denying God’s love. They missed the gospel happening right in front of their face by focusing on what comes to a pile of waste. If they had really been paying attention, they would have seen God’s people being fed instead of hands not being washed.

In the end, we are left to reflect on what are human rules and what is God’s Law. God’s Law is love. Love of God. Love of neighbor. Love each other. Love yourself. To deny these aspects of love is to ignore God’s commandment. Jesus differentiates between human rules and God’s Law is love. Human rules should help us follow God’s Law. God’s focus is on the heart. So should ours. Focus on the heart. Focus on the love. When the rules and traditions stop helping us do that, they should be ignored. They are worth about as much as what flows into the sewer.

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The Armor of God

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

The Revised Common Lectionary reading for August 22, 2021

Second Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the devastating loss of human life, the threats to human dignity, and the fear of a looming humanitarian crisis cast a dark shadow over the reading of Ephesians this week. War metaphors to describe faith in Christ should always give us pause. This is especially so this week.

As we read the author of Ephesian’s language about putting on the armor of God, it is impossible not to think about the wars waged in the name of Christ over the centuries. My mind also goes to old Sunday school posters showing a man in armor – often anachronistic medieval armor – with each piece labeled.

While the labels were things like “peace” and “righteousness” and “truth,” I can’t help but feel like images of the warrior with shield, sword, and a full knight’s steal armor were painting a more lasting image than the words that went along with them. The lesson was simple: we are to be warriors for God, and if this means fighting an actual violent war, then so be it.

It is easy to read this passage and quickly presume that we are the warriors of God, and that all who oppose us are “the rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.” It is a short step then, to name those forces of evil. Once they are named, they can then be vanquished, and the armor of God can help us achieve this. For far too long and far too often, this passage has been used to justify militaristic, protectionist discrimination against those considered to be the “forces of evil” and the “darkness of this age.”

To get the full picture of this armor, we must take this letter in its context. This is not meant to be turned into a recruiting poster for God’s army. This is not a rallying cry for Christians to attack and belittle those with whom we disagree. This is certainly not a letter for those living comfortably within the dominant culture.

The letter to the Ephesians was a letter of encouragement to a people facing troubling persecution. Ephesus was a cosmopolitan city with important temples and pagan institutions. It was growing much more difficult to participate in the commercial and social life of the city while still following Christ. This letter was meant to remind the Christians how to live in a pagan, oppressive community.

This still feels like a call to arms for Christians who feel they are under attack. The enemies they may name today are secularism, atheism, and liberalism. Many fear the “gay agenda” or buy into conspiracy theories about powerful cabals of child-trafficking predators who are trying to run our government, steal elections, and inject the mark of the beast into our arms. Many Christians feel as if they are fighting a valiant spiritual war by denying the full humanity of LGBTQ people, long-term effects of institutional racism, the existence of a deadly virus, and the efficacy of a vaccine that has proven safe and effective.

It is important to not fall into the same trap and demonize and dehumanize others. People cannot be easily categorized or labeled. Terms such conservative, traditional, orthodox, liberal, and progressive do little to describe humans who care, love, hurt, and learn. The only path we have is to stand firm, but to stand firm with loving kindness. The armor of God is truth, justice, and peace. So, how do we live in a world of increased polarization, misinformation, and vitriol?

The writer of Ephesians does not offer a solution but does give us some guiding principles. Stand firm, but not obstinate. Do not react in anger against your neighbors. Do not respond to violent and militaristic oppression with violent militaristic opposition. Who is my enemy? Not people deceived by misinformation, but forces of oppression, consumerism, addiction, racism, sexism, and homophobia which can be found inside ourselves as much as they are found in others.

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” ~ Nelson Mandela

“Somehow, we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race, which no one can win, to a positive contest to harness humanity’s creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all the nations of the world. In short, we must shift the arms race into a peace race. If we have a will – and determination – to mount such a peace offensive, we will unlock hitherto tightly sealed doors of hope and transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

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The Bread of Life

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

The Revised Common Lectionary readings for August 15, 2021

Gospel Reading: John 6:51-58

The Gospel reading this week is the fourth of a five-week journey through the sixth chapter of John. Known as the Bread of Life discourse, chapter six begins with the feeding of a “large crowd” of people. Interestingly, John’s Gospel does not give a head count. Starting with a youth’s lunch of 5 loaves and two fish. Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and distributed it to all those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish. After the meal, the disciples gathered 12 baskets of leftovers.

In the ensuing discussion over what just happened, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” He faces opposition from those who do not understand. They compare his bread to the bread of heaven which fell for Moses in the wilderness. This is why this passage begins, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51)

The talk of eating flesh and drinking blood is not a helpful metaphor for a lot of people. It feels overly graphic and a little gross. This teaching however, is a great chance for us to remove the Sacrament of Communion from the blood and violence of substitutionary atonement. Jesus is the bread of life. This is very different from “this is my body, broken for you.” 

For many, the idea that Jesus had to be sacrificed for the sin of the world to appease an angry God is an illogical interpretation of the Trinity. If God is love, the violent sacrifice of God’s Son is not a helpful metaphor. Let me add here that substitutionary atonement is a metaphor. It is a Biblical metaphor, but it is but one of many ways that Paul and early Christians came to understand the atoning work of Jesus. Through the incarnation, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ, humanity and all creation is reconciled to God. 

Unlike what some would have us believe, there are many ways of understanding how this happens. Here, Jesus does not call himself the sacrificial lamb. He does not point to a broken piece of bread. He reminds his disciples that he is the bread of life. He is bread that is plentiful. He is bread that fulfills, satisfies, and leaves no one hungry.

Jesus uses eating as a metaphor to describe the intense and intimate relationship he has with those who believe. We cannot be separated from Jesus any more than we can be separated from bread that we eat. When we read that we are to eat his “flesh” we should remember that it is the “flesh” that is the eternal Word of God. In the prelude of John, we are told that the incarnation happens when “the Word became flesh and made his home among us.”

Now Jesus tells us that by eating the flesh, we have life. Jesus revealed God’s way of abundant life for all people. We are invited to not simply believe, but to abide with him. When we do, we are joined in the eternal life of the eternal Word. We eat the bread – not just at the ritual of Communion – but in the life that is abiding with Christ. 

We abide with Christ and eat the bread when we live in non-violent love and grace. We eat the bread when we live as Jesus lives, eat as Jesus eats, heal as Jesus heals, invite as Jesus invites, and love as Jesus loves. When we do this, we abide with Christ. We eat the living bread and live into eternal life.

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Tamar and Simone

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

The Rape of Tamar, by Estache Le Sueur, wikimedia.

First Reading of the RCL for August 8, 2021

 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 The death of Absalom (who started a war with David because David did nothing to punish Absalom’s brother who raped their sister Tamar).

I played team sports my whole life. Baseball, football, and basketball were my great passions as a kid. Even as an adult I’ve played semi-pro football and church league softball. Now as a parent I coach as often as possible – helping out with my daughters’ softball teams. I think this is why my first reaction to Simone Biles withdrawing from the team gymnastics competition was overwhelmingly negative.

In the immediate aftermath of hearing that she withdrew because of mental health considerations, I was frustrated. I was disappointed that she wouldn’t compete. I was mostly angry on behalf of her teammates. “She let them down,” I said to no one in particular. “They are supposed to be a team. They are supposed to pick each other up.”

My righteous indignation was raised on behalf of three women I had never met. “Michael Jordan never quit on his team,” I thought. “Tom Brady played through injury!” Then I saw a meme that reminded me of Kerri Strug, the gymnast who clinched Team USA’s gold in in 1996 landing a fantastic vault despite having an injured leg. At first, I thought Kerri was the true champion, and Simone had shown weakness.

Then I thought some more.

While I do not want to take anything away from Kerri Strug, I want to recognize something that we should have known then. She should not have vaulted on an injured leg. Strug was a part of a system and a culture that treated the women on the team as commodities that could be traded, replaced, and whose only value was reflected in the scores they achieved.

Since 1996, “many fellow gymnasts who endured the rigors of coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi’s ranch believed Strug was conditioned to push through her pain under an abusive environment where girls were afraid to challenge authority.” (Holly Ford, https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/sports/tokyo-summer-olympics/1996-olympic-gymnast-kerri-strug-praises-simone-biles-decision/2900065/). Strug, Dominique Moceanu, and Mckayla Maroney are just three former gymnasts who have come out in support of Biles.

They were all a part of a system that compelled women to lose their autonomy, erase their dignity, and submit to the desires of more powerful people – often men. It was a culture that devalued questions and demanded obedience – or the girls would be replaced. It was a culture that produced gold medals, and it was a culture that allowed for emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.

Simone Biles survived abuse. She has stated that she returned to Olympic competition in part so that her voice as an abuse survivor would not be silenced. She wanted to hold USA Gymnastics to the fire and not go away quietly. Her platform as the greatest gymnast of all time gave her a power that no other gymnast has had.

Simone Biles became famous for doing athletic feats that no other gymnast has done before. She has four moves named after. She altered scoring systems, and now she has altered cultural systems. By withdrawing, she did something no other gymnast has done before. She stood up for herself. She stood up for the hundreds, maybe thousands of girls who were abused by powerful coaches, trainers, and doctors. She stood up and claimed her own autonomy, not for the glory of USA Gymnastics – a group that helped create a culture of abuse – but for her own self-care.

As I watched the events unfold – tape delayed on NBC – I saw the faces of her teammates turn from shock and disappointment to fierce determination and I realized that Simone Biles owed me nothing. She is a champion in the truest sense of the word. She championed for those little girls in gyms across the country who are pushed too far. She championed for those who suffer from mental health in silence for fear of being mocked or belittled. She is a champion – no matter what color medal hangs around her neck.

And what does any of this have to do with the Biblical texts this week? Very little, unless you read the story between this week and last week in 2 Samuel. The lectionary skips from 2 Samuel chapter 12 – in which David rapes Bathsheba and skips to chapter 18 and the death of his David’s son Absalom. Skipped is a civil war between David and Absalom. Also skipped is the rape of Tamar, David’s daughter.

While the Biblical text is ambiguous about Bathsheba’s rape (Biblical authors did not have the same concept of power dynamics), Tamar’s rape is explicit. She is raped by her half-brother Amnon. It is a violent exchange. She pleads with him – first not to rape her – and then not to discard her. Amnon’s actions are vile. When Absalom finds out, he tells her to be quiet. David does nothing to Amnon “for he loved him like a first born son.”

Tamar – much like dozens of American gymnasts before Simone Biles – was silenced. Yet her actions stood defiantly against her rapist. Wilda Gafney writes, “Tamar proclaims it publicly so that it may be Amnon’s shame and ultimately his death sentence. But she will have to wait years to see justice done. Tamar rips open her royal dress just as her body was ripped open, using that sartorial wound to make visible her vaginal wounds and those of her soul. She cries, not silent tears but a cry loud as the cries heard in battle, the cries of women in labor, and the cries of desperate people to their God. Tamar’s cry holds Amnon accountable – even when their father does not.” (Gafney, Womanist Midrash, Westminster John Knox Press, 2017; p. 215)

Life is messy. It is not always easy to draw easy lines of cause and effect. “Everything happens for a reason” is seldom a helpful way of understanding God. Why did Absalom die? Was it because of Joab’s ruthlessness, David’s ineffective leadership, Amnon’s lust… How far back do we go? Is it because of David’s lust after Bathsheba? Was it because David himself rose to power because of killing Goliath? How far back do we go? 

Did Simone Biles quit on her team or did she reclaim her agency? Did she crack under the pressure or did she stand up and champion those who are all-too-often silenced? Tamar was silenced, but Amnon and Absalom were ultimately silenced too. David’s kingdom crumbled, yet God’s love is steadfast and endures forever. For the orphan, the widow, and the alien, for Tamar, and for Simone, God’s love endures forever.

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David and Bathsheba

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.


Lectionary First Reading: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15 (The Rape of Bathsheba)

Bethsabée *oil on canvas *60.5 x 100 cm *signed b.l.: J.L.GEROME *1889

Our first reading this week is the second part of the sad saga of David and Bathsheba. It is fraught with problems and triggers that can do harm to victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and parents who have suffered from infant death or miscarriage. There is little good news in this story, but perhaps it is a chance to undo some damage that preachers and interpreters have done over the centuries. Bathsheba is perhaps the greatest victim of “victim-blaming” in history, and the one shining light from this text makes this clear.  

The Common English Bible puts it bluntly: “But what David had done was evil in the Lord’s eyes” (2 Samuel 11:27b, CEB). At no point in the text is Bathsheba blamed. Generations of interpreters have read consent into Bathsheba’s actions. A blog post from the site womeninscripture.com says, “David did not rape Bathsheba, as evidenced by his subsequent actions. He vehemently loved her.” The idea that David’s love for Bathsheba exempts him from raping her is appalling.  

Womanist scholar Wilda Gafney has a different reading of the situation: “To come when beckoned by the king does not imply consent. I argue that Bathsheba’s going with David’s soldiers on her own two feet should in no way be read as consent, but rather as holding on to a shred of dignity by not being dragged or carried out… Rape is an abuse of power that can include relational and positional power, in addition to physical power. The power dynamic is clear: David uses the power and authority of his office to wield lethal violence to keep her. He sees her, sends for her, and has sex with her without her consent. He rapes her. In the subsequent narrative [this week’s text], Nathan and God treat David as a rapist by condemning him but not imputing sin to Bathsheba as a complicit, consenting person. Their treatment of her is consistent with the treatment of women who are raped in the Torah statues” (Gafney, Womanist Midrash, Westminster John Knox Press, 2017; p. 215)  

God’s judgment is upon David. Unfortunately, the punishment of David is laid down at the feet of his children and his family. The fact that David’s children – especially the child in Bathsheba’s womb – would be punished for David’s sin is disturbing. Especially to those who have suffered from infertility, infant death, or miscarriage, this does not feel like justice.  

If, however, you read more into the story of David’s life, you may see something else is revealed. David spent his life treating women as pawns. He used, manipulated, and discarded women as was politically expedient. David set up a household built on violence against women, and violence against women lived on in his line. The narrative reveals that David’s children were torn apart by rape, vengeance, murder, and rivalry. His kingdom, while going to Solomon, crumbles soon thereafter. A student of family systems, generational trauma, and domestic violence might recognize that the patterns David set up in his own family continued. And while I do not believe that this was God punishing David for his sin, the trouble in David’s children’s lives does feel as if it is the fruit of David’s actions.  

So, where is the good news in this story? I do not think there is good news in this text. The good news is left for today’s interpreters, preachers, and commentators to see the story for what it is: a cautionary tale that has tragic consequences for all involved. Instead of ignoring Bathsheba (or worse, blaming her), perhaps we can give her a voice. We can give voice to the millions of women who have been victim to violence. We can speak against the power dynamics, misguided understandings of love (I’m looking at you, author at womeninscripture.com), and toxic masculinity that allows for men in power to thrive in their abuse.  

In the end, David found grace and forgiveness, but he was also held accountable. His actions, while forgiven by God, also had dire consequences. We who follow Christ know that Jesus came from David’s line. David’s earthly kingdom split quickly and disintegrated in time. Jesus’ Kingdom, unlike David’s, is not built on violence. It is built on the dignity of all people. It is built on love and compassion. It is built upon the things that first helped David rise to power – faith, hope, and a good shepherd’s care for others.

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E and Me Season 2

E and Me 2-1(1)CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

The E and Me Podcast has started season two. Ellie and I have recorded four episodes, and have released the first one. We have all of our recording equipment at home, so we’re hoping to have more episodes this season. Episode 2-1 is about jealousy, and it features our special guest and number one fan: Lucy, Ellie’s little sister.

This is the podcast to help families have important conversations. I hope you listen with someone you love. Don’t forget to search and subscribe on your favorite podcast player.

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