Mary Dyer

Easter 2020

April 12, 2020

I always hate it when the Christmas creche has both the shepherds and magi (sometimes with the Little Drummer Boy thrown in for good measure) gathered around the infant Jesus. No, I am not really the Christmas grinch. Of the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) only Matthew and Luke mention any birth narratives. These two gospels were most likely composed at least half a century after the birth of Jesus, thus the supposed “Matthew” and “Luke” were pseudonyms for later evangelists. And they each had their own unique spin on this story.

“Luke” is considered the gospel of the poor, so it is not surprising to see the shepherds, poorest of the poor, walking in from the distant fields, probably with sheep dung still on their sandals. “Matthew” was trying to convince fellow Jews to accept Jesus as the Christ, as he saw in the Hebrew Scriptures. So he had some magi from a far distant land, of a different religion, come to do obeisance and worship the new-born babe. So when we mash them all together we end up with theological baby pablum, rather than the rich theological stew flavored by different and rich perspectives.

It is the same with, the Easter narratives, where all four of the canonical evangelists have accounts. In “Matthew”, we witness Mary Magdalene and the other Mary coming to the tomb to witness an earthquake, an angel rolling away the stone to proclaim that Jesus is risen, and then Jesus himself shows up in person. This is ready for Cecil B. De Mille on the big movie screen.

“Luke”, contemporaneous with “Matthew,” (around 80CE) shows the stone already rolled away, the body gone, and two men in brilliant clothes announcing the resurrection.

“John”, the latest canonical gospel to make the cut, written possibly as late is 100 CE, has the stone rolled away and the tomb empty.

“Mark”, however, is the one I want to turn to today, even though, for liturgical purists, it is not the one for Cycle A in the lectionary. The longer amended version that was written much later and is the one in the official canon has Jesus revealing himself to the women, the Eleven apostles still in hiding, telling them all to go out into the whole world to preach the good news. And they did.

I am, however, especially today when the whole world is in turmoil, in the grip of failing leadership and an ever-encroaching pandemic whose power is seemingly unstoppable, more interested in the original ending of Mark’s gospel, as the almost-unanimous voice of biblical scholars affirm:

“And the women came out and ran away from the tomb because they were frightened out of their wits and they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.” (Mk. 16:8, New Jerusalem Bible).

Isn’t this where many of us are today? Hopefully, most of us are sheltering in place, wearing masks and gloves if we dare to go out for an increasingly shorter list of essential tasks, hoarding food and toilet paper, obsessively checking in many times a day with friends and family, watching the stock market fall almost every day if we are fortunate enough to have extra money invested, many wondering if we will have the promised money from the federal government as many of us are laid off or fired, worrying if we might be evicted for non-payment of rent or mortgages, horrified at the lack of desperately needed medical equipment and hospital beds, wondering if a cough or slight fever signals the beginning of our end…and the list keeps lengthening.

In “John”s first pastoral letter, he proclaims “In love there is no room for fear, but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18, New Jerusalem Bible). I have struggled with that verse, now more than ever. Because, like the women in the original end of Mark’s gospel I stand at the empty tomb and I am both confused and scared out of my wits and do not know what to preach, or to simply run away. I am not like John. I am finding that my love is not “perfect” enough to drive out my doubt and fear. And yet, when I see and feel and am impacted personally by the disordered and chaotic and deadly state of the world, I still stand there, proclaiming through my doubt and fear that love will win.

So, let us not be crippled or sidelined by our own anxieties, doubts fears, but, in the midst of them keep standing at the empty tomb, still scared out of our wits perhaps (who could blame us?) and, maybe even in whispered or mumbled words, quavering with hesitation, proclaim that somehow, somewhere, everywhere, in any and all circumstances, love always wins.

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Agnostic Christian

For weeks I have been mulling over a recent column when another columnist labeled agnostics “cowardly.” I beg to differ. The older (and hopefully wiser) I get, the more l shy away from theological certainty, frequently couched in judgment and self-righteousness.

When I was younger I thought I knew it all, and would gleefully and righteously disagree with others with a different theological “take” at various subjects, be it the divinity of Christ the understanding of predetermination, the understanding of heaven and hell and who would go where.

As my faith walk continued, amidst some wandering and much stumbling, I found that the “certainties” I held dearly first yielded to doubts, then further questioning and exploring. and a new theology continuing to emerge that looks quite different from the rigid orthodoxies of my younger self.

This has led me to becoming, in the eyes of many, a “heretic” The original meaning of the word simply means “other,” such as different. It only later accrued judgment and condemnation.

But I am proud to be a “heretic”, in particular in regards to two widely accepted doctrines: the nature of Jesus, in particular in his relationship to humans; and the place and existence of heaven and hell.

In regards to Jesus, most reading this column who identify as Christian see Jesus as the early church creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian) did, that declared him: “son of God,” “only begotten,” “one with the Father.” I have no problem with that centuries-old orthodoxy, except when people claim it is clear in the Bible. All of these creeds did not emerge until the fourth century, amidst fierce fights among both theologians and ordinary people. The victors “won” while the losers were vanquished, their bishoprics stripped, some exiled, some imprisoned, some executed, their “heretical” writings, including the Gospel of Thomas. ferreted out and destroyed.

Before Jesus was officially proclaimed God, there were lots of various teachings about him. such as in the previously cited Gospel of Thomas, where he is seen as our “twin,” not to come as god-man to redeem us and save us from hell, but to reveal to us that our nature is like his, our role — to heal, to reconcile —is the same as his. This is what I now believe, and I believe that the doubt that led to this place is not a place of “cowardice,’ but of true faith, that of living each day as a follower of Jesus, using his example and stories to guide my way and sustain me.

Concomitantly. when I look at the more orthodox understandings of hell and heaven they no longer hold neither threat or promise for me. I am also an “agnostic” in that regard. The thought of the existence of either does not govern my thoughts or actions. I simply try to live each day as I was taught by Jesus, so that my thoughts and actions towards others provide healing and hope. For me that is enough.
I do not consider my rejecting the “certainty” of others as an act of cowardice, but as a supreme act of faith, where my own questioning has led me to this place

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Day 2

As I was cloistered with the Disciples ministry committee that would decide on my standing as a clergywoman, none of us was aware that the world was being ripped apart by senseless violence, this time visited on the iconic city of Paris, no stranger to occupation as warring political forces in Europe had invaded France time and time again in the latter part of the nineteenth century and during World War Two.

It called to mind the poem, “The Second Coming,” by W.B. Yeats, written in 1919 after the close of “The Great War,” so called because their belief was that this war would be the last one the world would know. Here are his words trying to make sense of the literal hell Europe, joined later by the United States, went through with the devastation this “Great War” wrought:

   THE SECOND COMING

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Here we are – yet again—almost a century after this poem was penned. Things are still falling apart, the center cannot hold, and, as evidenced a few days ago in Paris, “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” This “anarchy” has also been loosed in Syria, where hundreds of thousands are fleeing for their very lives, leaving everything they know behind in hopes that someone, somewhere, will let them in. But mostly all we are willing to do is say a prayer or two then get back to our own lives.

But this “darkness drops again,” “slouching towards Bethlehem”, where there is nothing to stop its wholesale predations but a “rocking cradle,” where the newborn child, falls asleep to its mother’s soft voice.

The darkness is getting darker, Paris, “the city of light,” has dimmed its lamps and pulled tight the curtains on its homes. We stand by, this world community, in silent witness, but we are offered a choice. Do we meet darkness, yet again, with darkness or do we dare to light a candle, flickering and faint at first, until enough of us join together to light up the world and bring to maturity the promise of the birth of this small child that peace is stronger than war, that we are all one world, one people?

I for one choose to light my one small candle and invite others to do the same.

thCandle20burning-2

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Day 1 as Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) clergywoman

Yesterday, November 13, the Commission on Ministry accepted me as a full-fledged clergywoman in this denomination that has been my church home for ten years. My road (well, “road” is a bit of an exaggeration) was more like an unchartered path, often in the wilderness, often in exile, leading me into and then from communities of faith that were not able to support me in my personal journey seeking to live out the fullness of my call and find the power of my own voice.

Born into the Episcopal faith, I was drawn to the Catholic faith as a freshman in high school. This led me to an MA in scripture and theology, the first woman to graduate from Mt. Angel Seminary, in 1979. I served faithfully for a quarter century, including developing a number of parish programs in the wake of Vatican II, including writing a book, The Pastoral Associate and Lay Pastor, and being a staff writer for “Good News Homily News Service,” where I had to sit in the front row listening to a male priest read the words I had written for his Sunday homily.

Then followed a short stint with the Lutherans until I came out and refused to stay in the closet for the comfort of the people whom I was supposed to serve.

Then followed years in the spiritual wilderness, reconfiguring my family of three children and ex-husband, no longer connected to a church that had both been my home and profession.

This was followed by a stint with Unity, where I was ordained in 2006, but in 2005 I met and fell in love with my spouse, Sheryl, who was on her way to seminary in Berkeley, California, to pursue ordination as a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I also fell in love with the Disciples, in particular with their radical welcome, open table, and call to ecumenism.

It is no accident, I believe, that the gospel of today (Luke 18:1-8) is that of the widow who kept bringing her case against an intransigent judge, who kept turning down her demand for justice. But love, and tenacity, had the will to win. At last, he gave in and granted her request: “…because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.”

It has taken me 57 years since my initial call into ministry. Like the widow, I kept trying – again and again – to plead the cause of women, of LGBT folk, of others marginalized — by the color of their skin, the place of their origin, the name of their faith– put in prisons that smashed their hopes and saw them as less as they were called to be.

I hope that I can serve out the rest of my days with the Disciples as my colleagues and friends, where I will continue to see where the path of my own call will lead me. But remember, the judge ended his resistance by declaring he would grant her request so that she would not “come and strike” him.

So, let’s keep on walking, supporting one another to discover the unique path that is the call of each one of us in all of our uniqueness, our flaws, our gifts, and let’s see where we can go – together

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