First, let me apologize for rambling in the following paragraphs but thoughts are assaulting my mind from different directions. I’m not used to having more than one at a time, so kind of scary…
This is Sexual Violence Awareness Month and ironically Bill Cosby has just been found guilty of three accounts of sexual assault. I watched the ensuing press conference held by Kevin Steele, the Montgomery County District Attorney where Cosby was tried. Steele seemed very compassionate toward the victims, emotional about justice for women, and expressed deep distaste for the predator who was behind the ‘America’s dad’ facade.
I’m not qualified to speak fully about how women are sexualized or victimized in the same way that I’m not personally knowledgable on the subjects of racism or slavery, etc. I observe things around me and have opinions but I’ve obviously never experienced these and frankly can’t even place them in any category I have.
You see, my life has been full of strong, loving women and men who respected and loved them. Any misogyny that existed in my sight-lines was in the shape of mutually accepted roles rather than mis-use. The idea of objectifying or disrespecting a woman is actually counter to how I was raised or who was in my life.
So as the #MeToo movement gained momentum last fall I was surprised at how widespread the problem was although it was predictably met with defensiveness from various competing places. Among the things that educated and shocked me was not so much that abuse happened but rather how blatant the abuse was. Sexual favors expected without consequence and abuse of power and position without remorse. People turned into objects.
It’s probably a subject that deserves it’s own space, but contrary to some opinions the Bible treats women with a great deal of respect even while popular culture treated them with disdain. Personalities like Esther, Ruth, Rahab, Deborah, Tabitha, Martha, Joanna, the Marys and many others are clever, strong, sensitive and revered. Women were part of Jesus’ entourage of disciples (unheard of in that time and culture) and he spent a great deal of time socializing with women even though innuendo and disapproval were continually aimed at him. Notably, it was women who were trusted to be the first eye witnesses to Jesus’ Resurrection and were the primary impetus of the Jesus movement that swept across the world in the first AD centuries.
When I was in high school I remember a period of time when it was cool to bring the new Jesus Christ Superstar ‘rock opera’ album to school to talk about the songs or have friends sign the cover. (Is there anything more fun than signing someone’s album cover with your own signature and really clever comments?) Since I was from a conservative church background I assumed it must be inappropriate in some way although I was moderately curious what it was about. Years later I had friends who had enjoyed the album and movie but I’m embarrassed to say I never did see it.
This past Easter Sunday night I accidentally came across the live NBC broadcast of it and found myself mesmerized by the music, the production and character interaction. Mary Magdalene, whom the Gospels describe as being very close to Jesus, is a major character in the story. She is historically assumed to have been a prostitute though that is purely speculation. We are told that he healed her from demonic spirits and issues of mental health. In the J.C.S. version of things she finds herself in love with Jesus and wrestling with her feelings because he is ‘just a man’.
But when Sara Bareilles stood in the center of the stage as Mary Magdalene and shared her velvety versions of Everything’s Alright and I Don’t Know How To Love Him, my brain exploded with thoughts and imaginings. What would her inner questioning and turmoil be like as she experienced the possibility of pure love for the first time?
He scares me so.
Mary’s confusion and pause
As she wrestles with this new paradigm.
He loves her gladly, unconditionally, purely,
Yet she’s never known this acceptance or attraction,
Deeper than skin or pleasure or friendship.
Acknowledging it feels foreign to her;
Closeness always has a price.
I want him so.
She is strangely drawn,
But these feelings frighten her:
Love is shallow, one way, always breaks;
Too unthinkable, too unattainable – she can’t cope.
But somehow this love is deeper, cleaner;
Loving her purely for who she is.
Pure love changes us.
I love him so.
And it got me to thinking about how confusing and mind-bending it is for us to fully embrace God’s love and pleasure in us. To know it. To trust it. And I remember the time I first truly believed that God could be trusted with my doubts and dirt, in spite of what religion was telling me.
So this post isn’t about being a woman – it is about being human. The struggle of accepting that ‘I’m loved the way I am’. Jesus’ apostles were angry terrorists, corrupt officials, failed Rabbi wanna-be types, leather skinned fishermen and notoriously slow learners who had to discover through a long process of searching that each was loved by Jesus and could be successful in a new way. Later, in their maturity, they lived in a quiet, peaceful confidence – ‘shalom’ to use an old but ever-new term.
We live in a culture (world) that is full of the idols of performance, measurement, status, hurry, attractiveness, climbing, winning, selling. And cooperation. I’ve felt it and have struggled to learn there is another way. To be loved unconditionally and purely, simply because I am, is a powerful part of being fully human. One of the large struggles in life is to be secure and comfortable and even joyful in that good createdness.
God loves you;
God even likes you.
Unconditionally, it’s His character.
God embraces who you are, where you are now,
And longs for you to return to
The person he created.
God loves you;
What if some of us
Who profess to love Jesus,
Could live in that healthy, restful love?
What if a small percentage of us who profess to obey,
Put away our fear, greed, need to be right
And started to love others?
That’s his will.
We get tangled up in performance and expectations and worrying about sin but Jesus has already loved us and dealt with our sin. Instead, he would rather we become fully alive in him as his beloved people. More on this most important subject in coming posts.
Jesus Christ Superstar: Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; Lyrics by Tim Rice