We are made in the image of God and we are women.

[Every few weeks, I'm asked to write an original piece and deliver it as the Call to Worship during our Sunday liturgy. This Sunday, the sermon was on the topic of gender, and so I spoke about the challenges, plight, and beauty of being a woman in the world. A huge thanks to everyone who chimed in on my Facebook page - some of your answers are mentioned here!]


My name is Nish.

I am made in the image of God, and I am a woman.

And

If my thighs touch, I’m too fat. If they don’t touch, I’m too skinny.

If I take initiative and lead, I’m bossy. If I don’t step up and lead, I’m a doormat.

If I act like I’ve got it together, I’m a hypocrite. If I don’t act like I have it together, I’m a train wreck.

If I wear too much makeup, I’m vain and insecure. If I don’t wear enough, I don’t care about looking presentable.

If I lose weight quickly after having a baby, I care too much about how I look. If I don’t lose the weight, I’ve really let myself go. 

If I show emotion, I’m a drama queen, I’m weak, or I’m PMSing. If I show no emotion, I’m cold and heartless.

If I have a career, I’m neglecting the needs of my family. If I stay home, I’m undoing all the work of years of feminism and throwing my life away.

If I’m in charge and do the work, I’m too controlling. If I delegate, I don’t care enough to do the work myself.

If I speak my opinion, I’m aggressive or arrogant. If I stay silent, I’m an enabler.

If I don’t keep up a good appearance, it’s my fault if my husband cheats on me. But, if I look too good, I’m causing other men to stumble into lust.

If I don’t have sex before marriage, I’m a prude. If I do have sex before marriage, I’m damaged goods.

If I don’t have sex or don’t enjoy it, I’m a prude. If I do have sex, and heaven forbid enjoy it, I’m a whore.

If I don’t show enough skin, I’m a prude. If I show too much skin, well, I’m just asking for it.

 

We are made in the image of God and we are women.

We are more likely to be aborted, with almost 100 million of us having gone missing. It amounts to gendercide, and we are the victims because we are culturally less desirable and less valued than our male counterparts. If we happen to make it out of the womb, we’re more likely to be the victims of trafficking, and the burden of war and poverty weighs more heavily on our shoulders.

We are less likely to make a living wage. We are less likely to own property and less likely hold a seat in public office. We are less likely to have access to education and we make less money for doing the same work.

We are systemically & systematically blocked out of board rooms and locked out of pulpits.

We are more silenced, more oppressed, more enslaved, and more marginalized, and it comes at the hands of societies, cultures, governments and faith traditions that value men over women.

We are made in the image of God, and we are women.

But when I think of women, I don’t think of us cowering in the corner. I see resilience in the face of oppression. I see tenderness in the face of harshness. I see bravery in the face of cowardice.

When I think of the faces of my sisters around the world, I think of the women in the Scriptures. I think of Queen Esther who risked her life and faced death in order to save her people. I think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who in a revolutionary act of obedience, changed the course of history on earth and eternity for all. I think of the Samaritan woman at the well, who moments after her conversion, preached Christ to her whole village and they believed. I think of Mary Magdalene, who remained close with Christ throughout his ministry, who lingered at the cross after everyone else had run off, she and was the first person trusted with the gospel of the resurrected Jesus, our first evangelist.

I think of the tender ways that Christ loved, cared for, spoke value to, and emboldened women.

He knew that the fullness of the image of God was not really known without women in the picture. He was there when God came up with the idea, after all. The Scriptures tell us,

            “So God created mankind in his own image,

            in the image of God he created them;

            male and female he created them.”

Male and female. Two parts of a whole. God declared it very good after he created man and woman, together.

We are made in the image of God, and we are women.

We are embodied with the same Holy Spirit who gives us same power and authority, who puts us on the same mission. We are given the same spiritual gifts. We are given the same commandments and the same marching orders, to love God, love others and fulfill the great commission. We are working to advance the same Kingdom that worships the same Jesus. And you cannot understand or comprehend the fullness of the image of God without us.

Men and women are not the same. But we are absolutely, unequivocally, 100% equal in every regard. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female; for you are all ONE in Christ Jesus.” Declares the apostle Paul.

And this morning, we worship the God who created mankind in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male AND female he created them.

This God is worthy of our praise.

 

Silence & Social Media Outrage.

There's a problem with the world. We can't ignore it, we can't simply look away or pretend it doesn't exist. It's real, and frankly, it can be horrifying.

Evil is real and it is among us.

I know what you're thinking. "Wow, Nish. Way to be a downer." I get it, it's not fun or easy to talk about the dark realities of the world. It sucks, actually. I understand if you want to click over to more uplifting content like cute babies playing with cats or something. But, if you can hang with me, I hope you will.

Okay, back to evil.

It crops up in big moments in history, and it crops up in the underpinnings of everyday life. And with the speed of social media, we are made aware of the evils in the world at a fast, unrelenting pace. It slaps us in the face every time we look at Facebook or Twitter.

Aurora, Colorado.

Newtown, Connecticut.

Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. And, and, and...

Charleston, South Carolina.

And most recently, the news about Planned Parenthood.

That's just a small, miniscule smattering of BIG examples in the news over the course of the last few years. I haven't even touched on the stories that we hear about, but slip through the cracks of mainstream media. With each devastating instance we encounter, social media explodes into a collective outrage.

AND RIGHTFULLY SO. This is not a post on the validity of being outraged over horrible events that happen in the world. We should be angry. We should be standing up, demanding change from the people who have the power to enact it. We should be standing up, shining a light on atrocities, oppression, white supremacy, trafficking, gun violence, mass incarceration, abortion, you name it. We should use the means available to us to do so, and that includes social media.

Now, hear me when I say - I am not equating one with the other. I'm not saying one issue is more horrible than the other, nor is one more important than another. They are all horrific in their own right. They all carry their own unfathomable pain, consequence, and conversations. They all deserve attention, protest, outrage, and pain. It's apples and oranges to try to compare pain. It's a lose/lose.

But there is a thread that connects these things and it's time we call it on the carpet for what it is. It's evil. Evil is in the world and we should all, as believers, be standing against it, arm in arm.

But, there's something that we forget in the midst of the outrage, especially on social media. Evil affects everyone differently. The survivors of Columbine are likely going to have a different set of responses to the news of Newtown. Parents of small children are going to have a different response than those without children.

Our black brothers and sisters are going to have a different response to the terrorism in Charleston than those of us who are white and don't have to fear getting gunned down in church because of our skin color.

Women who have had, or have come in close proximity to abortion are going to have a different response to the news reports of Planned Parenthood than people who haven't had that experience.

This is reality.

Like I said, I'm not valuing one experience over another. I'm only showing that everyone will internalize information differently on any given day because of their lived experience.

We forget this on social media.

If you are regularly active on social media, there is an unspoken expectation that you will respond quickly and swiftly to the most recent horrors that make their way across the screen. And if you don't, you are accused of being complicit in, apathetic towards or even sympathetic to the horror.

We've forgotten that people aren't always ready to respond.

Or maybe they do respond, but it's while they're sitting in a cloud of emotion and they say something that sounds pretty dumb or careless.

Every now and again, something will happen that strikes a little too close to home. It hurts and that person is forced to relive something in their past. Or their present, for that matter. Something happens, the news spreads, and someone just needs some time to catch their breath because the pain is too much to bear.

There is little room for immediate outrage in the midst of grief and lament.

People who are usually active and vocal may go quiet. And in the landscape of social media, where outrage is vocal, unrelenting, responses are demanded, and silence looks like complicity, we forget that sometimes, people just need to take one goddamned minute to FEEL. To be sad. To cry. To breathe. To sleep.

(And let's get real, they may just be away from the internet entirely. Like, you know, on vacation. I hear that happens from time to time.)

But, it's in these moments of pain & lament when the rest of the body of believers needs to stand up next to that person and and say, "You sit down for this one, we got it," and continue to protest and speak against the horrors of injustice, murder, oppression and more. When one part of the body can't function, the rest of the body learns to compensate. We hold each other's arms up when we're too tired. We stand in. We sub out. We support each other and believe the best about each other.

Even the best athletes in the world need a water break every now and then. We give them time outs. We give them a couple of minutes to breathe, rest, drink. Then, we slap them on the ass and they get out there and get it done. How much more gracious and accommodating should we be to our brothers and sisters who might be experiencing pain? How much more forgiving should we be of our friends who are devastated over the news?

Maybe, just maybe, they have a good reason for being quiet. Maybe, just maybe, it isn't that they're apathetic.

Where did our grace go?

Let's choose to be a people who honor each other. Let's choose to be a people who actually believe the best of each other, rather than jump to assumptions about their character or complicity.

Let's continue to fight against injustice. But for heaven's sake, let's not fight each other in the process.

Sacrifice of Power & Privilege

Once every couple of months, I have the distinct honor of writing and delivering the Call to Worship at my local church on Sunday morning. Everyone does it differently - some read sections of books or novels, some rewrite sections of Scripture, some read Psalms with call-and-response. As for me and my contribution, I write original pieces, crafted alongside my pastors who write and prepare the sermon. I love writing books and blogs and articles, but far-and-away my absolute favorite writing & speaking gig is writing these pieces for my local community. It is such an honor and humbling gift to serve my church with words.

As you read these pieces, keep in mind that they might read a bit strange, since they're written to be spoken in front of an audience.

This week's sermon was on the Sacrifice of Power & Privilege, given by Heather Thomas using the text from Philippians 2 and Matthew 10.

Here's my contribution.


Being humble is a tricky thing.

And by tricky I mean really, really hard. Like, almost impossible without the help of God.

Why? Why is this one so difficult? For me, it flies in the face of my desire to be known, to be important, to be smart and my personal favorite, to be right.

Man, I love being right. It’s awesome. But, let the record show that my heart is never to be intentionally divisive. My heart is never to drive a wedge between people, or be an advocate for disunity. I don’t want to be THAT person.

I just want everyone to agree with ME.

It’s a power play. It’s an overt act of privilege and a complete lack of dying to myself. Somewhere deep in me, there’s a root of pride, and its leaves and branches are full of dead fruit that look like arrogance. It looks like the sketch of a God that looks remarkably just like me. It’s uncanny, truly. And it’s a profound misunderstanding of the Good News.

Too often, I let the truth of the Gospel elude me. I forget what the text ACTUALLY says and instead, inject my own preferences and interpretations into it. This is nothing unusual, we all do it at some level, but it’s highly problematic – and that’s putting it gently.

The Scriptures say that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.

What our culture says and too often, what we tend to actually believe, is that God so loves the

White

God so loves the straight

The upper middle class

The 1%

God so loves the suburban

Or the renewed urban

The educated

God so loves the beautiful

The perfect

The skinny

The theologically correct

The smart

God so loves the American

God so loves the Christian

We place all of these parameters around who gets access to the Good News and so often, too often, the parameters of power that we place on the Kingdom of God looks identical to that of our culture, to that of the Empire. My friend Rachel says that the scandal of God’s Kingdom is not who it keeps out, but who it lets in.

If we are to declare ourselves builders and residents of the Kingdom of God, then it’s actually our job to lay down our power, our privilege, our pride for the sake of those who don’t have it. For the sake of those who need it. For the sake of all those who God loves, but the world says we shouldn’t.

For God so loved the poor

For God so loved the hungry

The homeless

The trafficked

The minority

The marginalized

The oppressed

The truth is, Jesus had all the power. He was God made flesh and he had access to all the trappings, power and privilege that provides. But when did He use it? When, in the Scriptures, do we see Jesus visibly use the power of God? When He fed the hungry with loaves and fish. When He healed the sick, when He made the blind see, the lame walk, and brought the dead back to life.

And in the moment when He probably needed and desired God’s power the most, when He cried out to His father and asked why He was forsaken? He turned his back to that power and died.  For us.

As we come together to worship and hear the word preached, may we desire to be people who know the power & privilege we hold. May we sacrifice our desire to be right in favor of love. May we use our power and privilege for the good of people who have none. And may we turn our backs to our power and privilege when God asks.

And may we focus our eyes and center our hearts on Christ, who sacrificed all of His power for our sake.

And all of God’s people said, "Amen."

Unquenchable Light: Thoughts on Hope & Expectation when the world goes dark.

lightstock_148695_small_user_3551573.jpg

I recently looked up the definition of “expect.” It means, according to the dictionary, “To look forward to.”

Thinking that this sounded familiar, I also looked up the definition of “hope.” Hope, according to the dictionary, means, “To look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence.”

I found it interesting that even in the dictionary, the meanings of expect and hope are so closely and clearly intertwined.

I think these two words – hope and expectation - words that are often wrapped in precious holiday cliché, especially at this time of year - are actually a bold declaration to the world. It proclaims loudly, and against the grain of the feel-good holiday season, that the world is not as it should be.

That mothers and fathers of black boys in America in 2014 rightfully fear for the lives of their children simply because of their skin color? The world is not as it should be.

That foreign aid workers, risking their lives to save men, women and children seeking refuge from war-torn countries, are beheaded in a desert for the world to see? The world is not as it should be.

That hundreds of girls are kidnapped from their school in the dark of night, to be threatened with the horror of slavery? The world is not as it should be.

That millions go hungry, millions are orphaned, millions die from childbirth, millions are trafficked into sex slavery, millions die from preventable disease? The world is not as it should be.

That protesters, numbered in the tens of thousands, would have to take to the streets of major cities around the country in order to declare with their signs and posters that yes, even black lives matter. The world is not as it should be.

These are the dark corners. These are the hard truths about the lives that we live here on earth. These are the places in our world, in our culture, that would declare that there is no hope. These are the places where expectations run dark, where the powers and structures of the world grip tight to the ways of oppression, pain and silence. It doesn’t take much effort to look at the big picture and see for ourselves that something isn’t right. That something is actually very, very wrong.

We look out into the sea of pain and brokenness, we hit our knees knowing deep down that one day it’ll all be made new, but we ask, “Lord, how can this be?” In our heart of hearts, it seems impossible.

But we, as believers and anticipators of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, both in his birth and in his return, we hold strong to something much more than mere expectation. Yes, we expect the arrival of Jesus. We expect the inauguration of his Kingdom. We expect that in his name, all oppression shall cease. Of course we do.

But, even more than expectation, we are a people of hope. Because we not only anticipate and expect the Impossible, we desire it, too. Hope is expectation infused with desire. We expect and desire the Kingdom come, on Earth as it is in heaven. We expect and desire peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. We expect and desire that justice would roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Advent is a time of expectation, but it is also a time of desperate hope. Our desires and dreams for this broken world are laid bare and the path to their fulfillment is cracked wide open with the pangs of a mother’s labor and those first cries of a newborn baby in the dark of night.

It’s the birth of a baby to a teenage girl that tells us, nothing will be impossible with God. That no word from God will ever fail. The baby wrapped in simple cloth and laid in a feed trough is the fulfillment of our God-given hopes. He is the arrival, the apex of our expectations and desires.

And so we take our hope and we walk toward the baby, the light of the world and we hold that light in our hearts. Since hope is not idle, we walk that light into the darkest places of the world, because we believe that yes, light CAN shine in that kind of darkness. We have to believe it. Because if that light that sparked in Bethlehem and roared at Calvary can’t glow in the darkest of dark, then the gospel that we proclaim does not stand.

So we walk. We expect. We hope. We work and walk for justice and we work and walk for the end of oppression in our time. Our hope will not disappoint us. We cling to the words of Gabriel that declare nothing is impossible with God, and the darkness will not prevail. We remember Immanuel, God with us, the light of the world. Yes, even this world that is not as it should be. But with each step, the darkness breaks.

And so together, this Advent, let’s boldly walk with the unquenchable light.

For Ferguson

 

 

“Atticus–” said Jem bleakly.

 

He turned in the doorway. “What, son?”

 

“How could they do it, how could they?”


“I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it — seems that only children weep.”

 

- To Kill a Mockingbird