First Published on Episcopal Commons:
While we know that this “Jesus” would eventually change the world, the scandal that would have risen from the baby bump Mary would soon carry would have been devastating. This tiding of great joy could only have been seen as greatly troubling for at the very least Mary would have been pushed to the margins of her community and at the worst stoned.
But this is how God works.
God stepped into the life of a poor girl, was turned away from every respectable inns, was finally brought into something slightly better than a cave, and was born in a feeding trough.
What kind of God is this that the first people to hear that He was born were people who smelled so badly that others would avoid them like the plague? What kind of God is this where over and over again the people we would aspire to be are pushed away as unworthy?
This is a God who goes into the broken places and makes things right.
This is a God who steps into scandal.
From the very moment of his birth to his death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus challenges everything we know to be true. He verbally abuses everyone we would have been culturally conditioned to respect and honor. He keeps company with people we would have been embarrassed to be associated with. He saying things like, “The first shall be last” and “If you want to save your life, you must lose it” and “This is my blood shed for you.” This Jesus is messy. Moreover, this Jesus asks things of us that are uncomfortable and awkward and against what we would call our better judgment. The thing called the Christian life could not rationally be called joyful. And yet, it is.
It is a good and joyful thing to be caught up in the scandal of it all: to risk, to step into the broken places, to call for peace and reconciliation, to boldly follow the light the Virgin Mary brings into the world.
And perhaps this is the great scandal of Advent, that we wait for this God to wade into our mess, our drama, our chaos and transform it from being something ugly and painful into something lovely. After all, the good news offered to the Virgin Mary ended up being the best news ever heard, even if it would have been scandalous, even if she was greatly troubled by it. This message from an angel put things in motion that would make things right again.
Collect Of the Incarnation
O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, page 252)
First Published on Episcopal Commons:
During the season of Advent, we anticipate peace. Anticipate because we know peace is still just out of reach. That’s the tension of the Christian life. We are in between God’s kingdom and our own. We look around and we don’t see God’s will being done. God’s kingdom hasn’t come. When we look beyond our status updates and twitter pics, we see starvation and despair, basic needs being overlooked and isolation run amok. We see too many reasons to be afraid and too many things to fear. Peace can’t possibly be here on earth.
And yet, even before David can imagine what the Messiah might be, he’s able to utter these words before us today, from Psalm 27:1:
The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
I don’t know why he’s able to say what he does. I don’t know what sparks his confidence or trust. But I know sometimes I struggle to.
Sometimes it is hard to confess “I’m not afraid” or “I have nothing to fear” because sometimes I don’t see the light. Sometimes, I can’t taste salvation. Sometimes, I feel like I’ve lost sight of the thing that’s supposed to be my stronghold. I don’t know what David looked to, but in moments my uncertainty takes hold of my imagination, I know I need to look to the manger.
I need to look to the manger because Jesus too was helpless and poor and unable to do it on his own. Jesus cried out to his mother in the hope that she would feed him and change him and rock him back to sleep. In her arms, he would have felt safe and secure. Despite the smell of the shepherds or the prodding of the wise men, Jesus would have been comforted. Jesus would have felt peace.
It would years before Jesus would be mocked or ridiculed, beaten or hung on a cross, but maybe it’s the kind of peace Jesus would have experienced as child that he leaves with us. Maybe it’s the peace that comes with bearing our humanity, the knowledge that comes with having been there, having done that. Maybe it’s the peace that comes with the wisdom that God’s kingdom really will come, God’s will really will be done. Maybe it’s the peace that comes in knowing that God’s children have a part to play in restoring creation back to what God intended from the beginning.
There are some moments where my “maybes” feel more certain than others. But as long as we are struggling towards peace, I know I need more of it. And so I pray, “Peace be with you.”
A Collect for Peace
Most holy God, the source of all good desires, all right judgements, all just works: Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our minds may be fixed on the doing of your will, and that we, being delivered from the fear of all enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through the mercies of Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, Evening Prayer, page 123)
First Published on Episcopal Leadership Institute for Young Adults.
“Why are they sending you?”
My mother’s question poked with an edge of suspicion. Undoubtedly, she was still reeling from the GOP’s decision to deny women from testifying before congress and allowing five MEN to compromise, I mean, comprise the panel designed to talk about women’s health issues.
Fortunately for me, the United Nations identified male engagement in gender equality as an emerging topic – which is the short answer to the question above. But her question has been following me for weeks and was very much on my mind during the days were the Episcopal delegates were trying to make a difference.
To be honest, I’m not sure I can articulate what we did or what will come from our presence at the United Nations. I know that I had great highs and significant lows. I know that I was pushed to the brink of my emotional spectrum. I was grateful when older, wiser women welcomed me into the conversation. I was discouraged when other women said I didn’t belong. I was inspired to hear incredible stories of women overcoming cultural boundaries in gender reconciliation. I was devastated to hear that men were not doing nearly enough to treat women with the basic decency and respect the Christian life demands of us. I was beyond frustrated when I heard some women replacing one form of sexism for another.
The sad truth is that we are not there yet. Violations against women are vast and growing. Sex trafficking is on the rise. People still don’t have enough food to eat or clean water drink. People don’t have access to basic health care or education. The world is not in a good place.
But I was able to sneak into an under 18 meeting hosted The Working Group on Girls. To my surprise, there were a notable percentage of boys in the room. True to the name of the event, it really was a dialogue between girls and boys. At the event, a panel of people, all under the age of 17, spoke about their efforts to embrace their talents and not let traditional gender roles define their dreams and desires.
They also released two documents for the CSW: one from the girls and the other from the boys. The girls document clearly identified some of the crucial issues: decrease violence against women, “educate men and boy on the value of girls,” and delaying the legal age for girls to be married. The “Girl’s Statement” was clearly geared towards governments and political powers. But the “Statement of the Young Men” was geared toward the CSW itself. It said:
As young men, we demand to be included in the discussion and advancement of women and girl’s rights internationally. As much as men are part of the problem, we are also part of the solution. We need to reframe the discussion from a women’s issue to a human issue, where men and women, boys and girls can collaborate constructively to solve the obvious injustice that is inequality. As youth, we have a fresh and unique voice that provides creative and new solutions, as witnessed in the Arab Spring.
While the voices of the next generation are far from perfect, and the abbreviations and acronyms used as common rhetoric make me cringe, I can’t help but be encouraged by the voices rising behind my generation. Even if it does take another 50 councils to address the issues surrounding the status of women, I know that we have indeed made progress, we have changed minds, we have caste a new vision for what gender equality looks like for the future, and we will continue to until the CSW is no longer needed.
New York vs. Miami. Last night’s match-up was supposed to be a game that would make or break Jeremy Lin. It had all the pieces for an epic David vs. Goliath story: the best villains the NBA could conjure, the glitz and glamour that comes with an All-Star weekend, even LeBron James’ receding hair line. But after scoring eight points and committing eight turnovers, this game was just another tough learning experience for Jeremy Lin—and a fitting metaphor for the conversation that was sparked by the “Humble Hero from Harvard.”
Lin’s road ahead will be paved with wins and losses (like last night’s 102-88 defeat), and only time will tell if his sudden NBA stardom is a fleeting moment or a lasting career. But for better or for worse, Lin has became a symbol within the current conversation surrounding race in America. What started as the boyish, charming story of the rise of a basketball phenom with a vocal Christian faith took a cynical turn after Floyd Mayweather pulled the race card and ESPN threw in a slur for good measure. Fortunately, the symbolism hasn’t been wasted; rather, it has turned into a fascinating conversation about the need for forgiveness and humility.
An Elite Minority
I’d imagine that like nearly every other Asian-American I know, some friend has tried to convince Jeremy Lin that A Christmas Story is a good movie. I’m sure there are good reasons as to why it appears on nearly every must-see/top 10 Christmas movie list. But like so many others, I completely lose all of my patience for it when the family goes to the Chinese restaurant. I’ve tried to persevere; I’ve tried to get to what I suspect is a happy ending. But I can never seem to get past that point of the film because it takes me back to the place where Asian-Americans like myself are portrayed as ignorant and primitive people.
Thankfully, Asian-Americans have come a long way from the caricatures we used to play. Hollywood has transitioned from offering us emasculating, nerdy, tech-support walk-on parts to strong and more complex leading Asian roles. (Granted, they sometimes end up looking like modern-day samurais, but at least it’s a step in the right direction).
Simply put, Asian-Americans now stand in a unique place within the race conversation in the United States. We are considered to be an elite minority. Elite because the racial stereotypes presented tend be mostly positive: Asian-Americans are good at math, play musical instruments, have survived tiger mothers—and now, might even be good at basketball. Sure, we don’t drive as well as some people, but that’s because our eyelids are more narrow, right?
ESPN and Reconciliation
What happened at ESPN was inevitable. Someone was going to make a “chink” comment. But after ESPN attempted to make amends for their gaffe by firing one employee and suspending another, two of their commentators had one of the best conversations I have heard about race in a long time. Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless went on the air to address their frustration with the very nature of the conversation. Unlike the hilarious SNL skit that used clever Jeremy Lin puns to slyly comment on the undefined, lopsided race conversation in this country, Smith and Bayless risked their public profiles and said something of real substance.
Smith outlined the need to be more careful about how minority groups respond to racially charged situations as there is currently a bad precedent set by groups that over-respond to genuine mistakes. And Bayless added we all have to be more mindful that we have entered a new chapter in American history, where every enthic group can feel marginalized, including those who have been historically identified as the oppressors.
As this back-and-forth took place, it was almost as if the two were simply reciting lines from the book of Proverbs or pulling on New Testament language of forgiveness and humility. It was almost as if the practical wisdom offered in holy Scripture was being uttered as a worthy guide for what it means to live into the image we were created to be.
It was a conversation handled with the incredible poise Lin himself is becoming synonymous with.
Jeremy Lin’s public profile has certainly blossomed in the past few weeks. He was even offered a GQmagazine cover—Lin turned down the opportunity because he felt it would be a distraction from his team. And this was by no means the first time he made such a gesture.
In a video clip of Lin sharing his testimony with a Chinese Church, he described all the things that needed to happen for him to have a shot at playing for the Knicks. He broke down the elements he had no control over and confessed that every part was a gift from God.
In an interview after he played the Lakers, he was asked, “What were your nerves like at the start of the game?”
Lin responded: “The same as every game … I play as hard as I can. I try to do everything I can to help my team win. And I play unto God. That’s it.”
Later in the same interview, he was asked, “Can you describe what your family’s reaction has been to all of this this past week and seeing you on the back page of [New York Post]?”
He said: “We are just thankful. The journey was very different. It’s been tough at times and my family has been through a lot … just the last year and a half, the downs we had to go through, but God is faithful and He put us on this unbelievable journey. We are just trying to enjoy everything right now. We are trying to stay together and make sure we handle everything the right way.”
It is clear that for Lin, humility and forgiveness have defined his faith. Maybe that’s the lesson we should take away from all of this. If we are going to make any progress with the tensions between differing races and cultures, then minorities need to be more forgiving. Because, as Lin has said, “you can rise as quickly as you can fall.” And we need to be more gracious in the way we handle the inexperience of others—even if that means eventually watching A Christmas Story all the way to the end.
Christopher Esposito-Bernard is the Dir. for Children, Youth & Family Ministries at All Angels’ Church in New York City. Although his name doesn’t show it, he’s an Asian-American whose mother immigrated to this country from South Korea.