Why the Begats Matter

People’s lives are at stake.

if we want to stand for justice in our world.

Atatiana Jefferson was murdered by a police officer this week. She is the most recent victim of murders of innocents. I lament her death, but lament is not enough to stop the madness. I have a responsibility to see her as my kin. The Gospel demands of us this radical reconstrual of our identities, attitudes, and behaviors.

The Christian New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew begins with “begats.” Genealogy matters in the recorded story of Jesus.

Genealogy in the New Testament is also a bit peculiar as genealogies go. The Gospel of Luke’s begats are different than Matthew’s. Why is that? Did the two writers have two different family Bibles (and thus two different versions of Jesus’s ancestry)?

Scholars disagree on why Luke’s and Matthew’s genealogies differ, and this essay is not the place to muddle through the scholarly debates. What is clear is that genealogies held value for both of these ancient writers.

Genealogies say something about who we are by saying something about who our ancestors are. They also set boundaries between insiders and outsiders. Who has the right bloodline to inherit this or that name or property or authority? Who begat whom with whom and from whom? Genealogies set parameters for personal, social, and political life stories.

What do Jesus’ genealogies tell us about his identity?

Most genealogies in patriarchal societies focused on male ancestors. That is what makes Jesus’ genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew so striking. Note some of the names recorded by the writer of Matthew as part of Jesus’ family tree:

Tamar (Genesis 38)
Rahab (Joshua 2)
Ruth (The Book of Ruth)
Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11)
Mary (the mother of Jesus)

Women are included in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, even some Canaanite and Joabite women. So-called “outsiders.” Women who were deemed scandalous. The genealogy even includes an unnamed woman, “the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” We know her as Bathsheba.

Surfacing “subjugated knowledge”

Matthew’s genealogy brings to mind for me the work of French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault. Foucault constructed “genealogies” of contemporary practices and institutions. His aim was to show how present power dynamics emerged out of struggles, conflicts, alliances and power plays that are too often buried or forgotten.

Foucault sought to surface “subjugated knowledge” that is routinely muted or disqualified by dominant or more powerful voices.

Matthew’s Gospel disrupts the usual bloodlines and histories to include the stories of outsiders in Jesus’ genealogy. If Jesus was born to remake the world and transform the human story, then he needs a subversive and radical genealogy that includes those routinely discounted. Matthew gives us that.

Who do we name in our genealogies?

Why does this subversive begatting matter? The reason, for me, takes the shape of a question:

Who do I name in my genealogy? I have my family tree, of course, the one that Grandma recorded on those pages in the center of the Crainshaw Bible. I have a responsibility to be aware of my family’s history. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus urges me to take this a step further. Matthew’s genealogy urges me to pay attention to whose names are not recorded on those glossy family tree pages.

The presence of the women in Jesus’ genealogy signals that Jesus’ life-story will inaugurate a new and unexpected identity for the people of God, one where subjugated knowledges, bodies, and stories are respected and embraced as kindred.

A call to radical kinship

Too many people in our communities today face violence, danger, and even death because of their race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, economic reality–in other words, because they reside in realms of “subjugated knowledges.”

The time has come for those of us who claim kinship with Jesus to reimagine our genealogies. Who are the Tamars, Rahabs, Ruths, Bathshebas, and Marys in our communities? In our life stories? Where can we encounter those whose wisdom and voices have been subjugated or denounced or destroyed by the powers that be.

Whoever our Tamars, Rahabs, Ruths, Bathshebas and Marys are, we need to name them, lament the pain they have experienced, confess our participation in the injustices they have endured, and do whatever we can to celebrate our kinship with them in the beloved community of God.

And our responsibility does not end with lament, confession, and celebration. People’s lives are at stake.

Jesus calls us to stand with those relegated to and endangered on the margins, even if we risk our own security and privilege by doing so.

The begats matter in the genealogy of Jesus. They matter for us too as we work to extend radical hospitality and inclusivity to others. And they matter if our lament over Atatiana Jefferson’s death is to move us to everyday actions that, because we are her kin in God’s beloved community, resist injustice in all of its forms.

Affirm, Highlight, Respond

Blogtober is challenging me and encouraging me to grow in three ways.

I accepted the Blogtober challenge. On Tuesday, October 1, I began. That was fourteen days ago. A decalogue plus four days of blogs.

Why do people do it—write blogs each day about what they see, hear, think, and do? I realize, after all, that my life isn’t that exciting or interesting to anyone but me, even when I share cute dog stories! Neither are my opinions that intriguing. So why blog? And why decide to do it every day for a 31-day month?

Blogtober is challenging me and encouraging me to grow in three significant ways.

I am writing every day.

I love to write. At least, that is what I tell people: “I am a happier person when I write. More at peace. More centered.” This seems to be true for me.

And then I don’t write for days. Even weeks. My calendar fills up. I get involved in other projects. Writing gets pushed to the sidelines. I am less happy. Less at peace. Less centered.

Blogtober has given me a goal. Can I find 31 topics I want to write about? Do I have enough desire and self-discipline to write every day for 31 days? Or is stubborn perseverance the most vital ingredient for meeting this challenge? Will I keep writing even on the days when no one reads or “likes” or “hearts” my post?

These questions still await answers.

For now? Writers write. And so far this month? I am a writer!

I am connecting with other bloggers every day.

Bloggers can be a supportive bunch. We read each other’s posts. We learn from each other’s writing styles and tips.

I am reading other blogs as I post my own, and I am fascinated and often awed by the insights shared with skill and beauty by storytellers, essayists, poets and others who blog. Tens of thousands of people are sharing their voices in the blogosphere. I enjoy hearing those voices.

One result? I am realizing anew that human lives, including my own, are extraordinary even in their ordinariness. Ordinary human lives have a certain sacramental quality about them. At least, that is what this liturgical theologian believes. Significant life meaning dwells in mundane human living. I want to do a better job of noticing and celebrating those meanings.

I am embodying a healthy life rhythm: affirming, highlighting, responding.

“Medium” is a digital community where people write articles about topics ranging from technology to health to religion and more. In 2016, 140,000 stories were written and published every week on Medium.

The platform is set up so that readers give virtual “claps” for articles that capture their imaginations or stir their emotions. Readers can also highlight favorite phrases or sentences in articles and share related responses with the writers.

I joined Medium as part of the Blogtober challenge. I wanted to try out a new publishing venue. I have appreciated writing on a platform where I can give and receive respectful feedback and affirmation.

The practice Medium encourages is not a bad one for life in general. Criticism and critique abound in our world. Respectful dialogue can be rare. Perhaps a healthy dialogue rhythm, even with people whose perspectives differ from our own, is the rhythm I am learning through Medium: affirm, highlight, respond.

I invite all of us to consider embodying a version of this blogging rhythm: affirm, highlight, respond. Perhaps doing this–and even writing about it:)–will encourage healthier and more life-sustaining conversations in our lives and communities. Concrete affirmations are a rare gift, and we have opportunities everyday to congratulation people on the specific ways their lives are touching us and the world around us.

One healthy result of this rhythm is that it nudges me to affirm what I like about another person’s article, be specific about what struck me by highlighting particular parts of the article, and then share something from my own perspective by responding. This practice slows down the response time (something that can be lightning fast on social media sites) so that I am more thoughtful and intentional in my response.

Today is October 14. Seventeen more days until Halloween. Seventeen more blog posts. Seventeen more ideas and insights to explore. And on October 31, after posting the last of my Blogtober articles, I think I will give myself a virtual standing ovation and then head out in search of the Great Pumpkin–or at least a taste of chocolate Halloween treats!

Words Made Flesh

No more speeches or spin doctors, debates or diatribes—

Words.

Matter.

In us.

God’s love
made skin and bones
muscle and marrow
hands and hearts
God’s words.
Matter.
In us.

No more speeches or spin doctors,
debates or diatribes—no–
God’s nouns, adjectives, verbs
alive
welcoming
respecting
embracing
incarnating
belonging
in us.

Words
made
matter,

planted in salvaged soil
reclaimed
restored
valued
savored
saving
hope
in us.

Dwelling Place

She would remember to forget–if she could. . .

Many contemporary realities sparked this poem. Increasing homelessness in many cities. Failing churches purchased by real estate agencies and transformed into apartment buildings. Domestic violence. Nostalgia. Hope. And the awareness that human stories meet, overlap, clash, and sometimes heal.

“Don’t dwell on the past,” they said
When her fingers flew unbidden
To touch nostalgic eyes; Yes,

She would — remember — to forget —
If she could. Swipe away the wetness
Sliding down her face; worried
It might seep between her lips,
Unseal them so she breathed out
A salted stench of yesterday’s news:
“Don’t dwell on it.”

She had no dwelling anyway,
Door bolted; key flung away.
Windows boarded up. Rendered
Unfit for human habitation. Hands
curled, fists pounded, demanded entrance;
Fear said “no,” misguided sentry keeping out
Everything even shriveled up tendrils of
Purple deadnettle that trying to crawl
Through the cracks: “No-dwelling Zone.”

They moved in last Saturday, 129
U-Haul boxes crammed full of life.
“We’ll put grandma’s dining table
Here,” she said. Did she know
They would taste springtime
strawberries and snow peas there, bare
feet on the hallowed ground under that table
where a body was broken, blood poured out?

They sat, sipped grocery store wine,
Dwelling in the past.

When Wisdom Is Silent

It’s noisy out there. And in here (in my heart). So hard to know what is real. Authentic. True.

Listening for Liturgy’s Strange Voices in Speech-Saturated Public Spaces

Note: I am giving the Aidan Kavanagh Lecture at Yale’s Institute for Sacred Music next week. This is a draft of the introduction to my presentation. Or perhaps it is a draft of the preface to the introduction, the primary word here being draft :).

Is that true? Really? Come on, now. That’s a Babylon Bee article, isn’t it?

I can’t believe I just spent that much time reading that post. 

How many views did I get? Only half as many “likes”? Why didn’t those other people “heart” my photo? 

It’s noisy out there. And in here (in my head). So much static. Interference. Meme-omic chatter.

Permutations and op-ed combinations “to infinity and beyond” (or so it seems).

Anybody and everybody talking about anything and everything on any and every platform.

Traffic honking. Politicians fili-blustering. Information speeding down super-spyways.

News headlines blaring. Guns firing. Sirens wailing. And people too.

It’s noisy out there. And in here (in my heart). So hard to know what is real. Authentic. True.

I think part of the noisiness is because so many of us are searching, hoping, longing, yearning for, even scrambling for–something. Maybe we long for what my mama used to call the “gospel truth.” Of course, she didn’t realize that her use of the phrase harkened back to a time when to tell the “gospel truth” meant to speak a “truth” as undeniably believable as, well, you know–“the Gospel.”

Let’s Google that. Google what? The “Gospel truth.” What is the “Google truth” about “Gospel truth”?

Truth that is undeniably believable? Undeniably believable for whom? And which Gospel? Aren’t there four in the biblical canon? Four perspectives. Four voices. Four contexts. Four portraits.

Gospel truth. From the Old English, God (good) spel (news) truth? Good news truth. Good tidings truth, as some dictionaries suggest. I like that. But who talks about “tidings” these days except at Christmastime?

And where do we look–or listen–for good tidings truth in today’s speech-saturated public spaces?

Thus the title for my presentation–When Wisdom Is Silent: Listening for Liturgy’s Strange Voices in Speech-Saturated Public Spaces.

I am curious–ironic, isn’t it, that “curious” is from the Latin, curiosus, or “careful,” from cura, or “care”–I am curious whether and how worship practices can infuse speech-saturated spaces with good tidings that disrupt the clang and clamor of the truth and knowledge power-brokers-that be. How can our liturgies be places where estranged voices can be heard and respected as proclaimers of good tidings wisdom?

[An aside–a comment, if you will–curious is related to curate which is from the Latin, curatus, which means “to take care of” which also means “spiritual guide or priest.” I Googled that, btw. A curate is a priest? To curate the truth is to “priest” the truth? Is that true, really? How does liturgy curate truth?]

Over many years, I have pondered the relationship between Wisdom Woman and the Strange Woman in Proverbs. They both call out in public places. One is praised; the other is vilified. Is it possible that liberating and healing truth is both wise and strange? That God is both wise and strange? And how do we have ears to hear either through the cacophonous discord of our public speech-making?

Thus ends this prefatory draft. Stay tuned. I know I am. Indeed, I wait in hope for the next words and sentences to be revealed…

Somewhere between Weeping and Joy

Where do we find the energy and courage to keep fishing through the weariness?

Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Psalm 30:5


Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” John 21:4-13

Weeping may linger for the night, but…

I can almost see the ancient poet, putting pen to paper: “weeping may linger for the night.”

Then a pause.

A prayer exhaled.

A comma. To make room–for what?

Let’s pause here ourselves before we respond to that question. Let’s pause and consider an old fishing story. A 2000 year old fishing story from the Gospel of John.

They ended up on the lake that night. What else could they do? After all, since Jesus had died, nothing was going right. When Jesus was with them, everything seemed possible. They could feed 5000 people with just a few pieces of bread. Water could become wine.

Now? They were tired. Tired of being afraid. Tired of risking it all. Very, very tired.

So it was that this bunch of bone weary dreamers ended up on the lake that night, only to find out that the one thing they used to be good at? Now, they couldn’t even fish right.

Throwing the net out. Dragging it in—empty. Every time, empty.

Trying to get my life together. Trying to find new energy. But coming up empty.

Seeking justice for the marginalized. Trying to find some way to end oppression. Coming up empty.

The hours ticked by, each moment bringing another doubt, until during those murky hours between 3am and dawn?

The image lingers. A boat on a lake. Morning fog creeping in. No fish in the net. Aching arms. Heavy eyelids. Then–a voice:

“Throw your nets out on the other side of the boat.”

The beloved disciple squinted through the fog. Who spoke this advice? Not somebody who knows much about boats or lakes or fishing. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? After all, don’t the same fish swim under the boat on both sides?

Some fishing people I know share the secret wisdom about their beloved pastime. “Fishing is one part skill and three parts mystery.”

The mystery? The hope? The two together make some people who come up empty through the night—keep on fishing…

Photo by Sheila G. Hunter. Used by permission.

The disciples gave it another try.

They threw the net out on the other side of the boat.

In this story? Just as the disciples were ready to give up–splashing, dancing up out of the watery depths, 153 fish. 153 new dreams. New chances. Too many for one disciple or one boat to haul to shore. Enough to call us to pull together as community.

And in the time it took for them to pull in the net, dawn bent its light toward the shore. The beloved disciple could now see who was standing there on the beach calling out to them.

He shouted out to the others: “It is the Lord!”

Photo by Jill Crainshaw
Weeping will linger no more–

You and I see it in nature every day, now as then. The sun fades in the western sky but then, every morning —there it is, peering up over the eastern horizon yet again. Sunrise. Every morning.

So, the psalmist, even in the midst of persistent injustices and uncertainties looked to the east and announced: “Weeping will linger no more.”

A weary-armed beloved disciple saw it too. From a fishing boat. At dawn. Jesus. On the shore. Standing there in the morning mist.

My Lord, what a morning.

But before the morning came for the disciples? Before sunrise touches our tear-reddened eyelids with the warmth of hope?

Weeping has lingered. Is lingering. For too long for too many people in too many places in our world.

Not even a whisper of sunlight on the horizon. Or so it seems in times of persistent injustices.

So this ancient poet’s talk of joy? What are we to make of it?

Psalm scholar J. Clinton McCann reflects on his encounters with Psalm 30:

While preparing to write this essay, I heard Psalm 30:5b quoted twice. First, on the morning after the 2016 Iowa Caucuses, one of the four or five self-declared “winners” commented on his “victory” by proclaiming, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Second, I heard a sermon preached on John 11:28-44 by a pastor, who was very active in the protests in Ferguson, MO following the shooting death of Michael Brown, Jr., and who remains active in the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Focusing particularly on John 11:35 (“Jesus wept.”), he suggested that a primary role of pastors nowadays is to weep with victims of injustice and violence in Ferguson and elsewhere. But, he added, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

J. Clinton McCann

The contrast in perspectives is striking. McCann’s observation causes me to stumble over this psalm and my own beliefs about hope and joy. The promise of joy in the morning has to be more than a fairytale told to lure listeners into a dream-empty sleep until they awaken dancing the next morning. Doesn’t it?

These verses are more than triumphalist religious platitudes, aren’t they?

I hear the psalm calling me–calling all of us–to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn.

I hear the psalm calling us to live justice and embody fierce and radical kindness as we make our way through those wilderness places that are out there between the comma and the joy.

The psalm and that fishing story make me think of my dad.

Joy lived in my dad’s life but weeping lingered there too. Most people’s lives are like that, a mixture of weeping and joy. But you might say my dad’s faith leaned “winterward.” He just wasn’t one of those people to grab hold of sunny theological answers to deep weeping questions. He insisted on putting question marks on his life in place of exclamation points.

I think my dad longed for moments when he could be astonished by certainty: “It is the Lord!” But mostly he had to be content with small signs no more astonishing than, say, what an enormous size a zucchini can grow to overnight. (And that in itself is astonishing, don’t you think?)

Still, even when my dad was weary from leaning winterward, he remained faithful to what he believed–grace is God’s free gift to all of us. And grace persists even when weeping lingers. God’s grace…a gift in joy and in weeping and in all that lies between.

A whole lot of living out of the Gospel needs to happen

in that space between the comma and the “but” in the Psalmist’s song. And that is what we are called to do in the ambiguous and uncertain liminal spaces between weeping and joy.

So, we live—we live always somewhere on the shoreline between weeping and joy. Trying to find the energy and the courage to keep fishing through the weariness, the disappointment, the anger, and the pain.

Living between the verses—or living between the independent clauses of joy and weeping—takes a certain kind of trust. Trust in God. Trust in ourselves. Trust in each other. Enough trust not to give up. Enough trust to throw the nets out into the waters one more time. And we have work to do in our communities to build that kind of trust in the midst of oppression-birthed weeping.

Photo by Sheila G. Hunter. Used by permission.

So, as you and I learn to live–and believe–somewhere between weeping and joy, we lean in yet again to that old Gospel fishing tale. And we hear the voice on that shoreline calling out to us through the misty darkness just when we think we can’t keep going another minute:

“Throw your nets out on the other side of the boat.”

Don’t stop trying. Don’t stop loving. Don’t stop believing. Bend your hearts—and your actions of justice-making—toward the dawning call of God’s grace.

Weeping shall linger for a night, but…

joy comes with the morning.

Photo by Jill Crainshaw

It’s the Great Pumpkin Season, Charlie Brown!

I have a different theory altogether about the origins of manufacturers’ efforts to pumpkin spice the world at the start of each September.

Pumpkin Season is here!

…pumpkin spice lattes
…pumpkin spice bagels
…pumpkin spice donuts
…pumpkin spice pound cake
…pumpkin spice pancakes
…and, yes, even pumpkin spice Cheerios

Photo by Sheila G. Hunter. Used by permission.

But wait. Am I misrepresenting the season? Am I on the verge of doing a terrible disservice to the noble pumpkin that hales from the Cucurbita genus and is therefore a great aunt to cucumbers, melons, and squash?

Yes, I can almost hear the exasperated eye-rolls of the pumpkin season deniers and pumpkin purists. The 65,900 acres of pumpkins harvested in the US in 2018 (according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service) were not grown in soil seasoned with cinnamon and cloves. None of the more than 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins that turned those acres orange last fall tasted or smelled anything like a latte.

That’s because pumpkin and pumpkin spice products are connected in name only, right?

A Matter of Taste
Photo by Jill Crainshaw.

Five spices make up the addictive (at least to some people) flavors in the famous (or is it infamous) “Pumpkin Spice Latte” (PSL): cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice. These spices, mixed together in various proportions into coffee or cake batter or ice cream, somehow make some of us think “pumpkin.”

And I have to admit that even to a pumpkin season devotee like me, this is something of a curiosity. Like my friend says, “Pumpkin itself has no taste—lots of nutrients—but no taste.”

Well, I suppose the whole debate over Pumpkin Season actually is a matter of taste. And I have to admit, while I think pumpkin does have a taste, a pumpkin picked from my backyard garden and baked in my kitchen oven doesn’t taste or smell like a PSL.

Over the Harvest Moon about Pumpkin Spice Everything
As pictured online in an advertisement.

So—what ignited the pumpkin spice craze that led to over $80,000,000 worth of PSL sales in 2018? Why are so many people so over the harvest moon about pumpkin spice everything? And, as an aside, if you will, who is buying that Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Beard Oil I saw on my newfeed? (Even this pumpkin fan was surprised to discover this addition to the seasonal offerings!)

A 2015 BBC News Magazine author, Vanessa Bradford, sought answers to these questions. She interviewed food scientist, Kantha Shelke, who offered this insight:

“Pumpkin is not a favourite food. Children and many adults often avoid pumpkin as they do rutabagas and some root vegetables. But many of us believe we should be happier (and nicer and more giving) during the holidays and pumpkin-spice products are just one of those things – like juniper and pine and wood burning stoves and fireplaces – that can change our frame of mind.”

Kantha Shelke

Does this mean we can attribute skyrocketing pumpkin spice everything sales to nostalgia, marketing, and social media hype along with a rather bittersweet (which is not a PSL flavor) desire for a particular mind-and-heart-set?

The Great Pumpkin Theory

I, for one, am eager for transformed hearts and minds. But I don’t really think PSLs or other pumpkin-y products are a necessary variable of transformation. (What the necessary variables are is subject matter for another post that in a stroke of irony has to do with “seeing Jesus in a mocha“–not a PSL.)

I have a different theory altogether about the origins of manufacturers’ efforts to pumpkin spice the world at the start of each September.

Last year’s Jack-O-Lantern at my house, carved by Sheila Hunter. Photo by Jill Crainshaw.

Do you remember back in the 1960s when Charles Schulz wrote and produced the animated TV special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown? In the show, Linus gives up trick-or-treating on Halloween night and stays awake into the night waiting for the Great Pumpkin to come to his “sincere pumpkin patch”?

The Great Pumpkin never shows up.

My theory? Those of us in my generation (I will leave it to you, dear reader, to decide who that is) who sympathized with Linus have spent the last five years filling the void left by the no-showing Great Pumpkin with, well, the spice of pumpkin that doesn’t require an actual pumpkin or even the pumpkin patch.

Spicing Up Life and Sowing Seeds

I love Pumpkin Season. Yes, I know that my frame of mind and my shopping during said season are probably being shaped by the advertising and marketing powers that be. Even so, I relish the first day of Pumpkin Season (September 21 for me, my birthday) and the way it spices up my life rhythms with the promise of autumn.

I also relish the opportunities Pumpkin Season provides for me to sit down in a favorite coffee shop with a friend, enjoy a sip ‘o the season, and delight in the delectable spices we contribute to each other’s lives.

And in those moments of sharing, perhaps we sow seeds (and not pumpkin seeds) that have the potential to transform hearts and minds.

“Harvest Moon, 2018. Photo by Jill Crainshaw.