• Worship in the Park

Pastoral ponderings . . .

I recently read that divorce rates are steadily declining in the U.S. The reason is that the general trend now is for young adults to wait until they’re in their 30’s. The majority of them are the children of divorced parents, and they don’t want to repeat their parents’ pre-marital naivete. Of course, that trend isn’t showing up yet in Utah. There’s tremendous social and religious pressure here, especially for young women, to get married and start having babies as soon as possible. Getting married, and starting a family, and staying home to raise kids is the expectation, and it’s the biggest reason the University of Utah has the lowest percentage of female graduates in the PAC 12. The Women’s Enrollment Initiative at the U seeks to provide support for all women, LDS or not, to get their degrees. It’s an uphill battle against the cultural expectations of women here, but certainly one worth fighting because women who later become single parents through death or divorce, generally face an uphill battle themselves: struggling to get out of poverty is made even more difficult without a college degree. Insurance benefits don’t come with hourly wages.  Medical and dental benefits are there for children living in poverty, but not for their parents. And the irony is that if mom or dad gets really sick because they’ve put off going to the doctor because they don’t have the money, their children suffer. If mom is trying to pay the bills and the rent, and daycare for her kids,and gets really sick, she loses her job and her paycheck. And with a really big hospital bill, she and her kids often end up on the street.

113,000 signatures were needed to put the initiative to expand Medicaid in Utah on the ballot this fall. Over 147,000 were collected, and Proposition 3, called Utah Decides Healthcare, will be voted on in November. I think Medicaid expansion is one of the most proactive ways we can do something as citizens about the number of homeless children in our State. Medicaid today provides for the medical needs of kids living in poverty. Medicaid expansion would provide a way for their parents to get the same help, keep their jobs, pay their taxes, pay their rent, and keep their families from living in a car. This October as part of our on-going mission partnership with Crossroads Urban Center, we are collecting diapers and wipes for the families who can’t wait for ballot initiatives to pass. They need help today.  So together with our friends at Crossroads, we’re doing our part this month with our diaper drive. But Medicaid expansion would do more than a hundred church diaper drives ever can.                                                                                                                       

Providing access to affordable healthcare is essential for helping women rise out of poverty and keeping children out of homelessness. So is providing support and access to higher education.    Women with any kind of college degree can expect to earn far more than their peers who don’t have one. Simply achieving that goal creates self-esteem, self-confidence, and the ability to imagine a financially independent life: a life independent of a spouse or partner.  Unfortunately that vision of an independent life for women has been rarely seen or promoted in the Christian Church! Instead, the Church’s voice has historically been the obstacle for women. Because the voice that’s been in control for the longest time, the loudest voice, has been the male voice. Men have historically interpreted sacred texts to their advantage. And I would argue, even recorded them, wrote them, in such a way as to maintain their privilege. What does Paul say?  “Women should keep silent.” What does Genesis say?  The woman is man’s helper. Second in line behind the man.

The ability to get a divorce, to put up a protective legal boundary, is one of the single most important rights of women in modern society. But over and over, throughout history, the Church has used quotes from Genesis and Mark as an obstacle to the rights of women.  And not just an obstacle for women, but to the marriage rights of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. 

The Lutheran Church is the Church of the Reformation. It is the reforming Church. The Church that’s not afraid of asking the hard questions, like Luther did. Asking the hard questions like, “Who has been hurt by the Church?” “How and why have they been hurt?” “Is this really the Way of Jesus?” Speaking of ourselves in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church, for the most part, is willing to say “we got it wrong, and our task as a changing, re-forming Church, is to try and make it right.”   

Our Lutheran understanding of God’s grace is based on the assumption that none of us ever gets it right all the time. Humans are always going to find a way to mess things up, on our own. But grace means that God never gives up on us. Grace means the relationship we humans have with God is there because God made that relationship possible.  God’s love for us keeps it alive and helps us to keep becoming the people, the individuals and the Church together, that God creates and wants us to be.                                                              

There’s a lot of work for us to do in that.  There’s a lot that needs reforming in our life together as the global Church: the Church universal.  All of us; every variety of Christian follower of Jesus on the planet. The way we say that in worship is “the holy catholic Church” by the way.  That means the “church universal.”  Not the Roman Catholic denomination, but the “whole enchilada.” As that Church, we have a lot of work to do in listening and dialog with women about their experience of trying to be followers of Christ, and struggling to achieve their own self-determination; achieving their own unique God-given identity that isn’t defined by their relationship to men.

It’s clear to a lot of people these days, that we have a lot to do as people of faith, living in American society as citizens of this democracy. We still have so far to go before we truly see the equality of women’s voices, understand their experiences, and comprehend their vision and values. This way of being Church, of discipleship in the world, is light-years beyond the culture of Mark’s gospel, and the Book of Genesis. There’s a lot of cultural baggage in holy scripture to be sorted through to find the life-giving, life-changing, living Word of God.  Much like the work it takes to find the pearl inside the oyster, under the silt, in the dark, at the bottom of the ocean.    European male interpretation of scripture has led to the Doctrine of Discovery, and the belief in Manifest Destiny:  conquering, and claiming land by divine right. What kind of world vision might indigenous peoples, women, and gender-neutral peoples imagine for us? What does the living Word of God in scripture sound like to them?

Speaking from personal experience, divorce can be a tool of personal liberation.  It can be a life-giving, even life-saving experience. But just as every marriage is unique, so is every divorce, in my experience.  I think it’s easy to get caught up in judging people, if you haven’t been through it.  But what I’ve come to appreciate in my own life, is that sometimes bonds must be broken in order for healthy growth to happen:  growth into new life, transformed life, abundant life that I believe the gospel is about. And whether you’re male, female, non-binary oriented, or gender neutral, realizing our truest self is the becoming path that life in Christ can bless us with.    Children are blessed with the capacity to grow. We are all God’s children, no matter how old we are. We can all grow, become, change, transform, evolve no matter our age. As our Lord says “it is to such as these growing ones, that the kingdom of God belongs.”    -  Pastor David