Jephthah’s Daughters, a reflection on femicide in Canada

This morning (Jan. 30) CBC released an article highlighting the startling statistics from the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability. The report states that in 2018 148 women and girls were killed in 133 incidents. That means a woman or girl was killed every 2.5 days last year.

An estimated 12 women and girls have been killed this first month of 2019.

How can I respond to that?

As a woman, a pregnant woman, who is bringing a daughter into the world, how can I respond to that?

As a citizen of a country that prides itself on its peace and prosperity, how can I respond to that?

As a minister-in-training who is preparing to care for a community that will likely be touched by the issue of femicide, how can I respond to that?

As a university student living in Montreal, 30-years after the Polytechnique Massacre, how can I respond to that?

The only thought that comes to mind is the well-known line from the prayer of confession: Lord have mercy, our sins are as scarlet.

And, it makes me desire a church that is willing to speak about the violence experienced by women and girls in our communities today. It makes me desire a church that preaches the uncomfortable story of Jephthah’s daughter–the nameless woman slain by her father because of a desperate promise made to God.

Is our church naming and preaching the reality of femicide, both from our scriptures and our own communities?

Can we afford to ignore the legacy of violence that our churches have wrongly justified?

Are we ready to name our part as both perpetrator and agents of change?

Are we ready to call the men in our homes and churches to task?

Of all the cases looked at CBC notes that “More than 90 per cent of those accused were men.” The report’s lead writer, Myrna Dawson from the University of Guelph expands this by explaining that, “Women are still most at risk of men that they are intimate with or who they should be able to trust.”

What kind of a church, of a community, are we creating for our children? Not just for our daughters but our sons, that this legacy has continued?

How are we uplifting the women and girls disproportionately affected by this violence? Women and girls of colour. Indigenous women and girls (this report does not include those missing women and girls). Women and girls in rural areas.

“Dawson said there are some demographics disproportionately represented in the statistics. For instance, the report indicates Indigenous women represent only about five per cent of the population, but made up 36 per cent of the women and girls killed by violence. Thirty-four per cent of the women and girls were killed in rural areas, where only 16 per cent of the population lives, the report said.”

How prepared are we to utter the names of Jephthah’s daughters, the nameless women and girls whose lives are lost pointlessly at the hands of men? Men who betray the intimacy of their relationships with these women and girls.

We call this story Jephthah’s tragedy, his foolish mistake (Judges 11:29-40). But, are we prepared to retell this story as the daughter’s injustice?

Judette A. Gallares from the Phillippines has written a wonderful rereading of the story that speaks to the women and girls sold to the sex trade by poor families in her community. Do we have Gallares’ courage to do the same in our own communities?

With hope, I pray.

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A “Wild God” and the disruptive presence of the Spirit

Sometimes a wild god comes to the table.
He is awkward and does not know the ways
Of porcelain, of fork and mustard and silver.
His voice makes vinegar from wine.

When the wild god arrives at the door,
You will probably fear him.
He reminds you of something dark
That you might have dreamt,
Or the secret you do not wish to be shared.

– Excerpt from Sometimes A Wild God by Tom Hirons

This particular poem reminds me so much of Rumi’s The Guest House, which I love.

When trying to describe the disruptive nature of the Holy Spirit, I think Hirons has caught a particular intensity that we don’t often see. The Spirit is still small voice but it is also the thing driving Jesus into the desert to encounter depths of himself he hadn’t yet explored (Mark 1:12).

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So, too, the Spirit invites us to delve into ourselves to do the hard work of healing, encountering the bitter and tasting parts of ourselves. We, too, are wild things, created by a wild God who imparted that sacred image to us. Hiron honours the unpleasant, creepy crawly parts of the world in his work, but also shows God as the unkept wild thing. It is less a poem about overcoming the ugly parts of ourselves and more about the maturing act of encountering that part of ourselves. It is a call to cast off denial and avoidance, and instead to sit at table with a God who is not shy around the messy parts of ourselves.

Good News for Who?

Sermon prepared for Wesley United Church Montreal’s Sunday Service of Jan. 27, 2019 based on the Gospel (Luke 4:14-21) and Epistle (1 Cor. 12:12-31) for Year C Epiphany 3.

With the up-coming by-election in the riding of Outremont, I have been watching as colourful party signs appear on lampposts and balconies around my neighbourhood.

I’ve also been receiving some material from candidates, on Facebook, by email, and in our mailbox. And, let me tell you, they seem to have all sorts of Good News to tell me.

They are proclaiming Good News to the underemployed, to the middle class parent, to the business owner, and newcomer. Their promises are filled with hope, and assurances, and an invitation to follow them.

***

Jesus, here in Luke, has just returned from his not-so-relaxing retreat in the desert, and is giving his first public appearance in his hometown. He’s in the right place, with the right people, at the right time. He stands at the front of the assembly to read from the Scroll of Isaiah. He is amongst his neighbours, those who saw him grow up, and he speaks with power and authority.

It’s all very good optics.

And, Jesus reads these words from the prophetic text:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good newsto the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captivesand recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressedgo free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.[i]

It’s a solid opening. And when we read this passage we can’t help but think to ourselves, Yes! This is the kind of man whose side I want to be on. This is the kind of teacher I want to follow.

Because, we could all use a little Good News in our lives. It is a New Year, and yet it feels so much like the last, with our newfeeds brining us one hard story after another.

But, this isn’t a unique experience to our time and place. This past week we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and we were reminded of the past and present struggle of the Black community for equality and justice. With the on-going conflict between the RCMP and Wet’suwet’en People, we are reminded of the continued struggle of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. This week is Muslim Awareness Week in Montreal, and we think of the not-so-distant shooting at the Quebec City mosque, and the history of islamophobia in our country.

Is it any wonder that these words of God’s rescue and favour have been echoed throughout history? Throughout the Jewish and Christian scriptures? They are a sweet reminder to those who are struggling in a world filled with Bad News.

***

Yet, we’re missing part of the story here in Luke.

Jesus announces that the scriptures are fulfilled as he sits down, and folks say to themselves… “Is this really Joe’s kid? Yeah, the one who was really bad carpentry… Huh. No kidding!”[ii]But the story doesn’t end there.

Next week’s reading will show how Jesus’ first forays into public ministry end up with a furious crowd who want to throw him off a cliff!

The Nazareth Gazette the next day likely read: Hometown boy bombs first townhall of his public career.

***

Jesus’ Good News doesn’t seem so good to this crowd. But, why? What is so startling about Jesus’ message?

He proclaims a great reversal of fortunes, that the bound will be free, the impure will be made pure, and the oppressed liberated![iii]What’s wrong with that?

You see, the thing is: Jesus is not preaching merely to his neighbours, the people in that assembly. In the following section he recalls a story of how Elijah, the great Jewish prophet, was rejected by God’s people and instead went to Sidon, to stay with a non-Jewish widow.[iv]

The Good News is great news if you’re the one God is talking to, but it is a tough pill to swallow if you’re not.

Certainly, the Jewish people in the 1stcentury were oppressed by the Roman Empire, but the rural populace was also weighed down by the administration of the Jerusalem elite—who Jesus criticizes openly in his ministry.

Yet, Luke shows Jesus as stepping even further to the margins. He doesn’t just speak to his neighbours (Jewish men and their families), but he reaches out to children, the disabled, the widowed, and non-Jews in the surrounding region, offering them Good News as well.

The image of a righted world, reconciled with God, is so much bigger than his listeners would like it to be. Throughout his ministry, Jesus begins to break open the text to say God is not just speaking to you and I—the vision of God’s Kingdom is bigger.

***

Luke’s version of what we call the Beatitudes is a bit different than you might recall, because Luke pairs his four declarations of “blessing” with four declarations of “woe”.

Blessed to you who are poor, who hunger, who weep, and who people hate because of the Son of Man.[v]

But woe to those who are rich, who are well fed, who laugh, who are spoken well of.[vi]

The mission Jesus was gifted in his baptism and time in the desert, to proclaim Good News, is a double-edged sword. Yes, he delivers a message of hope, but he also has a hard message for those who hold power and privilege.

The Kingdom of God is not some vending machine of niceties and goodwill—it is a great upheaval, a reversal of a world set too long down the wrong path.

***

When Indigenous Peoples in Canada speak about reconciliation I am often struck by this recurring sentiment: that right-relations will feel wrong to those who are used to holding power. Equality will feel like injustice, because settler people are so unused to a balance of power; we will feel off-kilter as we try to find equilibrium with our Indigenous relations.

***

All this makes me wonder, whether this Good News is truly good news for you and I?

There is a part of me that says, yes! Yes, because there are things in my own life I need liberation from. Things I no longer want to be captive to.

And yet, there is another part of me that is contrite, knowing I am culpable in the oppression of my neighbours.

I am both the someone who Christ would call “blessed”, and the someone to whom he would say “woe”.

And, I can respond in one of two ways: I can choose, like the Nazarenes who hear Jesus’ teachings, to refuse to acknowledge that God’s Kingdom extends beyond the boundaries of my imagination; or, I can choose to allow God to make me new in this great upheaval.

***

How remarkable that God offers us grace in this in-between place. How remarkable that we are invited to take part in this great working of love.

Jesus, throughout the Gospels, not only extends us the invitation to be a part of God’s Kingdom, but he also asks for our elbow grease too. Today in our readings the Apostle Paul reminded us that we are each gifted, and called.

We are gifted, and called: from the last, to the least, to the littlest. We are called from the margins of society, and out of its great houses of power. We are made new in this Kingdom of God, as equals.

It is a Kingdom that desires us to be reconciled with our creator, and fellow created. It looks to put back in balance a world so off-kilter.

And, Jesus tells us this isn’t some far off utopia—some distant promise—but that it is fulfilled today, in our hearing.[vii]Wherever God’s people are, proclaiming the Good News and acting in service of the Kingdom, there is God at work. There we find our world, and our own selves, being made new.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[i]Luke 4:18-19 NRSV

[ii]Luke 4:22

[iii]Luke 4:18b

[iv]Luke 4:24-27

[v]Luke 6:20b-22 NIV

[vi]Luke 6:24-26 NIV

[vii]Luke 4:21