I’d like to get to know you

My Column for the Elgin Review June 5, 2019

“Cross Man” was a novelty to my sons. We moved back to Nebraska fifteen years ago and the boys were the perfect “drop them off at the movie theater and pick them up when the show’s over” age. Often, I’d hear more laughter and conversation in the minivan after the movie about “Cross Man” than I did about whatever movie they’d seen. “Cross Man” stationed himself on a downtown corner near the theater most weekend evenings. He held a heavy, large wooden cross, and intrusively asked passersby if they’d repented of their sins and if they knew where they would spend eternity.

I cringe a little remembering “Cross Man.” His intentions were probably pure. He must have believed he was doing God’s work. But I think he was missing the point, and caused others to miss the point, too.

Missing the point when it comes to our relationship with God is, in its essence, the very definition of “sin.” The word we translate as “sin” means “to miss the mark” like shooting an arrow and missing the target.

When Jesus was asked about the most important thing to live by, he said “there are two things, love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus didn’t accost people and issue dire warnings to them about the ways they were sinning. Jesus met people where they were, just as they were and established relationships with them. Jesus spent his days loving people into relationships with God. When people were loved, they learned love, and as a result, they turned their lives around so they could live in the same kind of love they’d experienced through Jesus.

Do you remember the Bible story of the despicable little tax collector named Zacchaeus? Jesus saw him in a tree where he’d climbed to be able to see and Jesus hollered up at him. He didn’t say, “Short man, do you know where you’re spending eternity?” He didn’t demand to know if he would repent of his sins. Jesus said, “I’d like to get to know you better. How about I come to your house for dinner tonight?” It was a life-changing thing for Zacchaeus having someone of note paying attention to him. He was used to bullying and being bullied. Being seen, accepted and loved was like flipping a switch for him. By the end of his evening with Jesus, Zacchaeus was a changed man–not because Jesus convinced him of the error of his ways, but because Jesus loved him. And, because Jesus loved him, Zacchaeus was moved to love others. Which was, exactly the point of Jesus’ ministry.

Love is the power through which God draws us close to each other and close to God. Love is the way–not judgement, not dire warnings, not shame.

At Park Center United Church of Christ, it’s not that we are unaware of the ways we have “missed the mark” but, our aim, our focus, is on loving all of our neighbors and loving God.

You are always welcome at Park UCC ten miles west of Elgin and 1/2 mile south.

Unlimited Calling

My Column for The Elgin Review, Elgin, NE published 11.13.19

“Ah ain’t never seen nuthin’ like that before!” said the scraggly-looking fellow I found standing inside my study at the church when I got back from lunch. It was years ago in a county-seat town in Illinois where the church building was on the highway just off the town square. We got a lot of transient folk stopping by looking for assistance with food or a night’s stay in a motel, or money for gas to get them a little further on down the road. Startled by the man standing stock-still and silently dripping rain water onto the carpet, I asked, “May I help you, sir?” “Uh. Uh. Well, uh, I’m lookin’ for the pastor.” He said.  I extended my hand to shake his and said, “I’m Becky Brown, I’m the pastor here. How may I help you?” And, instead of shaking my offered hand, like a character from a looney-tunes cartoon he hit himself on the forehead and shook his head like he was rattling rocks inside, blinked his eyes wildly and said it, “Ah ain’t never seen nuthin’ like that before!”

The man had been to a lot of churches asking for help, but apparently, I was the first female pastor he encountered.  My gender, though shocking to him, did not interfere with his mission. Gladly, he accepted the help I offered and went on his way, still shaking his head like he’d seen some sort of apparition.

In the thirty-plus years I’ve served in ministry since that rainy afternoon in Illinois, I’ve encountered a good deal of sexism in the church, rarely so unmasked. Often it comes cloaked in subtle ways; the ministerial colleague who keeps standing up to assert his dominance in the middle of a casual conversation over a cup of coffee, the dismissive “I can tell you are emotional about this” response from a male leader to a clearly stated concern, the, “well, I knew you were a strong woman the first time I met you” backhanded questioning of my femininity as an excuse for the bad behavior of another man by a male church leader, introducing me by my first-name while at the same occasion calling my male colleagues, “Reverend” or “Doctor” or “Pastor” as appropriate, and so on.

It’s curious how such diminishment of women occurs in the church when it was women who first proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning. It’s time, past time, for the church to repent of sexism—overt and over the top, and covert, subtle and masked.

The United Church of Christ, of which Park Church, where I serve here in Elgin, and First Congregational Church where I serve in Neligh are part, was the first Mainline Protestant denomination in the United States to ordain women to ministry in 1853. In the United Church of Christ, women in leadership are not novelties.

If you are looking to be part of a church where your gender does not determine nor limit your calling maybe Park Church is the right church for you. We worship at 9:15 every Sunday morning. Ten miles west of Elgin on HWY 70 and ½ mile south. No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome in the United Church of Christ. I love to hear from you. Beckyzmcneil@gmail.com

 

My Season of Unfortunate Events

My Column for The Elgin Review in Elgin, NE published November 6, 2019

This past Saturday I stood precariously perched with my left foot on the edge of the bathtub and my right foot on the lid of the toilet trying to maneuver myself to get one foot out the window and the rest of me to follow. Laughing, I thought, “I guess this is just my season of unfortunate events.”

The parsonage is half a year older than I am. The house has reached its’ sixtieth birthday, and I will in February. By sixty, things begin to wear out. On Saturday morning, it was the door knob mechanism on the bathroom door, after my shower, with me stuck inside the bathroom. The good news was Mike was home from Lincoln and could come to my rescue and I had taken clothes with me into the bathroom before my shower so I wasn’t trying to climb out the parsonage window wearing only a towel.

My husband is handy and by the time he left to go back to Lincoln on Sunday afternoon, the door was back on its hinges with a new door knob set and all new innards and should be good to go for the next sixty years. The whole episode cost us some time, some muscles stretched in interesting ways from climbing out (me) and in (Mike) the window and less than ten bucks for the new hardware at Bomgaar’s.

The season of unfortunate events, of which I hope Saturday’s climb out the bathroom window was its culmination, began with a speeding ticket on my commute back to Antelope County from Lincoln a week ago. I stopped in Stromsburg to stretch my legs and forgot to turn my cruise control back on when I returned to the highway. The audiobook I was listening to was really good and my foot got too heavy on the pedal and a highway patrol woman was sitting right there on the west side of Highway 39.  The good news was I wasn’t in Antelope Country so it won’t show up in the newspaper (why am I writing about it here?), and, while expensive and inconvenient, I have money to cover the ticket.

The second of the “bad things come in threes” unfortunate events started Monday.  I am one of the unlucky ones for whom the new Shingles vaccine knocked me out. Tuesday morning after the vaccine on Monday afternoon I was kaput. Low grade fever, chills, a really sore, itchy arm and oh boy! I was tired for most of the week–even still on Saturday as I climbed out the window. The good news was it wasn’t a bad week for me to be under the weather. I had time to cozy up in the parsonage, do some reading and a lot of sleeping.

The writer of Ecclesiastes in the Bible said, “For everything there is a season.” Some seasons last a long time, some are fleeting. Some seasons leave us in tears, and some leave us laughing. Some seasons find us living high on the hog, and some leave us broke, or broken.  That’s the way life is. None of us is immune to going through times of sorrow or testing and none of us live without joy forever.

No matter what season you find yourself in. No matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome at Park Congregational United Church of Christ where this past weekend they laughed with me over my season of unfortunate events. At Park Church we’ll laugh with you, cry with you and share all of life’s seasons with you in the love and grace of Christ.

We’re ten miles west of Elgin on HWY 70 and ½ mile south. Worship on Sundays is at 9:15 am. Set your cruise control and head our way soon.

I love to hear from you. My email is beckyzmcneil@gmail.com

Barrier-breaking Love

My column for The Elgin Review May 15, 2019

I ran into a friend in the produce department of the HyVee near our Omaha home last week. It had been over a year since we’ve seen each other. She updated me on her kids, her husband’s health and their newest adventure. I filled her in on my new ministries and our pending move to the parsonage in Neligh and the apartment for Mike in Lincoln until he retires late next year. We talked about church. She told me she has been struggling with being part of a church for the past year or more.

My friend’s professional life involves answering a crisis hot-line.

“I’ve taken so many calls of people contemplating suicide this year. People are so divided and there’s so much hate out there. Folks are having a hard time, and, in the past month there have been even more after the United Methodist Church made their anti LGBTQ decision at their General Synod. Gay kids call and say, ‘even my church hates me. I might as well just end my life and get it over with.’”

I wonder how many of us who are actively involved in the church think about the decisions we make around faith and about the way we practice our religion and talk about God as matters of life and death? Surely it must grieve God that the body charged with sharing God’s abundant and unending love with the whole world has somehow managed to twist that message into its’ opposite, that only certain people are “in” that only the properly pious are privy to God’s grace.

If it grieves my friend to listen to teenagers who feel their lives are worthless, how must it grieve their Creator to hear that the life they’ve been given doesn’t feel worth living?

A long time ago, Paul, the apostle of Jesus, wrote in a letter to a church in Galatia, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).

God’s message to the world in Jesus was a message of barrier-breaking love. God’s message to the world in Jesus was that the things that separate us from each other are the things that separate us from God.

I pray the day will come when no one ever again hears of a decision made by the church and feels less loved as a result.

I pray the day will come when all God’s children of every stripe, orientation and hue know how precious we are to our creator. I pray the day will come when every hurting, doubting, lonely human in need of community will find their way into a radically inclusive, love abounding, grace overflowing family of faith.

Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome at Park Congregational United Church of Christ.

Maybe it’s Time to Give Church A(nother) Try

My Column for The Elgin Review, Elgin, NE 10.23.19

Erin was three years old with a mess of loose blonde curls and a button nose sprinkled with freckles and eyes as blue as the Kentucky sky. She was the youngest worshipper at the Sulphur Christian Church when I was their pastor as a seminary student years ago. Most Sundays there were twenty of us. One morning as we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together Erin’s little voice was louder than all of ours. “Our Faaaaaatherrrr, which art in Heaaaaaaaaaaven” she said with as much sass and vinegar as any little girl could muster. Stifling giggles, the rest of us continued praying. By the time we got to “Thy kingdom come” Erin’s voice, quite loud, insistent and still sassy as all-get-out piped-up again in her thick Kentucky accent, “No Daddy, I will not behave!”

Miss Ida and Miss Gladys were Erin’s Sunday School teachers at Sulphur Christian Church until she went off to college. Her Grannie and Grandidaddy sat with her in the pew when her mother helped lead worship. Her auntie and great aunts sat a couple pews up and one sat over, across the aisle. When her aunt was married in the church, Erin was the flower girl. When Erin played in the cemetery on the hill while Grandidaddy mowed, she stood behind a tombstone carved like an open Bible on the top and preached to the cows in the pasture across the fence.

There were two little boys in the congregation, eight or nine years old to Erin’s three years. Once, when they collected the offering as they often did, they brought it forward while the congregation sang, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” When the doxology was over and the congregation bowed their heads for me to bless the offerings, these two stinkers, giggling, scooped all the money out of the plates in one swoop and pocketed it right under my nose and open eyes. “Gentlemen,” I said when the prayer was over as I held the empty plates and gave them my best young-preacher raised eyebrow look. With twinkles in every eye in that little sanctuary those goof-balls put the money back in the plates, and oh, so proud of themselves, walked down the center aisle to sit with their mothers.

Children who grow up in small, rural churches are some of the most fortunate children on the planet. They may not have big Sunday School classes or youth groups with lots of peers, but they have this beautifully woven web of people of all ages who know them, love them, pray for them and help them grow up secure knowing they truly belong somewhere.

Studies tell us children are lonely today. Statistics tell us teenagers feel more disconnected now than ever. If you have children in your life who don’t have a church they can call their own; if you don’t have a church to call your own, where you know you are welcome even on the days when you don’t want to behave, maybe it’s time to give church a(nother) try.

You’re always welcome at Park Congregational United Church of Christ, ten miles west of Elgin on HWY 70 and ½ mile south. We worship at 9:15 every Sunday morning.  I love hearing from you. My email is beckyzmcneil@gmail.com.

I Say There is Hope

My Column for The Elgin Review, Elgin, Ne May 8, 2019

A member of a congregation I once served reached out to me. “If you get a minute, I could use some guidance. In a discussion with my sisters this weekend, all of them said the current political environment continues to push them further from church. They believe they see both Democrats and Republicans using Christianity to tear others apart. And if that’s true, then the church is complicit and is an underlying cause. They feel attending church is now more like belonging to a club, instead of a foundation. This breaks my heart. I know they aren’t alone in this thinking, and I have no idea how to respond. Do you have any thoughts to share? Is there any hope?”

How would you respond?  Are you with my friend? Do you see church as a foundation upon which to build your life? Or, are you more inclined toward her sisters’ view?

In my experience, and in reading church history and the news, church is as it has been throughout millennia, a mix, a collection of human beings joined together for a myriad of reasons, some holy and some wholly unholy. Political parties use Christianity to tear people apart, to sow seeds of dissension and to establish who’s in and who’s out. In far too many cases, Christians bow to the idols of power, influence and wealth and are complicit in the divisiveness of our day.

I’ve had moments when I’ve thought I would just walk away. “Please, don’t associate me with those kinds of Christians.”

I am, however, compelled by a vision of love cast by Jesus who healed and helped and welcomed and lifted up every kind of person toward wholeness and fuller lives. I am compelled by Jesus who empowered all his followers to go and do as he did. In the earliest days the church grew by leaps and bounds because people saw the ways Christians loved others.

I am compelled to cast my lot with the motley crew of the church because I saw a little boy named Calvin, snot nosed, dirty red face streaked by tears, embraced in a big hug by a man who’d never had kids when Calvin burst into a church meeting one evening, “My Daddy’s left and says he’s never coming back. What am I going to do?” Calvin’s dad never came back, but that congregation surrounded Calvin with so much love and so much support that he found his way.

I cast my lot with the church because there is a little congregation in the middle of corn fields where three pajama clad kids wandered in one Sunday morning and asked if anyone had anything to eat. Mom and Dad were still asleep (after a night of partying) and there wasn’t any food in the house. Ever since, the church serves Sunday breakfast to anyone, and now serves breakfast every school day, too, for the kids who wait for the school bus on the corner across the street.

The DNA of the Christian faith is caring for all our neighbors. Out of that DNA has sprung most of the hospitals around the world, most of the orphanages, most of the colleges, universities, and the public school movement, too, the Civil Rights movement here and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. From the church Habitat for Humanity was born, and Alcoholics Anonymous, too.

It seems to me that attending church is something fairly easy to opt in or out of when culture and politics make us all cranky, but being church is more challenging and far more compelling.

I say there is hope.

You are always welcome at Park Congregational United Church of Christ.

Freedom and Sore Testing

In a building made of thick stone blocks, a building that stood for centuries in the center of the mountain village hymns of praise echoed in lyrical French. Early in my stay in Le Chambon sur-Lignon, thirty three years ago when I was a beginner in the language school the only parts of the worship service that I understood were the Lord’s Prayer and the Words of Institution before Communion. As the months passed and my French improved and I became acquainted with those who had worshipped in Le Temple their whole lives long, I came to understand not only the service of worship, but the service of the worshippers.

Forty years earlier the members of that congregation, led by their pastor Andre Trocme, defied their nation’s laws and opposition in their community by secretly, quietly welcoming into their homes, into hiding and safety thousands of Jewish children fleeing in terror from the Nazi occupiers. The first child came in the night with a knock on the parsonage door, and a fleeing, frightened Jewish mother pleading, “protect my child.”

Each week in worship we prayed together, “Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation, mais délivere-nous du Mal” In English we pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Some translations of the Lord’s prayer make the translation, “and lead us not into times of sore testing but deliver us from evil.”

The Nazi era was a time of sore testing for Christians in Germany and occupied countries like France. Would the Christians acquiesce to the civil and national authorities in order to keep themselves from harm, or would they take seriously the call of the Gospel to welcome the stranger, treat everyone as their neighbor, share bread and wine and hope in memory of Jesus? Would they be willing to risk their own lives in order to care for the “least of these” God’s children?  In Le Chambon, among the protestant congregation of Le Temple, their answer was bravely, faithfully to follow Jesus.

Though I have prayed all my life those familiar words that I would not have to live through a season of sore testing, I believe that season is upon us. This week even while we celebrate our freedoms and our liberty from tyranny as a nation, as a nation we are separating children from their families and locking them in camps–keeping them from the freedom they, and their parents have risked everything to gain.

This is not a matter of partisan politics, this is a matter of basic human decency, a matter that all good people of whatever ilk, but especially Christians, followers of Jesus Christ must stand against. We who pray to be delivered from evil, in times of sore testing must do everything in our power to deliver our neighbors from evil, too.

My Voice

There was a large hand mashed against my chest and another against my face and I strained to yell, though muzzled, until finally, the night erupted into noise as I mustered a loud cry into the darkness, “Dad!”

My sweet husband Mike rolled over and comforted me. The nightmare was so vivid it took a while for me to remember—I am a grown, 58 year old woman, sleeping in my safe, comfortable bed, next to the love of my life, who never, not in ten million years, would ever hurt me.

I’m not usually a sleep talker. I sleep like a log. Maybe I snore (there are those who tell me I do) but I sure couldn’t testify to it. Most nights I remember nothing from the time my head hits my pillow until the alarm rings in the morning.  If I remember a dream, it’s a dream I was having as I was awakening for the day, not one I had well before midnight. That’s not the case with the nightmare that interrupted our night’s sleep a couple weeks ago. When my yell woke us up, the digital clock read 11:20. I rolled over and managed to fall back to sleep quickly, and if I dreamed more through the night, my dreams were not a continuation of the one that had thoroughly awakened us both.

In the morning the panic I felt in my sleep, the will and determination and strength it had taken to cry out to my Dad for help, left me feeling weak in my knees and emotionally weary. Over coffee I played Freud with my dream. Of course, the origin of the dream was the news reports of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations in regard to her teen-aged experience with Supreme Court nominee Brent Kavanagh, how he covered her mouth when she tried to cry out for help as he pinned her to a bed and groped her. In my dream it wasn’t clear I was being sexually assaulted. All I remember is being held down, with a strong male hand over my face muting me. Dr. Becky Freud asked herself over her coffee, “Why do you suppose you called out for your Dad when he’s been dead for almost a decade?” I replied to myself, “He always listened to you and believed in you. Your Dad encouraged you to use your voice and to speak the truth.” “And why,” Dr. Me-Freud persisted, “was this experience of being muzzled so vivid as to cause you to yell out in your sleep?” And my coffee began to quiver in its mug.

I am being silenced by men who do not like what I say. The assault I am experiencing is not against my body, but against my being. It is against my being a woman with words.

I am a woman with a clear, true voice. I am a minister gifted and called by God to preach and teach and care and lead. I speak words of love and passion and conviction. On occasion, called and ordained as I am to be a minister of the Christian Gospel I am also a prophet, speaking truth to power. Truth that the last shall be first, and we are all refugees and foreigners and black lives do matter and Jesus was a brown-skinned man and he died at the hands of an ungodly empire run amok. Truth like Jesus listened to women and gave them full voice in a world that worked devilishly hard to keep them silent and in their place. Truth that Jesus loves all the children, and so must we.

This past spring I spoke the truth to a man who could not bear to hear the truth. I spoke it to him in private to protect and preserve his dignity. I spoke in hope he would take heed and take action and take care of what only he could do. But the words I said cut too close and in a couple weeks’ time he figured out a way to silence me.

Complicit in the assault against me are other men quick to agree, “A strong woman is, by her very nature, a threat.”  Strong, as in I see things clearly and tell the truth about what I see.

Complicit in the assault against me are also women, like the contrary octogenarian who two years ago cautioned me against being so passionate about the Gospel. “Some of us just want to come to church, have a little communion with God and go on home, dear.” Complicit in the assault against me are women like the woman trained to take orders without question, because the orders of a man of higher rank supersede written policies and procedures. Complicit in the assault against me are the women who look the other way and pretend they cannot see, because if they see they’d have to speak, and if they speak, they too, may have to pay. Good girls keep quiet.

Complicit in the assault against me is a system that allows one man the power to insist I be quiet and good and keep my thoughts to myself –just roll over now, and act as if this didn’t happen, if you want a good reference, if you want to be able to work again. Don’t tell. Don’t complain. Don’t raise a fuss. Just let us sweep this under the rug and move on, because I’m busy with more important things.

Male things.

Wearing the robes and reciting the verses, like armor. Protecting the church, protecting the powers that be, protecting the “just want a little communion with God” and then go golfing crowd from gospel truth that might discomfort them and keep their pocketbooks closed when the offering plates circulate in the sanctuary. “Protecting” but not healing, not helping, not holding the church to the church’s true calling. Allowing the church to rot from within. Sick in self-serving sin.

Yours isn’t the church of Jesus Christ if you do not see the others whom God has invited to the table. Yours isn’t the church of Jesus Christ if you look blindly away from the racism and sexism and nationalism that is tearing God’s good creation apart at the seams. Yours isn’t the church of Jesus Christ if you remain complacent when injustice is done right smack dab in the very midst of you. Yours isn’t the church of Jesus Christ if you allow yourselves to be led by thin-skinned men more interested in their own power than in proclaiming and living the Gospel with integrity and truth.

My dad called “foul!” years ago when the politics inside a church became as vile as are the politics in our nation today. I was a teen-aged girl at the time.  I witnessed my father speak truth to the powers that be. And he voted with his feet and dusted off his sandals and moved on and he taught me to be unafraid, and bold and brave.  And so, I called out to him in my sleep. “Dad!”

And he is helping me to remember who and whose I am.

I am not anyone’s good girl.

I am a woman gifted and called by God, and by God,

I am reclaiming my voice.

And Was It Cold? A Prayer for the very cold first Sunday after Christmas

And was it cold, Dear God, when Magi made their way across the desert plains?

And was it cold, Oh Lord, when angels sang to shepherds on rocky terrain?

And was it cold, Redeeming One, when first breath was taken by infant lips?

And was it cold, Light of all Light, when Joseph covered Mary quivering after labor long into the night?

Frigid is the cold outside today, but warm are we, in your embrace and each other’s company.

For those who make their way, exposed to weather’s whims,

For those who earn their living under tenuous conditions,

For those whose breaths and lungs and bodies are vulnerable and frail,

For those who can do only so much for ones they love,

We pray today, warmth of heart, the fire of hope, and the light of love

burning brightly,

newborn.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Jesus Junk

Underneath the labyrinthine exchange of roadways, the Interstate highway, the elevated expressway, and city streets that carry the heaviest traffic in our city, at the end of the dead end road beyond the fast food and drive thru Starbucks, there’s a mega-store. My skin crawls and I feel a little sick every time I see it. I went in a couple of times just to look around and felt dirty just being there. But, sadly, I think I’m pretty alone in my revulsion over this store. Recently there were protests and the city-council spent hours trying (rightly in my opinion) to keep a strip-club from opening a couple miles to the east of this place, but, I’ve never heard of anyone being anything but pleased by this store’s presence in our fair city.

Even so, I can’t help thinking if Jesus were to come to town, there might be some serious table turning action taking place down there.

So, can we talk about Jesus junk and cheap churchy tchotchkes and bad books and those who profit, bigly, off the sales of that stuff? This mega-store is crammed wall to wall with Jesus home décor, and Jesus jewelry, with Jesus plush-throws, and Jesus tees in every size, with Jesus baby burp cloths and nativity napkins and Jesus is the Reason for the Season soup mugs. The place is filled with the scent of “manger mixed with myrrh” melted wax (you can buy it in a set with the handy light-up nativity scented wax warmer for only $25.99).

A couple times I’ve been given gift cards to the Jesus Junk store. Last year I went there thinking I could use my gift card to buy a new Bible. The cover was coming off my old leather-bound Oxford Annotated NRSV and I thought it might be time to replace it. I braved my way through the Jesus gift gallery and past the thousands of glossy-covered books selling a “God loves America Best–Jesus is your Ultimate Life Insurance–Do you Know Where you’re Going when you Die? (and, in the mean-time, Heaven on Earth can be Yours if you follow our Ten Easy Ways to make your Husband Feel like a King)” kind of pseudo-Christianity. Way in the back of the store is their fairly large Bible section.

The Women’s Thin-line Pretty in Pink King James Version Bible complete with a matching pink journal and pink pen was only fifty bucks. But nowhere, amongst all their Biblical offerings was a single Bible for which a woman was a member of the editorial board. Not one. I’ve been exaggerating a little (could you tell?) about the stuff this store sells like hot cakes, but I’m not exaggerating at all about this. Every one of the hundreds of Bibles in a breathtakingly large array of colors and covers and versions and editions was translated and edited only by men. Why does that matter? Because women, like men, were created in God’s image. Women, like men, have brains and are scholars and are capable carriers of God’s stories. The more broadly representative the editors and translators of God’s word, the more accurate, the more inclusive the important editorial decisions. The earnest salesman helped me look at every version of the Bible sold in his store. Dozens of versions, no women editors. “Isn’t this strange?” I asked him. He admitted it was. He said he’d never really thought about it before.

Isn’t that the way it is with the whole big, let’s show the world how much we love Jesus by buying stuff with his name on it charade? We just don’t think about it. We have this good citizen-consumer attitude “It’s nice we have that big Christian store selling Christian things for all the good Christian people.” But, is it nice? Or, is it maybe a sham? Is it maybe a place where day after day hour after hour God’s name is taken in vain?

Using God’s name to make a buck, using God’s name to enhance one’s own wealth, using God’s name to  please one’s investors, using God’s name to improve one’s business, using God’s name to silence half of God’s people seems to me to be risky. What I’ve read in my plain old black leather covered study Bible indicates God has never been all that pleased when people claim things in God’s name that are self-serving. Who benefits from the sale of Jesus Junk? Are the factory workers paid living wages to make all that stuff? Are they given full-benefits, do they get to take Sabbath rest? And what will happen to the Jesus junk when it’s gathered dust on our shelves and our kids have to go through our stuff after they’ve sent us to the old-folk’s home? Will it be valuable, or will it go to the landfill where it will be buried with no hope of resurrection?

Who benefits from Bibles edited only by conservative old white men? Who is being served? Is it God? And who benefits from books that trumpet piety and morality and “Christian” values that leave out the poor and the vulnerable and venerate the rich and powerful?

I don’t like the strip club in the middle of town. It’s degrading and dehumanizing. But, at least it’s not selling its’ tainted wares in the name of God.